Big ideas for little plots: Winter crops for cold frames

You don't need a bevy of greenhouses to grow over winter: a frost-free cold frame (with some gentle heat or bubble-wrap protection) can still be productive. Here's three to try...

Big ideas for little plots: Winter crops for cold frames

Broad beans

'Aquadulce Claudia' is always best for an early sowing, but if the ground is solid outdoors, sow 2cm deep in individual 8cm pots of potting compost, and grow in a cold frame. They don't need heat and won't need water unless the soil dries out. Once they have two true leaves, harden off outdoors and plant out with the seed leaves at the base of the soil.

Onions and leeks

To give the longest possible growing season, start now by using modular trays and sowing leeks 1 seed per module and onions 3–4 seeds per module (eventually planting out in clumps). They won't germinate until temperatures reach 10C, so it's worth popping them in a propagator first, or inside a plastic bag initially, but after germination they will be happy in a cool (frost-free) cold frame for the duration. When they reach pencil thickness, harden off and transplant in mid-May.


Use long toms (or trays/boxes at least 30cm deep) to 'force' a super-early crop of baby carrots. Fill the pot with multipurpose peat-free compost – with a few centimetres of seed compost on top – and sow on the surface. Cover with a little soil and give them a little warmth to germinate (around 8–10C), and then keep frost-free. You could be pulling small roots by May.

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