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?

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Windmill Celebrates the Apple Harvest this Saturday

Windmill Community Gardens is gearing up for our Apple Harvest Celebration on Saturday 29th September.

There will be fun for all the family, with activities featured on the day including apple tasting, apple pressing, tasting of locally grown food, chainsaw carving demonstrations and many traditional games like apple bobbing.

East Markham Heritage Orchard have provided lots of different apples to taste.

The event starts at 11am and runs until 3pm. No booking is required just turn up on the day and celebrate the apple harvest with the rest of the community.

There will also be the opportunity for gardeners to show off any fruit and veg they have grown this year or dishes they made from their fresh produce, including but not limited to savories, sweet cakes and preserves.

Why not enter some of your harvest - you might win a prize!

Some of last year's entries

Come and taste the delicious treats and then see who earns the winning prizes.
You can “pip” the competition to prizes by entering your own home grown fruit and veg in a number of categories including best display of home grown produce, heaviest marrow or strangest looking fruit or veg! We’ll also be judging the best tasting jam and chutney as well as deciding which of the competing homemade dishes are the best!

See you there!

Thursday 20 September 2012

Harvest, cook and eat with Robert Shaw Primary School

Over the last 2 Thursdays, we've been delighted to help pupils from Year 5 at Robert Shaw Primary School to get involved in our Harvest, Cook and Eat programme. Everyone at Windmill enjoys these sessions, not least because we all get to enjoy the finished dish!

Being full class groups, we had to divide pupils into 3 groups for organisation, but everyone got to harvest crops, and the two groups not cooking got involved in weeding and in planting activities, so all were busy right up until the mass food tasting at the end.

Volunteer Jade helps the group giving our paths a
much-needed tidy up

Some more of our wonderful weeders

Groups harvested a range of crops, including
some they hadn't seen before.

Blackberries were very popular
So popular that there were none to take home!
This time of year is great for helping pupils to learn knife skills because there are lovely ripe tomatoes to be processed - and they are easy to cut for beginners. Those who seem confident with knives get whisked off to collect onions and are shown recommended techniques for cutting these safely. After that, there is a lesson in how to chop garlic and herbs finely by rocking the knife.

New volunteer Sibel helps the group through the recipe

Adding the finely chopped garlic
Cooking the tomatoes
- it's important to stir it carefully so they don't stick

Adding freshly chopped herbs

It's interesting to watch how quickly children master the new ways of holding their knives and using them in a safe way. It's also great to help them to gather the herbs they need, straight from the garden, and to see and hear how excited they are to be able to turn something that is growing into a dish half an hour later.

Queuing for a taste
Both Thursdays ended in delicious pasta with freshly-made tomato sauce that almost everyone tried and   enjoyed. Seconds (and thirds) were asked for by quite a few, and the volunteers also gave the food their seal of approval.

Well worth the effort.
Please Miss, can we have some more?

Volunteer Chris taste-tests the result

We hope to host the classes for sessions during the rest of the school year, so all of them will have a chance to try lots of different activities. With any luck we'll be able to use the clay oven with them at some point too. We'd also like to thank the pupils for their enthusiasm - we really enjoyed having you!

Local Food looks for Local Food!

First pick - yellow pattypan squash

During the school visit from Robert Shaw's today, we also helped out with a Local Food "safari" session being run at the wonderful Arkwright Meadows Community Garden. Local Food are our main sponsors, so we were delighted that they could come and see how we are getting on.

AMC did all the hard part, we just helped a group of visiting folk from the Local Food project to harvest a range of fruit and vegetables from our allotment. These were then taken back to Arkwright Meadows, and combined with the produce gathered by other groups who had travelled to other growing projects around Nottingham.

Can you provide a range of tomatoes? Yep!

The group seemed please with the harvest they managed to take with them, and we hear that the food they produced was delicious.

The group with their haul.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Grow Your Own at Woodthorpe Park

This is the second year of the Grow Your Own event at Woodthorpe Park, and we were delighted to be offered a stall there again this year. It's a fun event, and a chance for the city's allotment groups to get together and compare notes on the year's crops. The verdict this year? Rubbish!

Having said that, many groups had still managed to grow really impressive crops of lovely looking fruit and veg, and we thought that our display wasn't too shabby either. Credit should go to Dan and Ellis. Tracey basically dropped them off at the site with all the stuff and then left them to it whilst she went to get Sibel and Mark. By the time she returned, they had created a rather lovely "horn of plenty" style display with our produce, as well as putting up the display boards, so full marks for initiative and creativity fellas!

