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

Spear & Jackson Precision Snips – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Spear & Jackson PRECISION SNIPS
SK5 steel blades for lasting sharpness
with a built-in locking catch for safe transportation
and storage
SRP: £6.49

Spear & Jackson PRECISION SNIPSDon’t be fooled by their diminutive size; these Precision Snips with their long narrow blades are perfect for dead-heading, says the website and promises the advert.

Well, hmm, perfect for dead heading, they say. The accuracy leaves much to be desired as does the strength of the blades; in my tests, at least. In other words, impressed I am not. OK, those snips only cost about £7 but why where something else would work equally as well, namely a pair of (old) scissors.

Alternatively get a decent pair of garden scissors, such as Fiskars, but an ordinary (old) sharp pair of scissors repurposed for the garden will do just as well, as those snips, if not better even. The only advantage, maybe, that this pair of snips has is the fact it has the spring in the middle like a pair of secateurs has. But I have found that a pair of scissors has better accuracy also.

There are many “special” garden tools that you do not need – nay, not even want – to buy, and this one falls firmly into that category, but is just one of many.

Oh, I guess you now want to have my rating for this product. Hmm, zero would just about sum it up. A pair of scissors or snips from Poundland would offer a better deal. I know the company won't like me after this but so be it.

© 2018

The real reason behind austerity

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

austerity-isnt-working-2The real reason behind austerity is to erode hope, to increase inequality and to make people's lives so hard that they do not have a chance to demand better. Nay, not just that, but that they even do not dare to demand better for fear of falling every deeper into poverty.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with reducing the country's dept and all that jazz. Portugal did not follow that idea put forward by the EU and others and, erm, no, the country did not fall off a cliff; the economy grew.

Austerity is about putting people into poverty because poverty is the ultimate form of control. Because people who are poor are, more often than not, dependent on government or other agencies for help and thus are controllable.

The aim of the neo-liberals, on whose dung heap those ideas have grown, is to make the poor ever poorer and also put the middle class into the poor bracket, wherever possible, while the elite gets richer by the minute.

Also, people who are poor but are working will not risk taking industrial action, that is to say strike or such, for fear of losing their job, which in turn could lead to losing their home and even losing their children.

In this context we also have to and must see the attempt by the neo-liberal establishment to outlaw, basically, cash and the use of it. Without money in the form of cash people also have no chance to do any extra, unofficial work, or make a little money from hobby crafts, selling surplus garden produce and such. Neither can they be trading on craft and other markets as card terminals would not be within their scope.

The end of cash will also, to a great extent, mean the end of markets in villages, towns and cities, selling produce and other things, as the majority of the market traders would also not be able to afford the use of card terminals.

The entire reason for the neo-liberal idea of austerity is to make the poor poorer still, to make the middle class poor, and to make the rich ever richer and by privatizing every public service making increasing the values of the shares of the corporations and the dividends for their shareholders, mostly the already very rich. It has nothing to do with the economy not with the reduction of the public debt.

Austerity is the tool by means of which the neo-liberal elite is turning most of the people into obedient slaves, who dare not revolt for fear of becoming poorer still.

© 2018

Upcoming GDPR regulation used to spam

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

One cannot call it any other way.

GDPR-graphicIn the last couple of days, aside from the ones I have been/am subscribed to, there are emails arriving from organizations, PR companies, and whatever that I have never heard of and never been subscribed to any of their mailing lists.

It would appear that the upcoming GDPR law taking effect soon in the UK is being used to send mails to people in the hope that they will subscribe to mailing lists. Therefore, before clicking on any link asking you to confirm that you would want to continue to hear from them ensure that you actually ever have been subscribed to them, and want to continue to do so. So, just check before you click and (re)subscribe.

© 2018

Russian backyard agriculture

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

dascha russian homesteadAround 35 million backyard gardens are in private family possession in Russia and the government supports this with a legal right to a free, tax-free piece of land from 1-3 ha (in some regions even up to 6 ha).

In 1999 those backyard farms produced 50% of all the milk, 60% of all meat, 77% of all vegetables, 87% of all fruit, and 92% of all potatoes and all that organically and sustainably. The entire country can in this way be feed without any real problems.

According to information from Russia the situation has gotten better still even since that time as more and more of such small backyard farms are coming “on stream”. The surplus of what is grown and now used by the householders and their family and laid up for winter and for seed, is sold on the local markets. That is, actually, one of the obligations that comes with being given free land.

Apparently, however, neither in the EU, nor Britain, nor the USA, this system could be implemented, so the powers-that-be (but probably shouldn't be) claim. Honest now, let's face it, we can't possibly allow people to be able to grow their own food on free land with a small house that the government also pays for – more or less – as is the case in Russia, and then sell surplus on the local markets. That would way too much cut the profits of the corporations.

