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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as an older child

Sowing vegetable and
flower seeds 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 flowers on the side to cheer themselves up. The techniques were still those which had been used in families for generations. They just became more significant in wartime.

Seed potatoes and vegetable seeds that were to produce staple food could usually be sown in open ground. Other seeds, including certain flower seeds, had to be treated with more care.

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Seed containers

There were no plastic seed trays at the time of World War Two. (They did not come into the shops until the mid 1950s.) So various small containers were probably commandeered for the purpose.

However the accepted containers for seeds were tiny clay pots, known as 'thumbs', which measured only about 3 cm at their widest point. (These were produced in potteries in areas of naturally occurring clay - see for example my mother's family pottery in north London. Where there were no potteries, the pots came in by road or rail.) These thumbs were porous which was said to be good for seeds and plants because it allowed them to 'breathe' although the belief of this is open to question in view of the later success of plastic flower pots.

Clay pots were very brittle, so they broke easily. Also, because they were produced in such quantity, they were normally made from clay which contained bits of grit. This made the surface uneven and trapped water which, when it turned to ice in freezing conditions, expanded and caused cracking. So the clay pots had to be cared for carefully and stored somewhere away from frost.

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The Seed compost

Seed merchants and Allotment Association shops may at times have sold suitable seed compost, but it was not readily available. So people had to be creative.

The soil from mole hills, when and where available was used as seed compost as the moles had done the work of breaking it up finely. Also used were sifted worm casts as the worms, like the moles, had done the hard work.

The silt that collected in gutters and at the sides of roads was also collected and used.

This material was used alone, or added to sifted garden soil, or the sifted garden soil was used alone. A garden sieve was a common garden tool.

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