Despite originating over 300 years ago, Tempeh (pronounced ‘tem-pay’) is relatively unknown here in the UK. I personally hadn’t heard of it until recently. That, despite it seemingly being a perfect choice for my lifestyle and diet.
Tempeh is billed as an alternative to meat, much like Tofu. Personally, I’ve never liked Tofu, despite trying it numerous times. Unfortunately, a lot of other meat alternatives contain ingredients such as wheat, which I avoid. Tempeh, on the other hand, is not only Vegan, but also Gluten-free and diary-free. Despite this, it still packs a punch with both fibre and protein.
Tempeh originates from Indonesia and is traditionally made using fermented Soya Beans. It can, however, be made using any legume, such as black beans or chickpeas, grains or seeds.
There are a few things that make Tempeh somewhat special though. Firstly, it’s less processed than alternatives such as Tofu. The texture and flavour of Tempeh is very different to Tofu too, even when both products are made with Soya.
From an ecological standpoint, Tempeh would appear to be the answer to a sustainable and healthy source of protein.
How is Tempeh made?
Soya Tempeh is made with whole soya beans, softened by soaking. They’re cooked and slightly fermented before being formed into blocks. Traditionally, in Indonesia, the beans are fermented inside a banana leaf. Fermentation of Soya beans helps to break down the phytic acid, making the starches easier to digest.
The beneficial bacteria used in the fermentation process helps bind everything together, leaving a firm ‘patty’ like texture that doesn’t crumble easily.
The fermentation, live-culture and retention of the whole bean (or grain, or seed) also give it a higher concentration of protein, fibre and vitamins.
What does it taste like?
Unlike Tofu, which I find bland and tasteless, Tempeh has quite a unique flavour. I’d best describe it as having a ‘mushroom’ taste, though I’ve heard others refer to it as nutty. As Tempeh readily soaks up flavours from sauces or marinades, it’s very versatile. My first experience with it, however, was to simply pan-fry it in olive oil and add it to a salad. Personally, I found that to be delicious in its own right, which surprised me. With most other meat substitutes, I’ve found the need to mask the blandness with other flavours.
Where to Buy Tempeh
This is where it gets a bit trickier! Specialist health food stores, and perhaps Asian food stores, are the best places to look for now. But, expect it to become much more widely available in the near future. Startups such as Better Nature – who recently scooped numerous awards – are launching a range of products soon. These include ready to cook Tempeh and Tempeh Crisps(!). You can follow Better Nature on Instagram to see their progress and learn more. I fully expect to see a raft of other startups in this sector over the coming years. Especially as the public, in general, is beginning to better appreciate the need for healthy and sustainable food.
This is where Tempeh really shines, and why I was so surprised not to have come across it until recently. 100g contains on 1.9g of saturated fat, 2g of carbohydrate and 184 calories. More importantly, it contains a staggering 19g of protein and 6.5g of fibre. It’s also an excellent source of vitamins B2, B3, B6 and B12.
The Plant-Based Trend
There’s certainly been a huge increase in exposure and interest in ‘Plant Based’ foods recently. We’ve already seen the huge rise in popularity for Kale, which can now be found in many guises. Tempeh hasn’t yet had this viral moment. Perhaps because it’s less prominent right now. But, I expect to see it in a lot more places soon.
I certainly hope so – I’ve developed a taste for it now!
Now that I finally have a base ready for the allotment shed, the time has come for me to go shopping! Ever since I took on a plot that was big enough for me to have both a greenhouse and a shed, I’ve been evaluating options. I started out planning to get just a standard ‘run of the mill’ 8×6, which is what most people choose for their back garden.
Time spent working the plot since I took it on has given me the time to think about what kind of shed will work for me, and what I need it to accomplish. The biggest realisation for me is that an allotment shed needs to accomplish far more than a garden shed.
What will your allotment shed be used for?
Garden sheds are typically used for storage and little else. Kids toys, bikes, perhaps tools and more often than not – a load of junk! Allotment sheds, however, often function more as huts than typical sheds. They are somewhere to shelter from the rain, prepare a hot drink and simply relax.
A cosy interior! From @SuesAllotment on Instagram
For some, this means simply having enough space for a foldable chair and a camping kettle. I’ve seen people use sheds as small as 3ft x 5ft for this purpose – but there really is only room for one person and not much else!
Most find that a standard 8ft x 6ft shed is more than adequate. Two people can comfortably fit inside, leaving room for a small ‘kitchen’ area.
In my case, I’m hoping to fulfil three objectives. Firstly, a place to prepare food & drink. Secondly, a place to relax and unwind – hopefully, keep warm during the winter months too. Finally, a small workspace – somewhere I can write and plan.
New, Used or Build?
A Free Shed may need a ‘bit of work’!
It’s common to see used sheds offered for sale (or free) locally, usually on the proviso that you can dismantle and take it away. More often than not, these are the standard 8×6 size. They will usually need some form of repair work. If you’re handy with tools and have the means to transport, this can be a cheap way of acquiring a reasonably sized shed. For the particularly able, you may consider building your own shed instead. Having considered that option myself, I’m not convinced it works out a great deal cheaper than buying something ‘off the shelf’ though. Unless of course, you’re building from recycled (and free) materials, such as pallets.
Personally, I’ve discounted the idea of building something myself as I’m not confident I have the skills required. As it will be used not only by myself but also my children, being structurally sound is important.
Metal, Wood or Plastic for an Allotment Shed?
The majority of sheds are made of wood. Metal and Plastic offerings have increased significantly in recent years though, so it’s worth considering those too. Metal sheds won’t rot or burn down and are potentially more secure. However, they’re generally not aesthetically pleasing and attract condensation – limiting what you could store in them. Modern plastic sheds are more attractive and have the advantage of not requiring maintenance. However, with both metal and plastic options, you’re limited in terms of customising them to suit.
A wooden allotment shed allows you to customise relatively easily. Shelving and other accessories are easily fitted to wood. Wood, however, does require annual maintenance if it’s to last.
