Growing as much food on as little land for as little money as possible


Dome plot starting to come together.

But still so much to do.

I have started work on the fence going around the dome plot. I decided to carry on the triangle theme to mimic the bottom layer of the geodesic dome structure. I used the same size material. this will have chicken wire stapled to the face of it and then a capping rail will go along the top. I have built the front side and still have three sides to go but they should not take too long as I kinda know what I am doing now.
If you remember, this is what it looked like before.


And this is what it looks like now


I have also started building the beds in the corners of the plots at the dome end. We are going to have a bark chipping path going right around the dome for easy maintenance.

2016-03-20 17.56.18_zpsgnmfrrkc

We have planted another couple of apple trees in what is to become our edible forest garden. This area will be planted with an understory of soft fruits like blueberry and then a herbaceous layer, ground cover and  vines. I would also like to have fungi in this area as well. It doesn’t look like much at the moment but in a couple of years it will be a very productive but low maintenance area.


Inside the dome we have build a temporary staging so we can start sowing seeds and we have progressed slightly with the aquaponics system. We have filled the fish tank with water and so far there are no leaks and I have built and tested a siphon system to drain the grow beds.
The aquaponics system we are building initially will be a simple “flood and drain” system. The pump will be in the fish tank and will constantly pump water up into the grow beds. The plants will not survive long if their roots were constantly immersed in water so you need to drain the beds on a regular basis. Using a simple siphon it is possible to completely drain the beds without having to use any moving parts such as valves etc.
The beds slowly fill up with water until the water level reaches the top of the siphon it starts tricking out of the drain and back into the fish tank but as the flow increases it begins to siphon and drains all the water back into the fish tank. The beds should drain as quickly as possible as this will both draw oxygen down into the grow media and also introduce oxygen to the fish tank.
I was going to build a “bell siphon” as these are the most common but I recently saw a video on youtube that introduced the “U siphon” to me and it was so simple I decided to build one of those instead. Here is the video where I first saw the U siphon.

And here is my first attempt at building one.

I just built it in a bucket for now so I could quickly test it without having to wait for the whole grow bed to fill up each time.
As you can see it works perfectly but it will take a little bit of tweaking matching the siphon to the pump but that will be another day.

More soon


Know Thy Enemy. Weeds. Plantain

No not the bananas!
This is another weed that I can almost guarantee you will have on your allotment or in your garden. It grows well in compacted soil so is more often seen in lawns and paths than in your beds. It can put up with a lot of abuse and seems to simply shrug off being mowed or walked upon.

Although there are over 200 species of Plantain (Plantago) in the world  I will only be discussing the two main types of Plantain common in the UK and these are Ribwort and Rat’s Tail plantain.

Ribwort (Plantago Lanceolata) has long spear like leaves with tough raised ribs running along the length of the underside. The flowers are at the end of long leafless stems and form a bullet shaped seed head surrounded by a ring of small light coloured flowers.



Plantago lanceolata


Rattail Plantain (Plantago Major) also known as Broad leaf or Greater Plantain produces a rosette of oval leaves with raised veins on the underside.  The flowers form along a leafless stem and look like a rat’s tail.


Plantago major

Plantains are perennial, wind pollinated and are propagated by spreading seed. The seeds are often carried on the feet of animals and humans and this could explain why they spread along rights of way.

Plantain originated in Europe and Asia but because it is such an important healing plant it is now found all over the world. It was introduced to the Americas by the first European settlers  and quickly became established. It was so synonymous with the incomers that the indigenous  peoples called it ‘White man’s foot’ because wherever the white man walked, Plantain would soon follow. The native tribes quickly realised the benefits of Plantain and it was integrated into their own herbal traditions. Interestingly  the plant is known as ‘Englishman’s Foot’ in New Zealand. presumably for the same reason.

All parts of the Plantain are edible and the leaves and seeds have a mild mushroom taste but they are not renowned as a food although I like the taste and it does contain quite a few beneficial nutrients including Vitamins C and K, Calcium and Potassium.

