logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as an older child

Growing seedlings into
fully grown plants the old way

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Three clay pots of increasing size from the 1940s. 
		The smallest, known as a 'thumbs' was for very young seedlings

Three clay pots of increasing size. The smallest, known as a 'thumbs' was for very young seedlings. The ruler is a foot long, ie 30.48 centimetres.

During the shortages of World War Two, it was particularly important for households to grow vegetables successfully in their gardens, as well as a few cheerful flowers on the side. The techniques were still those which had been used in families for generations. They just became more significant in wartime.

Seeds were sought after - see the pages on obtaining seeds and sowing them. This page describes how the seedlings were grown on into plants which were ready to be planted out. (Many staples of course, like potatoes and carrots were sown directly into open ground.)

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Growing seedlings on

old metal watering can

Old metal watering can as used before the advent of plastics.

As the seedlings grew, they were moved into progressively larger clay pots until it was time for them to go into open ground.

There was no shortage of broken pottery to use as 'crocks' for drainage in the larger pots because previous years' pots would have been broken up by frost or accidental dropping.

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Feeding the growing plants

Free manure and rain water

During the war period most things were delivered by horse drawn vehicles. There was a unwritten law that if the horse was outside your house when he did his business then it belonged to you. So everybody had a shovel and bucket ready for action. As a horse came down the street everybody would be waiting see if he did his business. If he did, outside your house, it was rather like winning the lottery.

Old garden barrel for water or home-made manure

Old garden barrel for water or home-made liquid fertiliser from horse droppings.

horse droppings

Horse droppings, ready to be shovelled up and used for manure.

Most people had a water butt in the back garden. This was either an old beer barrel or an oil drum. The fresh horse manure was put into an old sack and suspended in the water. The result was a deep brown liquid similar to Baby Bio and was later put onto the soil with a watering can. Something that was common but never spoken of in history books was the use of urine. Most people had a bucket in the air raid shelter, or a chamber pot under the bed. Urine was collected to be diluted and watered around the base of growing vegetables. Many parts of the world such as China still do this on a vast scale. Even today people put diluted urine on their lawns to obtain a fantastic green colour.

Peter Johnson

Fertilisers were in short supply, but it was normal to have a compost heap or bin in the garden. Vegetable waste, weeds and any chicken and rabbit manure were all added, which by the next year had turned into good compost.

Leaves rotted down more slowly, so they tended to be composted separately into leaf mould.

I just remember my mother collecting horse droppings, as described by Peter Johnson, while the dairy still delivered by horse and cart.