Monthly Archives: November 2014

Dig for Victory

It has been a while since I last posted but I have started the second year of my course which has been quite intense, I have had quite a lot of writing work on with the local paper along with harvesting and storing the final bits of this years crops ready for the bits and pieces I have put in to over-winter.

Whilst sat planning for the winter, Christmas, my book and next years crops it got me thinking what food used to mean.  Years ago it was impossible to pop into the shop to pick up some vegetables.  I was told how my nan would pop to the shop each day to get that day’s dinner which would go anything up to 3 days.  For example a chicken would be for a roast, next day cold, 3rd day soup and some gravy for next weeks roast.

Money was scarce, I was told beef was a rarity because it was so expensive. My dad was born in Hull and spent much of his childhood up in Yorkshire, money was always tight so if they did have beef, the Yorkshire puddings would be made but served first.  The idea being that if you filled up on Yorkshire Puddings you would require less beef and therefore it would go an extra day or so.

Before my Dad was born WWII was a time when people really appreciated what they had or more so what they didn’t have.  Food had been rationed.  My uncle told me how my nanny would go to the local farms after they had harvested the potatoes and would be invited to take what was left.  This she would pile into a pram and share among the locals and take to the Red Cross to be given to the men fighting for our country.

Everybody shared everything they had, right down to the last crust of bread and it made me wonder whether these days would we, as a country, survive as we did then?

In 1938, Britain imported around 55 million tons of food, however during the war relying on imported food was impossible.  The only way forward to ensure everyone continued to have a supply of food was to grow at home.

500,000 new allotments were made available by the government in 1939, by 1940 that figure had doubled.  By 1945 most families owned an allotment or tended to vegetables within their own garden.  There were even some councils that claimed to provide an allotment for each household to grow their crops.

It took some planning but the government helped people ensure they weren’t going to end up with a glut of lettuce but not a sprig of winter greens.  Different crops grow better in different places so one of the old gardener’s tips is to look at your neighbours, see what grows in their garden, whether its intentional or not.  If you see loads of Azaleas and Rhodedendrons thriving you know the soil is fairly acidic which helps you decide what will grow on your land and what you need to do to grow anything else.  Also bare in mind what you and  your family actually eats.  Little point ending up with hundreds of courgettes if no one likes them.  A courgette plant can easily provide 20 or so courgettes so  you can see how easy it is to end up with nothing but courgette soup in the freezer.

Something else about this time period was the amount of women donning wellies and gloves.  Throughout the war, manpower was in short supply.  ‘Home Front’ garden pages filled with news of successful women raising families, holding down jobs as well as working several plots.  Women were keeping our country going whilst the men were fighting to protect it.  Bumper harvests covered kitchen tables, freshly-picked produce stopped the country from starving.

So what was the secret?

It was nothing more than a few key gardening principles:

Planning ahead

As mentioned before, look at what grows best in your soil, successional sowing, eg: I always sow peas every 2 weeks to have continued crop, what is left at the end of the summer gets picked and frozen. Plant in between crops, radishes can be planted at the same time as parsnips, radishes take a matter of weeks to be ready, once picked the parsnips continue to grow in the grow for a later harvest.

Crop Rotation

If you garden/plot has been planted in then you need to try and find out what was planted before and start from there. If not then it is relatively easy, you just start your crop rotation from scratch.

1st year 2nd year 3rd year
A Potatoes and other Root Crops Peas

Beans

Onions

Leeks

Cabbages

Brussels

Broccoli

Kale

B Cabbages

Brussels

Broccoli

Kale

Potatoes and other Root Crops Peas

Beans

Onions

Leeks

C Peas

Beans

Onions

Leeks

Cabbages

Brussels

Broccoli

Kale

Potatoes and other Root Crops

Keeping the soil in good heart

Farmyard manure is the preferred choice of many and was readily available around that time. Gardeners were also encouraged to make their own compost by recycling scraps etc.

Little and often

Leaving jobs to the last minute will always lead to a mad Sunday spending 12 hours trying to get all the jobs done you should have completed throughout the week. Whilst it is great spending the day down the allotment, having to spend the day there isn’t quite the same. You would be surprised at what you can complete in just an hour.

Making the most of the year

Today people love growing tomatoes and other salad veg but when it comes to planting the staples like your potatoes and green veg people get a little hesitant. This is often down to lack of space that root and green veg require but throughout the Autumn and Winter you can get bumper crops of your root veg, brassicas and leeks.

So if you make a start today, just an hour you could well be in a position that you don’t need to rely on supermarkets this time next year.

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