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 28 June 2012

Posh Poppies and Nervous Newts

We've had a couple of really hard working days at Windmill. It's the final push to get an area of the Sensory Garden ready to house a bench dedicated to Paula Dixon. Paula was a youth worker who used to work here before the Climate Friendly Gardeners project started. She died suddenly last year and is much missed. We have planned an area of the orchard to be dedicated to Paula. We have had a seat made and we will be putting in some paving and then planting it to create a nice place to sit.

On Wednesday afternoon, Jade, Tracey, Dan and Merion got the basic layout of the slabbed area dug out, ready to have a concrete foundation laid.

The bench area ready for the foundation

We also got on with clearing some of the areas which have got a bit overgrown with all the rain we've been having. Rosy is a dab hand with the shears, and soon had the area around the fruit cage back under control. We did make sure to save some of the bee and butterfly-friendly plants though. One of the poppies this year is quite amazing, as you'll see from the picture.

Rosy prepares to cut a path to the fruit cage.

Our spectacular purple and red frilled poppy

Jade did a great job planting up hanging baskets with bush tomatoes which we'll be hanging up outside, just as soon as the weather convinces us that it's Summer!

Jade plants up our tomato hanging baskets

Thursday has been a different story. The tight schedule hasn't been helped at all by the weather today, which has been astonishing. We have had so many episodes of torrential rain that we've been dashing in and out just to get work done, but it's been sticky work, as it's incredibly humid, so we're all dripping whether it's wet or not! Fortunately the area where we will be putting the bench is pretty free draining, so we've been able to keep going, but the concrete foundation has been laid only thanks to Ray, Marc and Dan staying on really late to get it finished, once the rain had gone. 

Sheltering from the rain in the polytunnel

Sheltering from the rain in the outdoor kitchen!
In between the showers, the volunteers managed to get a surprising amount done, so Chris and Dan have managed to clear a lot of the rubble pile next to the seating area, using some as hardcore for the new paved area foundation, and putting the rest aside for when we put in the clay oven. Marc, Rosy and Philippa got a lot of tidying done in the polytunnel and also managed to get the tomatoes tidied up. Ellis made sure everything got it's feed in there too, and we dosed some of the outside areas with seaweed solution, as the pumpkins were looking a bit peaky. Tracey managed to make popcorn and pumpkin pancakes in between showers, using the rocket stove, so the troops were fed. 

When we were re-organising the rubble, we found a newt taking advantage of the habitat that the rubble pile provided. It was a good reminder to us that we need to make sure there is a rock pile created to take the place of the dump, so we have made a rockery next to the minibeast hotel, where we re homed the newt. It's also a reminder that amphibians need places to hide out of the water, as they spend quite a bit of their lives on land. We should be a good spot, with all the long grass, stumps, wood piles and other good wildlife habitats we provide, so we hope the newt will find something to it's liking soon.

Rehoming the newt

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Where does your food come from?

This morning we hosted a Year 2 class from Mellers Primary School to help them explore where food comes from. We're very interested in the idea of food miles here - that's how far any food has to come from to reach us. We're also fascinated about where different crops originated - many things we think of as "typical" allotment crops actually began as natives of other countries. And lastly, we are constantly looking for recipes from different countries to see how they would use our crops in their own cooking, sometimes getting ideas from visitors and also from our own research. In short - Windmill is the place to come to if you want to find out more about where your food is from.

Where in the world did carrots come from?

The pupils have been studying different countries, and they already had a good idea about which continent is which, so they were a great bunch to work with. Jade and Tracey have been working on a new resource for this topic, so we were able to help the group to use their knowledge to find out where different fruits and vegetables originated. Some were quite a surprise - for example our garden strawberries are not native, they are in fact from America! Our native strawberries are the small, wild ones. Carrots are also not native, and were first cultivated in Iran and Afganistan, as a purple root - the orange carrot is a Dutch innovation, bred as a homage to their royal family - the House of Orange. We also found out that rhubarb was first cultivated in China. The children really enjoyed going around the gardens looking for clue cards that showed them where different crops originated, which also helped them to learn what different plants look like as they grow.

