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 29 January 2015

Amazing Staying Power!

I was really impressed today by the hardy bunch of volunteers who stayed on despite the snow!

Is that Jon, or an abominable snowman?

We were trying to get the long-awaited bottle fence done, but the snow held us up as we needed to paint preservative on the wood before fitting it all together, and it was too wet and cold for the paint to dry. However, un-daunted, the wonderful group helped us to prepare the plastic bottles to put on the fence, and to create some more ice lanterns, which we will be displaying on Light Night on Friday 6th, outside Marks and Spencer by St. Peter's Church.

Some of the wonderful lanterns that will be on display on Light
Night outside M&S

Making more gorgeous lanterns
Plastic bottle beads, all ready to thread on the fence

We also managed to cook Tracey's famous pumpkin risotto with some of the last of our winter squashes (the ones you need an axe to open, but they taste good!). Only problem was that we were working in the polytunnel, so we needed to use the gas-bottle stoves. In this temperature, the gas stops coming out of the canisters after a while, so we had to recruit warm-bodied volunteers to put the spare canister under their armpits. That meant that when the gas got a bit weak, we could just swap over the canisters. It took around 5 swaps, but the risotto got cooked, and was pronounced delicious!

Checking the risotto - need to keep the lid on to keep the
heat in, in this weather.

Lunch in full swing. 11 happy people got fed.

Brian's the new sheriff in town - and reports that the hat keeps
his head nice and toasty!

Gabby proves she's a gem by washing up. Though she may
have just been taking the chance to get warm hands!

Mac and Greg did a great job outside, whilst the rest of us were cowering indoors, cutting brambles to create a better barrier in an area where our fencing is a bit poor.

Mac and Greg - "natural security fences r us".

We also made very sure to top up the bird food, as the forecast is for really cold weather, and it can be the difference between life and death for them.

Thanks to everyone from Gateway to Nature who worked on, and to all our lovely volunteers. We're hoping we can make the fence next Thursday, so if you fancy a go, come along and see. We think you'll like what we make!

Tracey makes a bid for the "silly hat of the session" title that
Joyce won last week.

Monday 26 January 2015

Mobbed Monday

7 volunteers arrived today, full of energy to get a good mornings work in. That's exceptional for a Monday in January with a lazy wind (that's one that blows right through you, rather than bothering to go round!), so we hope it bodes well for the coming weeks. There is always so much to do here, and getting a good crowd in makes all the difference.

First we all gathered in the fruit cage so that we could help Dan, Danny and Jason revise fruit bush pruning, finishing off the last of the bushes in the process.

After that we all moved on to smaller jobs. Hassan potted up the red and yellow willow cuttings that we grew in a bag bed last year, whilst Vanessa and Rachel bravely tackled the bindweed roots. The Dans and Jason went off to plant up some gooseberries that had grown when we layered the plants last year, and Joyce went to clear the hazel coppice in the orchard. The Dans and co joined her and we coppiced the older hazels for the first time. It seems strange to just cut a tree down almost to the ground, but we know it will respond by sending up lots of new growth. We can burn the wood we cut down as well, and apparently Hazel has more calories for weight than Willow, so it should be really useful for the clay oven once it's seasoned.

Vanessa beats the renegade rasps
into submission

The Dans and Jason got a lesson in how to use a flint and steel to light the Kelly kettle, and soon managed to make this wonderfully efficient gadget provide enough hot water for everyone to enjoy a well earned cuppa. The break got even more interesting when Hassan produced a box of chocolates! It may not have earned us the healthy eating points, but the chocs definitely boosted morale and productivity, giving the Dan's enough energy to tackle planting some onion sets in the polytunnel, whilst Vanessa and Rachel moved the Autumn raspberries that have invaded the fruit cage. The pruning gave us some nice cuttings, so Hassan and Joyce set those up in the bag bed.

Joyce and Hassan set up the cuttings 

All in all, a very good morning!

Thursday 22 January 2015

Wonderfuel Day

Windmill - where even the wood-boxes are happy!

Thanks to the lovely folk who turned up at Windmill today to help us harvest and process our fuel wood. We try to use wood from our own site and only harvest enough for each year. The trees we pollard or coppice grow again, so the system is designed to be sustainable and carbon neutral. We've now got a nicely sorted array of different sized sticks and logs in the wood shed thanks to the hard work. Joy's hat was an added bonus! Thai-style pumpkin soup for lunch round the fire, and artists charcoal ready for purchase, if anyone wants some. Productive day!

