The Cold War Cometh

For the last week the frosts have set on our little hillside, the ground slowly turning from dark and luscious to a pockmarked ice pocket. The ground setting hard before the sun hits it turning a saturated soil to mud. This may be ideal excuse for Little D to don his wellies and jump up and down in muddy puddles (as any parent of a child under a certain age we all know the culprit of this wondrous fad is, Peppa Pig). This means by the time the garden and our fingers warm up the sun is starting to dip below the horizon. This is often the most frustrating thing about this time of year, the lack of daytime hours but we have to admit that the weather results in some glorious photos. However, even in the dying light there are things to do when the soil defrosts.

The cold season is starting to take hold


In the Wartime Garden we cannot afford underestimate weeding our borders at this time of year. There may be the desire in us to curl up and hibernate but even the odd hour or half here will mean less work next spring. We're getting that couch grass and perennial weeds out, we can do nothing for the annuals beyond hoeing them off now and when the sun warms us all up again. There have been ups and downs in the Wartime Garden, if we look back at our April posting of our growing plan, we have found that we have suffered like many domestic growers from the war with the weather and not enough forward planning. It isn't a case that we made hay as the sun shone or even worse just laid back on our laurels (we dug all them out four years ago). The simple fact is that time was against us, a mix of family life, commitments and work has seen some seeds miss the window of sowing or worse still never germinated, swede was one (though Andrew jumped for joy on this one). This must have been a problem for many families in the war, growing interrupted by work, by children and by the falling bombs. The latter makes our excuses seem rather silly but it has given us a real insight into the pressure that domestic growers must have faced and with the distance between work and home increasing for many of us today it raises worries about the future of any growing in England. It has over the years been something we have heard from many people who take on allotments, commuting tires, and the allotment suffers. As distances increase from the front door to the work desk we have to ask why we can't take our growing with us? Just as many growers in WWII did. Railway workers dug up sidings and verges all around the network to grow vegetables. Nurses and patients turned hospital grounds into allotments. Even bombed out sites became community gardens to produce food for the local area. Wouldn't it make sense that those spaces around car parks handed over to berberis end up as soft fruit bushes? That those grey awful roofs we see from our offices and work places are planted up with salads? Recently in Manchester, Andrew walked past the Arndale muttering about how yet again a shopping centre neglected their vertical spaces, handing their walls over to metal or plastic coverings rather than greenery that would bring in pollinators and birds. It seems that forgotten and unused spaces become the home of spiky bushes and trees, rather than food corridors that we could all tend, and harvest from. Add up those miles. In the war, just on the railways, there were enough domestic growing areas to stretch from London to Inverness. That's not even considering all those gardens, moat allotments, parks and public spaces. That's why by the end of the war we were producing over 75% of our own food. Now, as we move towards 2014, we are beginning to exceed this percentage in imports alone, the importing statistics for apples alone would make you feel violently ill. Two thirds of our apples in 2012 came from abroad and supermarkets sales of imported apples broke beyond 85%. That means that roughly for every three apples you eat, around 2.4 of them are from abroad and even before getting here have a massive carbon footprint. Even putting this aside, you have to ask whether an imported apple that may have traveled thousands of miles will taste better than an apple that came from the car park in front of your work (excluding the sewage works but then again Andrew knew a guy who produced great tomatoes in human sewage).

Frost is taking hold at Pig Row

You may have heard what growers say, 'It tastes better than shop bought'. It does. 'It's cheaper than shop bought'. Not always. Yet if we grew in bulk, as we once did, it would be and growing shouldn't be about money, you cannot eat money. You can plan though, you can plan better, you can look at unused space and make it useful. South Seeds are one of the groups who have done this and though they have lost their unused space on Agnew Lane to a developer, they have not given up. We have to consider our growing as portable, that it should break out from allotments and back gardens, it should cascade through our towns and cities, if a building comes down (as they did in the war), that space should become a community growing space. We have to accept that our growing spaces may be taken, may be developed but rather than see this as a war we are losing we should open up new fronts, on roundabouts, bus stops, car parks, roof tops and in the heart of shopping centres and new housing. We do not need more berberis or more grass, we need food.

And the strawberries go to bed for winter.

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

Wartime Garden: Harvest Festival

Digging for Victory: The Guardian Blog