Tag: vegetable growing

Runner bean, wheelie bin screen

trellis screening the wheelie bins with runner beans growing up

Runner bean wheelie bin screen

For a while now we have been discussing our options how to partially hide our wheelie bin from view with some form of trellis and maybe a vigorous climber or vine (passion flower/clematis would work well). Instead of purchasing a plant for the purpose, we could have always taken a cutting of one of our numerous climbers from the back garden. The initial downside was the lead time in which to get a cutting to take root and plant out was too long as we are already 4 weeks into summer. Plus any cutting would take many months to completely take up residence in advance of winter.

For a couple of weeks we have been deliberating where we could grow our runner beans this year, as you cannot grow them in the same location two years running.

How about growing our runner beans in place of a climber?

Eventually we came to the conclusion that we could kill two birds with one stone and visually screen our bins whilst growing some food, planting runner beans in a new location. Obviously they will only occupy the trellis during the summer/autumn months, but next year we will grow something else up the trellis.

To really scrimp we could have built our own trellis from scratch, but we decided to source materials cheaply and make it look more ‘professional’ (not that we are by any means). We tried to be frugal and save where possible, but we also wanted it to look half decent and made a compromise.

Quickly noted our basic requirements

The all-important brief, just what do we want?…well it had to be:

  1. wide enough cover the area
  2. tall enough to look in place (almost inline) with the hedge
  3. strong enough to hold the weight of the runner beans
  4. strong enough to withstand the wind
  5. as cheap as possible

How much did the wheelie bin screen end up costing?

Surprisingly not as much as I would have thought, we did a quick look around the web to find the DIY store with the cheapest trellis panels or special weekend offers and then hopped in the car to investigate further.

We ended up making our purchase from B&M, they seem to be one of the cheaper stores that sell pretty much a bit of everything, but specialise in nothing. We ended up purchasing the following:

  1. Full size trellis panel – £19.99
  2. Half size Trellis panel – £12.99
  3. 6ft Fence post – £4.99
  4. Fence post support spike – £6.99

Sub: £44.96 before discounts.

Sequence strip of how we set up the wheelie bin screen

Our DIY installation steps

We always look for damaged items that we can fix up and if there are any special offers available. We were lucky enough to save another 20% rounding it down to £35.97. You don’t ask, you don’t get.

We deliberately purchased one fence post and support spike, where normally you might want two of each to ensure stability, but as we are scrimping we try to shave off the non-essentials.

The trellis panels were certainly more than big enough to hide any and all wheelie bin sizes that we are aware of, though probably not the large commercial waste wheelie bins.

Come on Tom and Barbara; give us one of your DIY guides
  1. Measured out the dimensions and turfed the area
    We marked out the width of the trellis panels and the depth required for the runner beans, then got the old trusty edging spade to go round the edge, digging in only a couple of inches. Then to reduce the size of each piece of turf we edged the area into 3 pieces before gently pulling the space back to lift up the edge. I made sure the spade head was almost horizontal before pushing it under the grass, effectively prying it apart from the soil. Once separated it comes up in nice easy pieces to use elsewhere, especially if you have a dog creating bald spots in your lawn.
  2. Install the fence post support spike
    We deliberately purchased a fence post spike that would not require digging any holes or mixing any cement. After working out where we wanted the fence post to be in line with main trellis edge, I got our rubber mallet and a piece of old wood and began ‘bashing’ it in (making sure I kept it lined up vertically as I went). You can purchase a fence spike driving in tool for £5, but a piece of solid wood is more than sufficient so long as it can take a pounding. Once bashed into position, I put the fence post into the spike support and tightened the bolts, there is a hole for an additional screw to make sure it’s held in place.
  3. Attaching the trellis panels
    Once I knew the post was straight and sturdy, we got out the trusty drill and wood screws and began attaching it to the post, making sure to leave enough space for both panels (almost forgot). I think we ended up using 12 screws per panel; I wanted to make sure it would not come off. As we were cheating by only purchasing one post and spike to support both trellis, I decided to make a small support steak from a strong branch around 2 foot long to support the rear spine of the large trellis panel. I used my Mora knife to cut the end into sharp spike before knocking it down nice and deep to stop the panel from moving.
  4. Planting runner beans
    They were starting to outgrow their pots rapidly and we could see they were desperate to get going in position and who were we to hold them back! We planted our runner bean seed out a little late, but with our seasons being out of sync, we were not too worried.

