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On the plot: WW1 tips for growing produce

On the plot: WW1 tips for growing produce

Spring approaches and preparation for the summer months need to get under way. As the Allotments at Fulham Palace Meadows prepare to celebrate their centenary, Joanna Cruddas considers the best ways to make use of limited space. She turns to Walter Brett’s WW1 gardening tips for recommendations. 

WW1 gardening guidelines

What comes home to me as I read guidelines for growing produce in wartime is the necessity for maximum produce. And to make best use of what you have. Now we toss conkers into drawers to deter clothes' moths, in 1916 chestnuts were turned into charcoal and used in gas mask filters.

Here are some WW1 gardening tips that seem most relevant for present day small gardens:


intercropped veg

Radishes and early lettuce are an excellent ‘intercrop’ and can be squeezed in between rows of potatoes. Or, as you earth up the potatoes, plant winter crops such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts between the rows. Lettuce can also be grown under fruit trees or amongst strawberry plants.


Make use of shade

Cauliflowers will do well between rows of runner beans. The beans provide shade so the cauliflower heads aren’t scorched by the sun.


Successional planting

successional planting

Successional planting is pivotal to a long harvesting season. Sow lettuce and other salad leaves every 2-3 weeks. Plant out climbing beans at monthly intervals after the last frost and until early August. Sow a late crop of broad beans in June for autumn cropping. Root crops can also be sown in stages, but mostly they last well in the ground so it is less important.


Double the size

Onions: increase the bulk of your spring-planted onions with a dressing of nitrate of soda in August. This should be well watered in and is most effective when applied to already damp soil.


Small is more

Keep picking climbing beans before they get too large. Energy needs to go into more beans, not the seeds of large ones. Catch cucumbers and courgettes while they are sweet and small. Allow them to grow big and the plants will stop producing new fruit.  A top dressing of horse manure will encourage a good crop.


Back on my plot

The mild, wet weather has made my broad beans floppy and leggy. I am earthing them up for some support but not staking them. Don’t despair if some are blackened and look almost dead. They will probably shoot again from the bottom in the spring. Later in the month I shall sow a backup crop.


Soft fruit

Now is a good time to prune gooseberries, red and whitecurrants. Blackcurrants are traditionally pruned in the autumn but can also be cut back while still dormant in the winter months. Aim to get a good bowl-like shape to enable maximum ventilation. This allows good airflow to help prevent disease and sawfly.

Autumn raspberries should be cut down to the ground in February. Make sure the soil is clear of weeds and old wood and cover with a thick mulch.


Potted gardening

 iris reticulata

Back at home, my window boxes have been a continual splash of colour since last May. To my delight the geraniums have survived four frosts. I water them very occasionally.

The tiny iris reticulata Gordon were the first to flower in pots, with popular Harmony some two weeks behind.

For once it was an advantage being late with potting up daffodil bulbs in the autumn. While London parks have been a sea of yellow since mid-January, mine are still only a few inches tall. The balcony may be alone in having spring at the right time!


Joanna Cruddas lives in London and gardens at her plot in Fulham Palace Meadows Allotments, on her balcony, and in her window boxes. She is the author of The Three-Year Allotment Notebook with photographs by Edwina Sassoon.

Tips from the late Walter Brett, Chairman the Horticulture Committee of the Red Cross Agriculture Fund