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 31 May 2012

Pumpkins, squashes and courgettes

Today, we risked getting the pumpkin bed planted up. We call it the pumpkin bed, but that's not quite true as apart from Jamaican pumpkins and baby bears, we also have patty pan squash, butternut squash, blue kuri squash and green and yellow courgettes - but they are all in the same family, so pumpkin bed is easier to say! It's completely different weather to last year, and the pumpkin family are possibly not going to like what they experience, but they are getting too big to be in pots, we have no room in the polytunnel, and so we've had to bite the bullet.

Mark, Ellis and Dan plant up the pumpkin bed

There are things we can do to help them. The first is to plant them deep. We make quite a big hole, then  put the plant in up to it's first seed leaves. If these aren't there any more, we plant up to the first true leaves. This helps the plant in several ways - it supports the stem better, so they don't collapse, also so they aren't so likely to get bent over in the wind, and it gives them a chance to make more roots higher up the stem. Leaving the plant in a bit of a dip also helps to make sure any water goes down by the roots. Then we add some kind of shelter. The preferred one is a car tyre. This warms up in the sun and also keeps the wind off the plant really well. Once the plant starts to outgrow the tyre, the weather is usually good enough to allow it to be taken off without the plant growth being checked. We put tyres on some and not others, and it's clear that those in tyres are growing much better. As we don't have enough tyres, we are also making "castles" of earth around the plants without them. These help keep the wind off a bit, though not as well. All these will also get mulches of compost and well-rotted manure because they are heavy feeders and will enjoy it.

Ray using his special carrot seed planting technique

Ellis, Dan and Mark all helped to weed and then plant up the bed. Meanwhile Ray worked on the high raised beds to save his back, re-sowing carrots where we haven't had a good set, and also more chickpeas. Helen beavered away in the polytunnel, pricking out calabrese and callaloo for us.

Helen potting up.

Whenever we had a break we enjoyed watching the wrens feed their 2 chicks. They are a little nervous around us, but seem able to cope if we aren't within about 5m of them.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Taster Day for Minority Groups

Today we teamed up with the Black Environment Network (BEN) to run a taster day for folk from black and other ethnic minority groups to show the delights that Windmill has to offer. We were also lucky with the weather, and attracted quite a few folk from several different groups. Marie and James from BEN came to support the day.

Touring the site - Tracey explains how to use
lettuce as a living mulch around courgettes.

The session began with a tour of the site, with Tracey explaining how we are working to make the allotment as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible. She also spoke about the crops we are growing including those which might be more familiar to some of Nottingham's minority groups, like calalloo, shark's fin melon, methi and sweet potato.

We grow some of those weeds on purpose, honest!

Looking at the herb garden - the mint was a major hit

After that, we had a lunch which included food from Jamaican, Indian and African cuisines, followed by some gardening activities. One group made paper pots whilst another helped us to start planting our "Sowing new seeds" bed.


Marie shows how to make paper pots

Some of the younger members of the Somalian group help
to plant up the "Sowing new seeds" bed.

Ray and Philippa were on hand to help, and Shona from the Food Initiatives Group was brilliant, helping us to source food to appeal to a wide range of tastes, and even staying to do a bit of weeding afterwards!

Ray and Phil take a break from washing up to enjoy the sunshine

Shona helps with a bit of weeding

We're aiming to build on the success and hopefully eventually have a dedicated space for groups to grow their own crops. If anyone reading would like to know more about this project or about becoming involved, just contact us with a comment below.

Thursday 24 May 2012

The Heat Is On - and the Volunteers Do Us Proud

Tracey would like to say a special thank you to the team this week. We're still reeling at Windmill from the change in temperature these last few days. As late as Sunday, we were all shuffling around in our winter gear, but suddenly we've got July temperatures in May, and a polytunnel full of stuff that needs to go in the ground right this minute or it's going to cook. So bring on the Windmill Volunteer Force. Everyone has been brilliant, working extra hours to get as much done as possible to help catch up. On Thursday, some of the group almost literally worked themselves to a standstill so we're nearly caught up.