It did not take more than a couple of hours to do, once we had the materials and it’s now starting to look good. The runner beans have still got a lot of growing to do, but the wheelie bins are now out of sight! Yay!

Any comments, suggestions or improvements please comment

If you have any thoughts or ideas on what you have done for your wheelie bin screens or things we could do better, we are always keen to hear about and of course learn from and evolve our ideas.

Our frugal bamboo trellis for our peas

bamboo trellis

Our diy frugal bamboo trellis

We could not leave it any longer, our “Champion of England Tall Climbing heritage peas” (yep that is their name) were desperately needing to run riot in the new raised vegetable plot. These are a very rare UK variety that was almost extinct commercially and can grow up to 10 foot tall. They seem ideal for those living in an urban location with limited garden space, like ourselves.

With the usual crop rotations, we cannot grow beans/peas in the same location two years in a row, so we could not do the usual wigwam construction in the main veg plot to support them all. Plus we grew far too many seedlings this season, not forgetting all the other beans that we need to find some space for in the coming weeks.

Keeping it frugal for our tasty climbing peas

To keep it frugal, we opted for our usual bamboo bob the builder construction project with some trusty garden wire, instead of splashing out some stylish wooden trellis from the local garden centre. Yes the purchased trellis would look very nice, but once the peas get going you won’t clearly see the trellis, just a sea of green and a splash of white flowers. Plus trellis tends to cost £30 a piece and we would need two of them to support all these peas. We considered building our own trellis, but again you have to buy all the wood, spend the time making them and finally weather proofing them.

Bamboo is certainly strong enough to support all that weight

tokyo tower bamboo

View from Tokyo Tower, with bamboo scaffolding

They will get quite heavy once fully grown and covered in pods. Even though our canes are only a cm in diameter, once they are weaved and lashed together they become very sturdy.

Plus we figure if the Japanese can build skyscrapers using a bamboo scaffold then downscaled it’s more than good enough for our peas (LOL). Pictured right was the only photo I could find from our hols that slightly illustrates how versatile these structures are.

Also a pack of 6 foot bamboo canes only cost around £3 and last for many years.

Makes complete financial sense, scrimp it!

Well aside from being very proud of our £3 pea trellis, we think it’s the perfect scrimping solution for supporting all those lovely peas. As we don’t want to spend over £60 for all the materials and then it takes years to get any form of Return On Investment, it could take easily a decade to recoup your costs when the idea is to save money. Also the lifespan of the garden centre trellis might not exceed the same duration, even if they are well looked after.

So come on ‘bob’, point out the obvious and tell us how you did it.
bamboo trellis steps

Frugal bamboo trellis DIY steps

We know it’s self-explanatory and you don’t need a degree architecture or construction to erect a bamboo trellis, but if you’re interested or want a good laugh at our expense, then please read on.

    1. Spacing the canes
      Assuming a man’s hand span space between each cane is more than enough space to ensure a strong structure and plenty of support for the plants. We inserted nine 6 foot canes about 6 inches into the soil, up against the rear wall of our raised veg plot.


    1. Comapct the soil for support
      We then made sure the soil around the base of each cane was sufficiently compressed to stop them moving about.


    1. Weaving the cross beam Took our first cross beam and effectively weaved it in and out through each cane to create tension before lashing each end with garden twine.


    1. Lashing the end supports It’s important to tie it tight twice round the vertical cane, prior to looping over the horizontal cane and back around the vertical cane. Do this several times before tying it around the space between the canes to hold the knot tight. If done properly, it will not slip in either direction.


    1. Lashing the cross sections Once the ends have been done, lash all the other points where the canes cross.


    1. Repeat the process Then carry on this process on each new cane weaved into the frame. It is a good idea to alternate which starting side of the first vertical cane per each new cane weaved through to create even more tension amongst the canes for a stronger structure.


  1. Ensure the support is sufficient Once we got to the top, we decided to ensure the entire structure would not act as a sail in the wind (once the peas were fully grown) that we needed a little more support. We could have pushed them deeper into the soil, but we opted to tie them to pagoda beam above to hold them in position. Alternatively they could be secured to a fence.

If you want to take the piss or ask any questions please leave a comment below.

We hope that this post was of interest or a quick chuckle for all those qualified builders out there. We simply aim to demonstrate how easy it is to do and that growing your own food is one of the most rewarding hobbies you can participate in.

Back to the champion peas, how much will we save?

This is the first time we have grown this variety and we don’t know how well these are going to do. From the information we have sourced, they are potentially very high yielding, so with 13 plants, providing they all grow to expectations we should produce a lot of peas.

We will update this post in the autumn harvest and report back just how well they did and if they are the ideal candidate for green fingered scrimpers!

Building our permanent raised vegetable beds

Brick raised bed - vegetable plot

One of the smaller raised brick beds (blueberrys)

To increase the amount of food we can grow in our garden each year, we had been contemplating how to make a more efficient use of the space available in our back garden without any large scale landscaping or demolition.

Raised vegetable beds were certainly the favoured option, but our requirements were not as straight forward as the last time we built raised vegetable beds in our previous properties. There were plenty more variables to consider this time, especially as were interested in more permanent structures.

So what were our requirements for our raised vegetable beds?

Well not to overcomplicate things, there were a few key points we needed to cover:

  • We wanted a couple of them deep enough to grow root vegetables
  • They had to be created on our patio and on the concrete spaces available
  • The plots needed to last for many years
  • They would be a permanent  structure
  • Decorated as a garden feature and part of the garden design.

After reviewing our requirements and reviewing our choice of materials, we decided to invest the time and money by building them with bricks and mortar. Neither of us are brickies and have never built own structures from scratch, but just how hard can it be?

Surely wooden sleepers would have been cheaper and easier?

Since the initial idea was put into production, several people have asked this question and it was something we considered. With wooden sleepers they would not stand the test of time, yes we could treat the wood, but as we are growing food we really do not want the chemical cocktail tainting our soil. Plus they would slowly rot away, especially with all the bugs burrowing into their new hotel, allowing them to rot from the inside.

Also to get the depth we were after and that the raised vegetable beds were to be sat over a solid concrete base, we would have had to stack the sleepers high and keep them from moving about, once our body weight or the weight of soil was pushing them outward.

Sometimes to scrimp, you can’t always invest in the cheapest option

As a longer term investment we already knew that the return on our money would take many years to recoup, so we tried to scrimp and save the best we could with the materials we needed. Many of the materials we sourced from the best deals we could find online and we bought in bulk, we found other uses for the surplus extras that I will cover in another post.

Ok, we get the gist so what did you do?

steps of building our veg plot

Building our raised bed

First up, I must add that most of these tricks we are about to cover we would have never known if it were not for my farther in law Paul. We had tried to make a start before he turned up, as we knew he would be straight down the garden to inspect our workmanship or lack thereof. Without his knowledge and guidance I am not sure how well they would have turned out. Anyway here are the steps we took:

    1. Planning & budgets
      Before we made any purchases, I sat down and worked out the size of the spaces available for each vegetable plot, the size of each brick and drew up some diagrams working out exactly how many we would need for each plot, then added a couple extra just in case something went wrong. Also I worked out the cubic feet required to fill each plot with soil, which I slightly miscalculated (300 odd litres short), not taking into consideration density of the material.


    1. Sourcing the building materials
      We ordered the bricks online via Wickes, they had a deal that if you ordered over 402 bricks you got them at almost half the price (18p a brick), the only thing was their website would only allow 200 items in the shopping cart (go figure?). It was quickly resolved with a quick call to their customer service team, though they still had to put it through as 3 separate orders. The funny thing was after purchasing all the bricks and cement I completely forgot we needed sand (yep a core ingredient in mortar, duh!). Off to a bad start, was this an omen of things to come? Haha.


    1. Check you have sufficient tools available
      Well if you like to garden like we do, you should have the basics and maybe only require a pointing trowel. We found out that we needed the following:

      1. Spade (your giant stirrer)
      2. Bucket
      3. Watering can
      4. Wheelbarrow (perfect for mixing the cement)
      5. Spirit level
      6. Pointing (or masonry) trowel.


    1. Mark out the boundaries
      After measuring up the size of our plot, we laid out the entire bottom layer of bricks into position to make sure we were happy with its size and shape. Paying attention to the corners and how the bricks would all fit together.

      Tip: Don’t forget to clean and sweep the area first, so that the mortar binds better.


    1. Making the cement
      Apparently wheelbarrows make the perfect home cement mixers (well we are scrimping) minus the machine or person to do the mixing. On the cement packet it states the ratio of sand to cement is 3 to 1, so I shovelled in 5 spades worth of cement and 15 spades of sand and had to thoroughly mix the two with my spade. Then we made a well in the middle of the mix and poured in the water making a nice puddle to prepare our cake mix. You can see why a cement mixer makes life so much easier, damn its hard graft mixing cement!! Eventually after mixing, adding water, mixing you eventually get partially runny slop (don’t make it too sloppy or it won’t bind the bricks).


    1. Get laying the bricks!
      It’s a mucky job and frustrating if you have bricks full of holes! (like we did) but once you get going, you get into a rhythm it starts taking shape. With cementing the bottom layer to the concrete, we had to consider drainage holes for our vegetable plots, so every 3-4 bricks; we did not cement the gaps in-between so that any water could escape.When you come to the second layer, make sure the bricks are offset or interlocking so that structure maintains its strength.Our mortar spacing seemed to vary and was never perfectly consistent (far from it), but on average we aimed for 8-10mm layered thick, whilst trying to make sure the bricks were level.We tried to wipe off the excess that gets pushed out between the bricks when you position them and make it look professional. Most of the time we just used our fingers (or the pointing trowel) and run them along the gaps.

      Tip: Cover up your mortar mix with dustbin liner or anything to keep it moist or you will find its dried out when you go back to get some more.


    1. Tidying up and letting them dry
      After we had finished our sixth layer, we swept up all the leftover drying mortar mix, stones and any other mess we had made and filled in the holes. We hoped it would help with the brick insulation in the winter, but also it would make life easier when we were going to decorate the top.If you value your wheelbarrow and spade, make sure you wash them out with plenty of water before finishing for the day or you will find once it has set, that’s it stuck!

      Tip: if the weather is cold overnight and there is a chance of frost, make sure you cover your brickwork with tarpaulin to protect it until its set hard.


    1. Weatherproofing the scrimpers way
      To ensure that any water/moisture contained within the veg plot would not weaken the mortar anytime quickly, we applied an old “bob the builder” trick. We got a little PVA glue, mixed it with some water and applied it with a paint brush all over the brickwork and mortar to create a waterproof barrier. Obviously we made sure our drainage holes on the bottom layer were not PVA’ed so the water can still escape. It dries pretty quickly and will dry clear forming an invisible barrier.


    1. Add in your drainage
      We purchased a couple of bags of cheap pea shingle to create our layer of drainage, got a broom to spread it all about to form an even layer about an inch thick.


    1. Those decorative finishing touches!
      As we wanted these veggie plots to also act as decorative features and we had plenty of mortar left we decided to apply an inch thick layer on the top layer of bricks, that we would imprint our decorative stones and sea shells. We think they look very nice!


  1. Pour in your black gold (soil)
    For the large plot, we then filled it with a tonne of top soil and a little general purpose compost. The whole time we were ferrying it from the front of our hose to the back garden, Sherrie was getting very excited with her black gold and everything we could grow in it.
plot foundations

Foundations for the smaller veg plot

We completed most of this over a long weekend and had plenty of breaks, though we did make a start on the foundations of the other two smaller veg plots.

These were to be positioned on a sloping patio surface and required some foundations to level them off. Really we should have levelled out the entire patio, but we opted out of that venture and might reposition some slabs with a step in the future.

Is it worth all the hard work?

Since we have built them and now have plenty of vegetables growing in each plot, we would say yes! They look good and working perfectly as planned, despite costing slightly more than we had hoped as we needed more cement and a lot more sand than I had originally calculated. Only time will tell if they are worth it, but the real test is when it comes to our harvest! We hope that with these new raised beds, we will be able to grow lots of extra food and enjoy those divine home-grown flavours and keeping our food bills low.

We have learnt a lot on this project and can now albeit not to a professional standard; build our own permanent raised vegetable plots on a fairly small budget. We would love to hear from you on your thoughts, comments or critique.

Have a lovely day!

From garden to plate in less than 15 mins

Boiled eggs with asparagus

Home grown asparagus spear soldiers!!

Ahh home grown fresh asparagus! They taste so much better than what you buy in the supermarket and we are not just saying that, they are sweeter, juicier and have a much stronger flavour. Though neither Sherrie nor I have ever used an asparagus spear as a soldier substitute when dipping into boiled eggs, what were we missing!? They were absolutely yummy, though after a great debate whilst devouring our prey, we decided the next set of spears (ready in a week or two) will get the hollandaise treatment!

Unless of course we come across any other recipes that look even more tantalising!

So are they worth growing?

We would have to say yes, admittedly this is the first time we have eaten our own home-grown asparagus, we have been waiting 3 years until the crowns mature enough to be harvested and unfortunately we only have two plants (at the moment). You can buy mature plants and moving forward, it is tempting to quicken the process for a greater yield without the wait, but obviously they do cost a little more. The great news is that they will continue providing spears for up to 20 years!! So they are well worth the investment in the long haul.

Is patience a virtue? This sounds far too long

5 asparagus spears

Asparagus spears ready for combat!

Yes, now we have finally managed to eat them it was worth the wait, but each year we were been tempted to pick them, however, we managed to stay true to the instructions and hold off the annual pillage! There is nothing to stop you eating them before the first 3 years, but it does mean that the amount of spears that grow in the following years will be thin, spindly and the yield will be drastically reduced, as they need time to mature their crowns.

Depending on the price, we are considering investing in a couple of mature crowns so that we have even more next year. As now we have tasted home-grown asparagus, we are not sure we can wait another 2-3 years LOL.

On average it’s around £10 for 3 crowns and upto £20 for 12 crowns, depending on the varieties available. There is a nice selection available at Dobies website.

Two crowns and that’s all you had to eat?

growing asparagus spears

Many more spears popping up

No no, we only picked a few spears, there are plenty more spears coming up at the moment and we expect to get quite a few more this season. Though they never all come at once, well enough for meal and you don’t want them losing their fresh flavour sat in the fridge for a week. What’s left in the photo is what is still growing, plus there are more about to erupt from the soil that cannot be easily seen in the picture.

They should continue to produce spears until mid June, then they should be left to build up their energy for next year.

Are they easy to grow in a small urban garden?

We would say yes, the only tricky bit is setting up the trench as they like good drainage channels. In short you basically dig a trench around a foot deep, create a mound or ridge in the middle that the crowns sit on and you dangle their roots into the channels either side. Fill the hole up with soil, soak well and that’s it really, no other maintenance required except at the end of the season each year, cut the stalks off until maturity. Obviously it’s beneficial to feed them fertiliser or well-rotted farmyard manure annually. With a mature crown, once they are in the ground it’s just a case of eating them when they pop up.

From what we have seen, there are now available Asparagus patio planters to grow them in sturdy bags in small spaces, which looks very easy. We don’t know which method is superior, but would love to hear any of your experiences.

Can you go in more detail?

We are by no means experts on the subject  but if anyone would like to more, we will happily share what we have learnt and can write up a post with what we did step by step, please let us know in the comments below.  Or if you are a seasoned pro and we have overlooked anything we would also love to hear your thoughts and expand our knowledge on best practices.

Finally, potatoes planted out

potato seeds

Chitting what? ooops we forgot.

Most of the potatoes have now been planted out, we were a little behind schedule (to say the least). They should have gone out a couple of weeks ago and were starting to get a little leggy and grown through the netting. Ooops!

Yes our chitting regime has been left a little by the wayside, instead of well sprouted tubers we opened the box to find them their long triffid ‘tendrils’ trying to escape through the gaps. Most of the years prior  we have been pretty good at saving our egg cartons and getting the potatoes chitted, but this year we were so busy we fogot time and time again.

Varieties of seed potatoes we have in our line-up

This year we decided to invest in organic varieties for our seeds and the chose our “tuber champions” (hopefully) which are:

  1. Robinta – Late Maincrop:
    (1978) The most disease resistant red potato ever. Very productive with smooth red skin and cream flesh. Short oval tubers retain their shape well when boiled. Good resistance to blight, scab and potato cyst nematode. (Source: The Organic Gardening Catalogue)
  2. Bambino – Salad Potato:
    Small round white tubers with light cream flesh and superb taste. Good resistance to foliage and tuber blight, scab and blackleg. Less waxy than other salad potatoes so don’t overboil. Early maincrop maturity. (Source: The Organic Gardening Catalogue)

Let’s hope that the poor chitting won’t affect our harvest too much and they still produce plenty of spuds! (Fingers crossed).

Which potato planting method works best?

potato sacks

Our potato sacks are ready to go

Generally we plant our spuds in green potato sacks, slowly topping up the soil as they grow and generally they yield fairly well. Well except when we have utterly washed out summers…

Quite honestly we don’t know which method is best, results have varied year to year. Also there seems to be mixed opinion out there on the tinter-web. One thing is for sure, dont forget to chit your potato seeds (LOL).

We have so many potato seeds and not really enough space to plant them all out, so we planted out a third of them into our potato sacks, the other third went out into our veg plot and we have the final third left over without a home. As we have to rotate the crops we plant our veg plot, this year the spuds managed to get a little more real estate and got a spot in one of our plots!

We still have potato seeds left over, anyone interested?

Unfortunately we still have a couple of dozen of each variety left and nowhere to put them. It would be a shame to throw them away, so if anyone lives near Reading and is interested in some free potato seeds, let us know ASAP! They won’t last too much longer.

UPDATE: 18 August 2013 – Sunday harvest

homegrown potatoes

Potato harvest part 1

We decided to see how two of our potato sacks were doing and to our surprise the Bambino’s did fairly well, though the Robinta’s were not quite as productive. As you can see in the pic there is almost twice the amount grown. Next year we are certainly considering building a potato tower, that should be interesting!

We have 1 sack and 1 large bucket to empty, plus 4 rows of potatoes in the vegetable plot, so we have plenty to last us into the winter. So at least that will save us £4-£5 every 10 days or so, we try to shop no more than 3 times a month if possible.

Fun moving soil to the back garden

tonne of soil

Shifting a tonne of soil

This looks like it’s going to be hard work; it’s a lot of soil to shift from the roadside to our back garden lol. We knew when we ordered a tonne of soil that we would have to move it to the back garden ‘manually’ ourselves with a couple of spades and a wheelbarrow, as we have no access for deliveries. Damn!!

All these great ideas always seem to result in a little missing forethought on just how we are going to move the materials from point A to B. The rest of the construction/ideas have been planned and thought through, just not the deliveries. It was only a couple of weeks ago we had to shift 402 bricks into the back garden using exactly the same old trusty wheelbarrow, our work horse! Since then it’s carried 5 bags of gravel, 2 bags of cement and at least 10 bags of sand. It would be nice to think that it carried all of this on it’s own, but NO someone had to lift and push it.

Oh well, nothing like a load of hard graft! Just hope the tyre holds out under all the pressure, its feeling a bit soft lol.



Growing food in an urban setting

Growing food in raised beds is easy!

Just came across this post on the Waltons blog and thought it was worth a quick share… for all those urban dwellers who would like to grow their own food at home, but dont think they have the space. It’s a short and sweet start up guide for those who need a little nudge to get started! 🙂


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