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

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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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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.