A fresh look at local food systems

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Santa Barbara, in California, in the USA, has one what most people would say is a thriving agricultural local food system. It ranks in the top 1 percent of counties in the States in value of agricultural products and produce, primarily fruits and vegetables.

One might, therefore, assume that a local food network like this might be of significance when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases (less fuel to transport produce) and increase nutrition (fresher produce is more nutritious).

Surprisingly, as researcher David Cleveland, a professor of environmental studies at UC-Santa Barbara found out, that assumption would be wrong. What Cleveland and his research team discovered was that more than 99 percent of the produce grown in Santa Barbara County is exported, and more than 95 percent of the produce consumed in the county is imported, some of it from as far away as Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand and this is very much like that in Britain as well.

Furthermore, if all produce consumed here was grown in the county, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions less than 1 percent of total agrifood system emissions, and it would not necessarily affect nutrition. And in the days gone by before all this shipping from China to the USA food that can be grown in the US itself this was what happened and nutrition and health were better than they are today.

Because when you buy local produce at your neighborhood chain grocery store that local produce may be local, but it may have been shipped to the grocer’s warehouse in another county or state and then shipped back to the neighborhood store.

In other words, fuel used to transport the produce plus turnaround time in shipping the local produce back to where it originated negates most of the environmental and health effects usually associated with local food—at least in the grocery store.

In Britain we have this very same problem also and unless the greengrocers and grocers or supermarket obtains the “local” fruit and vegetables from farms locally, direct, which is very rare indeed, then the truth is that everything is shipped to London – to Covent Garden Market, the fruit and veg wholesale market – first from whence it is then taken back to the local area.

The food miles are rather big ones here but would not need to be. We must be stupid or something.

Something to think about for sure…

© 2011

Front and backyards for sustainability

Sustainable alternatives to lawns

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Most Americans long dream for the morning when they wake up to a cup of coffee and stare off their front porch at their immaculate green lawn. To some, the constant hum of lawn mowers is strangely comforting. But there’s a problem: having a lawn is expensive to maintain and largely unsustainable.

According to Dr. Bill Chameides, dean of Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment since 2007, we seriously need to reconsider the drawbacks of lawns in America, and not just in America, of that we can be sure.

For one, lawns require Americans alone to use about 800 million gallons of gasoline a year to refill the mower, of which about 17 million are being spilled. Lawns use nearly 3 million tons of pesticides. Lawns also cost us about $30 billion annually. And to top it off, we use about 4 billion gallons of water a day in residential water use, according to the EPA. Those are serious interesting figures and should make us all sit up and take note.

Even though there are a couple of alternatives such as Eco Lawn Grass, which still is often the wrong grass for the wrong locations and then there are the Synthetic Turf Fields. But that is man-made and not a good solution, as far as I am concerned.

The best choices would be natural growth which means to design your lawn to fit your environment. Instead of forcing some Kentucky Bluegrass to grow in front of your Arizona home, try designing the lawn to feature natural, drought resistant plants and ecosystems. The best part about this will be the lack of maintenance required: the world around you will do all the work. The same goes for those in Southern California or Texas – maybe lay down some volcanic rock or stones, cacti, and any other native plant life. Mix it up while doing so – have patches of lawn surrounded by native plants and flowers. That way you can still have a place to put a chair or bench, but the resources required will drop dramatically.

And then there is converting lawns to gardens and this is probably the best solution as it gives you some added benefit. Such a garden can still look great as you can grow veggies with flowers and vice versa.

While resources like water will still be needed, and so will be compost and other work such as weeding, this time you’ll be getting something back other than the joy of a green lawn. In fact, you’ll be able to lessen the demand for farming, decreasing the amount of water, fuel, pesticides, and fertilizers that are used. Hopefully, your soil hasn’t suffered too much from the years of pesticides. First, plot out where you want your garden to be and here consider sunlight, natural water irrigation, and shading. Next, start pulling back the sod with a hoe. You can use much of this as compost, so now would be a good time to get a compost system set up.

You could use the sods, turned up, made into “Irish lazy beds” (look those up on the Internet) and use those as “raised beds”. Raised beds are, in my view, together with planters of various kinds, including the serious improvised ones, the way to go for veggie growing.

After you’ve cleared away your area, sorted out your beds or planters get everything read for planting. The choose what you want to grow to harvest and then sow and plant away.

Vegetable gardening and flowers can go very well hand in hand and if you want anything in your garden that is not planted up and is a little like a lawn make a Zen garden. A place of tranquility at the edges of which you can sit, relax and meditate.

You might even inspire your neighbors to follow suit once you have your garden of this nature up and growing, too to set up their own garden of a similar nature and a good thing that would be too. It will be good for the environment and for the food miles too. In addition to that gardening – growing things, other than grass – is good for the soul.

© 2011

Fresh eggs from your backyard

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

When we think about chickens and farms it is natural to picture a rooster atop a fencepost belting out his best crow at the crack of dawn. In the farmhouse the aged farmer crawls out of bed to start his day. There is something romantic about seeing hens meandering through the farmyard and the farmer’s wife gathering eggs in the morning light.

I must say though that I still have to actually see a rooster do that; standing atop a fencepost, I mean, though the rest might just work. Then again, one of my Bantam roosters has taken to stand a top a pallet used as a gate and yodel. We must, however, also remember that that idyllic vision is not general reality, not even on so-called free range egg farms.

