There is something relaxing about reading a gardening book or magazine but last week I managed to get hold of a 1921 version of the 'Allotment Gardening' by William Good F.R.H.S. I don't think many women would have read what seemed to be the man only book as the opening chapter refers to the thousands of men busy for several hours producing food for to save money and provide for the ever-increasing population. Women were only referred to in a section about costs and how the housewife can save when shopping and cooking the produce in the kitchen.
A book of this size covering everything from soil cultivation, greenhouses and planting, to pest control and fertilization must have been popular for the few people that could actually read. I can imagine anyone that could not read would only learn the ropes by word of mouth and trial and error.
One section that was well covered was the costs of the seeds/plants and how much profit could be made. Obviously at this time this was very important to the gardener, so for example the cost of Beetroot seed was 1s 6d (7.5p) for 1oz of seed which when grown and sold at 1/2d each would make a profit for the gardener at 12s 6d. (62.5p)
I know that during the 1920's many households would have had real fires so when I saw that the author encouraged the gardeners to grow window boxes for the villages and towns, I just hope the summers then were warm as the plants would blacken quite easily especially where coal was burned.
I was actually having a conversation with my seventy eight year old dad whilst flicking through the sections, and he started the 'When I was a lad' reminiscing. His memories of allotments went beyond his years and back to when his dad had the allotment across the back field.
No-one went to garden centres, they bought seeds sold in a local/hardware shop weighed by the ounce,(28g) Everyone swapped plants, and tomato plants were dug up from the side of the local sewage works; apparently tomato seeds are the only seeds that the human body can not digest, so any human waste deposited around the works produced the plants. The men could freely dig up and grow them on to produce healthy looking tomatoes.
Being from the north where a lot of coal was produced, soot was frequently used to sprinkle around the plants to prevent attacks of insect pests. Nearly every man smoked either roll up tobacco or had pipes and cigars, so it wasn't surprising to learn that 3lbs(1.35 kilos) of tobacco steeped in boiling water and allowed then to cool for six hours would make ten gallons (45 litres) of insecticide.
If gardeners lived near the local abattoir fresh blood was bought and left outside in a tub with added nettle and comfrey leaves. Sometimes bones from rabbits and chickens were added and the mixture was used as a tonic on the growing plants.
A lot of banned products were not even worried about then, it wasn't uncommon to use paraffin in the soil and Arsenic was sprayed so wasps were killed in an instant. Chemicals containing mercury were commonplace.
This old book was interesting for me to read, I would recommend it. It makes you think and made me realise how times have changed even in our gardening techniques.