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?

Thursday 6 December 2012

A Hedge for the Jubilee

Our wonderful friends at the Woodland Trust have a great scheme most years, giving out hedge and woodland packs of little tree whips (that's really small saplings) to schools and community groups. This year, they have stepped it up a notch for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, providing more trees and also including a Royal Oak.

We have wanted a hedge alongside the allotment boundary with the carpark for a while, so we jumped at the chance to get this lovely freebie. That meant that today, we needed to plant about 100 trees to make the hedge nice and thick. It will be great for wildlife when it grows.

Robert Shaw pupils get stuck into planting

We knew it was likely to freeze, so we prepared the area for the hedge and mulched it with clippings well ahead of time, so that when the planting came, we just needed to rake the mulch to the side and plant in the protected soil. We were helped in this by Councillor Saghir, who arrived and set to work with a will, which was much appreciated.

Councillor Saghir lends a hand

I've planted six!

These trees aren't very big!

Is there really a mouse living behind the board?

The other year 5 class from Robert Shaw arrived to help us plant the trees, and soon got stuck in. We aimed for the pupils to plant at least 4 trees each and they quickly managed that, some going on to plant far more, and some bulbs as well. The group also found some interesting archaeology - which they took back to school to investigate. We gave out instant hot-packs to help pupils warm up, but also made use of the heat of composting to help thaw everyone's feet. We finished off with a round of warm apple juice with cinnamon to help unfreeze fingers as well.


Thanks to all from Robert Shaw - you did really well in difficult conditions.

Archaeology - part of a glass sweet dish?

More archaelogy, and a mystery root

Composting hedge clippings get nice and warm.
Just the thing for warming cold toes!

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Fabulous Fun at the Festive Fuddle!

Apparently a "fuddle" means a variety of things. For us, it's Nottingham's word for a "pot luck" meal where everyone brings something to share, so if you were confused, hopefully that's clarified things!

Today was our Festive Fuddle, so we fired up the clay oven, invited round a few friends and laid on some fun activities to keep people occupied in between noshing. Actually - Pete and Alex fired the oven, Alex is particularly necessary to the process, because he alone seems to have the knack of moving the fire to the back of the oven without putting it out...

Alex - now known as the "oven whisperer"
We were delighted to be joined by some of our recent visitors from Gateway to Nature, including some of the group that helped us make the clay oven base and roof. A few folk from the wonderful Arkwright Meadows Community Gardens also joined us (including Dan, a much-missed volunteer who is now working there).

Making paper chains
We began with a session making festive paper chain decorations out of colourful off-cuts from out of date magazines, as well as decorating CD's for a bit of bling. Whilst that was going on, a few of us prepared dough to make pizza and rolls. These went into the oven for a quick hot bake, which worked beautifully. The pizza disappeared as fast as it could be cooked, and the rolls were enjoyed with chestnut pate, roasted parsnip pate, and chutneys and jams which we made at other sessions during the year. Gateway to Nature provided veggie burritos and cakes - yum!

Pizza is served!

The food fully enjoyed, we moved on to making willow star wands. We moved this to round the fire outside so folk could warm their feet (it was still rather chilly!).

Now - repeat after me,  "Warm-me upus immediatus!"

Then we moved the magic back inside to create some marigold balm. This is actually really easy, beginning with soaking dried calendula marigolds in warm olive oil then leaving them soaking for a few weeks. Then you simply drain the oil into a pan, add about half as much beeswax as you have oil and melt them together. You could add a drop or two of a suitable essential oil like peppermint, lemon, orange or vanilla, but it's not necessary. Just gently heat the mix until it is all liquid, stir and pour into small pots. Make sure you run a patch test somewhere on the inside of your arm or leg before using it on your lips, just in case you have an allergic reaction.

Pouring out the lip balm
Everyone went away with lots of goodies - the balm, chutney and decorations. The paper chains went to decorate the room for a community group that had no budget for festive finery, so we hope we helped spread a little sustainability message along with the cheer.

Complements of the Season to you all!

Sustainability - Lessons from the Victorians

Let the gnome-hunt begin!

Today, a brave class of Year 5 pupils braved the chill to help us debut a new session aimed at helping them realise that the Victorians new a thing or two about sustainability.

