Friday, 19 December 2014

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year

April 2014, catching up by the old shed
It has been an eventful year for Empty Common Community Garden, which celebrated its first birthday in the autumn. Although it's getting a bit bare in gardens everywhere, there are still splashes of colour with red berries, variegated ivy, heather and a few flowering plants and bushes that provide winter interest.

The weather is milder than expected and this week I found a blewitt mushroom. I also had a go at making my own wreath, with greenery from my own garden.

I am planning to make something interesting with pine cones I have collected around Cambridge rather than just spraying them gold. Today I found this fun seasonal make online:

These are pine cone turkeys, courtesy of San Jose' Library. I am hoping to make a couple for our mantelpiece, one for me and one for my daughter. We are heading for a festive break and blogging will resume in January 2015.

We have ambitious plans for next year, so watch this space to see how Empty Common Garden will evolve. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Pruning time!

Vine pruning lessons, State Library of South
Australia, Wikimedia Commons
Many trees are pruned in winter, when it's really cold. We are hoping to run a pruning workshop at some point, but in the meantime, here are a few quick tips. We are not exactly pruning vines, but I couldn't resist this vintage photo where a man wearing a kind of colonial outfit is giving lessons to adoring females in smart work clothes. Everybody looks so stylish, not exactly our modern-day, casual gardening gear! If you have any pruning tips to share, feel free to leave a comment. 
  • Pruning starts in the first or second winter of the tree's life, this is formative pruning, which is followed by maintenance and renewal pruning after about five years. Be careful of what you do in the formative pruning stage, the tree might not be as 'forgiving' as later on.
  • Buds on branches can produce fruit or shootsVegetative buds are small, triangular or pointed and they lie flat against the stem. Fruit buds store carbohydrates and become larger, fatter and may appear furry. For apples and pears, flower buds only develop on two-year-old wood and flower the following year to produce fruit. 
  • Branches tend to grow upwards towards the sky and sun, but vertical branches do not fruit well. You need to control the height, as it will also make it more difficult to harvest the fruit. If you inherit a big apple tree, you might have to reduce its height and if you are quite harsh, you might not see any fruit for two years. [This happened to me, the cooking apple tree didn't mind too much and produced less apples, but the eating apple tree sulked and we didn't get any apple the following season.]
  • The harder you prune, the more growth you get. It's best to prune weak shoots to half of the annual growth, stronger shoots only up to a third of the year's growth.
  • Remove dead, diseased and damaged wood. Remove crossing branches.
These are just a few tips to get you started courtesy of our garden's members, watch this space for our very own workshop and/or check out the BBC's online guide to pruning.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The one about the exploding cucumber

Many of us at the Empty Common Garden love the Real Seed Catalogue company. Their seeds are special because they preserve varieties of fruit and veg that are disappearing from the stores. Commercial seed providers are narrowing the varieties we can grow and we are missing out on many interesting plants, especially British ones. Whenever I see a packet of seeds to grow Italian tomatoes I am a bit annoyed. I am Italian but having lived in Britain for two decades, I know they are not going to do well, unless you have a heated greenhouse or a blistering hot, south-facing wall. I keep trying and changing varieties, but my tomatoes get the blight every single year and the crop is disappointing. 

This year, we had glorious tomatoes at the Empty Common Garden but guess what... they got the blight. I am told there are resistant varieties and perhaps we should all shop more often at 

Heirloom vegetable seeds for sale online in the UK.

because they have seeds that can do well in this country. By the way, this is a genuine endorsement from myself and Charlotte, we are not receiving sponsorship from the company. We also buy seeds from local garden centres, but when Seedy Sunday comes, I hope to get some seeds from them.

Meet the exploding cucumber

One of the fun buys from The Real Seed Catalogue is 'Fat Baby', a climbing vine that produces spiky cucumbers. They taste like sweet peppers when cooked but have an intriguing way of propagating... they explode, with the seeds spreading all over the garden. I like picking them when small as they taste more like a cucumber, this way you don't need to cook them and you can use them raw in salads. When bigger you get less 'flesh' and have to remove the seeds. When big, you also need to cook them as they won't taste good raw. If you want to keep the seeds to plant the vine again next year, you can artificially pop them, just before the cucumber is ready to do it by itself. The website has also this H&S warning:


Saturday, 29 November 2014

A new member

It looks like we have a new member! Do you recall the RSPB's slogan... build it and they will come? Well this secretive, colourful bird visited the garden to have a bit of a snack in our veggie beds.

