tinyallotment

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


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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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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.

Raspberries

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 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 botom 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

paul


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We have added another ‘No Dig Bed’ to the allotment

Last year we didn’t grow that much veg because we started  late in the season and we didn’t really have anywhere to bring on seedlings etc but this year we want to grow a lot more so we needed another raised bed.

We decided to build it in this unused part of the allotment that had an old plastic composter and a pile of rubbish left by the last plotholder.

This is where we are going to build the new bed

We are basically extending an existing bed which was really interesting because I needed to remove the blocks forming the end of one of last years beds and it gave me a chance to see a cross section of a year old no dig bed.

 

Year old no dig bed cross section1

Year old no dig bed cross section1

You can see that the cardboard and the manure has completely broken down into a lovely rich soil and the original topsoil from the allotment has been drawn up into the raised bed presumably by worms.

Year old no dig beds cross section2

You can see the original soil level and the lighter coloured soil has been drawn up a good 4 inches.

I started by cutting the grass and weeds with the shears, I left all the cuttings in the bed as they will rot down and add to the fertility of the soil.

I then added a good layer of wilted nettles

Nettles added to new raised bed

Next I put a good 6 inches of well rotted manure.

The manure layer

And a very thin layer of grass clipping. It is important not to put too much grass on at one time or they wont rot down quickly enough.

The grass layer

And then a couple of inches of compost which gives a nice layer to plant into.

The finished bed

So this is the finished bed complete with canes for the runner beans.

The bed was given a good drenching between each layer.

This bed will be planted over the next week or so

Here is a great video on how to build a no dig bed.

aman

 


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No Dig Gardening

One thing I hate about gardening is digging and it turns out the garden hates it too. It occurred to me a number of years ago whilst driving in the car that the hedgerows and the verges looked lush and vibrant all on their own without much effort on the part of humans. No one is out digging the verges over every year. They are not out there fertilising, watering or weeding  the hedgerows. How come they just do their own thing and do so well.

This just remained  a weird thought rattling around in my head until I started to listen to Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast going on about Permaculture.

Until I heard Jack talk about permaculture I thought it was some hippy dippy nonsense involving the phases of the moon and dancing naked around the compost heap but Jack is definitely not a hippy and what he was saying really made sense. I don’t want to go into Permaculture too much in this post as I’m sure I will cover it more in the future.

So I decided to start using Permaculture principles  on my allotment and the fist thing we tried was not digging the soil. All the other plot owners think I am nuts and and think you must dig the soil every year. When I ask them why they just say something like “It’s always been done that way”.

“So how do we plant plants if you don’t dig?” I hear you ask. Good question. You mimic what nature does and you add material to the surface and then you plant into that. We do have to watch out sometimes with this approach. In the tropics -where a lot of permaculture is practised- they don’t have a slug problem like we do here in damp Cornwall. If you mimic nature and mulch with leaves etc you may end up with a huge slug problem. Because of this I will be using composted material and or manure as a mulch.

We have  tried a couple of methods with our grow beds. One with cardboard and one without. It is much easier if you don’t use cardboard and we didn’t end up with more weed in the beds we didn’t use card.

All we did was build some raised beds using whatever we could find for free locally. A couple of beds were made from broken scaffold boards and another was made using discarded breeze  blocks from a garage that had been knocked down. I then cut the grass and weeds inside the beds with a pair of shears and filled the beds with a mixture of home made compost and manure from a local stables. We then planted straight into these and the results were amazing considering we didn’t get the allotment until August last year.

Benefits of no dig gardening are

  1. A lot less work
  2. Instantly great soil
  3. Better water retention
  4. Soil life (worms, bacteria, fungi etc) benefits from not being disturbed
  5. Soil erosion is eliminated
  6. Damage by UV reduced

This is still at the experimental stage for me but so far I am really pleased with the results. We have not really done much to the beds except occasional mulching over the winter and there is very little weeding to be done before re planting.

The best source of information on “No Dig” gardening in the UK is Charles Dowding’s Website

I will be re visiting no dig and other alternative growing methods throughout the coming season.

Here is a great video on constructing a No Dig Bed

aman