Today most egg production is rather industrialized and yes, even organic egg production is rather on a large scale and while the chickens are better off than those in the factory farms it still is miles away from the old family farm idyll of a a couple of dozen hens and a rooster roaming around in the farmyard scratching for worms and living the “good life”.

It is an idyll that should become the norm once again as far as food production is concerned. And yes, I am well aware that with so many people on the Planet today we need more food than we needed say in the 1940s but it can still be done; research has proven that.

In our present hectic world, which is no good to man or beast, we stumble out of bed to our digital alarm, grab something to eat that is wrapped in plastic and filled with more preservatives than natural ingredients, then run off to work. We rush through the day, hurry into a crowded grocery store on our way home and grab some eggs out of the commercial refrigerators and those eggs, unless we have the choice and are careful about choosing, have been produced in cages. We no longer have an idea where our food is coming from.

About six decades ago we knew where our food was coming from. Now we have no relationship to it and our lifestyles are so hectic we unrealistically think we don’t have the time to reconnect and few make an attempt because of that belief.

With the revival of living sustainably and organically, however, I have seen more and more small town and even city dwellers acquiring new pets for their household, feathered ones.

Having a few hens in your backyard is now very cool and is becoming quite an accepted thing to do. Some city dwellers who are yearning for the country even keep small Silkies or Bantam hens as indoor pets but I definitely would not recommend chickens indoors.

Chickens are very useful birds to have around. Not only do they keep the insect population in check, they provide natural fertilizer for your garden. Many people go out and buy chicken manure pellets which are, basically, noting else but the dried droppings of chickens. You'll get that for free and, obviously, and let’s not forget that, you get the benefit of fresh, organic eggs in your backyard. There is nothing better than eggs that come from your own hens.

There are a fair number of plans for chicken coops, from small ones to even chicken palaces online, some which are even free for the download or copying, while others cost money. In addition there are literally hundreds of books and magazines available on keeping hens that all could help get you started. No need buy the material; some you can find online, the books you check out at the library – if you are lucky enough still to have a public library.

Construct a simple house for your “girls” – it does not have to be elaborate – and you’ll wonder how you lived without these sweet pets. You can even let the hens roam around in the yard, provided there are no dogs to torment or harm them, and they will gather grit and greens for food. In their house or coop, offer organic, non-genetically modified feed and grain along with fresh water. You might also want to include some oyster shells. The calcium in the oyster shells hardens the eggshell. Take care of your “girls” and they will thank you with a full supply of eggs for your kitchen.

You can also – as I do – feed the eggshells back to the hens. You will have to bake the shells first though and I have found the easiest way for that to nuke them in the microwave – the eggshells, not the chickens – and then grind them up fine. Saves on buying the oyster shell grit. Lack of calcium can cause the eggs to not form a shell and be just a gooey mess and no more. Therefore the feeding of shell back to the hens.

Hens make great pets but are – in reality – happy to be left alone as much as possible. There is no need to handle them all the time. They provide great entertainment for sure and nothing could be more funny than the chicken version of rugby or the “chase the falling apple petal” game.

Finally, a word of warning: Chickens are strange, strange in the eggstreme... I have one that insist on watching me through the window when I am in the kitchen and one also does that through another window when I am working on the computer. Nigh on as soon as I do something in the kitchen the particular one there will pop up onto the suitable pedestal from where she can watch what I am doing, while singing to herself at the same time. Strange for sure chickens are but great fun...

Get some hens for your backyard; you won't regret it.

© 2011

Congress passes authority for worldwide war

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

US_Congressional_SealWashington, DC: The United States House of Representatives, on May 26th, 2011, passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a provision to authorize worldwide war, which has no expiration date and will allow the current President – and any future President of the Union – to go to war anywhere in the world, at any time, without further congressional authorization.

This new authorization will not even require the President to show any threat to the national security of the United States. The American military could become the world’s cop, and could be sent into harm’s way almost anywhere and everywhere around the globe.

Before the vote, the House debated an amendment that would have struck out the worldwide war provision. That amendment to the bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of representatives: Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

Given the enormity of the proposed law, one would have expected that the House would have debated the amendment to strike it extensively, but that’s not what happened.

The amendment was debated for a total of 20 minutes. Yes, you got it right. Twenty minutes to debate whether Congress should hand the executive branch sweeping worldwide war authority.

The vote on the amendment took place earlier that afternoon, and it failed on the House floor by a vote of 187-in favor to 234-opposed.

Now this bill is, obviously, headed for the Senate and the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to begin its markup of the NDAA beginning on June 13. If it passed the Senate also in such an unopposed manner then the US is set to hand the executive branch the powers of a king.

Coming to think of it, in reality, the US President is an elected king bar for the name and with the aid of executive orders he can, in fact, rule as an autocrat if he so wishes.

Most people are totally unaware of that situation and also of the way that the President of the Union is, actually, elected. Americans believe that they directly elect their President but nothing could be further from the truth. It is a conclave, the Electoral Commission, which elects the President in a manner similar to the election of the Pope in the Vatican.

Hmm... who would have thought...

© 2011

Ten people in Germany die from E.coli

E.coli infected cucumbers kill ten people in Germany

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

cucumber_web According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control ten German citizens have been killed and hundreds taken ill after an outbreak of E.coli that was caught from a contaminated batch of imported cucumbers.

The virus is a rather complicated form of E.coli – called hemolytic-uremic syndrome – which can cause kidney failure and affect the central nervous system: adults, who are not normally seen as at the greatest risk, have accounted for 87% of reported cases.

