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 3 July 2014

Biscuit tin charcoal and campfire cooking

Everyone is feeling really good after today at Windmill. We had a great session, with Jon from Gateway to Nature teaching us the art of making willow charcoal, followed by a cookout to use the remaining heat from the charcoaling fire.

We thought you might like to know how to make the charcoal yourself, especially because it's really easy, so here is the method. We used it to make willow charcoal for drawing, but the same principle can be used for barbecue charcoal, though you might need to cook it for longer.

Step 1 - Cut your fresh willow. For artist's charcoal, it needs to be almost finger thickness to be large enough and strong enough to use once cooked (as it gets thinner during the process, and really thin bits will just crumble). We also think that year-old wood may work better than this season's growth.

Step 2 - Peel the bark from the willow. At this point, clever people will make some string with it, but we kept it to dry to use for fire lighting. 

Step 3 - Cut the willow into rods about pencil length or a little less. The thinnest bits can still be used, but will probably fall apart, though any small bits can be used as a soil conditioner, so nothing is wasted.

Step 4 - Pack the willow into your chosen tin. It doesn't have to be really full, despite what you may have read. Ours was about 2/3rds full.

Step 5 - Make some nail holes in the lid of the tin - 5 - 8 should do it.

Step 6 - Place the tin in the fire, and leave it to start steaming with the heat. As you can see, a small fire is enough to do the job. Watch for steam to start to appear from the holes. As soon as the steam stops showing, take the tin from the fire (using a heat-proof glove) and put it aside to cool for a short while. 

Here's the completed charcoal, and here are some of the lovely drawings that the Gateway to Nature crowd did with it...

Volunteer Brian used his charcoal for a different

Whilst the charcoal was cooking, we got on with lunch, digging up some of our spuds. These suffered a bit in the drought, as they looked fine, but suddenly keeled over, so we were worried they would have a poor crop, but they did us proud, with white salad potatoes and apache (red with cream blotches) coming up like jewels in the ground - buried treasure!

Lunch was a pot of vine leaves stuffed with rice, roast almonds, garlic and herbs, and foil-baked new potatoes with different toppings and herbs. We finished with mini cheesecakes - made by topping a digestive with light cream cheese and blackcurrants - yum!

Most of the visitors went home with a good selection of our veg and herbs too.  If anyone else is interested, please come and see what we have available.

We have shed-loads of mint at the moment if you
want some!

Special thanks to Joyce, Lynn and David for doing most of
the washing up.


  1. Thank you so much for the introduction to willow charcoal making. I was researching for a short story and couldn't find anything that said whether it was okay to use green willow stems. This was really helpful. Looks like you had a great day :)

  2. So pleased it's been helpful for you Marion!