It may be late in the season but if you want to get the most from your garden, there’s still plenty to grow. It’s tempting to just enjoy your harvests at this time of year, but making extra sowings now will set you up for even more harvests later this autumn, through winter, and on into spring.
So what can you sow right now? Let’s find out!
Asian Greens to Sow in Autumn
And what better place to start than with a tempting array of Asian greens: mizuna, mibuna, komatsuna, and mustards. Haven’t heard of them? Don’t worry – they’re simple to grow! And they promise a wide range of spicy tones and pleasing textures sure to bring winter salads and stir-fries to rousing life!
Mizuna is a real beauty with its intricately-cut leaves! If you’ve never tried it before it’s so worth growing – not only does it look stunning, but the leaves have a delightfully delicate spice to them a bit like rocket.
Mibuna is a close relative of mizuna, producing long, almost spoon-shaped leaves with a mild, mustard taste.
Also known as mustard spinach, komatsuna produces loose clusters of leaves that look a smaller version of pak choi. The leaves have a mild flavour, maturing to a more peppery tang as the leaves get older.
Mustards are my favourite Asian greens! They come in an astounding range of leaf shapes and colours – there are so many unique varieties to explore.
Growing Asian Greens
The great thing about these leafy lovelies is that they really don’t mind being sown at this much cooler point in the growing season. They’ll grow quickly to give some useable leaves over the next few months, and then again from early spring the moment the worst of the cold winter weather’s over. My garden is in the equivalent of US hardiness zone 8, with reasonably mild (though still frosty) winters, so they’ll benefit from some protection from the colder weather here.
While each of our Asian greens offers something different, they are all grown in much the same way. Fill plug trays with an multi-purpose potting mix, then push down into each plug using your fingertips to create a little depression or bowl to sow into. Sow about four seeds to each plug, then cover over with a thin layer of potting mix. Don’t forget to label your plugs so you don’t get the seeds mixed up!
Grow them on in their plugs for the next month or so. At that point, you have a choice. You can either plant them directly in the ground, 9in (22cm) apart -
perhaps in the space vacated by your tomatoes and cucumbers in a greenhouse – or plant them into larger containers.
I like using old mushroom crates as containers for these. Line the crate with newspaper to stop the potting mix falling out, fill it with potting mix and then plant six plugs into each tray. I did this last winter with great success, and the advantage of growing them in trays like this is that I can keep them up on the greenhouse staging, where they’ll get a bit more light, and it makes them easier to harvest too.
Growth will slow right down once it gets colder. You may get a few cuts during the winter months before growth resumes apace in early spring. Asian greens are pretty hardy, though in cooler climates like mine it still pays to grow them under the protection of a greenhouse, hoop house or cold frame.
Water infrequently over the winter to avoid the soggy conditions that attract disease. Harvest leaves individually as they reach a useable size, and cut off any yellowed or potentially diseased leaves to keep plants healthy.
Hardy Winter Salad Leaves
Our next three crops are all hardy enough to grow out in the open, though you will get a more reliable harvest if you grow them under a low tunnel or row cover.
To prepare the soil, sprinkle on some balanced organic fertiliser, for instance blood, fish and bone, then rake it level to leave a fine, crumbly texture to sow into.
Mâche (Corn Salad or Lamb’s Lettuce)
The first of our tempting trio is mâche, also known as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce. It produces soft and tender leaves, but don’t be fooled by that – it’s remarkably hardy! With an almost creamy texture and light, nutty taste, this is the perfect choice to counterbalance some of the spicier tones of those Asian greens.
Mâche is easy to sow in rows, so mark out shallow drills about 8in (20cm) apart. Sow thinly into the row before pinching back just enough soil to cover the seeds over – no more than about a quarter inch (0.5cm). Once the seedlings have germinated, thin them out to leave just one plant every couple of inches (5cm) or so.
Land Cress (American cress)
Next we have land cress, or you might know it as American cress. It looks a lot like watercress and tastes similar too, making it an excellent, hardy alternative. Sow this thinly into drills one foot (30cm) apart, then later thin to around 4-6in (10-15cm) apart within the rows.
Claytonia (Winter Purslane or Miner’s Lettuce)
Lastly, claytonia, also known as winter purslane or miner’s lettuce. This absolute beauty produces soft, almost waxy heart-shaped leaves – how lovely! And when the tiny, ever-so-delicate white flowers appear in spring, you can eat those too. It loves the cool, damp conditions of autumn and, if you let it, will naturally self-seed, giving you an almost perennial patch of this accommodating leaf. Sow it into shallow drills spaced 8in (20cm) apart, then thin to around 3in (7cm) apart once they’re up.
Keep your winter salads weed-free to maximise airflow and light levels around your plants, while giving slugs fewer places to lurk. They should all give something to harvest this autumn and, after a brief slowdown in winter, will pick up growth again by spring.
Speedy Autumn Roots
There’s still time to sow a few tasty roots to harvest this side of winter, and there are two speedy growers that should do well as summer’s heat starts to wane: fast-growing radish, and baby turnip.
For radish I’m going for my favourite, white-tipped ‘French Breakfast’. And if radishes really do form part of a hearty French breakfast, well, good for them – I can think of no better way to wake up the palate than with this crisp, gently warming root. Lovely stuff.
Sow one seed every half inch (1cm), at about the same depth. The soil is warm at this time of year so these will germinate quickly. In fact, sowing now is a smart move because this late in the season there are far fewer flea beetles, which like to munch on the leaves. Your harvests should begin within about four to six weeks, depending on the weather.
When sowing turnips at this time of year they will grow into dainty baby roots, not much bigger than our radishes – perhaps up to about golf ball size – which should be ready to harvest in around six to eight weeks. Sowing is the same as for radish, but if germination is good it’s worth thinning the seedlings to leave about 2-3in (5-7cm) between each plant. Don’t waste excess seedlings – add them to salads! Turnip leaves – or ‘turnip tops’ – at any stage make fab eating as a bonus extra green. And don’t we all need more greens in our lives!
Last Chance for Spring Cabbages
We’re pushing it a bit with this one, but if you get on and sow spring cabbages early in the month there should be enough time to plant them in a few weeks for some of earliest leafy greens next spring – perfect for filling the ‘hungry gap’, when pickings are notoriously lean.
Sow spring cabbage seeds into plugs of sieved multi-purpose potting mix. If both germinate, remove the smallest seedling to leave just one in each plug to grow on. Then, perhaps another three weeks on from that point, they’ll be big enough to go outside. Space them around 10in (25cm) apart for plenty of leaves, or a little more than that for full-sized, densely-packed hearts. You won’t have to worry about caterpillar damage by then, though it’s sensible to cover them with netting to protect them from birds.