Allotment Diary

Wheelbarrows make great beds

I’ve always wanted to grow something in a wheelbarrow, mainly because it looks so cool and rustic – and now I’ve got my chance.

Quite a while back, a much used and beloved wheelbarrow rusted right through to the point where the wheel and the frame were the only parts that were fit for purpose.

I parked it up and parked up is where it stayed, until last week whereby I was able to make use of it, as part of the wildlife garden I’m making.

I want the area to be as low maintenance as possible, and the beds are rather large. With large beds, you have to consider how easy it is to stretch in and out of the bed, therefore I plan to fill the middle of the bed with permanent structures, that generally don’t need to be moved.

I started by setting up a small water butt in the middle as a source of water for the area. Leaves from the trees will fall into this and this will over time also make for a rich source of natural fertiliser. I sat the tank onto some cardboard, followed by a slab to raise it up slightly.

Around the edges of the tank, I placed some logs – a. to make it look nice and to b. provide further habitation for things.

In front of the tank, came the wheelbarrow itself which I lined with cardboard – to cover the rusted holes. I weighed down the cardboard with some thick twigs that had naturally rotted and fell off of the old oak trees from behind.

What came next is nothing short of composting gold dust! I fill the barrow with oak leaves that had fallen from overhead, followed by compost from the compost bin.

I did a similar thing before when preparing the raised beds for the strawberries and this is a real winner of a method, and so easy to do. The leaves will rot down on their own accord and produce some really fertile soil to grow in.

That bit underneath the wheelbarrow felt like empty space – that needed to be filled, so I cut down some spare logs that were laying around and stacked them accordingly to to create another small bug hotel, that will attract something beneficial (fingers crossed).

It is a wildlife area after all and I did enjoy making a bug hotel not so long before.

So there we have it, a wheelbarrow bed for wildflowers 🙂

I have a frame and a wheel left over – what would you do with these? I’d love to know in the comments below.

Allotment Diary

2020…The good bits

We awoke in 2020 in the Lake District, and we couldn’t help but visit and climb The Old Man of Coniston while we were there. The weather was great and it was a great start to the year.

I was nearing the end of my plot makeover and really looking forward to growing some real produce, for what felt like the first time in ages.

Storm Dennis was doing a number on parts of the country, especially around where we’re based, so I was prepping by creating toilet roll seed starters.

They’re really easy and therapeutic to make if you’re looking to pass the time, during these rainy and cold winter months at the beginning of the year.

Shortly after storm Dennis happened… March is when covid-19 started to take hold, and gardening, the outdoors and open spaces (in my eyes) became much more important.

After creating the toilet roll seed starters, I felt I needed a place to store them, and this led me to create Homemade propagators out of mushroom and fruit punnets.

They’re not sending anyone to the moon, but they did work, they’re fun to make, cheap and there’s some recycling involved there too.

To complete the make-it-yourself trilogy, I came up with a way to make your own garden labels out of pots and plastics that are around.

Needless to say, I’ve already started stock piling toilet rolls, mushroom and fruit punnets and plastic pots for the year ahead.

Then… A complete national lockdown was announced and that changed everything.

Can I visit my allotment during a lockdown?

How gardening will help get us through covid-19

The nation was paralysed with the imposition of travel restrictions and a stoppage on social gatherings.

Panic buying then started and this without a doubt rejuvenated the Dig for Victory spirit, to help with food supplies and anxiety about food shortages. Prince Charles even commended this can-do attitude during a BBC Radio 4 attitude.

This ethos seemed to spread across the globe, as I remember seeing this article by the New York Times.

Armed with homemade toilet roll seed starters, propagators and seed labels, I thought it might be useful to do a little how to (ish) series on how to start growing your own produce from seed – which I’m hoping people find useful.

Growing preparation


Separating seedlings


Leading into the summer everything became incredibly busy and this definitely did affect blogging activities.

I did a recap here on how fruitful the season was, and how all of the preparation paid off.

A lockdown can really spur on dipping toes into new interests – and so it was only a matter of time before I decided to experiment with new ways to make alcohol more interesting.

There were elderflowers growing nearby and I had seen that you can make your own elderflower infused gin – which was amazing and something I’ll do again. I feel I need to grow an elderflower for this purpose only.