Of course, we didn't help ourselves by having dug a massive hole in the floor of the polytunnel that also needed to be filled in and covered up. Rosy, Dan and Ellis took charge of that project, and got to work re-levelling the base of the trench and then lining it with polystyrene to retain heat. Tracey prepared the drain -pipe and land-drain arrangement that will be used to distribute the heat into the bottom of the hole and everyone else mucked in to help collect and clean up rocks from the store pile ready refill the trench. These rocks are important as we need them to retain the heat, and also they have to be put back in a way that allows air to flow through the heap.

Ellis using polystyrene insulation off-cuts
to line the trench

Dan and Rosy add the last bits of insulation

Once we'd got the bulk of the rocks sorted, we left the team to finish off, and got on with planting up sweetcorn, pumpkins, squashes and beans. In the polytunnel, Mark made a great job of getting the tomatoes, sweet peppers and no-heat chillis in, and Helen beavered away in the orchard, putting a buddleia and sunflowers into the sensory area. Of course, lots of watering also needed to be done, but we made sure that the plants going in were placed into dips so that the water could be easily concentrated around the roots. We also put lettuce seedlings around plants like squash and courgette so that these will provide a living mulch and take up the space around the young plants that could otherwise be filled with weeds. Another trick we do is to put marker posts next to plants like pumpkin and squash that sprawl and spread, so that we can see where the roots are and know where to water, once the plant gets large and leggy.

Helen makes some additions to the
Sensory Garden

Chris weeds in preparation for planting the 
sweetcorn bed

Mark with his beautifully planted up
tomato, pepper and chilli bed.

By the end of the Thursday session, we had planted the bulk of the things that really needed to be in, and the heat sink team had completed their job. A great effort! Now all we need is to add a few more rocks, then hook up the pipe work and the solar panel. We'll keep you posted as to how well it works.

Ellis and Dan with the almost finished heat sink

One great benefit of all the sun though - we've invested in some solar showers. We think the flow rate wouldn't be too useful for an actual shower - it would take quite a while to get wet! But that's not why we have them, so we don't mind. Because of them, we got all the washing up done in sun-heated water, and have enough left over to soak our feet. They worked so well, the water was almost too hot to use!

Dan displays one of our solar showers

Philippa - are you enjoying washing up in
hot water?!

Well done all!

Thursday 17 May 2012

Stop Press! The nest is occupied!

You may remember that a few weeks ago, we found that a bird was trying to nest on the narrow ledge above the sink in the outdoor kitchen. We thought it was a robin's nest, because we'd seen a robin sitting on the work surface there. Because the nest kept falling into the sink, the volunteers decided to create a better nesting shelf near the front of the structure, and we moved the nesting material onto it, without much hope that this would work.

Well, we are now delighted to announce that the nest is occupied, by wrens! We've been aware of a wren flying around the area during the last week, and suddenly realised that it's actually going too and from the nest, and obviously feeding young. Hopefully there are actually two wrens, but if there are, we can't tell them apart, and we haven't seen them together. Apparently the male wren sometimes has a hareem, so some wren mums don't get as much help raising their chicks as others. From a brief glimpse, we think there are at least 2 nestlings, but they keep themselves well hidden and we've just seen their beaks. They are also very quiet, and we've only heard them chirping once. We're really hoping to see them leave the nest - we hear that the babies are the cutest thing the bird world has to offer, like tiny balls of fluff with tails that zoom about as they learn to fly.

We'll keep you posted as to how they get on.

Goodbye to our Matt

Well, today was a fantastic day at Windmill, and also a sad one, as Matt is leaving for a job in Sheffield.

We started by presenting Matt with a cake and a card to say thank you for all his help at the allotment. Then we put him to work!

Matt's cake - a caterpillar - fitting for an allotment!

Matt, Ray, Chris, Dan and Ellis all took it in turns to make the heat-sink hole deeper, stopping only when a huge slab of concrete was revealed at the bottom of the hole. After a while trying to break through it, we decided that the whole thing was deep enough, and just made it a bit wider to compensate.
Chris gets stuck in to deepen the heat-sink hole.  Matt and Dan enjoy watching.
Ray takes a turn

Matt and Ray make sure that our newest recruit is wearing full safety gear...

Tinny wearing safety goggles.