Carrots came from the Middle East!

Looking for clues to where onions originated
(Middle East too!)

One part of the session was devoted to finding out where our food comes from now, which is very easy thanks to supermarket labelling these days. The children looked at a variety of crops and found that quite a few things were from unexpected places. We discovered onions from Mexico and New Zealand, and carrots from Israel amongst others. The findings allowed us to use a map and some string to work out which crop had come the furthest to get here.

Finding out where our food is grown today

We then had a chance to eat something which had only travelled a few metres, as all the pupils had a taste of freshly picked lettuce from the allotment. Nearly everyone enjoyed it, which was really nice to see!

Tasting freshly-picked, Zero Food Miles Lettuce

We ended with a Native American story which explains how sweetcorn, beans and pumpkin can help each other if they are planted together. These were the staple foods of many Native Americans, so we grow them together in our "3 Sisters" bed. Another surprise from the research for the story is that French beans are actually American!

Telling the story of the 3 Sisters

The group had a great time, and we really enjoyed working with them - they were a lovely bunch. We are looking forward to seeing their school-mates from Year 1 soon, if the weather allows.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Climate-Friendly Cooking with Forest Fields

Members of the Forest Fields Gardening Club came to visit us today for a really fun session that gave us a chance to try out the rocket stove. We had a great afternoon here getting to know how to use fire safely, and also how to cook in a "climate-friendly" way.

First, we introduced the group to the allotment and explained our views on how to do things sustainably. Then, we helped the group work out where the wood for our fires comes from (our own trees!), and did a little thinking about how this differed from using fossil fuels.

The next bit was fun - first the group helped to build a fire in the fire pit. For many of them, it was the first time, so Tracey initiated them with a promise to only light fires in a careful way, with adult permission. Then we showed them how wasteful an open fire was by demonstrating with a kelly kettle and our new rocket stove, how little fuel is needed if you burn it carefully.

For those of you who haven't come across it before, a kelly kettle, or storm kettle, is a clever beastie. It's a kettle where the reservoir for the water is in a sleeve, wrapped around a chimney. That means if you light a fire and keep it going with small twigs, it will heat the water up in about the same time it takes to boil an ordinary kettle. We used it to boil water to make fresh mint tea, which was a huge hit.

We used the rocket stove to make popcorn, and then used it to cook pumpkin pancakes. Both were huge hits. The group had a great time feeding the fires and seeing how much wood each type used. They also became very good as safe match use and were very aware of the fire risks and how to deal with any accidental spilling of fire.

When the time came to leave, the group really didn't want to go, so we hope they will come back to see us soon.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Sorry birds!

Today, we are probably less popular with the birds than we were yesterday. We're keen here to work with nature, rather than against it, so we definitely aren't anti-birds. In fact you may remember that we even provided a des-res for the local wrens, who successfully raised 2 chicks there. We also leave the fruit cage open for the Spring, so that if we get any saw-fly caterpillars on the gooseberries, the birds can come in and snack on them to solve the problem for us. However, the time has come to put the lid on the cage again, because the berries inside are ripening, and we can see the birds starting to plan their dinner parties. Marc and Ellis did a great job with the net - it's really fiddly and tends to lead to various comments that we won't print here, but they seemed quite calm and approached the task methodically.

Mark works on the fruit cage roof

We've also put the net down over the strawberries now. They were also getting quite a bit of attention  with the blackbirds sneaking in for a crafty nibble any time we gave them enough room. Added to that, the smaller slugs seemed to be laughing in the face of the organic-approved pellets that we used, nibbling the ends some berries, just enough to make a good route in for ants. Because we didn't just want to provide the slugs with a nice warm patch to live in, we've introduced another possible way of stopping them, by putting down bran. This is apparently irresistible to slugs and when they eat it, they get full and dried out. Let's hope that works - with all this rain it might not, but we're always happy to try things out.

Merion sows the late carrots
Another try out was some late-sown carrots. Merion put some in between the onions and the leeks, where we hope the carrot fly won't find them. We were told that we'd be likely to get a good set if we sowed just on or after the solstice, by a local Biodynamic Grower, so we'll see. It would be good to get some going, as our carrots are rubbish at the moment - they really haven't liked the weather, even in the sand-trench we put in.

