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The least hungry gap ever

We are enjoying a near perfect spring. Predominantly easterly winds have brought plenty of bright, dry weather, creating excellent planting conditions. High light levels and warmer-than-expected temperatures mean that some crops are three weeks ahead of schedule.

It is such a welcome contrast to last year’s miserable March and April, the aftermath of which dogged us all summer; crops that had been planted into cold, wet seedbeds never developed the roots they needed and struggled to recover when it suddenly went hot and dry.

The last of the cauliflowers, purple sprouting broccoli (PSB), leeks, hungry gap kale and greens, all sown almost a year ago, will finish this month with bumper yields and good quality. After struggling for years to keep pigeons off the greens, we have invested in light nets and covered them all to good effect; the bonus is warmer soil, more microbial action making more nitrogen available, and a boost to yield and quality.

I can’t remember anyone ever complaining about too much PSB, but some of you might be glad to see the back of leeks, cauliflower and kale. Rest assured, after May they’ll stay out of your boxes until August or even September. Until then, we’re using all we can; it would break my heart to let good crops go to waste in the field, especially at this time of year (the ‘hungry gap’, between the end of winter crops and the start of spring harvesting) when we are usually so short of veg. We just hope we aren’t pushing our luck with your appetites too much.

At our farm in the French Vendée, we are also off to a fantastic start. Good planting conditions, and skillful management of the crop covers and mini tunnels, have helped us make the most of the sunshine. Normally we expect to harvest six or seven prime quality lettuces for each ten we plant; this year we are cutting a satisfying eight or nine, leaving nothing but stumps behind.

Swiss chard is also in full swing, with summer greens (like spring greens but much more tender), turnips, kohl rabi and broad beans not far behind. The autumn-sown broad beans are in full flower – though with cold easterlies and frost now forecast, I am fearful of a repeat of last year when we lost the lot to a late frost.

With the help of the Vendée, if we have a problem then it is not scarcity, but abundance. We are struggling to find a home for everything; a first for April/May in 30 years. It looks like this might be our easiest hungry gap ever. 


    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 50,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His video rants have provided a powerful platform to do this, with a video on pesticides going viral on Facebook to reach 5.6 million views and 91,000 shares. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.  

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