Rachel tries the high pruner, with Vanessa riding shotgun
with a safety rope

Hassan finishes the reorganisation of the woodshed

Joyce channels her inner Smurf

Thanks to newbies Vanessa and Rachel for working like trojans and mastering the Zubat high-pruner, to Hassan for rope rigging, wood shed sorting and fire wrangling and to Mac, Joyce, Brian and Ellie for sawing, lopping, secateuring and sorting the branches into submission. Well done all!


Vanessa sharpening the loppers

Rachel rocking the hard-hat look

Biscuit tin charcoal again

Ellie gets going with the saw

Mac and Joyce get lopping

Monday 19 January 2015

Monday Motivation

We've only had 2 Mondays at Windmill since the New Year, but we've been doing really good work, motivated by a wish to keep warm! This is the time of year when we harvest some of the trees to get wood cut for burning on site. It's work for the future, because the wood has to dry before it's any use to us, so the wood we're cutting now will probably be burning to cook our pizzas next year. We try to use only our own wood on site, and we harvest a little each year so that we have enough but none goes to waste. Hopefully these makes our wood burning nearly carbon neutral.

Warm feet and hot drinks to come shortly!

They say wood warms you 3 times - when you cut it, when you stack it and when you burn it. That was definitely what we needed today! We made some pierced tin lanterns at our 12th Night event on Saturday, and these need to be filled with ice to stop them squashing when the design is put on. Today, we arrived on site to find that it has been too cold for the ice-cores from those cans to have melted, even though they were thrown into the embers of the fire as we were wetting down the fireplace on Saturday evening!

The saw horse and a bow saw make 2 person sawing work well

Despite the cold conditions, we managed to refrain from belting out excerpts from "Frozen", and instead turned our attentions to lighting a fire. Tracey's preferred method for a quick and reliable fire lighting is to create a platform of dry sticks to insulate and protect the fire from the damp ground, then to put a piece of cotton wool on this that has been rubbed through vaseline. It lights easily and burns hot for long enough to get the fire going, (good alternatives are the top layer of bark peeled from birch trees, or crispy dry orange peel). Adding thin dry sticks, then pencil to finger thickness sticks gives the fire a chance to catch before larger logs go on. We soon had it burning nicely and Dan and Danny did a good job of feeding the fire to keep it small but hot enough to boil a kettle for our break drinks.

Danny tries the pole saw

Dan + pole saw 

So we had fire warmth, and just needed to get the full benefit with the sawing and stacking. We cut down some large branches last week, using our extendable pruning saw, so this week we needed to work to cut it into useful and manageable sizes. Dan, Danny and Jason soon learned the on site protocols and quickly got the hang of the sawing and secateur work, producing a nice sized tray of sorted logs, sticks and fine material.

Dan gets on with cutting the fine material for kindling wood
Whilst we were doing that, Hassan made a great job of repairing the brassica netting, which had been knocked about a bit in the gales. It's a job for a patient person - very fiddly, but he's managed to make it look wonderfully neat, and hopefully pigeon proof, as the purple sprouting broccoli inside is just getting going!

Before we left, we made sure to leave out food for the birds. In this cold weather, it's a life saver.                                

Saturday 17 January 2015

Old Twelfth Night, Windmill Style!

Drink can lanterns on the pear tree

What a fab afternoon of celebration at Windmill today! The day started very icy, so we were greeted with an amazing display of ice-crystal ferns in the kitchen when we arrived!

Nature adds it's own decorations!

Making popcorn and toast on the fire

This year, because of the date, we decided to combine a celebration of the Lohri Festival with the Old Twelfth Night tradition of wassailing our fruit trees. This meant we still enjoyed wonderful Punjabi food (thank you to Prakash and her family for the delicious curry and also to Steven who provided yummy pakoras for the late comers), Punjabi style and other style drumming, and eating popcorn and ravri around the fire, but we added the twist of wassailing and a few Twelfth Night traditions. If you'd like to know more about the traditions of Lohri - check the info here - but it is essentially a changing of the year, and looks forward to the indian wheat harvest, as well as being a celebration of the life of the Robin Hood of the Punjab, Dulla Bhatti (find out more about this extraordinary man here). 

