Welcome to the Secret Garden South of Bobber's Mill Bridge in Nottingham

Welcome to Windmill Community Gardens, home of the Climate Friendly Gardeners Project.

We are a group of local people, who are nurturing a wonderful community garden in the heart of the city. You'll find us just South of Bobbersmill Bridge, on the allotment site at the South end of Ascot Road. The Gardens are a great place where anyone can come to find out more about growing their own food in a changing climate. We cater for all abilities and welcome any nationality or age group.

Why not come and join us?

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Fantastic Day!

Despite all our woes over the polytunnel, we have just run a super session with a Robert Shaw year 5 class, which really helped brighten our mood.

Harvesting the mini sweetcorn

Ellis, Tracey and new Groundwork bod Craig helped the class to harvest produce and then we split into groups (Vampires, Spooks and Zombies!) to plant onions and garlic, paint totem poles and cook to make a pasta dish with a fresh sauce using the tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs from the allotment. We were delighted about this as a Robert Shaw class helped us to plant the tomatoes when they visited in the Summer term, so it only seemed right that they would be the ones to do the harvesting and get to taste what they'd grown.
Adding the final touch - some shredded basil from the polytunnel
The pupils all worked hard, and then enjoyed the food that the Vampires had made (despite having to handle garlic!) They also helped us to harvest our pumpkins, which we'll be using during a variety of sessions over the Autumn, though we made sure they had one to take away as a thank you for their efforts.

Trying out the pasta with fresh tomato sauce

Robert Shaw Year 5's with our pumpkin crop
Tracey made good use of the small amount of left-over pasta when she then went out to do an outreach session helping children from the NUSA after-school group to start planting up their new raised beds. The group were delighted to get the bonus of an early tea.

Monday 26 September 2011

Not again!

We can't believe it - Windmill has again been struck by vandals. Sometime between when Tracey and her family did the watering early on Saturday evening and this morning, someone broke into the site and cut off the polytunnel plastic AGAIN! This time, they also quite deliberately cut down the supports for all the tomatoes, as these were tied on each of the polytunnel uprights. They also broke into the shed and took some things, though fortunately not anything really valuable, but they broke the shutter and the window glass, so we have a lot to do to mend everything. This time, we weren't alone in suffering attack, as at least 10 other allotments were targetted, with small thefts and damage to crops. Our plastic is marked with smart water and indelible pen, but the attackers didn't seem to mind that.

Thank you so much to Claire from Groundwork and Sally, one of the local allotment holders who helped to tie up the tomatoes to prevent further damage, and helped to save the bulk of the crop.

Fortunately Nick and the Groundwork Work Team are available this week, and have riden to the rescue. They will be reinforcing the fence, adding barbed wire and anti-climb paint to all the potential break in points and mending any broken stuff. We're also thinking of how to make the polytunnel less vulnerable, because we really can't afford to fix it again, and even now, fixing it is taking money we hoped to use for other things.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Tidy up

This week, we're getting ready for all the visitors we will be having next week, so it's been mostly about tidying up.

Dan and Ellis spent some time moving our cut wood indoors as we plan to have a fire in the fire pit for the first time at our Harvest Celebration and we want to make sure it's as dry as possible.

Dan colects wood for the fire pit

Ellis collecting wood for the fire pit

John Nelson volunteered to run the strimmer for possibly the last time on site as we should be moving to using a scythe as part of our commitment to lower energy systems and techniques. He helped us tidy up some of our rough edges so things are looking nice and tidy.

John hoeing away at the rough edges

The brandywine tomatoes are looking amazing - bright golden orange and huge. They will be perfect for our session next week with Robert Shaw Primary, who will be visiting to make a pasta sauce with them. We also had a good harvest of courgettes, beans, baby corn, kohlrabi, spinach and chickpeas. The chickpeas are especially interesting as they have cropped really well, although we've had so little rain. This year has been about trying to use as little water as possible. Next year, we'll try different amounts of water on similar crops so we can see just how much is really necessary.

Saturday 17 September 2011

A Grand Day Out!

Today Windmill went to Woodthorpe Grange Park to the first "Grow Your Own" day. The weather was a bit mixed - windy and sometimes quite wet with short, sharp showers, but Tracey, Dan and Ellis battled on and managed to create a rather nice display to show what Windmill Community Gardens can do.

Over the last few weeks, Helen, Lisa and new volunteer Meirion have worked on a display for us to have for events like this, and this was its first outing. It looked pretty good, and fortunately the Groundwork boards stood up to the weather, which kept trying to blow everything down.

Very professional looking display board - some pictures may be familiar!

We also used a basket of Tracey's and some of our produce to create a "horn of plenty" effect which showed it all off rather nicely. The aim was to give a lot of the produce away for donations. Dan and Ellis got a great double act going with Dan touting our wares, and Ellis plugging the gaps in the display with the extra produce.

Horn of plenty display - fruits (and veg!) of all our labour

Windmill did rather well. We got the prize for Best Representation of a Project and a £25 voucher for B&Q came along with the certificate. Of course we had our secret weapon - a "Guess the weight of the tomato" competition with the largest of our Brandywines - (that weighed 20oz, by the way!) And another triumph - Dan's entry of a mutant double courgette won the prize for the strangest veg! Apart from that, we took over £50 in donations for our produce.

It was a really good day, with lots of networking with other groups and a chance to get ourselves better known with the public. Well done to all that helped either beforehand or on the day

Thursday 15 September 2011

We're Jammin', we're Jammin'...