Cases of the disease have been reported in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK whilst the cucumbers, which were originally imported from Spain, had also been sent to Hungary, Austria and Luxembourg.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control published the [outbreak] event background and risk assessment on the 27th May:

Event background information

On 22 May 2011, Germany posted a EWRS1 message reporting a significant increase in the number of patients with HUS and bloody diarrhoea caused by STEC. An urgent inquiry was launched through the EPIS platform on 24 May.

The update provided by Germany on 27 May reports 276 cases of HUS since 25 April. While HUS cases are usually observed in children under 5 years of age, in this outbreak 87% are adults, with a clear predominance of women (68%). Cases in children of school age are also reported. Two people affected by HUS have died. The onset of disease relating to the latest reported case was 25 May. New cases are still being reported.

Laboratory results from samples taken from patients have identified STEC strain of serotype O104:H4 (Stx2-positive, eae-negative). A German study has shown that eae-negative STEC strains generally affect adults more than children. Two strains isolated from patients from Hesse and Bremerhaven were shown to be highly resistant against third-generation cephalosporins (ESBL) and resistant to trimethoprim/sulfonamid and tetracyclines.

Most cases are from, or have a history of travel to, northern Germany (mainly Hamburg, Northern Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein). Clusters of cases were reported from the State of Hessen and linked to a catering company that supplies cafeterias. These most likely constitute a satellite outbreak.

Once again I must raise the question as to how E.coli, a virus that is found in the excrement of humans and animals, has gotten onto vegetables, in this case not leafy ones, as has been the case in the USA of late, but cucumbers, the fruit of a a vine.

The only possibility, really, is that we have contamination at the farm in that irrigation or fertilization is the carrier, or at the packing houses, when it is then the handlers whose hands were not clean.

Simple hygiene measures can prevent such outbreaks, of which we seem to be seeing more and more, and washing of hands is one of them when it comes to pickers and packers. When it comes to the farms there it is simply a case of not applying any slurry or farmyard manure to plants. It is not rocket science and it would seems that the farmers of old were more careful.

© 2011

1The Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) for communicable diseases in the European Union was created by the European Commission to "ensure a rapid and effective response by the EU to events (including emergencies) related to communicable diseases".

EWRS is a web-based system linking the Commission, the public health authorities in Member States responsible for measures to control communicable diseases and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). EEA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) are also linked to the system.

Food Safety and Leafy Greens

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

If you’re worried about e. coli bacteria lurking in your spinach and other leafy greens, then you might be interested in the USDA’s Proposed National Marketing Agreement Regulating Leafy Green Vegetables – unless you're a small sustainable farmer.

But I must say that I have a hard time understanding how we are getting e-coli bacteria and similar, which are found in the intestines of animals, including humans, onto those leafy veg in the first place unless farms and packing houses.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is proposing a new agreement to improve food safety and quality when it comes to green leafy vegetables including but not limited to lettuce, spinach, and cabbage, notably minimizing the potential for microbial contamination such as e. coli.

The program, which is called National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) would be available to operations of all sizes, locations, and agricultural practices has been proposed in part to increase customer confidence in leafy green vegetables in the marketplace according to the USDA website.

But not everyone is happy with the proposed agreement. According to a press release issued by Northeastern Organic Farmers Association – New York, the Agreement would establish a governance structure under which the largest leafy green produce handlers would hold the power to establish safety rules governing the growing and handling practices for leafy green vegetables. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service would decide whether or not to approve the industry-written standards, after receiving public comment.

This sounds very much like the industry-driven regulations that came into force in Europe as regards to herbal remedies where the pharmaceutical companies set the standards and made the rules which, by much lobbying, was then made EU law.

NOFA-NY Executive Director Kate Mendenhall stated, “NLGMA will directly put NY small family farmers at a disadvantage in the marketplace. It is hard enough for our local sustainable farmers to thrive without this extra regulation. A single food safety metric cannot apply for the whole country. Growing conditions, length of growing season, and farm size differ greatly across the nation—even within New York state. Food safety education, standards, and/or regulations would be best defined and managed at the state level.”

USDA is encouraging all interested parties, including small, organic, and diversified operations, as well as the public to submit comments concerning USDA’s Recommended Decision to establish the NLGMA. Comments are due by July 28, 2011.

The fact is that no government intervention would be needed if common sense and proper cleanliness would be employed.

On farms this would mean no use of manure and slurry on growing leaf crops and nowhere near it either and when it comes to harvesting and packing this means that rigorous hand washing is used.

Proper “bio-security” was better in the days of old, it would seem, on old-style family farms than it is today on those huge commercial operations, whether vegetable farming or other.

In packing houses too many people are being employed who come from a background where cleanliness does not seem to be on the agenda and who also seem to have a lack of understanding the language of the country and this is the same in the USA as it is in the UK.

A total turnaround is needed and not regulation that may force small farmers out of business because of not having the money to comply with those rules in the same way as the pharmaceutical industry is trying with herbal remedies and “medicines”.

© 2011

“The M&G Garden” 2011

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

M&GGarden2011_web The 2011 M&G Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011 was a modern take on the traditional kitchen garden and a garden that really spoke to me.

The M&G Garden 2011 proves the point that a vegetable/kitchen garden doe not have to be or need to be hidden away out of sight. On the contrary. It can become the garden.

“The M&G Garden” 2011 was designed by Bunny Guinness, who is a multi award-winning garden designer, landscape architect and journalist. It encapsulates a belief in sustainable excellence and, as said, is a modern take on a traditional kitchen garden. This is a garden which you can both live with and in and live from, combining the practical with the aesthetic and innovative garden design elements that can sustain and nurture the modern gardener.

