DIY gardening apron from an old pair of jeans

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Upcycling an old pair of jeans into a gardening apron. Almost costs nothing and should give a long service, especially if sharp tools are put into the pockets in pocket protectors, made from old leather or plastic lotion bottles. 



© 2018

The madness of perpetual growth on a finite planet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

31417091_10155122896907820_6858558697170272256_oIt is amazing how many, apparently same, people believe that you can have infinite perpetual economic growth on a finite Planet such as ours.

Perpetual economic growth and its cousin, limitless technological expansion, are notions and beliefs so deeply and firmly held by so many in this culture that they often go entirely unquestioned.

Even more disturbing is the fact that these beliefs are somehow seen as the ultimate definition of what it is and means to be human: perpetual economic growth and limitless technological expansion are what we do.

We cannot have perpetual economic growth and limitless technological expansion on a Planet that itself cannot grow; no planet can grow above its size. It is also impossible to have those two, each on its own or combined, with the limit of non-renewable, many of which are, almost, exhausted, as we speak, so to say.

Perpetual growth is a capitalist idea to keep profits flowing into the coffers of shareholders and CEOs to the detriment of the Planet and the poor that live on it. The entire idea of capitalism is based on this exploitation of the Planet and of the poor. Instead of the Earth's resources benefiting all creatures on this Planet, including humans, they are being exploited for the benefit of some rich elite, including water.

We have to change the system, the world over, in order to save the Planet, so to speak, and all of us. Tinkering around at the edges is not going to work and neither is reforming the system. The system is not broken, it was designed that way. Thus a new system is needed. A system when everything on the Planet counts, and not just profits for the few.

© 2018

In the heat do not drink (ice) cold water

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

psa-squareWater, yes, lots of it, but (ice) cold no...

We have all heard, and often assumed it to be an old-wives-tale and thus even discarded this warning, not to drink really cold water in hot weather conditions. Turns out though that it is good advice.

Apparently, if you are too hot and chug a bottle of cold water, it can send your body into shock. The body thinks that the stomach is suffering from hypothermia and so it takes the warm blood from your hands, your feet and head and sends it to the stomach. You will lose consciousness. And, in certain circumstances, that could be fatal.

Cold water is good, but only in sips. Room temperature water is better if you need fast rehydration. So, when (over)heated don't grab the ice cold water but the slightly warmed up one instead.

© 2018

Young people and knives in Britain and elsewhere

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Young people and knives in Britain and elsewhereWe have had knives in our homes, etc., for how long? Boys used to carry a knife on them, in years gone by, and that is not really that long ago, more or less routinely, especially in rural areas, from the simple pocketknife to fixed bladed sheath knives. They also took those knives to school often and how many stabbings did we have among children and young people? Almost zero.

Boy Scouts from Cub Scouts upwards carried the traditional Boy Scouts knife – first in the form of the “official” pocketknife, later the sheath knife – on their belts, openly, and even the Scout hatchet. They attacked each other or others? No.

Now we have this so-called knife culture (sorry, the people who phrased that term have no idea of true knife culture) with all those stabbings and such. When did this phenomena appear? Around 30 years ago or so. And what happened at that time? The proper disciplining of children was outlawed, more or less. A correlation? I sure think so.

The same goes for guns, say, in the United States. People in the Unites States have had guns in their homes for 200 years and more. Mass shootings, including and especially those in schools, perpetrated by students, have only become a problem in the last 30 years or so. If you look closely enough you will sure see the correlation between gun shootings and the decline of and in disciplining our children. Children today believe that they can do as they like having to fear no consequences, as they no longer are permitted, by law often, to be spanked.

When the paddle and the cane were removed from home and school the trouble started. We had – virtually – nothing of this kind in the years until that time. And still people refuse to see the correlation between the two. In addition to that ever since then there seems to have been an increase, generally, in aggression and violence in children and young people, against one another and against other people.

