Vaude win award

The outdoor sports company Vaude has just been honoured for their commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

To be honest, I have been quite impressed by the commitment shown by a number of outdoor sports companies, to social and environmental responsibility. Patagonia are an obvious ‘name’ which has pushed the environmental agenda, Rohan are another big company which is making serious strides in that area too, and there are a number of others which can also claim to have pretty decent environmental cred.

But I am particularly impressed by Vaude, a German company whose reputation for social and environmental responsibility throughout their design and production is pretty much impeccable.

As I say, they have just scooped another award or two, this time at the ISPO, an industry trade show in Munich. They won an overall award for their company wide social/eco activism in regards to their production, and a product award for the Vaude Blue One tent – which is a two man tent I think, I’ve yet to see one. All I really know is that it’s made of a poly cotton, which is 65% organic cotton and 35% recycled polyester (PET1).

They are a pretty impressive company, the sort of people who remind you that there is really no excuse for other companies of a similar nature not to be walking the same path. Among other things they say about themselves:

“VAUDE is mindful in its dealings with people and the environment. Due to our constant inner reflection and unwavering idealism, we are quick and courageous to seek out contact with contemporary subjects and explore our own potential – leading to stories worthwhile in their making.”

Sport equipment and clothing is high specification stuff, the good stuff lasts a long time we still have a Vaude rucsac that has been going strong for some time, a veteran of a number of overland expeds and other voyages – other cheaper rucsacs have not fared so well. If you are buying new, which I accept with this kind of clothing or equipment is often the most effective way (ahem – unless you go on ebay – ahem) – then buying from the most responsible producer you can is important. Check out the maker before you buy, and dont let yourself be glitzed by the fashionable looks of a particular jacket or piece of kit, that look will be old in a year or two’s time, while the item itself should have many years of life in it.

So well done Vaude, I’m genuinely impressed. I have asked for more info about the Blue One tent, and if and when I get it, I shall share it.

Spring is coming

I was outside this afternoon and I could feel the changing season, in the air, in the soil. I’m not the only one who can feel it, the rhubarb is waking from its winter slumber, some greedy blighters are forcing it already! I’ve seen loads of crocus and other bulbs showing their faces too.

For those of us who try to grow things, that doesnt leave us much time to plant things like Shallots or Garlic, which need cold weather to function properly – the further north you are the more time you should have, but March and April will be here before you know it. They should all have been in the ground by now, but hey ho – time gets away from you.

As a kind of ritualistic acceptance of the changing season, I am going to embark on a good clean of my trusty Teva sandals – I’ve had them for years, I wear them for about 7 – 8 months a year, nearly everyday (for the rest of the year, I wear army boots – which are much older but are in perfect condition). My feet have good circulation. My sandals smell. If I cant get the suckers good and clean before spring, then it may be the year of new sandals.

I was lucky enough to see a flock of wintering waxwings the other day – beautiful birds, the sight of them reassured me that it is still winter, and there is still time to get that planting finished – just not much.

An interesting delivery

A couple of weeks ago somebody contacted me from a well known clothing company, he had read my blog post about why I dont buy new clothes.

Clearly this chap and his company, which make fairly high end outdoor wear, has a different perspective on new clothing and its value. So to cut a longer story short, he offered to send me – free of charge – some pieces of their clothing so that I could assess for myself whether I thought that the quality they offer is worth buying new, and spending quite a few quid on. It certainly says something for their self belief that they are willing to open themselves up to scrutiny in this way – they obviously think their clobber is worth buying, I remain to be convinced.

So over the next months and perhaps years, I’ll be posting my own ongoing reviews on these pieces of clothing (trousers, shirt,  & jacket), giving my assessment of their design and general quality. This isnt just going to be cheap publicity for the company in question either,  where I have reservations or questions about the clothing in question I will voice them – the only deal I have made in that regard is that if and when I have negative points to make about the clothing I will let them know first in case its something which they can put right.

Given the punishment I usually give clothing, this should be interesting.  A follow on post, revealing the name of the company in question and initial thoughts about the clothes will follow in the next few days.

