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 March 2013

Willow work and a battle of wills

We really are hardy souls at Windmill, but last week, the weather and the wind chill actually reduced the amount of useful work we could do so much, that we cancelled some of the things we had planned. Back at the allotment though, things continued to happen, and the snow was useful because it means we can tell who was there!

Who's been visiting us?

Cat,  fox and pigeons have all left their mark.

Something else left its mark, but the photos don't really show it so we haven't included them. Mice or voles are clearly enjoying our indoor peas! Normally sowing lots will help get over this, but presumably the little beasties are staying in the warmth (well, relative warmth!) of the polytunnel and using the peas as a handy snack box. There are little dimples in the soil, where each pea has been carefully dug up. The only evidence is where the seed leaves have been nipped off and left on the bare earth.

Andrew starts operation "mouse out".

So it's time to get a bit creative. The newly sprouting peas are the main attraction, so we are starting again, but not planting in the soil. Peas don't like to be disturbed when transplanting, so we either plant them directly where we want them, plant them in gutters (so they can be slid into a shallow trench outside when it's warmer), or plant them in something that will rot itself, so the container + plant go into the ground together. Egg boxes can work well for this, as can toilet-roll tubes and paper pots. We went for the egg-box method.

Peas ready for the last layer of compost.

When the peas sprout, it's pretty simple to pull the box apart and plant the two halves straight into the ground. If you want the peas further apart, you can rip up the individual egg compartments. Of course, if we put the peas on the ground the wee beasties won't mind if they are in egg boxes, and will tuck in as usual, so more thought is needed. We went for a high-rise option, as we have a nice metal pot stand and we are betting that they won't easily climb it.

Peas on the pot-stand
The egg boxes fit on the stand quite well, and it is quite a handy place to put labels. It's also normally useful to raise pots in cold weather, as it removes them from the coldest air at ground level, which will be helpful as more frosts are forecast. However, we decided to improve the chances further by wrapping the whole thing up in fleece. We'll see if it works! Worst case scenario is that the mice just shin up the fleece...

A final layer of fleece to reduce effects of frost

We did venture outside for a short while, as our fedge needed a little work. A fedge is a fence made of living willow, created by hammering willow poles into the ground. Even quite large willow will root, so it's a quick way of making a hedge. The willow tends to grow straight up in the air, making long poles which then need to be woven sideways to thicken up the hedge. It's obviously best to do this before the leaves emerge so you don't knock them off, though the cold weather has been on our side this year. 

Pete starts weaving the new growth in the fedge.

Andrew and Pete were pretty well wrapped up, but even they had to put on extra layers to brave the wind-chill, and then come back for a warming hot drink. Still, they managed to weave in the whole hedge - not bad when you can hardly feel your fingers... 

Extra layers and gloves make the task a bit less Baltic.

Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit warmer!

Saturday 16 March 2013

The Big Dig (or the Big Splash?)

A few months ago, we signed up for a Nationwide Event, the Big Dig. This was designed to get folk volunteering on practical growing projects all over the UK, with everyone doing their bit on Saturday 16th March, ie today. We duly got organised, put out posters, sent out some postcards to local addresses and got together some nice food to say thank you to anyone who turned up.

Some of the hardy souls who turned up.

Today, we took a look at the weather forecast, and were quickly pretty sure that no-one would turn up! Actually, we were delighted that quite a few regulars appeared, despite the weather, and a few old friends made an appearance as well. The Big Dig didn't provide any new volunteers for us but we did have a great morning. We managed to nip out between deluges and turn over the green manure bed so it will be ready for planting later in the year, and we also did a bit of seed sowing in the polytunnel during the really wet bits. Jeremy and Steven did a great job with the catering, providing us with a feast of pizza and curry dishes.

The weather forecast was spot on - WET!

Turning over the green manure bed

Well done to all the hardy souls and if you haven't had enough, we hope to see you at the next Saturday session (next week, 10-12)!

Steven makes his famous sausage curry

Mhairi and Holly enjoy a well-earned cuppa

The clay oven helped cheer us up with pizza

Mia made sure everything was well watered in the polytunnel

Friday 15 March 2013

How to make a Tip Tap (Windmill style!)

