Monday, 30 October 2017

Nasturtiums, salvaged materials & pumpkins!

A Happy Halloween from the Empty Common Community Garden!
The days might be getting shorter but it's busier than ever at the Garden. We have harvested some lovely pumpkins and squashes, great for soups and pies! 

We do work hard, but there is also a lot of chatting going on, we take great pleasure in talking to new and regular volunteers. You might be surprised to read we do not have 'officious' meetings as such, we communicate via a Google group and the highlights are published on this blog. 

Charlotte rescued an old trampoline frame from being dumped and we think it could make a good rail to lean our bikes against. One photo shows it being held up a bit higher than it would be once the legs were in the ground. The other photo shows its curves. One curve would go around the apple tree that we planted last year. However, the framework could also be made into a circle (4m diameter) and used as an arch or frame for growing stuff up... we are still debating this among ourselves. Salvaged materials are everywhere in the Garden.

We picked lots of nasturtium (Tropaeolum) seeds, last year we had very few and this year was a bumper crop. Thank you Mary for planting them, they have been and still are wonderful. Nasturtium is Latin for twisted nose, but ours aren't from the genus Nasturtium. The annual garden nasturtiums are from the genus Tropaeolum (Tropaeolum majus). Here is a website with recipes for pickling them. It has a recipe for nasturtium butter too, which sounds yummy. A friend also makes nasturtium pesto; she uses ground almonds, which are cheaper than pine nuts. The nasturtiums will disappear with the first reasonable frost, so it's now or never! 

We also harvested chard, celery, peppers and cabbage. We picked a 'rude' veg, which was entered in a special competition. It is a cheeky turnip indeed!

Last but not least, someone in the US is 'hearting' us with a juicy tomato. Thank you, John. We miss you and Mary.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Hello autumn, plus some exciting news!

Nigel from the RHS' initiative It's Your Neighbourhood visited Empty Common in August. Charlotte welcomed him with a special tour and Rebecca took the photos above. Nigel seemed impressed by our efforts. Fingers crossed we passed!

Below are some photos from Silvia, showing Empty Common's bounty. The pond is well established and the garden is thriving. There was even a party to celebrate our new compost toilet... any excuse to get together and celebrate our wonderful space.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

A cooler August at Empty Common and a big thank-you!

Dunkirk Little Ship and Empty Common Community Garden's sweet peas

The garden has been thriving, produce is being picked, wild flowers are creating lovely patches of colour and the community is coming together on Sundays and at special events. A butterfly count was also attempted. 

I have received a lovely photo from Charlotte featuring our colourful sweet peas. Elena Moses from Transition Cambridge sent us some beautiful summer pics of the Garden, you can see her album here.

Cambridge is a transient city, so it's with heavy hearts that we say good-bye to two top volunteers, Mary and John. They have contributed so much of their time and have sent great material for this blog. Here's a photo of Mary with two other regulars... We wish them well and hope they stay in touch to see the garden grow.

And here's a photo of John, busy on the pond...

You will be missed, no doubt you will come back and see us if you visit Cambridge again. Thanks again for all your dedication and great party food!

Last but not least, a picture from our archive.... May 2017!

We had around 15 workers at ECCG and were visited by a wonderful team of community gardeners from Peterborough who helped us complete the installation of our pond and then helped ECCG members form a bucket brigade to fill the pond with water from the creek on the west side of the garden. Many helping hands made the work social and fun!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A variable summer at Empty Common

It is hot, it rains, it gets cooler, it warms up, the sun scorches... It's a British summer but on balance not a bad one... John has sent us some lovely pics of the garden.

The 'old' wheat is doing well

The pond is teaming with wildlife

Veggies are being harvested

Everything is great, except some beasties are eating beetroots and courgettes, a net has been deployed to discourage further munching.

Mary sent us the evidence
The bioblitz event put us on a map and we are getting requests from groups to use the garden for their events. If you would like to host an event or collaborate with us, do get in touch. The email is on the first post, where the map is.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Next Saturday's BioBlitz link and some updates....

