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


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.



Free Organic Fertiliser Number 1 Nettle Tea

You may have gathered that my favourite price for anything is FREE! There is no point spending loads of money growing vegetables when you can get the same results by spending nothing.

I am going to make a variety of free fertilisers over the next few weeks but to start off I am going to make one that anyone can make today, no matter where you live.

Nettles are everywhere and many people see them as a nuisance and something to be pulled out and thrown away. In permaculture there are no waste products only resources so with this in mind I decided to turn a patch of nettles at the allotment into a fantastic, nitrogen rich fertiliser.

Nettles tend to grow in very rich soil which is why you often see them growing on manure heaps. There is an area of our allotments where everyone discards there resources I mean waste and of course the nettles have gone wild.


Nettles growing on a compost heap

Nettles growing on a compost heap

I am only making up a small batch of Nettle Tea so I gathered a good bucket load of nettle tops. Now is a good time of the year to do this because the nettle are young and full of life.

One bucket of Nettles

One bucket of Nettles

You want to damage the nettles as much as possible to create a large surface area. I used a pair of shears to finely chop the nettles.  This reduced the volume of the nettles in the bucket to about a third so I got another bucket full of nettles and repeated the shredding stage until I ended up with the bucket about two thirds full.

I then cut a spare piece of chicken wire into a disk slightly larger than the bucket. I will use this to keep the nettles below the surface of the water.

Chopped up nettles ready to add the water

Chopped up nettles ready to add the water

Then I pushed the wire down onto the nettles and covered with rain water from the water butt.

Nettle tea brewing away to make fantastic nitrogen rich plant feed.

Nettle tea brewing away to make fantastic nitrogen rich plant feed.

I have put a loose lid on the bucket to stop the rain from diluting the mixture too much and now I will leave it for about a month to ferment and get really smelly.

Once done you can bottle it and add a splash to your watering can when watering your veg or tomatoes.

Over the weeks I will make some other liquid feeds from such things as Seaweed, Comfrey, Horse Manure and Chicken Poo.






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