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 25 October 2012

Bilborough Bonfire Morning!

Today, we helped the Bilborough Family Centre with a session aimed to look at fire, as well as having lots of other fun activities. The day was cold, but dry, which meant we could have a small fire in the fire pit as well as running the clay oven.

A future volunteer perhaps?

We began with a tour of the site, partly to explain how we try to do things in a sustainable way, and how the composting loo works (most important!). The big thing with using fire for heating and cooking on site is that we aim to use just wood we have grown ourselves, so that it is carbon neutral (the tree grows, takes in the carbon, and is burned, without any fuel being used to cut it down, or transport it, so using it only releases the carbon it stored when it grew).
Then we ran a group of different activities. Chris helped everyone to plant broad beans. Pete helped them to cut wood 'cookies' - disks of wood which they decorated to take home. Mark helped the group to fill and decorate seed packets using some of the seed that we have gathered on site. Tracey's son Rowan is now our apple-pressing expert, so we brought him in for the day to help us run the press for the last time this season. Meanwhile, Tracey helped the group to make pizzas and volunteers from the family centre helped the group to make CD catherine wheels decorated with autumn leaves.
Rowan running the apple press

Enjoying the fruits of her labour!
Pete helping with wood cookie cutting

Decorating wood cookies

Mark helps with the seed packet activity

Shaping the dough for the pizzas

Topping the pizzas
Then, while Pete got the fire going, Chris helped everyone to shave themselves a stick (using potato peelers for safety), to toast marshmallows on. Toasting marshmallows was a huge hit, so this bit of the day could have gone on for hours! It certainly filled them time whilst the pizzas were cooking.

The session went really well, and we hope the group will be back in the Spring.
Toasting marshmallows - a huge hit!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Perfect Pumpkins!

We had a great session today with some families who visited from Lenton Library to get to grips with some pumpkins.

Each child got their own pumpkin, and we helped them to clean them out and then decorate them using some special (and safe!) pumpkin carving tools. These little saws are starting to appear in shops in the UK, so it's worth looking out for them, as carving a pumpkin with a kitchen knife is a great way to earn a trip to Accident and Emergency!

We don't do the carving the easy way either! If you get a pattern, you can create a really spectacular pumpkin, even if you aren't very artistic, and quite young children have managed to get excellent results.

Our group did really well, and the resulting pumpkins look pretty impressive. The other great thing with pumpkins is that they taste good too, so we also showed the group how to make pumpkin pancakes, which went down a treat.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

A Gala Performance!

Community allotments are sometimes lucky enough to get an energetic team of volunteers from a business which wants to do something to support the local community. Today we welcomed one such group, from Gala Coral. 10 willing folk turned up, put on their gardening togs and set to with a will!

The area before the team started
The job we had ear-marked for the volunteers was to clear an overgrown area between the clay oven and the compost bins. Tracey was a bit worried they would look at the 2m high weeds and down-tools. In fact the team did entirely the opposite, clearing and digging over the area so fast that they finished well ahead of schedule and we had to find some other work for them (which is why the orchard is looking surprisingly tidy as well)!
No sooner said than done...

Already nearly finished on the main job!

Finished site - what a difference!
As well as doing the big weed, the group needed to move the woodpile that had been on the site they cleared. They worked with volunteer Pete (ex forester, and the man to go to if you need to cut up wood!), who showed them the best way to tackle the job. We ended up with a neatly organised pile of split logs, lots of fine kindling and a full wood shed - which was a wonderful bonus.

Reducing the log pile to useful sizes

The group made short work of the stick pile

Meanwhile, the rest of the regular volunteers got on with other jobs. Dan was joined by Pete's daughter Tasha, who we introduced to the gentle art of potting up salad seedlings. We'll use these to keep the polytunnel busy over winter when we finish with the tomatoes. They did a great job, so we've got lots of happy little plants all ready to turn into fresh leaves.

Tasha and Dan with the winter salad crop
Sybel got busy in the kitchen, helping Tracey who was tending the clay oven. She made up some bread dough and then set up a batch of green tomato chutney. Thanks to their efforts, we were able to give the work team freshly baked bread rolls with butter and our own plum jam.

Having a well-earned snack of clay-oven baked
bread rolls and allotment made jam.

The Gala team
Well done to all and special thanks to Gala Coral for doing such a thorough job. They've made a huge difference to the site and their work will let us grow lots more crops next year. 

Thursday 11 October 2012

If life hands you lemons...

At Windmill, we know we have a reputation as the local branch of the Wombles, but we're pretty pleased with ourselves today, even so!

We knew we needed to weed the bark-chip paths because they have developed a healthy population of couch grass weeds that have grown through the landscaping fabric that is underneath. This should be a fairly quick job - just expose the fabric, pull it back and remove all roots that you find. The fun bit came when we did the work and discovered that the existing bark has now half broken down, so the bottom part of the path surfacing is beautiful moist compost. That was too good an opportunity to miss, so new volunteer Warren, and stalwart Dan got going with the sieves. This does make it a bit long-winded, but they did a very thorough job, so we've ended up with some super compost and a lovely weed free section of path. Now all we need to do is the rest of that path and the other three!