Despite all the water butts being iced over, the intrepid bunch really enjoyed our Gnome Trail. Why gnomes? Well, the Victorians really started the fashion for garden gnomes, when some were imported from Germany. So, we used 10 images of gnomes which had interesting information about Victorians to introduce ideas and facts to the group. They had to walk round the allotment finding them, and try to remember as much of the information at possible. Then, as they finished, they came into the polytunnel to look at some things that were related to what they had learned. 

Mark wonders when the hot bed will start to warm up...

Fresh horse manure was on hand to show how the Victorians had used it to make hot beds (if you rot something down, it will normally heat up at the beginning of the process, and strawy manure does this nicely). Broken tools reminded the group that the Victorians were great menders of tools, with things designed to be mended rather than thrown away when broken. We also got out our push-powered lawn mower, which isn't Victorian, but still shares a lot of the main features of the original pony-powered mower design. Some of our gardening catalogues began in Victorian times when gardening became very fashionable, so we had a few of their modern day descendants on show. We had some bone-meal to remind the group that the Victorians became big fans of the fertilising power of the stuff, even having battlefields and catacombs raided to provide the raw materials! And the biggest hit was the hay box, which was a popular way of keeping food warm and also of slow-cooking in Victorian times. Our version, which you may have already seen, is based on a crisp box rather than a polished wooden chest, but it still does the job nicely, as it was gently cooking the chestnut pate for the Festive Fuddle in the afternoon. 

Ah - warm hands at last!

After that, Tracey demonstrated how a watering device popular in Victorian times worked, using a plastic bottle with holes in the bottom. You simply dip this in water, put your hand or thumb firmly over the top and then use it to water by removing your thumb / palm from the hole. This allows air in to replace the water, so the water then pours out. Very clever!

Hand on top of bottle - no water falls out.

Remove the hand, and, hey presto! It's a watering bottle!

We finished the session by linking up the Victorian tradition of Christmas Tree decorating with a much older tradition of tree dressing that existed in Britain before that. Trees were decorated in various places, using many different methods, but we chose to use cloths, following a tradition that is still alive in Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall. Our pear tree needs a bit of love and attention, as it didn't bear any fruit at all this year, so we asked the group to help us create poems describing the tree. They then wrote these on strips of torn bed-sheet with permanent markers, and tied them to the tree. It looks great and the poems are really good. If you are passing, why not pop in and have a look for yourself?

Thinking of words to describe the tree

The finished "clootie tree"

Thursday 29 November 2012

Putting the fruit cage to bed for Winter

Our fruit cage is a bit of a pain. The folk who designed it seem to have decided that a lot of innocent fun could be had by installers, if the attachment points only had little arms to fit into the sockets of the top-tubes. Much hilarity could then ensue as the top tubes randomly detach and fall on the unfortunate person trying to put in the next component.... 

Pete battles the dastardly fruit cage.

Amazingly, despite its truly duff design, the fruit cage has stayed up for almost 2 years now. The jury-rigged bracing with washing line has done a grand job in keeping it together, but we still don't want to tempt fate, so like last year we decided to remove the top netting. If we left it on, there is a real risk that the whole thing could collapse, or at least be bent, if we have a heavy snow, as it can sit on the mesh if it's icy enough. As it is, it's a good move, because it allows birds to get in to clear up any tasty minibeasts that have designs on next year's crop. Alex and Pete did a great job with that, rolling the netting and attaching it along one side, ready to be redeployed once the bushes are at risk of the wrong type of attention from birds.

Austin, Mark and Chris de-weed

The next job was to give the cage a careful weed through. We also added a sprinkling of bonemeal for each bush and a thick layer of mulch to keep the weeds down, and help keep moisture around the roots of the bushes. (You do need to make sure the mulch doesn't sit around the actual stem of the plant to stop it trying to root into the mulch, though).

Austin learns the gentle art of pruning.

We took the chance to take cuttings from the blackcurrant as we were pruning it (Austin did a good job despite it being his first attempt).

