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 27 February 2014

Green Art with Green Bottles and Other Stories

Another very productive day today, despite a hail shower with blobs as big as chick-peas (yes - bigger than normal peas!). The main aim of the day was to do more work on our mosaic apple sculpture, which has been sitting sadly waiting for some attention for quite a few months now. It has survived gales and torrential rain, so it only seems fair to help it live the dream and turn into the apple it's intended to be.

Our regulars were joined by some of the lovely folk from Gateway to Nature, who very quickly got the hang of the controlled breaking of bottles, to make their own bits of glass to create the mosaic. The aim is to crack the base out of the bottle and then remove the curved top, so you are left with the largest possible tube of glass. This is done by scoring a circle around the bottom edge of the bottle with a diamond wheel cutter, then holding it over a lit candle. If the bottle is fairly cold to begin with, the heat from the candle flame is enough to cause the hot part of the bottle to expand a little, which then causes the bottle to crack along the score-line because of the stress, so the bottom should just neatly pop off. After that, you need to score another ring around the top of the bottle, just below where it curves in for the neck. The cutter has a weighted ball on the end of the handle that you can use to tap the glass from the inside which causes the score-line to crack and the neck should then come off in one piece. After that, it's simply a case of scoring lines down the length of the remaining tube of glass, and tapping inside until it breaks in 2 halves. The glass can then be scored again to make squares, curves or other shapes. We'll try to find a "how to" that uses our method, or make one ourselves to add to the post. Just a note if you are thinking of trying this for yourself - you need to wear gloves to help keep any glass shards out of your fingers, and whenever you are cutting glass, you need to wear safety glasses in case any chips fly off the surface.

Cutting glass mosaic pieces.

The aim of the exercise is to turn waste bottles into art - as the glass makes good material for mosaics, though you need to stick it on with white tile adhesive, so that the colour shows up well when it's finished. If you use grey or brown, the final colour will look muddy

Guy adds some green to the apple

Most people had a go at adding the green glass, and some added some extra decorations, so our apple now has a new butterfly and a ladybird, as well as some other interesting flowers and beasties.

Lizzy and Guy hard at work on the apple 

Whilst the mosaic team were doing there thing, those who like a bit more physical exercise were getting on as well. Joyce helped new volunteer Chris to plant more lavenders in the sensory garden, and to take cuttings from them. Other Chris, Hassan and Lizzy helped to process more of the wood we have cut for fuel, though they had a go at the arty stuff too.

Hassan working his way through the wood pile

Joyce & Chris about to prune the newly planted lavender

All the while, we were aware that the birds in the area are singing their hearts out. The robins were putting on a really good show, but the hail apparently heralds some colder weather, so we hope that it's not like last year, when lots of breeding birds lost their first broods. Fingers crossed it's just a quick snap and that March will actually bring Spring instead of re-starting Winter after the warm and wet weather we've been having.

The robin, singing beautifully in between the hail showers

Food today was carrot risotto - just rice, vegetable stock and grated carrots boiled together for a few minutes and left to cook in their own heat, with some cheese added at the end - a quick, healthy feast well earned by our hard workers, and much enjoyed. It goes well with a tomato sauce.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Wind, wood, water and wildlife.

Strange start to the day, as Tracey arrived to be greeted by what looked like a red-legged partridge wandering sedately up the track towards the orchard car park at the entrance to Windmill Community Gardens. It stopped for a good look at the car, and then continued unhurriedly, until she got out to try and take a picture, when it took to the air and disappeared. With all the crazily strong winds, it's possible it's been blown in from somewhere else, but it would be interesting if these exotic little birds decide to take up home with us. They were introduced from Europe by King Charles II and would be a good mascot for equality, as sometimes both the male and the female raise clutches of eggs on separate nests. We'll see if it turns up again and agrees to a photo for positive identification!

Creating the narrow marsh behind the pond.
The team soon turned up, and after a warming brew and look-round, quickly got to work. Jobs for the day - to create the marshy areas at the back of the new pond and tidy up the pond edge by the path, to take down the wood we will need for the coming year, and to use the prunings from our gooseberries and currants to make cuttings.