It got caught red-handed (or should I say red-breasted) by Charlotte's camera. We believe this new member hasn't filled the membership form so he is not eligible to join our mailing list. What a cheek (or should I say beak)!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Our shed is a very fine shed

Our new shed is up. This is the heaviest and most secure shed we’ve ever seen. It reminds us of the mysterious black monoliths in 2001: A Space Odissey, which were linked to man's evolution, so a very apt image for our developing garden. There is no mystery here, though, if you join us, you can step inside and see for yourself.

The shed came from far away. On the wettest morning of the year we dragged the heavy black panels down a back alley to a hired van. Half way through we wondered if we would have the strength to finish the task. At that point Peter announced that he would be 77 the following week! Would he make it?

The man who sold it to us was full of advice but didn't think of offering us a cup of tea. At one point we were exhausted and standing there like drowned rats contemplating, "How do we find the strength to get the last, and heaviest, piece in the van?" As in a fairy tale, a young Rumanian came past and offered to lift it in for us. What a relief, what a lovely young man.

Another morning of work (and banter) and the shed now stands in its new home in our garden. Our shed is indeed a Very Fine Shed!

PS We now have a web page on Transition website, click here to see it.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

And now for something completely different: seedlings on a boat!

"The Big Dig is all about getting people involved in their local community garden." This is the slogan from an initiative that organises national events across the UK "to raise the profile of community gardens and encourage more people to take part". 

Their next event, the Big Dig Day, is on Saturday 21 March 2015, so you have plenty of time to prepare if you want to join in. 

Here is Charlotte's contribution to the previous event, when she grew seedlings on her boat Little Ship, a name with historic connectionsLittle Ship was a Big Dig nursery

January is coming soon, with it the Transition Seedy Sunday, a chance for you to swap and gather seeds for the next Big Dig event!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Keeping the faith and vision going: Bahá'ís interfaith day

The Cambridgeshire Bahá'ís were excited to contribute towards the Empty Common Community Garden's project when this initiative was first getting off the ground. Building unity and embracing diversity lie at the core of the Bahá'í Faith's principles, so of course, the Bahá'ís supported the notion of a community-oriented garden that aimed to bring neighbours together to share in a bountiful harvest.  

It was a lot of fun to meet with the garden's representatives to help clear the rubbish that was left behind in this abandoned site and to then set up a Hugelkultur bed and plant trees in preparation for the summer growing season. The following autumn, the Cambridge University Bahá'í Society came back to the garden with other Faith groups involved in an interfaith initiative to help weed, mulch, and plant new seedlings that could take hold in the winter months. 

The students who came enjoyed getting to show off their green thumbs and also doing some hard labour, shifting logs, to help keep the garden's vision going strong. Some of them hope to return on a weekly basis because they enjoyed the garden just that much! The Bahá'ís will continue to lend a hand in this endeavour in upcoming months so that the fruits of unity can truly blossom and grow in Cambridge. Shivani Jain

Monday, 3 November 2014

Belated Happy Birthday wishes!

The Empty Common Community Garden celebrated its first birthday in October. For those who joined later in the year, here is a pictorial, seasonal round-up. Thank you, Charlotte for sending this. To enlarge the pictures, press your ctrl key while you rotate the wheel on your mouse.

Still unsure about joining us? Please read the first post, where you will find Charlotte's email if you require more information. It's up to you how much time you can donate - we welcome everybody, of all ages and abilities.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Marvellous mushrooms

Mushrooms at Empty Common Garden

Charlotte sent me this picture because she thinks these mushroooms look really sweet. I agree. I don't know British mushrooms, the only mushroom I can identify is the Italian porcino mushroom as I used to look for it in Italy with my aunt. 

I have been reading horror stories in the paper recently about foraging enthusiasts being poisoned and even dying! I would really like the BBC to have a programme on mushroom identification. When I was working in the media industry they told me that in this country they don't want to do this kind of programme, nor write articles in mainstream publications because they are afraid people would go off and poison themselves. 

Personally - and I am not talking on behalf of any member of Empty Community Garden - I find this approach typical of a nanny state, I'd rather somebody told me which mushroom is edible and which mushroom is not. More education on mushrooms is needed, not less. 