Where Plantain really come into their own is as a herbal medicine.
The crushed leaves of the plantain have very good wound healing properties so are great for treating minor cuts and grazes.Tannins and Allantoin in Plantain speed up cell regeneration helping wound heal quickly.  Just chew up a couple of leaves to form a pulp poultice, place this on the wound and bandage loosely to hold poultice in place. Plantain is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. It also helps draw infection, poisons and foreign bodies from the wound so is great for treating insect bites, stings and splinters. Plantain is better than Dock leaves for  treating Stinging nettle rash and can also be used to calm sun burn.

I have used Plantain to relieve the pain of toothache and is great for treating gum infections and mouth ulcers. You can chew a couple of leaves and hold it in your mouth against the problem tooth or ulcer plus you can make an infusion of the leaves in hot water, allow it to cool and use it as a mouthwash. Powdered Plantain root is also useful for toothache but if you don’t have the powdered root handy you can just dig up the root, clean it and chew it to ease the pain.

An infusion of Plantain leaves can be used to treat sore throats and acts as both a decongestant and expectorant and due to it’s antibacterial properties is great for treating a wide range of respiratory complaints.

Another area where Plantain is effective is in the treatment of  digestive disorders. A teaspoon of dried leaves made into a tea or infusion is very good for treating Diarrhoea, inflammation of the colon, IBS, stomach ulcers and is said to kill worms in the stomach and intestines. Plantain is also very effective in the treatment of Haemorrhoids so next time you think all the weeds in your garden are a pain in the butt, think again.

Up until now I have mainly talked about the benefits of using the leaves of the plantain but the seed have their uses as well. The seeds can be dried and ground into flour for making gluten free flat breads and because Plantain is rich in mucilages it can be used to thicken soups etc.
The mucilages in Plantain relieves irritation of mucous membranes by forming a protective film so helps combat the symptoms of cold and flu. It also acts as a cough suppressant especially with dry coughs. The seeds are also used to treat constipation.

Plantain really is a very powerful plant that is literally growing right under your feet. It is very easy to identify and can be found all year round. I have only just touched on a few of the wonderful things Plantain can do and I hope I have sparked enough of an interest that you will do your own research into what plantain can do for you.
I am not an expert in any sort of medicine including herbal remedies so it is important that you use your own judgement on what will work for you and if you are in any doubt please consult your Health Care Professional.








Creating soil for the Barrel Garden

As you well know, I hate spending money so just popping off to the garden centre for some compost is not really an option. Last year some kind sole -who’s identity seems to have been lost – dumped about 10 tons of well rotted manure at the allotment for anyone to use. This was great and it allowed me to fill my raised beds without having to worry were I was going to get materials from. This manure pile has now all gone so now I will have to be a little more inventive.

I went up to where the manure had been and noticed that the earth was very dark, almost black but it was full of hard dun dried lumps of manure, rocks, sticks, bits of plastic etc but there was a good couple of inches of nice soil

I filled a wheel barrow with this mixture and took it back to the plot. This is what it looked like.

What was left of the manure pile

I decided to sieve this stuff to see what I ended up with and the results were great.

Sieved manure

Nice rich dark and crumbly. Lovely.

As I sieved the mixture I took all the plastic and stones out and what I was left with was lumps of dried manue, twigs and leaves etc. I put this in the compost.

This will be added to the compost heap

I wanted to add some more organic matter to the soil so I turned to the composted leaves from last year. These have really broken down nicely and was full of worms.

Rotted leaves from last year

This is natures gold. People rake their leaves off the lawn and the drive and take them to the dump and then drive to the garden centre and buy compost. Leaves are the best thing you can compost. It is the what nature makes nice new topsoil. Everybody should compost their leaves each year. I am now composting other peoples leaves as well.

This stuff really hold onto water so the barrel will not dry out even if I don’t water it for a week or so.

I mixed the composted leaves and the sieved manure together in a roughly 50/50 ratio before putting it into the barrel

It really does look like a fantastic growing medium but time will tell.

