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Winter crops to sow in August

By sowing in August, you can keep crops coming through winter and early spring - known as the 'hungry gap' - until next year's main harvest. Fresh vegetables are even more welcome in winter than summer, providing green to alleviate the grey. Slot them into a plot that's already producing regular summer meals. Time is of the essence: if you leave sowing until September, the plants will be too small to survive the winter.

Here's our pick of crops to sow in August. 


Lettuce

Hardier than they look, lettuces can be overwintered for picking as leaves from April through to June, giving a long season of harvest from just one sowing. Sow in late August; harvest from April.

Spinach

Spinach can survive harsh frosts and rain. Overwintered spinach grows beautifully sweet leaves. New leaves, starting in mid March, are one of the few outdoor greens at that time. Sow in the second and third weeks of August; harvest from November and from March.

Oriental leaves

Fast germination makes oriental leaves satisfying to sow, whether direct in soil or in modules for planting out. The latter method works better in wet summers (slugs may eat rows of seedlings in a night). Sow three seeds per module, and thin to one or two plants. Cover with a cloche. Sow in August; harvest from October and from March.

Rocket

Early sowings of wild rocket make plentiful leaves before winter, and then lie dormant. New growth in spring offers two months of harvests. Salad rocket stands the best chance of surviving frosts if sown in late August. It also offers more leaves in winter than wild rocket, but often bolts in April. Sow in early August for wild rocket, late August for salad rocket; harvest from October.

Corn salad

Sowing corn salad direct is easiest, but may be a problem in soil with lots of weed seeds. Sowing two or three seeds, thinned to one plant, in modules for planting out is also possible. However, corn salad is slow to establish after planting and is one of the few vegetables it's preferable to sow. Roots are shallow, so if the weather's very dry, frequent, gentle watering is required. Sow in late August; harvest from November.

Spring onions

Onions don't germinate well in temperatures regularly above 20°, so indoor sowings may suffer. Sowing in rows outdoors, with seed covered by 2cm of soil, is advisable. If sowing in modules, up to 10 seeds in each will give a worthwhile clump in the spring. Use fresh seed for best results. Protect against rabbits. Sow in late August; harvest from early April.

Spring cabbage

Spring cabbage seeds are most reliable when sown under cover into modules, but outdoor sowing can also work. When planting out in their final position, set them deep enough for soil to cover the stems, which helps them to resist gales and frost. Use netting to protect against pigeons. Sow in mid-August outdoors, or late August in module trays indoors; harvest greens in March, hearts in April.

Turnips

Turnips are best sown direct and then thinned. Sow seeds sparingly because, although they're tiny, they all seem to germinate and subsequent growth is rapid. Thin in late August or early September. Module-sown seed can be thinned to two or three roots in each, for planting out in late August. Fleece or mesh help keep pigeons, butterflies and cabbage root fly at bay. Sow in the first half of August; harvest from November. 




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