Tag Archives: allotment

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








B Cabbages




Potatoes and other Root Crops Peas




C Peas








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.


The basic kit

So one of the things people say about gardening is how much all the kit is, so thought I would put together a basic kit list to get you going.  And do remember a lot of the kit you can get from car boot sales, garage sales, freecycle.  A second hand good quality tool is often better than a brand new cheap tool.  I got caught out with a spade once, I bought cheap and it bent under any sort of pressure which meant I had to keep turning it round to use successfully.  I am now a massive Joseph Bentley fan, absolutely swear by the tools and although they are a bit more expensive I have been given mine as christmas and birthday presents.  I love a good bit of gardening kit as a pressie!

So here is the list I think are the basics to get you going:

A strong spade with a good step on top for digging (I use a Joseph Bentley, it is solid and has pretty much been used for digging over the plot, digging up a pond, moving gravel, you name it I have used it and its still going strong)

A round-pronged fork for digging and breaking soil (ladies you can get a ladies fork which is slightly shorter)

A flat-pronged fork for lifting root crops like you spuds (again ladies you can get a ladies one)

A hoe (very useful for weeding, saves your back)

A trowel and hand fork (I got mine as a set for £7 on offer, Joseph Bentley)

A rake (I use my hoe to weed then rake up, saves my back, also useful for sowing new seeds)

A hand cultivator (I have a claw, second hand from a boot sale. We do use a tiller but a hand cultivator is good for breaking soil down for transplanting from the greenhouse)

A dibber (great for your leeks)

Secateurs (I have bought cheap but it really isn’t cost effective, you just end up replacing each season)

A wheelbarrow (check out skips etc, a lot of people will get rid of it once the tyre is flat, you can often repair it)

A watering can (I use a 5 litre one to save trips at the allotment but get a size you can handle)


Always clean your tools, keep them oiled and they will last a lifetime.  Linseed oil is great for wooden handles.

Allotment day

Yesterday I spent a day at the allotment, well 4 hours but with two kids in school and a toddler I think that counts as a day! I had to do quite a bit of weeding after the sunny weather we have had, however I cannot stress enough how much easier it was to weed now the ground has been rotavated.  I left an area not rotavated to see what the difference would be and yesterday the results spoke for themselves.  The areas that had been rotavated contained purely surface weeds that with a hoe and a rake I had a completely clear area, the small area I had left was a nightmare to clear.  The weeds were well rooted and there was an awful lot of hands and knees work to be done just to get it clear.  So if you are able to beg or borrow an rotavator it really is a worthwhile piece of kit to have.

I planted more peas and beans, put in the burlotti beans, the parsnip, swede and turnips and some brassicas. Also got some more leeks and beetroot in. A very busy day indeed but I am hoping for a bumper harvest this year.  Left the allotment with two handfuls of radishes, oddly shaped, but radishes all the same, looking forward to having a nibble with the salad later.

So little question, who plants from seeds and who buys plants? 

Regrow vegetables from kitchen scraps?

Another little game you can play with your kids

If you read my blog I would imagine you are a gardener, interested in gardening or even potter round your garden growing your own fruit and vegetables.  You may have many reasons, save money? Knowing your food is free from pesticides?  Or simply because you enjoy it?  I go for all three, however the fact I can save money is a massive bonus.  And by save money I do not mean just buy not having to buy fruit and veg.  I recycle as much as I can.  I dug out a pond and reused the soil, I use all sorts of kitchen tubs for pots and milk cartons for cloches and on top of that I seed save.  I will be providing more information on seed saving later on in the summer but for now I have some information for re-growing food from your kitchen scraps which you would otherwise throw in the bin, or hopefully compost?  I use a lot of mine for my chickens however this is quite a fun exercise to do with your kids and is so easy.

Just remember the quality of the ‘parent’ vegetable scrap will determine the quality of the re-growth, so do not use mouldy leftovers and wherever possible use organic plants which are free of chemicals

Leeks, Spring Onions and Fennel

All you have to do is place the white root end you cut off into a glass jar with some water and pop onto a window sill.  Wait for the green leafy part to start shooting and snip off what you need from this growth for cooking, leave the white root in water to keep growing, just keep putting fresh water in weekly.


You can grow a lemongrass plant from a leftover lemongrass root.  First you need to propagate it and to do this you place the root in some water.  After about a week new growth will appear at which point transplant it into a pot and leave outside in a nice sunny spot.  When the stalks reach about a foot tall you can begin harvesting cutting off what you need and leave the rest to continue growing.

