The sunshine and showers of early Spring are about promise of things to come, not food on the plate. Stocks of foods grown last year are running low – some have run out. Even in the relative warmth and shelter of the greenhouses, it’ll be some weeks yet – well into April – before we get the first salad crops from seed sown this Spring. The first main crop of the year – tender, magenta-coloured stalks of rhubarb – won’t be ready for a further month or so – in mid-May. And then comes the months of plenty …
Right now, though, is the time known as the Hungry Gap.
Spring 2016 was exceptionally dry and windy – with everything in the garden suffering the effects of dehydration. Seedlings withered and vanished: if not from dehydration, then from wind-damage. Potatoes were especially badly affected : a third of the seed potato failed to break through to the surface, and of those that did, yields were very poor. Since Christmas we’ve been increasingly eking out the home-grown spuds with those bought at the Co-op, making do with the latter where the lack of flavour might not be noticed.With mild winters – rarely anything colder than a light frost, we leave carrots and parsnips in the ground, but when the carrots ran out in January, we the rows of parsnip shortened noticeably day-by-day, even as the hours of daylight lengthened : now, there’s just the remnants of the last row left to savour.
Fortunately, the winter greens – typically we grow curly kale, Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli, spring cabbage – are sown in trays ; then pricked out into pots ; and only planted out in late summer or even early autumn, long after summer rains have come to make good the deficit of a dry spring. (Though our driest month is indeed May, it will surprise many to learn that, here in the Outer Hebrides, the wettest month of the year is not in winter, but is in fact July!). But whilst we’ve had no lack of greens this winter, by now even the spring cabbages have had their day. (They’re far too blowsy to grow outdoors through our wild winters – they’d be torn to shreds ; but, grown in the greenhouses, they grow tender and tall and tasty! But they need to be eaten up even before the arrival of Springs – so that the greenhouses can be prepared for the tomatoes.)
So, it’s the Hungry Gap. Not that we do actually go hungry. We can afford to buy the food we can’t grow – not just the bananas, oranges, cheese. But if we didn’t grow as much as we can of what we have the means and ability grow … well, we’d have to make serious cut-backs elsewhere in our household budget. And – now here’s what really matters – we’d lives less flavour-filled, healthy, satisfying, fulfilling. The Hungry Gap reminds us of that fact.
For all of you that grow and make for yourselves, I hope your lives are enriched by both plenty and dearth!