Sunday, 23 September 2018

BBC radio interview and photos

We have the link to the BBC Cambridge radio interview with our coordinator Charlotte! You can play it wherever you are. Charlotte represented the Garden at Earth Day celebrations in Cambridge with a colourful - and fitting - costume. She is such an inspiration to all of us.

Pic: Elena Moses

We have been sent pictures of Empty Common at different stages of its growth by Elena Moses, a keen environmentalist and photographer who has been a good friend of the Garden for many years.

Early days, well before this blog started

Another view of the garden before we took over

The garden in full swing

Then came the polytunnel!

Plastic bottles make good cloches

The heritage wheat we sowed 

Burwell wheat

Polytunnel bloom

Veggies do have pretty flowers

Tomatoes ripening in the polytunnel

Charlotte talks to a volunteer

More photos to follow. Happy Gardening, wherever you are!

Monday, 17 September 2018

A video about the garden and interview with our Charlotte

Our coordinator Charlotte was interviewed by BBC Cambridge on 11 September at 12.15. I have contacted the BBC to find out when they post the link. In the meantime, you can watch this video from Cambridge TV.

We are trying to spread the word about the garden among local residents, so far two talks are planned, one at St Augustine's Church, CB4, and one at the Chesterton Garden Club. Information will be posted when it's released by the organisers. The meeting hut project is progressing, our representatives met the City Council to share the plans by architect Alex and the engineer Simon.

Back to gardening, after long weeks of drought we got some rain so the grass morphed from straw into green and luscious growth. A cut with our solar-powered mower is on the list of tasks. Aside weeding and harvesting a variety of veg, young strawberry plants were bedded last week.
Have a lovely week and if you want to join us, click here for more info.

The arrival of the rain means we have a reduced watering rota - it has not been very wet yet and seedlings in the polytunnel need to be attended to. We are growing winter lettuce while cucumbers, basil and tomatoes are still being harvested indoors.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

We are featured in the Independent's Happy List!

We are proud to announce that the Independent newspaper recognised the hard work and dedication bestowed on the Empty Common Community Garden by Charlotte Synge, whom we know is very modest and has always requested not to feature too prominently on the blog.

I was told by Michelle Golder, who is working on a film about Empty Common, that the Independent was looking for nominations for the Happy List 2018. I filled a form asking a lot of questions and waited. I was told we had been chosen in late August so I emailed Charlotte with a white lie that I needed a picture for a poster for a future talk. When the list was live, I surprised Charlotte, who is going to give an interview at BBC Cambridge this month.

Charlotte and our garden are featured at number 21 out of 50 individuals on the Happy List! If you read the list, you will see that we are above individuals raising money for very good causes so we are chuffed by this recognition. A well-deserved pat on the back for Charlotte, all the volunteers and those who helped us over the years.

I would also like to add that although the application form explained that Cambridge Council gave us funding for the meeting hut, there is no mention of it in the photo caption. The University of Cambridge has given some money and offered help with the project, but the bulk of the funds comes from the Council.

If you clicked the link on the article (lacking an em at the end, which I added to the screenshot above for clarity, the link works on the newspaper's page though) and found our blog, welcome! If you live in Cambridge, you can join us. Look for the first post with Charlotte's email address and the map here and feel free to contact her. If you do not live in Cambridge, you can follow the garden's progress on this blog.

If you are a company and would like to donate items in kind or fund us, please contact Charlotte, the email is on the link above. 

Monday, 6 August 2018

How to make a compost heap & party time!

Charlotte and Peter start piling the dry stuff

In November 2017 we made a compost pile and it got pretty hot. Over 43 degrees C even though it wasn't well insulated. It composted to less than half the volume in two weeks and later on we turned it into a new bay to mix up all the material and microbes and get more air into it for the microbes. The centre was already getting pretty well composted when we checked it again. Forward to July 2018 and we had another go. Charlotte gave Simone and Peter a tutorial on how to create the perfect heap.... Before we go into the method, here are two pics (the compost heap when we finished piling stuff up and after three weeks). Keep reading for step-by-step pictures of the process.

As you can see from the before and after pic above, our hot composting went reasonably well with layers of green matter containing lots of comfrey and dry matter from our slow compost heaps at a ratio of about 2-3 green to 1 brown and all watered in with horsetail tea (see principles below for explanation). The heap got pretty hot during the first week but then slowed, probably it needs more water but it was so dry we were using all our water supply for our plants. 

