I made my first wild garlic omelette in January, and subjected the family to wild garlic and hazelnut pesto last week; normally pleasures reserved for March and April.
A few confused plants are even sending up flowerheads already. Wild garlic, foraged from the woods around our Devon farm, will be available to order from early March. If we have a good season, it will appear in the boxes into April, before the plants are shaded out by the trees coming into leaf overhead.
In our fields, the warm winter has resulted in leafy crops running an average of five weeks ahead of schedule. Leeks due in January were pulled in November; January King cabbages were cut in October; Hungry Gap kale planned for April is being picked in February. We have managed to use the crops that came early without any waste – but this does mean that there will be a few deficits until the spring crops start (April on our farm in France, and mid-May in Devon).
Hannah, our agronomist, who walks the crops each week to estimate availability, predicts that we will be short by 12,000 portions a week over the next ten weeks. Much depends on a notoriously fickle and weather-susceptible crop: purple sprouting broccoli. Most of our other crops are looking great, but there were seed shortages last summer, meaning that we were not always able to grow our preferred, more robust varieties.
Some could be wiped out if we get persistent rain, frosts, or both (frost that would be harmless on a dry crop is much more damaging on wet heads and waterlogged ground). But given a reasonably dry, mild spring, high yields may make up for the crops we’ve had to harvest early.
Far worse off than us are our growers in Spain, who have suffered catastrophic damage from a hailstorm; within an hour, it devastated many field crops, and collapsed greenhouses under the weight of the stones. We are supporting the growers as much as possible, and taking whatever crops they still have to offer.
The unfortunate truth is, there is always a farmer somewhere desperate to sell their produce; so, one way or another, our veg boxes will be full. More positively, planting is well underway on our farm in the French Vendée, with the first lettuces planted under mini tunnels looking like they will be ready in five or six weeks. They herald the arrival of a new vegetable year, and, incidentally, my 33rd year of veg growing.