August Gardens for Baldock
As promised, and following on from last month, a bit more on vegetables.
In the big kitchen gardens I worked in, the gardens were supplying produce for big manor houses with large families. Who would regularly
entertain and want to impress their friends, the emphasis would be on exceptional quality usually show standards supplied little and often
unless they had a party, then it could be vast amounts so scheduling of harvest was crucial, it was therefore vitally important to get the
sowing dates and the varieties into a diary before you start.
Gardening, especially vegetable growing, is a very inexact science and will always make a fool of you, the secret that makes a good garden-
er a great gardener is knowing how to work your way out of a problem and being able to supply something all the time. The head garden-
ers would keep extensive information on sowing dates for most of their working life, in a large book It was always called by a nickname but
was treated with great reverence, nobody was allowed near it certainly not the competition or us young lads. What was inside it was kept
from us boys. Daily information was transferred into a day book that would be held about them for instant reference.
Often in the greenhouses or outhouses, the assistant gardeners would write notes on the walls hidden away from the head gardener often
their way of making themselves look good in front of the garden boys like me pretending they were on it and new it all. Some times we
would find these notes and get a head start on them so impressing the head gardener, not all comments were polite about some of the
jobs they were told to do.
Overall we were all supposed to know row lengths, row widths plant spacing, plant feeding and watering regimes were the domain of the
assistant gardener, the crop type, varieties the sowing times and consequently the harvesting times etc. would be the sole responsibility of
the Head Gardener.
The garden boys were given their instructions every morning, usually about six thirty from the assistant gardeners who would start about
five forty-five, perhaps six o'clock. The head gardener would begin at any time from the crack of sparrows and would have been around
many hours before I ever got a start. The Boss, as he was always called, would then give his instructions to the assistant gardeners before
we arrived. The Boss would be called by his sir name by the household, and in their presence, we would have to call him Mr, everyone else
from us boys up would also be called by their sir name.
The growing and cropping plan carefully calculated by the Boss would start in January sometimes as early as November, with sowing in the
heated greenhouses or cold frames depending on the time of year and the weather at the time.
Planting out was strictly on his instruction via the assistant gardener, all by hand everything had to be measured all string lines had to be
set out to the quarter inch as it was back in the day, modern terms would be five millimetres. This sounds unnecessarily accurate, but if you
have a hundred rows to put in and one end the row was regularly two millimetres too wide, you would in old money be eight inches out at
the end. That would bring the displeasure of the Boss and a replant in our own time, no pay.
The other side of horticulture I discovered as I got a bit older was market gardening, this is much much bigger not so much hand digging or
planting but to my great joy it was all done by machine.
Most of the tractors were TVO fueled grey Fergusons or early Ford Dextas, The old crop would be mowed off or rotorvated in before being
ploughed in, the ploughed ground would be cultivated down to a fine tilth, then lightly firmed down with a ring roller.
Bed widths were dictated by how wide the tractor's wheels would go out to. Usually, we worked on yard spacings three feet or for the
younger readers ninety-one and a half centre metres. This bed size is minute compared with what growers use today, but it was the recog-
nised bed size of the day.
The young plants were brought in from specialist growers grown by the millions under huge commercial greenhouses a process we had
nothing to do with apart from unloading them from the lorries that delivered them, most plants were grown in two-inch by two-inch by
two- inch cubed peat blocks.
The planting machines pulled behind the tractor were only wide enough to seat two people per bed and were quite cosy as two of us had
to sit next to each other in a three-foot space. The planters were designed by way of a thick steel bar that attached to the lower tractor
linkage arms of the tractor a vertical bar attached to the top linkage bar of the tractor. This enabled the planter to be lifted up and lowered
down with the two operators sitting on it, an exciting feeling at the end of each bed as the tractor driver lifted you up and swung it around.
In front of the operators on the planter, there is a powered chain with vee-shaped cups that the operator would place the plant in the peat
blocks on, this would be lowered down into a slot made in the soil by the machine the blocks would then be covered lightly with earth leav-
ing the plant above ground. On a good day, we could plant twenty thousand plants each.
Harvesting as you can imagine was equally enormous compared to what I was used to in the garden size enterprises, again all the har-
vesting was done by hand but transported in wooden crates on a rear loader.
Our harvested crops would be taken back to a packing shed to be sorted and packed ready for market, we would load the crates or trays by
hand on to a lorry ready to travel up to the London Markets, that will be another story all of its own next month.
I hope this has given a bit of an insight into how we produced vegetables
Your patch may not be big enough for a tractor, but you can still enjoy what you do and raise some good stuff. Cheers, Graham.