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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 8 April, 2020

'Sowing season doesn’t stop at the end of spring if you want vegetables over the winter'

This is a crucially important time of the year to be sowing seeds, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

ONE OF THE great lessons I’ve learned in my time as a GIYer is that the sowing season doesn’t stop at the end of spring. In fact, if you want a consistent supply of vegetables over the winter, and particularly in the difficult “gap” months of March, April and May, then this is a crucially important time of the year to be sowing seeds.

The great market gardener Jim Cronin told me once that we should be almost as busy with sowing in August as we are in the spring. The greenhouse/polytunnel should be as resplendent with seed trays at this time of the year as it was back in March.

Rather than see this as a chore, I actually love this shift in emphasis so late in the season. The last two months have been all about harvesting and lately I’ve been getting this feeling that the GIY year was about to start it’s inexorable decline towards autumn and winter. But before we start feeling all autumnal, we have a reprieve and we’re back to the wonderful world of potting compost, seed trays, germination and the like. If, for whatever reason, you didn’t get a chance to sow much this year, than here’s your chance for redemption!

When it comes to August sowing, I am thinking about three main categories of vegetables:

1. Winter “salad” greens to supply us with green leaves right through the winter. In this category you can include winter lettuce, lambs lettuce, claytonia, rocket, mizuna, mibuna, French sorrel, chard, endive, parsley, coriander, mustard greens, pak choi and spinach.

2. Quick growing vegetables that will, if sown now, churn out a crop before winter like radish, turnips, baby carrots, baby beetroot and “quick-heading” calabrese. Try and source quick maturing or late season varieties of these.

3. Vegetables that you get in the ground now to provide a crop next spring like spring cabbage, kale and salad onions. Incidentally, also in this category, I will be sowing garlic and broad beans later in the winter. Though it’s too late now to sow purple sprouting broccoli and brussels sprouts from seed, if you can source a couple of plants from your garden centre, you could chance planting two or three plants of each in your veggie patch.

The Basics – Harvesting Garlic

Knowing when to lift garlic can be a tricky proposition – harvest them too early and the bulbs will be too small, but harvest too late and the bulbs will begin to lose their quality. The old rule is to sow garlic before the shortest day of the year (21 Dec) and harvest before the longest (21 June). Some people also do a spring sowing which won’t be ready until late July or August.

A good general rule of thumb is to do a test when a third of the leaves on each plant are gone brown. Carefully push back the soil around one plant and have a look at the bulb to check its size. If its too small, put the soil back around it. Lift all your garlic when a half to two-thirds of the leaves are gone brown. Lift carefully and dry on racks in sun (or indoors in wet weather) for two weeks. Hang in plaits.

Recipe of the Week – Courgette Salad

Every year I sow too many courgette plants – we have about six plants this year, and while we have a manageable amount of produce from them at the moment, we are only weeks away from being at full blown “glut” stage when we’ll be eating courgettes in pretty much everything – courgette bread anyone? For now we are enjoying small, crunchy pencil-length courgettes in this zingy salad.


  • 2 courgettes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1 small garlic clove , crushed

Grate the courgettes and then toss them with the oil, lemon juice, honey, poppy seeds and the crushed garlic clove. Season to taste. Serve straight away (it gets watery if left hanging around) – makes a lovely accompaniment to barbecued meats.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.


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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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