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!

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 That's Cambridge.

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!