Toby Jones in the Observer

Tobias Jones has a new column in the Observer, which you can find here. Toby and his wife Francesca have an unusal ‘extended’ household home in a Somerset woodland, which used to be the site of a quarry. They are learning as they go, and its very much an adventurous journey of exploration. They take their inspiration from the sermon on the mount, and are exploring what it means to live accordingly.Part of that inspiration has come through their involvement with the Pilsdon community, which was detailed in Toby’s excellent ‘Utopian Dreams‘. Tobias is a lovely guy, and I look forward to visiting his home one day.

You can read the introduction to Toby’s monthly column here, and visit the website for their home here. Warmly reccomended.

Review: The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z by Emma Cooper.

I have a lot of gardening books, and I have looked at lot of other gardening books – but I have never seen one quite like this.

Most gardening books are basically either manuals, scientific text books, or encyclopaedias, but despite a title which might lead one to think that Emma Cooper’s book falls into the latter category – in fact it needs a separate category altogether.

This charming and easy to read book is in reality a manifesto – or perhaps its a kind of love-letter. Emma has used the conceit of an A-Z as a handy way of organising some of her thoughts, taking us through a series of plants and horticultural terminology according to their rank in the alphabet.  Now if you are looking for a book which works as a kind of exhaustive garden dictionary, then this is the wrong book – it isnt intended for that purpose. Rather it pulls together an almost random group of plants or ideas under a letter heading; P for instance is for Parsley; Peas; Peat; Peppers; Permaculture; PH; Phosphorus and Potatoes, while N is for Nasturtiums; Native; Nectarine;  Nettles and Nitrogen.  It then provides a short essay on each subject, and each one is delivered in Emma’s trademark accessible and knowledgeable style. She is a very ‘friendly’ writer, her work is easy to engage with and despite her wealth of knowledge you dont ever feel as if she is talking down to you.

I really like the book, as I say, it’s easy to read and it’s interesting, but that isnt really waht sets it apare. Most importantly Emma manages to exude a love for the subject – and this is what I mean by calling it a manifesto. Really this is a book which tells us to love our gardens, our window boxes or allotments – whatever we have to grow things in.It is a book which has mud under its fingernails.

Emma is a kind of garden evangelist, spreading the good news of growing things.

I think you can spot that I really like this book – but that’s not to say I dont have any criticisms, I was not sure about at least one piece of her advice, that Comfrey can be taken internally. Everything I have ever read before warns against it, and I’m not inclined to take her advice on that (sorry!)

The other negative aspect I think is the design, I think the wrong fonts have been used, which is a shame because it detracts slightly from the appeal of the book – however this is a very subjective thing, and I am a bit nerdy about fonts and suchlike. In any case, that side of things is down to the publisher not the author, I just dont think they’ve called it quite right.

The pictures throughout the book are great, and I love the fact that this is not a coffee table book, rather its the kind of book which can go with you out into the garden or wherever you go to think about growing things.

So in sum then – buy this book if you love gardens. Buy this book for people who need to love gardens. Dont buy this book if you want a full A-Z of plants and whatnot, there are plenty of other books out there for that purpose, this is a much more interesting and unusual text. This is a delightful and inspirational manifesto of gardening lore, with lots of good ideas and helpful information, and I’m looking forward to more from Emma.

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A-Z by Emma Cooper is published by Permanent Publications. RRP £14.95 ISBN: 9781856230469

Emma Cooper’s blog and podcast are available here.

Back – with news of perennial garlic and surfing sheep

Yes I’m back, from another trip away with the family (working this time – not jolly holidays) and feeling slightly despondant about the state of the allotment. It really is scruffy this summer – yes it is fruiting, I harvested a ton of tomatoes on Monday, with another truck load still to ripen, but it looks very overgrown.

I would put this down to it being ‘wildlife friendly’ but in fact its just down to me not having spent a day there since late spring. sigh.

As I have already mentioned, we have a massive garlic crop this year, and I’m certain that’s a trick which can be repeated over and over again, but I have also become intrigued by the idea of ‘perennial garlic’ – which I read about here, after seeing a mention here.

I love the idea of a garlic patch which is effectively no dig – although I would struggle to get the required mulch, and I would also struggle to get the required birds to till the required mulch – however, it’s very interesting none the less.I may try it on a small scale this year, although I suspect it will take some time to really get going.

