The plan for this blog was to write a new post, at a minimum, monthly to document the start of the exciting new market garden at Hambledon and bring you a real picture of what it is really like to start a project like this, on this scale. Upon sitting down to write this second post of “The Story So Far” I find myself already wanting to apologise for the time that has elapsed since the first post. The first blog post for Hampshire Market Garden: Land, Leases & Planning Permission released in February, it is now mid-May.

Why am I starting a blog post talking about dates you may be thinking? Just get on with it…. Well I hope it paints a picture of just how crazy it has been since we got on to the land and started working on building the market garden. Whilst it feels different this week, it basically didn’t stop raining between February and a couple of weeks ago. The ground was saturated beyond belief, the roads were flooded, the drains weren’t capable of holding water, and the poor duck house in the pond near the farm had sunk.

This weather had us feeling like a dog on a lead, wanting to run but being held back at every hurdle. We dug the foundation holes for the first polytunnel, and within two days these 60cm deep holes were filled with water.

Our delivery of compost that would normally come in a lorry, had to be brought in several trips by tractor and trailer that when delivering to the field not only left big tire marks in the wet clay… but also itself almost got stuck and had to drop the compost in a different part of the field than where we hoped it would be.

In April, around a month behind plans for building the polytunnel, we decided to crack on regardless of the weather. Using watering cans we had to bail out our polytunnel foundations before we could postcrete in the supporting posts and to any passers-by we would have looked like mad men… emptying watering cans of water onto an already flooded field. However after several days of waders, watering already wet fields, and a lot of postcrete levelling; we had the foundation poles in and set, ready for the building of the polytunnel frame. When the delivery of the polytunnel arrived on a triple pallet at about 6ft tall; we got some help from Rushmere Farm and their trusty telehandler to bring it to the field, unfortunately they had to drop it in the mud at the entrance as the field was just too wet to drive onto. This meant unloading close to 500 pieces of steel and timber by hand, trudging them across the field for the next stage.

Back in March, when it looked like we had no chance of any field work, we got to work on getting the new packing space and fridge area ready. Positioned opposite the field next to an existing barn we had a small triangle space that would fit what we needed perfectly. The first job then: clear the area of old equipment, brambles, grass and any soil. Then get aggregate delivered and down to form a nice solid base for our shipping containers to be sited onto. Despite the rain this process was relatively smooth, hiring a digger and compactor I used skills from my last market garden build to get the area ready. Digging in water pipe and preparing the electrician for electrical cabling too.

Then the lorry turned up to pour in the aggregate / stone… holding my hands up here, this was entirely my fault; I had completely overestimated the size of the roads and the access to the area we are at. The lorry was difficult to get down the road, couldn’t turn and despite my waving and shouting (plus a combination of how wet everything was) did drive over some of the grass verges, which I was trying my hardest to avoid. Whilst we did manage to get the stone down and the yard area looking quite neat and tidy, the realisation dawned on us that getting an even bigger lorry down the lanes with a 40ft shipping container on was going to be impossible. It was also a big priority of ours to not cause disruption to the area, we didn’t want to block any roads for longer than we needed to and certainly didn’t want to have a huge amount of large vehicle movements.

However, after much head scratching and standing and staring and measuring we worked out that we could get two 20ft shipping containers brought in on smaller vehicles which would cause the least disruption and would be able to get down the lanes without hitting tree branches or damaging verges. The plan was to put the two 20ft containers end-to-end in order to create the 40ft space we needed, however this meant 2x containers with double doors at each end, which due to supply/demand and political issues in the red sea were a lot more expensive.

After planning, sending videos of routes, marking out drop zones and lots of worrying… the day arrived for the delivery of the shipping containers. I am not going to pretend here; I was nervous. On one side of our area is a barn that was built generations ago, and the other a gorgeous stone wall that looked like it had been there even longer. Plus the road issues, not wanting to block access for anyone, and the awful weather made for an anxious day. But that was short lived as the first shipping container arrived that afternoon, easily drove in and dropped the container exactly where we wanted it. Great, on to number two… For this one we had to rotate it in mid air, open the doors and set it down as close to the first as possible. I thought that the turning of a shipping container on the hiab (lorry mounted crane) would be a technical action done by remote control, but no… the driver simply swung it on the chains 360 degrees. My heart was in my mouth as the 2 tonne container swung in the air near to the barn and stone wall. It turns out, I didn’t need to worry as the driver was brilliant and knew exactly what he was doing. The next morning the fridge container turned up and the anxiety subsided, we were good to go on getting our new home built.

From there we framed the inside of the containers, added insulation panels, ran the first fix of electric sockets and lights, then panelled the inside… Oh and joined the two containers together and got them water-tight.

This was a fun process, I am not going to pretend it wasn’t without its stresses and I am probably still exhausted from doing it now. But several months later we now have a working packing space, office and the biggest fridge I think I have ever been in.

 

Container Conversions Hampshire Market Garden
Insulating Shipping Containers Hampshire Market Garden
Cutting in container door Hampshire Market Garden
Shipping Container Conversion 2 Hampshire Market Garden
Converted and ready Shipping Container Conversion Hampshire Market Garden

With the containers ready to go we were able to move our veg box packing across from our old premises and get to work with getting local veg out there through Hampshire Veg Box.

Back to the field and we are still wading through mud and flooded puddles. We are simply running out of time and decide to crack on with the polytunnel build further…  So we put together one of the large hoops of the polytunnel, these are what make up the main structure of the tunnel. To give them some context and the top of the main arch these hoops are nearly 4 metres above ground level, so no easy job to put them together and lift them up onto the foundation tubes. We put on the wet weather gear, muster up the strength, lift up the hoop, with some struggling slot it onto the foundation tubes… Only to see the whole concrete foundation move within the wet clay soil…. Damn!

We couldn’t just crack on, the ground was way too wet and if we continued to put the hoops on we would just weaken the foundations and the entire structure!!! All we could do was wait..

…. Wait for the rain to stop!

Part 3 coming soon!

Polytunnel Foundations Hampshire Market Garden
Polytunnel Delivery Hampshire Market Garden
Polytunnel Foundations Full of Water Hampshire Market Garden