• New booze round-up #8: World Gin Day

    Apparently, June 8 is World Gin Day. We know this because for the past few months we’ve routinely received emails from gin (and tonic) producers asking if we were covering the event. We weren’t planning to, but owing to the persistence of some we’ve decided to dedicate a New Booze Round-up to the best we’ve been sent. Happy World Gin Day everyone…

    Bombay Sapphire Estate Gin Bottle

    Bombay Sapphire Limited Edition: English Estate, 40%

    The first of our gins arrived from the familiar name of Bombay Sapphire. Whenever we run gin-based cocktail making demos we always ask attendees what their favourite gin is, and Bombay Sapphire’s famous blue booze usually gets the most mentions.

    Our gardening crowd should be impressed with the distillery’s new release, a limited edition that “draws inspiration from the landscape surrounding the Bombay Sapphire Laverstoke Distillery in Hampshire”*. It has three new botanicals which all grow in the area – Pennyroyal Mint, Rosehip and toasted Hazlenut. The resulting gin is every bit as florally fresh as their classic spirit but the botanical notes have been turned up a notch and there’s a more noticeable citrus spark to the flavour. With a few sunny summer days already under our belts, our bottle is looking rather empty already.

    Buy a bottle

    Theodore Pictish gin bottle

    Theodore, Pictish Gin, 43%

    Gin makers are looking for all sorts of inspiration for making (and marketing) their gin, and Scotland’s Greenwood distillers have come up with a product that takes the Picts as its inspiration. The tribe was said to be among the first settlers in Scotland and there are a few historical botanicals among the 16 ingredients featured in this gin. One of these is a favourite of ours, pine needles, while the smokey, floral notes of vetiver and puckering zestiness of citric pomelo also make an appearance.

    These botanicals and other original pictish illustrations adorn the packaging, which is every bit as good as the gin, and we think it would make an excellent gift for any discerning gin drinkers.

    Buy a bottle

    North Uist Gin Bottle

    North Uist Distillery, Downpour Gin, 46%

    Next up is another Scottish distillery and the first to open on the Hebridean island of North Uist. They’re currently working on a single malt, which will take a while to be ready, but until then spirit seekers can enjoy their gin. It’s a citrussy number with heady floral notes, which we’re guessing are predominantly heather. Whereas some gins tinker with traces of botanicals, what most impresses us is that Downpour has them thrust them forward with full-flavoured confidence.

    The distillery’s website recommends serving with a sprig of rosemary and as that’s our favourite G&T garnish they get even more top marks from us.

    Buy a bottle

    Citadelle, Gin de France, 44%

    This gin isn’t new (it has been around since the mid 1990s) but we’ve not knowingly tried a French gin before so were intrigued to see this bottle arrive through the post. It is made with 19 botanicals which mingle and merge to give it some complexity behind the very punchy juniper flavours that take centre stage.

    We find that a lot of modern gins lose their appeal when mixed with tonic – all that hard work to create unique flavours that can often be dashed with a dose of quinine – but this one demands some cold and fizzy liquid to tame it and bring out the full palette of flavours. Magnifique!

    Buy a bottle

    *Several of our demo attendees have mentioned it as being a great place to visit. It’s on our list.

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  • Wormwood and the making of vermouth

    Wormwood is one of the most interesting booze-related plants to grow in the garden. It’s a good looker, with silver-green leaves made up of curvy shapes that could belong to a Matisse collage. The plant to get is Absinthium artemisia which, as you may guess by the clue in the name, is one of the main flavourings for absinthe.

    Besides the infamous spirit that caused such mayhem among the Parisienne artists of the late 19th century you can also taste its powerfully bitter flavours in vermouth, a fortified wine that, at long last, is starting to come back in fashion – and not just as a cocktail mixer.

    Vermouth is made by flavouring wine with various botanicals and fortifying with alcohol – usually a neutral grain spirit and, like wines, vermouths can be red or wine, sweet or dry. Wormwood was one of the original botanicals used to flavours vermouths, having been popular in German fortified wines, and was key in the first Italian versions of these Germanic drinks.

