Even though the clocks have changed and there’s no escaping the march towards winter it’s still possible to find some plants which can be sown at this time of the year. Peas and beans, members of the legume family, are a hardy bunch and offer gardeners a late autumn sowing fix. Broad beans if sown now will provide you with a much earlier crop than spring sown plants. Autumn sown broad beans are also less likely to suffer from black fly, which colonise the growing tips of plants, because they tend to have finished cropping before the conditions are right for an infestation to take hold. ‘Aquadulce’ and ‘Super Aquadulce’ are both particularly hardy varieties which can withstand the winter weather. You can direct sow in rows in your vegetable garden or allotment or, if you’d prefer, sow the fat seeds into small pots and keep them in your greenhouse until they are large enough to plant out.
The legume family has a very neat trick. A special type of bacteria absorbs nitrogen from the atmosphere and stores it in small nodules on the roots of peas and beans. Nitrogen is one of the nutrients which is most easily leached from the soil, particularly over winter when it is especially wet. When you come to remove your beans and peas after harvesting leave the roots in the soil to allow them to break down and release the nitrogen back into the earth. Plant up in this space with nitrogen loving plants such as leafy greens and lettuce, which will thrive.
I can’t imagine my garden without sweet peas. They’re the quintessential cottage garden plant and there’s nothing to beat the smell of the first sweet pea of the summer. To have these fantastically scented blooms in flower as early as mid-May sow a batch now. Sow four or five seeds into tall long tom style pots – those plastic pots which come with clematis in them are perfect. Sweet peas need a long root run and will be happiest, particularly when they are being started off early, if they have the space to grow. Sweet peas are hardy so can be sown directly into the ground but sowing them under cover, keeping them in a greenhouse or cold frame, will give them a bit of protection from rain, snow and frost. Follow this autumn sowing with another in early spring and then one at the end of May for a succession of blooms all summer long.
In milder areas it’s also possible to sow edible peas. Pick varieties which are classed as ‘first earlies’ such as ‘Meteor’. These are the hardiest types of peas and will produce a crop in early May. Give them a little extra protection using cloches. And, if you think your climate may be a bit too chilly for early peas then try sowing them tightly packed in seed trays and keep them on your window sill or in the greenhouse, harvesting them for their tasty and sweet young shoots. Most peas will give you two to three pickings of shoots, and if you sow every three weeks you will have a succession of tasty fresh greens throughout the winter.