Treating the kids today with Ritalin for supposed ADHD and ADD also is an additional problem for one of the side effects, apparently, of that drug, and of Prozac, is what? Hold on to your hat. According to some medical professionals the side effects are uncontrollable anger. So, while it may dull the kids down when they explode they really do and have – almost – no control of their anger.

Yes, admittedly, violent TV and cinema, computer games and especially virtual reality also have a great deal to answer for but when one looks close enough there seems to be only one real reason for all this malaise and that is that, today, parents and others may not guide their children by the use of proper methods of discipline and chastisement.

Any animal parent chastises their offspring and maybe some people would do well to observe the ways in which this happens but then, most of the do-gooder brigade have so much lost such a connection with reality and Nature, as have our nations' children, that they would not comprehend those ways.

In many other countries that, on one level, have higher cultural values and where the community, in raising kids, is more the focus than the individual, and especially those in the East, and where there is also a lot more focus – in the family and community – on disciplining of children, including physical chastisement, the problems that we, in the so-called liberal West have, seem almost non-existent. But when in those countries and cultures those old values are eroded or abandoned almost the same problems arise.

And still almost no one is willing – in the West – to see a correlation between the abandonment of proper chastisement of children and the rise of the issues that we are faced with, from lack of respect for people and property over general anti-social behavior and mindless violence all the way to knife- and gun crime and the rest.

Talking about rest... I am going to rest my case here; it is becoming rather heavy.

© 2018

How to keep cool in the summer heat without cranking up the AC

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Chorley_Park-awnings.jpg.860x0_q70_crop-smartMany, when the temperatures soar in countries in the “West”, with the USA in the lead, rather crank up the air conditioning which is no good for them, their wallet, nor the Planet. The simple act of opening a couple of windows in the house to create a draft, the way our ancestors cooled the house, does not even occur to them. So up goes the air conditioning but the clothes remain, often, all firmly in place and even the windows firmly closed.

In many countries of the world they have a different attitude to that and that is, aside from using window shutters and awnings to reduce the sun reaching the interior of the house they rather strip off and in many cases, during the warm season, their children go bare all the time, as do some of the adults, the latter at least indoors.

siesta_boy1Tip #1 in my department, therefore, is when the temperatures sore and it gets uncomfortably (humid) shed your clothes, all of them, and all of you. It is good for all of us but especially the children as their bodies, apparently, do not control the temperatures too well. That is why we so often see red-faced kids during hot weather and them being cranky. When unclothed their bodies, and adult bodies actually too, can perform better as to temperature control. I grew up that way and can vouch for it. The standard attire for Gypsy boys in days of old was, and not only in the heat of summer, nothing, and that was not even that long ago (and in some places it still is).

Adding family nudism to the inventory, so to speak, to beat the summer heat might be a good idea on more than one level. You may even find that neither the kids, nor you, really want to be be going back to wearing clothes again for much of the time.

Tip #2 Open windows to create a through draft. Don't, however, create an invitation for burglars by keeping windows, especially on the ground floor, open during the night or when you are out.

If you want to avoid bugs and other flying critters entering through an open window or door think fly-screen. Screen doors and window screens used to be very common not so long ago and, in fact, they are still in use in many homes.

Tip #3 If possible install shutters or other blinds and use them to keep the sun at bay indoors thereby keeping the temperatures lower. Even heavy drapes will keep some of the heat of the sun at bay. Also, awnings are very useful over the windows, as was common once.

We seem to, strangely enough, have forgotten all those old ways simply because of the advent of the air-conditioning and rather run that expensive thing which costs us dearly in many ways, by way of money and also the destruction of the Planet.

© 2018

DIY watering can

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Transform a milk jug into a watering can

Milk jug watering canThis project will have you saving your milk container to create a kid- friendly watering can. But, obviously, it can also used by an adult.

Children love to water plants. Generally this is good news, and watering is a helpful chore the children can take on in the garden. Sometimes, though, overenthusiastic watering can be bad news – plants can become waterlogged and seedlings can rot away. Sometimes seedlings can be damaged in a deluge. For children the standard watering can with seven or more liters can be a little on the heavy side. This DIY watering can with a rose head could be the ideal solution.

