It’s the hottest summer this century, I’m wilting as much as my plants. So what am I thinking about? Christmas, of course!
Because now is the perfect time to plan your Christmas dinner veg. Yes, you’ve still got time to grow your own. Sow now, and your festive table will be laden with buttery carrots and potatoes, crimson chard and ruby amaranth, plus deep green kale. Not to mention December salads such as winter purslane, Chinese cabbage and the delightfully named ‘Green in the Snow’ mustard leaves. Snow; now that’s a thought this hot, hot August.
So let’s get started.
First you need thoroughly damp soil, wherever you’re sowing. Mine is still iron hard after July’s drought, so I’ve soaked it overnight making sure the water penetrated down at least 20 cms (firstly check your local water company for news of any hosepipe bans and be sensitive to availability). I then turned in some homemade compost. This not only gives a slow release fertiliser, but helps the soil hold its moisture.
Watering is going to be your key to success in these late sowings. It’s no good disappearing off on holiday leaving your tender seedlings wilting. Beg a neighbour or friend to visit your seeds daily. I admit this summer I even put a seed tray in the car boot along with the walking boots – my chard enjoyed a nice view of the Lake District!
Next choose your varieties. If you want carrots in December, choose baby ones which mature quicker, such as Thumbelina, Oxheart or Little Finger. For winter lettuces, which will withstand light frost try Winter Density or Little Gem. The Organic Gardening Catalogue has a nice Winter Salad mix.
Finally, if like me your plot is rammed full of beans, courgettes and other summer delights and there’s simply no space, don’t forget you can plant potatoes in bags and boxes. I use my large black recycling boxes.
Here’s what to sow and grow for your veggie Christmas feast:
- Amaranth – it’s like spinach with glamour. A deep crimson leaf which will grace any festive soup or gratin.
- Chinese Cabbage and Pak Choi. These oriental greens don’t like being transplanted, sow direct and keep well watered.
- Kale. Give me the king of brassicas any day over sprouts.
- Corn salad or Lambs Lettuce. This hardy winter salad has a soft texture and mild flavour. And when it flowers next spring the flowers can be eaten too. Sow alongside Winter purslane, aka Claytonia or Miner’s lettuce, and land cress, which makes an excellent substitute for watercress. I love it in a toasted brie sandwich.
- Lettuce. Sow winter varieties, and you might get away without having a polytunnel. I do.
- Salad onions. So called ‘Spring’ onions will be ready for the Christmas cheese board.
- Peas. This is your last chance for an autumn harvest. Sow a quick, ‘early’ variety such as Douce Provence or Meteor and you’ll have a bowlful for your freezer.
- Rocket and mustard leaves. It’s not salad without their peppery kick.
- Swiss chard. The rainbow variety with golden yellow, ruby red and white stems will brighten up your beds and your festive table.
So there’s your Christmas on a plate. Low food miles, no single use plastic, totally organic – and best of all, you grew it yourself!