So, with my second Lockdown I have been making a pallet shed for the allotment. (The considerably littler goth shed next to my neighbour Artor’s much more impressive pallet-mansion on the left)…

She’s a little shabby, she’s not the finished article yet – but she’s pretty damn solid, with an internal frame of seven [free!] fence beams.

Little Fen House has been an obsession. One dilemma in the build leads to thinking about a solution, which leads to the next decision that has to be made. No two pallets are ever exactly the same size, do I brace across here, or vertically here? At first nothing seems to fit. It’s all corners and confusion; but there is a pleasure in seeing the problem right here in front of me, and to feel the stretch of muscles as I grapple with it.

It started with barren ground, over-colonized by grass and filled with forgotten builders rubble. A nightmare to grow in, but, the perfect place to build out from.

The base was a set of pallets from a local factory, on top of medium-heavy grade breeze blocks (under £20). The pallets were bracketed together with boards knocked out of other spare pallets, and with gaps in the boards filled where possible.

 

Removing Pallet Board Tip:
Turn the pallet over, laying one atop another. Move the top pallet slightly off the one below, so you can hammer the alternate boards out, downward to the ground. You get somewhere around 4 'easy' boards removed, and end up with an open pallet frame. With the frame you can do the same trick, but probably need to break one of the boards attached to the wooden 'chocks' at the corners. Or, you can cut the ends of the pallets free which hold the chocks, and thus get a set of small reinforced wood frames for something else.

There's some more pallet dismantling tips here or here, and I think the best round-up of techniques is here. Don't be afraid to develop your own mix of strategies, some of them will break, but that's okay - more kindling!

A lot of ideas had to be jettisoned the further into the build I got – mostly out of practicality and cost. I’d already intended to build as salvageable and as free as possible, so the option of clear corrugate roofing was out. Lucky advice from allotment neighbours happened (Tip: run more pallet boards along the top of each course of pallets, this really helps to lock each wall together) I got given a bucket of reclaimed wood nails from other projects. Gardeners are, on the whole, a kindly lot.

One half of the shed’s ingredients were free-to-pickup from Facebook, probably originally a 6 X 8 ft shed, but with a lot of pieces missing. I was planning to turn her into just under an 8 X 10 ft little house. The old roof panels would form an incline lean-to roof (with more of those free fence beams acting as roof girders) and with some old road signs scored by the allotment warder to fill the gaps. Those fence beams helped to bring the corners, roof, and wall together. A roll of black plastic membrane (£35) was the most expensive cost, but will keep her dry over winter, until I get the chance to clad with anything that next comes to hand.

At a few places in the build, I inevitably found myself tired and weary from an afternoon slog, wondering if I’ve set myself an impossible task. What was the point of doing this thing? Where should I be spending my energy, really, with the time I have down here? News from afar reached me that a friend and comrade had lost her battle with a severe illness, leaving behind a young family and a community of friends.

There were and are, no answers to these sorts of questions. I now think that’s kinda the point of them. They’re the sorts of riddles that we court, gingerly touch base with as we carry on with the breathing in and the breathing out, with this life before us. There were skills that I didn’t have that I needed to learn. That I could learn. Emergency solves that I needed to develop. To seek advice and to get help with.

And so, I continue stapling nails into wood in a time of global pandemic. Putting thrown-away and discarded things together. Building up, not breaking down.

This little Fen House will end up looking pretty raggedy, but will also be sturdy and strong. It won’t end up how I had imagined it – nothing ever does. But I like to think that it’s become something more than I had anticipated. It didn’t get that clear plastic roof, but I discovered the unsought kindness of gardeners. It’ll probably last longer than I have this allotment! It might even help this little corner of the Fens become a bit more productive, a bit more of a home.

Routes Found!
Barktongue