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?

Monday 24 November 2014

Wonderful weather, wonderful willow

Today we got a lovely Winter's day - a crisp and frosty start turning into a lovely sunny fresh day. The perfect weather to tackle the fedge. If you have kept an eye on this blog for a bit, you've probably met our fedge before - it's a fence made of living willow - a cross between a fence and a hedge - hence "fedge". Each year, it needs a haircut, because it yields some lovely pole wood, and also wood we can do other things with, like crafts. This year, some of it is also going to be used to create a new willow fedge at Chilwell School, and another one at Nottingham Trent University, which is great - our willow is going places!

Our fedge got some expert treatment from Hassan, who helped to deal with it last year, and has become a dab-hand at tying in the new growth that is bendy and working out which bits to cut out. Essentially, bending over the new bendy wood will make more of the buds sprout to provide a thickened barrier, and lots more new growth. If we don't bend it, then the fedge will quickly grow upwards, making a poor barrier with tall, thin trees.

Hassan vs. the fedge.
Our new recruits Danny and Dan did a great job in cutting out the thicker stems for use in living willow work, and also in making some wreaths with some of the cuttings (which are wonderfully bendy at this stage).

Dan decides which stem to cut

Danny working on the fedge

Dan sizes up a stem

Thursday 20 November 2014

Of Mice and Men and Peas and Salad...

One of the great things about having a polytunnel is that you can grow things inside when the weather isn't warm enough to grow things outside. That same polytunnel is a nice warm place for critters as well - especially rodents. These animals aren't stupid - they watch us trying to grow things with amusement and then come along and snack at will, unless we "help them make different choices".

One of the things we found last year is that the little darlings (yes, my teeth were gritted when I typed that), really do take the mickey. We planted some lettuce, and they waited until it was growing nicely, then nipped off the stems and just ate the succulent bases, leaving the leaves in a little pile by way of saying "ner ner na ner ner" to us. They also like peas and do the same thing. We tried a few ways of stopping them but found that the allure of peas was even enough to persuade them to shin up a slick metal pot stand - we had visions of mice with crampons and ice-axes, or pole-vaulting voles...!

Pricking out Winter salads

This year, we're going for the high-level solution, so Ellie, Guy and Brian pricked out some Winter lettuce, lamb's lettuce (also called "corn salad") and planted some peas, and we hung them on trays well above the ground. We also constructed a gadget using 2 metal chairs on the table, with a tray resting between them. Hopefully these will do the trick. We've discovered before that the key is to get the plants to a large enough stage as these choosy pests don't seem interested once the initial "gourmet treat" stage is past.

Ellie and Brian with some of the "anti mouse" measures

Anti mouse or adventure playground for the wee beasties?!
Looks like Ellie's not sure.

Of course we various other things before we did the vermin vanquishing stuff. Hassan and Andrea did a brilliant job with the continuing project of weeding out the fruit cage, with Tracey lending a small hand. Brian put up a much-needed shelf in the loo, so we can hopefully avoid snails enjoying the loo roll now! And we had a very nice lunch - carrot and beetroot soup (all our own produce), with bread, cheese and our own preserves - sauerkraut, green tomato chutney and green-bean piccalilli - very nice!

Enjoying lunch in the polytunnel

Recipe - Carrot & Beetroot Soup 
1/2 lb / 450g carrots 
1/2 lb / 450g beetroot
2 large onions 
2 cloves of garlic
1 pint / 1/2 litre Vegetable stock 
Coconut oil
Coriander seed powder
Celery "salt"
Cream cheese
Nut butter (for vegans)

  • Remove leaves from beetroot, rinse then place in a pan of water and boil until soft. Leave to cool then rub off skins and dice the flesh.
  • Chop onion and carrot and mince garlic.
  • Saute all in a little coconut oil for around 10 minutes. 
  • Add vegetable stock, and around 1 teaspoon each of ground coriander and celery "salt" or more to taste.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer until the carrot is soft, then blitz with a hand-blender or liquidiser.
  • At this stage, if vegan you can stir in one or 2 tablespoons of your favourite nut butter, or if veggie, the same of cream cheese. It is still good without these additions, but they make it more of a meal in itself.
  • Add more water if needed to give a cream soup consistency and add salt if needed.
Enjoy with fresh crusty bread (we like sourdough).

Thursday 13 November 2014

Getting ready for Winter, or not.

Winter may or may not be around the corner. There are lots of confused plants all around us at Windmill. The hazel saplings that we have in pots have put out next year's leaves already, and we have poppies and marigolds in April and May mode springing up all over the place. We aren't seeing many flying insects (apart from the whitefly!), so some things may be getting the idea, but there are healthy populations of aphids appearing in some of our Winter brassicas.

