The Hungry Gap is the in-between-seasons period after winter vegetables but before the availability of early spring crops - normally April to June. Of course we can now go to the shop and buy whatever our hearts desire but in the past this would have been a time of want and hardship. The hungry gap reminds us of the seasonality of fruit and veg. While no-body should go hungry, I think we should all stand back and question the logic of strawberries at Christmas or peas in April.
How to fill the Hungry Gap
- Careful planning and storing, in theory, means that you will have root vegetables well into April. Potatoes will keep well in a cool dark place as will carrots, beetroot and parsnip provided they are kept cold enough. A cellar is ideal for this. You must inspect your stores regularly for any signs of rot as this can quickly spread. Keep an eye out for vermin too.
- The ideal temperature for storing potatoes is between 5° and 10°C. Too warm will reduce storage life but too cold can be worse. Below 5°C the starch begins to turn to sugars and the potatoes will develop an unpleasant strange sweetish taste. Bringing them into the warm (around 15°C) for a week or two will usually cure this. If the temperature has fallen to around freezing or below, the potatoes will not only taste strange but become mushy and probably start to rot when the temperature rises.
- Look after you overwintering crops – cabbage, kale, broccoli and leeks. Keep them well netted to protect from birds. Regularly harvesting the broccoli shoots will delay the plants flowering. Planting the taller brassicas in a sheltered location and staking them will also help extend their life.
- Sowing seeds in autumn for broad beans and onions will give you an earlier crop; as will protected planting of spring greens and early potatoes.
- Investing in a polytunnel or glasshouse gives a lot of scope for extending your season at both ends. Whilst your plants will be protected from the weather having a grow-light will also help to ensure healthy overwintering crops.
- Try a few perennial veg – rhubarb, tree onions, seakale, and asparagus.
- Foraging – nettles, sorrel, wild garlic, hawthorn and seaweeds are all edible.
- For easy greens that can be grown anywhere you could try your hand at growing beanspouts and microgreens. Very nutritious and versatile they will fit on your kitchen windowsill and provide fresh ‘greens’ every day.
What is in season in an Irish Spring (apart from a lot of cold rain)
- Purple sprouting broccoli (January – April)
- Kale and leeks (up to April)
- Rhubarb (January – July) - Forced rhubarb is available as early as January. Cultivated in the dark in unlit sheds, it hunts for the light, growing three times quicker. Lovely delicate flavour.
- Spring greens (March – June) - The first of the new season cabbages – their dark green leaves are softer than the hardy red and winter cabbages.
- Asparagus (late April – June)
- New potatoes (April – July) - A real treat after the long winter. Plant in your polytunnel in December.
- Cauliflowers (almost year round) - Different varieties of cauliflower planted throughout the year provide a year-round supply. Winter cauliflower is available from November to May and then in June the summer varieties come in.
- Radishes (April – September) - Quick and easy radishes just need a warm location to keep you supplied from April on.
- Lettuce and leaves (March – December).
- Nettles (March – May).
- By careful sowing you can have leaf greens nearly all year round.