If you're a UK gardener—the kind with an allotment or vegetable plot—or someone a bit like me who favours local, seasonal food over imported produce, you might be getting a bit twitchy right about now. You see, we're just about to enter into a period known as 'the hungry gap'. It means that there isn't a great deal to be harvested. Yes, it does seem slightly unfair: spring is beginning to assert her presence with lengthening days and shoots breaking through the soil, but there's nothing to eat.

The last of the over-wintered root vegetables will be almost gone, or they'll be merrily sprouting and attempting to put about their offpring, and until May, when the first broad beans and asparagus present themselves in their verdant sweetness, it's quite a limited diet. Normally, March isn't so bad, although there can be a lack of variety. It's April that really is the lean month. It is very weather dependent, though, and this year we had a much colder winter than usual, making things that bit harder.

In March, brassicas such as cauliflower, purple sprouting broccoli, and cabbage should still be giving crop provided that the winter wasn't too cold. (There's no calabrese, though. That's a summer vegetable.) However, as soon as the weather gets a touch warmer they'll run to seed. Come April, you have to be prepared to get through a lot of kale. In fact, kale is so prevalent at this time of year that there's a variety called 'hungry gap'. Just to rub it in.

Should you fancy doing a bit of foraging, wild nettles are plentiful right now. Remember that you'll need rubber gloves to harvest them, though. Oh, and there should be forced rhubarb to give us a glaringly pink pick-me-up.

I do remind myself, though, that whilst I complain about a lack of variety, if I'd lived in mediaeval England the hungry gap presented the real prospect of starvation. Not only that, but the hungry gap could have lasted longer than the six or eight weeks that we know now. It's all too easy to forget that crops we take for granted, especially potatoes and squashes, hadn't made their way over from the New World yet. If the previous season's grain harvest had been poor and the winter had been hard and not allowed for an early spring planting, June and July could have been very difficult indeed.

I don't know, maybe it's nature's way of reminding us that even when we're surrounded by potential abundance, she still holds the upper hand.

And it doesn't change the fact that I see a lot of kale in my future.


wertperch points out that the February moon is sometimes known as the 'Hunger Moon'.

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