What to Sow in August – 2023

Remember this Golden Rule: “Always sow the seeds – you can catch up on everything else later except that!”

With day length shortening and decreasing light available to plants – it is absolutely vital that some crops are sown now or as soon as possible if you want plenty of winter food.

Two varieties of mangetout peas for soup, sprouting and seed, kale rear centre beside peach, and perpetual spinach beet.
Two varieties of mangetout peas for soup, sprouting and seed, kale rear centre beside peach, and perpetual spinach beet.

Growing and saving our own seed is growing our own food security. In these uncertain times – everything we can do for ourselves gives us more self-reliance, independence from the giant global seed corporations, and from increasingly unreliable food chains!

Sow outdoors in pots or modules:

(For planting later in the tunnel or greenhouse, when summer crops are cleared. These will all crop in late autumn/early winter – some like chard, perpetual spinach beet & kale will crop steadily over the winter and early spring next year):

Calabrese/broccoli* (‘Green Magic’ is a great variety that crops well all autumn and over the winter in the tunnel if picked regularly, and protected from serious frost with fleece), ‘Kaibroc’ – fast cropping, delicious kale/broccoli hybrid). Cabbages ‘Greyhound’ & other leafy non-hearting spring collard types, carrots (early ‘Nantes’ types, in long modules or pots), kales such as Cavalo Nero and Red Ruble, dwarf green curled and Ragged Jack, lettuces** non-hearting leafy types (like Lattughino Rossa, Lollo Rossa, oak leaf & Jack Ice), winter ‘Gem’ & winter butterheads, endives, kohl rabi*, Swiss chards and perpetual spinach beets, beetroot ‘Bull’s Blood’ and ‘McGregor’s Favourite’ for salad leaves**, peas (for pea shoots), sugar loaf chicory* (Pain de Sucre), Claytonia**(miner’s lettuce), American land cress**, watercress, leaf chicories (radicchio), rocket**, summer turnips**, coriander**, chervil**, plain-leaved and curled parsley, and sorrel.

Covering seed trays while they are outdoors, with a fine mesh-covered frame or cloche, gives young seedlings protection from pests (like cabbage root fly and cabbage white butterflies), and also provides shelter from scorching sun, strong winds or heavy rain.

You could also now plant a few early variety potato tubers in pots anytime from early to mid-August – to bring inside later for a Christmas or early January crop of ‘new’ potatoes. ‘Autumn planting-ready’ types are available now in garden centres, if you haven’t saved your own seed tubers from your first or second-early crops, or held some back from earlier spring planting. If you’ve found a variety you like in the shops, and want to try growing them, put tubers into the salad drawer of the fridge for a week, then bring them out put them in the sun on a windowsill for another couple of days, then put them in a darkened box in a warm place like your kitchen – the tubers will be tricked into thinking they’ve gone through winter dormancy, will think it’s spring and will soon start sprouting within a few days. You can then plant them in 2 or 3 litre pots of organic, peat-free compost, and they will happily grow on until harvesting, as long as you make sure they don’t suffer blight or frost..

Outdoors, sow in modules, in a seedbed for transplanting, or in situ where they are to crop:

(To possibly cover with cloches or frames later in autumn.)

Beetroot, Brocoletto ‘Cima di Rapa’, early ‘Nantes’ type carrots for late autumn cropping, cabbages (red round head**, ‘Greyhound’ and leafy non-hearting spring types), peas (for pea shoots), sugar loaf and leaf chicory*, radicchios*, endives, Japanese overwintering onions**, salad onions, Claytonia (winter purslane/miner’s lettuce)**, lambs lettuce**, American landcress**, winter lettuces, kales, radishes, rocket, Swiss chard and leaf beets*, summer spinach, summer turnips, Chinese cabbage* and other oriental greens such as Choy Sum, Vitamina, Pak choi, mibuna, mizuna, mustards ‘Red & Green Frills’ etc, Chinese kale (Kailaan), Komatsuna**, winter radishes, quick maturing salad mixes, parsley, chervil*, buckler-leaved and French sorrel.

Sow fast-growing green manures like buckwheat, red clover, mustard (a brassica so be careful with rotations) and Phacelia, to improve soil, ‘lock-up’ carbon and feed worms (digging them in later after the first frosts, then covering to protect soil, preventing nutrient loss and possible pollution), on any empty patches of ground cleared of crops that won’t be used over winter.,

(*Sow Early Aug. only, **sow mid-late Aug.)

If you don’t get many crops sown now, they won’t have enough time to develop to crop well over winter, with the shortening days now all growth slows dramatically within a couple of weeks. Another thing – Please remember that these are just suggestions – you don’t have to sow them all!

If I was forced to choose only six veg to grow over the winter in my polytunnel they would be: Ragged Jack (or Red Russian) Kale, Ruby or Silver Swiss chards, Perpetual Spinach Beet, Watercress, lettuces Lattughino Rossa and Jack Ice, and Sugar Loaf Chicory. These are all incredibly productive over even the hardest winter in a polytunnel or greenhouse, or protected with cloches outside – often continuing well into late spring.

N.B. Sow seeds in the evening if possible because germination of some varieties of seeds can sometimes be affected or even prevented altogether by too high a temperature during the first 24 – 48 hours – this applies particularly to lettuce, spinach, celery and also greenhouse sown carrots. Protect module-sown seedlings outside from heavy rain or strong sunlight with a plastic mesh such as ‘Enviromesh’ – which also protects against carrot root fly, cabbage white caterpillars and cabbage root fly – all of which can still decimate unprotected seedlings. Old net curtains work well too! Sowing in modules on a table, or raised area outside also provides seedlings with good protection from slugs.

(P.S. I really enjoy sharing my original ideas and 40 years experience of growing and cooking my own organic food with you. It’s most satisfying and naturally also very complimentary if others find “inspiration” in my work……But if you do happen to copy any of my material, or repeat it in any way online – I would appreciate it very much if you would please mention that it originally came from me, as it’s the result of many years of hard work and hard won-experience. Thank you.)