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Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960: growing food

Article Index

  1. Dales Plants and Gardens 1900-1960: growing food
  2. Interviewee backgrounds
  3. Land and weather
  4. Gardens and allotments
  5. Gardening practicalities
  6. Help in the garden, tasks for children
  7. And from the wild
  8. Cooking the produce
  9. Storage inside and outside
  10. Conclusion
  11. Endnotes and sources
  12. All Pages


Gardening practicalities


Few people had either greenhouses in which to germinate seeds or cold frames in which to harden plants off. Those who did either grew exotic vegetables such as tomatoes because there was a market for them, or vegetables for show, nurtured and cosseted from seed specially bought for the purpose.

Newton and Ward, seed merchants onion poster

Even with a greenhouse there was no point bringing plants on because they couldn’t be planted out until the weather had warmed up. Vegetables grow away better and shrug off pests and disease more successfully when growing in their season.

Potato sets and seeds such as parsnips grew away quickly. PlantsOnion poster by Newton and Ward, seed merchants, Richmond, Swaledale. Image courtesy of the Garden Museum. such as cabbages could either be swapped as young plants grown from seed by a neighbour for later produce, or bought as bare-root plants wrapped in newspaper from the market, just as wallflowers still are today. People grew plants as seasonally as they ate them.

In late winter, after the last of the brassicas and parsnips were taken from the ground it was dug over and manured with muck from the farm (there is always a farm close by in the Dales). The ground had to work for its care. Vegetables were grown all year round: at the back end mature cabbages and parsnips stood in the ground while youngsters such as peas and broad-beans over-wintered for an early crop.

Some people kept the best potatoes for chitting and planting the following year, the pig having the last of the season’s stored potatoes. Other people chose the same classics that are still grown today: Arran Pilot, Maris Piper and Duke of York potatoes; Musselburgh leeks; and Detroit and Boltardy beetroots. And yet others set seed or plants in the ground without ever knowing a name other than ‘Savoy cabbage', 'scarlet runner', and 'Fred’s special' (which might be anything from tomatoes, through runner beans to cauliflowers).

Fruit needed to be plentiful and not fiddly to use – this meant rhubarb, plums, gooseberries, and apples either scrumped, shared, bartered or grown (or less often bought). Fruit pies and puddings are today no longer a regular part of a meal, but for many of our interviewees they were an essential and cheap filling food.

Compost and manure

Judging at the Richmond, Swaledale vegetable show circa 1945. Judging at the Richmond, Swaledale vegetable show in about 1945. Photograph copyright: British Council.Many of the houses had no indoor toilets, and privies and earth closets always needed emptying. Plenty of manure was annually dug into the vegetable patch. Manure also came from cattle, and horses that did the work until into the 1960s.

Our interviewees remember stirring the warm blood from the pig as it died, but don’t remember blood being used on the garden. It was a treat to spend time with their dad, even if it meant going up on to the moor with him and a wheelbarrow to collect sheep droppings. The dung was then tied into a cloth and put in the waterbutt, to be stirred by whoever was hanging the clothes on the line. This 'liquid gold' was vital to the hopes of winning first prize at the annual vegetable show.

And if the moor was too far to walk, then leaves could be collected from the big houses in the grander parts of town. Compost was not often made, as there were few scraps left over and vegetable peelings were either used to damp down the fire or fed to the pig.