Send a Cow has a great "how to" video for making a tip tap, but we made a few variations, so here is our "how to" version.

To make a Tip Tap, you will need:
  • 1 plastic milk bottle at least 2 litres in size
  • 2 stout sticks with pointed ends about 1.5m long as the support posts
  • 1 strong stick with straight cut ends about 1m long as the top bar
  • 1 strong stick about 30 - 50cm as the foot pedal
  • Strong string or thin rope
  • 2 sharp nails
  • 1 phillips screwdriver or round-wire tent peg
  • 1 mallet
  • 1 claw hammer (claw is handy in case you get it wrong!)

Stage 1. Use one of the nails to make a hole in the handle of the bottle at about the half way point. Widen this as necessary to fit the string / rope through the hole.

Stage 1 - set up the handle hole for your bottle.

Stage 1 continued 
- thread the string through the hole in the handle of the bottle

Stage 2 - Use the nail to make a pattern of holes in the bottle on the opposite side to the handle hole at about the same level. Also make a small hole just above the handle to make sure that air can get in easily. This helps the water to come out more easily too. Put some water in the bottle and test to see how well the water runs out in case you need to make more or bigger holes.

Stage 3 - Dig a hole about 30cm across and at least 20cm deep. Fill this with rubble or gravel to provide a soak-away under the tap. Alternatively, provide a wide basin to catch the water so you can use it for watering afterwards.

Stage 3 - Create a soak away

Stage 4 - Set up the supports on either side of the soak-away making sure they are close enough together to let you fix on the top bar. Hammer the thick posts with the pointed ends into the ground until they are firmly in place. Tamp the ground down around them with a log or mallet if the post needs further firming in.

Stage 4. Putting in the supports.

Stage 5. Attach the top bar between the support posts. We nailed ours into place, but it can be fixed by lashing it on.

Stage 5.  Nailing on the top bar

Stage 6. Tie the bottle to the middle of the top bar and fill it with water. Make a hole in the lid of the bottle, thread another rope through this, and make a stopper knot in it so that it is fixed in place when the bottle lid is put back on. Now pull down on the rope coming from the bottle lid to test how well the bottle releases its water.

Stage 6 completed - testing the bottle.

Stage 7.  Tie the end of the shorter stick to the rope so it can sit at an angle at the side like a foot pedal. Now tie the end of the rope to the frame, leaving enough slack so this "pedal" can be pushed down to make the bottle tip (probably easier to look at the picture to fully understand this bit!)

Foot pedal in use!

Thursday 14 March 2013

Through the Keyhole!

Who would work in an allotment like this? Well, the Windmill volunteers and the good folk from the Gateway to Nature project certainly would, and we even had pretty good weather for it, in between a couple of snow storms!

Our project for this week was to create a Keyhole Bed. This is another idea promoted by the folk at Send a Cow (you may remember that they inspired the Tip Tap we installed last week). A Keyhole Bed in their style has a composting basket at its centre, with the slot of the keyhole allowing people to get close enough to the basket to fill it. The earth is angled so it rises to the compost in the middle, and worms helpfully transport the compost into the surrounding soil, adding fertility. It's simple and ingenious, particularly because it helps people to concentrate their resources and reuse their waste.

For us, the design was a great way to make use of some old wooden benches that were no longer strong enough for their original use, but still have quite a bit of sound wood. Chris helpfully reorganised Tracey's original plan for these to make it a lot more workable (ie - just because the design is circular, there's no need to follow it exactly when you have nice long planks that will make a perfectly good hexagon!). Obviously if we had been using bricks or stones, the circular plan would have worked nicely too.

Clearing the site.

Everyone set to with a will and cleared the ground in very quick time. The area has quite a bit of couch grass though, so we will probably need to go over it quite a few times to really clean it up. The shape of the bed was drawn in the cleared area by attaching 2 sticks together with rope so they were 1.5m apart, and then using this to draw a circle 3m across. We also added another stick to draw the circle for the central compost bin. The planks were placed so that their ends touch the circle, and then pinned in place with wooden stakes.

Placing the planks in place.

With all the planks in place, we began to construct the compost basket. Some of the group had already sharpened strong willow stakes and stripped off the bark to ensure these won't root when placed in the ground. We drove these into the ground and began to weave thinner willow around them to hold them in place.