Soil ready to go into the barrel

Next I have to decide what I am going to grow in the barrel garden. I think I will put some of my onions on the sunny side of the barrel and we do have a lot of strawberry plants that need putting somewhere. I really want it to be a random mix of plants.

I noticed our little raspberry plants we were given last year have produce a small amount of berries. They will be better next year.


I hope you had a good Haloween or Allantide as it is called in Cornwall.

Happy Allantide

More soon

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55 Vegetables in 4 square feet? Part 4

I make these mistakes so you don’t have to.

I decided to fit the legs today and then fill it up with growing medium to await planting but as with all things DIY things don’t always go to plan.

I thought it was going to be a simple matter to drill the holes in the legs, then drill the holes in the barrel and then just bolt the legs on. I thought it would take a hour, tops. Oh dear. I drilled the holes for the first leg and pushed the bolt through the leg and into the barrel but then I hit upon the first problem. I could not reach down far enough into the barrel to do the nuts up because I had already fitted the compost tube. I tried and tried but in the end I had to drill out the pop rivets and remove the compost tube.

This meant I could access the nuts through the hole in the bottom of the barrel but still working blind with my arm in the hole I scuffed my knuckles on pretty much every turn of the spanner so I think it might be a good idea to fit the legs after you have marked out and cut the grow pockets but before actually forming them. You live and learn.

Here are the legs bolted on at last.

Legs bolted in place

I used nice big washers on the inside of the barrel

Large penny washers on the inside of the barrel

I used 40mm M8 bolts with big penny washers

40mm M8 nuts and bolts with large penny washers

The next problem was getting the compost tube back in the hole which is a very tight fit because the flange at the bottom of the barrel had been heated and then shrunk around the tube. After a bit of chamfering of the tube I managed to get the tube back in but I couldn’t line up the original holes for the pop rivets so I had to drill new holes all of which took time.

All of this took at least a couple of hours and what with the idiotic concept of putting the clocks back I ran out of daylight before I could fill the barrel with soil.

I don’t know how true this is but apparently when an old native American  was told about daylight saving he said ‘Only a white man would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket.’ I really hope that was true.

So here is the finished barrel garden in it’s final resting place.

Finished Barrel Garden

I have a few bags of expanded clay pebbles that I am going to use in my future aquaponics system but I am going to use a few handfuls in the bottom of the barrel to stop the soil getting waterlogged.

Expanded clay pebbles

Pebbles in the barrel

I have started filling the barrel with soil but I ran out of light so had to knock it on the head for today but for all intent and purposes the project is finished.

The next instalment will consist of filling the barrel with soil and planting it up.



Lovely relaxing day at the tiny allotment

After a physically tiring day yesterday working on the barrel garden today I just spent a couple of hours chilling out and doing some odd jobs.

It was a beautiful day and quite warm for the time of year and the allotment is looking great in the sun

Tiny Allotment in the October sun

I cut the grass around the outside of my plot just to keep it looking tidy and I thought I would show you my grass cutting equipment. For long grass and nettles etc I use a small single handed scythette which id great when you get the hang of it, For shorter grass I use a manual push mower and now I have sharpened the blades and adjusted it it does a really good job. For around the edges I either rip the grass out with my hands or use shears.

Push mower, Scythette and shears.

I also got a chance to just sit in the sun with a coffee and play the Ukulele. Got to enjoy the weather while it lasts.

Ukulele in the sun

I did also cut the legs for the barrel garden project but I didn’t have any suitable bolts at the allotment so they will have to be fitted in the week sometime.

Legs for the barrel garden

More soon

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55 Vegetables in 4 square feet? Part 3

If you haven’t read them already you will need to read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series before reading this part.

This part mainly covers the making and fitting of the compost tube and the completion of the grow pockets.