Pent versus Apex
Here in the UK, we typically have a choice of two roof options – Pent or Apex. There are a few ‘barn’ style options, which is a popular style in the US. However, those tend to be much more expensive.
For most people, the choice comes down to personal preference. Apex is more ‘traditional’, or classic. A pent shed has a single slope – usually the highest point being at the front. An Apex shed is tallest in the middle, sloping down on either side. It’s said that Pent is better for Storage as the highest point is more evenly distributed. With a pent style, you also have maximum headroom at the entry point.
However, if you plan to work in the shed, or use it for recreation, Apex is more suited. With an Apex style shed, the maximum headroom is in the centre. That allows you to perhaps have storage along one length, and work tables along the other.
Quality versus Price
Spend any length of time browsing websites or catalogues, and you’ll quickly realise that sheds of the same size can vary in price massively. Usually, the price is dictated by the quality of materials used and the way they’re used.
At the cheapest and lowest quality end, you usually find the roof and floor made of OSB, which is more prone to ‘sagging’. Budget sheds are also more likely to use ‘overlap’ cladding. A better quality shed will use Tongue & Groove timber, particularly for the walls and floor.
If you can, it’s worthwhile viewing a selection of sheds in person to get an idea of how the materials affect the overall structure. Most ‘big shed’ DIY stores have a display with a variety of styles to view.
Check for Extras
It shouldn’t be assumed that when your shed is delivered, you’ll have everything you need. Roof covering, such as felt, is often extra, for example. Padlocks are rarely provided too. Also bear in mind that most sheds are simply ‘dip treated’ upon delivery, so you’ll need to paint and/or treat it as soon as possible.
While many suppliers will deliver for free, some do charge. The charge can be significant too, so it’s worth checking before you commit. Also, check whether the supplier will deliver to your allotment. Some suppliers will only deliver to the billing address. No good unless you live next door to your plot!
When considering your options, think about how these extras add up.
Consider the Future use of your Allotment Shed
For a while, I’d set my sights on a particular model. That model just happened to have a pent-style roof. As I thought about it some more, and my future plans, I realised it would be completely unsuitable. Why? Because at some point I want to add solar panels – and given where I intend to put my shed, a pent style would mean the roof facing North. Not ideal for solar generation!
Consider also whether you’re likely to want to ‘spruce up’ the exterior of your allotment shed. Do you want to add some decorative edging around the windows, for example? T&G walls make this far easier than overlap.
While many will say ‘it’s just an allotment shed’ – consider how much time you’ll spend in it. How you’ll use it. How likely is it to be vandalised? If your plot is in an area at risk of vandalism, it probably makes sense to ‘make do’ with the cheapest you can. If your site is secure and you’re a frequent visitor, the extra cost spent on your allotment shed will likely be worthwhile.
The recent weather and crop massacres have made me give serious consideration to how I could alleviate both issues. When there is so much to be done, but it’s simply too wet to do anything, you can’t help but feel the season is slipping away from you.
More frustrating is that much of what has been planted has been consumed by birds, slugs and insects. This year, nothing has been saved – if it’s in the ground, it seems to be fair game.
It’s clear I need to better protect my crops, regardless of whether history tells me they could be targeted or not.
Over the last few days, I’ve given a great deal of thought about how I can do this.
Hoops and Netting
I’ve considered simply adding hoops and netting to each bed, which is what most people do. There are, however, several issues I have with this. Firstly, unless you buy the more expensive ‘off the shelf’ net tunnels with access hatches, they are very fiddly to access adequately. Especially if they’re secured well enough to keep off the pests you’re protecting from. I’ve used this approach in the past and found it such a hassle that weeding became a daunting task. It does, however, work.
Timber Frame Covers
Rather than using hoops, most fellow plot holders on my site have opted for timber frames with netting stapled to it. This typically is more robust, it appears, and as long as the frames aren’t too big, they are simply lifted off. In theory, a frame could be built on a hinge to make this even easier, which I know a lot of people do for strawberries.
The problem with this approach, however, is height. A frame big enough to protect crops such as corn or sprouts would simply be too big and heavy.
Encasing the entire 500sqm plot as a walk-in cage was my preferred option – until I priced up the timber. I initially looked at some of the ‘off the shelf’ products, but at this size realised that unless I match 6 numbers this week, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Setting aside the time and skill required to build such a structure – and allowing for various ‘doors’ that would need to be placed within it to allow for different types of netting – it became apparent that it was neither cost-effective nor likely to be a quick process.
Inside a productive Polytunnel
While all of the previous solutions would work in terms of managing pests, none solve the issue of the weather. As much as I enjoy time on the plot, none of us really like working in the rain or snow. While a polytunnel during winter won’t stop me getting cold, it will at least keep me dry – and that is half the battle during winter.
Many people leave their plot at the end of Autumn and don’t return until Spring. Aside from a few, that’s very much the case on my site too. Personally, I like to be there as much as I can. For me, there is always something to be done.
I already have two polytunnels – both 3m x 2m. They have been a very useful addition, especially in these early stages of developing the plot. They’ve kept me sheltered from the weather, allowed me to get seeds going and doubled-up as a storage shed for the time being.
As I’ve yet to get either a dedicated shed or greenhouse, they’ve both very much worked overtime. Both are now crammed full of both plants and general odds and ends. As I’m in the process of building my shed base, most of the materials are in them – which means there’s little space for me to actually get in there!
Ordinarily, if I was following my original intended route of growing outside in the ground, these two polytunnels would have sufficed. Coupled with a greenhouse for seed starting, they are big enough to accommodate a dozen or so tomato and cucumber plants.
At 3m by 2m though, there’s little space to manoeuvre when you start planting in them. It really is a case of space to tend and water, but little else. To fulfil my objective here fully, I’ll need bigger tunnels.
There are a huge number of polytunnels available. You can spend as little as £40 for a small one, or tens of thousands for a really big one. As nice as the ‘semi-pro’ or ‘hobby’ models from specialist suppliers are, they’re still outside the price range of most allotmenteers – myself included. Having looked at dozens of options, 6m x 3m would appear to be the right balance between size and cost. These are big enough to be useful, but ‘cheap’ enough to justify.
