Wartime Garden: Bed C, Ready For Use, Sir! Composted, Sir!

A month ago we cleared Bed C: Miscellaneous Crops of the remaining roots and weeds. None of this was wasted, and the bottom of this post you can see advice from the Ministry, Dig For Victory, Leaflet No.7: Manure from Garden Rubbish/How to Make a Compost Heap. The bed was left clear for two weeks to allow any weed seeds to germinate, they can then be hoed off to have a clean bed.

Weeding should be done two weeks before sowing into a bed.

The bed this year has been handed over to direct sown runner beans (variety Czar, which is both for eating and leaving to dry to a haricot), dwarf beans grown in the glasshouse and planted out (variety Tendergreen and for eating and canning), direct sown lettuces and onions grown from seed in the glasshouse. Sadly there will be no peas this year, the first sowing was attacked by mice, the second sowing was duly protected but failed to germinate. This shows the problems with a plant like peas, they take over a lot of room for a small harvest compared to the long harvest period for runner beans. It was therefore decided to simply ditch the peas this year in favour of more beans. You have to remember that Dig For Victory Leaflet No1: Grow for Winter as well as Summer was initially for guidance, and local groups, allotments and experts took up the call to help growers in local areas during the war. We're not alone in our admiration of the runner bean over the pea, as Mr Middleton says in Digging for Victory:  'In this country we grow the runner beans from seeds, and treat is as an annual, but is really a perennial; and in its native climate it rests during the dry season, and when the heavy rains come, it shoots up new growth, and no doubt the seeds which were shed in autumn, or fall, grow up too, and in rich warm soil, well stocked with humus and moisture, growth is very rapid and luxuriant....but it still loves the conditions of its native land - deep soil, with plenty of rotting vegetation in it, a comparatively warm position, and plenty of water during the growing season.'

We mulch with manure, there is no need to dig #lifeonpigrow #digforvictory

Bed C does not lack in moisture and humus, a fortnight ago we added two sacks of well rotted manure as a mulch, and you can see that the Tendergreen plants just placed in position are starting to love it, and the hedge is positively thriving because of it.

Dig For Victory, Miscellaneous Bed C #lifeonpigrow

All this was done in one evening after work, paying lip service to the original Dig For Victory film that one hour in the garden is better than one hour in a queue. So, if you are clearing your beds at the moment for your first crops or even your second flush of crops, don't ditch all that goodness and follow the guidance below (but skip any mention of chemicals).

Making a compost heap, wartime way #digforvictory #lifeonpigrow

Dig For Victory, Leaflet No.7: Manure from Garden Rubbish/How to Make a Compost Heap.
By means of a compost heap, demanding neither much time nor labour, and little or no expense, all the vegetable waste of the garden can be turned into valuable manure. Leaves, grass cuttings, sods, lawn mowings, pea or bean or potato haulms, outer leaves or tops of vegetables, hedge clippings, weeds and faded flowers; in short, any plant refuse, green or otherwise, can be used for manurial purposes. Such a conversion of waste to good use, if widely adopted, can make a considerable contribution to the national effort for increased food production.

The process known as composting is based on the fact that if vegetable matter, soil, water and air are brought together and provided with a " starter," which may be animal manure or a chemical, a fermentation or digestion takes place. Lime (especially slaked lime or chalk) is necessary to neutralize the acids which are formed. This action converts the materials in humus, a substance essential for maintaining the fertility of all soils.

Kitchen refuse, if it cannot be fed to pigs or livestock, should be well mixed with the other material and added to the heap.

Autumn leaves, on account of their dryness, tend to decompose slowly, and should be mixed with sappy material or even dealt with in a separate heap. Decomposition of very fibrous matter, such as the stems of some herbaceous plants, cabbage stumps or potato haulms, will be hastened if it is chopped into short lengths and broken up.

