August- the perfect time to forage for giant puffballs

August is a lovely month for foraging. It’s fruit and nut time, with blackberries and hazelnuts ripening in the hedgerows. Hazelnuts are ripe when the leaf surrounding them is starting to turn yellowish, but move fast, as it will always be a case of you versus the squirrels in the race to the nut.

The puffball is a white globe that can grow as big as your head. This sounds like something from a Roald Dahl book. In fact, the puffball has a tasty, earthy flavour and an unusual texture that when cooked is like a mix between a savoury marshmallow and firm tofu. Due to its size, it can actually be used as a football if you don’t fancy eating it (or if it is a bit old to eat – the young ones are best).

This magnificent and entertaining fungus is also the safest way to introduce some wild mushroom into your diet because it is usually easy to identify. Do make sure it is still pure white throughout. As they age, they become yellow and taste bitter.

The puffball is very versatile and can be used like any mushroom; stir-fried, cooked in garlic butter, in soups, baked or grilled. The flesh of the Giant Puffballs has been compared to cheese or tofu. My favourite way is as a very healthy pizza base, making this a low-carb, wheat-free way to enjoy pizza.

Puffball safety
The giant puffball is usually an easy mushroom to identify but double-check that:
• cut from bottom to top, it is pure white throughout;
• it is bigger than a grapefruit; (they’re typically up to 70 cm in diamater)
• you have looked at pictures of common earthball mushrooms and young fly agaric (when they first grow, they form an egg-sized ‘puff’) and ruled
them out. These poisonous fungi look similar to the puffball when young, but if your puffball meets the top two criteria, then you can be quite confident it is a genuine puffball.


Check your mushrooms online: has useful images and descriptions to help you. Geoff Dann’s book Edible Mushrooms is full of tips on how to correctly and safely identify British mushrooms species.


An excerpt from both Kate Blincoe’s No-Nonsense Guide to Green Parenting 

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and Geoff Dann’s Edible Mushrooms



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What sort of salad should you plant in July?

Hestitating what to plant next ? Let Charles Dowding help you

The character of leaf harvests can swing back and forth throughout the summer as growth is so rapid, some sowings lasting less long than at other times of year, and there is an increasing choice of salad plants to grow. A typical early July salad is as much spring as summer, and a September one can be quite autumnal, depending on what you sowed. The following is an outline of salad essence as it unfolds through summer.

The leaves of early July
Most leaf lettuce sown in late winter or early spring should crop until mid- July or so, at which point a late May sowing will be a good replacement and should crop through July and most of August. If you want hearted lettuce, sow a few seeds every fortnight until mid-July. Endives become more prominent from now on, and leaf endives sown
from early June can offer leaves throughout summer. Leaf chicories are another somewhat bitter option, or Palla Rossa varieties can be sown in June for hearting from late August; their heart leaves are crunchier and less bitter.
Spring sowings of sorrel, dill, coriander and even parsley will tend to start flowering through July so more sowings are needed by early summer. In hot weather, or in an indoor growing space (greenhouse, conservatory etc), the summer’s top and most consistent flavour is basil. When regularly picked and with all flowering shoots removed, most basil will grow steadily until night temperatures drop in September or October. It really does not like cool, damp weather so a typical British summer is not ideal for growing it outdoors, unless you have a really sheltered and sunny spot. For extra red colour, orache is now replaced by Garnet Red amaranth, whose dark, ruby leaves also look attractive in the garden.


The leaves of late July and early August
Through this peak of summer, leaves are tending to gain in flavour as the first rocket and a few mizuna leaves become available. With the leaves that are already growing this is a time of great and increasing salad variety and quantity, as leaves grow fast in warmth and long days.
One leaf to avoid at this time is spinach which tends to flower rather quickly if at all short of moisture. A delicious alternative, in dry summers especially, is purslane (not the winter purslane which should really be called claytonia). It thrives in hot sun and has fleshy, rounded, and succu-lent leaves which add a welcome bite to the salad bowl in hot summers but less so in wet ones when its growth is stunted.


To learn more about growing  your own salads, reach for Charles Dowding’s Salad leaves for all seasons


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Should you think about using hempcrete when building your home?