But let's not rant, here. If you are interested in mushrooms or anything garden related, please leave a comment and air your views. Or submit an article, we welcome guest bloggers.

Next week I will be posting more about the origins of this community garden. If you would like to join us, read the first post, which shows where we are located.

Have a good weekend.

Signed frustrated mushroom fan

P.S. Can I humbly ask any mushroom expert to cast an eye on these mushrooms growing in my garden in Cambridge? Click here to view.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

How the Prince's Trust helped to create the garden

The Empty Common Garden is proud to be wheelchair-friendly - this is how volunteers from the Prince's Trust helped us to transform a wilderness into the beautiful space you can enjoy today.

Assistant team leader Anthony Grief recalls: “Team 33’s week six community project was based at the Empty Common allotments, in Cambridge. Their task was to assist in building a community garden for members of the local community to enjoy; providing a space for relaxation, learning and meeting other like-minded individuals. An important factor to consider during the project was that it had to be wheelchair- and environmentally-friendly.

A major task

"The aims for the week were to construct compost heaps using reclaimed wooden pallets; construct raised beds using reclaimed scaffolding boards and wood from a disused playground swing; clear shrubbery, brambles and grass from the site; lay down wood chip and plant trees. This was a large task but everyone was happy with the project and felt confident they could achieve their goals within the time limit. On the first day the team was divided into three groups. Group One started to clear the site of unwanted scrub and brambles, Group Two took measurements of the raised beds and cut the scaffolding boards to size and Group Three stained the wood. Staining was a very messy job but the team got stuck into their role and made short work of it. Shame about the rain later on in the day which washed most of the stain off!

"Day two started much the same as the previous day: cutting wood, chopping and staining. This time we had come prepared for the weather and bought a gazebo to store the treated wood. As luck would have it, there was no rain but the weather continued to thwart us, sending gusts of wind our way, which threatened to break the gazebo.

Building the raised beds

"The team was relieved to return to the site on the third day with the gazebo still intact and the wood dry! One group concentrated on starting to erect the raised beds while another group continued clearing brambles from the site. It took us some time to figure out how to build the beds so only managed to erect one out of six on the day. The other team did a great job in clearing the rest of the grounds, making the compost heaps, laying down wood chip and disturbing the resident mouse.

It was all hands on deck for day four as we still needed to build the remaining five beds and the weather wasn’t much help, delivering the odd hail storm or two. The river bank was also cleared and wood chip laid down. Various fruit and evergreen trees were planted and a lot of weeding was done!

"Day five saw the team add the final touches to the raised beds, fitting the lining and enjoying well-earned pizza and muffins from the community garden members. Overall the team thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the community was very pleased with the professional quality of the work we had done. At times it was touch and go whether everything would be completed on time due to the weather conditions, but everyone persevered and remained motivated and confident about achieving their goals.”

This article was adapted from an original article at It was published here with permission of the Prince's Trust. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

A growing space... come and join us!

Where we are, courtesy of Google Maps - click to magnify map

The Empty Common Community Garden is a real “growing space” – growing physically, growing in the number of gardeners who are getting involved and, last but not least, growing in funding.

We had support from the City Council team in establishing drainage and tackling other big jobs. The perennial planting areas have had rubbish, horsetail and brambles removed and is now ready for our crops. The play area has been cleared of rubbish, brambles and old tree stumps and has hazels planted along the fence to create a den-like feel and to demonstrate coppicing techniques in the future. Raised beds have been built to allow gardeners with disabilities or those who have difficulty bending to participate. They also look wonderful now they are planted with vegetables and flowers. A big thank-you to all the volunteers from charities and organisations who helped us so far.

We have also raised monetary donations and we welcome any support, financial and in goods (equipment, soil improver, etc). Thank you to all those who supported us.

There is a table and chairs to enjoy it all under the shade of a big tree and we do have bike parking too! In the next few months, we will be setting up a polytunnel to foster early germination of seeds and install a new shed. We hope to have a composting toilet soon, too!

Do come and join us at the garden on Sunday mornings from 10.30amYou can reach us through the black gate on the corner of Brooklands Avenue and Trumpington Road in Cambridge (see map above). We’re at the south end of the allotments. 

Contact Charlotte. Email: - tel. 07752 143683.