The display the guys put together - gorgeous!

The stall attracted lots of interest

We also created quite a bit of interest with out pocket vine tomatoes. These strange beasties seem to be tomatoes crossed with mutated raspberries - lots of tomatolets(?) all joined together. They are very tomatoey, though not as sweet as some, but make great sauces. Last year, we'd won a prize for weirdest veg, and hoped to win with these, but the category had been changed to best animal made with fruit and veg, so we didn't get to defend the title! Not to worry, the pocket vines ensured lots of folk stopped to see what they were and then got chatting.

Some pocket vines on the vine

Sibel and Mark did a great job setting up seed wraps for folk to take away, and we also gave away the produce for a donation. We managed to raise well over £60, which was a nice bonus, and also found that people were really interested in coming to our Apple Harvest Celebration, so we're hoping to get lots of entries for our produce competitions.

The gang at Woodthorpe

A great day, and thanks to the volunteers - you did a great job!

Thursday 6 September 2012

Jam today + Clay Oven - next steps.

If you look at the blog regularly, you've probably worked out that the clay oven is a bit behind schedule, quite a bit actually. Today was supposed to be a session making bread and jam on site, but the timing meant this turned into making clay oven and jam, with bread courtesy of a well-known supermarket. If you are reading to find out how to finish off the clay oven, scroll down past the jam!

Framework Picking Team getting stuck into the job
Another group from Framework joined us to help us harvest our plum trees and find out how to make jam. This year the crop is much smaller than it was last year, but we were delighted that the group still managed to pick 10 pounds of plums (let's say 4.5kg for metric folk). They also picked 5lbs of blackberries, and a big bowl of elderberries which was a great bonus.

The recipe for making plum jam is very simple. Plums contain pectin, which is what makes the jam set, so there is no need to use special preserving sugar. We've also modified the recipe since last year to make it even simpler and quicker to cook by leaving out the water - we found we didn't need it, but the plums were very ripe and juicy. You will need a jam pan or other large and heavy-based pot to make this amount at once, as the jam will take up a lot more room as it boils. Our pans can take 9 to 10 litres, to give you an idea of the size. Also, it helps to have a long-handled wooden spoon and / or oven gloves to protect you from splashes of boiling jam.  


5lbs damson or plum flesh
5lbs sugar
knob of butter

Wash and stone the fruit. Put fruit into a jam pan or other large heavy-based saucepan. Add the sugar and a knob of butter, (the butter helps stop a build up of foam on top of the jam) and begin to heat the mixture. 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 to the boil and boil hard for about 15-20 minutes. (NB. We were using very ripe plums. If the fruit is hard you might want to add a little water and boil it without the sugar until it starts to break up. )

You need a specialised pan for a large amount of jam. A large, heavy-bottomed
saucepan will work but the jam ingredients must take up less than half its volume.

Then start to 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. It also helps to have a jam funnel so you get more of the jam in the jar! NB. Always use a ladle - boiling jam could injure you if not handled with great care, and you should never put it in jars by pouring from a full pan. 

Now - spread on good bread and tuck in!

Despite our aim to be using wood grown on site in cooking, the fact that we needed to make 2 batches of jam at once and that it was very windy, made us decide to use gas-powered table-top stoves again this year.  With these, it is easy and safe to put them into cardboard box wind-baffles which mean we can get the jam up to temperature quickly. The rocket stove needs to be used in the open air, and we haven't organised a shelter system for it yet. However, we still aspire to having carbon neutral jam next year!

Meanwhile - more on the clay oven

The clay oven needs to dry fairly slowly, so our next stage was to clear out the dome and create a chimney area for it. Mark and Jon from Framework helped us to finish mixing the next layer of clay, and we set too. 

Mark and Jon also get stuck in - literally!

First, we cleared out all the sand from the main dome which took a loooong time. It helped to have the foil around the sand because we could hear when we had reached the clay edge with our trowel.
 Then we lit a few bits of paper in the dome to see if the smoke escaped enough to allow it to work. It did, so we began to create the chimney are and arch. Not all clay ovens have this, but it seems to help the draw to have a chimney. We made a mould for the arch as we had with the main dome, but this time we put bricks and then put sand around them, to speed up the process. We also put some drain pipe in too, with some paper wrapped around it to make it easy to remove from the clay. The process then was very similar to the dome, although we didn't bother with foil and we kept measuring the hole to ensure it would not get too narrow for our baking trays.