People usually choose natural materials because they want a building that is sustain­able or ‘low impact’ in terms of eliminating or minim­izing any lasting negative effect on the world in which we live. In practice this means reducing as far as possible the ‘embodied energy’ associated with the materials and methods used in the construc­tion of the building; minimizing the amount of fossil fuels needed by the occupants to power, heat and cool the building through its lifetime; and minimizing toxic emiss­ions and any other harm to human society or the natural world.

People also choose natural materials because they are increasingly aware of how such materials can not only maintain the structural fabric of the building well but also help to keep humans in good health. In contrast to many synthetic materials, natural materials contain no harmful chemicals. They are also vapour permeable (they allow moisture to pass through), which has significant implications for the health of both the building and its occupants.

There are many natural materials available for use in construction: timber, stone, earth, animal hair, straw, hemp, lime, reed and fired clay, to name just some. Many of these materials can be used in more than one way. They have a long pedigree of use over centuries, or even millennia, by humans (and other animals!) to provide warmth and shelter. Today, with our growing awareness of the threats associated with over-dependence on fossil fuels, and our increasing understanding of the negative side-effects of synthetic building materials mass-produced by highly industrialized processes, has come a resurgence of interest in older and more natural materials and methods for construction.
Hempcrete (a hemp–lime composite construction material) is one such new material. Comprising the chopped stalk of the industrial hemp plant mixed with a lime-based binder, hempcrete provides a natural, healthy, sustainable, local, low-embodied-energy building material that can truly claim to be better than zero carbon. Carbon dioxide taken up by the plant when it was growing is locked up in its woody fibres, and at the end of the building’s life the hempcrete can be left to compost and be used as a soil additive rather than going into landfill. As a highly insulating material with significant thermal mass, hempcrete has excellent thermal performance within the structure of a building, and there is increasing evidence that it actually performs much better in real-life situations than is suggested by steady-state modelling.

Hempcrete is especially attractive to self-builders and community groups, because of the relatively low-tech nature of the construction method. Also, owing to the fact that it’s a relatively labour-intensive construction method, big savings can be made by providing your own labour. However, as our company and others have proved over recent years, hempcrete is also commercially viable as a construction material in a wide range of applications. Its cost is comparable to that of conventional construction methods, but if you factor in the true cost of the embodied carbon of conventional building materials, in terms of environ­mental damage, and consider the financial benefits of the energy savings that hempcrete delivers through the lifetime of the building, you could argue that it’s actually a lot cheaper!

There is a great pleasure to be found in building with hempcrete, which comes not only from the extraordinary thermal performance achieved but also from the simplicity: both of the material itself and of the elements within a typical hempcrete construction. Hempcrete’s low-tech nature means that, with relative ease, highly energy-efficient buildings can be constructed that contain virtually no synthetic, highly processed or high-embodied-carbon materials. With a good understanding of the material, and a little practice, hempcrete is a hugely rewarding material to work with, and can produce beautiful, healthy, ‘future-proof’ buildings.

Excerpt from William Stanwix’s and Alex Sparrow’s The Hempcrete Book




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Finding an orchard in the heart of the city

Our landscapes contain an enormous number of fruit trees. In towns, cities and in the wider countryside, solitary specimens and small clusters abound. Sometimes, these can form a productive continuum – sprawls of diverse and productive trees, around and within areas of human habitation – which represent, to all intents and purposes, an informal and invisible orchard…


Take a look at trees that, although perhaps not originally part of a commercial or domestic orchard, are nevertheless fruiting, supporting wildlife and contributing to the local scene. Consider the role of the orchard in the community and landscape as it now exists and as we now inhabit it, taking a look at the places where orchards used to grow and where relict orchards or orchard fragments remain. While urban orchards are increasingly celebrated, there are also places where tree fruit grows unplanned and unnoticed…


It is important to recognize that the contemporary urban landscape has grown up from, and over, what went before. The familiar streets and the houses we live in cut across an earlier version. Our concept of permanence is in fact just the vision of a modernist of 150 years ago, profiting from the fashionable suburbs and workmen’s cottages of the day. Or, indeed, the modernist of 5 years ago, striving to cram more housing units into less space. But the critical thing is that the houses around us have been built on something: farmland, garden or, sometimes, orchard. And these places once had trees – some of which are still here.


Where the sites of larger traditional orchards have been repurposed, the scattering of remaining trees can cross new boundaries of ownership and use. There might be a few in the grounds of a modern hospital, several in nearby gardens, and an old specimen tree in the park beyond the houses.

