Project Shack: the first piece of the jigsaw…

This the first post in a new series on my blog (drum roll)… I give you Project Shack!

What is ‘Project Shack’?

We are going to build a new shed / shack / lodge at the bottom of our garden, which will give us another space for a whole variety of things which will enhance our lives. This is where I can use my decks and do the mixing which would otherwise be too disturbing for other people in the house. It’s also a space for sleeping and will give us a third bedroom for guests. It’ll be a space where we can create art, sit and read, hold gatherings.

We’re going to do it using only second-hand, used, free, scrounged, reclaimed or recycled materials, with a major focus on natural materials. Some materials may not be free, but they must be previously-used or second-hand. There are two main reasons for this approach.

1) Less environmental impact and a more sustainable approach to building and living.

2) Lower overall cost, which means we can build this shack and still afford to eat!

I want to see how little money we can spend while still creating a warm, well-designed, functional and beautiful structure. I want this project to be an inspiring example for all the budding DIY and frustrated builders out there, who also have limited funds but big aspirations.

So, to underline our commitment to the project and as a first and very important piece to the jigsaw, we have just bought from Ebay two second-hand double glazed windows…

Conservatory windows

These bad boys cost only £40.00, maybe saving £400.

2 x UPVC double glazed Windows

Dimensions = h 1400mm, w 738mm, d 60 mm

‘Two fixed panel windows (none opening). They were left over from my conservatory and are still in the packaging. Just been in my shed getting in the way for around a year so selling them cheap to get rid of them.’

This is a great example of something second-hand but still virtually brand new. Something discarded by the previous owner which wouldn’t otherwise have been used, and in their original packaging. Triple bargain. These are large windows, each 1.4m tall, giving a total area of glazing of just over 2m squared.

I’ll post some of the designs for the shack which we’ve been working on and hopefully will be able to post regular progress reports.

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Allotment planning…

This is my first attempt at thinking about which plants could go into the allotment (in a systematic way anyway) and I drew out a few plans with some ideas. Part of the idea of the allotment is to get as much from it as possible, including lots of staple foods, such as potatoes, onions and beans. These are all cheap to buy but come with lots of transport miles + it’s far more rewarding to grow things yourself.

There also has to be some variety in there and different people from the two families will have different things they want to grow. This is another reason why raised beds are good, as each one can be given over to a single plant and treated differently, according to what each plant needs. It also makes it easier to set things out and plan what to do. The beds are about 50 cms apart right now but this should probably go down to around 30 cms, to use the space better.

So, the main open area can be for the bulky crops, while also introducing the idea of the three sisters method, which uses a combination of corn, beans and squashes. This comes from native american culture and provided them with carbohydrates, proteins and lots of nutrients.

Mounds are built up, every metre or so, with the corn planted right in the middle. The beans are then planted next to the corn, with the squashes growing in the hollows around each mound. Water will run off into the hollows (and moisture collect there) and provide the more water-thirsty squashes with the water they need. The corn provides a stable frame for the beans to grow up (apparently), with the squashes providing ground cover to stop weeds growing, as well as giving them the roaming space they need.

But, also importantly, the beans fix nitrogen via their root nodules and replace the used nitrogen from the soil, therefore improving the overall health of the soil. The other idea is to use this combination as part of a 3 year rotation, by moving this area along the plot every year, so that the beans improve the soil following the growing of potatoes, onions, carrots and leeks. We’ll still have to use manure etc but this will help the process. The rotation system also reduces soil diseases and lowers the incidence of pests, which cannot get established given the changing plants.

In the open ground area, it could be mainly potatoes, onions, carrots and leeks, combined with the 3 sisters grouping of corn, beans and squashes. If the plot is split into thirds, this would relate to the 3 year rotation idea. The potatoes could be in a block on their own, with the next section being onions, with a split between carrots and leeks. The leeks would relate better to the roaming squashes and because they grow up, as opposed to onions which collapse over the ground, this could lead to less problems with squash leaves blocking light. There could also be a wooden partition between the 3 sisters area and the others, to keep the squashes in their area. Claire’s Dad has built a box type area for his pumpkins which he says works well.

This approach would allow 7 types of plant to be grown in the open ground, with various varieties possible. I’m keen to grow both red and white onions, as well as a couple of types of potatoes. The same goes for the beans and there could be both pumpkins and butternut squash. There could easily be 11 different varieties in there.

In the raised beds, the ideas so far are cherry tomatoes, broccoli & purple sprouting, peas, baby carrots, cucumbers, spring onions, strawberries and courgettes, or others depending on what people want. Each can have it’s own raised bed.

