The garden can experience a little bit of a “down time” here in late May, with regard to harvests. Most of the spring crops are gone from the garden, and the summer crops are too new to produce much food. This time of lean harvests has long been known as “the hungry gap.”
In the Southern US, the spring hungry-gap is fairly brief, but in the hottest parts of the South, there can be a second time of lean harvests in August and early September, when crops fail due to extremely high temperatures that occur day and night, for weeks on end.
My gardening sister in Louisiana routinely faces this second gap in garden productivity, in August and September, that is less common in the Atlanta area.
May crops for Southern gardens
For most crops that we can harvest in May, planting in the cool weather and cool soils of early spring is required. This can take some extra effort. A few of the bridging crops will be warm-season vegetables, like bush beans and zucchini. Both of these crops could need to be protected under a frost blanket (or an old flannel sheet) if the temperature drops down below about 38 degrees F.
However, the effort of protecting the plants can be worthwhile. When I plant bush beans in early April, the plants produce mature beans that we can harvest and eat by the end of May. In 2015, our patch of Provider bush beans was producing well by May 27; other years the bush beans have come in even earlier.
In most of our gardens, though, the best bridging-crops for spring are cool season crops that can stand a bit of warmer weather. Different varieties of the same vegetable can have different tolerance to heat, so read seed information carefully to find heat tolerant varieties for late May and early June harvests.
This is a list of crops I’ve been able to harvest in May: strawberries, bush beans, lettuces, Swiss chard, radishes, carrots, onions, edible pod peas, English peas, beets, potatoes.
This year, I’ve given over a large part of the garden to a basil experiment, which means I have less room than usual for vegetables. After pulling up the truly cool-season crops, as we wait for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc, we have just strawberries, dill, and parsley. It is a very lean May/June!
Most years, by the end of June, the summer vegetables will begin to mature for use in the kitchen, but harvests in early June can, like in late May, be kind of spare.
This is a list of crops that produce for me in June: bush beans, strawberries, potatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, peppers, Swiss chard, eggplant, assorted berries, tomatoes (cherry tomatoes usually ripen earliest).
Berries coming soon, in my yard
One major value of planting berry-type fruits in the yard is that many of them produce ripe fruits in this lower-harvest time. We’ve been eating strawberries (variety called ‘Chandler’) for a few weeks, and there are more berries ripening on those plants! For us, giving space to strawberries is easy, even though they hog the space year-round.
Other berries are on their way. The first mulberries in my yard will be ripe for harvest in just a few days, well before the last of May.
Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries all will be ready for harvest in June.
We can use lists of successful bridging crops to help plan next year’s planting, if harvests in May/June have been a bit light in our gardens.
Which crops fill the hungry gap in your yard?