The two polytunnels I already have cost £60 and £80 new. The more expensive one has a metal framed, hinged door and 25mm tubing. The cheaper of the two has a zip-up door and 16mm tubing. While I’ve learned that the zipped ‘central’ door allows for better use of space (you can easily use either side), the size of the tubing makes a huge difference. The cheaper tunnel has a tendency to ‘rock’ in high winds and needed much more robust anchoring. The more expensive one with the larger tubing, though still well anchored, barely moves at all – even in gales.
So, a minimum of 25mm tubing I would consider essential, especially at larger sizes. Additional crop bars could be added to further strengthen the frame. They are rarely provided at the budget price point, but are fairly cost-effective to buy elsewhere. Importantly, they only appear to be available for tubing 25mm or above.
If the polytunnels are to be used for virtually all crops, then consideration needs to be given to ventilation and cooling too. While they may only provide an extra degree or two during the winter months, during summer they can easily exceed the level of heat most crops are comfortable with. While most offer ventilation ‘flaps’ either side of the cover, which do help, they won’t provide enough cooling for many crops you’d usually plant outside.
There are however some polytunnels available that have doors at either end. Opening these, combined with the side ventilation, I expect would provide a decent balance.
Of course, leaving the doors open also means access for the very pests I want to keep away! The solution to this is potentially to add a timber frame at either end, into which a door could be fitted. This frame could be netted, and potentially also adds to the overall strength of the structure. This approach would limit me to the ‘zip-up’ style doors, but fortunately, they tend to be cheaper anyway. The advantage with this, however, is that I can be more flexible – the poly doors can be down during winter, and left up over summer.
With the addition of timber-framing for the doors, and timber-edged beds AND crop bars, I could make maximum use of both ground and vertical space. Potentially, I’d have more growing space than had I stuck with beds outside.
Pretty Plot versus Productive Plot
As crazy as it may sound, this is the element I’ve battled with all week. Having an ‘attractive’ plot is fairly important to me. Partially because I share a great deal about it here and elsewhere. But more importantly, because sometimes it’s nice to simply sit back and enjoy it. However, there’s nothing attractive about empty beds, slug-munched leaves or battered crops. I’d sooner be harvesting than admiring.
Realistically, I’ve also reflected on what I’m growing or want to grow. I consume many salad leaves, which polytunnels would allow me to grow year-round. I participate in the growing of experimental, unusual, often tender, crops too. I’d like to be able to do more of this too, but to do this sufficiently I need a little more control of the conditions. Polytunnels, in theory, would allow this. A huge number of such crops have already been lost this year due to either weather or pest damage.
As part of my research for this post, I spent some time looking for examples of how polytunnels had been integrated into a garden or plot in an ‘attractive’ way. There are a huge number of examples of attractive interior layouts, especially when in full growth. However, I couldn’t find a single example of exterior integration. I have a few ideas of how this could potentially be achieved, but it’s far from the priority right now.
Finally, aside from cooling and ventilation as already mentioned, the other challenge is water. Clearly, polytunnel crops can’t rely on rainwater. So, watering has to be done manually. Or via some kind of irrigation or self-watering system. As our site doesn’t have mains water, this could potentially be problematic. However, one advantage polytunnels (and greenhouses, and sheds…) do have is a means to collect water for storage. It’s a little trickier to accomplish with a polytunnel than say a shed or greenhouse, but perfectly ‘do-able’. This, combined with the two reservoirs we do have on site, should ensure water shortage isn’t too much of an issue. I would, however, have to ensure I have as much storage capacity as possible – and ensure my layout accommodates it.
I know of other plot holders – including one on my own site – that do most of their cultivation undercover alone with few problems. In terms of making the most of our ever-changing weather patterns, and extending the growing season by a month or two, it almost seems like a logical thing to do.
Do you grow everything under cover? Have you found any challenges I haven’t considered? I’d love to hear more!
Win a Pair of Professional Gardening Gloves & Seed Bundle
The seemingly endless downpours we’ve had over the last week have left many gardens and allotments under water. Sheds are being flooded, crops ruined and plans dashed. My Instagram feed is full of people, quite rightly, despairing at the harvesting prospects for this year.
So, to brighten up what is otherwise a slightly gloomy period in our growing year, I’ve got a giveaway for you!
Earlier this year I purchased some Briers Professional Gardening Gloves. I usually like to do a lot of the usual tasks with bare hands – planting, sowing etc. Feeling the soil between your fingers is an oddly nice sensation. But, there are times when gloves are essential – or preferable. In the past, I’ve made do with the cheap ’99p’ pairs you find on the high street. However, they rarely wash well or last for any length of time. In many ways, it’s a false economy.
I grew tired of replacing them every other week. Last winter I invested in some Briers Thermal Gardening Gloves, to see me through the cold weather. I was so impressed, not only with how effective they were at keeping my hands warm in freezing weather, but also at how well they washed. They’ve been washed dozens of times now, and they still look as good as the day I bought them.
So, when I spotted the ‘Professional’ gloves from Briers, I was confident they would equally serve me well. I’ve been using these for a few months now, and just like the thermal ones, they have stood up well. They’ve also been washed a few times, and equally, survive the process unscathed – despite the instructions stating they’re not washable.
The dexterity of these is good, and they’re comfortable to wear. A good pair of gloves, I find, is one you forget you’re wearing.
I purchased another pair for use at home, and an extra pair to give away here. I’ll also bundle in ten packets of seeds along with the gloves. To be in with a chance of winning, complete the Gleam form below and tell us how your garden or allotment is coping with the wet weather.
Every year, there are crops I ‘expect’ to be eaten by local wildlife. Slugs will have a munch on the lettuce. Birds will help themselves to berries, and so on.
This year, however, everything seems to be fair game. Much of the sweetcorn has been reduced to almost nothing. I’ve lost 70% of my cucumber plants within days of planting out. Pumpkin and Courgette leaves are full of holes. Even the comfrey has been munched on!
