On the up…

Big day last Friday as the main growing section of the polytunnel got fitted out!


Thanks to the kind loaning of a 7.5 tonne truck the racking was picked up from storage and delivered on site.

racking-1 racking-3

After carefully measuring and levelling the foot pads the upright frame went up with literally an inch to spare!!

racking-2 racking-4

The idea is to build a platform on the beams at the base, on that we will put grow bags to start us off whilst the last section will be the hydroponic test area. This gives us the opportunity to learn about running such a system and then roll it out over the whole polytunnel as we gain confidence.


The tomato’s, cucumber and other vining plants will be trained up guide wires so eventually all you will see is a wall of green.

First bit…

Of proper kit.

Introducing spud the sprayer, our first bit of proper kit.


Some assembly required but with so many pathways to keep clear it makes sense to have some kind of sprayer on hand. And as we will be using vinegar as a weed killer we can still use spud for applying folia feed and natural herbicides and pesticides.

kit-1 kit-4

After giving him a good wash out first of course.

Fuelling the fires…


The main greenhouse had a gas fired water heating system that had been condemned. So after much toing and froing and the application of a reciprocating saw it has been pulled out.

boiler boiler-3

Gas is something we just can’t afford to use at this time and we can’t generate enough of our own on site (more details to come) so we hit open the idea of using a rocket stove based water heater.


For those that have never heard of them, rocket stoves are essentially hyper efficient and well insulated burn chambers that convert the fuel into useable heat leaving nothing but ash. The whole process is called pyrolysis and occurs in a j shaped tube that allows air to mix freely with the site of combustion. We will be building a kitchen version into the outdoor cooking space.


Originally we were going to use the output to heat water but after reviewing the pluming arrangements we have decided to go with a rocket mass heater system. In this type of design the output heat is run through a large thermal mass which absorbs the heat and releases it back slowly.


Should be an interesting little project.


The indestructible greenhouse

I’m still amazed at how well built the greenhouse is. Whoever designed it was obviously inspired by the fourth bridge or the Graff Zeppelins of old. I swear I’m half tempted to fill some old bulk hard core bags with helium, undo the mounting brackets and float of on some perilous adventure like a modern day Phelias Fogg…


But a closer inspection of the airworthiness of my vessels revels some slight structural weakness in the rib construction. In the years this site was abandoned some of the aluminium bolts have corroded and the expansion and contraction of the frame has acted to shear some of them of.


76 in total. Which has also allowed some of the ribs to fall away from the spars. Remedial work needs to be undertaken before I set my self-adrift on a flight of whimsy.

It can get expensive buying that many bolts and nuts. The simplest solution is to buy some sections of threaded rod, 160 nuts of the right size and cut the bolts down to size as we fix the old girl up.

And whilst I’m doing that might as well look at resealing the glass when I’m up there.

I’ll get this lady to Mauritius

Shrooming in weird places

An interesting little experiment is afoot. Well little might be an understatement but you’ve got to try these things now and again.


We’ve had a lot of cardboard tubes delivered from a local carpet recycling business, more than we actually have ideas to use them up. So plan B comes into effect.

One of the first things I’ve thought of is to chop them up, a travesty I’m sure, and soak them back down into pulp. Once we have that we can make them into fuel logs and briquettes to help provide heat for the buildings over the winter.


But in the interest of generating a revenue from what others through away there’s nothing to stop us inoculating that pulp with mushroom spawn and stuffing it into some of the tubes turning them into little mycelium powerhouses.

Cardboard is essentially finely chopped up trees in the form of cellulose and if there’s one thing mycelium (the actual root network that fruits the mushrooms we all know so well) does well is break down and consume the molecule lignin that makes up cellulose.

It does this by breaking the long chain carbohydrate into shorter chain carbohydrate. Or sugar as we call it.


I’ll go into more detail about soil ecology in a later post but to suffice to say, we will have a source of heat, a soil building activity and mushrooms with both health and culinary use.

Not bad from someone else’s unwanted stuff….

Composting, installing update 7 of 4079….

The old composting set up was a bit basic to say the least. Composting well is both skill, alchemy, magic and bewitchment in equal measure. And we don’t just want to compost.


Oh no.

We have bigger plans than that.

We want to introduce a dangerous, vicious predator into the mix. A wild untamable beast that does nothing but hunt, eat and hunt. A mindless killing machine of unstoppable power and unerring will that can never be stopped.

A veritable soil shark.

Behold. The worm.


We are going seriously upscale with our wormery. No piddley little tubs by the back door. No bath tubs with flexible pipe drainage. We are going big.