All is well and growing at speed at Empty Common. Summer is coming soon. The pond has now some tadpoles and it's a nice place to sit and relax with lovely furniture. The raised beds got a makeover. Everything is looking at its best for next Saturday.... Come and see us at 12pm, bring some food and enjoy the garden. We are taking part in the BioBlitz, info and free tickets here.

Mary sent us this 'cosmic' picture of a kohl rabi... Last year we got some massive ones... On the previous Sunday the volunteers got lots done. Charlotte wrote: "We had fun putting the sedum green roof on the front half of the black shed using many hands and some engineering - no one went though the roof. The garden looks great from the roof."

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A chilly, variable spring, but we do have a pond now!

Charlotte writes that the frosts have been damaging and our beans were affected. It is unusual to have frosts in late April and early May and we have heard of many allotment people being hit, with growing veggies being killed by the freezing temperatures overnight.

The biggest event last Sunday was the digging of the hole to accommodate the preformed fiberglass pond. John, Hugo and Toby worked really hard. Here are a few pictures so you can appreciate how deep the hole is...

Other volunteers sowed the pictorial meadow seed and planted more brassicas and a bag of potatoes. Lots of weeding was done so the garden is looking great. Volunteers are required to maintain a watering rota, it is quite warm in the polytunnel and it has not rained that much.

The compost toilet is coming together.... Charlotte sent us these photos of the progress.

The fancy rhubarb is flowering, we will have to the tip off to help it put energy into growth. The raspberry path and the new cabbage patch got weeded.

Our wheat is growing well but it looks a little pale to Charlotte, perhaps a cup of compost tea will sort things out.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Easter wishes & update from glorious garden... so sunny!

Rebecca took this dreamy pic

This morning an email brought a smile to volunteers' faces. Our coordinator gave a speech at our partner's meeting, Transition Cambridge, and it emerges we are a tad informal.... The garden is over three years old but we never had proper meetings, we do not have a committee and our coordinator is not a strict taskmaster... It all works as we never had an argument - we must be happy anarchists with green fingers.... 

Reading more of the feedback from the current volunteers, the only worry seems to be manpower. Cambridge is a transitory city so some helpers are here on a temporary basis... they leave us with a lovely legacy but we often need new hands to maintain it... so if you are interested in what we do, please read the first post here, with the map and contact details, and get in touch. Being allergic to committees is a bonus!

Tomas reported a mouse has taken up residence in the polytunnel. The little 'resident' ate all the corn seeds he sowed last week. "In every single pot there is hole dug and the seed is gone."

The weather is warm and it's very sunny, so there is a watering rota in place. We have plans to finish our compost toilet (with a green roof) and to build a pond. 

Things to eat aside lettuce includes the wild garlic... Unfortunately there is quite a bit of weeding to do as the horsetail is sporing now... It gets picked and drowned in a bucket of water. Rebecca has sent us some April photos so you can see for yourself.

The prodigal son returns!

Polytunnel is doing well...

A lovely log with beautiful bark

Preparing the beds...

March pictures from Carol & Mary

By the mighty oak flowers in a circle

A little chat by the beds

Volunteers' gardening tips

  • Mary suggests: "Nick the seed coat of each seed and place between paper towels that you keep very damp until the seeds germinate"
  • Rich writes: "This website a great reference to companion planting:
  • Carol recommends: "I use coffee grounds, paprika and citrus fruits to repel cats."


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Visit from a local group & recipe for Swedish tea bread

Our welcoming tea spread by the flag 

On Sunday we welcomed a group from Trumpington who want to develop a community garden. We decided it was a good idea to have tea and cake. WE LOVE CAKE!!! Any excuse to have a food feast, that's how we roll.... Scroll down to see one of the cakes and get the recipe.... Grateful thanks to the bakers and those who manned the giant kettle.