The finished cage - all snug and wrapped up ready for winter    

The next job was to create a bean-trench. We have been saving our compostable stuff from the office kitchen at Groundwork, and from events here (in the compost tumbler), so Chris got to work digging down about 1 spades depth, spreading out the goey stuff and then covering it up.
Chris really digs making a bean trench...

This should have rotted down enough by late Spring to create a good moist root run for growing beans. Pumpkins and squashes should like it too.

Add compostable stuff and cover for a great
place to grow beans next year (good for
pumpkins and squashes too!).

Well done to the team - we got loads done and the weather was gorgeous.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Cooking - Windmill Style

It's been pretty breezy here over the last few days, as we get the tail end of the hurricane coming through, but at least we're getting the cobwebs blown away! We can't live on fresh-air alone though, so we really like cooking whenever we can at Windmill, especially when that means enjoying some of the lovely veg and herbs we produce. 

Today, there was an ulterior motive for the cooking. Tracey wanted to try out a very old technology, the hay box. Whilst the rest of the volunteers prepared the ground for our Jubilee Hedge (which will be planted in December - watch this space!), she got to work in the polytunnel, and made a paella. Ideally, the food would have been heated on the rocket stove, but we discovered last time it was windy that the fire can get blown the wrong way, so with today's exciting wind speeds, the table top stove was the better bet (at least for the cook who doesn't want to get flambeed along with the food!).

So - here is how to make no-hassle paella. 

First dice a large onion and 1 large stick of celery. Cook in a little oil or butter until the onion starts to look see-through. Add 1 diced red pepper and a finely chopped carrot. Cook for around 5 minutes more. 

In our case we then transfered the onion mix into a larger pan for the next part. Add 2 cups of brown rice and stir into the mix. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, paprika, a pinch of saffron, and oregano and thyme to taste, along with 3 heaped teaspoons of stock powder. Add 4 cups of boiling water and bring the whole to the boil with the lid on, (though you'll need to stir it a few times to prevent the rice sticking to the bottom). 

The polytunnel kitchen in action

 Now for the clever bit. Line a cardboard box with a bag and fill this with hay or straw. Make a gap in the straw and fit in your pan.

Let's play "hide the pan"...

Cover the pan with more of the hay / straw and close the box and then leave to continue cooking at least 30 minutes.

A lucky dip with only 1 prize!

When the food has finished its cooking time, just dig it out of the hay. For the 1/2 hour that rice takes, it should be almost as hot as it was when it went in. In our case we then added some peas and some cooked prawns to finish off the paella (prawns get a bit small and tough if you cook them for a long time).

The proof is in the eating!

 The volunteers, fresh from their digging, enjoyed their meal (well at least everyone had seconds, which Tracey takes to be a sign of approval!). Even new volunteer Austin cleared his plate. Now we just need to repeat the exercise with the cooking part done on the rocket stove to have a really climate-friendly, renewably-fueled meal.

Having a Souper Time at Windmill...

We've had a grand plan for today for quite a while. We had just started growing sweet potatoes when Rudi came to run our Jamaican cookery session in the Summer, and he promised us that he'd come back when we harvested them to share one of his favourite recipes for sweet potato soup. We invited our friends from Gateway to Nature to come along and help with the preparation, and they were also interesed in learning how to make chutney, so we planned a big cook session.

Unfortunately, Rudi wasn't able to be with us, so he helped Tracey work out the recipe and she agreed to give it a go (though with all her fingers crossed as some of the ingredients were new to her). Fortunately the Gateway to Nature group were happy to take a chance, so we went ahead.

Half of our sweet potato harvest

First we began by chopping scallions (onions or leeks also work) and coco yam which we began to cook in oil. Then we harvested the sweet potatoes, which had made a small but reasonable crop considering the poor weather. We only used the biggest one of them, as we are hoping to use the rest to grow our own sweet potato plants for next year. We'd bought spares just in case the there was no crop so we still had plenty. 

Starting the preparation - first dice scallions and coco-yam

Cook them in a little oil for around 10 minutes.

Preparing the sweet potatoes (+ the thing that looks like a
large green pear is chocho waiting to be prepared)

We also added diced pumpkin and then chocho at the end. The soup also had vegetable bouillon, coconut milk and thyme. Tracey added fresh ginger by mistake, so it wasn't completely authentic, but it still seemed to work! A final Jamaican touch was to add traditional Jamaican dumplings, or spinners. These are made from seasoned flour mixed with water to form a stiff dough, and then small blobs of the dough are rolled to make rolls like thick pencils which are cooked in the soup.

