Victory Garden March/April: Sowing seeds outdoors

The Saturday before last – the weather was absolutely fantastic and I found myself (like so many other people with gardens and allotments) getting my hands dirty and getting stuck in. I’ve been itching to get things sowed into the ground and it was a good opportunity to get all the seeds I’d purchased into one of the beds I’d prepared earlier.

My main focus of the day was to sow or plant at least half of my Victory Garden and then see what happens over the next couple of weeks.

Broad Bean – Karmazyn 

I’ve never grown Karmazyn before and this particular broad bean is a heritage variety which produces pink beans –  a bit different from the Exhibitions.  Because I’m growing these straight outdoors, in a bed that’s quite large with very little shelter this type of broad bean is great for exposed areas. They’re also said to produce high yeilds, so great for feeding a family of four.

Brussels Sprouts – Darkmar

The brussels sprouts I grew last year were a massive disappointment – I didn’t end up picking any at all! Darkmar produces a bountiful crop toward the end of the season. This means I’ll be harvesting from the end of autumn and well into Christmas.

Turnip – Snowball

No sooner than I started sowing these seeds that they started to germinate and poke through the ground. As the name suggests, Snowball produces white globe shape tender turnips and are an early variety, meaning I can pick them quite early on in the year. Perhaps when they’ve all been picked I can grow something else there! The question I have now is, do I need to thin them out?

Carrot – Berlicum

This is one of many types of carrot that I’m growing this year. This type of carrot can reach up to 20cm in length in sifted soil (I’ve done my best to keep the ground as free as possible!).  This is carrot that stores well and can overwintered for a maincrop.

Beetroot – Cylindra 

It feels like years since I’ve grown beetroot! I usually grow the round versions, but this has cylindrical roots. Cylindra is quite a slow growing variety and will bolt later on in the year, but luckily has a good resistance to disease.  These will be great to use in a Barszcz soup. (Yes I know I spelt Barszcz wrong in my original recipe – my apologies to the Polish nation!)

Savoy Cabbage – Winterking 

I tried to grow a savoy cabbage last year and failed miserably – I suspect that the seeds were out of date! The Winterking just sounds like a total don of a cabbage.  Savoys are a traditional hearty variety which as far as I know can be used in just about anything. They’re also hard as nails and will survive the winter.

Pea – Hurst Greenshaft 

Make peas not way! The Pea Hurst Greenshaft is said to be a prolific early maincrop variety producing a healthy amount of peas per pod. These are meant to freeze well, which means they’ll be great to use in the winter.  I’ve sown quite a few seeds, more than what I need as last year I didn’t sow enough, and so I just ended up eating the one or two pods straight away.

I have no idea how my Victory garden will turnout, or what problems I will face – as with most things in life you have to tackle these sorts of things head on.

Chitting and planting Red Duke of York First Earlies

OK so this is the first thing I’m growing in my Victory Garden – a reliable staple for the kitchen and one of the most versatile natural ingredients you can get. The humble potato.   The first early variety I’m growing is called the Red Duke of York – which as the name suggests is a red skinned potato.

The Red Duke of York is a heritage early potato variety bred in 1942 – so just before WW2. This potato is said to have a wonderful strong flavour and is good for pretty much every purpose.  It can be roasted, mashed, baked or used to make chips.  The Red Duke of York hides pale, yellowish flesh under it’s thick red skin.

I believe (but don’t quote me on it) that the Red Duke of York was bred from the Duke of York, and is said to be an improvement in terms cooking, vigour and flavour – but I’ll be the judge of that!

I managed to pick these up at B&Q and I had to admit, I thought what terrific luck that I’ve found such an historical tuber in the most unlikely of places. The Red Duke of York was grown extensively by amateur gardeners towards the end of World War II and during the very austere post war period.

As you can see from the images I’m trying my best to stick with the plan I’ve put together as much as possible. I first dug over the patch and marked out the area with a piece of string.  A technique I’ve adopted is to use my trowel to measure how far apart I plant the tubers, I then plant them about a trowel depth into the ground.

When they start poking through the ground I’ll be covering the tops with sifted soil from the compost heap.

Have you ever grown Red Duke of York? If so, let me know how you got on!

My Victory Garden Plan

OK so you may have read that I’m on a mission to grow and build my own victory garden to see if I can live off of the allotment as much as possible.  Even though I’ve only planned for 12 months – I suspect that this will be a two year project as I would like to grow some onions and raspberries toward the end of 2017, within my designated victory patches.

The plan hopefully ensures that I always have something growing –  but also things that don’t take up room for too long.  I’ve also factored in the rejuvenation of the ground. So far I’ve only managed to do prepare the ground and dig in some well rotted material from the compost bin.