Drumming around the fire

Pete and his amazing drum box
Wassailing is a tradition which dates back to Anglo Saxon times, which is where the term comes from – waes hael meaning “good health” – and is a pre-Christian tradition that gradually evolved into carolling, and the tradition we are continuing today of wassailing our fruit trees. Wassailing fruit trees was especially popular in the South and West of England, but this may be linked to these areas having a lot of large orchards. The tradition, sometimes called “howling” involves lots of variations, but the main themes are:

- Spilling apple juice or cider onto the tree roots
- Hanging toast (sometimes soaked in cider) in the branches of the tree
- Calling on the tree, with a rhyme, chant or song, to have a good crop in the coming year – sometimes under threat of being dug up or cut down if it doesn’t!
- Making noise around the trees – (maybe to wake them up or to scare away evil things?)

We had a go at all of these, and it worked rather nicely, with everyone enjoying a communal "wassail" of the apple tree, then the pear, and finally our Victoria plum (though some lovely students from NTU did a quick "free-lance" wassail of the other trees in the orchard after we'd finished).
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The apple tree gets first treatment

It was great to see so many happy folk, and thanks to all the volunteers who helped to make it work, especially Prakash and her family, Steven, Pete for the drumming, Kathy for all her help, especially drum-wrangling, Ash for sawing wood, Rowan for fire-tending and his Jo staff display, Jeremy for the photography, and washing up, Joyce for helping with the lanterns and mince pies, Mark sorting out the popcorn and Matt and Carla for great help with the tidying up.

Rowan with the Jo Staff

Here are the wassailing chants we used - just of a few of many we could have chosen.

Apple Tree Wassail
Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,

Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fulls,

And a little heap under the stairs – hurrah!

Pear and Plum Tree Wassail
Wassail the trees that they may bear
Many a plum and many a pear
For more or less fruits they will bring

As you do give them wassailing.

So we wish you all good health for the coming year, like our trees. Wassail!

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Thursday 8 January 2015

And We're Back!

Happy New Year from all at Windmill Community Gardens!

Today was our first session of the New Year, and we got straight back into the swing of things. After all the stormy weather, and with more forecast, we were lucky to get a mostly dry and sunny day, which made everyone feel more cheerful as the day went on.

Currantly, I'm being pruned...

January is a good time to prune the soft fruit, so that was the main focus of the day. We are hopefully getting fairly good at this now, but because it's not a good idea to prune away more than 1/3 of the wood on any one bush at a time, some of the bushes are only now starting to have the shape we want. A few suffered a lot in the first year because we got too busy to weed the fruit cage and they had a lot of branches bend down to the ground because the weight of bindweed pulled them down. This has been annoying as good fruit was lying on the ground, but has also had the effect of layering several of the bushes. This means that the branches in contact with the mulch below have rooted into it, creating new plants. It's a useful way to increase your stock of most soft fruit. If you have the room to pull a low branch down and fix it into the ground, it's worth a go. Mark is getting quite good at the method now, and is becoming a dab-hand at pruning gooseberries without getting prickled (or maybe he's just being stoic).

We showed Ellie and Andrea the basics and they had a go, though Andrea is enjoying weeding out the bindweed and ground elder roots, so we didn't argue too much when she said she preferred that job and went back to it! We also had a visitor - Hollie, who hopes to volunteer with us soon, and she was also interested to have a try.

A cuttings bed in one of our builder's bag planters

The other way of increasing the stock of plants is to use the prunings for cuttings. We usually do some each year, though the success can be variable depending on the weather and if we remember to water them enough. We find they are quite vulnerable to early dry spells, presumably when they are just getting their roots going and their first leaf growth starts to pull up water. We have now laid out a bed of red currant cuttings, another of gooseberries and also a tyre bed of blackcurrants. It all looks wonderfully neat now, but we will need to keep on top of the weeding with plenty of mulch.

Ellie vs. a vine

We also dug up some of the successful cuttings from last year. Ellie was impressed by how well rooted the grape vine cuttings were, and then less impressed when she got the job of digging them up. It's obvious why Hassan says that they root like weeds!

It may look small, but it's like an iceberg -
not much on the surface but masses underneath