Currently we’re picking red cabbages, leeks, purple sprouting broccoli, kale and cauliflowers, but during the Hungry Gap (the few weeks between winter and spring crops) in March and April, we’ll reach the point where they just won’t grow anymore. You see it on your lawn in winter, when the grass stops growing – and the same thing eventually happens on the farm, as the winter crops come to an end.
That’s when you need something green, fresh, and nutritious to save the day until spring arrives: Hungry Gap kale. It’s not like curly kale or cavolo nero, it’s totally different. Curly kale is quite a tough, rigid leaf, whereas Hungry Gap kale is much softer and sweeter – and it thrives when not much other veg is around.
Traditionally we would have grown it for sheep feed during the Hungry Gap when the grass isn’t as nutritious. But as people have realised the health benefits of kale, the Riverford veg boxes take priority.
Once we have picked as much as possible, the sheep will then graze the leftovers. Nothing will go to waste, and all the nutrients of the crop will be recycled back into the land through their manure. It’s the perfect circular economy.
As we’re specialised in winter crops here at Lower Willings Farm, the Hungry Gap marks the end of our craziest season. It’s not quite a moment of respite – it’s always busy. But once you hit the Hungry Gap kale, it means you’re reaching the end and you can breathe a sigh of relief.
It’s hard to stop and reflect on the season because I’ve already got one eye on the horizon, with next year’s cropping, rotations, nutrients, and soil analysis to be done. But it’s important to take stock and celebrate that we’ve got to the end of another year, and we can look back and think, gosh, we did grow all of those vegetables.
At the end of the season, we will have a meal out to say thank you to our staff. There are so many difficult moments along the way when things go wrong, the weather is awful, and everyone is stressed. So, when we get to the end, we have to say well done, we did it.