Typically, the start of autumn is a time when we are harvesting much of our home-grown and allotment vegetables after a long growing season. But late August/early September can be a good time to sow some vegetable seeds for winter, such as leafier crops like lettuce, rocket and spinach, as well as peas, broad beans and turnips. How can this be you ask? Well, in autumn the soil is still warm after heating up for the whole of summer, so seeds will germinate quickly. If the weather is mild and settled enough, the growing season can continue for several weeks longer.
On top of that you can extend the growing season using a greenhouse or polytunnel for example. This means you can quickly grow a crop in the same year to enjoy before the temperature drops and the frosts set in. If you grew and harvested vegetables already from summer, you might as well make use of the bare ground left afterwards.
A quick note, from other research you may come across the term ‘overwintering’. This refers to late autumn/winter planted vegetables have a long growing season and are hardy enough to survive through until the following year and then begin to grow. This guide focuses on veg you can grow, harvest and enjoy in the autumn months before winter sets in. Let’s get into it.
Make Use of a Polytunnel or Greenhouse
Greenhouses speak for themselves and are quite expensive even if you have the space in your garden for one. Elect for a polytunnel instead. It is a much cheaper option and sturdier types are available to shield plants from the elements and ensure a consistent temperature for the plants within. Both methods can extend the growing season by a good few weeks and give your vegetables the right temperatures to crop really quickly before the temperature drops and the frosts set in. Polytunnels can be further enhanced with bubble wrap tied to the inside to reduce heat loss. There are other creative ways to maintain the temperature inside a polytunnel which you can find online.
Vegetables You Can Grow in Autumn
Here’s a range of robust vegetables that are suitable for growing in autumn ready for your plate or storing by early winter.
There’s fast then there’s radishes. A go-to choice for growing in autumn because of the extremely quick growing time: four weeks from planting! That’s right, four weeks, maybe slightly longer depending on conditions, but it is a rapid grower. Plant in the ground and use a polytunnel to give them a consistent temperature and protection and watch them grow.
Turnips are another great choice for their ease of growing. They can be sown and planted in early autumn and be ready to be picked in winter. Sow in the ground and use a polytunnel to really help them along. Alternatively in a greenhouse and they’ll be ready before winter comes.
Humble carrots are another good autumn choice. They are quite hardy, and can tolerate colder temperatures, even frost to a point. However, you want them to be ready before that, so to get them to grow quickly you’ll want to ensure they’ve got a better growing environment, which could be done with a polytunnel or greenhouse. Plant as early as possible in the ground in autumn, keep them protected, the soil moist, and you’ll have a lovely harvest of fresh carrots to enjoy in the winter. There are certain varieties that grow faster than others too so opt for one of these to make things go a bit easier.
Hardy varieties of Spring onion will grow well over the autumn months. They are quite a quick cropper, in about eight weeks, so not as fast as radishes but still quick enough to grow a plentiful amount before winter. Grow under a polytunnel and you’re onto a winner. They’re also small enough to be planted as a filler crop amongst other autumn grown veg.
Second Cropping Potatoes
These are special varieties of seed potato which are cold stored until late summer to prevent their development. They are planned to be sold for planting in the late august/early September time for fast growth about 13 weeks later. They don’t usually need any chitting either (potato growers will already know what that means). The ground should be warm enough for them to grow but you can also place a polytunnel over them to give them consistent temperatures. Or also in a greenhouse in grow bags.
Spinach will do well in autumn and even through winter. You cut what you need, and it grows again. Cut some more. And it grows again. Cut some… you get the idea. It’ll continue to produce lovely young leaves. Just ensure to remove the flowers to stop it going to seed which would affect leaf production.
Kale is easy to grow and hardy, and good in low-light conditions. Which makes it great for autumn planting in the UK! Sow in late august/early September in your polytunnel and like spinach will produce leaves throughout the winter months.
Lettuce will also do well in autumn inside a greenhouse or polytunnel. It’s similar to spinach in that you can just take some as soon as the leaves are big enough to eat, and it will go on for a while producing more and more leaves so long as the conditions are right for it. Don’t over pick though, the plant needs some to keep growing.
Not to be confused with the condiment, mustard is a leafy veg that does well too and adds a bit more zing to the mix with its peppery flavour. Again, pick when the leaves are big enough but leave some on for the plant to keep growing.
Fast Autumn Growing Vegetables to Enjoy at Home
Now you know what the most suitable vegetables to grow during autumn are why not give it a try yourself? The conditions of autumn and using aids like a greenhouse, or the cheaper but still very effective polytunnels can help you get some successful crops in before the winter frosts arrive. Once done, why not think about some overwintering veg or ahead to planting in spring? You have enough time to get a planting plan together for what summer grown vegetables you’d like to try. We have some handy guides on vegetables you can grow using the links below. Once you try it once and see the result, you’ll be hooked!