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?

Wednesday 27 February 2013

The Joys of Spring

Today felt like an apology for Monday and Tuesday. The clouds and the chill disappeared, to be replaced by sunshine and the first fingers of warmth. Tracey got the best treat, as she opened up and found the allotment full of blue tits and a vole, sitting grooming by the fruit cage, did a brilliant double take and jumped into the hedge. Chris - your hard work, adding cover to the base of the dead-hedge, is already appreciated by at least one resident!

We were also delighted to see that the rhubarb is showing. The Timperley early is doing just what it said on the tin, and already showing leaves, whilst the other 2 are also conforming - mid season now showing buds about to burst, whilst the late season variety is just showing a few points of pink in the ground.

Carrie set to on the herb bed, and quickly made a massive difference. She pointed out that the mint stalks would be great for fire-lighting if we let them dry a bit more, so we baled them and put them in the polytunnel, which now smells amazing. We are looking forward to some fragrant fires!

Pete went on to process more of the branches from the willow we pollarded. The space he's now cleared is destined to be used for an exciting new area which will house a key-hole bed. These are popular in Africa, as they compost in situ and help keep moisture in the soil. If you fancy making one, have a look at this great "how to" resource. We are also going to add some "tip taps" to the site to help with hand-washing. All these ideas come from a great charity called Send A Cow which helps farmers in many African countries.

Whilst all this was going on, we had visitors. A group of folk from Gedling came along to see how we run Windmill. They will be taking their ideas back to use on their own community gardens in that area, and Tracey will be helping them to get the work planned and carried out. This is all due to the Notts Nosh project working with Gedling Homes to get the ball rolling. It should be fun, and we hope we can update you on how it's going soon.

Thursday 14 February 2013

A Valentine from Nature - Spring on Thursday!

Wow! Just when we'd got used to 3 extra layers and cold fingers, the weather turns overnight! Spring suddenly showed itself today (though we hear it might nip off for a bit of a rest again at the end of next week). The great thing about having a bit of warmth is that you can suddenly get loads done because the ground is soft and your fingers sometimes even do the things you want them to!

Our aims for the session were - mulch raspberries and fruit trees, use cleared grasses to thicken up the dead-hedge along the perimeter, plant some seeds, prick out sweet pea seedlings and finally get to grips with one of the compost bins that was the "victim of a misunderstanding". 

Mulching the rasps was actually a pretty quick job, as Jade, Tracey and Chris all set to. It now looks much neater, and with any luck, the mulch will keep back the easy weeds, so we can just concentrate on the deep rooted ones.

Jade gets stuck in.

Next on the list was a little treat for the local wildlife. When we started here, we created "dead hedges" around the perimeterwhich are formed from cleared branches and twigs. These create instant cover for wildlife and allowed us to plant various climbers and brambles to run through them. Obviously, over time the finer twigs break off, so there are fewer nooks and crannies for beasties to shelter in, but this is easily fixed when you have to clear any dead vegetation, so that's what we did. The dead grass thickened up the hedge a treat. 

Chris moves cleared grasses into the dead hedge.

Whilst Chris got on with that job, Jade mulched around our fruit trees. It's a great way to help the trees out by reducing the grass competition, but keeping up the moisture under the tree. You need to make it like a donut though. Mulch touching the bark means the tree will either rot at the base of the trunk, or start to make roots into it which then die as the weather gets warmer, so you need to leave a gap in the middle.

Jade creates the perfect donut mulch

Whilst all this was going on, Jo mastered the art of pricking out sweet peas. She did sterling work, potting up the seedlings with great care, and only 1 broken root (because it had invaded the seed tray and tied itself in a knot). Hopefully we are now assured of lots of lovely towers of scented blooms in Summer.

Jo proves she's a quick learner!

The final job, which well went beyond the call of duty, was bravely tackled by Chris with a little help from Tracey. A while back, we had a group of helpers who didn't realise that we had a "spare" compost bin waiting to have the un-composted contents of the other heaps turned into it. They just saw a bin, and started to fill it, which wouldn't have mattered too much, but whilst it was waiting for its role, we had stored our plastic off-cuts and tarpaulins in it. The intrepid duo managed to unpick the resulting mess, even retrieving the plastic and using it to create some soil-warming covers on the beds we will be planting up first. They discovered the remaining debris was infested with bind-weed roots, so they removed the bin and turned the heap out before covering it with black plastic to heat up. Hopefully that now puts the composting system back on track.

Chris tames the compost monster...
We should also thank the DISO crew who turned up just before the snow yesterday and put in 40 new raspberry canes for us. They must have worked like the wind to get it done before the weather turned. We hope they will be able to come and help us with quite a few other projects this year, so it bodes well for us keeping on top of a lot of those niggly jobs that often get sacrificed to keep the rest working. 

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Winter on Wednesday

What a week! We went from Winter on Wednesday to warm Spring on Thursday - we hope the wildlife isn't as confused as we are!

We decided to go ahead with the Wednesday session, but moved it to the Groundwork because there was a fun little job to do there, and, more importantly, an inside space with heating so we could thaw out! When you look at the photos, we hope you'll realise that we weren't being too namby pamby even so...

Pete and Carrie are hardy souls, so they joined Tracey despite the weather, but sensibly wearing LOTS off layers. We were aiming to revamp the planters outside the Groundwork office. These are designed to show that an ornamental display can provide colour, wildlife interest and food for humans. Each one has a clematis and a lavender to attract bees and butterflies, and they also provide some spinach and red chard to eat for those who know where to look.

Pete and Carrie make a start on tidying up the first planter

We added primulas for colour and more wildlife interest, as well as tulips and forgetmenots which will provide a nice surprise later on.