Making spinners (Jamaican style pencil-shaped dumplings)
to go in the soup.

So how's the soup?

It tastes pretty good...

Soup all round then!

The next stage of the day was to make green tomato chutney. This is essentially a "chop everything up and boil it" recipe, so very easy. You'll find the recipe below. Tracey was delighted, because everyone helping to chop meant that preparing the ingredients took very little time compared to when she has to do it at home.
Tracey explains the basics of making green tomato chutney

Starting the chutney on the rocket stove

Saturday 17 November 2012

Getting ready for Winter and a Good Nosh

This week has seen us trying to get the garden and also the polytunnel into something like good order for the Winter. We have to admit, it's not the best organised poly ever. Partly our problems stem from not yet having a covered space big enough for a class, so we keep the middle of the tunnel empty, which means we waste the middle bit of crop-growing space. (Still, the good news is that we are fundraising for a shed and have just got some of the funding we need.)

Alex gets ready to tackle the weeding

We also got a gift of some tulips, so Mark and Mia helped us to plant them in big pots to cheer up the entrance in the Spring.

Mia helps dad Mark with bulb planting

Anyway - back to the polytunnel - excuses over! We spent a lot of the sessions clearing out the beds and putting up the internal plastic which is supposed to fit on a roller-system to create ventilation. Then we found that some of the parts we need don't seem to be in the kit, and that we didn't understand the manual! (Tracey has now spoken to a very nice man called Mick at First Tunnels, and is hopeful that she understands how to fit the stuff - watch this space to see if she's right!)

We welcomed another new recruit - Mhairi, who we're certain will fit right in because she got stuck into work straight away and, as she's a Scot, she should know all the Scots words that Tracey keeps using that no-one else understands!

New volunteer Mhairi 

Pete and Mhairi get on with clearing the polytunnel beds

We also did some work at the entrance. Hopefully getting through the gate without being grabbed by the dog-rose should be easier from now on, thanks to Sybil, who also got her first experience of pruning and was undetered by it constantly grabbing her hat! She did a great job, and picked us loads of rosehips too, so we'll have a go at making rosehip syrup shortly. An added bonus is that the prunings have made a great addition to the barbed wire along the fence line by the gate - ouch!

Sybil gets to grips with the dog rose.

Chris brought along some chicken, rice and and a few other things, so we used it to create a rather good lunch with onions, parsnips, herbs and spices we'd grown on site. Cooking what we grow is definitely the best bit! Next week will have a lot of cooking too, as Gateway to Nature will be coming to help us harvest and cook our sweet potatoes, and also we're hoping to teach them how to make chutney, if our green tomatoes last that long. Finger's crossed...

Thursday 1 November 2012

Pumpkin Carving on Halloween

In Autumn, the good folks here at Windmill start thinking about PUMPKINS! We are still learning how to grow them really well, but we are very good at cooking with them, and starting to get really good at carving them. Carving is great because you can scoop out lots of lovely pumpkin flesh to cook into delicious dishes.

Volunteers from our group did wonderful pumpkin carvings for the Pumpkin Day at the Dig In Community Allotment in Stapleford last week (have a look here and here for pictures), and we also had our own little event on Halloween itself. Have a look at the pictures to see what we got up to with the Nottingham University Samworth Academy transition group and some member of the Killisick young people's group. Every one also got to sample Tracey's famous pumpkin pancakes - and once again we proved that these taste great - even to folk who don't like pumpkin.

NUSA group members hollowing out pumpkins

Carving the face with a special pumpkin saw
(much safer than a knife)


Even better with a glow
Another great design

A hi-tech pumpkin face
Eyebrows make all the difference!

Lotsa teeth!

The whole gang

Killisick group carving in the dark, by candlelight

A finished result - beautifully done

Lighting the candle

Finished design - very ghosty!

Rudi tried carving one of our shark's fin melons, with great results

A jack skellington face - brilliantly scary.

Tracey shows how a fancy pattern can look