The only crop that hasn’t been affected at all is the potatoes – the one crop I don’t use personally (but do grow for the rest of the family).
Slugs are always an issue, and I’m sure they are the cause of some devastation. But I’m not convinced it’s them alone. The site I’m on now and have been for the last 12 months, is right on the edge of a nature reserve. While that makes for beautiful, and peaceful, surroundings – it also means we have a lot of wildlife to deal with. I frequently see foxes on site if I arrive early. There will often be hundreds of birds perched around the site. Local cats like to have a wander around too.
We have pretty good security – a large, 3m tall steel fence surrounds the site. Little chance of humans entering uninvited. But animals seem to find their way in without issue.
I hate netting, with a passion. I appreciate it to be necessary though. In the past, I’ve used old cloche frames, with netting permanently fixed to it using cable ties. This allowed me to simply lift the frame off the bed to access crops for harvesting or weeding. It worked, though you’re obviously limited in terms of height. No good for brussels sprouts or sweetcorn. It’s also expensive, unless – like me – you happen to have them going spare.
Another solution I’ve used before is MDPE piping to form hoops, with netting draped over and clipped to it. Again, this was effective at protecting the crops. What I didn’t like about it though was the huge effort it took to access the crops without ruining the netting. I’d find myself putting the task off, and thus allowing the weeds to take hold.
Finally, the small net tunnels found on the high street and elsewhere work well for small plants or seedlings. But they are seldom big enough for most crops.
Some other plot holders use timber frames with netting stapled to it. At a glance, that seems to be a reasonably good solution if your beds aren’t too big. I will likely attempt something similar to protect the strawberries this year.
The Walk-In Wonderwall
Accessibility and ease are fairly important to me. I like to keep on top of the weeds, as best I can. I also need a solution that isn’t too cumbersome or heavy to use on a day-to-day basis. That has to lead me to evaluate ‘walk-in’ solutions.
There are numerous options available here. Some are hideously expensive. While I don’t doubt they are of good quality, even I have my limits in terms of cost justification on an allotment plot! On another site nearby, a number of plot holders have used old polytunnel frames which they’ve draped with netting. Some have even made entire walk-in structures using only MDPE piping. A similar ‘off the shelf’ solution is the Walk-In Wonderwall, which is available in numerous sizes.
Of course, different crops call for different types of protection. Crops such as strawberries only need netting from birds. Brassicas need a finer netting to keep butterflies away. Carrots call for the finest protection – micromesh, to keep carrot fly away. We can’t however simply use the finest netting on everything – some crops need pollinators such as bees to be able to access them. There is, therefore, no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Unless of course, you’re prepared to do all the pollinating yourself. Believe me, I’ve considered that option too!
I’m tempted to go in one of two directions. Option one is a mix of polytunnels, polytunnel frames with ‘pollinator-friendly netting’, and walk-in wonderwalls. This solution is something I could easily expand over time. I already have 2 polytunnels, and frames are relatively easy and cheap to acquire. The issue I have with this is that it doesn’t maximise the space as I’d need to leave gaps between each frame for access. I also have some concern about how visually appealing such a mix would be, as crazy as that sounds.
The second option is to build a walk-in timber frame. This is again something I could extend over time, but more crucially I could maximise the space available. Timber also has the advantage of being suitable for vertical growing applications too. Being timber, I dare say I could find a way of making it visually appealing at some stage too.
Overall though, I do need to prioritise a productive plot over a visually appealing plot. In the end, it’s maximising the yield that will dictate what I do.
Back in March, we created the base for the Greenhouse. The size was largely dictated by both cost and available space. In the end, I went with a 2m by 4.8m base, which will allow me to site a 6ft x 14ft greenhouse, with space left for water butts. Coincidentally, this size also perfectly suited a ‘project pack’ of brick pavers, which are typically around 9.5sqm.
Why Brick Pavers for a Greenhouse Base?
When it comes to greenhouses, some models are suited to soft ground and others need a firm foundation. A concrete slab or paving slabs are the most common. Laying a concrete slab does require a degree of skill to ensure it’s level – a skill that I don’t have. Paving slabs are cumbersome and heavy.
I chose to use brick pavers for three reasons. Firstly, because they’re small and manageable. I could relatively easily move a dozen at a time. As my plot is furthest away from the entrance gate where the delivery would be made, this was fairly important. Secondly, the end product is more attractive. Finally, the cost versus the paving slabs was surprisingly insignificant. It cost me only £15 more using brick pavers than it would have done using basic ‘utility’ slabs.
For my 2 x 4.8m base I needed the following;
Two tonnes of MOT hardcore – I paid £42 per tonne (‘jumbo bag’) for this.
Two tonnes of sharp sand, which again came in at £42 per bag.
488 (a full pallet) Brick Pavers – these were 30p each, bringing the total to £146.40
The total cost of the base came in at £341.40, roughly £35 per square metre. The timber ‘frame’ was already in place, but would otherwise have only cost a few pounds.
New vs Old
When it comes to allotments, buying ‘new’ isn’t something that happens often. Even sheds and greenhouses are frequently, if not usually, acquired second hand. If you have the transport, and time, to source materials then a significant saving can be made. Paving slabs, especially, are often easy enough to source in small quantities. Hardcore and Sand is a little harder to come by – and certainly harder to transport safely.
My physical limitations meant buying new and having it delivered to site, was only ever going to be my option.
Frame in Place and soil removed
Tamping the MOT to make a firm foundation
Mounds of Sharp Sand, ready for levelling
Start with the edges
Check the pavers are level as you go
The remaining bricks are placed on a level surface
Bricks all laid, ready for finishing
Brushing sand into the gaps
Framing the Greenhouse Base
There are two ways this can be done. You could mark out the corners with string, then dig out soil within, thus giving you a ‘pan’ to place the materials in. Alternatively, and the approach I took, create a timber frame. Measuring and ensuring it’s ‘square’ is critical here – a mistake I made and would later have to be rectified.