Helen,  Jade and Merion plant the calalloo and some shark's 
fin melons

A final measure against bird-attack was to hang some of the painted CD's from the open day to annoy any birds trying to eat the calalloo. Our lovely neighbour Ken gave us a tray full of his best calalloo (he's not impressed by what we grew from seed at all!), and reckons that birds don't go for the plant. We'd love to believe him, but we're not so sure after what happened to the red-version, as that really did look like bird damage. We'll see - we've protected some of it but not all, so it will be interesting to see if there is any more damage and if there is, whether the CD's make any difference. It's a bit like having a living "who done it"!

Jade puts in the bird scarer - will is make any difference?

Tony and Mark from Framework with the roof
supports for the clay oven

Added to all this hard work, we managed to collect enough bricks so that we can build the plinth for the clay oven which Framework will be helping us with. They've already put the roof-supports in, so we're looking forward to being able to get on with that shortly, and trying not to get too distracted with thoughts of freshly-baked bread...

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Outreach at the Acorn Day Centre

Today, Tracey went to the Acorn Day Centre, which is in the Mary Potter Centre in Hyson Green. We enjoy going to Acorn, or inviting the centre users to Windmill, as they are a great crowd and very good at providing refreshments if we visit them!  Tracey's job was to help some pupils from Berridge Junior School to plant up the main growing bed there to provide some crops and some herbs, as well as interest for butterflies and bees. It may sound like a bit of a tall order, but the growing bed is huge, so there was plenty of room. 

The Weeding Team get on with the job

The Berridge group did a fantastic job. As the group weeded really carefully, pairs of pupils took it in turn to plant up the bed. The first worked to plant strawberries, the second group worked on herbs and butterfly plants and the last group put in a variety of vegetables.

Pupils helped to put in lots of strawberry plants,
within easy reach of the edge of the bed.

Bee friendly plants going in at one end of
the big bed

Putting herbs around the edge of the bed so
they are easy to reach and smell.

After all their efforts, the Acorn folk provided some well-earned drinks and biscuits, which were much appreciated. 

Well done to the whole Berridge Team

Once the group said their goodbyes, a few of the centre users had a bit of time to come and help (they'd all been busy with actvities when we first arrived - it's a busy place!). They helped Tracey to plant beans and tomatoes and to make sure that all the plants were properly watered.

Some volunteers from Acorn helped to finish the job.
We are hoping to go back in a week or so, to help finish off the work, putting in some ornamental planting and wiring up the pergola to provide support for the new grape vines and other climbers. 

The place should soon be looking spectacular!

Saturday 16 June 2012

Build a Rocket Stove, Girls!

On Saturday afternoon, we were delighted to host a Rocket Stove building workshop. This was run by Jen and Tom, and taught us how to create these amazing fuel-efficient stoves which can be made with readily available waste items and a few simple tools. The guys who had booked on the course couldn't make it, for various reasons, so an all female team of trainee rocket-stove builders set too, and managed to make 3 separate stoves, proving that they can be made by those without a huge amount of muscle, or practical metal-working experience.

Here's how we did it!

First Jen and Tom explained the basic principles of the rocket stove. The aim is to create a small fire in a confined L-shaped space with good airflow. The shape of the space also helps, as it draws the fire up, meaning that only the tips of the fuel burn and the gases from the fuel are also burned, which gives a pretty much smoke free fire with minimal residue. 

Step 1: Remove the top of the can 

Step 2: Press in any sharp edges, and clean
out any remaining oil

Step 3: Cut out some sections of can with tin snips, to create
flat plates of metal.

(Some of the group made a much neater job of step 3
than others. This is Jo's reaction to seeing our sheet!)

At this point, you'll notice that there were 2 different patterns of chimney being constructed. This is because one aim of the day was to create a long-lasting stove for Windmill, which meant it was created using a round tubed "ceramic elbow" which will contain the burn area and be more robust in the long-term than the other stoves. Those stoves were created with square-profile elbows which will last for a few years before becoming brittle and needing to be replaced.
Step 4 - round version: Those metal plates were bent around
the ceramic elbow and riveted to create tight-fitting sleeves
for each end.

