Saturday, 23 February 2019

It feels like spring and it's only February!

After a rather frosty January, February has brought warmer weather, unseasonably warm with highs of 14 degrees... Last Sunday 14 willing volunteers turned up for the regular session. 

With so many eager hands, the woodland garden by the hazel copse got weeded in time for the spring flowers to come up and look their best.

The roof of the compost toilet finally got felted to protect the plywood, which has stood up to the weather remarkably well. Bindweed roots were dug out and the area by the sitting logs got tidied. 

Best of all we made a start on the ultimate beasties' home - converting the mess of old wood and branches into a giant nest-like curved edge. This will have lots of partially composted materials over the top, a dream pad for insects and small mammals. It will also enclose our hazel copse area nicely and give it a sense of place. This also emptied our compost bins which had gone completely out of hand, plus it dealt with the pile of brash and branches and old building wood. A win-win situation for man and beast.

Volunteers went home with pak choi from the polytunnel for supper. Next on our agenda is to get seeds and start sowing soon. Anyone connected with us has a say on what we are growing, so don't be shy!

We love this growing chart:, take a look if you are thinking of growing your own veg at home...

Last but not least, we were mentioned in Cambridge Edition - February issue. They did not contact us so we could not comment on the cow topic. Cambridge cows herald spring! Read the feature on page 48.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Happy New Year! Plus Seedy Sunday in Cambridge on 28 January

In December volunteers from CamBridge 2 Environment visited to help us clear the woodland area for the meeting hut. Here they are inside our new wooden shed! The old, rotten one was pulled down and recycled. The paint for the new shed was sourced at the dump, where Charlotte found some unfinished tins.

The meeting hut's model was presented at the University of Cambridge, Faculty of Architecture. We are trying to keep costs down so there have been some amendments to the original design.

Then students from the Faculty came on site to help with the structure. We finally got permitted development to build the hut, a major step ahead for our project.

We have a lot of building work and other stuff to do this winter, including: 
  • Finishing the new wooden shed 
  • Felting the roof of the compost toilet, treat the wood and put up trellises for the honeysuckle.
  • Re-roofing the black shed
  • Making the wavy bike rack
  • Sorting out the compost heaps and spread the mature compost
  • Cleaning the pond
  • Washing the polytunnel
  • Doing a lot of weeding, edging and transplanting.
So lots of things to do this winter before spring comes - so do come and join us if you can.

DON'T FORGET SEEDY SUNDAY! It's next Sunday in Trumpington - details here. We will be there alongside the new growing group set up by the Botanic Garden.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Happy Xmas & working towards a thriving 2019

Happy Xmas!

Lots of work is going on at Empty Common. The meeting hut's walls are being put together and fixed roughly in place so we can get an idea of what it will be like. And we finally received planning permission!

The rotten wooden shed was pulled down and taken to the dump, where Charlotte managed to salvage used cans of wood treatment for the hut, new shed and toilet. There is a lot of 
building work and other stuff to do this winter aside building the meeting hut:

  • Finish the new wooden shed's roof felt, fit windows, wood treating and fitting it out.
  • Place felt on the roof of the compost toilet, treat the wood and put up trellises for the honeysuckle.
  • Re-roof the black shed, which is rotten and leaking.
  • Make the wavy bike rack.
  • Sort out compost heaps and spread the mature compost
  • A lot of weeding, edging and transplanting.

A pepper preserve

Produce that is growing well includes brussel sprouts, kale and chard. Our spare chillies are pickled and we saved some seed for next year. 

In January we will take part to Seedy Sunday and we might share space with the University's Botanic Garden, which has reached out to the community of gardens and allotments to establish a local growing group.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Our year's review... 2017-2018

This year's review, compiled by Charlotte. This was used in a talk at the Chesterton Garden Club. Next scheduled talk about the Empty Common will be at the University Centre in March 2019. This will include a walk to the garden with Simone. Thank you to all the volunteers and visitors who helped us this growing year. Apologies if the images are coming out of the frame a bit, we wanted to ensure they were not too small and legible. Click on each slide to make it bigger.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Our meeting hut is being built!

