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


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


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.


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.



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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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.


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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.


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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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The Womble Wagon

I cycle every day. I cycle to and from work, I cycle to and from the allotment. I cycle to the shops I even use my bike to visit clients but the problem with a bike is you cannot carry very much stuff.

That is, until now.

I now have a trailer I can tow behind my bike. I picked it up really cheap  and it is like new.

The womble Wagon

The Womble Wagon

Apart from using it for wombling and going to the allotment with tools I can use it for work instead of driving into town to fit graphics I can now carry all my graphics and tools on my bike and get away without giving parking money to the local government.

I am also going to build an advertising hoarding to fit on the trailer so when I go into town to go to the bank etc I will be advertising my business.



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First seedling popping through

We have got the first signs of new life appearing in the seed trays in our new polytunnel. I was very excited when I went in there to water this morning.

I didn’t hold out too much hope as it was a variety pack of seed from the pound shop but there seems to be a good percentage of seed germinating so that is good.

So far we have planted Turnips, Beetroot, Cauliflower, Runner Beans and Sunflower. We should be planting a lot more this weekend but we have a lot of work on at the moment plus we have to move our Airstream to a new location which is making me very nervous as I have to reverse it through a tight gate off a narrow road and then down a lane into our new pitch. It will be better once we are in there but getting it in there will be interesting to say the least.

Saturday is a open day at the allotment so we should get to meet up with a lot more of the plot holders and be able to swap seeds, plants and knowledge etc.

I have a nice surprise for the Allotments Association as I have made them a nice sign for the entrance

I will post pictures of the .open day and the Airstream in it’s new home over the weekend


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Hand tools for self reliance

Obviously we don’t have electricity at the allotment so it gives me a good opportunity to bring out the non powered alternatives to power tool. I know I could use a battery drill etc but they always seem to run out of power five minutes before the end of a job.

My favourite tool at the moment is my ‘Yankee Screwdriver’. This is what we used to use to quickly drive screws before the advent of the battery drill. I love using this piece of kit. It is quick, easy and never runs out of power. They do take a little bit of getting used to and you have to be careful or you can damage the piece you are working on. I slipped this week and the screwdriver went through the side of my polytunnel.

Another great piece of kit is the brace and bit. This is great for boring holes in wood, especially larger holes like to ones I did to take the hoops for the tunnel. For drilling small holes like pilot holes for screws or for drilling into metal you would be better of using a hand drill. I don’t have a hand drill at the moment but I will be getting one as soon as I find one at a boot sale.

I also have a selection of hand saws at the allotment. All of the saws I use at present are modern ‘hard point’ saws and cannot easily be re sharpened. I do have an old Disston panel saw but I need to learn how to sharpen a saw properly.

A selection of hand tools

A selection of hand tools

Keeping your tools sharp is a valuable skill and one I need to learn myself. We are so used to throwing things away these days that things like sharpening drill bits or a saw are being lost which is a shame because you can pick up some real bargains at car boot sales if you know how to bring these tools back to life.

Old tools tend to be well made and from higher grade materials so it makes economic sense to look out for them at car boots and learn how to look after them.

You can also still use them when there is no power




The shed and the lean to polytunnel

We needed a shed for the allotment because I mainly visit the plot by bike so carrying tools etc is not an option. It is also nice to have somewhere to get out of the weather and make a coffee. Jules put out a call on Network Cornwall and we were offered a shed for free if we dismantles it and took it away. The shed is in a bit of a state and needs a few repairs but it will be fine for a years or so. I do need to replace some roof felt  as rain is coming in but I was given an off-cut of felt that should cover it so not much else needs doing to the shed for now. We were hoping to build a Geodesic Dome Greenhouse over the  winter but the weather and our finances got in the way and we didn’t achieve that particular goal so as a temporary solution we decided to build a lean to polytunnel off the side of the shed.

We wombled a load of roof battening from an old house that was having a new roof fitted and I found a load of blue alkathene pipe that some kind person had fly tipped by the side of a country lane. We needed an offcut of polytunnel plastic to complete the project so it was back to Network Cornwall. We were offered a good size off-cut of brand new plastic. A farmer had recently re covered his huge tunnel and has some left over. We travelled up to Par Market to pick it up and after a £10 donation to the farmers favourite charity we cam back to the allotment to start the tunnel build. By the end of the day we had the hoops erected and the the cover on albeit in a slapdash fashion and by Sunday we had it looking pretty good

I ran out of wood to finish this side and build a door but I knew we had some more old roof batten at work so the door would have to wait another day.

Monday evening after work I carried on with the build and finally finished about 8 o’clock but it is now a usable polly tunnel. Cost so far about £15

I made a minor cock up with the door and covered the wrong side with plastic so ended up covering both sides of the door so now it is double glazed so to speak.

Next step will be the guttering and repair the shed roof so we can collect rain water in the water butts inside the tunnel



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New Allotment

Rather late in the season last year my wife and I took over a tiny allotment plot with the view to growing some veg and having a place to go on a summer evening to relax with our dogs. We are of no fixed abode so we do not have a garden so an allotment is the next best thing. It is about 7 metres square with a chicken wire fence but no gate and nothing else. A blank canvas so to speak.

We need to get growing asap So I knocked together a couple of raised beds from some broken scaffold planks I had recently wombled and we filled the beds with free manure and compost.

We planted runner beans, brussel sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, leaks and winter squash and everything grew like crazy and we harvested a remarkable amount of stuff considering how late in the season we started. The winter squash was our main disappointment. I started flowering but didn’t produce any fruit until very late and them we lost what fruit we did have to frosts.

This year we plan to plant a wide range of food plus we now have somewhere under cover to protect sensitive plants.

I would just like to add that I don’t really know what I am doing and I will be learning as I go along. Also, I am not a massive fan of conventional vegetable growing methods so expect so wild and wacky techniques to be tried out.