Winter Roofs

A patchwork city orchard

The moment you start looking for tree fruit, miraculously it becomes visible. Suddenly there is an old, contorted tree; another is perhaps growing robustly, lushly productive and hidden in plain view. It is quite common to find clusters of trees on allotments, along the hedge of the parking area or next to the central track. These don’t ‘officially’ belong to anyone and may find themselves ignored: an irony of rotting and crushed fruit amongst an otherwise cherished harvest… As the trees become familiar, a conscious connection emerges – a delightful personal secret between you and the landscape. Wayside edibles peep through the familiar undergrowth, sharp, aromatic and fresh….


An excerpt from Naomi Slade’s An Orchard Odyssey




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The links between poverty and environmental degradation

Poverty is linked to environmental degradation. The poor live in the most polluted places, in proximity to industrial areas, close to transport lines, in neighborhoods
poorly serviced in water supply or garbage collection.

One way of apprehending poverty in other than monetary terms would thus be through a description of the environmental conditions of existence. On top of that, it is the poor who primarily suffer the impact of the environmental crisis: in China, warns Environment Minister Zhou Shenxian, “the environment has become a social issue that stimulates social contradictions.” He indicates that in 2004, the country experienced 51,000 conflicts related to the environment. Among them, one counts, for example, dozens of ‘cancer villages’ bordered by chemical factories that shamelessly spew pollutants into the air and water, causing serious disease among their impotent neighbours. Similarly, conflicts connected to the theft of peasants’ lands to feed unbridled real estate speculation are also increasing: 74,000 in 2004 as compared with 58,000 in 2003. Conflict over land appropriation leads to bloody clashes (6 peasants were killed by the police in June 2005, and 20 in December 2005). Those are not events limited solely to China. Real estate conflicts are violent in Brazil (39 murders in 2004). Climate
change is affecting the peasants of the Sahel first. The spread of soy cultivation in Latin America is occurring in large part at the expense of small farmers. Natural catastrophes—floods, hurricanes, tidal waves—strike the poor all the more violently in that
they have fewer means to protect themselves and no insurance for restoration.
“In numerous cases,” the experts of Millennium Ecosystem Assessment observe,

‘it is the poor who suffer from the loss of environmental
services due to the pressure exerted on natural systems
for the benefit of other communities, often in other parts
of the world. For example, dams chiefly benefit the
cities they supply with water and electricity, while rural
residents may lose access to the submerged land and to
fishing. Deforestation in Indonesia or in the Amazon
is partially stimulated by demand for wood, paper, and
agricultural products from regions far distant from the
exploited areas, while it is the indigenous people who
suffer from the disappearance of forest resources. The
impact of climate change will be felt above all in the
poorest parts of the world—for example, as it exacerbates
drought and reduces the agricultural production
of the driest regions—while greenhouse gas emissions
essentially come from rich populations.’
Moreover, agriculture connects poverty and the environmental crisis. At the global level, poverty concerns mostly peasants: two-thirds of those who subsist on a dollar a day or less live in rural areas. The implicit choice of economic powers across the planet is to consider that the question will be settled by the rural exodus, as poor peasants are supposed to be able to fi nd the resources procured by industrial development in the city. The weakness of agricultural policies favours bad land management, erosion of the land, and then its being abandoned. Peasants, in the end, leave their villages. Now, as we have seen, the city is no longer the place for the promised prosperity. The scrawny peasant’s steps are leading him to the destitution of the slums.

But it’s not only the absence of agricultural policies that breeds this situation. Competition in global markets from Northern agribusiness— overequipped and able to produce almost a hundred tons of grain per full-time employee a year at low cost—with farmers lacking adequate resources and producing less than a ton per person per year leads to impoverishment, bankruptcy, and the exodus of the poor farmers. In fact, as agronomist Marc Dufumier notes, “what some call ‘free trade’ is nothing other than putting farmers whose conditions of productivity are extremely unequal into competition.” That imbalance is all the more absurd in that the strong productivity of Northern agriculture is obtained at the price of significant ecological damage—excessive water consumption, the spreading of harmful pesticides, and massive utilization of fertilizers provoking water eutrophication
or pollution by nitrates.

