When you're happily beavering away in the veg garden over summer in Donaghadee, Bushmills, Ballymena and Ballyclare, it can seem like the long days of abundant flowers and fruit will never end. But one day, inevitably, you cut the last pumpkin and pull up the bean plants and it is, undeniably, winter.
There's no need to stop enjoying your plot just because the weather has turned cold, though. Embrace winter as part of your veg-growing year and you'll find your patch can be as productive from November to February as it is for the rest of the year.
You'll need to begin planning in early spring, as these are plants which need a long time in the ground. Start by choosing some of the great winter veg we offer as seeds or plug plants in our garden centre: here's our pick of the best.
- Parsnips: sow fresh seed direct into the ground: the sweet, pale roots taste better after being kissed by frost.
Recommended varieties: 'Tender and True', 'Gladiator'.
- Cabbages: super-hardy savoys have fabulous flavour and texture: follow with crunchy spring cabbages for an April treat.
Recommended varieties: 'January King', 'Duncan' (spring cabbage).
- Brussels sprouts: plant early, mid-season and late varieties to pick fat sprouts from September to February.
Recommended varieties: 'Trafalgar', 'Rubine'.
- Celeriac: knobbly roots with the fine flavour of celery but much easier to grow: keeps well, too.
Recommended varieties: 'Prinz', 'Monarch'.
- Kale: if you want an easy-to-grow cabbage substitute, pick young kale leaves for a taste sensation.
Recommended varieties: 'Dwarf Green Curled', 'Cavolo Nero'.
- Winter salads: sow spicy winter baby-leaf mixes under cloches, or pick from the new range of Japanese salads.
Recommended varieties: Mizuna, Mustard 'Red Frills'.
- Chard: sow in September and you'll be picking spinach-like chard all winter. Protect with cloches in bad weather.
Recommended varieties: 'Rhubarb', 'Swiss Chard'.
- Leeks: ramrod straight leeks are as hardy as anything: plant seedlings deeply for long white shanks.
Recommended varieties: 'Musselburgh', 'Bleu de Solaise'.
- Rhubarb: force clumps of big, beefy rhubarb for tender pink stems from February onwards.
Recommended varieties: 'Timperley Early', 'Victoria'.
Please ask the staff in our garden centre in Donaghadee, Bushmills, Ballymena and Ballyclare for more information and advice about growing winter vegetables.