tinyⒶllotment

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


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Things are looking good in the dome.

Despite the fact that I have done nothing in the dome over the winter things are happening all on their own.

The passion fruit is in flower and I have noticed dozens of fruit forming.

I have also noticed something interesting happening in the center the kiwi fruit flowers. I really hope we have kiwi fruit this year.

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The olive is in full flower and the fig trees are looking good. Hopefully we will get more figs this year.

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I have neglected the allotment over the last few months due to pressures at work etc but I am planning on spending the weekend there sorting it out.

We are not going to be growing an awful lot this year as we just don’t have the time but I am going to see if I can complete the fence and build some more beds for next year and sort the paths out so I can reduce maintenance.

More soon

Paul

 


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Drone flight over the Geodesic Dome

As I mentioned in a previous post my friend Neil came over a couple of weeks ago with his drone to take some footage of the Geodesic Dome and the surrounding allotments. Here is the footage he shot that day after some editing and some rather pleasent and fitting music was added. Ignore the idiot with the hat!

Great job Neil.

He is going to come over a few times throughout the season to chart our progress with the project.

If you would like a dome like this in your garden or allotment we are now producing them as a kit. Please call Paul on 07796890337 to discuss options.

More soon


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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.

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And this is what it looks like now

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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.

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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.

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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


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Started work on the Dome plot

After the flurry of activity last year to get the Dome built not much else happened on that plot because of the pressures of work and the weather and laziness. Now the weather is easing up a little it is time to start work getting the Dome plot productive.
There is a long list of things that need to be done but the main things are to get the perimeter fence built to keep out rabbits, level the ground inside and outside of the Dome, build the Aquaponics system, build the straw bail hotbeds in the Dome and insulate the northern side of the Dome.

Last weekend I started work on the Aquaponics system. We were given an IBC container but it is not ideal. I has a hole where we don’t need a hole and it used to contain styrene. It has been used for water storage for a long time so all traces of styrene have probably gone by now but I do not want to take any chances so I am going to line the IBC with a pond liner. I am building a simple IBC Aquaponics system for now but because I want to expand this later on into what’s called a CHIFT PIST system I have decided to bury the IBC in the ground. The topsoil at the allotment is quite shallow and then you get down to hard packed shale with lumps of granite so it was hard going to dig down the 700mm or so. The IBC is about a meter tall but I will be cutting the top off to form one of the grow beds plus I can remove the pallet from the bottom so I only have to go down the 700mm. I am undecided whether or not I need to insulate the fish tank from the earth or not. I think I probably will but we will see.

An IBC Aquaponics system is very simple and easy to build. It consists of a fish tank made from the bottom 800mm of an IBC container and a growbed from the top of the container flipped over. The water from the fish tank is continuously pumped up into the growbed at a steady rate which fills the bed up until it reaches the top of a siphoning stand pipe. The the water empties back into the fish tank and the whole cycle starts again. The growbed is filled with a growing medium like gravel or expanded clay pebbles and this is what your plants grow in. The growbed also has an overflow back into the fish tank just in case the siphon stops working and prevents the fish tank from being emptied which would be catastrophic for you fish. You can have problems with this system though because when the growbed or growbeds ar full there is little water in the fish tank and under certain circumstances the fish could get stressed due to lack of water. This is where the CHIFT PIST system comes in.

CHIFT PIST stands for Constant Height In Fish Tank, Pump In Sum Tank. The pump pumps the water from the sump tank into the growbeds which drain into the fish Tank which in turn overflows back into the sump tank. At all stages of the cycle the fish Tank is full so the fish never get stressed due to lack of water. Even if a pipe failed and all the water got pumped out of the sump tank the fish Tank would remain full. So this is why I am going to all the trouble of burying the IBC now. The aquaponics will be an ongoing project over the next few months but I needed to get the hole dug first. Here is the tank in the ground.

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All the earth removed from the hole is going to be used to level and slightly raise the floor of the dome. We will then put down a layer of weed suppressant membrane and then cover with wood chips just so we have a  tidy looking interior to the dome.

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The next thing to go into the dome will be the straw bail hotbed. This will consist of a raised bed constructed out of 6 straw bails. The bed will be filled with fresh manure with a top dressing of compost. This will heat up and help heat the dome and will be a nice place to put our seed trays to help germination. In the summer we will plant melon and squash etc. Next winter we can then dig out the well rotted manure to use outside in the beds and replace it with fresh manure again to keep the dome heated over the winter. This is the plan anyway. As with everything I do in the garden it is a bit of an experiment.

We have done nothing to the outside area of the dome plot so that is also going to be addressed over the next few weeks. We are going to rip out the old fence and rotten posts and set scaffold boards on edge all around the perimeter. We will then build  a framework of 2 by 1 timber with wire mesh attached to keep out the rabbits. The scaffold boards will serve a couple functions. One it will stop the wire mesh from tangling with the strimmers when they cut the grass between the plots and two it will mean we can fill the plot with manure and other organic matter making a large raised bed.