My frame was part of adjoining beds, so not quite deep enough for the greenhouse base itself. Therefore, we use both approaches to a degree – digging out some soil within the frame too.
Adding the MOT
All two tonnes of MOT were then wheelbarrowed and tipped into the frame. This was done in stages – spreading it out with a rake every few loads, then tamping down.
Ensuring the MOT is firm is critical, so using either a tamper or ‘whacker plate‘ is essential. We used a tamper, to save the cost of hiring or buying a whacker.
Once all two tonnes of MOT had been tipped, spread and tamped the first bag of sand was then wheelbarrowed and tipped into mounds.
Levelling with Sand
A perfectly level base starts with the sand. Once the sand has been piled on top of the MOT, it’s then spread out and made level. To ensure it’s level, we start with the highest point and build up from there. Tamping also continues throughout this process.
Laying the Brick Pavers
We start with the edges – front, back and side, of the base. These are laid with a mix of sand and cement. No water is needed as the atmospheric moisture is sufficient to harden this mix. As each brick is laid, it’s gently firmed down using a rubber mallet. A spirit level is essential and used as each brick is added to ensure they are level.
Once the edges are in place and level, the remaining sand and cement are dry-mixed and added. A piece of timber, as wide as the base but with the height of the pavers cut at each end, is used to ensure this mix is level.
The remaining bricks can then be laid in your chosen pattern. I chose a ‘basketweave’ pattern as it’s one of the quickest and easiest to lay. If you’re feeling adventurous, patterns such as 45-degree herringbone are very attractive.
Finishing the Greenhouse Base
With the brick pavers all in place, the final step is to fill in the gaps between them. For this, we used ‘Play Sand’, which is finer than sharp sand. I used two 10kg bags for this, which was plenty. I tipped each bag on top of the base and brushed it around. This can be a time-consuming process, but there’s no harm in doing it a little at a time, as I did. I added the first bag, spread this around so most gaps had some coverage, and then ‘topped it up’ over the coming days. Once complete, each brick paver will be firmly in place with a little of the sand visible between the gaps.
You may find, as I did, that after some rain you’ll need to top this up further as the rain settles the sand further. You could, of course, add water yourself if you wish. Further tamping of the base at this stage can also help the sand settle quicker.
The finished greenhouse base looks attractive, is functional – and cost little more than using paving slabs.
Huge thanks to Steve from SJS for giving up his time to complete this project for me.
In my last post, I mentioned that we’d started the greenhouse base. At that point, we had laid and tampered the MOT. We had yet to level out the sand or lay any of the brick pavers.
That work was completed the following week, and despite a few hiccups along the way, the end result looks superb. Fellow plot holders seem bemused at the effort I’ve gone to for a greenhouse base though!
I’ve yet to acquire a greenhouse to put on there. I’ve spent months looking at models. Many visits the DIY sheds, garden centres and specialist suppliers along the way.
Choosing a Greenhouse
The Greenhouse Base is complete
The base itself can accommodate a greenhouse up to 16ft long and 6ft wide. However, allowing for water butts at the end, I’m looking at a maximum of 14ft x 6ft.
There does seem to be a huge jump in price and decrease in options, with glass greenhouses above 10ft long. So, if I opt for glass, it’s likely to be 10×6. Polycarbonate greenhouses, however, are more affordable at larger sizes. A 6×14 model, such as the Palram Harmony, is only fractionally more expensive than a glass 6×10.
That changes if we begin looking at toughened glass instead of horticultural glass. Toughened glass, from what I can tell, tends to be single pane. While horticultural glass has smaller panes that sit on top of one another (with clips). I’m told the advantages are that a single pane is easier to install and less likely to have an algae problem. I’ve yet to see a model ‘in the flesh’ that uses horticultural glass. Unbeknown to me at the time, my previous greenhouse also had toughened glass.
In terms of pricing, toughened glass adds at least £100 on to the price of a 6×10 greenhouse. At that stage, the 14x6ft Polycarbonate model is cheaper.
One of the disadvantages of polycarbonate greenhouses is their ability (or lack thereof) to hold up to wind. I’m fortunate that my plot isn’t especially exposed. If anchored onto the base sufficiently I’m confident that won’t be an issue.
What is, however, the concern is warmth. With a glass greenhouse, they can be insulated with bubble wrap and heaters installed if desired. While I’m sure polycarbonate models can be insulated, I’m a little nervous of adding a heater to something mostly made of plastic. On the other hand, I’ve heard it said that polycarbonate itself is a better insulator, and any heating is highly unlikely to go above 20 degrees anyway.
As we’re now in June, and most seedlings are now out in the open, space is freeing up in the Polytunnels. The need for a greenhouse isn’t as immediate as it was back in April – though it certainly would have helped. It will however desperately be needed by the end of the year. So, I shall continue to research and perhaps hope for some amazing discounts to sway my decision one way or the other.
Choosing a Shed
So, while back in April the urgency was for a greenhouse – as we enter June, the urgency is for a shed! Until now, my polytunnels have acted as sheds. Throughout winter, that was fine. But, as soon as spring came around and seeds were being sown, space became a real issue. At least half my polytunnel space was taken up by things that weren’t seeds. I solved that in the short term by adding the second tunnel. But I still ran out of space far sooner than I would have liked.
So, while the greenhouse base is done and ready for a greenhouse – the shed base is only just being started. When we originally ordered materials for the greenhouse base, I included enough to also lay a base for an 8×6 shed – albeit without pavers. As it turned out, all the materials were needed for that base, leaving only a single barrow load of MOT left over. Being indecisive as I am, however, I’ve used this to my advantage.
The original intention was that the 8×6 shed would serve as a mini ‘kitchen’ and place to simply escape the rain and do some writing. Seed sowing in spring however quickly made me realise I needed something more than that. Sowing seeds in the freezing cold is no fun.
I then considered simply adding a further shed to act as a potting shed and workshop. Then I put my sensible head on and reminded myself that as of yet I have neither a single shed or a greenhouse – and perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking about adding yet another structure into the equation!
