Wartime Garden: Top Secret Report on Growing, Part 1

Now listen up, you good people have been watching and reading about our wartime garden over the last few months. We have been attempting to show our stiff upper wellington boot to the world in an attempt to show that we can all do our bit. This report is to guide you through the seeds we have sown, the seeds that have grown and the seeds that have vanished under the relentless attack of that fiend, the slug.

A family of three grow their own.



Spring of 1943 started generally warm and then slid downhill into severe gales, weather fronts that blew hot and cold. There was rain and sun, sometimes in the same hour, and then as spring started to wane it settled down into the usual kind of British weather we all know, unsettled. This was the true weather of April-June 1943 and could be the day to day problems we have faced at Pig Row. We've had more cold, more wet and more gales than we normally have in spring. There has been blazing sun, followed by grey rain, on the same day, same hour and same minute. However, the temperatures have been more extreme for us in 2013. Just to give you an idea, in April 1943, the minimum temperature was 30F (-1c) and the maximum in that month was 79F (26c). In April 2013, the minimum temperature 12F (-11c) and the maximum was 73F (23c). You may think there isn't much difference until you come to rainfall, in 1943 we had around 11mm from February to April and a drought of 62 days during the same period. On the 17th April alone in the UK we experienced 63.6mm of rain. This led to late snow, freezing rain and drenched soil. This meant that our wartime garden got off to a slow start, as many of our plants had to be sown in the kitchen put on our windowsills and had to wait there, month after month.

We had some monumental failures with this, our broad beans died on a scorching hot day. A problem that many wartime families would have experienced. Men and women at work would have come home, just as we did, to wilted, dead plants; as for many growers during the war their greenhouse was a windowsill. Our Feltham First Peas started on the windowsill too went the same way. Likewise our onions and shallots started off in pots, suffered too when transplanted and even now are still struggling. The Evesham Special Brussel Sprouts suffered from the cold and wet. The parsnips too have struggled, our Half Long Guernseys were sown late, germinated poorly. However, this is a trait of parsnips. However, there was a plus side as the soil warmed up we resowed our peas direct, resowed our sprouts and broad beans in the same bed. These have all started to grow and are growing well, by the end of July we should be cropping peas and beans. Our carrots we feared had initially failed, showed up yesterday, which means the carrots we sowed in pots to back us up will become part of a glut. A thing that needed to be avoided during the war years. At least carrots can be stored. We have sown all our cabbages undercover, along with our dwarf beans, rhubarb chard, kale, leeks and lettuces, and they have all germinated. More on that in Part 2 of our report. 

There is no surprise why spuds were important during wartime.

There is no surprise that the potatoes also late sown this year, we held off to mid-May due to the weather, have romped away. They have been earthed up once and are due another earthing up. These wonderful spuds, Rudolph and Shetland Black, have shown why one of the biggest crops of 1943 was spuds and why potatoes became a staple of the British diet during rationing. It has been a reliable crop, easy to sow, easy to tend and clearing the ground as it grows. 

You couldn't grow soft fruit during the war unless you already grew it.

We are fortunate in our garden to have an established fruit patch, domestic growers were not recommended to plant fruit during the war due to their long term turnaround and establishment. 

The promise of seasonal fruit swelled the vitamin intake of wartime gardeners.

Those gardens with fruit already in them were exempt from this and therefore we are looking forward to our soft fruit, the first of these have been rhubarb, which we got a whopping 50lbs off our plot.

Cabbages sown in 2012 are swelling late.

Our cabbages planted last September have started to swell and form hearts. This again is a sign of the poor spring we've had. The parsnips may have failed, the carrots may be hit and miss but lettuces, chard and other crops will fill these spaces. Waste not, want not!

You can view more on our #wartimegarden plans on twitter and through the following links: