How to Build the World’s Tiniest Farm

I have wanted to become a farmer for years, now.

Life, though, always seems to have other plans for me. I’ve managed to squeeze in the odd bit of experience here and there, but the paths I’ve chosen to walk down always seem to take me further from the field, not closer to it. The older I get, the more difficult it has begun to feel to change lanes.

I often call myself an aspiring farmer. Am I cursed to a perpetual state of anticipation, without ever moving toward the goal? Looking in from the outside, talking and reading, but never actually doing? As 2020 wound its miserable way to a close, I finally felt I could take matters into my own hands – in whatever small way I could. The world’s tiniest farm (otherwise known as my glorified vegetable garden) was born.

How do you build a vegetable garden in temporary, rented accommodation, when your back yard is almost entirely shaded, and the front is a mess of gravel and paving stones? My first port of call – as in any good DIY project – was the wondrous ocean of information available on YouTube. I watched for a good 20 minutes as an attractive Welshman showed me how to dismantle a pallet and transform it into the four sides of a raised bed. A key element to his approach involved a very handy-looking pallet disassembling tool – but how hard could it really be to pull apart some bits of wood with a hammer and some determination? (Pretty much impossible, as it turned out – at least with my weedy upper arms).

I headed out to hunt for pallets on the streets around my home. I’d never noticed just how common they are – lying around, abandoned on the side of the road outside shops and bakeries, and houses undergoing renovations, like discarded lego pieces left out in the rain by giant children. They’re heavy, and quite awkward to carry home under your arm. Lugging the things home in the darkness that comes so early in mid-November, I felt like a highly incompetent timber robber. But I managed – with the occasional assistance of my lovely, long-suffering fiancee.

After struggling desperately to get the first few pallets apart, I was able to borrow one of those handy pallet separating tools (quite possibly one of the best inventions of the modern age) from the City Farm down the road. And so, slowly, my garden began to take shape. Within a month or so, I had five boxes, roughly square, arranged outside my bedroom window. Some of them were a bit wonky, as it turns out pallets actually come in a surprising range of shapes and sizes. But, on the whole, they looked pretty good.

All that was missing was a bit of soil, which I ordered online (my ‘garden’, as mentioned previously, being made entirely of gravel). And what an ordeal that turned out to be. First, my delivery was several weeks late, with no explanation forthcoming. Then, when the big truck bearing an enormous sack of compost did turn up, it delivered less than half of what I had ordered. I complained (politely), and was sent another shipment which still failed to fulfil the entire amount of the original order. By that point, though, my beds were more or less full, and the thought of trying to wring the rest of the soil out of the company (which shall remain nameless), made me rather lose the will to live. So I gave up.

Desperate to get something green in the ground, I’d been sprouting tiny kale and silverbeet (chard, for you Brits and Americans) seedlings inside, waiting for my soil to arrive. I promptly planted these out, despite it now being mid-December. I’ve taken a rather laissez-faire approach to the survival of these plantlets. Either they’ll live…or they won’t. I’ve been covering as many of them as I can up with an old window on cold nights – but the rest is up to them.

So far, they’re still alive – though I can’t say they’re noticeably larger than when I planted them out. Which, I suppose, was to be expected.

With my beds all ready to go, all I had to do was wait until spring… Or it was, until my phone rang one evening last week with the message that my name had come to the top of the waitlist at a local allotment site. They were offering me a ‘small’ plot – 50 metres squared – starting this week.

The world’s tiniest farm was still, well, actually a garden – but it had just grown tenfold.

I have a feeling I might be needing a few more seeds…

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