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Digging up the past...

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Adamn Greathead
Rank attained: Hazel Tree
Rank attained: Hazel Tree

Joined: 12 Sep 2006
Posts: 44
Location: West Midlands

PostPosted: Fri Nov 03, 2006 6:22 pm    Post subject: Digging up the past... Reply with quote

I have been away for a week and the vegetable garden looks all the worst for it too. Where large boulder-headed dahlias once reigned, nettles fill every niche of barren earth and where etiolated golden sweetcorn dominated, parched towers of parcel paper move this way and that in the wind. Even the runner beans sprawl all over the soil, falling amidst the tops of beetroot 'Albina vereduna' and the feet of the indigo sprout 'Falstaff'. One may be forgiven in thinking one week hardly condones such invasive growth but think again. Give them loamy fertile soil, a mild autumn and a torrent of water almost daily and who can blame them? It is nothing a good days graft in the garden cannot correct and this is exactly what I plan to do.
I plan to enlarge the herb garden and plant a whole new host of plants such as coriander, borage and basil to accompany the existing residents like a small bay tree, a ruling angelica and a creeping black peppermint. In addition, I plan to remove and compost all trace of runner beans, French beans (their statuesque sycamore tripods will be sadly missed) and all beetroot, carrots, swiss chard and summer cabbages must be harvested before the first frosts. To follow, the dahlias must wait a week or two to allow the frost to blackened their foliage before being dug up and kept snug for next year- this is a job I love to take part in- I wait in anticipation for the time when I can dig them up becoming like a child when the earthy tubers are sprung from the soil, all covered in mud concealing their true identity. Going down my list of chores now jobs such as creating a new cut flower bed crop up and things like planting the existing bog garden, that surrounds the wildlife pond, up. I can see it now: candelabra primulas and hostas, ferns and Ligularia all standing aloft the shimmering, if not pond-weed smothered, water. There is one job which I wish to focus on-clearing the vegetable garden.
Too few gardeners clean their ground, where they grow vegetables, properly. There are over a million bacteria in out soil and not all of those are good ones, some will damage root growth by suppressing it while others will help root growth by opening up the same soil. To combat this I would always dig the soil in autumn, never in spring, to let harsh frosts crush the blights and the botrytis. With all this press regarding no-dig beds, I feel declined to use them. For a start I would poignantly miss the job of digging them but, more importantly, the plants wouldn't appreciate the absence of the soil shifting. I have used raised beds yet I still insist on digging them despite the fact that they are never walked upon. If I have not dug the vegetable garden by Christmas I feel uneasy so, in that case, I always make it detrimental to have it all excavated before the first frosts in November. In an ideal world it would be double dug however the dwindling time certainly doesn't condone this so every foot is dug to a spits depth. Manure often comes into the equation where onions, tomatoes and beans are concerned and is incorporated then and there. Obviously root crops such as carrots and parsnips receive no manure at all due to their tendency to fork if they do. If, like me, you care not for the image of the vegetable but the taste then forked carrots and parsnips will hardly bother you. This year I have had to tolerate malformed parsnips because they fell short of water in the summer drought and I just didn't get round to rectifying the problem, hence they have got their own back.
Digging the plot thoroughly where vegetables were to be grown seriously began some years ago when much of industrialised Britain fell into a state of desperation when, after the second world war, food was rationed and many families intake of fresh fruit and vegetables took a drastic fall. The 'Dig for victory' campaign which we have all learnt to recognise evolved soon after the war began. Government realised the population would starve if the war was prolonged and therefore issued their campaign. (Government evidently had more wit between them in those days). The result: gardens, small and large, sports grounds and official gardens were all converted to allotments with everybody on the home front being encouraged to develop vegetable growing skills. This process developed a generation of skilled craftsmen who knew there stuff and would put many of us to shame in this day and age of vegetable culture. Previous to the war 55 million tonnes of food would be imported from Canada and the USA on a yearly basis. With the outbreak of the war trade ships conversing across the Atlantic became targets to the German navy and much of the food did not even see British shorelines.
Reliance on imported food had got to be reduced so Britains response to this was the women's land army who, for recently modernised farms, would provide labour to the agricultural division. It was Lord Woolton who saw the campaign through after he was appointed the minister of food. Under his influence, Kensington gardens removed all their flowers and replaced them with cabbages. Also, people were encouraged to rear chickens for their eggs and pigs for their meat. In fact, shortly after the war had started, Hyde park in London set up a pig farm and goats were kept for their milk. Britain had really turned a corner in food history. No longer did we have to rely on imports, a new culture had been devised and one which was sure to carry on for many years through the media supporting the government more than anything. Dr Carrot and Potato Pete were plastered on widespread posters to educate people about the importance of vegetables. Anthems such as: "Dig! Dig! Dig! And your muscles will grow big" were sung and had great effect on those with a conscience image of themselves. It amazes me that the government gave informative leaflets away full of hints for free, without charge, our government? We are talking about British government here aren't we? All this promoted vegetable growing back then but fears aroused as to whether the same amount of interest would pursue in the future.
As a modern day gardener I would dare to say that the interest once shown towards the growing of edible crops has become a rather bedraggled mess with the majority of the population dismissing it as a past time rather than a lifeline, choosing to perch in an office all day, their fingers aching with every prod of the keyboard and their ears ringing decibels from the fifty odd fax machines strategically placed amongst the building. Working in an office wouldn't suit me- the short hours and the clean, immaculate clothes- give me the long arduous hours and the dirt-smothered trousers of gardening and that is what pleases me the most...
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Rank attained: Silver Birch Tree
Rank attained: Silver Birch Tree

Joined: 09 Jun 2006
Posts: 184
Location: east coast

PostPosted: Sat Nov 04, 2006 2:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Really interesting post Adam. I loved all the info on growing vegetables from the past. I also loved the photo of the worlds largest shovel.
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Joined: 04 Jun 2006
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 06, 2006 2:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Dig! Dig! Dig! And your muscles will grow big"
Then when my vegetables are fit for harvesting, many would say I should sing.....
"Eat! Eat! Eat! And your belly will grow big"

Another good article Adam, chock full of information and wise views.
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