The garden is a beautiful space in which to relax, as well as being a working plot to produce bountiful fruit, herbs, vegetables and cut flowers. It features raised beds built from willow and topped with cedar coping, which are planted out with vegetables and flowers for cutting.

Cabbages and beans mingle with clematis and roses, whilst lavender and other herbs ensure the garden smells sweet and fragrant. Large terracotta pots containing a variety of fruit trees are placed throughout the garden.

While very much traditional in spirit, the garden also embraces seriously innovative features including an elegant glass platform. This glass deck, which appears to float, a contemporary centrepiece to the garden, offers both a view of the garden and a sheltered space for people and plants below.

The garden is framed by a series of pleached trees, standing nearly three metres tall, which are trained against wire and ironwork that echo the balustrade design.

The M&G Garden demonstrates how a traditional approach is timeless, particularly when updated for a modern world.

While this may not be something that any of us more ordinary mortals can recreate in its entirety, simply for lack of funds, the idea, however, could be taken up and transplanted – pardon the pun – into a less expensive setting.

The “5 A DAY” garden at last year's Chelsea (or was it Hampton Court) Show was a smaller version of this planter raised bed design though, at that time, more or less solely a vegetable kitchen garden. But, anything along the lines of the size of the latter combined with the former should fit into most gardens and budgets.

You don't have to have the same kind of planters or the huge Italian terracotta pots. I am sure it can be recreated using much cheaper materials for almost the same effect, leaving out, maybe, the floating deck as well.

© 2011

Gardening Matters

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

rhslogo The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011 saw the launch of “Gardening Matters: Urban gardens”, a report by the Royal Horticultural Society, prepared by Dr. Tijana Blanusa (RHS) and Abigail Page (independent consultant).

The report highlights, in its eight pages, the immense value that (urban) gardens present for people and the environment.

I should think, though, that there is very little of that that really comes as a surprise to those of us involved with the environment and with gardens and gardening, whether on an amateur or a professional basis.

In the same way as do city trees, and hence they are so valuable, gardens moderate the temperatures and cool the urban environment. A town or city without trees, gardens and parks would be much hotter in summer and less balanced in its micro climate. We get a detailed rundown on how gardens work by way of moderating the urban climate on page three of the report.

Gardens, and that too has been a given to those of us who work with Nature, are an aid to the prevent flooding in the urban environment and page four of the report highlights that very well indeed.

When I look around my own neighborhood it is obvious why we have a problem with flash floods everywhere when it rains heavily. Most front gardens have been paved over between three quarters to completely to make parking spaces for the at least two cars per home, often even three or four. Back gardens too often are no more than ten percent of their former selves as people build decking and patios to create (large) outdoor “rooms”. All this contributes to a lack of soil capable of absorbing water and leading to run off.

The report “Gardening Matters: Urban gardens” is a very valuable piece of research and resource that has lot of good and important information for the urban gardener. Making it, therefore, available for downloading as a PDF document from the RHS website would be a very good idea.

© 2011

Download tunes instead of purchasing them as a CD

Download tunes instead of purchasing them as a CD at the store

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

While I know that saying this could be the death knell for the high street record stores but it is better to download tunes instead of purchasing them at the store.

The average price of a CD is about $15, and about the same in British Pounds, whereas the download is only about $10 or even less, depending.

Each month, more than 45 tons of CDs become obsolete – outdated or unwanted – and end up in landfills. Many, it has to be said, are data CDs but a great many are audio CDs that people have ripped to MP3 and then put onto their MP3 players, and the computer hard drive.

The manufacture of the CDs, their cases, etc.; consider all that energy used and wasted. The oil for the CDs, the silver with which they are coated, and then the energy used in producing them. Then the energy used in transporting them, and so forth. Downloading – though not “carbon” neutral – nevertheless has a much smaller environmental footprint as does the same album on CD.

And, if you still want a CD then you do have the choice to burn your own audio CD with software, free software, that can be had for the simple download as well. That is what I tend to do with my compilations that I acquire from the Net.

© 2011

EcoCommerce 101 – Book Review

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

EcoCommerce 101
Adding an ecological dimension to the economy
by Timothy Gieseke, a Minnesota farmer
Published by Bascom Hill Publishing Group 2010
Paperback 428 pages
ISBN: 978-1935098423

EcoCommerce 101 In EcoCommerce 101, Timothy Gieseke offers new ways to look at an emerging economy. Using Adam Smith's concepts, developed in the 18th Century classic “The Wealth of Nations”, Gieseke suggests the development of new markets for the assurance of sustainability. Using agriculture as an example, he employs actual and visionary examples of how cooperation between leaders in business, agriculture, government and ecology can assure that the economy and ecology will provide our needs for the next millennium.

This EcoCommerce model is applicable to all industries that rely on the food, feed, fiber and fuel stocks that we glean from the land.

You will discover that the:

- Economic System has much to benefit from our ecological systems

- ''Natural Capital'' of nature is as valuable to the economy as our man-made factories

- Engagement in EcoCommerce will be as natural as engaging in our economic system

- Career Opportunities will abound when this new economic system is unlocked.

Tim Gieseke is a farmer, an ecologist, a business owner and a lecturer, and previously both a government staff and policy analyst and in this book he creates a new language for this new economic reality. He discusses the need for revolutionary types of indexes for measuring sustainability. This thoroughly researched and clearly presented volume is a work that should be looked at seriously by all concerned with the continuity of our resources.

