Wartime Garden: The Battle With Yields

1943 was a boon year for domestic growing; gardeners and allotmenteers produced one million tons of produce for the national larder. It was the glory year for Dig For Victory but there was a problem with the nation's soil, it was growing weary and diseases were starting to build as early as 1942. The battle against pests and bugs came to the fore in 1944 with the Blitz on Bugs but it hid a growing concern in Whitehall, no matter what was done to the soil at home, yields could decline and if the war continued beyond 1945, Britain would lose the war. We would have been starved off our island. It is in 1944 we start to see the real promotion of chemicals to eradicate pests, boost yields and solve problems. The soil was forgotten. It was the start of our decline into monoculture through a chemical kosh. We are organic at Pig Row and have noticed our soil is tired, it has been reflected in growth rates and this has been exacerbated by a cool spring, blazing summer and then a cold August. August is our harvest month and rather than a flood we are seeing a trickle. We won't even go into our tomato yields this year, we had over 100lbs last year, we're still eating the sauces we made in 2013, this year we barely have enough to fill a cup. We can see this in our wartime beds photographed in 2014:

Gardening problems.


And in 2013:

Soil makes a difference to yields.

Same bed, same month, a year apart and though the crops have changed, the growth has declined. Yes, we all know spuds can put on a lot of top growth but if we go to our potato bed this year, in August 2014:

Blackleg on potatoes

And they are suffering. Though we have watered, earthed up, the potatoes have succumbed to blackleg. Pectobacterium atrosepticum (blackleg) is often confused for blight and does share some similarities but if caught quickly, spuds can still be eaten but not stored. A bit of a blow as we were still eating our stored potatoes from 2013 in March of 2014. There will be none of that this year. You can also see the difference in growth with the same bed in 2013:

Comparing photos from 2013 to 2014 growing.

Note the colour of the soil too, it has a deeper base colour, less dusty and this is reflected in the growth of the cabbages and kale. Sometimes growing years can be bad, it's part of the course, and though the summer has been good for the flowers on our hillside it has been bad for our vegetables as the weather has veered from blazing sun to torrential downpours. So, what will we do for 2015? We'll share that later in the year but it is all about the soil.

The Battle With Yields, Growing Your Own, coming to terms with tired soil.


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

You can type wartime garden in our search box to find more results.