Gardening: A quick guide to harvesting four of the top types of winter veg

Underrated and hardy, good cabbage varieties include 'Tundra', a Savoy cabbage ready from late autumn onwards and 'January King'

How do first-time veg growers know when their autumn produce is ready? Here's a quick guide to four of our favourites.

1. Winter turnips: Turnips prefer a cool climate in an open area with plenty of rainfall in a sunny spot. The slow-growing winter maincrop types, sown between July and mid-August, should be lifted gently with a fork before they reach tennis-ball size. If they get any bigger than a satsuma, they will become woody and flavourless. Store them in a cool, frost-free place, twisting off the leaves and storing them in boxes filled with sand until you want to eat them.

2. Autumn and winter cabbage: These veg are so versatile and so underrated, as well as being totally hardy, braving cold and freezing weather and remaining relatively unaffected. To protect cabbages from wind and frost in autumn, earth up soil around the base of each plant and remove dead leaves when they appear, to stop any rot spreading. You know they are ready to pick when the centre tightens up and forms a solid 'heart'. To harvest, cut off the plants close to the ground under the heart with a sharp knife with a scalloped blade and remove the damaged outer leaves.

3. Leeks: A great allotment crop, leeks can be sown in spring and harvested from September onwards, right through autumn, winter and early spring. Start harvesting a few at a time to use when you need them by using a fork pushed down deeply into the ground next to the leek to ease it out. Early varieties should be lifted first and will be ready from September to December, while late varieties can be harvested from December to March.

4. Maincrop beetroot: If you've sown your beetroot in June for a maincrop for harvesting from September onwards, you can lift maincrop beetroots now for storing indoors. Don't let them get any bigger than a tennis ball or they will taste woody. When lifting, use a garden fork to loosen the soil underneath, taking care not to damage the roots. Try not to break the tap root or the vegetable will bleed, and twist the leaves off to around 2.5cm-5cm above the root to stop bleeding.

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