Dig for Victory growing vs the modern day allotment!

In an earlier post I discussed the history of allotments which really got me thinking about the difference in the way allotments are utilised now since their popularity in ‘war time’ Britain.

The Dig for Victory campaign encouraged everyone to grow their own veg to support the war effort and the expansion of allotments increased the opportunity for all. A ‘full’ plot was set at 10 poles which is around 250 square metres. This is a similar size to a doubles tennis court.

This plan was published by the Ministry of Agriculture with the idea of producing vegetables to feed a family of four all year around.

Here is an example of my planting plans. Click here for a large version of the image below.

An example of my planting plans

How have times changed?

The range of crops:
looking at the plan the range of vegetables grown is alot more limited that what we regularly grow on our plots. Due to changes in diet with the influence of travel and other cultures, seed suppliers have worked to keep up with the changing tastes. There are many varieties of winter squash and sweetcorn that we grow. Breeding techniques have produced varieties that are more suited to the cooler UK climate. Garlic is an allotment staple on most plots! I also enjoy chinese greens and pak choi, peppers, chillies and aubergines. Most plots have greenhouses and some of the lucky plotholders have polytunnels. A greenhouse would have been a preserve of the Victorian kitchen garden and certainly not found on allotments with annual tenancies during the war. This extended season means that you can grow heat loving crops in the UK that wouldn’t have been possible on the war time allotment. This year I am growing yard long beans and lima beans in a polyhouse. Many of the staple vegetables – carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbages etc are now very cheap to buy at the supermarket. Often plotholders are now choosing to grow more of the crops that have a higher price tag to make the most out of their growing space. For example, soft fruit and salad leaves. We tend to grow a large range of crops, however we certainly grow less potatoes, cabbages and runner beans than a traditional war time plot. We usually have 1 wigwam of 8 runner bean plants and we are picking masses of them! Pasta and rice are much more commonly used as a source of carbohydrate in UK diets than they once were!

The style of growing:
Our plot is designed with raised beds, permanent paths and we garden by ‘No Dig’ methods. The war time allotment has quite a different structure using planting in rows. Plots were traditionally manured and double dug. The style of growing on allotments hasn’t changed for many – plenty of plotholders still grow in regimented lines and dig religiously. There is nothing wrong with this method – it can be very productive especially as you don’t waste space on permanent paths. From our experience there is now more variety in methods. ‘No Dig, permaculture and raised beds are common place on allotment grounds nowadays. Perhaps this is to do with fashions or to do with these methods just becoming more mainstream and accepted as productive and environmentally friendly.

Purpose and usage:
Celebrity gardeners popularised tidy raised beds in the 90’s and and today increasing number of plots dedicated some reasonable space on their plot for recreational use. Summerhouses, seating areas, dedicated wildlife sections and ponds. Perhaps this illustrates the move away to ‘growing your own’ purely for the purpose of saving on the food budget and for the ability to have a supply of fresh food. Having somewhere to relax on your plot is a real motivator for staying at the plot for extended periods. We both work in busy jobs and have always appreciated long allotment days at the weekend. There are always lots of jobs to do, but we also enjoy that cup of tea with your feet up or even a sneaky afternoon nap in the summerhouse!