Almost finished the second planter!

I have to say, this was the first time we've ever planted something and not been able to work out how good the planting looked because it was so covered in snow by the time we had finished! Well done all!

Just in case you don't believe us about the snow...

Saturday 9 February 2013

First Saturday Volunteer Session

Windmill is such a great place, that folk just can't keep away. It must be true, because Rosy chose to run our first Saturday session on her Birthday! A nice little gang of folk turned up, enough for a party anyway. And we were delighted that old hands Hugh, Ellis and Dan were able to join us. Tracey and her son Ash came along, as did Rosy's fella, Tom, and we were also joined by Nadine, Lizzy, Audrey and Andrew (briefly!).
The Birthday Girl

The weather was bitter, so we lit a fire, and after a quick discussion with the volunteers, we got down to the main tasks - coppicing the willow and continuing to process the tree we turned into a pollard a few weeks ago. You'll probably remember that this is all to ensure we have enough home-grown wood to fuel our cooking and fires each year, so we can be carbon neutral for as much cooking as possible. This is good work for a cold day, because it definitely keeps you warm!

Nadine making kindling.

Dan and Tom coppicing poles

Ellis helps cut canes ready for use as bean poles.

Ash had a great time splitting some of last year's logs to keep the rocket stove and the fire going, whilst the rest of us turned the cuttings into useful poles, willow rods, kindling, and at this time of year, pussy-willow sticks for decoration. Gus, Rosy's dog, helped out too, since moving sticks around was his idea of a good time.

Hugh helps Ash split some logs

Gus choosing the right stick

Because of the special day, we had cake! Rosy brought along a lovely home-made marmalade sponge and Tracey contributed some locally-made cheesecakes. We reckon healthy eating can cope with the odd indulgence, as long as it's made of good quality ingredients!

The cake disappeared so fast, I only managed to get this picture!

If you think you'd like to join our happy band, we'll be meeting between 10am and 12noon on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of each month. We'd love to see you, but please call the office first on 9788212 to let us know to expect you.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Normal Service is Resumed - but it's CHILLY

Well, we got last week off as Tracey had some weird lurgy, but she's healthy again, so this week, we had our Wednesday and Thursday sessions as normal. Wednesday also saw Carrie's first day as a volunteer at Windmill. She's on the same horticulture course as Pete, so hopefully between them, they can show us what to do! On Thursday we were also delighted to welcome back Ellis, who having a day off, decided there was no better place to spend it than Windmill - sensible chap!

The aim of the week was to use the lessons we learned at a recent pruning workshop to get our tree and soft-fruit into good shape for the year. Everyone had a great time doing this - odd how we all like killing stuff!

Mark wonders where to start

Pruning is clearly an art as much as a science. You are usually aiming to achieve a specific shape, but nature doesn't often fit the plan exactly so the job involves quite a bit of standing back, sucking your teeth, deciding to cut a branch, thinking better of it, standing back to have another look.... You'll have worked out by now that we aren't very quick at this! However, I am happy to say that we all got faster at the decision making as the 2 sessions progressed, so whilst none of us is ready for a career in pruning yet, we can still say we have now tried out the skills we did the training for.

The main job was the fruit cage. Last year's wet weather gave the bushes a real growth spurt, but a lot of the wood they made is long and thin, so we worked to shorten the new growth on the red and white currants and the gooseberries. We were also a bit slow to weed the cage last year and the bind-weed ended up weighing some of the plants down, so there was a job to do to remove the branches at the bottom of the plants that ended up too close to the ground so we don't have fruit hanging in the mud.

Pete shortening to new growth on a gooseberry

The blackcurrants had to be treated a little differently, as they grow from a "stool". For these, you are looking to remove some of the older branches from the base each year, so that most of the wood in the bush is fairly young and vigorous. For all pruning, you need to keep an eye on how much wood you remove all together. More than 1/3rd removed, and the plant will tend to have lots of buds start to grow so you get too many new stems.

Jade prunes a blackcurrant stem back to the base.

We had to be careful to remember that 1/3rd rule when we came to look at the pear tree. This was already there when we arrived at the allotment, so we don't really know much about its history, apart from the fact that it was growing in very odd ways, with branches angling all over the place. It looked like a 2 year old's drawing of a tree that they scribbled on half way through. Last year we took off some of the branches, but it had so many issues that we had to leave quite a bit of the work for this year. Now, we have made it look a bit more organised, but there will still be quite a bit to do next year. In comparison, the apple tree was dead easy - take off one lower branch that shouldn't have been allowed to develop and it was done.

Jo and new volunteer Carrie making sense of our crazy pear.
 We can't prune the stone fruit (plums, cherries, gages, peach) yet because they can get a disease called "silver leaf" if we cut them when they aren't in full growth, so we will wait until they have leaves.

One good result of pruning is that you get lots of cuttings for growing on to make new plants. It's not too hard to do, but not all cuttings will take. We've put in a lot now, using the bag beds from last year. One is blackcurrant and the other our favourite gooseberry - Leveller. Hopefully they will produce quite a few plants.


Nadine prepares a gooseberry cutting.

It was bitterly cold, with a biting wind, so some polytunnel work helped warm us up. We have now got all our spuds set out and labelled, ready to chit (that is, grow their buds or "eyes" into sprouts that will then grow when we plant them in the ground). We also found time to finalise the planting plan for the year.

Sorting out the potatoes

Chris always enjoys getting the potatoes ready...

Ellis with the finished "chitting box"

It feels as if we might actually be getting organised for the year already, but that will probably be wishful thinking, and, just like the last few years, we will get really busy as soon as the growing season starts.