Meanwhile, all kinds of planting was taking place, with our new bathroom suite getting the Windmill treatment (thanks to Ray for suggesting and sourcing it, and to Jade for collecting and delivering it).
Philippa and Mark had a think and then arranged the loo, cistern, sink and pedestal so they could get as much planting room out of it as possible. They have planted it up with carrots, french beans, radishes, beetroot and lettuces, and we are looking forward to seeing how good a crop we get.

Mark and Philippa arrange "the primrose suite"

Phil plants up the pedestal 

Mark waters the loo

Well done all for a really productive day. We hope that Matt will come back to visit whenever he's in the area and we wish him well in his new job.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Mind your peas and carrots

We had a very useful Wednesday afternoon with Tracey, Philippa and Jade getting a bit of planting in. First we put in some carrots next to the onion bed - in 2 rows, one of which was planted into sand. The aim of this is to see if we really do get less carrot fly because of them being close to the strong smell of onions, and also to see if the sand helps us get better roots. We'll keep you posted on the success of those experiments. We also chucked in a row of radishes. This is a good trick because radishes come up a lot more quickly than carrots, so they help to mark out where the rows are, give you hope that something might come up and also take up space that might also be colonised by weeds. As well as that, you get something to liven up your salads in a couple of months whilst you wait for the carrots to get to a useful size.
Jade and Phil get 

After the carrot sowing, we put in a row of pea seedlings and had a go at wrestling some chicken wire into submission to make a support for them to climb up.

And the award for best support goes to.... 
At the end of the session Tracey went off to do a bit of outreach. She went up to help the after-school group at Nottingham University Samworth Academy to plant up their 2 raised beds. The pupils did a great job of weeding out the bed, and planting cabbages, potatoes, and a range of seeds that they will hopefully be harvesting later in the year to use in cooking.

NUSA pupils weed their raised beds

One of the "mega-weeds". 

Planting the cabbages at NUSA

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Green Power!

Today we welcomed the Green Power Team to the site. They worked very hard, despite the weather being a bit of a pain, with short sharp showers bringing everyone into the polytunnel every so often.

The Green Power Team join Matt and Ray, sheltering from a shower in the polytunnel.

The main tasks that they tackled for us were to clear the area where a memorial bench will go, and also to start digging the heat sink that we want to experiment with in the polytunnel.

The idea of the heat sink came originally from the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales, where they use a big pile of slate to hold the heat in their polytunnel. It heats up during the day, and gives off the heat at night, so that the temperature isn't too hot by day and isn't too cold by night. This can mean a few extra weeks of growing time in Spring and Autumn without putting in a heater in the tunnel. Our version is a bit more complicated. This one uses a solar-powered computer fan to push hot air from the top of the polytunnel, down a tube into an insulated box of rocks, to store the heat.  At least that's the theory! After today - all we have is a hole, but hopefully it will be big enough to make a difference.
The team start to dig the hole for the heat sink.
The hole diggers were undeterred by the amount of bricks and big rocks they dug up, and made a very good start to the heat sink, and another group began to collect rocks from our waste rock and stone pile to eventually put in it. The site for the bench is now clear and level, so we should be able to start laying slabs and planting it up soon. And one of the team also did an amazing job weeding our paths in the main growing area, so it now looks pretty tidy.

Rock collecting

The team working on the bench site.
Well done to all the Green Power team - their efforts have really helped make a difference to the site and got us closer to our goals.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Robert Shaw Year 5's make the allotment extra scary!

We were delighted to welcome another class from Robert Shaw Primary School to the allotment today. What was even better was that they came armed with a forest of scarecrows of all kinds, even though they had only promised to bring 2!

Scarecrows Galore!

The allotment now has enough scarecrows to worry even our street-wise pigeons, and a few of them have even made us jump already.

The Scarecrows start their work

After the class had had a chance to look around the allotment, we split them into groups to form 2 weeding teams and 2 work teams. One work team planted in the polytunnel with Tracey, whilst the other helped to create another builder's bag bed with Matt, and we swapped the weeders and workers around halfway through the session.

Philippa helps one of the weeding teams to get started.

The weeders did a fantastic job with the help of regular volunteers Philippa and Chris, and managed to dig up some amazingly long roots. The planting team put in some tomato plants and a melon seedling for us, using a method designed to help reduce the need for watering, whilst the bag-bed team cleared a site and then dug out compost to fill the bag.