Just imagine what would happen if people could do that and be able to grow all the food they and their families could possibly eat and then sell surplus as well. The whole idea of neo-liberal people control by controlling their food – and what goes into it – would go out of the window and that just would not do.

© 2018

Spear & Jackson Select Stainless 3-Piece Mini Tools Set – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Spear & Jackson SELECT STAINLESS 3-PIECE MINI TOOLS SETSpear & Jackson Select Stainless 3-Piece Mini Tools Set
• Mirror-polished stainless steel heads for rust resistance, easy clean and minimal soil adhesion
• Bi-material, soft grip contoured handles for added comfort
• An ideal set for container gardening
SSP incl VAT £17.99

A small but perfectly formed set of three miniature Select Stainless hand tools: hand trowel, transplanting trowel and three-pronged cultivator, ideal for working in the confined spaces of pots, planters and baskets.

While, originally, intended for use by adults in confined spaces of pots, planters, baskets and otherwise in container gardening, the set is also ideal for the little ones to be introduced to proper gardening, whether in containers or raised bed, by being given proper tools and not plastic things.

Personally I always suggest to refrain from giving a child inferior tools when introducing them to gardening. The plastic play tools do not cut it if you really want them to take gardening serious.

I particularly like the serration on the left-hand side of the trowel as, aside from giving a cutting edge, so to speak, if and when the soil is a little compacted, it also can be used to open bags of soil, compost, etc.

A real nice handy set of tools for the adult gardener pottering around in pots or, and especially, for the young gardener.

© 2018

Technology-addled children have trouble holding a pencil

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Technology-addled children have trouble holding a pencilChildren have been found to have trouble holding pencils, due to so much time on iPads and other such devices

Experts say that children lack the muscle strength required to write.

All number of things – from intricate finger movement to hand-eye coordination – have to go right before someone can actually write.

Children spend so much time swiping iPad screens that they cannot hold a pencil anymore. Senior paediatricians in the United Kingdom say that many children start school lacking the muscle strength to grip a pencil, which affects their ability to learn how to write properly.

Technology-addled children have trouble holding a pencil2Sally Payne, head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, told The Guardian: "Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago. Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not able to hold it because they don't have the fundamental movement skills."

"To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers. Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills."

I would also say that they haven't got the faintest idea what a pencil or pen is in the first place having spent probably several years already playing around on their parents' and probably even their own iPads or such devices.

Developing finger, arm, and shoulder strength is something that happened naturally in the past, when children drew, colored, cut paper and did crafts for entertainment and participated more actively in household chores. But the spread of handheld devices has changed the nature of play.

As Payne said, "It's easier to give a child an iPad than encouraging them to do muscle-building play such as building blocks, cutting and sticking, or pulling toys and ropes. Because of this, they're not developing the underlying foundation skills they need to grip and hold a pencil."

And the ability of proper finger skills and hand-eye-coordination is not just important for writing by hand but also and especially for so many other tasks.

While some may say that handwriting belongs to an antiquated education system and is no longer relevant to today's texting, typing generation, this problem goes beyond not being able to form words on paper. This shows that kids' actual physical development is being stunted by too much sedentary screen-swiping, and that's very alarming. If a child's hand isn't strong enough to hold a pencil, imagine how weak their entire body must be, if the child has spent that much time sitting still, rather than running around the backyard or climbing trees.

While cursive, aka joint-up, writing might not be too important – I never got on with it myself – learning to write by hand and actually doing so is very important indeed, also for note-taking in class, as that action transfers the knowledge better than typing.

We should not be too quick to write off handwriting as a useless skill. Even if we do not write on paper as much as we used to, subjects like math and geography and art will always require the use of one's hand, particularly in early years. And who knows what schools will be like by the time today's kindergarteners reach university. Some lecture halls are banning laptops from classrooms, not only because they are distracting, but also because students are known to retain information better if it is copied down by hand. And that is because this “copying down by hand” is actually more a case of rewriting the words of lecturer into the student's own, thus already taking the material on board without even thinking about it.

We are doing our children a great disservice by handing them an electronic device (too early) before they have mastered other much more important skills than typing or swiping a finger across a screen. They also will not always be able to have a device handy later when needing to write something down, or the device may be out of power, etc. So what then?

On the other hand being unable to hold and push a pencil due to lack of muscle strength and coordination ability may also impede other activities, including the proper use of cutlery and using a knife for cutting tasks. I dread to think what kind of generation we are creating.

© 2018