Overall, poverty and the environmental crisis are inseparable. Just as there is a synergy between different ecological crises, there is a synergy between the global environmental crisis and the social crisis: they respond to one another, influence one another, and deteriorate in tandem.


This is an excerpt from Hervé Kempf’s How the Rich are Destroying the Poor


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Climate Change – One Aspect of a Global Crisis

To really capture the gravity of the planetary environmental crisis, it is essential to understand that climate change—often presented in an isolated fashion—does not constitute the totality of the crisis. The various environmental disturbances are, in
reality, aspects of a single crisis; and climate change is only the most visible facet of the same crisis that the rapid disappearance of biodiversity and the generalized pollution of ecosystems also demonstrate.

For example, the construction of a highway and its subsequent use will simultaneously impair biodiversity (by fragmenting the ecosystem it crosses), pollute the environment (through emissions of such atmospheric pollutants as nitrogen oxide and particulates, as well as gas spills), and increase carbon-gas emissions by stimulating the traffic of cars and lorries. At the same time, the excess carbon-gas waste leads to an increase in its absorption by the oceans, acidifying them and weakening the ability of coral and plankton to manufacture their calcareous envelope. If nothing changes, the organisms that have a shell of the mineral known as ‘aragonite’ will have disappeared from the southern oceans by 2030, with harmful consequences to those species that eat them, such as whales and salmon.

In another example of interaction, climate change should favour the spread of vectors of disease beyond their original ecosystems. For example, malaria-bearing mosquitoes will move toward the countries of the Northern Hemisphere. It should also stimulate the erosion of biodiversity: a scientific study published in 2004 estimated that climate change would lead to the disappearance of 35 percent of living species. Although this is probably exaggerated, the study nonetheless suggests the vigour of the connection between the two phenomena. Conversely, the factors involved in biodiversity destruction frequently affect climate change: close to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation. More generally, the crisis in biodiversity weakens the biosphere’s ability to dampen or check greenhouse gas emissions, and consequently it exacerbates their impact.

So we must abandon the idea of separate crises that may be solvable independently of one another. That idea serves special interests only, for example, the nuclear-power lobby, which uses climate change to promote its industry. On the contrary, we must think about the synergy of these crises—their interrelations, their interactions—and accept an unpleasant fact: this synergy is currently working toward a worsening of our state of affairs, with a destructive power that nothing available can temper right now.


An excerpt from Hervé Kempf’s book How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth



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Why should you learn how to store garden produce?

I’ve always been obsessed with the idea of self-sufficiency, and have always hated waste, so as a keen vegetable grower it was only natural that I explored the overlooked art of storage.

To some extent it is a lost art. These days you can go to the supermarket any day of the week and buy produce from many different countries. In the past, effective storage was a matter of life and death: if your potatoes rotted, your family would go hungry – possibly starve.
I have also always felt ridiculous buying vegetables or fruit that have been flown halfway round the world when I had been growing a surplus of the same ones myself only a few months earlier. Plus there are so many other benefits from eating your own produce year round:

1. A huge sense of satisfaction – of self-reliance – that you alone can meet the most important need of your family.smiley-1876329_1920

2. Home-grown fruit and vegetables are far cheaper than shop-bought (if not free) – and you will have healthy exercise growing them. Why pay expensive gym fees and work out in a sweaty windowless room when the Green Gym is right outside your own back door, or down on the allotment? It is also said that gardeners live longer because they are always looking forward to the next season – of growing, harvesting and

3. What are you eating? You have little chance of knowing what chemicals or genetic modification have been used on produce you buy from a shop. At least you know how your own fruit and veg have been raised – and if you’re an organic gardener like me (which I thoroughly recommend), you’ll know your produce couldn’t be safer, for both you and the environment.agriculture-1867744_1920

4. Eating food you have produced in your own garden is by far the most environmentally sound way of doing things: no unnecessary packaging, no transport pollution, no encouragement of vast monocrops and so


5. You can create your own by-products: storage may simply be a result of your desire to create a specific product or ingredient such as cider or dried mushroomsapple-1962747_1920

6. Pleasure! Some storage activities: stringing onions, making wine, concocting chutneys, are pleasurable in themselves – and the end products are definitely for enjoyment.onion-2060157_1920

Learn How to Store Your Garden Produce with Piers Warren’s practical guide.


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