The heap reduced in size quite dramatically in three weeks. Calculating the change in volume it was 60% of its original size. We should now turn it into another bin putting the un-composted matter on the outside into the middle and adding our next batch of horsetail tea.This tea is our horsetail weedings which we collect in wheelie bins and then drown in water for several weeks to thoroughly kill off the horsetail and create an evil smelling brew full of wonderful microbes. 

In Permaculture design there are several principles and tips that keep designers on track when they're trying to create sustainable, or better still, regenerative systems. 
  • One principle is "Produce no waste" and by dealing with our horsetail like this we avoid having to burn the horsetail or remove the horsetail from the site to be transported to the green waste depot.
  • One tip is to think laterally - "The problem is the solution". Horsetail has been a real problem for this piece of land and this is why it was abandoned and so became available for us. It is very good at absorbing minerals from deep down in the soil, particularly silica. By collecting it and reusing it to make our compost it becomes an asset as we get a good brew to activate our compost heap plus all those minerals it accumulates from deep down end up in our compost to feed our crops.

Now for the step-to-step tutorial on how to make a 'fast' compost heap. The trick of good composting is to make a lasagne with layers of nitrogen rich material (eg. green leaves, manure) - carbon rich material (eg. woody and brown dead material) with water added in between layers so it is damp but not wet plus some wood ash sprinkled in as well to add more nutrients if possible. Charlotte started with the dry stuff, mostly leaves. Then we added green comfry leaves and other soft cuttings.

Then we water the layers. We use a trough and watering cans, no hoses for us! More dry stuff goes on the growing compost heap.

The heap is growing among its walls made of recycled wooden pallets. More green stuff now.

Watering the next layer, a lot of dry stuff with green stuff peeking out.

Another layer of green stuff, then more watering.

Back with the dry stuff now...

The heap is growing, hang on and you will see how tall it is at the end!

Voila', Simone takes a break from taking photos and collecting green matter to show how tall it is. Simone is 5 feet 1in or 156cm, the compost heap is taller.

We close the heap with a pallet and put old carpet offcuts on top.

This is not a musketeer brandishing a sword... it's a metal rod with a CD on top. This will act as thermometer. We will insert it into the heap and check it now and then. Read on for the party pics!

Party, party, party.....

Marlise, the painter of our pretty rocks holding a hobbit house during the party

Music and songs with Leanne and Rebecca at sunset

Getting darker, the fire pit is still burning on

Our fire pit, handy for marshmallow toasting
Keep following, we might be showing you a movie of our party night, watch this space!

Our Community Garden in July: drought attack!

We are having an exceptional summer with very little rain. Drought means all the grass in parks (and in our community garden) is turning into a straw yellow. We have a watering rota run by volunteers. Here are a few photos taken on a watering trip.

Our grass is turning yellow

The beans are growing on the recycled trampoline frame

These grassy areas are getting some water from the raised beds

We are covering up tender veggies to protect them from wildlife

Friday, 8 June 2018

Summer is coming! BBQ, bees and a visit from old friends

Lovely to see you again, John & Mary!

After a very cold spring we are seeing a bit of sunshine. Late in May we had a party, where former volunteers John and Mary paid a visit. John and Mary contributed a lot to the garden and we have missed them. They are now back to the US but we do hope to see them again... These photos were taken on Sunday 20 May. 

These lovely radishes went down a treat at our BBQ. Before the party started, we planted beans around the frame built with the discarded trampoline base. 

We have bees in our bug hotel! It is nearly fully booked. Spot the yellow ball, where a baby bee is nestled, awaiting its birth!

 The green roof on our black shed is doing very well. 

The BBQ awaits... We were too busy eating and chatting we forgot to take pics of the party!

Saturday, 19 May 2018

May: a belated spring at Empty Common

The spring has finally arrived at the Empty Common so we have resumed a watering rota for the polytunnel. It has not been a very warm spring - the temperature goes up and down - and because of the protracted winter, some flowers and veggies are late. We certainly had a long season for daffodils and other bulbs. So compare and contrast the below picture from the end of April with a 'bleaker' photo taken in January...

Empty Common in late April

Empty Common in mid January

As you can see in the April photo, we have a new rainbow flag. Sadly our ECCG logo flag disintegrated during the winter. A lot of weeding has gone on. The cog garden between the woodland area and the mound was sorted out and seed potatoes were planted there. 

The keyhole bed in the photo abvoe was made from a trampoline frame saved from the dump. We will soon sow beans to grow up it. It is finally feeling like spring in the garden.

Last but not least, we have a link for the podcast about the Garden, courtesy of Cambridge 105. You can find it here. This is what the page looks like...

You can download the podcast. The whole programme is about an hour long and the Empty Common's slot is after 17 minutes, if you want to skip the other news items.