We built up the clay as before and then had to leave it until it had hardened, so we'll be back on it next week.
Clay oven with chimney after removal of sand

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Clay Oven - Mark 2

Well - here goes. Today we made a start on our new clay oven. You may remember that we built one last year with a wooden base... which turned out to be a bad idea, as it burned rather too easily, and we ended up with a heap of charred wood and a pile of cracked clay. 

So today, with a new brick-built plinth, we made a new one. Thanks to Carrington Pottery, we had a big free bucket of dry clay to use in making a new oven, and of course we also had the remains of the old clay oven to recycle. Framework's Gateway to Nature group came to give us a hand, which helped the work to go faster and meant everyone had a chance to get really muddy!

Here's our how to do it guide, a second time with a few modifications.

First, we lined the base of the oven with sand. We actually put in a layer of vermiculite first to help with heat retention in the oven floor, then the sand. After that we put in a brick floor for the oven on top of this, and leveled it, using sand in the gaps to stabilise the bricks. 

Putting in the bed of sand and bricks for the oven base

Meanwhile, the rest of the Framework gang were hard at work crushing the dry clay so we could mix it easily with the sand.

Pulverising the dry clay
Sieving the bashed clay.

Then we needed to tread water into the clay. This is very very messy! On the plus side, it leaves you with lovely smooth feet... You need the resulting mix to be about 50:50 clay and sand, with enough water to hold it together in a firm mix that is still pliable enough to mould into shape. The test is that a ball of the mix, when dropped from shoulder height, will still retain its shape. It's best to mix it on a tarpaulin or on strong plastic (we have lots of off-cuts, after the polytunnel vandalism and recovering last year). As we mixed it, the plastic could be pulled up to easily turn the sides of the mix into the middle, which really helped speed up the process.

Mark from Framework starts mixing water into
the clay using the barefoot technique. It's a bit
like dancing "the twist"...
Regulars Matt and Tracey lend a foot.
Whilst the mortar was being created, we used damp sand to create a dome. This was the mould and showed us how big the internal dimensions of the oven would be. We initially decided how high the oven would be based on how wide we wanted it to be, drawing a circle (with a pen on a string) to mark where it would go. Then using the radius of the circle as the height, we marked this on a stick that we pushed into the centre of the mound to show how high to make it. We also made a template in cardboard to show a quarter arc of the circle and used that in the last stages to create a perfect hemisphere. We had to firm it well so it would keep its shape when we then covered it in clay. We also covered it in aluminium foil so that we didn't end up with an oven that kept shedding sand into the food. We could have used newspaper, but we didn't have any to hand!

The finished sand dome - ready to be wrapped to act as the
internal mould for the oven
The dome covered in foil

We started building up the oven from the base, aiming for about 4-5cm thick walls. We found that putting "guide lumps" of clay of the appropriate thickness against our work tended to help, as it's natural to start to thin the clay as you push and smooth it into place. A lump of clay sticking out shows you how thick it needs to be. 

Once the dome of clay was completed, we slapped it all over to ensure all the clay was firmly bedded in, and then we cut out the door using a sharp knife and removed it. The foil helped here, as you can hear the knife touching it, so you know if you've carved deeply enough into the clay. Apparently height at the top of the curve for this should be 63% of the internal height of the oven. Not sure who decided that, but we hope they are right! The other thing to think of at this stage is making the width of the door big enough to take a baking tray. We made sure there was plenty of room for the one we've got, so that should avoid any embarrassment later on...

The next stage is to wait. The clay needs some time to dry out and harden, so that the oven doesn't collapse or deform when the sand is removed. Hopefully we'll be able to scoop out the sand tomorrow.

Mia helps Dad weed the onion bed.

 Thanks to the Framework folk - you did a great job and saved us hours of work. You've also left us with some beautifully re-painted totem poles, so thank you to the artists as well. And thanks to Mia for helping Dad Mark to weed the onion beds - she's definitely shaping up to be a master gardener when she grows up.

Meet the artists!

Stylish wellies!

Giving our first totem pole a revamp