UK-grown pak choi, asparagus, basil and Jersey Royals are leading the charge on the much-anticipated start of the British growing season and so-called 'veg new year'.
A warmer than average early spring has favoured these first crops, with the asparagus and pak choi in particular seeing high yields and good quality.
Grown in south Devon by organic veg box company Riverford, the first of this year's pak choi was picked today (9 May) with the quality described as “absolutely perfect” by crop supervisor Hannah Croft.
“It’s a great crop but people don’t talk about it much,” she said. “It has a very short season – only around a month. We start with our pak choi grown on the farm in the Vendee, and have picked the first of the British crop today. They look really lovely."
The first of the organic basil grown in polytunnels at Riverford’s farm, near Totnes, is also due next week, heralding the start of the homegrown British herb season, while outdoor grown salad leaves, including the peppery Mizuna, are poised for picking.
Riverford polytunnel manager, Ed Scott, said the switch-over in the tunnels from winter crops, such as bitter leaves, to new season salad veg had gone smoothly with no delays. “Temperatures have been good so plants are growing well. All in all we’re pretty happy,” he said.
Organic asparagus grower Clive Martin said his season was ahead of schedule due to good conditions around his farm in the Fens, Cambridgeshire. "The yields have been good, though we’ve slowed down a bit this week due to the lower temperatures," he said. "The soil temperature needs to be above 10 degrees and it’s dropped below that, so the packhouse has stopped for the first time. We will be picking again tomorrow."
In the upcoming weeks, leafy salad and new potatoes will be joined by the first of the British new season carrots, spring onions, bunched beetroot and broad beans.
The news come as Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson hailed the ‘least hungry gap ever’, with excellent planting conditions in France and the UK bringing some crops ahead of schedule.
Following the hungry gap, a period of typically low availability of British-grown crops, the ‘veg new year’ moves into ‘summer flush’ as more produce comes into season, followed by ‘autumn plenty’, and finally, ‘winter chill’.