Made from a plastic milk bottle or similar container, it is free and a great way to upcycle your junk into something practical. It is easy to make and holds just the right amount of water, so it is not too heavy for young children, as I said above.

Materials

2-3 liter (maybe 4 liter even if can be had) plastic milk or juice bottle with lid

Small drill bit (3-4mm), gimlet or bradawl

Instructions

1. Start by washing out your milk bottle.

2. Use drill with drill bit (you could use a gimlet instead, or even a bradawl) to make small holes in the bottle's lid. Make sure the holes are big enough to allow the water to come out freely.

3. Remove the bottle top to fill your new watering can with water, pop the lid back on, and you are ready to go. The handle on the bottle makes it comfortable to hold, and if necessary, a gentle squeeze can help the water come out.

© 2018

Make you own hanging basket liners

Make you own hanging basket linerYou can make an efficient, hanging basket liner, white or whatever color, that costs next to nothing.

This kind of hanging basket liner will keep your plants in place and moist and it, generally, comes for free, and will last for years, unlike the coir, moss, or even fake moss ones.

You can choose to make drainage holes or not, depending how well your plants may like having their “feet” in water. Considering, however, that generally, hanging baskets, when with bracket attached to wall of house, are in the so-called rain shadow, and thus do not get watered naturally by the rain having no drainage holes in the liner saves you watering on a daily basis.

There are many options for recycling plastic bags for use as handing basket liners. Compost bags of various sizes, as well as others, are suitable and the colors may vary from white, to blue or black. It all depends. On the other hand, other bags you can use might be transparent, which even allows you to see the growth of the roots and thus can see whether plants may get root bound. Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) is a candidate that gets root bound in pots or handing baskets quite quickly, which then meas either re-potting or splitting.

As the bags you may be using will not be designed to fit a hanging basket as a liner you will have to do some cutting and some folding and tucking, but it will be worth it alone for the fact that (1) you don't have to buy a liner every year and (2) you keep some plastic out of the waste stream (for some years at least). The important thing is that it works and well worth it. A win-win on so many levels.

© 2018

Huskup – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Huskup imageReusable and plastic free, Huskup brings takeaway coffee back down to earth

Durable, biodegradable and entirely free from plastic, Huskup is tackling the UK’s disposable culture one flat white at a time with a brand new reusable coffee cup made from rice husks. Using the outer hull of the rice grain, a natural and robust material that would otherwise be burnt at the mill, Huskup is harnessing an abundant waste product and giving the planet a helping hand even before the first coffee is poured.

Responding to the disposal of 7 million takeaway coffee cups every single day and the nation’s ever growing commitment to cut plastic waste from their lives, the Huskup takes the humble rice husk from earth to earth. Each cup is dishwasher safe and tough enough to withstand temperatures of -30c to 120c, yet the reusable cup can ultimately return to the soil at the end of its life and biodegrade naturally.

Free from melamine and BPA, Huskup is setting a new standard for reusable coffee cups and is ready to make every hot drink on the go that bit greener, from coffee shops and canteens to the workplace and beyond. Saving energy, materials, money and waste using an all-natural bi-product of one of the world’s most prolific store cupboard staples, the Huskup is set to make a big impact with one small change to the morning routine.

The Huskup comes in 12 different designs and can be purchased from www.huskup.com, priced at £10.95 each. Cheap they are not, in comparison to other reusable coffee cups, that is for certain, but then they are also made from a different material in a different way.

Bath-based Huskup was founded in 2018 to harness one of the world’s most abundant food waste materials, the humble rice husk, and begin a new chapter in takeaway coffee with a cup that is both durable and biodegradable. Entirely plastic, tree and toxin free, the Huskup contains no melamine or BPA, meaning that no nasties can make their way into drinks. These eco-friendly cups are also tough enough to take on the dishwasher and safe for reheating coffee in the microwave, but will simply decompose and return to the earth at the end of their lives. Launching with 12 designs, having teamed up with like-minded independent artists to create products that represent the Huskup ethos, these reusable cups are ready to bring takeaway coffee back down to earth.

