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​Which root veg can I harvest now for Christmas?

A selection of winter root vegetables. (Photo: Alamy/PA)
A selection of winter root vegetables. (Photo: Alamy/PA)

Parsnips, celeriac and carrots could all be added to your Christmas menu straight from your garden, provided the ground is not frozen, when you may have problems digging down into the soil to extract your edibles.

With a little forward planning, you could be harvesting your Christmas veg in December and beyond.

Parsnips

A staple of the Christmas roast, whether you like them doused in maple syrup or coated in a Parmesan crumb, parsnips have earned their place in the veg patch and can be left there until you need them.

Planting tips: This easy crop can be sown outdoors from March to May at a depth of 2cm, sowing three seeds in each hole, spaced 15cm apart. They don’t like being transplanted, but you will need to thin them out to one seedling in each group, making sure the ground is kept weed free and they will need watering when the seedlings are young. The flavour of parsnips improves if they’ve had a little frost, so you can lift them in December by carefully extracting them with a garden fork.

Good varieties include ‘Gladiator’, ‘Albion’ and ‘Hollow Crown’.

Swede

A must-have addition to Christmas dinner if you’re going down the mashed swede and carrot route, mixed with butter and black pepper – you can prepare this dish well beforehand and freeze it if necessary.

Planting tips: Sow in May or June in soil which has already been enriched with compost, at a depth of 2cm, thinning seedlings to 20cm apart and watering in well. Swede is a slow-growing crop which can take up to six months to mature, and although your first swedes should be ready to lift in September, they can be left until the New Year. If it’s really cold, cover the crop with straw to prevent them getting frost damaged.

Good varieties include ‘Brora’, ‘Virtue’ and ‘Ruby’.

Celeriac

This knobbly vegetable, which looks like a root but is in fact a swollen stem, is delicious served as a dish of garlic and celeriac mash – a great accompaniment to rich winter stews, or as an alternative to conventional mash with sausages. It can also be grated and used in winter salads. Celeriac can be left in the ground through winter and up to spring, to just dig up when you need it.

Planting tips: Sow indoors in March and April to give it an early start as it takes six months to mature, and then transplant the seedlings outside in May and June. Celeriac needs plenty of water, so don’t let the soil dry out during summer, but apart from that it doesn’t need much looking after. Cover the ground with bracken or straw to avoid it freezing and to make it easier to lift the stems.

Carrots

Whether roasted with the rest of your Christmas veg or used in Boxing Day coleslaw and salads, there is always a place for the humble carrot. The later you leave them, the bigger the roots will be. While many gardeners harvest the crop by November and store them, if you protect the ground from freezing, you can leave them in the ground until you need them.

Planting tips: Carrots prefer light, well-drained soil, which is stone-free or you could end up with stunted roots. For a winter harvest, sow in summer directly into shallow drills in soil which isn’t stony or compacted, then cover them lightly with soil. Carrots prefer full sun and when you are thinning them, try to avoid too much disturbance of the leaves, as they release the scent which attracts carrot fly, the main pest. To avoid carrot fly attacks, cover them with horticultural fleece.

Once temperatures start to nosedive, mulch the carrot beds with straw or bracken before the ground freezes.

Good varieties include ‘Autumn King’ and ‘Bangor’.

Other winter staples

Some vegetables, including potatoes, may be better lifted earlier on in the season and then stored in a cool, dry, frost-free environment, in either hessian or paper sacks or slatted trays.

Although beetroot can be left in the ground, hard frost will damage the roots, so either cover the bed with straw or cardboard, or lift them and store them in layers of moist sand in a frost-free, dark place, the RHS advises.