So we will be progress as we find the materials. We have the the weed suppressant membrane as a local company kindly donated a massive amount of sizeable offcuts. Certainly enough to do the whole dome floor. I need need about 7 scaffold boards to do the perimeter of the plot and I have 4 so far so that should not be a problem. I am still trying to find some straw bails and a supply of fresh manure but we will get there.

more soon

 

 


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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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Building the Geodesic dome

I watched the weather on the met office website avidly from midweek hoping that Sunday would be fine with light winds. First the weather looked OK then the next day Malcolm called to ask if I really wanted to go ahead on Sunday as the weather looked really bad. On the day everything worked out fine. It was not too hot with a moderate breeze. We were good to go.

I went to work in the morning, made sure both batteries for the battery drill were charged, cut the door reveals from 12mm ply and cut some steel stakes to anchor the base to the ground then up to the site to hammer them in ready for the build in the afternoon. The ground is so hard on our allotment, the steel anchor pins burring over from the continuing assault from the lump hammer. I don’t think the dome is going to go anywhere in the wind.

Ground Anchors holding the geodesic Dome greenhouse to the ground.

Right, the stage was now set to build the dome. The base was round, level and secure. All the panels were up on site and my battery drill was charged up. Just one more thing. Back home for a full Cornish breakfast.

Back on site for about 12.30 I decided to make a start on my own. I was expecting a couple of friends to turn up around one but I couldn’t wait to get started. The first layer of the dome is alternating half hexagon and full hexagon panels. I decided to fit all the half hex panels in place first as these were easy to handle on your own. I had a bit of a shock when I tried to fit the first half panel. It was nowhere near the right shape. I screwed the fist edge to the base but the remaining edge stuck outside the ring of the base by a good 100mm. What on earth had I done wrong? I had followed the plans. If this panel was wrong then all the panels would be wrong. I grasped the wayward edge and gently eased it towards it’s intended location and to my surprise and relief it swung into place with just enough tension to make the panel nice and stiff and able to resist any wind that might suddenly blow through. I quickly fitted the remaining half panels and all behaved in the same way. The build was on.


The first panels in place for the Geodesic Dome Greenhouse

The next step is to fit the full hex panels. This should be a simple job of just clamping the the full panels to the half panels and screwing them together but nothing could be that simple. In order to give myself some wiggle room I had fitted the half panels slightly outwards from the centre of the base. The great thing about building a dome is it is built on a circle. If the panels are too tight to fit together you can move them outwards away from the centre of the circle to give yourself more space. If the panels are too loose just move them in a little. I need to learn to trust the plans and my own work and put the panels exactly where they needed to go. I repositioned the half panels so their edges lined up perfectly with the joints in the base and the full hex panels just fell into place.


First layer of full hexagon panels in place

We hold the panels tightly together with welding clamps. There is more information about all the tools you will need to build a dome like this on our Geodesic Dome page. The welding clamps are like having a spare pair of super strong hands. They allow you to securely hold a panel on place and quickly adjust the fit. They also help pull the panels tight whist screwing them together.

This is what your joints should look like.

At this point reinforcements turned up and then we progressed really quickly. It would have taken me much longer to build the dome on my own.

Malcolm and Jules got on with taping the seams on all the panels ready for them to go into the dome and Max and I carried on fitting panels.

Now starting to take shape with the help of friends

The next layer of the dome is a row of pentagon panels and this just follows the pattern of clamping, adjusting and screwing in place. I was really surprised at how quickly the build was going.

First row of pentagon panels in place.  You can see the welding clamps to the left of the door.

Next was a row of Hex panels

Just one more hex panel and the the final pentagon and we are done

Just the last pentagon to go in.

And by 3 O’Clock we were pretty much done with the main structure of the dome so it was down to the pub for a celebratory pint to thank my helpers.

And that is it for the main structure.

Back from the pub and on my own again I took my time and fitted the custom panels around the door and fitted the plywood reveals. Next job, the door and door frame.

Door reveals

And here is the finished Geodesic Dome Greenhouse.

 

I would like to thank Jules for putting up with my Dome obsession and helping me to achieve my goal. And of course I need to thank Max and Malcolm for their help with the building of the dome. it would have been a lot harder without you guys.

There is nothing I would change about the design of the dome as I think it is perfect but I have learned a lot during the build and I would do things a little differently on the next on.

I spent a lot of time getting the base round and level but this was unnecessary. On the next build I will attach the base boards to the the first set of panels at the workshop before they are transported to the building site. This will speed things up as the base will just go in as the first row of panels go in. This will save a lot of time. Another area that I think could be prefabricated at the workshop is the door, door frame, reveals and custom panels to each side of the door. I would then just treat this as a standard Hexagon panel that would be built into the dome as part of the first row.