While the material of the Huskup is free of melamine it has the feel of that plastic material, or that of Bakelite, for those that remember that material, but the material is not even, actual plastic. In my opinion the scope for this material itself, a plastic-like substance that is made from natural ingredients which harmlessly return to the soil, goes beyond just coffee cups.

As far as biodegradability is concerned Huskup are certified to the compostability standards, European EN13432 including the following elements:

1. Biodegradation - materials turn to soil through microbial action

2. Disintegration - the materials fall into small pieces

3. Eco-toxicity - seeds can germinate in the resulting compost - i.e. it is useful for plant growth

4. Heavy metals - the compost is safe to go onto land

The manufacturing process takes the waste rice husk and mixes that with some natural starches – and those are, alas, trade secrets. The cups are then molded and formed into the huskup. No melamine or other plastic binders are used.

The lid and the band around the body of the cup are made of, what in my opinion, would appear to be silicone.

The cup appears to be extremely sturdy and, as I said before, feels like a melamine or Bakelite product, but is neither. It should last for many, many years and when it finally has to be replaced you do not have to have a guilty conscience as to its disposal. That still does not mean that you should thoughtlessly toss it at the end of its life into the countryside.

The only, for some it sure would be, major turn off is the fact that the product is “Made in China” while the company is British. The reason, though, probably is that rice husks are more common in China (and elsewhere in Asia) than, obviously, in Britain and hence the product is Made in China.

Web: www.huskup.com

Twitter: @huskup_eco

Instagram: huskup_eco

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/huskup/

© 2018

Why children benefit from fewer toys

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Children play better when they have fewer toysRenown child educator, Maria Montessori said “Play is the child's work.” With that she meant that children are not just playing when they play, but they are working. Play is an important part of child development, and the types of toys that a child interacts with shapes their understanding of the world around them. Toys are the tools children use to accomplish their work, but it is best for the amount of toys that a child has to be limited.

Through play, children practice cooking, cleaning, going to work, fighting, taking care of the baby. I other words every adult activity they see around them. This kind of playful practice, performed over and over, makes them more confident. Play also helps children cope with problems ranging from big traumas to little upsets and helps them process the new information they receive every day.

Toys help children play. They also help children self-entertain and become independent. Therefore it may seem logical to assume that more toys provide more entertainment and help the child work, but that is, apparently, not the case.

Here are reasons why it is best to keep toys minimal and simple:

Children with less use their imagination more. Without many toys, children use their craft of pretending to imagine the scenario in which they are working. Studies show that Einstein was right when he stated that “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” They also, might, make their own toys. We certainly did as children.

Children maintain focus. Fewer toys mean fewer distractions teaching the child to focus on the task at hand. Toys that provide excess stimulation have been linked to various attention deficiency related problems.

Children interact more with others. Communications skills are not innate; they are learned. Having less stuff allows for less to get in the way of social interactions. When children pretend together, they communicate together and pretend play is the most beneficial play.

Children learn to respect what they have. A child is more likely to value their work when they know they do not have replacements.

Children are more educated. When you choose toys like books, blocks, art supplies and puzzles, children work on skills like reading, building, drawing, and writing. Such toys can incorporate lessons about the world that the child is immersed in rather than distract them from it.

Children become resourceful. Kids learns to use what they have to get the job done and to make things and toys up as they go along.

Children learn to share and share. As parents, we want our children to put people over possessions and to not be greedy. Interacting with others without objects coming between them allows children to value people over things.

Children learn mastery. As a child focuses on a certain toy, they learn to master it and to be proud of their accomplishments.

Children realize they cannot have everything they want. As it goes, “you can't always get what you want, but you get what you need.” Parents may worry that not giving their child what their peers have may make them unpopular or feel under privileged, but it teaches them that a persons identity is built by character, not possessions.

Children appreciate nature. Children have tons of fun outdoors once they are out there, but it may be hard to get them outside if they have endless entertainment inside the home. Outdoors also the building material for homemade toys can be found.