What on earth shall I grow?

Well I’ve studied the RHS Grow Your Own Veg Planner and picked things that I can start growing in February onward. During my victory garden research I found that this could be a good opportunity to a little bit of good for the world (all be it indirectly) from my humble allotment. This is why I’ll be buying the majority of my seeds from, who are a fairly young company, who by their own admission are on “a mission to impact lives by inspiring people to engage with the natural world through the regular involvement of gardening.”

Not only that, but they believe in giving something back and have put this ethos at the forefront of what they do. They’re part of the Global Giving Initiative Buy1GIVE1, which means in short – every time a seed packet is bought from them somebody somewhere receives access to life-saving water. Cool huh!

Here’s a list of what I’ve ordered…

Broad Bean – Karmazyn
Brussels Sprouts – Darkmar
Turnip – Snowball
Carrot – Berlicum
Beetroot – Cylindra 
Savoy Cabbage – Winterking 
Pea – Hurst Greenshaft 
Tomato – Gardeners Delight
Tomato – Beefmaster F1
Cauliflower – Igloo
French Bean – Neckargold
Cabbage – Dutchman F1 

Now that the weather has started looking up I’m really itching to get something in the ground and get the whole process underway. I haven’t managed to sow a dot yet and it feels like time is slipping away, like grains of sand through my fingers.

Have you had any experience in growing a victory garden? What challenges have you faced? What are your triumphs? I would love to hear your experiences!

Double digging and preparing the ground

About a fortnight ago I posted a picture on Instagram of a bed I was double digging at the allotment and as a result everyone was asking me – “what on earth is double digging?”

Well, double digging is something you do every two to three years to help improve the soil quality of the ground you’re going to be growing in. If you find that your soil is of a poor quality or very heavy, then you would want to double dig some well rotted manure or material from the compost bin.

Double digging is best done in the autumn or just after December, where the frost can work its magic and break down the big, heavy clods.

There’s quite a few videos on YouTube showing you how to double dig, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it, but this is the routine that I’ve adopted.

1. Dig a trench, about spade’s depth, along the bed and put the remaining excess soil to one side.

2. Fill the trench with well rotted material from the compost bin or rotted manure .

3. Directly next door to that trench, dig another trench and place the soil from the new trench on top of the first trench, essentially burying all of that new, fresh material.

4. Repeat that process until you reach the end of the bed, and then use the excess soil from your first trench to cover the last batch of composted material.

I’ve made the diagram below to show you what I mean.

Double digging is great as it improves aeration, which helps the roots of your plants penetrate the soil and grab the nutrients they require.

Drainage is also improved and stops the bed from become compacted. You’re also giving the ground some nutrients and new life in the form of worms and other micro-organisms that help to break down the soil.

Double digging is really hard work and I have to say, I really felt it by the end of the session – it really is better than going to the gym. You work a range of muscles and I walked away feeling that I’d made a difference to the plot.

You may have also read that this year I’m embarking on a growing a Victory Garden and preparing the ground for the coming seasons is one of the first things to do.

Growing a modern Victory Garden

This year (2017) I am going to grow a Victory Garden as a little bit of an experiment to see if a. I can actually do it and b. to see if I can wind up buying less from the supermarket.

Victory Gardens (or war gardens) were pioneered during World War I and World War II as a means to combat the food shortage that war brings to imports and exports. These gardens would encourage people to not rely so heavily on the public food supply, and this would ultimately aid the war effort on the home front. Over time these green spaces were considered a “morale booster”. Eventually, victory gardens played a major role in everyday life.

People at home were encouraged to ‘grow food with the land they have’ via propaganda. Growing plans such as these below were given out, and it’s these plans that I will be using as a guide to build my own victory garden, or at least – a victory patch. Hopefully by this time next year (Rodney) our fruit and vegetables will come entirely from the allotment.

Now, I’m yet to decide whether I’m going to make the entire allotment a victory garden or just a small patch – but my initial thoughts are to dedicate a fairly decent sized patch that I used for potatoes at the front of the plot, to this little project/experiment.

One of the other main motivations for this is to try and learn, or uncover some old fashioned growing techniques that still have a use or carry some weight in today’s garden.

I also plan to do some research and grow some vintage varieties – like those grown back in World War I or World War II.  I may even try and track down some old fashioned recipes and storage techniques to share with you.

I hope to update you more on how I plan to lay out the patch, cultivate the ground and what varieties I plan to grow very soon.

In the mean time, take a look at this really cool vintage posters!