Step 4 - square version: The metal plates were bent around a
square fence post of appropriate dimensions then cut and
riveted to create an L-shaped chimney with a square

Step 5: Make a hole around 10cm from the base
of the can that the foot of the L-shaped chimney
can slot into.

Step 6: Cut a wind-baffle from another can which
holds your pan just a few centimetres above the top
of the chimney. Cut a hole in the end of the can to
make a slot for the top of the chimney to fit into.

Step 7: Slot the chimney into place and make sure it stops
about level with the top of the main can.
Step 8: Fill the void in the can with vermiculite to provide
a non-flammable insulation. This ensures the heat is retained
in the chimney and means that the sides of the stove stay very
cool, allowing for easy handling of the stove when lit.

Step 9: You have to squint to see this one! Make a "bridge"
that will sit in the bottom end of the L to keep the fuel high
enough to ensure a good flow of air into the stove. The
round chimney stove had a specially made ceramic version.

Step10: Make sure everything fits!

Step 11: Test firing. Another can provides a
useful increase in height to cooking level.
Marvel at the lack of smoke - yes the stove
really was already lit at this point.

Step 12: Eat the freshly-made popcorn!

You do have to make sure you keep tapping the ends of the fuel sticks so that they move forwards as the ends burn away, otherwise the fire goes out, so this isn't a stove to light and then leave to its own devices as you prepare the food. It's not too difficult to keep going though, as long as you just fiddle with it regularly. 

Apart from all the other great features of the rocket stove, the thing that really appeals to us is that it's just the right size for us to use our coppiced willow in it. With any luck, most of our cooking will be carbon neutral from now on. Thanks to Jen and Tom, and the folk that helped them deliver all the kit. We've had some really positive comments about the course, and those who got to take away a stove were delighted with them. We look forward to hearing how they have performed as well.

Family Fun Morning

Today, we reserved the morning for an event to encourage more local families to visit the allotment. The weather forecast was dire, so we had our fingers crossed, but fortunately, it held off bar the odd sprinkle of rain, and we had a nice number of local folk who responded to our leafletting.

Decorating CD's to make bird scarers

Dan looks after the self-watering pot stand

 We laid on decorating cd's to make bird scarers, making self-watering pots again (see the Green Festival post for all the details),  making scarecrows, games from Spots Vs Stripes and pancakes made with butternut squash, served with a rhubarb sauce (thanks for the rhubarb Sally!). Visitors were also invited to harvest lettuces and herbs, which they happily did, going home with stuffed bags and happy smiles.

Some of our guests

The finished pirate scarecrow

Everyone seemed to have a great time, and we enjoyed ourselves as well.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Getting on with lots of jobs

This time of year, there is so much to get done, and fortunately everyone is still very keen, so we've all been working hard, and we might even be making some progress!

One job is to earth up the potatoes. Last year, we'd pretty much finished doing this at this point in the season, but this year, everything is coming up more slowly so we're still at it. Fortunately Ellis is a dab-hand at this, and got through the job pretty quickly. He then joined Dan in putting his hoe to good use, taking out weeds from the area next to the polytunnel. If only everything here grew where we wanted it to!

We also got on with more planting in the sensory garden. Helen added some more plants and shrubs to add to the lovely bee and butterfly friendly plantings. Mark also helped out, braving the attentions of ants to seek out the sneaky docks, thistles and brambles that keep trying to muscle in on the main flowering bed.

Tracey gave some of the newly planted pumpkins and squashes a treat and watered them with liquid seaweed solution. She reckons it's good stuff - full of trace elements and hormones which help the plants to get over the shock of being planted, grow more strongly and fend off pest attack. Hopefully the pumpkins and courgettes agree.

Is seaweed the solution?
We had a treat, when Sally arrived with some mega-rhubarb from her established patch. We only planted ours this year, and we won't be able to harvest until next year, so she took pity on us. We're not sure what she's feeding her rhubarb, but it's massive, so we'll have to work out her secret for next year.