The author of “EcoCommerce 101” is the first person, although I am by no means an economist, who has made sense to me and the first person, other than myself, who I have ever encountered who actually talks about putting an economic value on Mother Earth and Her gifts.

This is exactly the approach we have to take; in fact we should have been taking it for decades already. The problem is, and has been for ever since we exploited the gifts of Mother Earth, that we have taken it all for grated and, in a way, use the Holy Bible, purposely misinterpreted, as an excuse.

When G-d said that man was to have dominion over the Earth, over creation, that did not mean that man was supposed to dominate it. Dominion means in this case to me a caretaker. And what did man do, bar some people who lived closed to Nature? Man tried to bend Nature and always talked about a fight against Nature.

If we ever win that fight then we have lost, forever.

EcoCommerce 101 is definitely a book that should be compulsory reading for all economists, business leaders and politicians alike.

© 2011

Research proves Gardens are Vital

rhslogo A report, released by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2011 at the end of May of the year, confirms the vital role that gardens play in reducing city warming.

“Gardening Matter: Urban gardens” brings together, for the first time, UK and international research into how gardens affect the air temperatures of towns and cities. The report not only shows how important urban gardens are at reducing temperatures but also that they provide a range of other benefits.

Results quoted in the report prove that plants bring down energy consumption in winter by providing shelter and insulation; cool the air in towns and cities in the summer; help reduce the risk of flooding by absorbing rain water through soil and support increased biodiversity.

“Gardens are important for reducing city warming,” says Dr Roger Williams, Head of RHS Science. “We are concerned that with current trends for building apartment blocks with limited green space and houses with much smaller gardens the benefits from private gardens will decrease to the detriment of people living in cities. We hope this report will highlight the need to keep green spaces and that even they may even be increased for the benefit of the environment and future generations.”

Research shows that urban environments are prone to heating when vegetated areas are replaced with dark, impervious surfaces. Pavements and roads absorb more heat and reflect less than planted surfaces, making them warmer. This results in urban air and surface temperatures being significantly hotter than surrounding rural areas.

Gardens also provide valuable flood-reduction benefits. Trees help reduce the flow of rainfall by holding rain in their canopies. In addition water is filtered into the soil which helps ease demands on urban drains. Despite this the area given over to hard paving in gardens is increasing. For example, in Leeds over a 33-year period there was a 13 percent increase in impervious surfaces. This has been linked to a higher frequency and magnitude of flooding in the area.

“Although gardens provide immense benefits we also need to be aware that there are some potential negative impacts on the environment,” says Dr Tijana Blanusa, lead author of the report. “Gardening can contribute indirectly to carbon emissions through the use of powered garden tools and the manufacture and transport of horticultural goods. And the use of water in gardens is predicted to rise over the coming years.”

The report suggests ten tips for gardeners to improve the benefits of gardens to urban areas. The charity is also launching an online survey during RHS Chelsea Flower Show to see how people garden in urban areas. Anyone wanting to participate should visit – www.rhs.org.uk/urbangreening.

Source: Royal Horticultural Society

Is Google Docs safe for backing up confidential information?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The short answer here, I would say, must be an emphatic NO, and especially with regards to any sensitive information, and therefore I would suggest that no one would place any tax records or anything of such a similar nature.

When it comes to using Google Docs for storage, if we want to use the longer answer, it really depends on the user’s tolerance for risk and what his or her other options are.

If you place confidential information on Google Docs, the risks include: Google being compromised by hackers, Google itself using the documents for nefarious purposes, your account being compromised, governments or other third parties requesting and obtaining access to the documents, and Google losing your information. None of these outcomes are very likely, but they’re all risks to keep in mind.

I would suggest that you consider that – in the small print – Google reckons that by signing up for the service and using it you give your copyright for anything that you store with Google, as with many other free “cloud services”, and that it, Google, has the right, therefore, to make use of any of your material in any way that it, Google, sees fit.

Therefore, personally, I wouldn’t put confidential information on Google Docs in any way, shape or form. Keep regular backups of the data on my hard drive and be vigilant about the security of my machines.

Documents that you may only need to keep – such as tax records, etc. – and can therefore remove from your hard drive I would suggest you “burn” them onto optical media, onto CD or DVD. Do not keep such data that you may need to have access to at times on USB thumb drives either.

Therefore, store your stuff off-line, an best on media that is not something that could fail. It is for that reason that I suggest not to use USB thumb drives as they can, like hard drives, fail and crash and you could lose your data.

© 2011

RHS Chelsea 2011 – Visit Report

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)rhslogo

The end of May 2011 saw the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the prestigious annual event held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home of the Chelsea Pensioners.

Many a show garden, large and small, was in evidence once again and for me the ones that stood out were the M&G Garden and the Bulldog Forge Garden and we shall be looking at those gardens in more detail at another stage.

RHS Chelsea 2011 also saw the launch of the “Gardening Matters: urban gardens” report by the Royal Horticultural Society; a report that is worth a second a closer look and we shall do that at another time.

The “Miracle Gro'wers – Leaning Journey”, by Miracle Gro, the plant food people, in association with The Sun (newspaper) saw a constant stream of journalists coming and going on Monday, May 23 – the Press Day. This could, however, have been due to the fact that the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spellman, was due to put in an appearance and here she is with some of the children that have been responsible for the growing of the plants on display on the stand and many others.

Caroline SpellmanRHSChesea2011_500 A fair number of new products and plants saw their launch at RHS Chelsea 2011 and there were many interesting new products in the RHS Chelsea “Product of the Year” collection; a new category introduced this year. More on those at another time.

