Archive for the ‘Green Books’ Category

Nordic Recipes and Techniques for Organic Bread and Pastry

This fabulous book, Home Baked by Hanne Risgaard, is published by Chelsea Green and distributed by Green Books. It’s a real treat for the eyes and all the more wonderful for coming from a small-scale, organic farm on an idyllic island off the coast of Denmark. The Skaertoft mill is run by the Risgaard family and produces organic, stoneground flour of the highest quality.


Baguettes. Photo: Thomas Tolstrup

The growing movement of Nordic cuisine centres on its devotion to high-quality regional produce, the creativity of the chef, and a sound awareness of the workings of nature—a set of principles that guides author Hanne Risgaard in Home Baked.


The Old Bakehouse. Photo: Marie-Louise Risgaard

With enticing, full-colour photographs throughout, Home Baked offers recipes and techniques for baking artisan bread and pastry using organic, nutrient-rich grain and stone-milled flour grown and milled on Skærtoft Mølle, the Risgaards’ farm on Als, an idyllic island in the southeast of Denmark. Copenhagen’s celebrated restaurant NOMA, recently accorded a ‘World’s Best Restaurant’ award, uses Skærtoft Mølle products.

Risgaard family

The Risgaard family. Photo: Thomas Tolstrup

Risgaard’s recipes include unique ingredients like foraged herbs and greens—such as the Cocotte with Ramsons, elderflower muffins, and ‘Green Knots’ made with stinging nettle—that emphasize the distinct Nordic approach to bread baking that is worlds away from most conventional baking books. The book includes a guide to basic equipment and kitchen set-up, ingredients, and the history of Skærtoft Mølle and their philosophy.

Nordic Recipes and Techniques for Organic Bread and Pastry

Home Baked is available from the Green Books website for £21.13 (this is 35% off the RRP of £32.50), with free p&p in the UK. Order by Mon 17th December for delivery before Christmas.


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I called in on the Centre for Alternative Technology a couple of weeks ago during a mini-holiday in Wales.  I last visited with my family about ten years ago (I remember the weather being typically Welsh then too!).

CAT, Machynlleth, Wales
CAT is built into the side of a hill in woodland in mid-Wales, on the edge of Snowdonia.  You have to be pulled up in a gravity-powered funicular railway to get up to the action. The centre demonstrates practical solutions for sustainability, covering all aspects of green living: environmental building, eco-sanitation, woodland management, renewable energy, energy efficiency and organic growing.

The cliff railway

The water-balanced cliff railway, one of the steepest in the world

In spite of the rather inclement weather, it was fascinating to visit again.  The centre has working examples of environmentally responsible buildings, renewable energy generation, sustainability in the home, organic growing, composting and waste management.

The solar dome

The forest garden

The forest garden, one of many ecological gardens on display, contains only plants that are edible or useful in some way, and is structured so that the plants help each other to grow.

Wind turbines

Several wind turbines around the centre

There are demonstrations showing how the wind, the sun and water can provide genuinely viable alternative forms of energy on a small scale as well as large.

Wood store

Wood store

Display of titles from Green Books

Beth Bennett from the CAT shop, with a display of titles from Green Books

The staff in the information centre were very helpful and took the trouble to email me with more information after my visit.  The bookshop has a huge range of practical and inspirational books on ecological and environmental subjects. It was great to see so many titles from Green Books on display, and it was very nice to meet Beth Bennett, who buys and markets the books.  There is also an excellent selection of unusual and innovative gifts for the environmentally-inclined.  The eco-store also sells by mail order.

The gift and bookshop

Shopping for environmental gifts and books

CAT runs many talks, events and workshops throughout the year, and the whole site is a working example of sustainability in practice. There is also an enormous amount of useful information on the CAT website.

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Charles Dowding

Charles Dowding in his garden

Charles Dowding, the highly respected gardener and author, has written a new book for Green Books: How to Grow Winter Vegetables, In this extract he tells us what we need to do in June to sow, plant and prepare for an abundance of vegetables ready for to harvest and enjoy all the way through winter.