Another area I am looking at is making the last row of hexagons and the final pentagon in one piece on the ground at the build site and then fitting this whole assembly in one go. This means that we can seal all the joints with polytunnel repair tape without having to climb onto the dome. this will reduce the risk of damaging the plastic with ladders etc but also ensure that the taping is to a high standard. I will have to experiment with this last one as the pane may be too heavy or unwieldy to fit in one piece.

If you would like a dome like this in your garden or allotment we are now producing them as a kit.

Please call Paul on 07796890337 to discuss options.

Thanks

Paul

 


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April 2015 Update

Things are starting to happen on the tiny allotment. The barrel garden I built last year is starting to look really good with early onions, garlic, strawberries, and salad all springing to life.

Barrel garden April 2015

The bucket below the barrel catches water that leaches from the barrel. This nutrient rich water would normally be lost but we catch it and return it to the top of the barrel so nothing is wasted.

Nutrient rich water from the barrel garden

The pond is also coming to life with lots of water plants, snails and other invertebrates inhabiting the depths. We also have plenty of tadpoles swimming about so hopefully we should end up with a healthy population of slug eating frogs later in the year.
The gunera  on the island in the pond is starting to come back to life after it’s winter’s hibernation. This will help shade the pond from the summer heat and the comfrey root I planted in a pot last year is growing and is in flower. i will have to decide where I am going to plant this as I need a lot of comfrey for making liquid feed and as a medicinal herb.

The pond island April 2015

The purple sprouting broccoli is still producing well and the more the pigeons eat it the more it sprouts.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli

The Rhubarb Malcolm gave me earlier in the year has suddenly started to grow like crazy. It started out like a small green brain

Rhubarb

and within a couple of days looked like this

We also had a big delivery of manure so I managed to fill all my new beds ready for the season.

New beds for 2015

I used home made compost as a top dressing and this bed has now been planted with strawberries as a cover crop. The hope is that over the next couple of years the strawberries will spread out to cover most of the soil surface protecting the soil from wind, rain and sun and suppressing weeds and we will interplant with other crops.

I also had enough compost to top dress the bed in the tunnel where we will grow tomatoes and cucumber etc

Homemade compost

Bed for tomatoes and cucumbers

The other big thing happening is we have started building our geodesic dome greenhouse.

We have installed the base and this weekend we are going to get it perfectly level and round and paint it with wood preserver.

Geodesic Dome Base

And work has started on making the 103 triangles needed to build the dome.

Hexagon panel for geodesic dome

I will be doing a complete write up on thee construction of the dome on it’s own page here when the dome is complete.

Seeds are starting to germinate in the tunnel. This picture was taken this morning.

Chard, beetroot, pumpkin and walking stick kale to name but a few

I love this time of year. this change so quickly so i will be posting more often again.

More soon

Paul


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Know Thy Enemy. Weeds. Dock

We all know that we must eradicate Docks from our plots right. Well maybe not.

Nature hates bare soil. Apart from earthquakes and landslides you hardly ever see bare earth in nature. Nature deals with bare earth in the same way your body deals with a wound and tries to cover it up as soon as possible. Docks and other pioneer plants are natures scab protecting the soil from damage from the sun, wind and rain. When it comes to bare soil, if you don’t put something there to cover it, nature will try to do it for you. This is why you have ‘weeds’. In some ways you are fighting a loosing battle. The more you try to clear the soil the more nature will try to cover it up so really you are just making more work for yourself.

I know you have always tried to eradicate things such as Docks from your allotments but do you know why you are going to all this trouble or is it just the way it has always been done.

Docks do have some benefits. They will grow in very poor soil and they are an indicator of poor overworked soil. This is why you see them in farmers fields. They have deep tap roots so do not compete with your shallow rooted annual vegetables as much as you think and because of their deep roots they bring up minerals from the subsoil. They are what’s known as a Dynamic Accumulator. They also benefit compacted soil aiding soil structure and drainage.

The best way to deal with Docks is to snip them off before they go to seed and either let them rot on the surface as a mulch or put them into your compost heap as Docks make great compost activators.

I tend to just snap off the dock leaves as and when I see them and let them break down on the surface thus releasing all their goodness back into the soil. If you do this as and when you see the leaves in your beds you will not give the docks a chance to thrive and they will eventually give up and die.

Another way to reduce the amount of docks is to not dig your beds each year. Docks thrive in poor soil and so breaking up the soil each year gives them the perfect breeding ground. If you refrain from digging the number of Docks will decrease as your soil improves.  Keeping the soil covered with other plants will also discourage weeds of all sorts.

If you try to dig them up you will end up spreading them about and you will end up with a bigger problem than you had before, another great reason for not digging the soil.