Each year, we coppice or pollard some of the trees around the site, to provide wood for our cooking and fires during the year. The trees will re-grow multiple stems from the sides of the cut stump, so they provide a renewable resource. Our aim is to create a truly sustainable system which provides enough wood year after year, and as you may have read recently, we are now using the regrowth for other things, like weaving bed-edges. We don't use chainsaws for the work, even though we are initially cutting down trees up to 5m tall. We use a fabulous saw on a pole which is very sharp and very controllable. If we take the tree down bit by bit, starting with the top-most branches, we also reduce the risk of something large falling on someone, and by putting ropes onto the branches we are removing, we can ensure they don't land on something we want to keep. We also take care to cut trees early in the year to avoid the nesting season, and when the weather is mild, like it has been, to check that there are no birds already nesting in or near them.

It's fun to use the pole saw - and also to teach people how it works. The cutting all happens as you pull the saw towards you, but the teeth pretty much do the work themselves, so the main effort is in moving the blade backwards and forwards, rather than in trying to force the blade into the wood. Tracey gave the health and safety brief and a quick lesson, then Guy got into the swing of things. He picked it up really quickly, considering he had no experience of this kind of work. Hassan came to lend a hand, and also proved to be a quick learner.

Audrey, Mark, new Chris and April took on the fruit bush cuttings, and made a lovely job of setting them out to grow in one of the beds we made from a builder's bag. We did an experiment last year with layering some of the lower branches on the fruit bushes (ie. covering them up with soil where they touched the ground), to see if they would root. It worked pretty well, so we had 3 ready-rooted bushes to add to the cuttings as well.

We were joined today by the DISO team, who got stuck into helping Laurence with finishing the pond and helping Chris to process the felled wood into usable material (we need stakes and poles, as well as fire wood and sticks for the rocket stove). Some of the lads also had a go with the pole saw, and were really getting the hang of it by the end of the session.

We were given a present of some lavender bushes (thanks Tim!), so those needed heeling in. Guy and Hassan got on the job, and we've now got them all nicely tucked up until we get the sensory garden pathway organised. The aim is to have a lavender-lined walk, which should be a great scent experience.

The finished pond, ready for planting up in Spring
Thanks to Laurence and the DISO squad, the pond is looking really good, and should be ready for us to add some plants in early April. We're making progress, which is always nice to see at this time of year, and certainly better than this time in 2013, when things literally froze to a standstill.

Saturday 8 February 2014

Fruit Tree Pruning Workshop

Not sure how we managed it today, but our tree pruning workshop managed to just dodge the showers, and miss the worst of the wind!

A jolly bunch of folk turned up from many places, and were all delighted to spend 3 hours with Marc Richmond, a local pruning expert with RHS training. It was a good learning curve, as Marc began with the car park orchard trees, which are quite young, went into the Mill Allotments to work on some more mature trees, and then returned to Windmill itself to help us with the on-going revival of our wild and wooly pear tree before finishing with a good old haircut for the gooseberries, and currants in the fruit cage. He covered apples, pears, plums, cherries and soft fruit, so everyone found out something useful. (NB. stone fruit need to be pruned when they are in leaf and growing strongly to avoid silver-leaf disease, so they weren't pruned during the session).

It was pretty chilly, so everyone was really pleased at the end to have a chance to warm up with some parsnip curry soup from Tracey, and some excellent cake from Birgit (thanks again!). A nice side effect of the course is that we now have lots of cuttings for making new plants!

Thursday 6 February 2014

Magic Wands

Willow is amazing stuff. Cut a stick of it, poke the bottom end of it into the ground, and it usually grows. If a willow falls over, the whole tree will often root in place, with the side branches becoming trees in their own right. If you cut it down to the base it will throw up loads of long, thin, straight stems - it's called "coppicing" and creates a "coppice stool". If you cut the tree off above head height, it will do something similar, but with the added advantage that grazing animals won't be able to reach most of the new growth, and this is called "pollarding". In times past, the new stems made a massive array of household and building items that we've now replaced with plastic and other non-renewable alternatives, but willow is still coppiced and used for far more than just baskets. If that weren't enough, the bark makes great string, and can even cure your headache, as it's the source of aspirin!