    These days, much like gin, practically anything goes when it comes to wormwood flavouring, with an array of herbs, spices, fruits, roots and barks all jostling for attention from the blenders eye. Making your own version is fairly straightforward (we’ve got a recipe for it in our book) but for us, wormwood is always the number one ingredient.

    bottle el bandarra white vermut

    Review! El Bandarra Vermut, 15%

    Vermouth isn’t just an Italian or German drink, but is popular all over the world. The UK has never really gone in for it but there are signs that this summer might see a revival. Hoping to make an impression is a gin from Spain which we’ve been sent to review, and we’ve been mightily impressed.

    Vermouth is a great choice to precede or accompany a tapas, with its bitter and sweet characteristics setting up the taste buds for salty, nibbly foods in much the same way that a good sherry does. El Bandarra are clearly looking to this market with a colourful bottle decorated with tapas and pinchos dishes.

    It’s a sweet white vermouth with a typically musty grape and herby bitter aroma that tastes full of dessert wine sweetness and Summer wine freshness. A subtle but lingering bitterness comes through the sweet juicy flavours that is the perfect prelude to those salty morsels of food, while some warming botanicals seem to make it a suitable choice to accompany the setting summer’s sun. The perfect choice for summer evening al fresco dining, Spanish-German-Italian style.

    Buy it now

    This is a sponsored post

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  • We’re going wild for bees: our new natural hive to attract bees on the allotment

    We’ve always wanted more bees on the allotment. The poor creatures are in decline and, as renters of some prized land, feel it’s our duty to offer as much food and protection to them as possible. In return, Rich hopes they’ll pollinate his cider apple trees.

    Thus far, the best we’ve been able to do is grow a few plants with nectar-packed flowers for them to munch upon, leave some areas as nature intended, and avoid the use of chemicals. We’ve always liked the idea of installing a beehive, but it just seems like too much fuss… the sting-proof clobber, the smoke and the constant attention all go against our lazy gardening ways.

    We admittedly hadn’t done much research on keeping hives on an allotment, but if we had then there’s every chance we would’ve come across Kevin Hancock. Thankfully, Kevin contacted us.

    Kevin makes beehives. But not the kind of beehives you see gown-wearing, smoke-squirting beekeepers poring over, eager for honey. Kevin’s bee hives provide a far more natural home for our nectar-loving friends. His business, ‘Gardeners Beehive’, is about protecting “bees for bees sake – not honey or money.” The hives, he says, are more like bird boxes. A self-regulating system where the bees thrive and get on with their bee-like business – without being sent to sleep every week by a jet of smoke. If you’re desperate to taste their honey you can install honey boxes, but that’s not the main aim. These hive are about saving our natural bee population.

    Kevin is rightly proud of his natural hives – he makes them by hand and is keen to spread the word about their benefits. In order to help promote his business we agreed to house one on our allotment and write about it on this website.

    The boxes are free standing at around four feet tall and easy to set up. You just need a spanner to open out the legs and fix them in place. The most important consideration is where you keep your hive. South facing is ideal, though not essential, but it will need as much protection from the shade as possible – under a tree or hedge is perfect. Ours has been given the dual shade of a large patch of bamboo and the hop arches.

    It only takes a few minutes to build the hive

    The other vital consideration for your hive is clearing a flight path in front of the bees entrance holes, which are situated quite low down on the hive. Kevin suggests 3m to 5m should be sufficient and warns that any obstacles in the way could prevent the bees from swooping into their home. The position of our hive is at least 5m from the nearest hedge but weeds are always eager to rise in that area, so to prevent them from obstructing the flying bees we laid down some weed suppressing matting and covered it with wood chip. It’s the smartest, most natural runway we’ve seen.

    Rich was also keen not to repeatedly wander into the bees flight path** so the hive and runway are angled away from his shed and working area, facing instead the rugby pitch beyond the hedge. (The rugger players ruin the allotment calm often enough with their sweary voices and we fully expect to hear even more sting-related expletives over the coming rugby season).