Volunteers were spurred to prepare the garden to look its best prior to the visit. There was a massive seed sowing session. The new beds were given a final weed, more manure was carted in... 

The garden, as you can see in the above picture, looked really lush considering it's not spring yet. Lovely lettuce heads are bobbing up in the polytunnel... pretty spring flowers surround the oak, it's just lovely even on a grey day.

Toilet base completed!

The garden is very child friendly - there are kid size tools for digging and weeding, a mighty oak to climb and a swing in our small but perfectly formed woodland area.

As the picture shows, our toilet compartment will hold at least four people - enough for a mini disco!

Back to the garden, we have been offered some pictorial meadow seed for the flower patch. They may do better than last year's standard meadow mix given our nutrient and weed rich soil. We are also trying out Jerusalem artichokes (from the sunflower family) and many people have come up with wonderful ideas.... As coordinator Charlotte explained in the garden tour, we are a happy bunch, there has been no quarrel nor dispute so far. Our green utopia is growing in harmony!

On a final sweet note, here is a photo of Mary's Swedish tea bread cakes. We also had yummy carrot and fruit cakes, if the bakers want to send recipes, we will post them.

Swedish Tea Bread Ring - recipe makes two! 

Main ingredients
3/4 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup warm water
2 packages dry yeast
1 egg
4 cups bread flour

Garnishes & glaze
Icing sugar
Iced cherries or almonds

Combine milk, sugar, salt and butter and stir till butter is melted. Dissolve yeast in warm water and add to milk mixture. Add egg and half of flour and beat till smooth. Stir in remaining flour to make a stiff batter. Cover tightly and refrigerate 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Punch down the dough, divide in half and turn out one piece onto a lightly floured surface.
Roll the dough out into a rectangle approx. 12x24 inches. Spread with softened butter and sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon and raisins. Roll the dough into a long roll and press the seam closed. With the seam turned downward, seal the two ends together to make a ring. Place the ring on a lightly greased cookie pan. Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, make cuts every inch or so along the ring, cutting only three quarters of the way through. Twist each piece the same direction. Repeat with the second portion of dough. Raise in warm place for 45 minutes. Bake at 180 degrees for l5-20 minutes.

When finished baking, glaze with a mixture of icing sugar, a bit of milk and vanilla extract. Decorate with sliced almonds and/or cherries.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Spring is in the air... plus recipe for citrus cleaner

Thank you, John, for this harvesting pic!

Yesterday Empty Common had a stall at Seedy Sunday. We had photos of our garden, a map (it's rather large and photos do not capture everything) and free strawberry plants to give away. A number of us was manning the stall and it was fun to speak to so many like-minded people. We took turn to see the other stalls, get seeds and buy good food (thanks WI women!) and despite being a smaller event than the previous years, it was pretty good....

As you can see from the picture above, we are still harvesting - parsnips and Brussels sprouts. The tray you can see has some of the pots that were taken to Seedy Sunday, the strawberries have invaded a large area and it was time to thin them and share with others!

Weeding continues, just because it's cold, weeds are still coming up. There is a smell of spring in the air though, the sun is warming up and the lettuces are growing well in the polytunnel, which needs a spring clean... The beds have been tidies up and manured. The crop rotation has been planned...

A bird count was done, too, which is great for kids. Going back to cleaning the polytunnel, Charlotte is sharing her recipe. No need to buy one from the garden centre...

Recipe for cleaner
Do not use on granite, limestone etc. kitchen surfaces and floors...
Fill a jar with citrus peel. Cover it with white vinegar and put a lid on. This can be done over time so you can gather the peel you discard when cooking. Leave to stand for a couple of weeks. Filter it with a fine filter into a clean jar. Use this diluted 1:1 in a spray bottle. Spray the dirty surface and wipe clean. Wash off with water if the surface has a lot of dirt on it. Wash with fresh water afterwards as it is quite strong. You can use malt vinegar if you want to save some money.