I must say that the time that I have had at RHS Chelsea 2011 just was not long enough to see everything that was worth seeing and I must ensure that in the future I will make at least free for this show. I am glad, therefore, that I have booked myself in for two days for this year's RHS Hampton Court Flower Show.

© 2011

Recycling cereal packs into envelopes

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many green companies nowadays have gone really green when it comes to envelopes with which to send products. They make them out of old cereal packets and I think this to be a great idea indeed.

“Scrapkins” use such envelopes, and I understand that in one of their next recycling books for kids they will have the instruction of how to make such envelopes, as does, so I understand, “Stay Vocal”. “Scrapkins” also use compliment slips cut from cereal carton and then using a stamp and handwriting for the message. Another great idea.

As regular readers (and Twitter and Facebook followers) will know I preach this kind of recycling and also live it. As I do not use cereals at home, however, I do not have such cartons as waste around the house and thus no need to find a need for them.

Other “card stock” from packaging, in my operations, are being turned into business/visiting cards, bookmarks, index cards, and similar.

Cereal cartons also can be cut to the same uses as what I put them to but, as they are larger, they also can make good sturdy shipping envelopes, of the “Priority Mail” kind, though coming entirely free, bar a little sticky tape or glue.

Lighter envelopes of the letter size and half-letter size can be made from string Kraft paper that one comes across at times too and the recycling-minded person, especially he or she who does the occasional shipping of things in such envelopes, whether the stronger ones or the Kraft kind of, should always be on the lookout for such materials.

© 2011

Prayer without action is like having gasoline but no car to use it in

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

This is one of the many reasons that I got very turned off by so-called Christians who would always come out with the “let us pray about it” rather than to be prepared to actually do something about an issue.

Many years ago I have had the experience time and again when practical help was needed for Gypsy children or homeless people or whatever. Instead of the congregations getting practical and looking for things with which to help the reply would, invariably, be “let's pray about it to see whether the Lord wants us to do and what.”

Very few, especially of the so-called “born again” groups were prepared to get the finger out and do something, unless there was conversion mileage in it, and that is and was another thing that irks me... In order for help to be made forthcoming people have to convert. Convert not to just biblical standards. No... but to the standards of the “leaders” of the particular church.

The New Testament states that “faith without work is dead” but the problem is that too many Christians, especially of the “new” churches seem to believe that prayer is work in this sense.

Well, folks, it is not. Prayer is prayer and work is work and that's how simple the equation works.

Recently I have been able to observer this claptrap again on Facebook where way too many that call themselves Christians talk a load of bovine excrement instead of offering any real help or similar.

We all can talk a lot, especially in terminology, but that is no more than a sounding drum or a cymbal. It does not solve the problems and to come with talk, when we are trying to confront poverty and other issues, of demons having taken over this or that country and that we need to pray for deliverance is the greatest of garbage possible.

As someone once said: I have no problem with God, it is his ground personnel that I have issues with, and not just the so-called pastors and elder. Nay, also the followers of those that just babble a lot of nonsense that they have copied from those that they believe are their leaders.

I also do not need to have the Bible (New Testament is what counts only) expounded to me by this or that pastor, elder, missionary, etc. in a Bible study group. Thank you, but I am well capable of reading the book myself.

In addition to that there is nothing writing between the lines, as someone once tried to explain to me when he came up with some stuff that he claimed was what was meant in a biblical text. Upon my question as to where this was written I was told that I would have to be able to read between the lines.

The truth is, and that is why the Catholic Church of old was so worried when the Bible was being translated into the vernacular from Latin that people could read the Word themselves and they too then claimed that they needed the priest to explain it to them.

The modern churches which are but sects have the same attitude. Know the truth and the truth will set you free.

© 2011

Kerbside recycling of paper

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Does kerbside recycling work in the way that it is currently being done in many areas in the UK (and elsewhere)?

The short answer to this must be a definite NO. Mixed materials collection, and that does include the way paper is being collected, does not work as often, in the case of paper, thermal paper and other non-recyclable paper is included.

Many residents in the British boroughs put out all types of paper into the one bag or box that is being used for the waste paper recycling collection with the council always having the slogan “we will sort it”. But this is not, actually, a feasible way, unless the councils' waste departments have lots of people working behind the scenes sorting all that paper manually, by hand, when it comes in. I am sure, however, that this is not happening.

From what I have seen personally residents seem to throw all manner of different types of “paper” into this collection, including thermal paper, from till receipts, old-style, but still in use, fax machines, etc.

Thermal paper cannot – unless I am very much mistaken – be recycled with other paper. Neither can pages that are lightly (and not so lightly) laminated, such as gloss finished pages of heavy catalogs, and such like.

So, what's the point of kerbside recycling collections of waste paper when the paper ends up so contaminated with non-recyclable paper that the entire stuff can only go pone place. Yes, the landfill. Is it just all a sham and for show?

The above question, I am afraid to say, is a serious one and not just a rhetorical question for, unless things have changed in the last year or two, and that waste paper that arrives is meticulously sorted then it is but a farce and a sham and the paper is contaminated in such a way that recycling just simply is not possible.

With other parts of kerbside recycling collecting I can see similar problems.

Plastic bottles, etc., are all mixed up with other plastics and bottles, more often than not, still have the tops on, or at least the “ring” attached. As the cap and the “ring” are of a different plastic than the bottles the cap and/or the “ring” will have to be removed by hand. In fact, a lot of manual sorting I reckon to be required to ensure that the correct plastics reach the right locations.

