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


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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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