In general the spring weather in the last few weeks has been great. Warm, clear sunny days, interspersed with rainy days, has been perfect growing weather, allowing us to get more and more crops in the ground. We've planted up onions (all 100,000 of them), early kales and cabbages, celeriac, spring onions, lettuce, early beetroot, parsley and the first sweetcorn too. Our polytunnels are been transformed as well and are now full of summer crops including tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, beans and aubergines. We've had a few anxious nights this week where the temperatures have dipped below freezing and we've had to cover up crops with meshes and fleece to keep the worst of the cold away.
Hungry gap produce
We are now well and truly in the hungry gap, the leaner period between April and June when our winter crops have finished and the spring crops are not yet ready to harvest. This year’s hungry gap period has been particularly challenging – an increase in demand following an extremely wet winter which made it difficult to get any spring crops in early.
Our box contents this time of year are always limited so you may see some of the same produce (e.g. chard, beetroot) week after week, rather than the variety we strive to offer at other times of the year, though it does mean we try to get more creative with our box contents rather than resorting to buying produce shipped in from abroad!
May sees a combination of crops in our boxes which can be broadly split into three categories.
1) There are last years crops that are happy to survive the winter, such as leeks, beetroot, chard and kale. These form the staple of our boxes during this time. When these start to flower it signals the end of their harvesting period, and you may see at the farmers market, in the boxes or on the online shop seasonal specialities such as leek scapes and brassica flower shoots – read our piece below about what to do with these. And there's also rhubarb which is perennial and happily at its best during this scarce time.
2) Secondly, we sow in autumn many crops that overwinter, both inside the tunnels and outside. The last week of October (give or take a week or two!) sees the outdoor sowing of onions, garlic and broad beans, as well as the polytunnel sowings of broad beans, peas and carrots, all of which have been available the last couple of weeks. We do three sowings of indoor carrots, the second and third being in January and March, in an attempt to get a continuous supply, to then link up with the outdoor carrots sown first in April. Years of experience and its still impossible to get it perfectly right as there are so many factors at play, though as with most crops, successional sowings are a fundamental part of providing a consistent supply. For some reason this year, our February peas are well ahead of our January peas!
3) Thirdly, we have our spring sown crops that are quick to mature – look out for bunches of radishes and turnips as well as our salad mix, all sown outdoors when it finally stopped raining a couple of months back.
We have lots of recipe ideas on our website and in our newsletters if you're looking for a bit of inspiration on how to use that chard and beetroot. And we hope you'll join in our excitement as the new season produce including carrots, peas, broad beans and radishes start to appear. They always taste so much better when you've waited all year for them!
Leek scapes (Allium porrum)
Seasonal eating is all about making the most of what is available to you, and a lot of this comes down to a basic knowledge of what is edible and also what to do with it; in years past this would have been second nature to most people. While garlic scapes aren’t so uncommon these days, leek scapes are much less known – the time needed for a leek to flower is well over a year, so commercially unviable on a large scale – yet they provide an alternative to onions in that time where they may not be widely ready yet. While leek scapes that get too big turn woody and bitter, the tender, smaller shoots that we select provide various culinary possibilities:
- Left whole, they can be coated in oil, salt and sugar and roasted or grilled – best to err on the side of overdone here – looks like grilled asparagus when done like this
- Sliced thinly, it can simply be used like an onion, though like a leek I’d say cut it diagonally!
- Blitzed in a food processor, it provides a mild onion touch to any dip
- Pickled, it keeps it shape well and is essentially like a pickled onion!
- Blanch it to take the edge off, chop finely and sprinkle it on any dish as a garnish, like chives or spring onions
Some of our box scheme customers may find a bunch of leek scapes in their boxes over the coming weeks.