    Kevin’s hives come with everything else you need to attract your first swarm of bees, which isn’t much: some ‘live biomass’ to make it more homely and some lure to attract them. We installed ours up in prime settling-in season, mid-May, so there’s a chance the bees might take up residence within a few weeks, but you can fix your hive up anytime of year – a little bit of ageing before spring will actually make it a more appealing residence for the bees.

    We’re set up, primed and ready for the bees. We’ve even given the hive a name, Gordon, because in the words of Brian Blessed, “Gordon’s a Hive.” Now all we do is wait.

    For more information on Gardeners Beehives visit gardenersbeehive.com

    We have a hive and a clear runway. Bring on the bees…

    *One of our many excuses for not weeding

    **We have painful, first hand experience of what can happen when you do this while photographing hives at a National Trust property

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  • An interview with… Medwyn Williams, veg growing ace.

    Medwyn Williams vegetable prowess is second to none. He’s been nurturing vegetables since he was knee-high to a radish, schooled in the ways of growing by his farm worker dad, amongst the fertile soil of Anglesey. Medwyn (currently) has an incredible ELEVEN Chelsea gold medals to his name. To us, he’s the Viscount of Veg, Lord of the Leeks, Prince Regent of Parsnips – and this year he has called upon leading plant nutrient and growing medium brand, CANNA to help with his Chelsea show display.

    Ahead of the big Chelsea reveal, we curl up amongst the carrots and chat about all things veg.

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    What can we expect to see on your Chelsea display?

    Over forty different kinds of vegetables in a range of colours as I firmly believe that vegetables are as colourful as flowers with the added benefit you can eat them!! We aim to create a rugby ball from tomatoes with the colours of Wales to celebrate the upcoming Rugby World Cup in September which is to be held in Japan. We will also have a few new and unusual varieties of vegetables as well. Also on the display this year, Leeks, Pak Choi, Chillies and some other vegetables have been grown without using soil or peat. For the first time these have been grown to maturity using only CANNA COCO and fed with CANNA A and B nutrients. The results have been excellent all round.

    Which are best – modern hybrids or old heritage veg?

    They both have their place in our garden as the heritage vegetables will mature over an extended period whilst the modern hybrids tend to mature at the same time. Some of the modern hybrids such as the Sweet Candle carrot have exquisite taste as well

    Do you actively attract pollinators? If so, how?

    As we are now growing on the land I purchased a few years ago, we are right in the open country and plenty of pollinators are naturally around owing to the wild flowers growing in the hedgerows etc.

    Any good tips for deterring pests such as slugs and pigeons?

    Slugs are a constant nightmare, especially when growing celery for exhibition when we have to revert to the judicious use of slug pellets. I have also used some nematodes. Pigeons are no problem but rabbits are a real pest and anything that suits their taste buds will be devoured overnight. We therefore have to cover most things, particularly brassicas and carrots with large sheets of fine nylon mesh.

    Do you tend to grow for yield or flavour?

    Both. One question I get asked at shows quite often is ‘do your vegetables taste good as they are much bigger than normal’. The fact is that they are given so much TLC that they taste far superior to any shop bought ones.

    Are there any veg you struggle to grow?

    One year I tried to grow a bright red ceremonial Japanese carrot and the whole lot forked and went to seed!

    What is the best piece of advice you could give to an aspiring veg grower?

    Get the foundation right which is the soil, get it tested to see what, if anything is lacking in it. Never forget there is nothing more honest than soil, you get out of it what you put into it. Don’t be too clever to start with, just grow what you and the family like to eat. There is no point for instance in growing parsnips if no one in your household likes them. Don’t work too large an area too quickly, just turn over an area sufficient for your needs at the time.

    What would you say would be the best fertiliser you have come across?

    The two main ones that I have used over the years are Blood Fish and Bone and our own – Medwyns Base Fertiliser with trace elements. The first is organic and the later inorganic but does contain a good amount of micro-nutrients. Nutrimate, though not strictly a fertiliser, is undoubtedly a valuable addition to the soil as it contains a high level of humic and fulvic acid. 5 kg is equivalent to 1 tonne of well-rotted farmyard manure with no smell, no weeds and less effort. Another good product to use is CANNA Rhizotonic as it helps root development in all types of growing media from soil to Coco and all mixes in between.

