What Is The Hungry Gap?
April is known in British farming and fresh produce circles as the hardest month of “the hungry gap” – the time of year when winter veg has all been harvested and cold stored produce has all but run out, and seeds have been sown but nothing is ready to be picked or dug yet.
Early spring has always been a lean time, but in recent decades most people have become separated from that knowledge because of the ready availability of imported produce in supermarkets.
How Long Does The Hungry Gap Last?
The hungry gap in the UK starts and ends gradually, thanks to the planting and harvesting regimes used by farmers, and also because of advancements in cold storage. Locally grown produce starts to tail off over the course of the winter as stores of root veg, potatoes, onions and cold stored apples start to run out, and brassicas such as cabbage and kale have seen the first of the spring sunshine and bolted (when they stop putting their energy into the leafy growth that we eat, and turn instead to producing flowers and seeds). By the end of March and the beginning of April, there is very little, if anything, left to harvest or in storage and the hungry gap bites. Around this time most spring crops are planted out, but even the earliest of these won’t be ready until May, meaning that there are always a few weeks with very little produce available.
Fruutbox And The Hungry Gap
Because of our commitment to keeping the contents of all-but-one of our Fruutboxes consistent, to make it easy for busy households to plan their meals, you’re very unlikely to be impacted by the hungry gap. But it’s still there, and for us it means that there’s much less local Cornish, or even British, produce to put into our fruit and veg boxes. Every supermarket, greengrocer and veg box company is in the same position. Whilst there’s imported produce in our set boxes all year round, we try to use local produce grown in Cornwall or the Southwest whenever it’s available. But bananas don’t grow here. Luckily for us (and you) however, Cornwall’s mild coastal climate and southerly location means that local growers are often amongst the first in the country to harvest, so for us the hungry gap is mercifully short.
What Local Produce Will Be Back, First?
We’ve already had the first of the local foraged wild garlic in our Funky Veg box, so we’re proud to say that there’s never been a week when we’ve not had Cornish produce in a Fruutbox. But you couldn’t live off wild garlic for a month!
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
In late March we were able to get the first of the purple sprouting broccoli, which we’re putting in boxes in place of calabrese (regular broccoli) for the few weeks that it’s available. Our purple sprouting is grown in St Eval, just a few miles from Fruutbox HQ, it’s packed with vitamin C and tastes amazing.
British asparagus is a sure sign that spring and early summer has begun. The spears grow really fast and British asparagus has a short season of around six weeks. Our friends at St Enodoc Asparagus, who farm between Rock and Polzeath, are hoping to start picking their first spears in early April and we’ll be offering them again this year just as soon as they’re available.
Thirty years ago, the strawberry season in the UK only lasted for the six weeks of peak summer. Since then, thanks largely to polytunnels, the season now lasts from the start of May for over 20 weeks through to October and often beyond.
Cornish Earlies are, as their name suggests, the earliest of the potatoes to be harvested on the British mainland, and that’s thanks to our county’s mild coastal climate. The first normally come out of the ground in May, and we’ll have them available to add to your order a few days later.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the hungry gap was a very real issue for British households. It’s only been in the decades since the end of the Second World War that international freight and advancements in both growing and storage techniques have all but eliminated any need for connection to the seasons for British consumers. Whilst the big issue for us is the battle against single use plastic packaging, we also want to champion the amazing produce that’s grown here in Cornwall and make it readily available to our customers. Whilst the only thing that signifies that it’s the hungry gap in your Fruutbox will be the welcome sight of purple sprouting broccoli for a few weeks, it’s still an issue to be aware of when wondering why certain produce is or isn’t available at some times of the year.