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  • Sue

Hurray to the end of the hungry gap

The hungry gap happens in spring. It is the period between the end of your winter vegetable harvest and the moment you can start eating spring vegetables. Here is SW France we are lucky in that it is short period - and if you manage your potager well enough it can be non-existent.

Our hungry gap officially ended yesterday when we harvested our first broad beans. To be fair we are still eating some winter vegetables - our rainbow chard and cavolo nero kale are still cropping and already we have started to pick herbs and aillet (young garlic), but it is always a thrill to pop open the pods of early broad beans and eat them when they are tiny. We plant our broad beans in the early winter. This serves two purposes - they crop earlier (like now) and I think they are less susceptible to black fly. Black fly feed on the young tips of broad bean plants and gradually move further down the stem and across the leaves and beans leaving a sticky inedible mess. As soon as you see the beginnings of an infestation you must nip out the tops of the beans and destroy them. This delays their progress, but they are almost impossible to eradicate. Anyway - no blackfly yet and the beans were delicious.

The aillet is a young garlic bulb - garlic being called "ail" in French. As with the beans, we plant our garlic cloves in the winter and start harvesting the young plants now - they still have a very distinctive garlic smell and taste, but are less strong. They look like spring onions and you slice them crosswise adding them to salads and, typically, omelettes. As they start to mature they are wonderful cooked with a slow braised shoulder of lamb or gently cooked alongside other meats and vegetables. Don't harvest all of your aillets though - you need to leave enough to mature into garlic bulbs which are harvested at the end of summer. - here is a photo of our aillets. I need to weed around them.

Asparagus is another celebration of the end of the hungry gap. We don't grow our own as the crowns take up a lot of space in a domestic vegetable garden and it is easiest to buy it direct from a local producer. Asparagus crops for a very short period from about March to May and is eaten either green or white. They are the same plants, but the white version is blanched by heaping up earth around the growing stem. We ate our first asparagus of the year with our grandchildren a few weeks ago. Afterwards they made endless trips to the loo to see whose wee smelled funny first - asparagus wee can have a very distinctive pong, which, of course, to boys ages 6 and 9 was an absolute joy.

This photo shows the last cavolo nero and rainbow chard plants, some rather moth eaten radish seedlings planted as a catch crop and our tarragon.

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