Wartime Garden: Miscellaneous Bed

We found last year that the Miscellaneous Bed (C) from the Dig For Victory Series No.1 was always the first one to be cultivated. Last year Bed (A) below was potatoes and root crops followed by turnips. We have started to note some problems with the WarAg guide, certainly for Northern growers, that some crops suggested don't make it through winter. The turnips germinated badly, a variety called Manchester, and we suspect this was down to when you were advised to sow. The Dig For Victory leaflet suggests end of August. On our hillside, the end of summer skates in around late August and the weather can turn nasty, wet and cold in a matter of days rather than weeks. We could have covered the entire bed with fleece but then fleece wasn't available during World War II, and that would have been a cheat. It would also have been pointless as it would have created soft conditions for the turnips only for them to be faced by the howling wind of last winter. Last year's trip into 1943 has shown that Northern growers must have been tearing their hair out as some beds fell quickly into disuse and the inevitable build up of weeds.

Getting to grips with the problems in Dig For Victory


The WarAg pamphlet throws up a number of problems for Northern growers, if you look at the beds outlined in the pamphlet below we have a three bed crop rotation plus a compost heap, tool shed and seed bed area but this area is never included in the rotation. This means the seed bed if used constantly would raise some problems with erosion, soil management and more importantly, successful crops. Part of the fallacy of Dig For Victory has been the digging part, we agree that new land often does need turning once to gauge the type of soil, sub-soil structure and pests, predators and helpers in your soil. Four years on and we still have leatherjackets in our soil  - these are not horticultural bikers gone bad in our beds, they are the larvae of the crane fly and have a tendency to eat the roots of seedlings - we never knew we had these until we dug. However, we are now coming more and more to minimum tillage and using techniques learnt on our recent foray into farms around Manchester. We have embraced the ideas of Charles Dowding and have started to question many of the myths in growing that still pervade, many enforced during the war and many enforced today on television programmes. We will come to these in a later post. We want to concentrate on our crop plan for 2014, and some of the practicalities of growing in small domestic spaces.

Practicalities of growing in small space during the war.

Something that did occur frequently during the War was bartering, and in some cases racketeering of food and other goods that led to fines and in the worst cases, jail or death. In Liverpool in 1940, a ship repairer by the name of Frederick Porter, shot himself after the Admiralty audited his books. He defrauded the Admiralty to the modern cash equivalent of £20 million by stealing timber and claiming wages for non-existent jobs and employees. He was not alone in this scam and a prominent city councillor and several senior naval staff were arrested. Even the waste of food was deemed unpatriotic within the legal system when Miss Mary Bridget O’Sullivan of Barnet, Hertfordshire, was fined the hefty sum of £10 for wasting bread. Mary had asked her maid to put stale bread out for the birds. The maid was also fined five shillings as an accessory to the fact. Mary's fine in modern cash equivalent is just short of £398. Her court costs in modern cash terms were a further £107.28 and the maid paid just short of £10. When you consider that average wage in 1943 in the munitions factories were just short of £4 for a woman and £7 for a man, you can see even in those terms that a £10 fine was something that could ruin a household, especially if you were a maid. 

Waste is a problem now and then.

There are crops to us that have become wasteful. Peas are rather pointless to us in the scale suggested in the WarAg literature, we need more peas and this means more space that we don't have. Small crops leads to not a waste of food but as waste of land as we can never get the yields we need to preserve or eat. Broad beans are out because we can't stand the taste of them. So Bed C in 2014 (our 1944) becomes dedicated more to Runner Beans, for eating fresh and preserving, Dwarf Beans that we can eat and preserve, summer and winter lettuce (under cloches - they don't tell you that in the WarAg leaflets), spring cabbages and greens, and leeks (we can do leeks but onions don't work for us). All these crops are high yielding in small spaces. 

Onion yields are not as high as leeks

The problem even on the domestic level has been gluts, and though the WarAg and the WRVS were geared up to create canning clubs to deal with gluts it still led to problems. In 1942 the country was faced with a surplus carrot mountain of 10,000 tons and Dr Carrot was born to make us all eat more carrots with the famous lie, that still continues to this day, that carrots help you see in the dark. They don't. We have had a vast surplus too and that has come at the cost of those crops that we often need to eat in season, those crops that are difficult to preserve in 1943, lettuces and cabbages. So, as we move into 1943, even our Miscellaneous Bed is changing to reflect that we have to take into account where we are in the country and what we want to preserve. Onions we can barter from others, without going on the black market, and frankly our soil hates onions - we don't know why but onions and our earth hate each other but just over the fence and our neighbour grows great onions but can't do beans. We can do beans, we can do beans until they come out of our ears, so we have already made plans to do a swap. The beans can also be preservedWe're entering 1944, we are late in, due to the weather and getting to grips with problems of weed control but we're off the ground and growing.

Some of the Wartime Garden links:

Wartime Garden: Harvest Festival

Digging for Victory: The Guardian Blog