Some people want trips to the Costa del Sol to sunbathe or New York to shop-til-you-drop, but we gardeners have a slightly different sense of fun. So this week I packed up my bags for my first “holiday” for about 2 years and took myself to Wales. West Wales to be precise. Like any other self-respecting gardeners; upon arrival at our hosts house me and my friend Sara Venn (look her up – she’s amazing!) were taken directly into the garden without the offer of a cup of tea or use of the facilities. After our garden tour (in completely inappropriate footwear I might add) I presented our host with a wheelbarrow full of home grown squash by way of thanks for putting us up for the weekend.
Our host; the bright and brilliant Stephanie Hafferty had lost almost all of her squash seedlings whilst taking time out of her garden to design, set-up, run and speak at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show’s very first No-Dig demonstration garden (check it out). So it seemed only right that I should share my glut!
As we have discussed here before, squashes are a really good crop for storing and keeping over winter. But one thing that Steph does really well, and is showcasing in her beautiful garden is cropping over winter.
Whilst she only began to set up her garden in late March of this year, it is already heaving with produce. The no-dig beds are easy to prepare and ready to use straight away, so Steph had no trouble getting crops in the ground as soon as she arrived at her new home.
Steph has been a no dig gardener for 13 years now and she started growing her own vegetables at the age of 17 after reading a book about making wine from vegetables. She fondly remembers turning up at university with demijohns of home made wine. Steph started growing more when became a mother at 27, and speaking about, writing about and teaching no dig gardening has become her life’s work.
I was struck when we arrived by how much produce there was in her garden, even though it was late October, wet, cold and windy! I asked her to show me around again, looking specifically at what she was growing over winter.
We started in the poly tunnel, which was built in August of this year (we are currently on October). It is about half full as there are still some beds needing to be made, but what she does have growing is:
Salads, potatoes for a Christmas crop, carrots which will crop next spring, orientals such as pat choi and plenty of herbs. Dill, coriander, parsley and chervil are all growing happily. Steph, who is a food writer amongst her other super powers (check out her book) tells me about the importance of herbs over winter to lift a dish and bring freshness. There are also beetroot for leaves and plenty of brassicas.
She points out that all the brassicas would be absolutely fine outside, but in the event of snow or extremely cold weather, having them under cover helps with harvesting. The other benefit to growing brassicas inside Steph tells me ifs that when they go to flower in spring they will attract in beneficial predators. She will open the doors of the poly tunnel and will already have an environment that will support those wonderful creatures that eat things like aphids.
Moving outside she has leeks, parsnips, beetroot and carrots. Radish for a crop but also for the flowers and pods, and chard glowing like jewels in the rain. The beetroot and carrots she intends to leave in the ground over winter under a couple of layers of fleece and some enviromesh. The mesh is to stop the fleece getting ripped. This is something of an experiment this year, as she hasn’t been through a winter in Wales yet and it is particularly wet. But where she was in Somerset, this was how she “stored” her crop over winter – a great technique for anyone struggling for pantry space! She also has plenty of brassicas outside.
Steph talks about the importance of fresh food over winter; the soil bacteria are good for the stomach and fresh food lifts the spirits.
When it comes to growing over winter, its all about planning she says. We sow parsnips all the way back in March/April for a crop over winter, and summer is the key time to sow brassicas.
Steph is an absolute font of knowledge and I’m very happy to call her a friend. I had such a fabulous time staying with her.
If you would like to hear the full chat with Steph about winter growing you can check it out on my YouTube channel: