Winter vegetables come into view

Winter root vegetables, if tended well, can produce a great crop for the cold months.

The vegetable garden can still be productive as we go into winter. Most root vegetables are best left in the ground until required, but if frost is forecast it is wise to lift some of the crop and store in a frost-free shed. Then at least you can enjoy your produce even when the ground is too hard to dig, and it is an insurance policy against frost damage. Turnip and celeriac are quite frost sensitive and so should be lifted at this time.

Lift any remaining potatoes now as they will only damage if left in the ground. They are best cleaned and dried (a dark garage is a good place) prior to storing in a light-proof permeable bag. Summer crops like beans should be cleared away and consigned to the compost heap, but not before collecting any dried bean pods for next season's crop. Broad beans can be sown now for an early crop next year if you chose a hardy variety like Aquadulce Claudia. By sowing now, you get ahead of the black fly next year and it gives a lovely early crop when most vegetables are still not ready.

Previously planted Brussels sprouts and other members of the cabbage family should now be ready. Sprouts do not store well and are best when eaten fresh. Some people say they taste best when the first frosts have arrived because this makes them sweeter. Cut them off the stem with a knife, working up from below, choosing those that are walnut-sized and firm.

The poor cabbage family is maligned and I believe that this is because these vegetables are often treated badly in the kitchen. They demand more than a quick boil. Try braising or frying thinly-sliced cabbage with onion and bacon. Or baked mashed Brussels sprouts.

Quince trees were once common but are now neglected. Maybe this is because the fruit is hard, acid and astringent and so cannot be eaten raw. But these very characteristics make them very good for adding flavour to apple pie. And they make excellent jelly. They are self-fertile and require little care. Their pink flowers are attractive in spring and in autumn the lumpy pear-shaped fruit are full of character.

Away from fruits and vegetables, the rate of growth will be slowing down and this includes grass. You might even get away with a final winter cut this month. You can still cut it short, which will in fact give a good appearance for the winter months. Hedge clipping and plant edging should all be completed early this month, or if a cold snap comes, the cut leaves and shoots will turn a rusty colour and not recover all winter. Clippings from box hedging are easily rooted at this time of year. Just stick the three-inch clippings into soil in a seed tray, water well, wrap in polythene and put out of the way. By spring they will be ready for potting.

Honeysuckle can be propagated at this time by cutting. Use last season's shoots. Prune the lower leaves and plant in a shady border in rows and then leave them for 10 or 12 months.

Cutting flowers are getting rare now, and so the Belladonna lily (Amaryllis) has value at this time. Originally from South Africa, they are best grown with the protection of a south or west wall. Three or four pale pink trumpet-shaped flowers appear on a bare pink stem in September or October.

Finally, go to Kew Gardens for biggest ever exhibition of large sculptures by Henry Moore. Check the Kew website for the location of each of the 28 pieces. The exhibition runs to 30 March 2007 and costs only the entry fee for the gardens (free to RHS members).

Moore at Kew
Henry Moore at Kew.
For more information go to www.kew.org/henry-moore.

- Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor.

THIS MONTH'S TASKS
  • Lift potatoes.
  • If frost in forecast, lift some root vegetables.
  • Harvest sprouts and cabbages.
  • Sow hardy broad beans.
  • Final winter grass cut.
  • Propagate box hedges, honeysuckle.

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