Daniel vs couch grass.
Warren gets on with the sieving

Warren celebrates a job well done

Whilst the compost grab was going on, Alex set to on the sensory bed in the orchard. This should now have dropped all its seed and be ready for next year. Even so, we'll give it a week or two, weed it again and then sow some cornfield annuals ready for next year. With any luck, they will come up and then sit all ready for action when the Spring warmth comes. Alex is our secret weapon here, because he can recognise the leaves of all the plants we want to keep, so weeding is fast, but also ensures we don't loose things we wanted to keep or have forgotten we even have (don't mention the thyme!)

Alex tackles the sensory bed.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Tail-End Harvests

The elderberry harvest in full swing

Because this year has been all over the place, weather wise, we're finding some odd results. You may remember that we've only just harvested the sweetcorn. Today, we have had another strange bit of timing - harvesting elderberries, which are at least 1 month late, and nearer 2 months late based on last year's timing. We were joined by volunteer Merion for the session, as well as Mark's daughter Mia, who was keen to get involved with every job going. It is quite satisfying though, as you pick the whole head of berries in one go, which makes the picking go fairly quickly. The birds also love them, so you can leave the berries that are out of reach in the knowledge that they won't go to waste.

Mia provides extra labour!

We also harvested a crop of marigolds (calendula), which we will dry and use to make hand-cream. They are edible as well - with a scattering of petals making a colourful addition to any salad. Tracey reckons they smell faintly of oranges, so everyone had a sniff.

Mark wasn't convinced the marigolds smelt
of oranges, but Tracey is sure they do.

Calendula look beautiful, but they are also tasty and useful

Still more harvesting had to be done. Some of it was to provide the raw materials for a soup making session at the Nottingham University Samworth Academy after school session, so Charles who is a group leader there turned up to take away some goodies (we later heard that the soup was amazing).
Charles gets his gourmet soup kit

 We pulled some of the parsnips for the soup, and were delighted to discover that the row we sowed into a narrow sand trench were clearly very happy. We pulled out one that was probably 50+cm long - very impressive!
Merion with the giant parsnip!

The last harvest of the day was the coriander crop. We deliberately left a lot of it to go to seed, because this is a great addition to many different foods and we're hoping to use some in our green tomato chutney. We all smell fabulous now

Mia with the coriander harvest

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Clay-oven tastic - Forest Fields harvest, cook and eat

Tuesday was a great way to start what will be a busy week. Some of our friends from the Forest Fields Primary School garden club visited to make apple juice, test out the clay oven and see how the site has progressed since their Spring visit.

Lauren, head gardener at Forest Fields, helps
the group get into apple juicing
The group soon got stuck in. Tracey was impressed at how fast they mastered processing and squeezing the apples. It took them almost no time at all to clean, cut and core the apples. Then the pieces went into the scratter - the gadget that crushes and cuts them to help bring the juice out. Once all the apples were mushed, the next job was pressing the fruit. This requires lots of effort, but Forest Fields obviously grow them fit, because they soon had the apple juice flowing.

Here comes the juice!
Meanwhile, Tracey had prepared some bread dough, which the group shaped into pizza bases. They added tomato sauce, and gathered and sliced onions and tomatoes to top it, followed by some cheese. We're still in test mode on the oven, having managed a burnt on the outside, raw on the inside pizza the first time we tried, so we were interested to see how it went. We put the pizzas on foil that we turned up at the edges to shield the sides. The aim was to get the base really hot and cooked through without burning the top and it worked pretty well. The pizzas were ready just in time for the group to munch them on the way back to the school.

Shaping the pizzas

A finished pizza, fresh out of the oven - yum!

It was great to have the Forest Fields gardeners, and we look forward to seeing them again soon.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Chasing Rainbows at Windmill

Now that Apple Day has passed, we have a chance to get back to looking after the plants at Windmill, pulling up those that are over, ensuring that we harvest the crops we have left and putting things in ready to give us crops over Winter and into next year. We also welcomed another new volunteer - Pete - who is keen to get in as many hours as he can to help towards a qualification he's doing in Horticulture.

New volunteer Pete helps pick the beans

Over Wednesday and Thursday, we got a lot done. The pumpkin and squash plants are flagging now, so we took up most of the crop. A few still seem to be going strong (like the amazing Shark's Fin Melon), so we've left those to get a little bigger, but the rest are dying. The "giant" pumpkin that we put in has only managed something the size of a grapefruit, so we're not too impressed!

Dan and Mark were delighted with the sweetcorn in
the low bed.
We also got most of the remaining beans, and took out the sweetcorn that was left, all but 2 cobs that are well filled, but amazingly, in October, have yet to ripen! The rest of the corn was ready and tasted so good we were able to eat it without even cooking it. One or two cobs hadn't set properly and had just a few knobbles, but the rest were pretty good.