And while we’re on the subject of things which interest me, I see the nice people at the British sustainable surfwear brand Finisterre are busy breeding a kind of sheep which will grow suitable wool here in the UK, to make their super snazzy Merino garments with. Merino wool is usually garnered from down under – the globe that is, not the sheep. And Finisterre have been very strong on the ethics of their Merino gathering, I wont bore you with the details.

Anyhow, they are breeding rare breed Bowmont sheep, especially for their fleece – very good idea! I tried unsuccessfully to do something vaguely (but not terribly) similar on a much smaller scale in Wales once, I wasnt breeding the sheep you understand, as this would have been tricky in a Welsh terraced house – rather I had plans to buy certain type of rare breed wool and turn it into garments – sadly I never managed to find a company which would spin it to a thin enough yarn for what I wanted, and the whole project snuffed it. May have another go 0ne of these days.

Finisterre however are much better at these things than I am though – and they are proper grown ups too – which I wasnt, and still arent. Although they do make very childish adverts…

Wild swimming

back again from our all to short hols – we had a happy, if rather wet few days in thePeak district, yurting it up baby. And let’s be honest, when you’re already wet, you may as well get wetter, so this seemed like a good opportunity to put Kel’s ‘Wild Swimming’ book to good use.

It really is a good book, if you dont have it, I recommend it. It details a load of wild swimming sites around the UK, one of which is the Mermaid’s pool, high up on the moors, not too far from Buxton.

That part of the world is not exactly renowned for being tropical, and the day we went to the Mermaid’s pool wasnt the warmest day of the year – sigh. So it was only me and the littlest member of the family who were up for a dip, and I was keeping my teeshirt on.

I carried said little person into the pool, only to find that under my feet was a soggy mass of sphagnum moss, which had me sinking like a lift carrying said child into the dark water. She exited the vicinity with some rapidity, I meanwhile attempted a step further into the pool – only to find that the sphagnum moss ended and a empty void loomed, with only icy water to hold me. Splosh.

Good fun, wish it had been a tidgy bit warmer.

I understand the television is showing a programme about wild swimming – pah. TV is for suckers. The mermaids pool is where the rubber hits the road folks… although next time we’ll probably go for something where the water is a bit clearer 🙂

Elderflower ‘sham-pagne’

Not being a drinker, I dont have to consume my own home brew – but Kel hasnt put up any objections so far – the bramble wine and elderberry wine have gone down well, and this year I am thinking about expanding my repertoire to include nettle wine too…

But by far the easiest bit of ‘brewing’ I’ve done so far is the elderflower stuff I’ve just been bottling. The whole process of making this drink has probably taken an hour, including the picking and bottling – it really is that easy.

No faffing around with demi-johns and air locks, no leaving it to ferment for month after month, you literally pick the flowers one day, and bottle the stuff the next. How it will taste of course, is anyone’s guess. However, there’s loads of elderflowers around, and if you were to take a couple of flower heads of half a dozen bushes, you will be making very little impact on the amount of berries it will go on to produce.

The recipe I followed is a very basic one:

12 heads of elderflower, picked on a sunny day and full of scent.

1 1/2 lb of Unrefined white sugar.

The juice and zest of 1 lemon.

2 tbs white wine vinegar.

1 gallon of water.

Mix all the above in a bowl or pan, and leave it for 24 hours. I couldnt resist giving it a prod everynow and then with a spoon, to make sure it was all ‘getting involved’.

Then strain it, and bottle it (in screw top bottles preferably – corked bottles may not stand the pressure.

There’s no need for any extra yeast as there’s plenty of wild stuff on the flowers. I would suggest though that you try and pick your flowers from somewhere that hasnt been too popular with cars, I am not too keen on exhaust fumes where I can avoid them.

The drink should be consumed, after a fortnight, but within three weeks – so it’s probably best for a party, or for giving away as a gallon of water equates to about half a dozen wine bottles, or four and half  plastic litre bottles, which is what I used.