I started out by marking out the hole in the bottom of the barrel to accept the compost tube. I am going to try a completely different way of doing this. Normally people glue a fitting to the bottom end of the compost tube that takes a screw cap or some other way of closing off the compost tube. I didn’t want to buy any more materials that I needed to so expensive fittings were out of the question. After seeing how the blue plastic of the barrel behaves once it had been heated I decided to mark out and cut a hole that was about 15mm smaller than the radius of the pipe. I would then heat around the hole to make it soft enough to force the compost tube through the bottom of the barrel. This would also form a flange though which I could pop rivet the compost tube fixing it to the barrel. I wanted to cut the hole in the bottom of the barrel before finishing the grow pockets because I thought I may be able to access the lower pockets through the hole but it wasn’t really big enough. No harm done.

Here is the hole marked out

Marking out the hole for the compost tube

And then I cut the hole.

A view of the compost tube hole from the inside of the barrel

Next I went back to forming the grow pockets. This is a bit of a laborious job and the bottom two rows involves leaning into the barrel whilst heating the plastic with a blowtorch. This is not a pleasant job and in future I will use a heat gun to heat the plastic from the outside but I wanted to do this one using no electricity. I did a row of ten and then took a break to make the compost tube. I cut the tube to 1000mm. This is long enough so that the bottom of the tube is flush with the bottom of the barrel and the top is about 100mm above the soil surface when the barrel is filled.

I marked a line 100mm from the top and another about 50mm from the bottom. In between these two lines I will drill holes to allow water to flush through the compost tube and let the worms travel between the compost and the soil.

This is the finished compost tube.

Compost tube with holes to allow water to flush through the compost and let the worms transit between the compost and the soil

Here is a picture down through the pipe. Just because it looks funky.

View through the compost tube

Once I finished forming all the grow pockets I heated up the area around the hole to allow the compost tube to enter the barrel. This took ages and in the end I had to slit the hole all the way round to get the tube in. It still worked OK but it was not perfect. I didn’t get any pictures of me fitting the tube as there was a lot going on and I only have two hands.

Here is a picture of it fitted.

Compost tube fitted to barrel

I then drilled through the tube and the flange inside the barrel and fixed the tube to the barrel with pop rivets.

Tube riveted to barrel

Here is a picture of the barrel so far with all the grow pockets formed and the compost tube fitted.

Barrel so far.

The next job was to make some way of closing off the bottom of the compost tube that can easily be opened to remove the compost once it is done. Normally people have some sort of screw cap or compression bung. I don’t like either of these ideas for a couple of reasons including the cost and the fact that you will have to scrabble around under the barrel trying to screw the bung back into a filthy tube with gunged up threads etc.

I wanted to make something that was free and also easy to use and this is what I came up with.

I used the top of the barrel I cut off in part one to construct a sliding ‘Gate Valve’. It worked really well because the the top of the barrel had a kind of curved lip which formed the handle of the sliding part of the valve.

I cut strips of the lid material to form the sliders and riveted them to the bottom of the barrel

This is a picture of the valve closed

Compost tube emptying valve closed

And this is it open

and the valve open

So that is it so far. I just need to fit the legs and fill the barrel with soil. Then I can start putting kitchen waste and worms into the composting tube and plant it up.

More soon


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55 Vegetables in 4 square feet? Part2

Previously we cut the top off a tight head blue barrel and drilled the drain holes in the bottom of the barrel. Now we are going to mark out the 50 grow pockets that will be cut into the sides of the barrel.

I measured around the barrel and it was approximately 1750mm. I wanted to put ten pockets on each level and I wanted my pockets to be around 100mm wide so that leaves 75mm between the pockets. I marked a line all the way round the barrel 100mm down from the top and then marked alternately 100mm and 75mm along this line. If you start on one of the seams of the barrel you can check how you are doing when you get half way round at the other seam.

Marking out the grow pockets

In order to stop the grow pockets splitting and to aid the cutting it is necessary to drill a hole at the ends of each grow pocket so I went ahead and drilled a hole on every mark along the line I had just marked out.