    Who are your gardening heroes?

    Without doubt I have two, Edwin Beckett and my father. Both of these growers influenced my gardening carrier in different ways Edwin Beckett was staging displays of vegetables during the 1920s and thirties at Chelsea and other large provincial shows around the South East. My father taught me how to appreciate the soil and set me growing when I was only eight years old by giving me radish mustard and cress to sow, from that point on I was hooked..

    What would be your five desert island vegetables? (Imagine it’s a fertile island, not a barren, sandy one)

    Being a proud Welshman I would have to grow leeks closely followed by Lady Christl potato (my favourite early) with the sea breeze hopefully keeping the blight at bay! Carrots would also feature as well as some quick growing juicy radish and ten week turnips. The Show Perfection pea has a really sweet flavour with, hopefully plenty of twigs around the island they could grow really well.

    At the end of a hard day’s gardening, what beverage do you reach for?

    Malt Whiskey, in particular Penderyn.

    To visit Medwyn’s vegetable display at this years Chelsea Flower Show, head on over to stand GPE223. He’ll also be launching ‘Y Ddraig Goch’ (or The Red Dragon) F1 hybrid tomato.

    For more information on Canna’s plant nutrient range, click HERE

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  • New booze round-up #7: Low- and no-alcohol beers (and shandy)

    Ever since writing a few pieces on low- and no-alcohol beers we’ve received a steady supply of samples, hoping to grab our attention for the next relevant commission. In just the last few weeks four new beers have sent to us and, seeing as they’re all good (many more aren’t), we decided to round them up together.

    Here they are in ascending levels of alcohol…

    Brooklyn Brewery, Special Effects, 0.4%

    When this arrived we had a hunch it would be good. Brooklyn Brewery makes a decent fist of just about everything it produces and we think there’s a common style to beers in their core range. This is billed as a ‘hoppy lager’ but it looks much more like an ale – a very brown liquid sporting a white-with-a-hint-of-malt coloured head.

    The flavour has a bit more maltiness than you would expect from a lager, which helps smooth out some of the harder edges apparent in many alcohol free beers, and the body feels quite full and flavoursome. The hopping is as we would expect from a hoppy Brooklyn beer: a rootsy bitterness that falls short of being aggressive with some brighter fruity tones. We hoped for a decent beer and it doesn’t disappoint.

    Big Drop, Citra Four Hope Special Edition Pale Ale, 0.5%

    Big Drop is a Suffolk brewery that specialises in low alcohol beers and we’ve been impressed with their range thus far. This special edition is fresh and fruity, a crisp beer with a slightly chalky light body and citrussy hops that tastes every bit a modern craft ale. Our first bottle was enjoyed on a hot Saturday afternoon – guzzled before a home brewing session, performing a great job of getting us in the brewing mood without alcohol diminishing our focus. And the sign of a good beer? We couldn’t wait to open the next one…

    M&S / Hog’s Back Five Hop Lager Shandy, 2.2%

    We like a shandy (or, as we call it in posh company, a cocktail). M&S’s new beer from Hog’s Back brewery is a rare thing: a lager shandy you don’t have to make yourself. German breweries commonly do this (it’s called a Radler) but it has never quite caught on in the UK, which is a shame.

    This can doesn’t quite contain the hopfest you might imagine from its five hop boast, but there’s a good beery undertone that adds some dryness to the sweet lemonade along with just enough alcohol to make an impression. There’s some good zestiness to the lemon and the whole package is crisp, fizzy and well balanced between lager and pop. A proper shandy: refreshment achieved.

    Camden Week Nite Lager, 3%

    Camden produce one of the best ranges of lagers in the UK so its no surprise to discover they’ve turned out a new brew with a lower than usual ABV of 3%. It’s unfiltered, dry-hopped and comes in a bright blue can – very showy for such a sober beer. And it tastes great. It’s light bodied with a dry finish and has some citrus refreshment running through it. The dry hopping pushes forward more hops than most lagers, with some grass and straw flavours that take on slight notes of ash through that dry finish.