Dock are edible -Although I have never tried them- and are related to sorrel. They are rich in vitamin C and have many medicinal uses. They also have antihistamine properties and conveniently grow near nettles.

So, before you reach for the fork or even worse the Roundup just think why you are trying to kill that weed and could it actually be a benefit to you and your garden.


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January 2005 update

Not much going on at the allotment at the moment. It is very waterlogged and the more I walk all over the grass areas the more they look like the somme.

I have repaired the shed roof so the water no longer comes in and rusts all my lovely tools. I used materials I had lying around because as you may have realised I hate spending money. I am going to put a living roof on the north side of the roof and maybe sow some wild flowers up there just to make it look interesting. I built up the sides with some old timber I had hanging about and then put a layer of poly tunnel plastic and a layer of pond liner. I have spied some discarded plastic netting up in the carpark which I might use to stop the the soil sliding down the slope of the roof and then sow it with some sort of cover crop that will be good for the bees.

We have had a few cold nights in January and the pond has frozen a few times but the water butts in the poly tunnel have remained ice free so the thermal mass of 800Lt of water in there is doing it’s job of regulating the temperature in the tunnel.

This is my blog gnome updating the blog

We had ice in a bucket outside over an inch thick but no ice in the tunnel

Ice from bucket outside the tunnel

It has also been very windy here. The allotment in perched on top of a hill and we are at the mercy of the Westerlies that blast Cornwall off the Atlantic. If it is not tied down it will blow away. Any structures need to be really well made and properly fixed into the ground or you will loose them.

These poly tunnels from garden centres and ebay are really not up to the job and you are lucky if they last a season.

This is what is left of a cheap poly tunnel on another plot.

The wind on the allotment is one of the reasons why we want to build a Geodesic Dome Greenhouse. Geodesic domes -when built and attached properly- are very good in high winds and should stand up to the kinds of winds we get here.

I started marking out and clearing the ground for our dome and hopefully we will be building the base section over the next few weeks as and when we can afford the materials. This dome project is going to be one project where I am going to spend some money and do it right.

When the dome is finished it will look like this.

This is the same as the dome I am going to build

The ground where the dome is going is very uneven and overgrown so I have started clearing the ground ready to start levelling the ground to take the base boards

Clearing the ground for the dome1

The dome is going to be 4500mm in diameter and nearly 3000mm high and will house an off grid Aquaponics System.

Malcolm, another plot holder was so impressed with my barrel garden I built earlier in the year that he has also built one to use as a strawberry tower and he has done a bloody good job as well. Well done Malc

Malcolm’s Strawberry tower garden including an internal worm tube

He also gave me a few hundred composting worms for my own barrel garden.

The first of February so the annual general meeting for the allotment association and a very interesting talk by Jacqui Davey, a local Ecologist and Bee expert. She gave us load of information on how we can attract beneficial bees, bugs and butterflies to our allotment plot.

I was also asked if I would be on the allotment committee and I accepted. Thanks Guys. i will try to be a helpful member of the team.

Paul


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Increasing our growing capacity for 2015

Last year we did grow quite a bit of food on our tiny allotment but next year we want to do more. We have already built the barrel garden which will grow 60 vegetables in 4 square feet and I hope to build a few more of these over the winter. I an in talks with several organisation trying to see if we can put on workshops on how to build the barrel gardens to help alleviate food poverty in our area.

I have started planting the barrel with garlic and overwintering onions so it will be interesting to see how they turn out.

Barrel Garden planted up with overwintering onions (paris early) and garlic

I have also built some new beds and I have started filling them with soil. I am constantly on the lookout for soil and I have been getting the last of the manure from last years pile but that has all but gone so I had a look at the old compost dump at the top of the allotment. Prior to the allotment association building some compost bays near the carpark everyone used to dump all their garden waste in a big pile at thee top of the field. This has now over grown with nettles etc but if you clear the surface there is tons of good quality soil free for the taking so I am using that to fill my beds. i do expect there to be some weeds in the soil but it will be no different than if I just dug the ground so as long as I keep on top of things we should be OK.

New bed filled with free soil

Here is another view

Beds are about 150mm deep

Whilst mining the old compost heap I found a couple of marrows that someone had just thrown away!

I don’t understand people. These were just thrown in the compost

The other news is I have signed up for a Permaculture course with Patrick Whitefield. Sadly Patrick is not very well and will not be teaching the course himself which is a shame. Patrick is a bit of a hero of mine and it would have been great to meet him and learn from him directly. He does have a top class team of tutors though so I will be in good hands.

The course I am doing is the Online Land Course and is in four modules followed by a Permaculture Design Course (PDC). I am studying the soil module at the moment and really enjoying it so expect a lot of waffle about soil in the coming weeks.

Paul