So, my ‘solution’ is to bring the two ideas together – just one shed, but slightly bigger than planned. I briefly considered building this myself. I even bought a book that was supposed to show me how to do it. But, as I sat pondering the idea, I glanced up at the wonky shelf in my lounge and realised that a structural building, likely occupied by my children often, probably isn’t something I should embark on myself! That was reinforced when I priced up the materials. The DIY route wouldn’t be a great deal cheaper, and likely far more expensive when wastage is accounted for (of which I’m sure there would be plenty!).
So, having looked at various options and prices, I’m creating a base for a 12×6 shed. While I have some big ideas for the interior, the basic idea is to ‘separate’ the interior into 3 areas. A 1m wide ‘kitchen’ in the middle, relaxation/writing space to the right, and potting / storage area to the left. The left and right areas will be around 1.2m x 1.7m. Not huge by any means, but I’m confident/hopeful it will be enough. Hopefully, those hours watching ‘Tiny House’ programmes will pay off and I’ll be able to incorporate some clever elements that maximise the space available.
The intention is to have the shed in place and do the interior work throughout the autumn/winter period when there’s less to do outside and the weather doesn’t dictate what I can or can’t do.
For the base itself, I’ve cleared an area 2m wide and 4.8m long. This is a bigger footprint than the shed will be, but I’m allowing space for water butts too. The base itself consists of some hardcore – various bits of rubble I’ve dug out of the plot over the last few months – the remaining MOT and some sand. These will be levelled out as best I can.
On top of this, I’ve purchased a ‘grid’ based system which is then filled with stones or pebbles. I’ve opted for this for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s something I should be able to confidently do myself. Paving slabs are just too cumbersome and heavy for my fragile frame. As much as the help I received to do the greenhouse base was appreciated (well, in fairness he basically did everything!), I’m well aware that it turned out to be much more work than I think he bargained for when we did our ‘skills swap bartering’. So, being able to accomplish this myself is important.
Secondly, for the last two years, I’ve been promising to rework our garden at home. Many years ago, long before I found my green fingers, we laid tonnes of stone on both the front and back gardens. It looked nice, and low maintenance, at the time – but is a far cry from what appeals now. Now that I have a ‘need’ for that stone, I can ‘kill two birds with one stone’ (pardon the pun!).
I’m told this system will provide a foundation that at least equals if not exceeds, what could be achieved with paving slabs and concrete. Obviously allowing for the fact I already have the stone, it’s also a fraction of the cost.
I’m yet undecided, but I may also add some ‘ adjustable risers’ to the flooring joists of the shed itself too. These would allow me to achieve a perfectly level shed if for some reason I don’t get the base itself perfectly level. However, they would also add a bit of ground clearance. Allowing air to pass under the shed floor, I’m told, will keep it in good shape. It also lessens the risk of the floor getting wet. Given the history of flooding on this plot, an important consideration. While I’m hopeful that I’ve solved the drainage issues – at least partially – I suspect that extra ground clearance would give me some peace of mind.
I already have the grid system ready to go and have started bagging up the stone. So I’m hopeful of getting the base done fairly soon in any event.
The growing season picks up
On the plot itself, all beds are now in place and lots of planting has been done. Outside we have Red Onions, First Early and Maincrop Potatoes, Garlic, Sunflowers, Strawberries, Beetroot, ‘Popcorn’, Sweetcorn, Achocha, various Pumpkin and Courgettes, Cucumber, Brussels Sprouts and Soya Beans.
The Grafted Apple Trees are growing well
Some comfrey roots I purchased earlier in the year are finally starting to show growth too. I’d almost given up on those – last time I bought some, on my first plot, they grew to a foot tall within weeks. These, however, are only an inch or two high so far, and I’ve had them for almost two months.
The three Apple Trees I grafted back in February have all taken too. I didn’t have high hopes for two of them, but all three are now showing good growth. I plan to leave them in the pots until the end of the year, at which point I’ll plant them in their final position.
There are 6 tomato plants in the ground within one polytunnel. One solitary plant outside for now, and half a dozen or so still in pots. Various other seedlings are ready, or almost ready, for planting out now too. Not least of all the Asparagus, which I grew from seed in spring.
Some direct sowing will be done in the coming weeks too – beans, peas and a few other things. I should have every bed planted with ‘something’ this year.
I’m hopeful that having both a shed and greenhouse in place for next season will allow me to make the most of this plot. While I’m happy with what I’ve achieved on this plot since last winter, realistically I know I could be growing at least triple as much with the space I have. If I had enough space to get the seeds started!
To say I’ve been busy would be an understatement! Between an increased workload on the ‘day job’, a hive of activity on the plot, and lots of things happening ‘behind the scenes’ for this site, I’ve barely had a moment to breathe!
I’m all too aware that posts on here have been sparse, but that should change very soon – stay tuned!
On the plot, the second tunnel has been erected – in a different, but better, position than I originally planned. More on that in my next post in a few days. I’ve also purchased some staging for that, rather than building my own as I did for the first one. I’m kind of indifferent about it though – it’s ok now its there, and it ‘works’, but it wasn’t the easiest to assemble. I’ll post more on that soon too.
Elsewhere on the plot…
MOT, Sand and Concrete for the Shed and Greenhouse bases arrived. The MOT has been put down, though in the end we only had enough materials for the greenhouse base – despite ordering twice as much in the first place! The sand has been piled on too, but not yet spread or tamped down. We plan to finish the greenhouse base, including placing the brick pavers, this coming Friday.
In an effort to speed things up, and make my life easier, I also purchased a rotary soil sieve. I’m using this to create a seed sowing mix, which I’ve previously created using a manual sieve successfully. The rotary sieve however significantly speeds this process up – I was able to create around 80 litres in under 20 minutes.
Seed sowing has also started in earnest, along with the planting of the first early potatoes.