So, are we all being fooled?

On the other hand it is indeed possible that this sorting all does happen but probably not anywhere locally.

I hasten to bet that this waste is shipped “as is” to some Third World country where it is then being sorted in, more often than not, appalling conditions for those sorters.

Some serious questions, I think, need to be asked as to what, actually, happens to those recyclables that are being collected at the kerbside.

© 2011

Misguided Environmentalists

A little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Those of us that work in outdoor professions, such as professional commercial foresters and forest managers and coppice workers, as well as those in the park service, etc., encounter those people on an almost daily basis.

In the main those people have read a few pamphlets, articles (on the Internet nowadays more often than not) and books only and suddenly they feel qualified to decide that this or that practice is wrong. They did that with regards to coppicing some years back and now... well now we have to bring it back piece by piece before the coppice stools actually will break apart and the woodlands are lost for ever.

One of the other things that was forced through by those with little knowledge is the practice of leaving forest debris, such as branches and tops, and other “useless” wood as “habitat piles” for the wildlife, for invertebrates and fungi.

This practice, however, has dangerous consequences and is very bad for the environment to boot and for the woodlands concerned.

The dead wood harbor diseases and parasites which then come to fruition there on the forest floor in those “habitat piles” and infect and, in the case of parasites, infest living trees.

In addition to that this dead wood, often in the form of brushwood, constitutes a serious fire risk and -hazard and fire ladder.

Commercial foresters and forestry organizations are fighting a battle to reverse this foolhardy practice and the British Forestry Commission was talking in 2009/2010 about actually outlawing this practice of leaving “habitat piles”, or at least the excessive use of them. It is also bad and lazy forestry practice to just leave higgledy-piggledy heaps of wood about.

This is but one area where the interfering busybody syndrome of those misguides and misinformed people is wreaking havoc in forests, woods and countryside, as well as (public) parks and open spaces.

The professional forester of old has not just been concerned with growing trees. He has also had concern for the wildlife and soil health of his forests. He knew the symbiosis that exists between trees and the fungi in the soil, which basically form a communications net between trees of a species and are needed to enable to trees to actually take up the needed nutrients.

In the days gone by managed woodlands and forests had, basically, a 'clean floor' policy and virtually all debris was removed, and this was done for reasons of the health of the forest soil and its trees.

The larger bits of wood, such as the bigger branches, went for firewood, often to the Estovers, and twigs and brushwood was burned in situ. Still the wildlife thrived and that more so than today even.

While the burning of such forest debris in piles in the woods may have been, and is, an issue as fas as the smoke from such fires goes, the carbon released, however, is however only that amount which the wood absorbed during its growing period. The ash produced, on the other hand, was and is a great soil improver.

Wood left to decay, in comparison, not only releases possible pathogens and parasites that will infect and infest other healthy trees, but also the CO2 that it took up during its growing period but also, and much more important and dangerous, the much more dangerous greenhouse gas of methane.

Removing the debris and burning that which is of no use to others in situ also removes the fire hazard posed by piles of brushwood. What ain't there can't, after all, burn.

The misguided greenies, however, do not want to understand this, claiming that this is an invention of the commercial forestry lobby.

Another way such forest debris could be used – much better than leaving it to decay – is to chip it up for mulch in the garden, to grind it down to make compost, or as wood chips in stoves and furnaces made to burn such chips.

As I said, this is but one area where the interference by certain people with just a little knowledge, which is also often tinted, has caused and is causing problems. Other areas are in access management in parks, open spaces, woods and forests.

We saw that in the beginning of 2011 with regards to the proposed sale, by the Con-Dem coalition government, of some of the Forestry Commission lands. Here serious scaremongering was being employed claiming that people would no longer be permitted to walk in those woods, and that those forests would be clear felled. The claim was, basically, that private forest owners would destroy the lands, as if the Forestry Commission, aside from their research which is second to none, does such a great job anyway.

The popular, though misguided, campaign got the sale of such lands stopped – for the time being – nevertheless. Whether this was good or not in the long run remains to be seen.

As far as I have seen the Forestry Commission does not have one of the greatest records in managing forests and woodlands very efficiently and effectively and many of the areas are in dire need to tender loving care. The same is true – and that even more so – with woods and forests that are owned by the counties, districts and boroughs. Trees get felled and left to rot instead of being sold for profit.

We have a need for firewood and other wood products and import firewood from as far afield as Poland, the Ukraine and Belarus while our own woods have tonnes and tonnes of timber, more often than not even quality building and furniture timber, laying about rotting away.

To a degree that practice too is due to those misguided individuals and groups that insist that the councils, whether county, district or borough, leave such wood “for the wildlife”.

Time we rethought a few things...

© 2011

Citizenship & Community Spirit

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

As I have already talked about in a previous article far too may people nowadays, in Britain, and more than likely elsewhere, are taken with a belief in entitlements and rights but no one wants to know about the fact that those rights (and entitlements) some with strings attached, namely responsibilities.

Citizenship is not (just) about rights and human rights, Magna Carta (not that that document was ever intended for the common man), Bill of Rights, etc., but about the responsibilities of a citizen.

In addition to that what is lacking so much today is community spirit; the spirit to get involved in actions for the community and also simply being part of the community proper.

Proper community is what makes us tick, as human beings, but proper community has been created away by the powers-that-be and now they want to resurrect it. It now suits them as the funds to do it government controlled are running out. Enter the “Big Society.” But that is neither here nor there at the moment.

