This blog article comes from PhD student Morvern French, who joined MUSA as a volunteer in June. Morvern has taken inspiration from the 1941 ‘Dig For Victory’ video in the ‘Recording Britain’ exhibition.
“Do you like standing in a queue for your vegetables? Or do you think it’s tiring, a waste of valuable time? Do you ever find your long wait has been useless, that supplies of what you want have run out before your time comes? It’s not the green grocer’s fault – it’s up to you! Dig for Victory!” [from ‘Dig for Victory’, commissioned by the Ministry of Information and Ministry of Agriculture, 1941. Full video held by the Imperial War Museum]
Although I grew up with a decent-sized garden, I admittedly never took much of an interest in growing vegetables. However, after almost a decade living in the centre of Edinburgh and, more importantly, seeing Dig for Victory – a WWII era film encouraging civilians to better utilise their green space (part of the Recording Britain exhibition at MUSA) I was motivated to become a bit more self-sufficient.
So, after recently moving to the suburbs and gaining a relatively small garden, I decided to try my hand at growing vegetables for the first time. After all, I had learned from the video that ‘even women and children’ are capable of a bit of digging…
I started small by transferring to the garden a couple of strawberry plants that were rapidly outgrowing their pots. According to my mother-in-law – cultivator of a large vegetable patch in rural Aberdeenshire and thus the
fount of all knowledge on the topic – if a strawberry plant successfully puts out runners, it won’t bear any fruit. My strawberry plants somehow managed to resist selective runner trimming and to continue to sprout them. Therefore the fruits will have to wait until the next strawberry season, in the late spring and early summer of next year.
I’ve had a bit more joy with my pea plant. I already had grow-your-own kits for both peas and beans. Essentially you cultivate the seedlings for a short time indoors, then transfer them outside. After just a week the pea plant was developing rapidly, but my bean, which indoors had developed a good set of roots, did not take well to being outside. It was with great sadness that I had to admit the failure of my adventures in bean farming.
There have been successes, though. A couple of dozen leek seedlings given by that “old hand”, my mother-in-law, appear to be growing, albeit slowly. It could be some time before we’re eating potato and leek soup made completely from scratch. That’s another thing: I appear to have missed the season for planting potatoes.
These too will have to wait until next year.
One of the greater mistakes that I made was in assuming that garden creatures such as slugs would not be interested in my plants. I have fond memories of eating mint leaves straight from the bush in my grandmother’s garden, so was shocked that the malicious slugs of Edinburgh did not respect my nostalgic desire to nurture some mint of my own, and kept eating it. Fortunately, after fiddling around with some bamboo and string, my treasured mint has been rescued from this danger.
All in all, my first foray into fruit and vegetable growing has been an enjoyable learning experience. Although it hasn’t yet yielded the veritable cornucopia of foodstuffs shown in the Dig for Victory propaganda, this will surely improve next year after having the opportunity to plant in the spring, and I’ll soon be helping myself to “cabbages fit for a king!”