Much of what has been done deserve posts of their own, which is what I’ll do in the coming week. In the meantime, for daily snapshots of what I’m up to on the plot, check out my Instagram.
The unusually warm February weather had me panic somewhat. Across social media, people were busy sowing seeds at a pace. I hadn’t even sorted through my seed packets yet. March arrives, and we’re back to cold and wet weather, the panic subsides.
However, I have now sorted through all my seeds – arranged into numerous envelopes labelled with sowing months. I have a copious amount of seed tins, but none are big enough to accommodate my seed collection. Subscribed to numerous gardening magazines until late last year, the collection grew at a dozen or so packets monthly. Realising that there was no way I was ever going to need more Kale or Broccoli seeds than I already had, I switched to digital versions of the magazines last December.
I do kind of miss the ‘surprise’ of discovering which new seeds I’d get each month. However, aside from the occasional ‘new’ or ‘interesting’ packet, they were usually things I already had in abundance.
Onions & Garlic
I planted out Onion sets and Garlic cloves in February. Returning the following day I discovered they’d been removed from the beds. I replaced them, same again the next day. I decided to bring them into the Polytunnel, pot them up and let them develop some roots before replanting. Hopefully, they won’t be quite so easy for the birds to pull out.
The garlic developed at a fast pace. Half of grew so fast I had no choice but to plant them out or pot them on. I chose to plant them out. So far, they’ve all remained in place. 80% of the onions are also ready for planting out now too, but the weather hasn’t been ideal.
Having sorted through my collection, I did begin sowing a few seeds. Four varieties of Rhubarb – Lider, Glaskins Perpetual, Canadian Red and Early Red. Oddly, I thought I already had some Victoria seeds too, but it would appear not – those are on my ‘to buy’ list. For now, I’ve sown 12 of each. I will sow more, but space limits the amount I can sow at the moment – most of the staging is full of the aforementioned onions!
Also sown are some Leek (Elefant), Brussels Sprouts (Evesham Special), Spring Onion (White Lisbon) and Beetroot (Heritage – Dobbies Purple). Sprouts and Beetroot both went into trays, while Leek and Spring Onion were sown into modules. Rhubarb seeds got an individual pot each – previous experience has shown the germination rate to be almost 100% for those.
Sieved Multi-Purpose Compose with Coir
In years gone, I’ve used Westland Seed and Cutting Compost – usually with good results. When it came to sowing this year though, I really struggled to find it at a ‘reasonable’ price. A 10-litre bag doesn’t go very far, and at a minimum of £3 per bag, the cost soon mounts up. I would usually buy it in 50-litre bags, which I’d previously found on a ‘3 for £12’ deal.
Last month, another plot holder gifted me an 80-litre bag of Elcef fibre after a discussion about using Coir for potting, something I’d done with Rhubarb successfully in the past. Elcef fibre is typically sold for spillage control but is perfectly safe for potting too. I’ve used coir as a means to bulk-up compost in the past, as well as increase moisture retention, but I’ve always used the ‘Coir Blocks’ you typically find in the discount shops for £1. Those have been perfectly fine, in my experience. Elcef fibre though is on another level – it comes ‘ready to use’ and is extremely fine – almost like very lightweight sand.
I also bought a few bags of multi-purpose compost – this time from Asda under their ‘3 for £10’ offer. I sieved this to achieve a fine grade compost and mixed in the Elcef fibre on a roughly 50/50 basis. Sieving works well – but it’s hard work, a rotary sieve is definitely on my shopping list! The Asda compost didn’t leave a huge amount behind after sieving – a few small clumps, but not as much as I expected. I’ve put that to one side and will apply as a mulch.
The staging I mentioned in my last update is still standing (hooray!), though it does need to bracing to increase stability. The recent high-winds were a huge concern – especially when the top shelf was full. As a temporary measure, cable ties were used to affix the back of the staging to the Polytunnel frame. That increased the stability quite substantially, though I’m still viewing it as a short-term fix.
The bottom shelf of the staging is purely being used as storage at the moment – tools, pots and various ‘odds & ends’, which I currently have nowhere else to put. The fact my top shelf is already full and I’ve barely started has pushed me to move forward with other plans…
A Second Tunnel
I always planned to buy another Polytunnel, but the ‘immediate’ need for more space means I’ve made that a priority. At the time of writing, my second tunnel is out for delivery and should be arriving today – though the weather forecast means it’s likely to remain boxed for another week, unfortunately.
My existing tunnel is the same size as the new one – 3m x 2m. However, while the existing one has the door to one side, the second one has the door in the middle. There are a few reasons for this – firstly, it was cheaper. Secondly, the main reason I originally wanted another tunnel was for Tomatoes, Cucumbers and Peppers – the middle door layout allows me to plant on both sides, rather than only one.
I will add staging to the new tunnel too, though it obviously won’t be as deep as the existing – it, however, will be on both sides. I’ve recently stumbled across another method of creating polytunnel staging that I’ll try too – more on that when I do it.
The new tunnel will sit opposite the existing, so I can walk from one to the other quickly. As the tunnels are the same length as my beds on either side, aesthetically it ‘works’ too. I will, however, site both tunnels slightly closer to the beds – at the moment there is a 2-metre ‘path’ between where the last bed ends and the tunnel sits. Reducing that gap increases the space behind the tunnels, which leads to the area I ‘inherited’ earlier this year. I have some outline plans for this area, but it’s still a work in process and is unlikely to come together until late in the year at least. In the short term, when the weather improves I’ll weed and cover that area.
On the Outside
(Future) Fruit Garden
I didn’t actually think a great deal had been done since Mid-February, but looking back I’ve managed to get more done than I realised. The ‘fruit’ garden area is now in place – some beds have been filled with manure, though I need to get some ericaceous compost for the blueberry beds. Edging for the ‘flower garden’ has also been put in place and the soil turned over, along with the shed path and cold frame area. While roughly laid-out, there’s still some work to do on those. Paths around those new areas have been laid with woodchip – the fruit garden area fully, the rest partially. I, unfortunately, depleted all the woodchip we had, so I wasn’t able to finish those fully. We have however had another delivery, so I’ll finish those as soon as we get a reasonably dry day.