The other part of the planting should be insect-attracting flowers, which will boost the pollination of the other plants in the allotment. These could include English lavender, poppies and English marigolds. On the plan, these are placed next to the open ground, in the middle of the plot, therefore hopefully attracting insects right into the growing space. I also love the look of sunflowers, which can be grown around the shed, as well as the poppies which could be scattered a bit more randomly around the plot.

There is also an area on the right side, by the shed, which could be given over to fruit bushes, such as raspberries.

We’ve also just been given a really good wooden window from my Dad, which will be fitted into the frame of the shed. This will let loads of light into the space and make it useable for a variety of things, such as a kids play house. This will probably go within the space of the old doorway (as there is already a space for it), which is on the sunny growing side of the plot. This will mean more space to grow things by the shed. A new doorway will be made which opens onto the seating area.

I’ll remove all the corrugated rusty metal panels and replace with the KP’s old shed wood panels, which will make the whole thing look great and will be safer, with no sharp rusty edges.

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Thistledown shed…

A new washing-up cabin has been constructed at Thistledown since we were there last year and there are a few ideas there for the shed at the allotment.

Can’t decide between horizontal boards which overlap or vertical close boards. Both would be water-tight but have different looks.

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Allotment clearing and planning…

So far  both families have chipped in a fair bit to the allotment and have got loads done is a small amount of time.

We’re focussing on raised beds for at least part of the area as this forms an interesting division of space and means we can plant closer together and increase productivity. The kids can also have their own raised beds if there are enough of them, but the downside is the huge amount of soil needed to fill them and the cost of the raised beds themselves (so far they’ve been given as a present! – thanks Dad).

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Lots of clearing has already been done, both around the new compost bin area and around the shed. There was lots of evidence of drug taking behind the shed (but no needles), but the whole area has now been cleared out and I also had a go at cutting back the tree which was overhanging the plot and shed.

I had a bit of a ‘discussion’ with the ‘neighbour’ whose garden backs onto the allotment area, while I was stood on the shed roof. This woman came out and started having a go at me saying it was illegal to cut people’s trees if they aren’t overhanging on your own property. Well, the allotment is ours for the term of the lease and it is well within my rights to cut branches over hanging my plot – having sat next to a very well informed person at work I know this inside and out! I told her exactly who to contact about it at the Council and what they would say! Still surprised at how aggressive people can be.

So, once CKP’s Dad had cleared the space, I constructed a compost out of palettes on 3 sides with an open front. Once it fills up, the front wil be fitted with a palette door and the other side will also be made, so we can turn the one sides contents into the other to get access to the good compost at the bottom of the pile. There’s also space for a table and chairs between the shed and compost area.

The other  part of the space is the shed, which seems very strong but looks like a mess! My design training is pushing me to regenerate it and re-clad it. The mono-pitch roof will also be useful to catch water for the butt and it can also be secured so we can store random tools and pots etc. Getting the door locked is essential, as is clearing the insides out. I also want to install some windows on the SE and South-facing sides to let loads of light in. There could also be an open pergola theme for it but we’ll contemplate this for a bit and concentrate on getting things growing!

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Allotment lift off…!

We are finally the proud guardians/stewards of an allotment plot (well, half of one!).

Very excited about this as we were apparently 50th on the waiting list about 6 months ago and we now have one of the ones which we had put on our list. It’s a 10-15 minute walk from our house and it’s near to a water tap and is car accessible if necessary. Claire’s Dad will be happy – the allotment is the ‘Hawthorns’!

The first image is a cleared half plot of a friends who also have an allotment just further down from us. Something to aspire to!

We’re sharing with another family, also the same distance away and i’m hoping there will be loads of fun to be had over the rest of the spring and summer! I just had a first official look at it today but Claire went over to see it earlier in the week. It’s got a rickety looking corrugated iron shed and a cool looking wooden chill out chair as well, plus part of it is ready(ish) to use for this year.

There’s a lot of clearing and tidying up to do before most of it can be used but if we get a load of black plastic sheets down, it might be nearly there by next spring.

So, starting to think about all the cool stuff we can grow there and on the look out for some second hand tools (forks, spades, trowels etc).

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Big bubbles…

Awesome day mostly in the garden today – Bank Holiday Monday!

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I spent maybe 4 hours clearing out the shed and re-organising it all! Now we can get to everything and also there’s more space as it’s better organised and there’s less stuff in there. Even found a little mouse which was living in one of the boxes. My golf towel seems to have been chewed up a bit though.

Claire also made a cool big bubble maker, from 2 canes and some wool. Good results and the kids loved it (I think Claire loved it more though!). We’re going to make a bigger version and take it to the park.

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