Wartime Garden: Harvest Month Update - the crops that never were

As I walk up the hillside in the early afternoon mist there is a distinct sense that summer has come to an end. The light is diffused, the sun is lower and there are tell tale signs in the air and in the foliage that we are on the slippery slope towards winter. We know winter is coming because our wood is coming this Thursday and we'll spend a day chopping and stacking our weary little arms out. Our arms have become little because there is a universal truth about the dig for victory campaign, it was bloody hard work. Even a modern day TV gardener would have thought twice about bringing grassland back into production without spending a year cultivating the soil. This is what knocked one of our final wartime beds in the head after seeing the poor results from an area of Pig Row that had been turned over from grass to food. This must have been a common problem in parks during the war and explains the glut of crops in 1943, by then the gardeners would have worked the soil for three years and would have started to ignore the Ministry of Agriculture's guidelines for advice from old time gardeners. This has been a problem in following the Ministry of Ag, the limited information on enriching the soil (we didn't have access to the film reels of the day only the short pamphlets and subsequent books written). Many parks during the war were literally dug over and no manure added, only those discarding the turf were disapproved of. Many of us today would reach for manure but hundreds of thousands did during those first few months of war. Many grassland areas and parks never were manured, and all the tell tale pests that linger under grass have been the bane of our wartime garden.

Grassland pressed into service during WWII to grow crops ended up costing us food. The real problems that they faced.

The orchard bed was never dug, that's not to say it will never be dug because of the failing of another grassed over bed. The orchard bed just fell foul of the weather, a spring to wet and cold to dig, then the headlong rush to catch up with two of the beds created and a third one pressed into service at late notice. Then by August it was too late and now our harvest is upon us. To give you an idea of how one marrow can do so well in one place and fall foul of the grassland can be shown in the two images of Table Dainty below. Table Dainty is recommended in Eleanour Sinclair Rhode's book Uncommon vegetables and fruits: How to grow and how to cook.

See how a wartime staple can drive you batty and make you joyous.

This is Table Dainty in the compost heap, a recommendation from the Ministry of Agriculture and many old time gardener, and below, in open ground.

You have to get it right with marrows.

This was common problem with marrows grown in grassland. They are greedy plants, needing plenty of water and hummus. These patches of beds, which were formerly grass, have been plagued with leather jackets, which in turn became crane flies that bothered us in the house. Wire worm too has been plentiful in some patches making you wonder how those first wartime gardeners felt as their plants thrived then collapsed as the little pest bore into the stem. We have seen plenty of them in our carrots. The heavy rains didn't help the marrow either, washing away the mulch and drowning the poor plant. The pitiful marrow plant got more preparation in open ground than the one in the compost heap. The turf removed was chopped up in the hole beneath, as recommended by the Ministry (as wasting turf could lead to court fines), manure was added and fresh compost too before planting. Whereas the compost heap one, had only fresh compost and was literally chucked into the heap. This then comes down to a question of heat, the marrow in the heap would have had all that bacteria and heat at its disposal, the marrow in the bed had all the problems of sitting in cold wet soil. This is certainly not the only failure in the #wartimegarden (search our twitter feed to see the day by day problems or come over to the Facebook Album full of our wartime garden photos), the swedes failed to germinate (a personal pleasure of mine that they didn't), the carrots have been forlorn and chewed, the chard never really bulked up before running to seed. Though all the plants have been well watered, well fed with liquid manure and comfrey, the results have been varied, especially on onions, with some medium sized ones among the onions only fit for pickling.

Hit and miss crops.

Yet, these crops that never were, that never got away due to grassland becoming growing beds, cold spring problems, wet weather followed by a heatwave, are certainly outweighed by our successes. These we'll look at tomorrow.

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