I enlisted the help of a friend to advise on the best way to set bases for the shed and greenhouse. I’m keen to get those in place before any planting is done due to the risk of damage and access. Material requirements are being calculated and will be ordered soon so we can get those done as soon as possible. Whether either structure is in place shortly thereafter is unsure for now though – costs and time are both an issue at the moment. As we move towards April, time is increasingly going to be an issue as the focus switches to planting.
Until next time…
For the most part, the design and layout of the plot I’m happy with – especially the areas already laid out. I’ve been working up plans for the ‘spare’ areas – around 45Sqm on either ‘side’ of the plot. At this point, I’m fairly sure what I want to do but have yet to formulate a definitive plan. The likelihood is that both sides will be weeded and covered in the short term.
A dry, a less-windy spell of weather would be nice soon though.
Yesterday (February 24th), I took part in an Apple Tree grafting workshop at Ordsall Hall in Salford. Events such as these are well outside of my comfort zone. As odd as it will sound, I much prefer attending things like this when I already know what I’m doing. That’s partly because I hate making mistakes publically, or being exposed for a lack of knowledge. I fully acknowledge that it’s a ridiculous notion, but one I struggle to rid – and the anxiety of it, of course, means I make mistakes.
That seems to extend across multiple areas. I rarely get things wrong when I’m doing things on my own plot, whether it be basic or advanced techniques. I can discuss horticultural topics to a detailed level with other plotholders. Yet, when I’m faced with people whose knowledge is presumably way beyond my own, what I do know seems to completely disappear. I effectively turn into a simpleton, much to my own annoyance.
With that said, I always come away from these things having gained something. Yesterday’s workshop was no exception.
The Grafting Workshop
I’ve never done grafting before, though I did already have a broad understanding of the process. The workshop was presented by Peter Nicols of the Northern Fruit Group, who referred to himself as ‘not a professional’, but evidently knew his onions (or Apples, in this case!). Aided by 3 of the Ordsall Hall gardening team, the small group of attendees weren’t short of help at hand.
We were given an overview of the process and reason for grafting, which was presented in a way I suspect most people would understand regardless of their horticultural knowledge. We then set to work with some sharp knives and practice wood.
It was during the practice period that it became abundantly clear I was going to struggle. It was noted by some that the materials were particularly tough, but my Rheumatic hands were not up to the task of handling the knife well enough to make the required cuts. If I’m honest, I hadn’t even considered this could be an issue beforehand, so I hadn’t mentally prepared for it at all. Coming back to my earlier anxiety issue, you can imagine where my head was at this point.
As those around me were busy making beautiful cuts (some into their own hands, it should be noted also!), and moving on to grafting the ‘real thing’, I’m sat there with practice wood covered in jagged edges and splits. As you can imagine, I’d have been more than happy for the world to swallow me up there and then.
Clearly sat there looking completely lost, Peter approached and I explained why I was struggling so much. He explained that his brother has the same issue and instead uses a grafting tool, rather than the traditional technique being taught. Fortunately for me, Ian from the Ordsall Hall team had such a tool and offered to let me try it. It would be safe to say that this alone transformed the experience for me.
While the grafting tool itself wasn’t ‘easy’ to use – I still had to use both hands on it most of the time to get a sufficiently clean cut, it did give me much greater confidence that I could graft something. Instead of facing the real prospect of walking away from the workshop with nothing but some gained knowledge, I could still come away with something I’d grafted myself – albeit using a technique that was different to everyone else’s.
Choosing the Rootstock
After a dozen or so practice runs, I set to grafting the real thing. We could choose from either MM106 or M27 rootstocks, with a dozen or more Apple Cultivars.
MM106 rootstock will produce a large tree between 2.5 and 4.5m high when fully grown. It can be expected to fruit after 3 or 4 years and the larger rootstock makes it more drought tolerant.
M27 rootstock is very small, growing no more than 2m high. It’s ideal for containers or small spaces but will need watering more often and yields will obviously be smaller. M27 rootstock also needs permanent staking.
I opted for MM106 as Peter explained it would be ideal for Espaliers, which is ideally what I want to create for the plot. For the cultivars, I opted for Blenheim Orange – dual cooking and dessert apple. All 3 of my grafts used this same cultivar. Primarily because it’s an Apple I know will be used at home (fussy children will only eat certain coloured apples!).
The key difference between the technique I used, with the grafting tool, and the technique being taught, was that I needed to match the rootstock and scion sizes as closely as possible. Thereafter, the techniques are the same – wrap with grafting tape and seal with wax.
I produced 3 grafts, which to my eye looked reasonably good. They were promptly wrapped and waxed and now sit on my plot in containers. There is, of course, a risk that the grafts will fail, but I live in hope.
Grafted, sealed and waxed – ready for planting
I’d never previously considered grafting trees before, and despite my rather poor show yesterday, it’s something I will try again. Perhaps next time in the comfort zone that is my own plot. I tracked down the grafting tool Ian had, which was surprisingly cost-effective (available on Amazon) and ordered one to have a play around with myself. I’m keen to try vegetable grafting this year too, so I’ll get some use out of it for that as well.
As I mentioned at the opening of this post, I did come away from this workshop having gained something. I gained a more practical experience of grafting that went beyond my limited theoretical knowledge. Regardless of the fact I couldn’t put the traditional technique into practice. I also, of course, discovered grafting tools, which I’d previously been completely unaware of. I will no doubt be playing around with this a fair bit this year.
An Annual Event
The tree grafting course is run every year – and I’d highly recommend it. Regardless of your level of experience, ability or knowledge, the team are keen to help as was proven for me.
If you want to know more about the traditional technique, and perhaps a more ‘usual’ experience of the workshop – head across to the Garden Ninja writeup of the workshop from a year earlier, in which Lee has not only explained the workshop in great detail but also followed up on the progress of the grafts he did.
I’ll update this post in a few months to show how my grafts faired.