Just be aware though that although there can surely be hardly any alcohol in this drink, like all home brew, the strength will be hard to guage. So make sure you drink it in moderation, and that you arent driving after you have supped.


I should have pointed out to the unwary that you should also make sure your bottles are sterilised, if they are glass you can do this with boiling water or in the oven, for plastic bottles and caps you can just use Milton fluid for easiness sake.

Garlic goodness and general gardening

This morning I planted the last of my garlic stock for this year. Although this was a later sowing than I had planned, I had always intended to stagger my garlic planting, having overwintered about forty plants under plastic, which I planted in early autumn. Those autumn plants are now really thriving and look very mature, while obviously the cloves I planted today havent even begun to sprout yet.

Last year we planted two bulbs worth of Solent Wight garlic, and they kept us self sufficient in garlic (we use a lot) from autumn until now. The Solent Wight stored really well and on the whole provided excellent large bulbs with plenty of flavour.

Garlic needs cold weather, without a series of cold days it will not split properly and form the proper bulbs. Hence I should really have planted my last bulb before now. But I am interested to observe the different results from the staggered plantings, whether they will all mature around the same time, or some much earlier than others – and in particular how the early and late plantings will do.

I have a number of different alliums planted now, red onions, japanese onions, shallots, and garlic. Also growing nicely are a number of cabbages, and the spinach beet which has put on considerable growth recently.

I am waiting for Easter to plant my potatoes, two early sorts, Winstons and Lady Balfour. I am not bothering with maincrop potatoes this year.

I’ve also been sorting out a nice little pumpkin patch, which is good as we have an infeasibly large amount of pumpkin seedlings on the go.

In the greenhouse I’ll be growing tomatoes and melons. Other fruit we’re expecting include: kiwi (the tree is looking quite healthy – hoorah), blue berries, we now have a few bushes of this, currants and other berries. I need to work out where best to plant my strawberries, which at the moment are all in pots. I may try them in a container rather than a bed, but if so, I shall need a couple of large containers.

Asparagus is not showing yet, but I wouldnt expect anything at this point. Rhubarb of course is coming along nicely, just need to persuade ourselves to eat the stuff, as we have about four or five healthy rhubarb plants growing in the garden.

The broad beans which I overwintered have not done well, I think I must have taken the protection away too soon – ah well, that’s a lesson learned.

The greenhouse will also be home to some cut and come again salad, and I think I’ll look for some space to get some salad outside too if possible.

The big unknown this year are my fruit trees, they did absolutely nothing last year, but then they were totally neglected. This year they have been mulched and protected from weeds, and I’m hoping that they will oblige with some fruit in return for the tlc. On the other hand, I may already have killed them off… we’ll see.

In terms of herbs I’ve got parsley of course, along with thyme and rosemary, lavender and hopefully some soapwort which is resolutley refusing to germinate at the moment. I’ll also keep some pots of basil in the greenhouse or on a window ledge. Need to check on the mint too.

The challenge this summer will be to keep things watered, if, as I have heard on the grapevine, we’re in for a hot one. I have still not managed to snag any suitable barrels for rain butts, and I refuse to pay the amount demanded in shops. Caught between a rock and a hard place really.

I’m sure this has been a fascinating post to read, sorry – feels like I’ve just done a gardening brain dump. So what’s growing well for you right now?

Maddy Harland’s permaculture garden on TV

I spotted on Emma Cooper’s blog that Maddy Harland’s permaculture garden is going to be featured on TV soon, seeing as I’m in something of a ‘lets recommend things on iplayer’ mood, I strongly suspect this will be worth watching.

Maddy is the editor of Permaculture Magazine, which is kind of required reading really, good stuff. I should have an article in the next issue, looking at monastic history and its relationship to sustainable land use.

Maddy also blogs a great place to go if you have any interest in permaculture.

Her garden is a mature forest garden and from what I’ve seen and read before its a great example of permaculture in a real setting.

So anyway, the programme is part of gardening guru Alys Fowler’s series, which glories in the name of The Edible Garden, it’s going out on BBC2 at 8.00 pm on Wednesday 7th April 2010. If you have a TV, you could watch it there and then, if you’re like me, then you can catch it on iplayer afterwards.

Warmly recommended.