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  • Brewing beer with a Joule Sous Vide

    Earlier this year we were sent an email asking if we had ever brewed beer with a Joule Sous Vide. We didn’t even know what Sous Vide was so hastily typed it into Google and discovered it’s a cooking method that uses a gadget to heat water to precise temperatures, allowing controlled underwater cooking of foods that have been sealed in a bag. Joule, it transpires, produce one of the leading pieces of Sous Vide kit on the market.

    Getting the sweet goodness from malted grains (mashing) requires cooking them in water at precise temperatures – a task that is tricky with the variable heat provided by ovens or hobs – so we responded with a ‘no’ swiftly followed by ‘tell us more.’ The people behind the Joule Sous Vide were as keen as us to put it to the test, so they sent us one to try.

    Before giving it a go we wanted to be certain that a hot, sticky wort (the liquid produced by mashing) wouldn’t damage the Sous Vide. It contains a pump that keeps the water flowing and regulates temperature so foods are cooked in bags partly to avoid bits clogging the system up, therefore it was important to know if it could cope with sugary liquid.

    The Joule Sous Vide team did the research and found someone who had successfully brewed beer using this method: Claire at Home Brewtique, a business that produces products for the home brewer. We’ve worked with Claire before and love the kits they put together so knew we could trust her opinions. Claire enthused that the Sous Vide approach was her favourite method of home brewing and kindly sent us an ingredients kit for their English pale ale, which helpfully comes with thorough details on timings and temperatures. All that was left for us to do was brew.

    Joule Sous Vide beer
    The Joule Sous Vide heats water and circulates it for a constant temperature. To keep it away from the grains we clipped our grain bag in place with clothes pegs.

    How to mash grains for beer with a Joule Sous Vide

    One of the great features of the Joule Sous Vide is that it connects to a smart phone app from which you can programme cooking. There are built in recipes with pre-programmed temperatures and timings (not yet for beer) or you can plug in your own instructions. Before starting you get to name your Sous Vide (we called our Joule ‘Rimet’) and it then politely runs through everything you need to know (not a lot: it’s easy).

    Because you don’t want the grains running amok in the water during cooking they need to be put in a bag that keeps them in place while allowing the liquid goodness to seep out. Home Brewtique have developed their own ‘Grainstay’ bag that does this perfectly, which is lined with an elasticated band that fits around the rim of your cooking pot. To accommodate the Sous Vide on the outside of the bag we had to divert its journey around the rim so simply nicked some clothes pegs from the washing line and clipped it in place.

    Once set up I asked the app to heat the grains to 67C for an hour, followed by a shorter ‘mash out’ temperature of 76C to finish up. The app obliged. My wort was ready. The Joule Sous Vide had done its job to perfection.

    From here on in we returned to our usual brewing methods – boil on the hob with hops*, cool, ferment and bottle.

    The verdict

    The Joule Sous Vide is an excellent device for home brewing, turning a regular pot into a proper temperature controlled piece of brewing equipment. Its precision and efficiency allows you to step up a degree of professionalism with your brewing, is simple to use and can be left to get on with the job while you do something else (the app allows you to operate it from another room). Knowing you’re brewing to precise times and temperatures also means you can more accurately repeat the process, certain that any changes in beer quality from batch to batch aren’t as a result of varying temperatures – which is ideal for beer experimenters like us and for those that hit the jackpot with a beer and want to brew exactly the same again. Sous Vides may give you a whole new way of cooking food but for us its priority will be for beer.

    *We swapped out the hop pellets provided for home grown target hops and the wild plant yarrow. The beer tastes great.

    The Joule Sous Vide connects to an app; Home grown hops and yarrow used to flavour our beer
    Home brew pale ale with yarrow

    To find our more about the Joule Sous Vide visit chefsteps.com/joule

    To get your hands on Home Brewtique’s brewing kits visit homebrewtique.com

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  • Interview: The Old Dairy Brewery – a taste of Kent’s finest hops

    Kent is well known for its excellent local produce and, as hops are one of the ingredients that thrives in the county, it also has its fair share of decent breweries. A new initiative has brought some of the county’s food and drinks producers together and produced ‘food trails’ – guides that send visitors on a themed tour, including cheers & dairy, apples & cider and, of course, beer & hops.

