10 AGM traditional winter vegetables
Words: Graham Rice
Many traditional winter vegetables are so familiar that when we come to choose varieties we don’t always give our choice the thought it deserves. Is one parsnip really that different from another?
Well, yes. And that’s why the Award of Garden Merit is so valuable. It helps us realise that some varieties really are better than others in terms of yield, disease resistance, flavour and a wide variety of other features that combine to ensure that the time and effort we put into growing food is well spent.
Autumn cabbage ‘Consulate’
This British-bred cabbage matures in November but stands well through the winter in all weathers. ‘Consulate’ is a semi-savoy type, so has a little of that crinkled savoy look and the flavour that goes with it, with deep, slightly bluish green heads. Awarded its AGM after trial in 2009, the judges summarised their view by noting its “attractive dark-green, round, dense heads with good flavour”.
Brussels sprout ‘Maximus’
Popular and widely grown, ‘Maximus’ is a vigorous early to midseason variety, finishing cropping in early winter. The mid to dark green, oval, solid sprouts are about 5.5cm/2in long and 4cm/11/2in wide and tightly packed on the stem. Research has shown that ‘Maximus’ contains above average levels of glucosinolate compounds, thought to have health benefits.
The first carrot to help solve the problem of carrot fly, ‘Flyaway’ contains a lower level of the substance that attracts the adult female flies and, if they do lay eggs, the maggots grow more slowly than in other varieties. This is a very uniform, medium to stump rooted, maincrop, 12.5-15cm/5-6in carrot for sowing from February to June. It has a smooth skin, strong top growth and good yield.
There are relatively few cauliflowers which are suitable for cropping in winter, but set out young plants of ‘Deakin’ in the last week of July and they can be harvested from early November until after Christmas with a reliable crop of top quality, solid white heads about 14cm/51/2in across. The leaves wrap over the heads extremely well to protect them from the weather.
Good health is a feature of ‘Granada’ celery as it’s resistant to celery leaf spot (blight) caused by the Septoria apiicola fungus. With heavy, pale green, noticeably fleshy stems with a medium to strong flavour packed tightly in upright heads, ‘Granada’ is vigorous, needs no earthing up and is ready from September following a May/June planting. Ideal for organic gardeners and keeps well in the fridge.
January King cabbage ‘Noelle’
‘Noelle’ is a handsomely purple-flushed, dark green, January King type cabbage with round heads which are rather flattened on the top. Heads average about 18cm/7in across by 12cm/5in deep when planted 45cm/18in apart, but could be spaced tighter for smaller heads. They have a good creamy internal colour and a sweet flavour. From a late spring sowing, ‘Noelle’ will be ready from mid-October onwards and stand through the winter even until April.
This outstanding winter kale also doubles as an attractive ornamental foliage plant. Reaching about 90cm/3ft high, the tightly curled, deeply cut leaves are very dark purple with a reddish midrib and veins and make impressive plants among flowers or in the veg garden. They stand right through the winter, yielding peppery-flavoured leaves for steaming for many months.
It’s possible to have leeks cropping over seven or eight months of the year by choosing varieties carefully. The always reliable and uniform ‘Toledo’ is one of the best for harvesting from December onwards and, from planting in late June, it remains in good condition into March. The dark, slightly bluish green foliage tops medium to long, smooth clean shanks and ‘Toledo’ is highly resistant to bolting.
Parsnips have improved a great deal in recent years and some old favourites like ‘Tender and True’ have been impressively superseded. ‘Albion’ develops evenly tapered, wedge-shaped roots about 33cm/13in long which are about 6cm/51/4in wide at the top. The skins are smooth and white and slow to discolour. Ideal for organic gardeners, ‘Albion’ is resistant to parsnip canker, and other diseases.
Spinach beet ‘Perpetual Spinach’
This old favourite has been improved by a British seed company and is now more reliable, does not bolt, and can be sown in July for picking until November and in mild spells later in the winter. Easier to grow than annual spinach, which is much more likely to run to flower, and resistant to mildew, the fresh-looking bright green leaves are also milder.