“An invaluable book, intelligent of course, and inspiring too.” – Anna Pavord

“Charles’s book celebrates all that is good about growing year-round – I guarantee that you’ll actually look forward to winter after this read.” – Alys Fowler

“Opens up a needlessly neglected and wonderful part of gardening – winter with your own vegetables is a much better place to be.  Charles’s book is a comprehensive, practical and inspiring guide.” – Sarah Raven


June and July are key months for planting many winter vegetables, most of which should be set out by the middle of July. These months are also good for sowing many seeds of winter crops, such as swedes, carrots and kale in June, then winter salads such as radicchio, endive and Chinese cabbage in July.

Early June is the best time for sowing vegetables such as the humble swede, which grows most strongly and healthily in the year’s second half. Savoy cabbage is another excellent example, often sown too early in May and tending to heart up by late autumn, whereas early June sowings make no attempt to heart up before winter, and often look unattractive in late summer, from damage caused by caterpillars eating their leaves. But they develop plenty of roots, are extremely hardy and use any milder spells in winter to develop their hearts, at a time when green leaves are scarce and no brassica insects are present. Just beware larger pests such as pigeons, although they are less interested in savoys than in other brassicas.

A late June planting of lettuce, to finish by September for plantings ofA late June planting of lettuce, to finish by September for plantings ofA late June planting of lettuce, to finish by September for plantings of salad under a winter cloche

A late June planting of lettuce, to finish by September for plantings of salad under a winter cloche

Successional sowing

Summer plantings can follow harvests of vegetables that were overwintered or sown in early spring. This second cropping allows you to make more use of space, and leads to a cleaner plot, rather than leaving weeds to grow after a first crop.

But growing two harvests in a year also asks more of the soil, and, unless enough compost was spread in the previous autumn or winter – so that some is still visible on top in summer – it is worth spreading about another 2cm (less than an inch) on the surface before planting.

Sowing and planting in June

Indoors Outdoors
Sow Beetroot, chicory for forcing, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, spring cauliflower, swede, winter cabbage (savoy) Beans for drying beetroot, carrot, chicory for forcing, kale, seakale, spring cauliflower, swede, winter cabbage (savoy)
Plant Beans for drying, Brussels sprouts, celeriac, chicory for forcing, kale, leek, purple sprouting broccoli (late in month), winter cabbage (all types), winter squash (early in month)
General Net brassicas if pigeons are hungry.  Thin parsnips. Keep weeding.

Waiting until June to sow many winter brassicas, such as kale, swedes and savoy cabbage, helps to spread the workload. Also, there is probably plenty of weeding and edging to do, and the first harvests of summer to gather, marking an end to the hungry gap.


Plants of beans to dry want to be in place during the first week of June if possible. Any later and they are unlikely to have enough time for beans to dry on the plant in September.


Late September: module-raised beetroot planted in June. Some larger roots have been harvested.

Late September: module-raised beetroot planted in June. Some larger roots have been harvested.

• Best sowing time: June.  Sow early in month if you want larger roots.

Other possible times: May for enormous roots; first week of July for smaller roots

•  Seed is best sown indoors in modules

•  Can follow salads, peas, spinach and carrots, especially when raised as plants indoors

Modules of beetroot (see picture) and chard, sown four weeks earlier, for planting without thinning


Beetroot has a lot of variety to offer, in root shape, colour and flavour. ‘White beetroot’ is one of the sweetest, closely followed by yellow – for instance, ‘Burpees Golden’ and ‘Golden Detroit’. If you like an extra earthy flavour and hoops of red and white, try ‘Barbietola di Chioggia’. Good red varieties for winter use are ‘Sanguina’ and the ever-reliable ‘Boltardy’. All the aforementioned roots are round, while a long one of sweet flavour is ‘Cheltenham Green Top’, whose roots are sweeter and deeper, giving extra resistance to frost.


Early June is best for large harvests; early July is the last chance for roots of reasonable size. Beetroot grows well from being sown in modules or pots and then transplanted. A big advantage of doing this is the extra time gained for an earlier crop to finish. Sow three or four seeds in each module and then, about a fortnight later, thin seedlings to four per clump (some seeds grow more than one seedling). Each module can be planted without further thinning – its clump of plants will grow together, with their roots pushing one another apart as they swell (see photo on page 152).

Planting out

Clear all weeds and any surface remains of the previous crop, then dib holes 45cm (18″) apart. This spacing is for clumps of four beetroot on average and should result in medium sized roots. Plant closer if modules have fewer plants; a little wider if you want larger roots.