    One of the breweries trail followers are invited to call in on is the Old Dairy Brewery. Until we were introduced to this trail initiative we were unfamiliar with the Old Dairy Brewery’s beers, but we sampled a few of their bottles and, as of now, they’re our new favourite brewery.

    To find out a little more about their brewing business, and the importance of being based in Kent, we caught up with brewery manager Ginny Hodge…

    Ginny, brewery manager
    Ginny, brewery manager

    Your brewery is situated in the heart of the Kent countryside, an area famed for growing produce, including hops. How important is locality to the beers you make?  
    We actively try and source as many of our hops as possible from the local area, as Kent is home to hop growing in the UK and customers are more aware of where ingredients come from. We and many other local businesses use the connections, information and support offered through Kent food and drinks trade organisation Produced in Kent

    As we are based in the ‘Garden of England’, famous for its fruit and hops (which were first grown here in the 15th century) we are in a prime position to choose the pick of the hops! National Award winning hop grower Hukins Hops is just 3 miles away so it is obvious to us that we should use only the best award-winning hops. We are also keen to reduce our impact on the environment and using local goes towards reducing our carbon footprint.  

    You’re part of the Kent Food Trails initiative – what can visitors to your brewery expect to see when they call by?
    We are located in the picturesque town of Tenterden and our brewery is located behind the Kent and East Sussex Steam Railway. On Thursdays and Saturdays we hold brewery tours, so you can be shown round the brewery and find out how we brew our beers, and we also have a Brewery Shop where we sell a selection of our award-winning beers. Our shop is on the site that we brew our beers, so if you drop by you may be lucky and see our brewers in action.

    Alongside your range of core beers you also produce special seasonal ales – how do you decide on what to brew for these?
    The Old Dairy team, whether it be the brewing team or the office staff, are all passionate about our beers and we all actively have a point of view about what special seasonal brews we produce. We also closely listen to our customers to see if they have any special beers that might appeal to their market. It takes quite a few months from conception to the final brew to achieve the taste and style for any new special beer. We aim to brew beers with a modern twist for different moods and occasions, taking our Old Dairy customers though a journey of styles, seasons and continents.

    Among these seasonal ales is a beer that uses green hops. Tell us a little more about this. 
    We brew ‘green hop’ beers which are available in September only. These beers use the hops fresh from the annual harvest and, instead of being dried and packed into sacks in the Oast House for future use, are picked and go straight into the Copper in the brewery. The result is a beer with a powerful fresh, earthy aroma and flavour.

    What special beers have you got planned for later this year? 
    As summer is nearly here we will be brewing Summer Top, our 3.6% light summer ale, and at the moment we are brewing Spring Top, our 4% spring bitter.

    Over the year we have also brewed a range of vintage beers and they are always eagerly awaited by our customers. We are currently barrel-ageing our Snow Top in red wine barrels, which will hopefully be ready in bottles around Christmas time.

    Finally, what’s the best Kent food and beer combination to enjoy after a hard days brewing?   
    Romney Marsh lamb and our Blue Top IPA, as Blue Top is brewed with the most local hops.

    Kent bottles of beer
    The Old Dairy Brewery’s core range

    The Old Dairy Brewery Beers

    In order for us to know a little more about the Old Dairy Brewery beers Ginny kindly sent us a box of their core range, and we were mightily impressed. They’re brewed along traditional lines, with the full flavour of hops and grains apparent, and they’re mostly delivered at a sessional strength in 500ml bottles. But they also tease out a few modern, fruity hop flavours to give them an appeal beyond traditional drinkers and were certainly very well received by everyone we shared them with.

    Among the highlights was Red Top (3.8%), a bitter rammed with clean and malty flavours from Maris Otter, Crystal, Brown and Chocolate Malts, along with a mix of hops (Easy Kent Golding, English Cascade and Challenger) that gave the beer a good level of bitterness and a slight citrus fruitiness to enhance the sweet malts.