Alex wasn't too impressed by this ear of corn

A close up shows how only a few kernels have
been fertilised.

The tomatoes are still ripening, although more slowly than before, but we still got a nice picking which we're hoping to use for slow-roasting to concentrate the flavour. We decided to leave the rest of the fruit for a little longer to keep ripening, but once it gets a bit cooler, we'll probably make some green tomato chutney and we might have another go at the fried green tomatoes that we enjoyed last year.

Tomatoes still going strong in the polytunnel

We also harvested some seed. Our callalloo seed heads look like great furry mauve spikes, and were about to drop a blizzard of seed on to the ground, so we collected them and put them to dry in the polytunnel. Anther set of seeds that we need to collect is from the Red Orach, which is completely covered in seed. It grows well but is quite easy to remove when young, so we might even try some for green manure.

Dan strips the seed from the red orach

Callalloo drying in the polytunnel

The seeds beginning to shed.

Everything was livened up a lot on Wednesday, by sudden sharp showers, which created amazing rainbows (much to Sibel's delight, and ours). Unfortunately we missed the peak of the show, when we could clearly see a secondary rainbow and hints of a third under the main bow, with another faint rainbow well above these as well - quite spectacular!

One of the gorgeous rainbows

In between the harvesting and admiring the light-show, we found some time to plant. Japanese onions, grown from sets, have done well for us in the last few years, so we put in some of those. We also planted some overwintering cauliflower and a catch-crop of hardy lettuce to keep the sprouting brocolli company. Both these crops will be in the ground next year, so we've planted them in the appropriate beds for next year's rotation. If that seems a bit complicated, don't worry - we'll explain our rotation system soon.

Chris and Dan prepare a bed for winter growing

The winter brassica bed

The last job was the most fiddly. We needed to work some clay into the cracks in the clay oven from the inside as well as the outside. This involved almost climbing into the oven, so you were shoulder deep in it. Mark felt as if he was helping to birth a cow! Hopefully though, it's done the trick and the oven should be strong enough for plenty more baking.

Mark does his country vet impression!

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Apple Harvest Celebration Day

We're still reeling from how well the Apple Harvest Celebration at Windmill went on Saturday. Around 80 visitors and lots of our volunteers had a great day getting involved in lots of activities and enjoying fantastic food.

The fabulous spread of healthy home-made goodies

Rosy with the apple tasting table. 12 different
varieties from East Markham Heritage Orchard

Which one to choose first?

We were lucky enough to be joined for the day by Mark Manders, a local chainsaw sculptor who made the beautiful bench in Paula's garden, and did demonstrations in the orchard for us during the event. We also welcomed Friends of the Earth, who came with their Bee Cause stall.

Friends of the Earth's Bee Cause stall

Mark hard at work on the chainsaw sculpture

The finished sculpture

Scratting the apples before pressing helps to release the juice

Pressing apple juice was a bit hit with all age groups

Trying out the apple slinky maker (yes, it really does do that!)

New recruit Alex turned up to get the clay oven fired up, so we could have the first cooked food from it during the event. Sibel arrived to demonstrate how to make her famous shepherd's salad, which went down a storm, along with Jeremy's apple pancakes with toffee sauce and a huge range of other food which volunteers provided for the day, including parsnip and apple quiche which was surprisingly delicious and we think may be a new invention! The clay oven was fired properly for the first time, and we used it to cook pizza which disappeared as soon as each one came out of the oven, so we think it was probably quite good...

Jeremy hard at work making apple pancakes

The clay oven heating up - burning well

First pizza goes in the clay oven

First pizza, fresh out of the new clay oven

The site was looking fabulous because we had enrolled the day as an event for the Big Dig Edible Open Gardens project, which meant they helped us to advertise it, and provided some lovely bunting and stickers for each visitor.

The Breathe Easy group made a good start to our well-dressing
showing our Windmill logo

Filling in more detail on the well dressing

You can start to see the picture now - mostly done with
petals and peppercorns.

The finished well dressing - exhuberant rather than 
accurate - but beautiful non the less!

We were delighted at how many people entered our competitions. These were judged by Rosy, which was entirely appropriate as she has just become the Food Initiatives Group worker for the area (or Fig Local as it's known). We were also very pleased at how many people wanted to see how the clay oven was working and those who wanted to tell us about their experiences of using clay ovens in other countries. We are hoping to run the oven again soon, and we'd like to invite anyone who wants to, to bring along food to cook in it (let us know first, if you are interested).

Rosy took her job as judge very seriously!

Some of the competition entries

The winning entry in the best display of fruit and veg category
A well-deserve win by David Wile - 2nd Year in a row!

Stick the worm on the apple game - painted by volunteer Chris

Apple tasting
Thanks to all who attended and a huge thank you to everyone who helped make the day so much fun.