Compost Heap
How to Make a Compost Heap
The heap should be made in the shape shown in the sketch above, 4-7 ft. wide, 3-5 ft. high and of any convenient length according to the amount of material likely to be available; The turf and soil are removed from the site (preferably a spot shaded from the full heat of the sun) to a depth of one foot and retained on one side. Layers of materials are then put in as follows:

First. A layer of vegetable refuse (the more mixed it is the better) about 4-6 in. thick.

Should it be dry and stemmy, moisten it (not more) and trample it well - the more broken it is, the better. If green and sappy, lay it loosely.

Second. A layer of animal manure (from horse, cow, pig or small livestock - best of all, mixed) 1/2-l in. thick; or a sprinkling of one of the proprietary chemicals sold for this purpose by most horticultural dealers.

If animal manure has been used, a sprinkling of lime should be given after each 4-6 in. layer of refuse, but it is best not to apply the lime directly on the animal manure. A layer of refuse or soil should he left between the lime and the animal manure.

If one of the proprietary compost makers is used, this will probably contain sufficient lime.

Wood ashes or bonfire ashes may be used in place of lime, and any kind of liquid manure may take the place of animal manure.

Third. A layer of soil 1/2-l in. thick. In summer or with dry materials, more should be used; in winter or with sappy stuff, less is necessary. If the soil is loose in texture, it should be more generously applied than soil of a stiff or sticky nature. If available, it will be a great help if a little old compost from an earlier heap is mixed with the soil.

These three basic layers should be repeated until the full height is reached, and the whole heap should then be covered with a coating of soil 1/2-l in. thick. No other chemicals are needed, but wood or bonfire ashes, and any kind or liquid manure may be added during the building of the heap.

In many gardens, sufficient material will probably not be available to make a complete heap at one operation, and the heap may be built gradually; but after about two weeks in summer, or six weeks in winter, it should he finished off, even if the prescribed height has not been reached, and a new one started.

Turning the Heap
In a few days according to the material and the weather conditions, the heap should generate heat; or at least become warm. If it does not, no harm is done, but it will take longer before the material is ready for use. A heap which has become very hot (hotter in the middle than can be borne by the bare hand) may be turned over after 3-6 weeks, when it has begun to cool down. A cool heap should be left 6-12 weeks before turning over. Turning over should be done from one end, mixing the layers, and the original outside of the heap should be thrown inside.

After a further period, which may vary from 3 weeks to 6 months, the whole heap should be uniformly dark in colour, with a pleasant earthy smell, and all the material completely rotted. It is then ready for use. A second or third turning will accelerate the completion of the process, but is not normally necessary.

If the composting is properly done, perennial roots, such as couch grass, and the seeds of annual weeds will be destroyed by the combination of heat, moisture and active fermentation. (Note from Pig Row, you can also try this, Weed Fermentation)

A Valuable Manure
The amount of nitrogen in well-made compost from garden waste may equal that in farmyard manure, and the potash and phosphate contents may be even higher. It is a valuable manure for all crops, and should be buried not more than 3-4 in.deep. Lightly hoed in, it is an excellent mulch or top-dressing.

Materials not to be used
These include cinders, paper (both of which should in any event not be classed as waste), coal ashes, very thick woody stems or cuttings, sawdust, or any material tainted with oil, creosote, tar or any poisonous or preservative chemical.

The Garden Bonfire
This should be restricted to the smallest limits and confined to woody material, old pea sticks, diseased material and the thickest underground parts of docks, etc. All other vegetation should find its way back to the soil.

The ashes from a bonfire should not be left out for the rain and dew to wash away the very soluble form of potash contained in them. They should be dug in immediately they are cold, in the compost heap, or bagged and stored in a dry place.

The bonfire should be started in good time for it to be out before the black-out hour.

In the garden:

In the kitchen:

Pig For Victory Series (Our own Dig For Victory pamphlets and films): 

Links to Andrew writing on the Wartime Garden for other publications:

Dig For Victory and Pre-War Films

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