    A more modern range of hops (Citra, Chinook and Equinox) features in Über Brew, a pale ale that is full of depth, despite being only 3.8%. Fresh, fragrant and packed with punchy fruity hop flavours it’s one of the most enjoyable pale ales we’ve had for a while.

    For more information on Kent Food Trails visit kentfoodtrails.co.uk

    For more information on the Old Dairy Brewery visit olddairybrewery.com

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  • Coir blimey! We’re putting sustainable growing medium coco coir to the test…

    At the start of this year we were contacted by a company called Coco & Coir to see if we would be interested in testing out their coconut peat product, a sustainable alternative to moss peat in the garden. Despite the internet buzzing with pros, cons, advice and (inevitably) mis-information on the stuff, it’s something that had largely escaped our attention.

    We’re always up for trying new things, especially if they can help reduce the damaging impact peat extraction has on the environment, so Coco & Coir kindly sent us a block and we started out on some research…

    What is coconut peat?

    Coconut (or coco) peat (or coir) is a growing medium made from the husks of coconuts. As the coconut is an annual crop, and the husk is a by-product of the nutty harvest, it’s much more sustainable than peat moss – which takes decades to form and needs excavating from its natural bog environment, causing damage to the precious eco-system from where it comes.

    The husks go through a process of curing, washing, de-fibering, sieving, drying and packing and this peat, which would previously have been discarded as waste, is rehydrated by the gardener and used as a growing medium.

    What are the benefits of coconut peat in the garden?

    Coconut peat works in a similar way to peat moss in that is helps with aeration and water retention, making it a good place for roots to thrive. It needs less water than peat to reach the same levels of hydration (good news for us lazier gardeners) and it doesn’t break down over time, meaning it can be reused over and over again. It can be used on its own or mixed with another type of compost, but in order to get the most out of coconut peat you need to add nutrients (for example, using a liquid feed).

    What can I grow in my coco peat?

    You can grow whatever you like in coco peat, so long as you provide your plants with sufficient nutrients. It can be used in raised beds on the allotment, in pots and is even suitable for house plants. It’s said to be particularly good in the greenhouse as its ability to hold water means you’ll be filling the watering can less often.

    Are their any things I should look out for when choosing a coconut peat?

    A lot of coco coir products contain salt, as a result of them being soaked in nearby salty rivers. Salt isn’t a great thing for the garden so it’s best to look out for a product that has either come from a salt-free location or has any salt extracted through a process of washing or ageing. Naturally sun dried coirs are also a better product as the alternative – machine drying – can damage the fibers and produce dust, which will reduce its ability to circulate air and hold in moisture. Similarly, clumsy packaging can also turn your coir to dust.

    what to do with coco peat
    Clockwise from top left: the packaged coir; the unpacked, compressed coir (look, no dust); the coir after soaking in water; coconut coir mixed with compost in a raised bed

    Putting the coco coir to the test

    Armed with the above knowledge, and happy that Coco & Coir’s hefty block of compressed peat was a suitable product, it was time to put it to the test.

    First the 5kg block had to be soaked in roughly 25 litres of water to get it to the correct growing consistency, which took a little shy of 20 minutes. I decided to run my test in a small raised bed which I’ve given over to my toddler son to give him a first experience of gardening (he loved helping to rehydrate the peat) and, as his watering is likely to be erratic (over soaking is a speciality), I’m hoping the peat’s water-retaining abilities will be beneficial. His feeding routine is also likely to be less than thorough, so I helped him to mix it with home made compost to give it a kick start of healthy nutrients.

    The coir looks very tidy in the raised bed and has now received a scattering of wild flower seeds (which were so eagerly raked they probably all now reside in one corner of the bed). I’ll update this page with growing process later in the year – and hopefully a photograph of a stunning floral display – but even in the first few days it’s easy to tell how well it both drains and retains water: it stays damp when other beds have dried out in the hot sun, and after a downpour looks less muddy than elsewhere. Me and the boy are extremely hopeful…

    For more information visit cocoandcoir.com

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