Celery, Lettuce & Cabbage

These grow similar to your leeks and onions.  Once the stalks are cut off place the root end into a shallow bowl of water taking care to only cover the roots and not the cutting.  Pop it onto a window sill and occasionally spray the cutting to keep moist.

Once you see root growth and new leaves appearing transplant into the soil with just the leaves showing above soil level, keep it watered and after a few weeks you will get a whole new head.


Ginger is about the easiest to regrow, all you do is put the knobbly bit (ginger rhizome to be technical) in potting soil with the smallest buds facing upwards.  Ginger needs a warm and moist environment but do not place it in direct sunlight.

Once it has grown new shoots and roots you can harvest  (taking off another piece of rhizome to repeat the process).


There is a lot of negative opinions on regrowing potatoes from any old potato.  But you cannot lose much by giving it a go and I have had some good results.  A potato can be cut into four seed potatoes as long as each part has some decent healthy eyes on it.  You will need to leave the potato parts at room temperature for a day or two to dry out to ensure they don’t rot as soon as you put in the ground.  Potato blight is the only risk from this method so keep an eye out for this however potato blight is possible with bought seed potatoes even with blight-resistant seed potatoes.


You can re-grow a plant from just a single clove – just plant it, root-end down, in a warm position with plenty of direct sunlight. The garlic will root itself and produce new shoots. Once established, cut back the shoots and the plant will put all its energy into producing a tasty big garlic bulb. And like ginger, you can repeat the process with your new bulb.


Onions are one of the easiest vegetables to propagate. Just cut off the root end of your onion, leaving a ½ inch of onion on the roots. Place it in a sunny position in your garden and cover the top with soil. Ensure the soil is kept moist. Onions prefer a warm sunny environment, so if you live in a colder climate, keep them in pots and move them indoors during frostier months.

As you use your home-grown onions, keep re-planting the root ends you cut off, and you’ll never need to buy onions again.

Sweet Potatoes

To propagate sweet potatoes, plant all or part of it under a thin layer of soil in a moist sunny location. New shoots will start to appear through the soil in a week or so. Once the shoots reach around four inches in height, remove them and re-plant them, with about 12 inch spacing.  Allow about 4 months before harvesting.

There are many other plants you can propagate from leftovers but these are just a few to get you started, maybe a little project for the family at the weekend?

Slow germinating Parsnips?

I love growing parsnip but the fact it takes weeks to germinate is so frustrating.  You are left wondering whether it is still waiting to pop or has it died off, is there a problem, or worse (if you forget to mark it up) you forget where it was sown!  This leads to random plants coming up in a few weeks time along with something else you have planted, not an ideal situation.

However I have learn’t a solution from my Grandad that solves all of these problems and I was amazed to see Monty Don use the same technique in Gardeners World this week! Thought for those that don’t have it broadcast or missed it I would share it.   He would create a drill for his parsnips, sow about 2/3 seeds every 4 inches and in the same row sow his radish seeds.  Parsnips take at least 5 weeks to germinate so makes it difficult to weed that area because you don’t want to damage the emerging seedlings but if you don’t weed, the weeds strangle the emerging seedlings giving them no chance at all.  Radish start to pop after a couple of weeks and you can normally start harvesting after 4 weeks, the parsnips will start popping at around the 5 week mark so you can leave them to sprout a bit more whilst continually harvesting radish, removing what is left of the radish at around 8-10 weeks when the parsnips are looking far healthier plants and more obvious to weed around.

You double up use of space, mark out where your parsnips are with the radishes and give the parsnips half a chance of survival!

The Handy



This is actually the most amazing machine I have ever bought and I would recommend it to anyone.  Our second plot was 4 foot high in weeds when we took it on and had numerous of vegetables planted but dying off.  It really was a right state.  We strimmed it down in the Autumn and this Spring the weeds had come back up to about 2 foot.  We nearly cried, well my husband did because he was the one that was going to be digging it over.  I am only 5 foot and our spade is nearly as big as me, also apparently the site of me jumping on a spade is quite amusing!  I am not there to provide a comedy show!

So we got the tiller down there and my husband was off with his man machine!  I call it this because I think secretly he was glad I wasn’t fussed on doing it because it enhanced his manliness pushing this petrol controlled lump of metal around.  

It took everything down pretty quick, a meaty bit of kit that made light work of the whole plot!  A few times round and we practically had sand, it really is that good! The sad person I am I got really excited about this and just led on the soil sifting it through my fingers ooohhhhing and aahhhhhing regularly.  This really did nothing for my husband’s manliness!

This one is a Handy and is 3.5 BHP and we have probably cleared two plots for about £8 of fuel and a couple of days going over it, not bad considering how much longer it would take to hand dig it!