Sunday, February 24, 2013

Seeds from the Past: Wartime Garden

Any true gardener will tell you that a seed catalogue makes them dream of spring and sowing. However, the arrival of seed in the post in the shape of that tight bubble wrapped packet, that brown envelope, that jiffy bag makes us all want to crack out the bunting, fun fair and run a parade through every city street. It is not just the promise of warm days, it is the engine house of new plants, flowers, and in the case of our Wartime Garden, food. 




At Pig Row we have taken our time over which seeds we want to sow this year. Part of us wanted to be historically accurate, sowing the same seeds our forebears did during World War II. However, though some of these seeds are still available, many of them have been forgotten, have fallen out of favour in the seed catalogues as more of us have turned to F1 varieties. Some varieties have simply been cast aside due to the decline in pesticides and herbicides in the garden. Once these chemicals left our gardens we discovered some of these varieties couldn't stand in harmony with nature and they drowned beneath the bugs, blight and black rot. We had one fast and hard rule at Pig Row that we wouldn't turn to F1 - we like collecting our own seed when we can and a sterile variety is no use to us. We wanted to find seeds that were old varieties or recommended by others. Andrew has even agreed to sow Brussel Sprouts, Parsnips and Swede, three varieties he detests but for the sake of planting accuracy has agreed to do.


We want to share with you the seed names we will be sowing, who we bought them from and why we bought them. The great thing about buying from several seeds companies is that you can really gauge value for money by the amount of seed you get for your money. We have all thought that buying big seed packets for cheap is a bargain, though it may be, sometimes it can backfire on you as you find yourself sowing hardly anything and finding you still have a full packet left. You can certainly share this around, buy as a group or even save for another year but it is not value for money. As the longer you keep seed the less viable it becomes. Therefore, you should look for value for money and plenty of seed for this year's and possibly next year's sowing but if you have seed still for the year after that, don't be surprised when it doesn't germinate. Carrot seed is notorious for keeping viability, though I did find three big packets of carrot seed last year, sowed them all in open ground and around 30% germinated. Sometimes if you do find old packets it is worth sowing them in an empty part of the border but don't expect wonders.


We got our seed from three seed companies, Thomas Etty Esq seeds made up most of our Wartime Garden as they carried varieties from the era and prior to the two wars. They even were kind enough to send us a list of Wartime seeds. Then we selected DT Brown for some of our favourites. We have used DT Brown for years and have never been disappointed in the quality of the seed and produce. Finally Seeds of Italy, though the other two companies are great, you cannot beat Seeds of Italy for tomatoes and courgettes. We became converts to their courgettes last year, even though it was a poor growing season, those courgettes we had undercover were some of the best and tastiest we'd ever had in our kitchen. 

From Thomas Etty Esq came some great old varieties and we are looking forward to planting a Fat Lazy Blonde next to a Manchester Market. The seed packets alone are a work of art and this company came recommended by many of you who read our blog. It is the sheer scope of varieties that has impressed us about this seed company and the stories that come with each packet on the history of the seed itself. It's grand to know where your food comes from but to know the history of your seed is a gleeful thing. We will be sowing from Thomas Etty:

America Spinach 
Best of All Swede
Blue Lake White Seeded Haricot
Cabbage Flower of Spring (spring cabbage)
Cuisse de Poulet du Poitou Shallot
Dwarf Bean Tendergreen 
Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Egyptian Turnip-rooted Beetroot
Evesham Special Brussel Sprouts
Feltham First Pea 
Grosse Blonde Paresseuse or Fat Lazy Blonde Summer Lettuce 
Half Long Guernsey Parsnip 
January King or De Pontoise 3 (winter cabbage)
Manchester Market Turnip. 
Monstrueux de Carentan Leek 
Nero di Toscano Kale 
Rhubarb or Ruby Leaf Beet/Chard 
Trocadero Lettuce

From DT Brown we will be sowing some our favourite varieties but we are trying shallots this time, onions have not done well at Pig Row and we want to cover ourselves and try a favourite that we used to grow on the allotment. We are also growing Marrows for the first time ever and plan to put these on the compost heap, an old Wartime trick:

Broad Bean, Masterpiece Green Longpod AGM Seeds
Carrot, Autumn King 2 AGM Organic Seeds
Carrot, Paris Market 5 (Atlas) Seeds
Marrow, Table Dainty Seeds
Onion Sets, Hercules AGM
Radish, Gaurdy 2 Seeds
Runner Bean (Butterbean), Czar Seeds
Shallot, Topper

From the same company we selected two varieties of spuds:

Shetland Black
Rudolph

Shetland is a Second Early and a Victorian potato that we have grown before. Rudolph is a relative newcomer and is a hybrid that owes much to Victorian and Wartime varieties. We selected this to blend the new and the old together. Will a modern variety respond well to wartime techniques?

And, finally but most sumptuously, Seeds of Italy. These beauties will be going in our glasshouse and planned new polytunnel, we want to compare the taste under glass and plastic:

Tomoto Cuor Di Bue Couer de Bouef of Liguria
Tomato Principe Borghese da Appendere or Eternal Tomatoes

We can't wait to get sowing and we hope you'll stay with us through our ups and hopefully no downs of our Wartime Garden. We may be sowing varieties with a modern twist but if we can take a sowing plan, and advice from World War II, apply modern knowledge and try some old Wartime recipes along the way, we can all have a crack of growing some food for ourselves.


You can view more on our #wartimegarden plans on twitter and through the following links:
Seeds from the Past: Wartime Garden 
Our plans to dig for victory
Salvaging With A Smile (Film)
Two Cooks and a Cabbage (Film)
Dig For Victory (Film)
Before the Dark Days: English Harvest 1938 (Film)
You can type wartime garden in our search box to find more results.
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