Planting a tomato the "Windmill Way"

Digging up the compost for the bag bed
A completed bag bed

Thank you to the whole class for all their hardwork, and we look forward to seeing another class from Robert Shaw when the time comes to harvest the tomatoes.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

More New Faces at Windmill

Meet Jade, and her new friend the Tin Man!

Jade has just started to volunteer for us on Wednesdays. We're delighted to welcome her, especially as she's already got the knack of working the bollard that we have to lower to get into the car park here!

As you can see, she wasted no time and created this brilliant scarecrow for us, which we'll be putting into the sweetcorn bed as soon as it's planted up.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Snails and Experiments

Here's wordy bit, but don't worry, there are pictures if you keep reading!

At Windmill Community Gardens, we aim to help gardeners think of how to grow in a sustainable way in a changing climate. That's very simple to say, but not quite so simple in practice. When people talk about "Global Warming", many obviously have the idea that this means the UK can have wall to wall tropical planting and vineyards. Since Tracey, our Project Officer, did a wee bit of climate science at University, she arrived telling us, "It's probably not anything like that simple, and I wouldn't be betting on outdoor pineapple plantations if I were you!" 

The problem boils down to this: climate modeling is very difficult, because the climate is so complicated. There is definitely a warming trend, and it fits fairly neatly into the time when we started to really burn fossil fuels big time. However, we won't be able to prove beyond all doubt who or what is to blame until we have lots more years of data. In the meantime we have a consensus amongst the vast majority of climate scientists that humans are the main driver of changes in the climate. And we have lots of things we can do to reduce our use of fossil fuels, which not only have the potential to reduce human impact on the atmosphere, but also can mean we need to spend a lot less money and create a lot less waste and pollution. Frankly, it should be a win win situation. If climate change really is human-driven and we stop driving it, we benefit from less flooding and climate chaos and save money on energy use. If it turns out that 97% of climate scientists are wrong, but we've made the changes anyway, we'll still have cleaner and more efficient industry and less wasteful use of resources, along with more areas of preserved or improved wild land and less people dying from pollution.

In the meantime, models suggest that rain is likely to be less frequent, but more likely to fall in big lumps when it does (does that sound familiar!?) In the UK, we may well continue to have milder winters with the odd cold snap, but disappointing summers which are mild and cloudy, rather than hot and bright. It's certainly not a given that barbeque summers will become the norm. 

At Windmill, we've taken the view that we need to plan for lots of different weather possibilities, so that means we need to do some experiments ourselves. Watch this blog for updates on some that we're trying at the moment.

Dan and Ellis set up on of the experimental beds
The first is that we've planted Desiree potatoes in one bed where we won't be watering it at all, as it's supposed to cope well with drought and still produce good yields. We'll be comparing them to Desiree's in a watered bed. Having said that, this year’s rain may mean the experiment won’t tell us much! We've also been trying different sowing regimes for carrots and parsnips. Today, Ellis and Dan set up the experiment. In each case we have 1 row of seed in the ordinary soil, 1 row in sand and 1 row in ordinary soil, but with a plank put over it after watering. The idea of the last one is that it keeps the soil constantly moist without constant watering, which should help germination, though again, this may not be the best year to try this!

Before we set up the experiment, we'd had a good morning's weeding, which brought a few surprises. Rosy was amazed that a site we'd weeded 4 times already still had a root around 60cm long hiding in it, and Dan and Ellis discovered a parsnip in the orchard, although we definitely didn't plant any there!

Rosy with the mega-dandelion root

Dan and Ellis with the Mystery Parsnip
We'd also planted some cabbages, with the help of Mark, a new volunteer. He helped us make a good cover for them as well. We've learned to our cost that the local pigeons are unimpressed with most bird scaring devices, so netting works best, and also helps keep off butterflies (if the weather warms enough to persuade any to turn up).

Mark helps Rosy with the cabbage bed

Pigeons not allowed!

After all that excitement, Rosy and Ray had a go at using chicken wire to make a leaf-mould sculpture. So please welcome our new arrival at the allotment – all suggestions for a name are gratefully accepted.  With all this rain, the snail should feel right at home – his / her friends and relations certainly do!

Meet our snail which looks even more impressive in real life - we'll give a packet of seeds for the best name.