Taking stock in the Hungry Gap

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, writes Cathy Case.

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.

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Hungry Gap kale is softer and sweeter compared to the curly variety. 

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.


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  1. It’s interesting, working in a garage that sells a lot of vegetables. Our main sales comes from petrol of course but we have a veg shop attached which I work in on weekends. Not so long ago I printed out a fact sheet on gourds / squash, mainly for my benefit but I left it out for customers to see. It proved very popular with most shoppers only being familiar with one or two varieties. Having read the above, I can see a need for more information sheets detailing exactly what different varieties of veg are, how they’re grown and potential uses for them. Yes, we have recipe books but they don’t necessarily detail what’s in season / in the shop or what else might be available. Information at the point of sale would be very useful when making a pragmatic, creative decision about what to buy and why….

    1. We’re so used to the bog-standard stuff that often isn’t grown in this country that we’ve lost touch with the more seasonal (and unusual) varieties. It would be nice if shops could provide simple recipes with seasonal items to encourage more consumption – it’s not our fault that supermarkets provide us with all-year-round access to tomatoes and aubergine.

      I think there’s a role for retailers, chefs, and farmers to show us that cooking these varieties can be delicious and interesting. Maybe this could counter the perception that a seasonal diet is just cabbages and beetroot?

    2. Indeed, if one was to buy clothes it wouldn’t be “a dress” or “a pair of trousers”; material, shape, colour, texture, size, suitability, all these would be taken into account, why not the same with fruit and veg?

    3. Exactly – wouldn’t it be fun to have outfit suggestions for seasonal veg! I’m enjoying the idea of dressing veg up.

      Dress cauliflower in white sauce? Pair your delica squash with orange vinaigrette. Complement the purple sprouting broccoli with chinese 5 spice. A bit of fun could capture people’s imagination!


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