Autumn sees us busy tidying up and clearing away the spent crops of summer, and yet there are some vegetables that can be still started off, even this late in the season. It may be cooler than it was, but there’s life in the old growing season yet! Here are a few hardy heroes to sow and plant right now...
1. Winter Lettuce
First up, it’s hardy varieties of lettuce for growing over winter. There’s still just about time to sow them – but you’ll need to be quick! Sow before the end of early autumn, under cover if you garden in a cooler, temperate climate.
Sow into plug trays then plant as young seedlings about nine inches (22cm) apart in both directions. Or sow direct into rows a foot (30cm) apart then thin the seedlings to leave 6in (15cm) between them. Watch out for slugs, and weed between plants to let in as much air and light as possible. Pick the outside leaves little and often, leaving those towards the center to grow on for the next picking.
Arugula is another hardy leaf grown in much the same way, and its spicy notes are the perfect partner to milder lettuce leaves. Sown in summer it often runs to seed before you’ve had a chance to pick it. But sow it in autumn and it’s an altogether better-behaved salad!
Sow a small pinch of seeds per plug – up to five is fine – then plant out as a cluster of seedlings, again leaving nine inches (22cm) between each cluster. Once the leaves are big enough to use you can begin harvesting, carefully picking off individual leaves between finger and thumb. Continue cropping till they finally flower next spring.
Radishes are a reliable choice for early autumn sowing. Squeeze in a final sowing of classic summer radishes, or sow one of the deliciously eccentric varieties of winter or Asian radish, including daikon or mooli radish, watermelon radish or chunky 'Spanish Black' radish.
Sow in rows wherever space allows then thin to leave about an inch (2cm) between summer types, and six inches (15cm) between winter types. Alternatively, sow radishes into containers so they can simply be picked up and brought under cover when colder weather arrives.
Now’s the time to get sowing for the earliest crop of scallions or salad onions next spring. Choose a winter-hardy variety to sow thinly into rows six inches (15cm) apart. Sown thinly enough and the seedlings shouldn’t require thinning, though this is easily done once they’ve germinated to leave about half an inch (1cm) between seedlings. Don’t waste the thinnings – enjoy them in salads.
Some hardy varieties of bulb onion, including Japanese onions, may also be sown now to overwinter and give extra-large bulbs early next summer. Then later on in autumn it’s the turn of onion sets. Sets are part-grown onions and, because of their size, offer a wider range of planting dates. This head start will give you the very earliest crop of onions next summer.
Another allium to sow in a few weeks, towards the end of autumn, is garlic. Break open bulbs into individual cloves and plant them into prepared soil, raked to a fine, crumbly texture. Plant in rows spaced around six to eight inches (15-20cm) apart, and leave four inches (10cm) between cloves.
If your winters are very cold you may be better off waiting until spring to plant your garlic. Or plant individual cloves into pots or plug trays and start them off under cover, ready to plant out once the weather has warmed up a little in spring.
6. Fava Beans
Finally, a shout out to the hardiest beans of all: fava beans. Sow these chunky beans towards the end of autumn, though again, if winters are particularly cold where you are, hold off until spring.
Sow the beans into two inch (5cm) deep trenches. Space them about six inches (15cm) apart before covering back over. Additional trenches should be spaced 32 inches (80cm) apart.
The sturdy seedlings should push through within a few weeks, remaining small until the weather warms up in spring. Taller plants will then need supporting with one or two rows of string in order to keep them upright. You can expect to pick your first delicious, wholesome beans before the end of spring.
So there are a few ideas to scratch that gardening itch! What will you be sowing this autumn? You can let us know in the comments section below.