Naturally, I had to compare an ordinary gin and tonic, along with an elderflower gin and tonic – just to make sure it was worth the effort.

That was a really difficult experiment…

The Vincent Hazel Project is something I embarked upon – which took up a great deal of time, energy and brain space from between the end of May and October.

The project involved cleaning up an alleyway between Vincent Avenue and Hazel Bank in Tolworth, which had been subject to years (possible even decades) worth of fly tipping, which had resulted in unsightly mounds and overgrown areas.

This project really came together with nothing less than phenomenal results, thanks to dedicated residents, Idverde and local landscaper Greenwood Paving. A big shout out to everyone who got involved 🙂 .

I’d encourage anyone, looking to get involved with a community project to do so, it can make you think differently about the area you live in and it’s a great way to make new friends and contacts, whilst making a difference at the same time.

These before and after photos of the project really do speak for themselves.

The clear up phase of that project is behind us, and so now I can turn my attention to a new allotment project, which I’ve started just toward the tail end of this year.

There’s a patch at the allotment that needs some overdue TLC and this is the year where I’m going to make a start with turning this little corner into a wildlife garden.

The Vincent Hazel Project, really did make me think more about nature, the outdoors and encouraging a more beneficial wildlife on the plot.

So far, I’ve managed to clear the area for the wildlife garden and I’ve even managed to make my first bug hotel.

So that brings us to now. Goodbye 2020 – Hello 2021. Let’s all hope for a better year and good tidings all round.

I’d love to hear how your year went, in the comments below 🙂 .

Allotment Diary

Making a brassica cage

Over the last year or so I’ve accumulated a good collection of polls and different pieces of metal, with a view to build something that resembles a brassica cage, fruit cage or something along those lines.

What lies ahead, I like to refer to as “Allotment ingenuity”. Making do with what you have, and solving puzzles when you need to.

Why do you need a brassica cage?

Birds and pigeons love brassicas. Once they see them, they’ll waste no time in laying waste to all of the hard work and effort you’ve put into caring for your plants from seed.

The White Butterfly is also partial to a cabbage, sprout and broccoli or two, and they have even been known to lay their eggs among plants, so when that happens – you’re done for.

Talking from experience, it can be really demotivating seeing all of your hard work slowly diminishing, so it’s best to limit any chances of that if you can.

Part 1 – building the frames

For broccoli and Brussels Sprouts your structure needs to be at a minimum 4-5ft high, to cater for these plants. I’ve seen cages exceed that height allowing you to walk in and get more up close and personal if you need to – so with that mind, go with a height that suits you.

The first thing I did, was to organise the pieces that I had accumulated, and I tried to match things into pairs as much as I could.

Over the years I think I’ve built up a bit up a collection of half finished poly tunnel parts, trampoline parts, (I think) parts of an old swing or mattress frame – all of which useful in a full set, but individually, not much good to man nor beast.

I spent ages, probably a good few hours trying to figure out if I should make one giant frame, or make half the bed consist of a frame, and after a good night sleep, I figured out I could probably have two separate frames, which is good because I’ve got plants that are both big and small.

The first frame I built was a square-ish shape, and it’s about 5ft (just over 1.5m) high.

On top of the poles sat two squarish tops, (again I don’t know where from) to define the width of the frame.

To hold in the standing poles, I hammered in wider, poles for the thinner poles to sit into.

This way, I would know that the height would be the same all the way round.

This is an ideal size for brassicas like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

The second frame is an arch, and to be honest – I think this was part of a much bigger poly tunnel frame, but I was missing the legs.

At this point, once I’d figured out what I had I was feeling a lot more confident and I was starting to feel like I’d had something to show for all of this hoarding.

I staked into the ground some taller, thicker poles at each end to try and keep everything as sturdy as possible.

This will be great for the cabbages and cauliflower, and I might even plant the pak choi in here as well if I have the room.

Part 2 – adding the netting

There’s lots online about what type of netting you should use, and I’m pretty sure the well seasoned gardener has a preference on what they use and why.

The main thing to consider is that the mesh should be small enough to not let any butterflies or birds through. Searching for butterfly netting online is usually a good rule of thumb as to what you should be going for.