If sowing seed direct, draw out drills about 45cm (18″) apart and sow seeds every 2-3cm (1″), then thin seedlings to 5cm (2″).


Beetroot is relatively trouble free, of insects at least, although slugs often make small holes in roots, especially in late autumn. A fairly common disease is a fungal rot, which results in black spots on roots, and yellow varieties are especially susceptible. I know of no remedy and put infected roots in the compost heap. Birds sometimes eat leaves of seedlings, and a fleece or mesh cover for the first month may be necessary.


When planted in June, these have time to grow really large, compared with later plantings in July. As with Brussels sprouts (see below), they can be inter-planted with catch crops of quick-growing lettuce. Again, be ready to cover them with mesh or fleece.


Any time in June is good for planting Brussels sprouts. Make a hole deep enough to bury most of the stem and firm plants in well.

Because sprouts are such a hungry vegetable I do not grow a preceding crop, but it can help them to grow better if a few lettuce are planted out between them. Some plants seem to feel a little lonely when spaced widely and grow more strongly when other plants are nearby. The lettuce can be cropped for leaves or grown for hearts, and will be finished before all the space is needed by the sprout plants.


Ballhead cabbages want planting before midmonth so there is time for dense hearts to develop, whereas savoys can go out as late as July. Be prepared to cover plants with either netting against birds or mesh against insects. This is easier when all winter brassicas are planted together in one block.


Carrots protected by fleece over the whole bed

Carrots protected by fleece over the whole bed

• Best sowing time: mid-June

• Other possible times: from mid-May to early July

• Seed is best sown direct in the soil

• Carrots can follow spinach, spring leeks or radishes, or be inter-sown between garlic and salad onions


There is plenty of choice, with variations in shape, colour and flavour. An old and reliable favourite is ‘Autumn King’, which stores well and has long, pointed roots. ‘Berlicum’ and ‘St Valery’ are two equally tasty varieties for keeping through winter. ‘Early Nantes’ is a good choice for late sowings, even into the first half of July in milder areas – it grows fast and also keeps well in cold conditions. Some varieties have been bred to resist carrot root fly, but I have found them to offer only slight resistance.

Sowing & planting out

Sowings in early June may be eaten as small plants by the last spring hatchings of carrot root fly, so mid-month is safer, and still gives time for good-sized roots to develop. Carrots mature to a good size within four months, sometimes in only three. Outdoor sowing is easier at this time than in spring, when germination can be interrupted by cold weather. Sowing carrots in modules for transplanting is possible, but take care to plant them out when seedlings are still small, with no more than one true leaf, in case tap roots have reached the bottom of their pots, which leads to forked roots.


Row spacings of any distance from 30cm to 45cm (12-18″) are possible, according to how large you like your carrots. Sowing two or three seeds per centimetre (five or six per inch) should allow, after thinning, sufficient room for large roots to grow, about a centimeter (half inch) apart. Thinning is more important for having roots of a good size to store.


Carrot root fly is always a persistent pest, with the ability to make roots almost inedible when many maggots succeed in hatching: they tunnel around and through roots at different levels. There are a few flies around all summer, then their main season is late September and October. Dry summers keep them at bay, to a point, because the flies’ eggs need moisture to wash them down to root level after being laid on the surface. The most reliable way to prevent damage is to cover all carrot plants with mesh, by early August. Another remedy is to make a polythene ‘wall’ around a carrot bed, about 60cm (2′) high. This stops the entry of any carrot root flies because they fly close to the ground.


This works best in soil with few weeds and is a way of temporarily double-cropping a piece of ground to save time. Carrots grow slowly at first and need few nutrients at this stage; sowings in June can be made between any maturing crop that offers enough light and is not removing too much moisture. Garlic is the most suitable example because it is finishing its growth in June and is then harvested in early July. Spring-sown salad onions can also be inter-sown with carrots.

Soil needs to have been well composted when the garlic or onions were planted, to have sufficient fertility for winter carrots as well. Rows 30-40cm (12-16″) apart are ideal for sowing carrots between in June. Take care when harvesting the garlic or onions not to disturb the rows of carrot seedlings.