2 meters cube big. Which means the old bins have to go. And so I’ve at least got half way there in digging out one bin to make way for the experimental bins. And if they work we’ll go ahead and build a more permanent setup in which to house the vermicomposters.


Vermicomposting, the technical and dryly boring name for getting worms to eat stuff and pass it out the other end gives us a lot of usable outputs for the site for very little input on our end. We chuck in whatever garden waste we have (if it swam, flew or walked it doesn’t go in, is a good rule of thumb) and the little bugs and critters break it down and eventually the worms come along and hoover up all the nastier bits and poop them out. We don’t even have to do too much to make them happy. They tend to stay right in their goldilocks zone.

And so we get a mineral and nutrient rich soil from their castings, the liquid run off is also excellent as a liquid fertilizer and the worms themselves can be sold on as packages to people wanting their own little ecosystem and even, as I hold back a tear, to local fishermen.

But I don’t like to think about that…

Behold, for we have Strawberries

A lot of the crops we will be planting are perennial fruiting bushes and the like, and we have lots of stock hidden all over Doncaster, ready for the day we took over this site and when the onset of winter sends them to sleep.

One of those sites is a strawberry bed in my backyard vegetable patch.

And it has kind of gotten out of control. To be honest it’s more of a lawn these day. With runners twisting, seething and clambering over each other to reach the soil. And seeing as I need the space and the site needs the strawberries its time to harvest and transplant the little suckers.

strawberry strawberry-3

I managed to get a mixed bag of two year old plants and this year’s runners down to the farm, and this shot shows the rootlets just starting to reach for the soil.


It’s amazing to me how diverse nature can be when deciding how to produce offspring. Who would have thought the humble strawberry plant could clone itself??? Simply by touching the ground…

I am a thistle shifter….

And that’s about as far as I got with that particular tongue twister !!

But it did remind me of last Saturday in the sauna. Well less of a posh spa day and more like an episode of attack the weeds in the polytunnel. After being abandoned for four years the place was thick with thistles almost head high and im 6ft 4 !!

Any way the kids from the National Citizens Service did a wonderful job in the late summer heat, beating them down and generally taking out their teenage angst on the overgrowth of triffids. A job I certainly don’t begrudge them.

But like all fairy tale monsters they can never be truly killed. Dead doesn’t always mean DEAD..

And so Johnny’s back !!

triffids-1 triffids-2 triffids-3

This time though they are manageable so I’m getting in early and knocking them back before they get too big. Hopefully a combination of carbohydrate death (denying the plant the chance to store more energy than it expends in growing) and the fact that most of the polytunnel will be Deep Water Culture hydroponic tanks the day of the triffids will be postponed !

triffids-4 triffids-5

You may also notice the old post and wire system has been taken down…. making way for who knows what wonders !!

Under pressure!

After the gathering comes the pressure!

On Saturday the 1st of October we will be converting all those scrumdiddly umcious apples into a variety of pleasing drinks. Maybe an adult beverage or three.

This Saturday we will build a fruit press or two, sort through the good the bad and the beautiful and get pressing that apple juice.

We will also cover the cider making process, give some hints and tips on really basic, simple but effective brewing vessels to get you started without forking out a load of cash, how to preserve unfermented fruit juices and generally get soaked whilst laughing at each other.

A lot!

click or tap the link for more details

The cost is £10 to cover running costs, hardware, our usual run to the chippy and the ever present need to put cash in the coffer to pay the bills.



Let there be light!!

Four week in and we have now done a detailed survey of the site and its buildings and identified what we need.

As in the best of traditions the problem is the solution and we need above all heat and electricity for the structures (I’m already tired of typing greenhouse and polytunnel!!) and electricity in general.

We always intended to make this site as off grid as possible, just to show it can be done and, well, we’re frugal Yorkshire folk and don’t like paying other people to do stuff we should be doing our selves.

So to that end we will be offering (at incredible cheap prices to mainly cover costs) a plethora of courses and lectures on just that. Living independently.

Where you get the chance to get hands on dirty practical experience of saving money.

Here’s a taster of what we have planned…

Cider, apple juice and free orchard growing.

Off grid electricity, design, building and maintaining battery banks for those pesky power cuts.

Hyper efficient wood burning stoves called Rocket stove and adapting them for different uses.

Food preservation and storage, buy cheap to eat later. No freezer required.

Solar energy for home heating. From the stuff others throw away.

Beer and wine making.

Basic carpentry skills and general DIY Hacks.

So keep an eye on the events calendar for what’s coming up.

And remember, everything we do, adds value to you