It’s time to cut down on your carbon footprint and help lock carbon in the soil, and the good news is that this doesn’t have to be a self-sacrificing activity, it can be a win-win situation if you choose to grow your own food!
Planting a vegetable garden can really help, because not only does it cut down on the pesky food miles that cause so much of our carbon emissions, but if you garden organically it also cuts down on the fossil fuels that are used in the production of agrochemicals (fertilisers and pesticides). And it encourages you to compost, which saves organic materials from being carted off to landfill sites (in gas-guzzling lorries), rotting down without air and producing another potent greenhouse gas – methane. You may even find that, with all the fresh air and exercise, you can ditch driving to the gym and pounding the treadmill – an endeavour which is energy-intensive in more ways than one.
Although it’s October, generally not the time of year when people’s thoughts tend towards starting a new plot, here are ten great winter vegetables you could sow or plant out today that will feed you through the winter and into next year:
1: Grow onions
Overwintering onions, or Japanese onions, can be planted out now as sets (small bulbs). They are completely hardy and stay out in the garden all winter, and will provide you with a crop of onions in June (although you can start pulling them up as soon as they’re the right size). They’re very easy to grow – just take care to keep the soil around them weeded, as they don’t enjoy competition.
2: Grow your own garlic
You can plant garlic today, although you can also plant it into November. You’ll get far better results if you buy garlic bulbs for planting from the garden centre than if you plant one you bought for cooking, as the named varieties they sell are adapted to our climate. In future years you can save your own bulbs for replanting. Your crop will be ready for harvesting next summer.
3: Sow broad beans
Broad beans (AKA fava beans) are one of the earliest crops from the vegetable garden, coming in to harvest early in spring during the ‘hungry gap’ when there’s no much else ready to eat. Sowing them now gives them a headstart; their flowers are also an early source of food for bees and other beneficial insects. They’re a good choice for kids too, as the seeds are large and easy to handle, and they sprout really quickly.
4: Plant parsley
Parsley is one of the hardiest herbs, and also very high in vitamin C, so it’s useful to have it growing through the winter when you may need a boost. You can sow seeds now, or plant out a plant, and it will keep growing outside through all but the worst weather (or you can have a pot inside) and right into spring.
5: Grow comfrey
Comfrey is a perennial plant that has long roots and brings up nutrients from the subsoil that accumulate in its leaves. Although it is edible it’s not very palatable to humans, but pop a plant in by your compost bin and it will soak up any nutrients before they soak away. You can then use the leaves as a compost activator, as a nutritious mulch, or to make a comfrey liquid feed that is perfect for fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers. We used to feed leaves to the chickens 🙂
6: Grow your own mint
Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow, providing you take precautions to prevent it from taking over! The common culinary mints (peppermint and spearmint) are completely hardy in the UK climate and endlessly useful in the kitchen. You can even make your own herbal teas and cut down on pesky food packaging. Buy a plant and put it outside in the garden, or keep it on the kitchen windowsill for winter supplies – and then plant out in spring.
7: Sow land cress
Land cress (Barbarea verna) is very similar to watercress but doesn’t need such damp soil and is very winter hardy. It will survive outside without protection, but a cloche or a cold frame will make winter leaves more tender. Sow now and harvest throughout the winter for salads and soups.
8: Try corn salad
Another very hardy salad plant that can be sown now is Corn salad (Valerianella locusta), also known as lamb’s lettuce. It has a mild flavour, so sow plenty and use it in place of lettuce.
9: Plant peas
You can also sow peas now – round-seeded peas are much hardier than wrinkled-seeded peas, but not quite as sweet (although home-grown peas, eaten fresh, are the best-tasting peas there are, regardless of variety). You can also sow them for peashoots, inside.
10: Grow your own cabbage
And if you’re a fan of cabbage then you can plant out spring cabbages now, for a harvest early next year. Don’t forget to net them (or provide other defences) if hungry pigeons are a problem in your garden.
If you already have your winter garden planned and planted, but you’re left with some bare soil, then why not cover it with a green manure for the winter? Sow it now, dig it in before it gets too big or starts to flower in spring, and you’ll have added organic matter to your soil (reducing the need for fertlizers), kept your weed problems to a minimum and protected the soil structure from the winter weather. If you don’t want to dig, that’s not a problem – simply chop down the top growth and compost it or leave it on the soil as a mulch 🙂
What are you sowing or planting out in your garden at the moment that will reduce your carbon footprint?
If you need help to get growing then check out my special section of basic gardening articles and How To’s.