BUY CHARLES DOWDING’S HOW TO GROW WINTER VEGETABLES for information on other vegetables that need attention in June, including








If you have not already thinned your parsnips, you can do so in June.

Weeding is ongoing and can be more time consuming in June than later in summer, because many vegetables have not yet grown enough to shade the soil

By the end of June, there will probably be few empty spaces in the plot, with an abundance of plants growing and some that are ready to harvest, such as lettuce, spring onions, spinach, radish, beetroot, carrots, broad beans, peas and early potatoes. Then, once they are harvested, soil can be cleared, cleaned and planted with second crops – some sown in June, some still to sow in high summer.

How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding

Extract from How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding, published by Green Books

For more information or to buy the book now, visit Green Books’ online bookshop

Other best-selling titles from Charles Dowding: 


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Dave Hamilton, author of Grow Your Food for Free (well, almost)

Dave Hamilton photo: JP Hedge Photography

I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Hamilton yesterday in Totnes, at the launch of his new book Grow Your Food for Free (well, almost).  Dave co-founded the website selfsufficientish.com and he grows and forages for most of his own food.

Here’s his advice on container growing:

Container growing has become more popular in recent years and seed companies have cottoned on to this by selling ‘patio’ varieties of our favourite vegetables. Some of these, such as the patio salads, can be a bit of a false economy, as most plants only grow to the size they are allowed to. I’ve found that conventional varieties of salads actually do better in containers than specific container seed, usually for half the price.

Tomatoes spilling from a hanging basket

A hanging basket doesn't just have to be for flowers

There are exceptions to this rule, and growing compact dwarf beans as opposed to climbing French beans makes perfect sense if space is limited. Consider each seed on its own merits and go for specialist ‘container’ varieties only if they really do look like they are worth the money.


Large ‘tonne’ or ‘dumpy’ bags (builder’s bags) make perfect planters for potatoes and are near-identical to bags on sale doing exactly the same job! Alternatively, a large plant pot will work just as well. Plant three to four seed potatoes in each dumpy bag or pot and cover with soil. As the plant grows, cover the foliage with soil, leaving some of the leaves to poke out from the surface. Keep repeating this step as the potatoes grow until the bag is full. To harvest, roll the bag down.

What type of container?

The choice of container is really limited only by what you can find. They need to be big enough to accommodate the plant and its roots, so a 5-litre (1-gallon) tub is never going to be big enough for a courgette plant but a chilli plant will be perfectly at home in one.

Suitable containers and where to get them

Suitable containers and where to get them

Tired advice

For some time tyres have been recommended by some to grow potatoes in, but this is no longer advised, as there are issues with toxic compounds leaching from the tyres into your potatoes.

A sack can make an attractive container for plants

Make the most of limited space by growing in a sack

Plants in a sack

The rooftops of urban Kenya show signs of the innovation of the gardenless occupants. In order to have a supply of fresh vegetables, many of the women of Nairobi have taken to growing much of their daily vegetables in hessian sacks. The sacks are filled with earth and seedlings are slotted in through holes cut into the sack. If you wish to try this method on your patio or on a flat rooftop, a mix of leaf mould, compost and topsoil is an ideal growing medium, with additional nutrition supplied from liquid feeds. Cabbages naturally grow on cliff tops and cliff faces and are perfectly adapted to growing this way; other suitable plants could include salad greens, strawberries and tomatoes.

Eden Project

The Eden Project

Tony Kendle, Foundation Director, Eden Project gives his advice on soils for pots and containers

Plants in pots have to get all of their water and nutrient needs from soil that is tens or even hundreds of times smaller in volume than their roots would reach if planted out. The containers have to be watered on such a regular basis that it puts the structure of the soil under great pressure and this structure can start to break down. A normal soil maintains a healthy structure thanks to natural activity such as worms burrowing, which isn’t as effective in containers. All of this means that for best results you have to be careful what soils to use – any old stuff won’t do.

To get the best yields you need container soils with the right pH, the right fertility and the right structure. But pH and nutrition can be fixed if you need to, while structure is something you need to get right at the beginning.

Clay-rich soils can be very fertile in the garden but they rely on worm channels and the formation of clods and airways to stay healthy. In containers this structure collapses and they can become airless and toxic.

