It's not quite war time, although sometimes it feels like it... Endless articles on the "credit crunch", cutbacks and soaring food prices are putting a chill in the air. During WW2 the British were digging Victory gardens in squares and public parks across the country. They were growing their own food in very tight compact spaces as a response to food shortages due to the wartime restrictions on food imports. Wartime principles of eating seasonal food grown locally and organically have a message for us now.
In the heart of historic St. James's Park, the Dig for Victory allotment garden has been created to bring back the flavour of those times and encourage people to embrace the idea of growing your own. For the second year running, a small allotment garden has been created in the spirit of those from the war. Included is an Anderson Shelter (pictured), a bomb shelter made of prefab. metal sheets and secured with bags of sand. Zucchinis are growing around and over it as camouflage. The beds are raised to allow for deep rooting. Companion planting was encouraged--different plants side by side can repel insects or attract them. The approach was quite organic, although the intent was to produce crops with the highest nutritional value.
The plots made use of discarded household items. Egg cartons and toilet paper rolls could be used as planters and old window frames made good cold frames. Net curtains provide protection from birds and hot sun by deflecting rays away from the plants.
By 1945, 1.5 million allotments were being cultivated in the UK, supplying 10 per cent of food needs. To supply meat, communities were encouraged to rear their own livestock with the opportunity to join a pig or rabbit club. Rationing forced people to cook with leftovers.
There were recycling campaigns to encourage people to collect paper to be recycled into containers for shells, cartridge packs, log books and military maps. Garbage cans were placed at the ends of streets for householders to deposit unwanted food to be used to feed pigs. Rags, bottles and bones were collected, too – meat bones were used for making explosives. Metal was recycled to build tanks and planes and for munitions.
According to historians from the Churchill Museum: "Clothes rationing was introduced in June 1941 due to a shortage of imported fabric and the need for cloth for uniforms, parachutes and hospital bedding. Reuse and recycling tips included reproofing raincoats by rubbing beeswax over the inside, then ironing.
Leather looks as good as new when treated with sour milk rubbed in with cloth. Old shoes could be revived by rubbing them with banana skin – the perfect accessory for a "new" skirt made out of men's old trousers."