What Is the Hunger Gap in Gardening

Written by David S.

For many gardeners, the seasonal shift means the end of gardening for the year. In Southern California, the seasonal shifts are not as severe as they are in colder regions. The Hunger Gap is the sharp decrease in available food from your garden during the span from winter to summer, and summer to winter. 

It is easy to grow tomatoes, squash, and melons during the summer months. During that time, you end up with large harvests. In the fall, the summer garden fades, and you can plant short-yield crops, radish. The options for harvesting between the end of summer and the beginning of winter can be limiting. If you are trying to feed your family from your garden, you begin to notice that lack of variety during those leaner months.

This blog discusses the hunger gap and some tricks you can use to fill it with bountiful harvests. 

The Southern California Growing Season 
It is very possible to grow a garden year-round in most areas of Southern California. Gardeners here can focus on spring, summer, fall, and winter gardens to produce food. If you have a large enough space, you can sometimes overlap the growing seasons to produce more yield from your plant. 

Tomatoes will grow until the first hard frost at which point they die. The same is true of squash. Until the first hard frost, the summer garden will continue to produce. Once the frost hits the season for peppers, tomatoes, and squash ends. Those three plants are heavy produces and the loss of their yield can be significant. If you have not prepared for the drop in yield, the volume of what your garden produces can leave you lacking. 

Tricks To Increase Yield 
1. Check when your average last frost date is by your Zip Code. The Farmer’s Almanac has a handy tool that helps you determine when the average first and last frost dates are. 

The results are averages, so you will have to fine-tune them based on local conditions. Once you have your average first frost date, you can tentatively plan around that time. It enables you to start fall vegetables early so that as the frost ends your summer garden, new plants are already growing to replace them. 

Days To Harvest 
The Days to Harvest data is another important average. Because different types of plants have shorter maturity dates knowing how many days it takes a seed to mature into a healthy and harvest-ready plant has its advantages.  

In Mid-summer, you can start seeds for plants that will be harvest-ready either around the first frost date or winter vegetables that will handle the frost and still thrive. 

So, there are two options for stacking your summer garden and increasing its yield. 

  1. Plant short-season summer vegetables that will end when the first frost comes. These are vegetables that replace plants that have finished their harvest or to fill in gaps there other plants have died. 
  2. Plant winter vegetables that will continue to grow after the first frost comes. These are frost-hardy plants that can handle lite frostings. 

Essentially, the goal is to increase the garden production as one seasonal crop concludes. Doing so means that a new crop will begin where one left off. That process is part of successive gardening and a cornerstone to high-yield gardens. 

Garden Journal or Calendar 
The hunger gap is the waning of harvest-ready produce between two high production seasons. Generally, that is Winter and Summer or in some locations, it is just summer. 

One of the best tools to help you understand how your garden grows is to keep a journal of:

  • When you plant a specific type of seed
  • When the seed germinates
  • The weather conditions 
  • Plant problems and Pest Issues
  • The date that you harvest the first fruit or vegetable
  • The amount of food produced by the plant 
  • The date that the plant gave its last harvest. 

A few examples of plants that have a single harvest include:

  • Some forms of broccoli
  • Some forms of cauliflower
  • Determinate tomatoes 
  • Carrots 
  • Beets 
  • Winter Squash 

A few examples of plants that have an extended harvest include:

  • Chard and Leafy Greens
  • Mizuna 
  • Bok Choy 
  • Indeterminate tomatoes 
  • Melons 
  • Summer Squash 

If you plant determinate tomatoes, they produce all of their fruit at one time. In the span of a few weeks, the tomato is done producing fruit and when the last tomato is plucked, the plant can be removed and replaced with something else. If you plant indeterminate tomatoes, the harvest goes on for months. The plant will live and continue to blossom and produce fruit until the frost kills it. 

If you plant broccoli, the plants generally produce a single head of broccoli, and then they are done. Some types of broccoli produce small flower floret that you harvest continually. 

Managing Planting and Harvests 
To fill in the hunger gap, you need to adjust planting times and compare harvest dates. To use successive gardens successfully means that you are looking ahead to harvest dates and starting seeds 4-6 weeks before you anticipate harvesting a specific crop. 

In between harvest and resowing, you need to amend the soil. Some gardeners follow a strict rotation schedule for plants and others amend the soil. There is no right or wrong way to decide which method you choose. Even when you rotate crops, you will need to amend the soil. 

Amending the Soil 
Amending the soil helps to boost crop yield and keep plants healthy. If you use a tilling method to prepare the soil for planting, aged manure is a good option for amending the soil. 

If you use a no-till or no-dig method of gardening, top dress the rows with a mixture of aged manure and organic compost. 

A note about manure: Be sure that you buy organic manure. Manure is a grain crop that has passed through an animal. Some crops are sprayed with a desiccant which makes the grain crop mature at the same time. Some of those desiccants are herbicides such as Roundup. Some of that product may remain in the manure, and it may weaken or kill your plants. Organic manure is the best option when choosing aged manure. 

If you learn to balance removing plants and adding new plants – successive gardening – you will improve the quality and types of foods available during the hunger gap. Be sure to keep accurate records, so that you can improve the process season-over-season. 

Green Thumb Nursery offers a range of products that can help you improve your harvest through the hunger gap period. One of our best resources is the people who work here – Our plant experts can help with plant selection, soil products and fertilizers, and products that are safe to use as pest control for vegetable gardens. 

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