A Journey to Grow a Little Food Close to Home

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Victorian Kitchen Garden - Conclusion

Well...we made it. This is the conclusion of The Victorian Kitchen Garden. This will be a long post but it is a good wrap-up!

This re-creation uses a bit less than 1 acre of the almost 3 that originally existed with the manor house.

Properly managed, this 1 acre (43560 sq ft) of garden, with its approximately 16000 sq ft (.376 acre) of growing space could have fed between 40 and 64 people. I come to that conclusion because of 2 sources. John Jeavons states that 400 sq ft is necessary for vegetable and fruit plants for each person on the planet. Using his figures, 40 people would have been possible. Eliot Coleman looks at the winter numbers. According to him, each person needs 64 sq ft under coverage to supply throughout the winter. Greenhouse growing needs a little less than that because it is heated. According to his figures, the acre could feed about 64 people (48 people from the greenhouse (3768 sq ft total w/ approx. 1584 sq ft of growing tables) with 33 sq ft per person and another 16 people with 64 sq ft per person in the frames.) Root vegetables from storage would have rounded out the offerings.

Here’s the breakdown:

Main outdoor beds – 8800 sq ft @ 30 in. bed w/ 12 in walk
Perimeter (3 sides) – 2300 sq ft @ 30 in bed w/ 12in walk
Back Bed - 1700 sq ft @ 28 in. bed w/ 12 in walk
Separator & Decorative beds - 1000 sq ft
Frames - 1000 sq ft
Glasshouses - 1584 sq ft

Total - 16384 sq ft outdoors

John Jeavons goes on to say that an additional 1200sq ft per person is necessary for what he calls ‘calorie crops.’ Corn and potato fall into this category. If the head gardener and his staff actually grew both of these…and grew all of the supply needed, the number of people who could be supported drops from 40 to 10.

The whole garden, then (i.e. the 3-acres), probably supported as few as 30 and as many as 100 people. When Mr. Thoday (Intro, January) and Mr. Dodson (September) mention all of the people who needed to be fed along with the family and its guests (approx 10 gardeners, and up to an additional 22 house workers, stable workers, gate guards, and the families that went along with these employees) it must have been an amazing amount of pressure on the head gardener. If he didn’t perform, people might have gone hungry.

The gardener at Chattsworth House (referenced in the Intro) would have had it even harder. Referencing some of the old photographs shows that the staff of the house rounded out to more than 40. These staff, along with their families, could have totaled up to 200 (2 parents, 3 kids) mouths to feed. These, along with the main family and its guests, would have rounded out to a potential 260 people – the most that Chattsworth’s 6 acre garden, could have supported.
Imagine the pressure on the approximately 2 million farmers in the US today (.0065% of the population) who feed the entire country!! (We can help by planting our own kitchen gardens.)

This recreation seems to represent the height of the kitchen garden, its technology, and its management. A snapshot from about 1900 would have shown a very similar picture to this recreation. Mr. Dodson has managed to incorporate intercropping design taken from Parisian market gardens of the mid 1700s, cold frames from the Netherlands, espaliered fruit trees in the French and Italian vineyard style – basically the best of the best that would have been known at the time.

Because of today’s plastics (not really known in the mid to late 1800s), the entire open planting areas in the middle of the garden could be covered with row covers/hoop houses in the winter. Elliot Coleman’s double coverage method along with crop rotation could probably double the production of a garden this size (i.e. 40 people fed up to 80).

This mention of plastics brings up an important point – the end of an era. With the passing of Queen Victoria came a true infusion of industrialization into food production in England (and the US, for that matter). Manual labor could be replaced by machines. Horses were now made of iron and powered by gas or diesel.

Automatic irrigation (and maybe stronger, higher-yielding hybrid species) would really have been the only thing that could have been improved upon in a garden like this…without the inclusion of fossil fuels (like plastics and petroleum fertilizers) and genetically modified plants, that is.

I, for one, am happy that this film series was made as it shows the peak of gardening knowledge which we cannot lose!

Peter Thoday notes in the introduction that the garden at the other manor house (Chattsworth) is, “today, run more like an efficient market garden.” What he means by this is that plants are spaced closer together and are clustered by variety to make for faster planting and harvesting as well as easier crop rotation. Space is not utilized for flowers. Walkways are narrow and utilitarian as opposed to those at the re-creation site which are set up for peoples’ walking enjoyment. This is an example of how, even in times past, the wealthy could afford inefficiency in exchange for beauty. Perhaps a combination of the two could be the way of the future?

It’s interesting to note that this type of a set up was known as a garden. Today, in the United States, garden and farm mean very different things and, although we might not know exactly what to call this, farm would probably be closer in our vocabulary than garden. For the Victorians, though, garden had a much different meaning than farm. More on that next week…

So...I drew out the best interpretation that I could of the garden featured in the series. Here it is. Know that 1 square of the grid represents 2 feet.

I hope that this series was an inspiration for all - it sure was for me. I would like nothing more than to be able to see this walled garden in person (and then to build a wall of my own :)

Have a happy holiday season and let's begin planning next year's garden in the new year!!

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