We're well into the damson and plum harvest now and we've had a huge crop, so it's been a major job to keep up with the picking. Since the oven isn't available, we've been making jam. It's something that lots of people want to learn how to make, so we've had a lot of interest. We made our first batch of jam with the NUSA group of young people, who did a brilliant job and learned some very useful kitchen skills as well, like safe knife use. We then hosted the Framework Older Persons Group, and the Gateway to Nature Group who have done 2 different sessions with us now. We've even made jam in the dark! That was with a group of young people from Killisick who were amazed at how simple it was to make jam. Actually it's been the same reaction from most groups, with the typical comment, "Now I know how easy it is, I'm going to make my own."

First pick your plums

You might find a ladder useful - our special tripod one is brilliant.

The Gateway to Nature group with the fruits of their labour
Our jam recipe is:

5lbs damson or plum flesh
5lbs sugar
1/2 pint water
knob of butter

Wash and stone the fruit. Put 1/2 pint of water and fruit into a jam pan or other large heavy-based saucepan.

Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit breaks up and makes lots of liquid (takes about 1/2 an hour as long as you keep the pot out of the wind!). Don't worry if there are a few lumps left. If you don't have much time or hand problems, it's ok to just boil up the whole fruit, though you will need to skim off the stones when you've made the jam.

A really long-handled spoon helps keep fingers away from boiling jam.

Add the sugar and a knob of butter - this helps stop a build up of foam on top of the jam. Stir until you can't feel the sugar on the bottom any more, then taste it, because the fruit can vary a lot in acidity depending on how ripe it is. You can add another pound of sugar if necessary. Now bring it back to the boil and boil hard for about 10-15 minutes.

Lisa and our visitors wait for the jam to finish boiling
Then test for a set - put a few drops of jam onto a china plate, let it cool slightly then push it with your finger. If the surface forms wrinkles, the jam is ready. Turn off the heat and ladle the jam into sterilized jars. Keep some bread ready to wipe the last scrapings of jam off the pan and make sure to eat it!

Ladling the jam into jars. A jam funnel helps reduce spills.

Now enjoy your jam!

NB - If your saucepan is smaller than a jam pan, make sure you don't overload it, or the jam may boil over. The pan shouldn't really be more than 2/3rds full once the fruit and sugar are added. Boiling jam can cause severe burns and should be handled with care.

Picking plums at twilight with Killisick group

Environmental Note

We think our jam may have done the fewest food miles of any, as we're cooking it on site and using UK sugar, most of which is grown within 100 miles of Nottingham!

Eventually, we intend to use rocket stoves made from re-used cans for cooking. These will be great because we'll be able to use our own wood which we've coppiced from our willow trees. However, creating the stoves is still on the to-do list, so we are using a camping stove. We're still aiming to do this in a more environmentally-friendly way, so we've been experimenting with reduced water in the jam recipe (which reduces the cooking time) and building heat-retaining structures around the stove to reduce heat loss and speed up the process, as the jam needs to reach a specific temperature before it sets.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Putting the fun back into Windmill

Well, after last week's drama, this week we managed to have some fun and get a lot of useful garden work done at the same time. There was a great atmosphere as we had visitors from Framework through their "Gateway to Nature" project who came to pick plums and damsons to make jam on site. We rewarded them for their hard work by harvesting and cooking sweetcorn for them, which was much appreciated. The jam making went really well, so well in fact  that the group leaders hope to come back next week with another group to even make more jam.

Some of our harvest

Is this our longest bean?
Whilst the jam making was going on, the rest of the group got on with more general harvesting. We've got lots of beans still - french (yellow ones and green ones), runners and "lazy housewife" beans (so called we think because they are stringless, easy to cut and don't go tough and stringy even if you are bit late picking them.) We also have brocolli, spinach, callalloo, cauliflower and courghettes, as well as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and basil in the polytunnel. Unfortunately we also have some caterpillar problems, as we left the doors open for much of the summer for ventilation. Of course, Tracey, favouring organic methods, adopts the "pick and squash" technique, everyone else is a bit squeamish or pro-caterpillar rights about it all. We just need to keep the problem in check, as the damage is fairly minor at the moment.

Some of our happy jam makers.

Thursday 1 September 2011


After the sad and frustrating incident involving the polytunnel at the weekend, we are delighted to announce that we have managed to re-cover it in record time! Tracey was joined by her team of regulars (Ellis, Dan, Helen, Ray and Lisa) and also by our fantastic polytunnel expert, Mike Gosnall. We all made very little work of removing the slashed covering and, Tracey very quickly went away and came back with a new skin, along with an extremely generous and much appreciated offering of ice creams!  We all sat and ate these before beginning work on the 're-covery' process.  The whole team got together to unfurl and lift the new skin onto the metal framework, ensuring it was level at all sides. 

Pulling the new cover over the frame
We then armed ourselves with hammers, nails, staple guns and planks of wood in order to secure the skin in place. We nailed the planks to the horizontal wooden supports on each side of the polytunnel attaching the skin with the nails.  The doors were then revealed by cutting the plastic around the frames and the remaining flap of plastic was folded inwards and secured with staples.

Mike assesses the site while Ellis, Dan and Ray work out how to help

All hands on deck
Before the rebuilding work could commence however, the ongoing tasks of harvesting and weed removal continued.  Helen and Lisa carried on as they left off the week before, digging out all manner of weeds including dandilions, cootch grass and YET MORE horseradish! Dan also did a brilliant job of weeding the raised bed containing the soon-to-be ripe pumpkins.  Ellis and Mike however spent the morning preparing the ground for the rebuilding work of the polytunnel. A group of highly enthusiastic residents from Framework Older Persons Group also joined us to harvest another large crop of plums, and because we wanted to cheer ourselves up, we harvested and cooked some of the second batch of sweetcorn, which was yummy.

All in all, this was a highly successful day and the team did a brilliant job of lifting spirits and rebuilding the polytunnel - and once more we will never let the thieves and vandals win at Windmill!