The Lost Gardens of Orkney (7) Fertilisers

Islands that are also rich farming country have much locally produced natural fertilisers. Seaweed collected from the shoreline and farm yard manure all work in gardens to help to enrich the soil.

With the growth in popularity in gardening, especially after people saw the importance of home grown food during the shortages of World War 1, gardening advice columns appeared in newspapers and magazines.

Just like today when we have TV and radio programmes helping both the beginner and expert gardener, so too, the inter war years saw a surge in information about gardening and about the sale of products that went with it.

Local shops started to provide garden fertilisers. At Cumming and Spence in Albert Street, Kirkwall you could buy Special Garden Fertiliser for 1/- and 6d per stone and Potato Manure for 1/- a stone.

‘Those who have not yet tired it would do well to have a trial lot’.

It proved popular and only a year later in 1928 Cumming and Spence increased the price. Special Garden Fertiliser was now 1/- 9d per stone and Potato Manure 1/- 3d per stone.

Orkney Herald and Advertiser 25th April 1928

The ingredients of the Special Garden Fertiliser are not listed but we can take a guess from the Gardening feature written in The Orkney Herald and Advertiser of 19th June 1929 by Gilbert B Hunter.

In the ‘Making the best of soils’, Gilbert Hunter suggests the following ingredients for garden fertiliser:

  • 28lbs sulphate of ammonia
  • 56lbs superphosphate(30%)
  • 14lbs steamed bone flour
  • 14lbs sulphate of potash

Gilbert Hunter advises gardeners to mix all of the above with fine clay soil or sand for even distribution at 3 ounces per square yard. Or of course you could just buy the ready made stuff locally.

More familiar to us today is Gilbert Hunter’s advice to mulch which he recommends doing in the Spring with either straw manure or leaf mould.

The making of a compost heap is treated by some as demanding expert construction. Today you can even buy ready made compost bins of all different sizes. In the 1920s, it was still very much the tradition to make your own – something many are returning to.

Orkney Herald and Advertiser January 10th 1923

In ‘Making Manure and Fertiliser’ (Orkney Herald and Advertiser, 10th January 1923) full details are given on how to construct a compost heap.

The gardener should have two compost heaps.

The heat generated in a compost heap is sufficient to kill insects and to prevent eggs and chrysalis coming to life, but disease spores can fructify and infect the ground to be enriched.

You are told what is best to compost: healthy soft waste (such as carrot tops, the outside leaves of lettuces, the tea leaves, etc). The unhealthy plant waste and woody stuff should be cremated. Keep the ashes under cover till February.

One compost heap should be being built, and the other ready for, or in use. Make a deep opening. First spread some refuse. As soon as this begins to speak, silence it with an inch or two of soil, and a sprinkling or coating of lime – according to the state of the family exchequer. Fresh builders lime is cheaper and more powerful than lime sold for horticultural purposes; and is easily spread after being wetted. Builders lime is hot at first so do not splash it into the eyes while slacking it with the watering can.

The heap will not be as talkative in the winter months, so during that season the lime may be used more economically without estranging the neighbours.

Besides making the heap perfectly sanitary, lime causes a more rapid decomposition of the refuse. Within a year or less of the pit becoming a mound, you will have a supply of rich decayed manure of fine texture.

The talking garden compost heaps of 1923 – I wonder ?

Image credit Bell

Fiona Grahame

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2 replies »

  1. Re. pic of poo…..our neighbours up the road offered some poo from their Shetland ponies and poo from their chickens as fertilizer for the veg patch. Mike went up with a barrow to collect it…….a bit too fresh to be dug in straight away, but it went into the compost bins for the next year.

    It’s since ‘turned into’ tatties!

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