I managed to find this green shade, debris netting (otherwise known as scaffolding netting) on Ebay. It was a really good price and at that quantity, it’s probably going to last me for a good few years.

This netting comes in a range of different colours, but bare in mind that the darker colours (blue, black, dark green…etc) will provide more shade for your plants – so you may or may not need to take that into account.

I chose the standard light green and I think it’s going to do the job nicely.

It’s not everyday that I build a frame and cut some netting to suit, so I did measure up what I’d built and drew out the diagrams on paper to get an idea of what I needed.

On the actual day, it doesn’t always go to plan, but it’s good to have a rough idea of what pieces you’ll need and how long they need to be if you’ve not done something like this before – especially for the arch way.

With an arch, you need to measure the curvature, as well as the base to get a truer sense of how much you’ll need.

And always add a little bit more than you need. You can always take away, but you can never add.

I’ve not dealt with debris netting before and I was pleasantly surprised at how easily it cuts, and how relatively easy it is to handle, even on a windy day.

When cutting long sheets, I lay flat two planks of wood at each end to stop everything from moving and the wood gives me something to cut along as well.

The netting for the square frame was relatively straight forward to put together, mainly because it’s a case of wrapping square sheets onto a square frame.

I’ve used four pieces in total with each piece joining together at the top.

As I was building it I realised it would be a good idea to put a brace at each end to help secure the netting to something – for these I just used a couple of pieces of bamboo cane, and used garden wire to secure them to the main frame.

I want some parts of the netting to be permanently secured, and for those parts I’m tying everything together with cable ties.

Other parts I’m going to want to loose off so that I can get inside and water, and for that I’m using some garden wire that I can twist together and untwist when I need to.

Being able to get inside is something that actually dawned on me as I was building it, and I’m glad it did!

For the archway, I intended to use just two pieces of netting, one for each side – however, it didn’t quite turn out like that.

The first problem I came across was that there was a sag in the middle of the frame, so it didn’t make for the easiest of things to have to secure down.

The second problem I came across was that as I pulled one side, it would then uneven up the other – making it very difficult as to where I permanently secure the netting.

So to overcome the first problem, I decided to build an extra inner arch using two pieces of an old trampoline.

Trampoline parts are super useful, but there’s a lot of on the spot geometry used when putting it all together, because I haven’t got a full set.

I wanted the arch to start and end at the same point, so this means that the middle of the curve would need be straightened out, so I used a bit of wood to achieve this.

In the physical universe that we occupy, it would not be possible to the same base width of the arch as the other two pieces – it’s ok though, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

To secure this new arch independently of the main frame, there’s a peg on the inside of the main trampoline pole staked into the ground, as well as a peg staked into the ground and cable tied to the main pole.

So long as we don’t get hurricane or storm Dennis style winds, I can’t foresee much movement there – but if it does, it’s easily fixed.

The new middle arch really did pay off as it allowed me to limit any sag and riding in the middle of the structure. This did of course change how I Iaid the netting across the frame and I chose to secure everything in the middle of the frame.

This did of course mean I had quite a bit of excess netting to remove.

I also did add a few of pegs in the ground, in between the poles just to tie the netting to at the base.

The last piece that needed to be added was the other half of the netting. This is where I made a little mistake and cut the roll a little bit too short. This means, where I intended to have just two pieces of netting for the frame, I ended up with three – no big deal. I kind of feel this is a blessing in disguise, as I feel that at frequent visits, I won’t want to take off the whole half, so can get away with undoing a quarter.

I feel this has been a good exercise, and I’m really pleased with the outcome. Looking around at my allotment site, it looks like there’s a million ways in which you can make a brassica cage, a fruit cage and each structure has it’s own charm and individuality.

I’d love to read how you go about building a brassica cage and other hints and tips to keep the birds and butterflies at bay.

Allotment Diary

How to make seed labels

Making your own garden labels is dead easy! All you need is some scissors and an old pot or piece of packaging.

Allotment Diary

Homemade propagators

Not so long ago I showed you how I make toilet roll seed starters and now I’ve made something to go with them.

Allotment Diary

How to make toilet roll seed starters

Seed sowing season is just around the corner and I thought it would be a good idea to make seed starters out of the toilet rolls I’ve been saving up…