Preparing to do a little magic...
At Windmill, we grow quite a lot of willow. It's in the borders, and we are gradually cutting it back to use for fuel. It's not the best fuel wood, being fairly low calorie compared to many, but if it is well dried, it does the job, and it's what we have, so we use it (though we are also starting a hazel coppice too). Each year, we cut enough to fill the wood shed, and then use it once it is dried for firing the oven, rocket stove and fires. The coppiced and pollarded trees are re-growing with wonderful long stems that are great for all kinds of things, like the new woven bed-edging that we have made for the herb garden. Today, Lizzy and Chris cut more willow to renew the other 2 herb beds, so we are making sure that we use this wonderful renewable wealth to the full.

Chris and Lizzy using the saw horse.

Because of the coppicing, we've also made the discovery that some of the willow on site is "Black Maul", as a few of the willows produced new growth that is dark-purple or black and wonderfully bendy. It's clear why it was always a great favourite of basket makers. It's not the only colourful stuff we have - in the sensory garden, we have 2 coloured willows grown from cuttings taken from Geoff Hamilton's garden at Barnsdale near Rutland Water (we bought them - honest!). One is a glorious buttery yellow, with orange tones in places, and the other is a dark orange red. If we keep cutting them back every year before the buds break, we have a fantastic display of brightly coloured new growth each Winter, and a wealth of cuttings for growing new ones. True to their family, they root almost as you put them in the pot!

Black maul, gold and red willow cuttings
ready to grow.

Added to the fun you can have with willow, is the chance to make living structures. At Windmill, we have a fedge (a living willow fence, not a "fudge", despite what auto-correct wants me to write!), and a willow archway. They were both started with cuttings pushed into the ground. The fedge has grown quite well, but the archway didn't take properly (it is close to the path and in fairly shallow soil, and was put in during the drought year, so not in ideal conditions). For both, now is the time to look after them, so today we set to, ably assisted by a crack-team of Guy, Hassan, Mark, Laurence and (Rosy who was returning for a visit with her dog Gus - we've missed them both!).

A wrecking bar helps to dig deep,
narrow holes for the willow poles.

First we cut some really long, strong rods from the new growth on the fedge, and used these to create the framework of a new archway. Then we added short willow rods in between the long ones. These are more likely to grow than the really long rods, so they can eventually be trained to make the arch as they get taller. The long rods had to be tied together with a top support to keep them steady. Then we tied extra supports to the sides of the arch, and finished it by weaving willow to stabilise the whole structure and make it more rigid. The willow that had rooted from the first version of the arch was left in place and tied into the new structure.

Long and short willow poles together.

Long poles make the structure,
short ones grow to replace it.
Adding the top support to the archway to strengthen it.

Being well established now, the fedge needed different treatment. The remaining rods of new growth were pulled down to the horizontal, and woven into the fence-line to thicken and strengthen it. These rods will now in turn grow their own long, straight poles in the coming year, and so the fedge will keep getting stronger and thicker.

Weaving last year's growth into the fedge.

Whilst we were having fun weaving, Joyce, new Chris and April were doing a great job potting up last year's cuttings from the gooseberries and blackcurrants from the builder's bag bed, and also putting in cuttings of the coloured willows (make sure the cuttings have their buds pointing upwards, and try to get at least 20cm of a 30-40cm cutting into the ground). Now we have loads of lovely plants all ready for sales and give-aways in the coming months and will hopefully have even more next year.
New volunteer Chris potting up
last year's fruit bush cuttings
April helps to put up the blackcurrant
and gooseberries now they're rooted.
Everyone's hard work was rewarded with piping hot omelettes, stuffed with garden produce and a cheat ingredient of bottled pasta sauce (well, it is February!).