Nomadic Permaculture & how to make compost and weed tea in a small space (on a narrowboat)

Alice Griffin
Monday, 18th July 2011

Over the last few weeks Alice has been telling us all about the urban roof garden she created atop her narrowboat. But when your gardening space is limited to a small area that floats, where do you put the compost heap?

"It is only the limit of our imagination that stops us from inventing new ways to do things" - one kind commenter wrote on my last article for Permaculture magazine.

Kathleen has offered some wonderful advice for me to ponder when creating my tiny rooftop garden, but when she suggested that I try and get a small compost on the go and perhaps make a weed tea to help my little selection of salad leaves flourish, my immediate response was 'that's impossible! I live on a boat! Where can I find a corner to have a compost when space is at such a premium!?'

Small Garden Ideas

But this is the beauty of creating gardens in seemingly unfit locations, sharing ideas with those also impassioned by permaculture and accepting that what I have might just be a 'fair share'. I started to look at my boat differently, to view it from the angle of 'how can I' make this work rather than immediately seeing the negatives and the 'why I can't'. I realised that the front deck was just filled with stuff I don't use. So, I returned from a walk one morning, assessed the space and with a little reorganisation, a little creative thinking, I reshuffled and re-homed some of the junk to expand my garden space whilst also doing a little bit more for the planet.

Composting and Weed Tea

When I first thought compost I thought big pile. When I thought weed tea, I thought 'where can I fit a spare bucket?' I felt envious of those with greater space and more gardening tools. But once I stopped focusing on what I didn't have and looked at what I do, I appreciated that of course I can make it enough. So on a beautiful summer morning I went walking with my daughter, an old bucket, a glove and a pair of scissors. We searched for non-flowering nettles and added them to some garden weeds and then we filled the rest of the bucket up with water. It now sits on the front deck, ponging to high heaven (which I am assured is a good sign) and my daughter is delighted with the very important job of stirring it every day. And although our compost may be small, how much waste does a family of three really need to create? - With greater thought and consideration, not much really.

The Small Compost Bin

As I sit writing this looking through the open door towards my front deck, I am laughing at my immediate 'can't do' response. I'm finding out that Permaculture is all about 'can do' and I'm enjoying the process of working within the space that I have to create better ways of living with nature and it appears my garden is thankful. My lettuces and wild flowers are still flourishing and this weekend, I topped up the beds with compost and manure, planted more land cress and salad endive and repotted some chilli-pepper seedlings. Soon I will be able to introduce some troughs of carrots and perhaps courgettes to my new 'space' and trying out the weed tea, all the while thinking of this quote I read the other day:

"The greatest act of independence and rebellion is to maintain a garden ... You're taking yourself out of a kind of capitalist culture and you're making a point of self-sustenance." ~ Wendell Berry.

I'm feeling it, I really am.

If you have any fun stories from your garden, drop us an email: hayley [at] permaculture [dot] co [dot] uk

About Alice

Alice Griffin likes to write, garden and get crafty from her narrowboat, which currently cruises at 4mph up and down the Grand Union Canal. She has a regular blog here at Permaculture online.

Her website:

Useful resources

Article: What is Compost Tea (and How do You Make it?)

Book: How to Make and Use Compost - the Ultimate Guide

Kathleen McCann |
Thu, 18/08/2011 - 13:27
So wonderful to read your article Alice, feeling very chuffed that you mentioned me there.....thanks so much for that. It's a great read and I am so glad you have taken on the search for solutions to living in a small space with such great enthusiasm. I look forward to reading and seeing more pics of your adventures - you must now be coming into Autumn.... seeding saving and preparing for autumn/winter planting.... what are your plans for that? Cheers Kathleen