With less, as in fewer toys and games, children learn to be happy with what they have. What a child needs most is love, and they will learn that love and happiness cannot be bought.

Fewer toys also means less clutter in the child's room or the playroom, or wherever they play with their toys and it is all easier for them (and you) to clear up after.

If there are a few toys too many then put them away and only let your children have a certain number. If and when they get bored with them you can circulate them around and refresh with the others.

When I was a child toys, much like clothes, were very much in short supply growing up relatively poor by most standards, even back then, but it did not matter to us. As far as toys and play was concerned we made many of our own toys or had them made for us, from wood, mostly, and much of that wood “natural”, that is to say it cam from the woods and hedgerows. Other “real” toys were those that we found lost or thrown away by others, whether toy cars, stuffed cuddly toys, or whatever. But most fun, I seem to remember, we had with those toys that we made ourselves and such and with the imaginary play using sticks, for instance.

© 2018

How eco-friendly are barbecues?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

0d2a551c159ec5aa5b34bb0e123e6427--barbecue-party-summer-barbecueNot very unless you use charcoal from local sources.

As the season is upon us, once again, it is time to talk about it.

Gas barbecues are certainly cleaner than charcoal but whether they are better, and especially greener and more eco-friendly, is another question. Presently the gas we use for those, be it propane or butane, is fossil fuel and thus non-renewable, charcoal on the other hand, if from sustainable sources, is. But for those determined to stick with old-school pit mastery, the central message is: check your fuel and especially check the origin of it. Far too much charcoal that is being used comes from far away and often from tropical rainforests.

This edict is inspired by a recent report from forestry NGO Fern.org “Playing with Fire: Human Misery, Environmental Destruction and Summer BBQs”. It is definitely not the cheeriest of summer reading but it certainly is eye-opening. Small-scale charcoal production has the potential to be a lifeline in rural economies all over the world. Sadly that is not happening.

The allegations against charcoal go much further than pollution. Somalian charcoal is linked to funding for Al-Shabaab. The trade in Brazil and Nigeria is linked to human rights abuses, including, in some cases, not just child labor but child slavery, much like with the mining of cobalt, illegal logging and increased emissions.

Thus it is best to buy homegrown charcoal with a good supply chain and suppliers of guaranteed homegrown and home-produced charcoal do exist. But in the UK we run a charcoal deficit. We only make 5,000 tons versus the 60,000 we go through every summer.

If you are shopping on price, and there are some who will, no doubt have to, alas, that charcoal will arrive typically via Felixstowe on a giant container ship from Namibia, 5,000 miles away, of from other, far away places.

Charcoal producers, in Namibia, and elsewhere, are paid by the tonne, and it is easy to chop down a large, protected tree, so charcoal is fueling deforestation. A 2010 investigation, “Namibia's Black Gold?”, found charcoal producers and their families living under plastic sheeting without access to running water or sanitation. And this kind of conditions prevail everywhere in those places.

Not that you would guess all this when you pick up a bag of charcoal from a supermarket. You are unlikely to see any country of origin on the bag. You should always look for an FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) symbol if possible. But that symbol and certification often is also not worth the paper that it is printed on.

Charcoal is excluded from EU timber regulation which requires all timber and many timber products to be legally sourced. So were it included, it would make it a criminal offense to import illegal charcoal from Namibia (and elsewhere).

Seasonal products, apparently, can get away with dodgy supply chains because they hold our attention for such a short time. Not just for us, as consumers, but also, it would appear, for any regulators. Too the detriment of ethically and locally produced product, and, obviously the Planet and the workers.

Thus, as with beanpoles and pea-stick, buy charcoal wherever possible from local producers, from coppice workers. Also local lumpwood charcoal is better in many other ways, and that includes the lighting of it. It should not require any BBQ-lighter fluid or blocks of any kind and should start just by using paper or other tinder.

Considering that the lighter fluid or bricks are petroleum product do you really want gasoline or kerosene with your food?

© 2018