Hassan and friend discuss the unseasonably mild weather

Squirrels seem to be making preparations - we keep finding big juicy hazelnuts when we are digging, and we find various frogs have staked out nice cosy hollows around the grounds. We're hoping the birds don't get confused - a few years ago a pair of robins nested really early and there was a freeze, so we know it can happen. Hopefully the reducing day length will be a sufficient hint to them.

Guy, Mark and Michael take the lid off the fruit cage
We decided we would start to make Winter changes anyway, and took off the net from the fruit cage. It's a fiddly job, but fortunately we had enough help to make it easy, and the net is now safely stashed away for next year. With any luck, as we dig over and mulch the area, we'll be helped to get rid of pests by the birds that can now get into the fruit bushes. We also took the time to cut off the old growth on the blackberry / raspberry cross and thornless blackberry plants that we have planted around the edge of the fruit cage. We then tied in the new growth so it won't be damaged by winter storms and we will hopefully get a good crop next year. We also layered some of the stems - pegging their ends down into the ground. This should hopefully create a rooted plant that we can pot up next year.

Ellie tying in new stems on one of the blackberries

Lunch was a just reward for hard work - savoury gram-flour pancakes with a lentil dahl - filling in just small portions, though the crispy and yummy pancakes meant that everyone had seconds of those.

Chickpea pancake in preparation

New volunteers Dan and Danny lifted some of the vine cuttings taken from Hassan's black grapes on Monday, and Ellie helped to pot up the ones from the bottle bed. They have rooted mightily! The roots are so deep that we had to abandon digging some of them out. We'll have another go next week, as we know some people would love to have them, and we have some ideas about where we want to plant them ourselves.

The few vines we managed to pot up.

Chris showing an idea for a gardener's coat of arms...?!

Thursday 6 November 2014

Things that go bump In the night, and volunteers who put them right.

That was a week we'd rather not repeat, though it ended well.

Some part of Tracey's brain must have noticed the big hole in the fence as she arrived at Windmill on Monday morning, because she reports thinking, "Sod it, we've been broken into," but doesn't remember noticing the gap  until she had opened the gate and discovered that the shed had been ransacked. We don't think she's got paranormal powers!

Fortunately for us, the delightful night visitors hadn't left any calling cards or broken much, but they did steal some stuff that we really need on site. They also cut the fence into little bits. Andrea and Hassan did a great job fixing this and adding some useful spiky cuttings behind it which we hope may be enough of a deterrent for the time being. 

Tracey meanwhile was ringing round to do the necessary, and was soon giving a guided tour to a police officer. Then we were delighted to get a visit from a CSI, who dusted for prints and blood (our "visitors" had taken all the plasters and wipes from the first aid kit), and also used his height to help us re-connect the door defences. On tidying up, we found some things missing, but lots of stuff just chucked about - partly because the thief seems to have a liking for clip-top boxes and emptied the contents on the floor to just take the container. Annoyingly, it's not that long since we sorted our extensive collection of cutlery into separate labelled boxes!

The scene we met in the shed on Monday

By Thursday, we had our fingers crossed as we arrived, but all was ok. Tracey, Chris, Hassan and Mark spent the morning taking out the tomatoes from the polytunnel, and potting up the peppers and aubergine to see if we can get them to overwinter. Then we were joined by Joyce, Brian and new volunteer Ellie, for another pumpkin risotto (nobody complained!) and a spot of potato harvesting.

Hassan removes the last of the tomato plants.
Mark pots up a pepper to over-winter

That last bit may sound wrong, given the time of year, but these were the Autumn potatoes we planted in August - Charlotte and Maris Peer - to give us new potatoes for Christmas. We planted some in cut-down plastic dustbins we'd been given, to make them easier to harvest. The plants grew very quickly, but they didn't last too long, as they got blight, so we cut down the tops and removed them. Doing this, and then leaving the potatoes in the soil for some weeks protects the harvest from spoiling, as the blight spores don't get to them. 

Harvesting the spuds - the bin-tops mean it's less far to bend.

New volunteer Ellie helping with the harvest
Given their very short growing season, we were not expecting much when we harvested the crop, but very quickly, we were digging up buried treasure! The dustbin tops could just be removed by pulling them off, leaving a nice loose pile of soil to sort through, so that worked well, and in fact, the potatoes in the dustbins seemed to do better than the others. Comparing the 2 varieties, the Charlottes didn't do much (having got blight really quickly), but the Maris Peer (which had resisted blight for much longer) did really well. We now have a lovely bucket-full of "new" potatoes for our Festive Fuddle. It's on Thursday, December 18th from 12 noon - bring some food to share - hope to see you!

A lovely crop - including some Apache potatoes
that got into the mix by accident...