Wartime Garden: Harvest Month Update - the crops that keep on giving

Yesterday we looked at the crops that failed at Pig Row from some of the marrows, to all of the swedes, to the pests churned up from grassland being pressed into service. Today though, the sky is brighter, the air is rarefied and the crops are still coming in. There have been great successes at Pig Row and we want to list some of them here. Starting with the stalwart of Dig For Victory, the spud. There was concern at the start of the war that not enough space was given over to potatoes on the Ministry of Agriculture's planting scheme, they recommended more cabbages, spinach and greens but the dreadful winter of 39/40 put pay to this and a new scheme was launched, the Dig For Victory Leaflet No.1. More spuds were on the table but the concerns with blight and those gardeners who only wanted to grow potatoes were always at the forefront of the Ministry's mind, as throughout the war years they promoted the vitamins in different plants, coining the phrase that carrots helped you see in the dark. Which is still with us today but scientifically incorrect, as many greens contain far higher levels of vitamin A. If you're vitamin A deficient than eating more carrots of greens would improve your eyesight though. This propaganda promoted more growing of carrots and greens during the war than spuds. Though spuds contain levels of vitamin A equivalent to some varieties of carrots and contain more vitamin C. However the war myth is still with us today. Our spuds have been a real boon to the #wartimegarden.


The late early crop saved us in the #wartimegarden

Our early Shetland Blacks, though late due to the poor spring filled a hunger gap and still filling it now as we prepare to lift the maincrop, which we have staggered by two weeks. Giving us a successional sowing and harvest, allowing us to possibly clamp the last potato harvest later in the month. Spuds have not been the only success. We have to stop a moment and consider peas and beans, Feltham First, Tendergreen Kidney Bean and Bluelake Haricot (all from Thomas Etty) have been a big success, in the end though we had to go for a more modern cultivar with pre-wartime origins for our runner beans, Czar. We need something fast growing as a runner bean and many of the pre-war ones we have tried in the past never cut mustard and we never cropped from them, our summers are short at Pig Row. We have harvested some runner beans but the greatest success has to be, Tendergreen Kidney Beans. We have never successfully harvested dwarf beans at Pig Row, we held little hope for them when they sulked in the soil, then got blasted by sun and rain in July. Yet, low and behold we have had over 10lbs of beans off these plants, with more to come.

Beans have been the real success story of our summer #wartimegarden

Feltham First (Thomas Etty) outstripped Champion of England and NE Plus Ultra, both of which failed to germinate. We were so happy with this pea that we sowed a second lot as a successional crop for our Pig For Victory leaflet series on peas and beans. This we are now harvesting as we move into September. From late July to early September we have not been without peas or potatoes. That is the name of the game for any wartime grower, and there must have been a real sense of satisfaction that crops were coming in throughout the summer rather than a glut in September. We did have a rhubarb glut but there was nothing we could do about that and it was processed, bartered with and sold to add coffers to the wartime fund. We will be eating rhubarb chutney and jam throughout winter with our own canned beans, dried beans for stews and a few Tendergreen that we cheated with and snuck into the freezer.

Everyone has space to grow peas.

Then we come to the summer lettuce and the debate of whether a Fat Lazy Blonde should be in your veg patch or a Drunken Woman. The results are, the drunks win everytime, this is a wonderful lettuce and along with our spring cabbages have kept us going. It is large and tasty and does not wilt even when dry stored. This was part of our remit on lettuces to see which ones would last just in a cool cupboard rather than a fridge. We ate lettuce until it came out of our ears, everything we've had has been accompanied by a salad and we will actually miss this variety come winter.


The tomatoes too have been glorious, coming in late but well worth the wait. There have been problems with uniformity as with the beans, as with the lettuce but the taste is what we have been after and none of the heritage varieties (bar the broad beans, this is down to personal taste) have disappointed. Though the variety is an italian heritage variety, it was one included in the seed packets sent from the US to England, a Liguria Beef Tomato (from Seeds of Italy) and one the most fleshy, divine tastes we have ever had from a tomato. 


Yesterday, we bemoaned our poor marrows but one marrow in the compost heap has been a thorough bully, weaving it's way between beans, peas and broad beans. This lovely Table Dainty (from DT Brown) has been a great success. It gives us small marrows just around 18 inches to 20 inches ling but the size meant we could eat there and then, store for processing later in the year or just store for eating. It is well worth using your unused compost heaps in summer for a marrow, just water regularly and you will be rewarded.


And, it's not over yet, we have maincrop spuds to come in, more marrows, the rest of the tomato and lettuce, our second sowing of peas, the haricot beans, the runner beans, the kidney beans. We have winter and spring cabbages to get in the ground, though we think we may have had our fill of them, greens to consider, broccoli and brussel sprouts, there are turnips growing, we have succeeded so far in what we wanted to do, to avoid the glut and see whether living off a wartime plan worked. There have been ups and downs, startling failures, like the spinach, that must have been a real concern to the domestic grower reliant on such crops to bolster a ration book. That has never been far from our minds, the idea that any failed crop meant disaster for some growers, heartache for many and a sense of failure. We have lived through those feelings, gone mad at pests that have munched our cabbages, seen first hand what a failed crop could do for your morale. We salute those wartime growers, in their gardens and allotments, you made all the difference and that difference is still with us today. Finally, if we could pick one vegetable we would definitely grow again it would have to be the Tendergreen Kidney Bean, even our neighbour has been amazed at the beans we have harvested from them. Maybe we had the right summer but we doubt that, it just shows that some heritage varieties could survive the worst of weathers. That's why given the real choice, we'd grow everyone of these varieties again, they knock the socks of many modern cultivars.

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