This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
All kinds of vegetables are very nice and highly valued when they become ready for use for the first time in spring and the early part of the season; but I do not think there is any time when a variety of choice vegetables are more prized than throughout the winter. The period to which I refer begins about the November term, and ends about All-Fools'-Day. Maybe about the first-named date vegetables may in many cases be plentiful; but as the year wanes, especially with an accompaniment of severe weather, supplies as a rule become suddenly less, until many things are eaten with a relish which would be quickly consigned to the dunghill at midsummer. Very often this is not the gardener's fault, as none of us can set Jack Frost at defiance with everything that we grow. Still with many things there is a possibility of doing much in the way of storing and protecting, but first and foremost it is important that we have plenty to treat in these ways. Empty quarters in the vegetable-garden are never creditable, especially in autumn; and although many may say vegetables are not wanted in winter and spring, good crops of winter stuff are hardly ever out of place.
It is late now to try to make up for lost time in the way of sowing, but on sheltered south borders Spinach, Late Turnips, and Horn Carrots may still be sown, with a fair chance of their becoming useful. Coleworts, too, may still be planted, to supply little heads about the New Year and afterwards. The prickly-seeded winter Spinach is one of the best crops any one can have from November until March. It is very hardy, and very useful in the kitchen, and one good patch of it gives a surprising quantity of leaves. We sow it two or three times during both August and September, in rows 15 inches apart. Any good ordinary soil grows it well. As a late autumn or Christmas crop, few things do better with us than a good patch of July-planted Cabbage. Their heads in December are almost as nice as they are from the autumn plants in April. Speaking of Cabbage reminds me to say that where the demand for vegetables is large, few things are more valuable than a constant supply of Cabbage - but how seldom do we see this kept up ! As a rule, after the first spring lot is cut, what follows is very inferior.
Our spring Cabbage are planted by themselves in a large patch in the autumn; then the mid-season ones grow between the Potato rows, and the autumn ones are planted after the Potatoes have been cleared off. Where, however, ground is scarce, and all these lots cannot be put in, those plants put out in the autumn and cut at various times in spring will, if properly treated, form a most useful lot for a supply of greens almost the round of the season; because, as each head is cut, if those left are not much injured, from six to a dozen sprouts will be emitted from each, and these growths make as good Cabbage when cooked as the main heads, and sometimes they will produce a third crop after the second has been cut. Kidney Beans are very pleasing in winter, but fresh ones from the plants cannot often be had on the shortest day. Many cooks salt them up in jars about this time, and those not in the secret cannot tell them from fresh ones when they are put on the table weeks or months afterwards. The Runner Beans are the best for salting, and they must not be too old.
Onions are a thorough all-the-year-round vegetable, and the demand for them in winter is great, but they are one of the easiest things to keep - only it is important that they be well dried before taking them in, and September is the month to do this. Any kind will keep throughout the winter, but for late spring and early summer James's Keeping should be grown. Carrots, Parsnips, Beetroot, and Turnips are the other chief roots for winter, and Salsafy is also most useful.
Beetroot will not bear frost. Carrots are not benefited by it, and the more tender kinds of Turnips are often destroyed by it, and care should be taken that all of these are lifted from the ground and safely stored before the frost has ever touched them. We are all rather liable to think when it comes one frosty night that it will not last long, and that our vegetables will take no harm; but very often it lasts, and lasts until much damage is done. Hence the reason for making sure of at least part of the crop. Parsnips and Salsafy are much hardier, and severe frost does them little injury; but sometimes after much hard weather they are not easily got at, and it is generally most convenient to dig up and store away part of them also. The place where all roots are stored should be cool and dry, but not too dry, or many of the roots may shrivel. If covered over with sand, ashes, leaf-soil, or old mushroom-bed dung, they will retain their qualities for many months. But, important as good root crops are, green vegetables are equally or more so with many, but they are not so easily kept, especially during a winter like last. Forcing gives a supply in some places, but not in the great majority, and it is those we have in mind just now.
With them the chief thing to do is to select as hardy kinds as possible to grow from the first, and then to keep them as well as they can.
Brussels Sprouts are among the hardiest of our winter greens; then come Savoys, Curly Greens or Scotch Kale, and Broccoli. And there is yet another I wish to name, and that is variegated Kale. In many gardens last winter these were the hardiest of all greens, remaining fresh to the very end of the season, or until they ran to flower; and when cooked they are as well-flavoured and tender as any other green. In winter it is a great matter to keep all kinds of greens free from dead and decaying leaves, as rot is one of the chief things to be warded off. Many kinds of odds and ends of protectors may be used to cover up the best of the heads at certain times; but protection should never be given unless when it is actually wanted, and it should always be regulated by the weather. With a little labour, good quantities can be stored away in sheds; and when this is done they should only be taken into such places on dry days, when they are perfectly dry, and they ought to be turned occasionally, to expose them to fresh air. Broccoli should always be covered up as soon as they begin to form. Vegetable Marrows, although plentiful now, are scarce enough in winter; but they need not be so if they are gathered now and kept in a dry place.
They keep for months hung up in a piece of net in a dry room, and when boiled they are almost as good as when green. They should be cut before they are too old. Leeks are another grand winter vegetable. Weather has no effect on them; but they should be pretty well grown before the end of October, and the further they are earthed up the better. We have some fine ones this season in a position we never saw them in before, and they are doing well in it. Our Celery trenches are thrown out about 1 foot deep, and when the Celery plants were put into them, a Leek was dibbled in between the plants every yard or so. As they do not make bushy top-growth, they injure nothing, and as they get earthed up with the Celery they will have fine stems. We are much pleased with the plan, and think others would like it if tried.
Parsley comes in amongst the vegetables, and a great thing it is when it can be gathered 365 days together. Often it does well in winter with the protection of a wall-bottom; but besides this, two or three frame fulls should be in reserve; and a number of pots and boxes filled with it and placed in a glass house can always be depended upon. J. Muir.