One of the one hundred holes to be drilled in the side of the barrel

The saw I used to cut the top off the barrel was perfect for cutting the slits for the grow pockets

The little hand saw made quick work of cutting the grow pockets

I measured down 150mm and repeated the operation making sure the next lot of pockets were offset so they were not directly below the ones above, I repeated this another 3 times to make a total of 5 levels of 10 pockets.

All 50 pockets cut

Now the fun part. Forming the grow pockets. Normally people heat the plastic until it is pliable with an electric heat gun used for stripping paint but as I don’t have electricity at the allotment I decided to use a butane blowtorch. Another way I have deviated from the norm id I am going to use a beer bottle to form the pockets instead of a piece of 2×4 wood. I think the pockets formed with the 2×4 look a bit square and ugly. I wanted rounder pockets plus I thought a cold bottle would cool the plastic quicker and so speed up the process a little. I had no idea if any of this was going to work but it would be fun finding out.

I have only had time to do 5 pockets so far but it proves that the method works and the glass bottle dissipates the heat quickly enough that you only need one bottle.

Perfect pockets

In the next part we will complete the grow pockets and build the compost/wormery tube.



55 Vegetables in 4 square feet? Part1

Introducing the barrel garden.

Barrel gardens are fantastic. They are cheap and easy to build, you can grow a massive amount of food in a tiny footprint, they retain and recycle water and nutrients, they require very little weeding, they have an integrated composting wormery that automatically fertilises your barrel and deals with kitchen waste, they produce fantastic worm casting you can either  reuse in the barrel or on your garden.You can now grow vegetables and soft fruits anywhere even if you only have a small courtyard or balcony. You can even easily look after a barrel garden from a wheelchair.

“WOW, Where can I get one of these fantastic gardens?” I hear you ask. Well, I’m sure if you searched hard enough you could find someone who supplies them but the best way is to roll up your sleeves and build one yourself. (If you are having trouble finding a barrel garden and you really can’t build one yourself then get in touch and we can discuss me building one for you).

Right, let’s get started. First of all you are going to need a barrel. In this demonstration I am going to use a 205Lt ‘Tight Head’ barrel. Tight head barrels only have a couple of small openings in the top so you will have to cut the top off. You might find an ‘Open Top Keg’ type barrel that have a removable lid but it doesn’t really matter. It only takes a few minutes to remover the top of a tight head barrel.

When looking for a barrel for this type of project make sure you get a food grade barrel that has only be used to carry foodstuffs. Places to look might be large food production companies, bakeries, breweries etc. Also ask on freecycle or streetbank.

I started with a tight head barrel I have had hanging around for about 5 years.

Tight head barrel

First job was cut the top off. You could do this with an electric jigsaw but me being me plus the fact that I don’t have electricity at the allotment I used a great little hand saw that was perfect for the job.

Plasterboard saw

It only took about 10 minutes to cut the top off and it ended up being quite a neat job. I don’t think I could have done it much quicker with a jigsaw to be honest by the time I set it up and everything.

Barrel with the top removed

Next job was to drill the drain holes in the bottom of the barrel. This allows any excess water to drain away so the barrel doesn’t become waterlogged. This is also where you collect all the lovely nutrient rich water that can be put back in the top of the barrel. That is one of the great things about the barrel garden. Nothing is wasted.

As normal I use a great hand tool that has all but disappeared since the advent of the battery drill. The hand drill.

You can still buy these brand new but you will probably get a better quality tool if you buy an old one from a car boot.

Hand drill

We just want to drill a series of holes to allow the water to drain but not to let the soil out. I tried for some sort of pattern but that didn’t work did it.

We just want to drill a series of holes to allow the water to drain but not to let the soil out. I tried for some sort of pattern but that didn’t work did it.

In the next installment we will be marking out, cutting and forming the 50 grow pockets in the sides of the barrel.

There were some sprouts ready for harvest

Brussels Sprouts

And leeks


And the Sedum which I used in the header of this blog is looking fantastic now it is in flower


more on the barrel garden very soon


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Banana Pancakes

We try not to eat too much grain so we don’t even have flour in the place but sometimes you get a hankering for something and today it was pancakes.

