Early spring which is usually a lean period for the vegetable garden’s yield can actually be reasonably productive for the gardener who plans ahead, keeps their eyes open to opportunity, and expands beyond the usual garden fare in order to exploit the “hunger gap.”
After a brief taste of summertime with temperatures exceeding record highs in the Central PA region things have returned to normal and seasonal weather that could soon include frosty conditions.
So if you rushed to set out crops like tomatoes and peppers, just be prepared for some anxious mornings after nights spent covering frost sensitive plants. I’ll play it safe and won’t even be slightly tempted to plant out tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants for at least another month yet.
Bountiful Harvests from the Spring Garden
But that definitely doesn’t mean that the veggie garden is bare right now, in fact I’ve been harvesting produce since the first days of March when those fall planted leafy greens began sending up delicious new growth!
Generally the term “hunger gap” referred to the period in late winter and early spring when root crops and other stored foods were running low but the next season’s harvest had not yet begun. Before the days of grocery stores it was a critical period, and one where any plants offering a new harvest would be valued.
Those over wintered leafy greens are perfect picks to fill that hunger gap period and supply fresh produce from the end of winter until spring planted crops come into production. And there are also crops like leeks, sunroots, parsnips and salsify that were left in the ground throughout winter to harvest later. Yet more reasons why growing a fall vegetable garden is so rewarding.
Wild Returns from the Garden, Field, and Forest
It’s also another reason why it is a great idea to become familiar with some of the wild edible plants as many of them begin to dot the landscape long before gardeners plant their first seeds into the ground. There is already plenty of dandelion, chickweed and garlic mustard scattered around my backyard and early spring is the best time to enjoy these wild greens.
You can also find many perennial herbs that have broken their hibernation and started growing again. Angelica, mints, tarragon, oregano, horseradish, comfrey, sage, lovage, and others have all produced significant growth at this point in the season. Look closer and you can even spot annuals like epazote and calendula that have reseeded themselves and are just now germinating and becoming visible.
Venture further out and you can go foraging for fruits of the forest. Ramps, fiddleheads, and an assortment of wild morels and mushrooms are available if you know when and where to go looking for them. If this is new territory for you look around for a local workshop, class, or expert to share the knowledge and satisfaction of foraging free food from the forest’s garden.
Bridging the Hunger Gap from One Season to the Next
Back in the home garden spring plantings are well underway with transplants having been set out for the following; cabbage, broccoli, leeks, spinach, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, and Swiss Chard. All of which can easily handle frost without stressing the gardener or requiring extra work in the form of protecting the plants.
In the perennial edible bed the blackberries have been pruned and are looking great, new strawberry plants have been set out, and I’m doing my best to resist harvesting any of the unusual purple asparagus shoots from plants that went in last spring and aren’t intended to be harvested for the first time until next spring.
Finally the fall planted garlic and potato onions are growing happily and look very promising for the summer’s harvest. In the meantime they can both supply some spring onion-like greens and even baby garlic for the kitchen. I also found some shallot seed bulbs at a local nursery, planted them a week or so ago, and noticed that they have sprouted already.
So the garden is off to a great start and I hope you can recognize that with the right mix of knowledge, incentive, and a home garden it is very easy to supply your family with a taste of fresh produce right through the lean periods of the garden’s “hunger gap” during late winter and early spring!
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