Sandy soils have a totally different structure; they are more uniform and not dependent on clods and pores. These work best in containers.

You can make heavy soils more sandy but you need lots of sand to do it – maybe twice the volume of the clay. If you scrounge sand to do this you have to rinse it thoroughly before using it, in case it’s coated in lime or salt or something else the roots won’t like.

Organic matter is great to add to pots because it helps hold water and nutrients. But not all compost is the same. Compost made from soft material such as leaves will break down quickly and before you know it the pot will be half empty – this is a useful material for containers for annuals or short-lived crops. For perennials you need a proportion of tougher material such as composted bark and twigs. This can last for years but won’t release many nutrients, so will need more feeding.

Containers don’t need drainage layers such as broken pots at the bottom. You will never find these in the millions of plants grown in pots in commercial nurseries. But it is crucial that they drain well or the root zone will become stagnant and the roots will die. Roughly speaking, soils hold water in micropores and air in the larger pores that drain freely. Think of a bathroom sponge – when you lift it out of the water the big holes drain quickly, but the whole thing remains damp. But do the sponge test for real and look more carefully. You will see a saturated layer at the bottom that doesn’t drain. This is where water is held even in large pores, by capillary action.

What you will find is that, whatever way up you hold the sponge, this layer is the same depth. This is how it works in containers too. The soils will have a layer of a few centimetres at the bottom that doesn’t drain well and will risk being stagnant. This means that the shape of pots really matters – wide shallow pots hold more water and drain less well than tall narrow pots of the same volume. Matching the right pots, the right soils and the right plants gets the best results, but it matters most for plants that will be in the pot for a long time and where good rooting is needed.

Grow Your Food for Free (well, almost) by Dave Hamilton

Grow Your Food for Free (well, almost)

Watch Dave Hamilton describe the perfect book launch audience here

Dave Hamilton’s Grow Your Food for Free (well, almost) is available from Green Books at £14.95.

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I went along today to meet someone at The Tagore Festival, being held at Dartington Hall this week to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Rabindranath Tagore. This is a little video I made of the atmosphere in the gardens (excuse the wobbly camera).

Tagore was the visionary poet who was the first Asian to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1913, for his book of poems Gitanjali.

As the programme says, the festival is “A feast for heart and mind, featuring inspirational speakers and artists. It features poetry, dance, music, film, workshops, networking, craft and food, with inspiring discourse on a new vision for humanity in harmony with planet Earth.”

The authors, poets and speakers at the event include artisitic director Satish Kumar, Sir Andrew Motion, Vandana Shiva, Benjamin Zephaniah, Saskia Sassien, Michael Morpurgo, Deepak Chopra, Tim Smit, Jonathan Porritt, Matt Harvey and many more.

A Taste of Tagore, compiled by Meron Shapland

A Taste of Tagore, compiled by Meron Shapland

Meron Shapland has compiled an introduction to the poetry and prose of Rabindranath Tagore, A Taste of Tagore, published by Green Books.

Full details of the Festival here.

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I have been fortunate enough to start working with Green Books, environmental publishers for nearly 25 years.  They publish books on all sorts of ecological, spiritual and cultural issues and produce some very useful and practical books on various aspects of organic gardening.

The company is based in beautiful Dartington, near Totnes in Devon.  We will be moving this weekend just down the road, to new offices next to Dartington Hall.

These are the existing offices, at Foxhole, which are proving to be too expensive for the Dartington Trust to maintain, and which will perhaps be converted into accommodation for elderly people.  Lucky them.

Green Books office at Foxhole, Dartington

The quadrangular building was designed by Oswald P. Milne and built in 1931-2 as teaching space, library, common room and accommodation for the senior pupils of Dartington Hall School. As in the junior school at Foxhole, all pupils had their own study-bedrooms and in the boarding houses the sexes were mixed.

The Gymnasium on the site is separately listed and was designed by William Lescaze in 1933/34 and built by Staverton Builders.

Organic salads brought up by the local school

The local school children bring up bags of organic salad leaves and flowers for sale.

Green Books team minus Jon Clift

The Green Books team, from left to right: Stacey, me, Alethea, MD John Elford, Amanda, Bee and Jayne.  Unfortunately Jon was away that day.

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