I saw this recipe a few weeks ago on facebook so a quick search and I found the recipe for two ingredient pancakes. I’m not sure you can call it a recipe with just two ingredients but there you go.

All you do is chop up some bananas (I used three medium bananas) the riper the better and a couple of eggs. This was enough for 8 small thick pancakes. Put the banana and the eggs in a measuring jug or similar and whisk. I used one of those powered hand wisk type things but you could do it in a blender.

The consistency need to be quite thick. You don’t want your pancakes spreading out all over the pan. You want the mixture to be just pourable.

Pour enough to make a 100mm disk in a hot frying pan smeared with oil and move the pan around at an angle to encourage the mixture to spread a little so it is flat.

As soon as it will cope with it without falling apart flip the pancake over  and do the other side for about a minute or until brown.

Banana Pancakes in the pan

We served ours with local honey and they tasted great.. I might try them in the future with blackberries or blueberrys or other soft fruit added to the basic mix.

Rolled up with local wild flower honey from Heather Bell

Try them, they’re great.

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Update 25th August 2014 Onion seeds, pond etc

Hi All

I could not do any more to the truck this weekend as I ran out of mig wire and was thwarted by a jobs worth at Trago Mills in Falmouth. Trago has a system on a Sunday where they shut at 16:30 but prevent any new customers from entering the premises after 16:00. I arrived at 16:04 and although I knew exactly what I wanted and would be less than a couple of minutes the security on the door would not let me in. I had already paid for 1 hour of parking so I decided to go to The Oddfellows Arms (the best pub in the world) for a pint of Sharps Special (the best pint in the world) so all was not lost. Just as well I didn’t get the mig wire as I rain heavily for most of Monday which was scheduled as it was a bank holiday.

The rain eased around lunch time so I decided to head off down to the allotment to finally plant my onion seeds for next year. I am attempting to overwinter two varieties of onion in the hope that I will get a good crop next year. I decided to plant seeds instead of sets because it is much cheaper and I have never understood thee concept of planting a whole onion just to get a slightly larger onion back. 

The two varieties I have sown are Paris Early and Sturon as both are recommended by the real seed company as being suitable for overwintering.

I have planted around 150 paris earlies and 100 sturon seeds in moduals in the polytunnel and will plant them out in October so they will hit the ground running as soon as spring springs.

150 paris early and 100 sturon seeds sown on 25th august

I have not linked the water butts in the polytunnel yet because I am not sure they are in their final resting place yet. With all the rain we have had over the last couple of days the first barrel filled up so I had to bail it out into the other two barrels so we could collect more water. I have rigged up a simple diverter using a short length of launder.

A short length of launder (guttering) used to divert water into barrel 2

When barrel one is full I flick the downpipe into the launder and the water is diverted into barrel two.

Positioned to fill barrel two

I will sort thee water storage out over the winter once I have decided where they will live.

We have been harvesting loads of beetroots, runner beans, physalis (ground cherries), cucumbers and courgettes but a lot of things are coming to an end now and I have to think what to start planting to keep production going through the winter.

The globe artichoke is looking good. Not sure what do do with them to be honest but they are impressive.


The physalis have been a success and I will plant more of these next year

Physalis or ground cherry

Someone dropped off a wooden contraption used to create sides on a shipping pallet. It is four pieces of wood, hinged in the corners to create a folding box. Anyway they make a great little raise bed.

I have done some more work to the pond. I decided that trying to make a completely natural pond using clay was far too much work for a pond on an allotment that we do not own and could be turfed off of if the owner suddenly decided they wanted to turn the field into a block of flats. We were also gifted a pond liner that was no longer needed so we just cleaned the hole of any sharp stones, lined it with loads of compost bags and old black poly and then fitted the pond liner. I am going to use some of the earth excavated from the hole to build up the sides so the water level will be just over the island in the middle which will be planted with the gunnera.

I will take photos in the next few days.