Putting points on the uprights for the compost basket.
Done with care + health and safety in mind!

Digging holes for fixing the compost uprights in place.

Whilst all this was going on, Andrew managed to get another tip tap going, so that we have a washing station near the shed. Thanks to Mia for helping with digging the soak-away hole for this with a little help from her Dad! Pete also did a very efficient job changing the tyre on the wheelbarrow with the flat. We've gone for a puncture-proof tyre this time, so hopefully he won't have to do it again...

Pete and the amazing puncture-proof tyre (fingers crossed!)

That's how the project has been left at the moment, as we ran out of time and Thursday's work will be tidying out the shed - essential work! However, we hope to do more to it during "The Big Dig" on Saturday. There will be pizza and some of Steven's famous curried delights - so maybe we'll see you there!

Thursday 7 March 2013

Black Magic at Windmill!

Thursday was one of those grey and chilly days that makes gardeners want to curl up in a warm room with a mug of cocoa and a few seed catalogues. Tracey had noticed the forecast, and planned a relatively warm regime of moving wood about followed by sowing seeds in the polytunnel, but that all changed when our friend Pete, from our neighbours, the Mill Allotments, came to report that our compost delivery had arrived. 

Each year, Pete has arranged for several lorry loads of municipal compost to be brought to the site. We only have to pay towards delivery, so it's a great deal. It's even more valuable this year, because the old Speedo Factory that bordered the site is being demolished, and it's not clear if we'll have access in future to get a lorry through the carpark there (our track being too narrow for a lorry of any useful size).

Jai and Pete from the Mill work on their part of the delivery

Of course, the compost arriving has to take precedence in the work schedule, because if you don't collect it when it arrives, there is always the risk that some kind person will arrive and "tidy up" what they think is a freebie or "unwanted" resource! That meant all hands to the pump, and everyone taking a turn at forking our portion of the steaming heap into barrows. This was actually quite fun, with a nice group atmosphere developing, as people turned up from the Mill allotments and the Windmill allotments to get their shares and we all toiled alongside each other in harmony (with just a slight care that we were all keeping to the marked limits of our portions!)

An exotic bird-call turned out to be Edgar turning up with his squeaky-wheeled barrow. It was quite impressive and we were almost disappointed when he found some oil to fix it on the third trip (almost!). 

Edgar from Windmill with his amazing
squeaking barrow (now de-squeaked!) 

Municipal compost is created from the stuff that those of you with a compostables collection have been supplying. It is sometimes a bit twiggy, but we've found it pretty good. It does sometimes turn up some odd things. The last load we had contained 3 separate socks, which was a bit of a surprise! This one was still quite hot, so we warmed up from that as well as from the hard work.

Mark with the steaming pile!

We think this is a great example of recycling in action! It certainly makes a lot more sense than sending garden waste to landfill. Of course if you can make your own compost, even better.

Andrew on the return leg.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

The Amazing Tip Tap and other fun stuff

Today, we made an innovation at Windmill, with the aid of an old milk bottle, 4 sticks and some string... Amazingly, it's a foot-operated shower tap! We've made it to help people in the kitchen to wash their hands more effectively.

The Tip Tap in action

The tip tap is something that is helping people to stay healthy in parts of Africa (thanks to the work of Send A Cow), and it seems like a perfect way to show that low-tech recycling solutions can be really useful. It's a very "Windmill" solution - us being Climate Friendly Gardeners and all...

We were delighted to be joined by new volunteer Jim. He's a brickie, and very handy with tools, so he was delighted to jump right in and take the lead on the tip tap. You'll find a "how to do it" post following this one, with step by step instructions. We will be making at least one more, and it will be interested to see how we refine it - seems that no 2 tip taps are exactly the same.

Jim sets up the stand for the Tip Tap
We also did some recycling on site. Nadine and Jim helped to cut brambles from areas where they were in the way, and then relocate them to the fence by the new raspberry patch. They make excellent "natural barbed wire" and will help deter unwanted visitors, whilst the rooted bits will also provide a nice crop.

Nadine relocates some blackberry "barbed wire"