We were awarded £15,000 to build a meeting hut. Funding came from Cambridge Council and the University of Cambridge, Faculty of Architecture. The latter is helping us to build it, you can follow their journey here.

Charlotte, our coordinator, writes: "Three mad days shifting hugely heavy walls to the garden, putting them up in a rough octagon for Monday's presentation and then storing them. [...] The walls aren't designed as in the model pictures in the blog but are in those places. There is a top view plan there too. 

"The students really took our request for recycled materials on board and most of the scaffolding and the scaffold boards are ex building site use and were donated. Tin cans, from the college canteens, make a great facade; woven scrap bike tyres add local flavour while woven willow gives a natural touch. This was chosen to go with our own willow hedging, which can be used for repairs. Everything is down at the garden. It is much bigger than we asked for and we still haven't got planning permission and the grant through, but we have some lovely structures to build with when we do.

"On Monday there was a photographer and one of the architects did some filming with a drone so we should have some good shots soon. Cambridge Association of Architects will do an article on it at some point. Architects have helped in this project, other than those working at the University and Alex who did the design. We have been really lucky to get so much help, but we have a lot of work ahead of us."

Exciting times at the Empty Common. Watch this space!

Sunday, 7 October 2018

An inclusive green space that keeps growing & archive pics!

The Empty Common Community Garden is thriving. It is not  just about fruit and veg, it's about being together and help each other out, it's beating isolation and finding something good to treasure and enjoy - aside plentiful fresh, organic fruit and veg!

The garden has hosted AGMs and informal meets for a number of organisations. We were particularly delighted to received a thank-you email from Corona House, a local charity that provides accommodation and support for women aged 18-64 who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

"Thank you so much, we had a really lovely time at Empty Common. One of the women said, 'It was so nice to be able to spend time outdoors' and another that, 'It is a really beautiful place'.  Attached are some photos from our time here. Sorry we didn’t get time to take very many, it took us a while to get the barbecue going. This is a link to our website." 

Here are the photos they sent us to share...

On the topic of 'food, glorious food', here is courgette quiche made from our produce by one of our volunteers. Sent with this fun message: "Sorry to perhaps eat more than my share of produce." 

It came with a reflection on loneliness: "Loneliness. There's a taboo about loneliness. I listened to a fair bit of Desert Island Discs, having discovered an archive on the BBC iplayer. It's about loneliness. People venture a CV, happy memories from their life. Sadly, with loneliness, it's a question of 'but what about now?'. It's terrible to have to abandon decent plans because there aren't enough people or just wish someone would talk to you, or watch lovers arm in arm and wish that they'd fall down a manhole, or whatever. 
Go to a garden, loneliness becomes loveliness." 


This was prompted by a request from Cambridge Sustainable Food if we might be interested in our garden being a part of work to combat loneliness - particularly in older people - through food and food-related stuff. Charlotte asked the members, through the mailing list, how we felt about it...

Back to the present & food - here are some colourful harvest pics!

It was also a great year for tomatoes - the polytunnel was at its best! Spot chillies in the foreground, basil down the edge, peppers and cucumbers down the left-hand bed. 

FROM THE ARCHIVE Throwback to older posts relating to the heritage wheat we grew one summer... pictures of a lovely day at Lode Farm with Cropshare.

Volunteers relax on a trailer ride back to house after weeding leeks... 

Trying the threshing, which wasn't 100% successful so some hand sorting was required. The winnowing machine was playing up, probably due to spiders webs inside it collecting the chaff - some tried to do it by hand but no wind to help. Lovely food and company distracted us from trying to do any more. 

Our wheat joined the other "Old Burwell" wheat grown in Cambridgeshire and was then sent back to join the stock pile that everyone had grown.

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!