The problem that we have, and that is one of the main reasons that our world is the way it is today is that community has been destroyed by a variety of ways and mostly through greed and people's egotism.

When the entitlement mentality arrived – and how we go there still beats me a little but the welfare state (and no, I don't want to be without this safety net) in having made people dependent on the state has much to do with it – everything, more or less, went out of the window and people began to believe that they are entitled to this and to that and it is their right to have this and that.

Some seem to take it so far as to believe that they are entitled to have and drive a car, to have abundant fuel to power it, and that they are entitled to flat screen and plasma TVs and all that jazz.

Welfare recipients moan that they have not enough money to feed their children but have a huge TV in the corner and large sound systems. Hello, people! The welfare money that you are given is for getting food on the table for you and your kids and not to keep up with the neighbors (and bankers) with fat salaries.

But, again, sorry, I digressed somewhat.

Citizenship is something that in many other countries of Europe is actually being taught in schools. Children are taught what is expected of everyone as a citizen of the country in which they live and while this might be seen as indoctrination by some it, theoretically, makes the point that all rights come with responsibilities.

Community spirit now is something that you can't teach but was once something that just seems to have been there. Whether it was simply because everyone was in the same boat and therefore everyone relied on one another or whether it was borne out of religious beliefs, I could not say. Fact is, people used to help each other, and that even in the not so distant future, and not just in the villages and in the rural communities.

We must rediscover this community spirit, and some people make a serious effort to do so, such as the Transition Town movement and good luck to them. But that is but a small drop in the ocean and our communities need more than just that to get back on their feet as living communities.

It could be that once we can no longer travel all over the place cheaply and easily by aid of the motorcar with the ICE (infernal combustion engine) things might change and community and community spirit will arise again. The end of cheap and abundant oil and thus the end of cheap and abundant gasoline and diesel is not that far away and when that begins to bite we need to get back to doing things at home, on a local level.

People will need each other again when that time comes and it would be good not to wait that long, in my view, even though that time may be very close at hand.

In the same way as transitioning towards a post oil world transitioning towards a world of community spirit and cooperation is something that we must do as well at the same time.

In order to build and rebuild communities and community spirit we must act now; we have no time to lose. At the same time “citizenship”, in a loose sense of the word, also must be relearned. The entitlement idea no longer works once the proverbial has hit the air moving device and we are stuck where we are due to lack of fuel to run our fuel guzzling motor vehicles or when fuel has become so expensive that we can no longer afford to run those vehicles.

Where did we go wrong, I wonder, as to people and community? The welfare state cannot be blamed for it, really. Somewhere along the line people have been led to believe that they are entitled to all those things and to all those “rights”, even to the detriment (of the rights) of others, and this made the majority of people in the developing nations into serious egoists with a total “me, me, me” attitude, from children to adults alike.

Everything has become a competition as to how to get more than the neighbor whether this is a bigger car, a better BBQ, or whatever you may wish to think of.

The attitude seems to be “I have a right to have this” even if it infringes on someone else and especially on the Planet and the future of our children and children's children. Our use – or should I can it abuse – of fossil fuels and natural resources is a great example of this and while the biggest culprits are the corporate giants each one of us is, to some degree to blame for this as well.

Time for a serious change and this change must be made now...

© 2011

World Environment Day is just a few days away but there's still time to celebrate

Three things it's not too late to do

May 25th 2011 - The countdown to the biggest day in the corporate environmental calendar has begun. Green teams across the country are planning awareness days and fairs to help their colleagues be greener. But even if companies haven’t made plans, they can still show their support on June 5th.

1) Hold an activity, workshop, or training session. There are some really easy things companies can do to get their environmental messages across. It’s not too late to book one of our innovation sessions or training workshops for your environment champions. We still have some availability for our EcoInteractive Displays, like our Energy Bike and EcoDriving simulator, which bring environmental issues to life and are great for a lunchtime display in your canteen.
Find out more about our special World Environment Day offers on our EcoInteractive Displays at

2) Take stock of your strategy. Sustainability managers need a plan to make sure World Environment Day leads to deeper engagement. Review your strategy – does it take your environmental message forward in the next six months? Make sure you have a plan to sell your environmental vision to your colleagues and create a culture of sustainability in your organization.

Need help with planning? Our two-day scoping strategy can help. And we’re talking lots about strategy at our upcoming Sustainability Masterclass: Employee Engagement on June 25th in London. Find out more about our scoping strategy service at http://www.globalactionplan.org.uk/scoping-and-strategy-service or book a place on our Masterclass at business@globalactionplan.org.uk.

3) Download our Twibbon. Social-media savvy companies can download our Twibbon, a WED butterfly icon that shows your communities that you’re supporting World Environment Day. Great for your Twitter profile picture or Facebook page. The World Environment Day website has competitions and other ideas for activities you can do to get involved.
Download our World Environment Day Twibbon at http://twibbon.com/cause/World-Environment-Day-2/Join

Trewin Restorick, CEO of Global Action Plan says: “World Environment Day is the perfect opportunity for companies to look at how they are talking to their employees about the environmental issues they face, and to make sure their communications are as engaging and inspiring as they can be. It can also be a great springboard for companies to demonstrate leadership on the environment and talk about what they’re doing with the communities they support.”

Source: Global Action Plan

British Government to develop “Oil Shock Response Plan”

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne agreed in late May 2011 to develop an “Oil Shock Response Plan”, following a meeting he had with the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES).

ITPOES, which was formed by Arup, B&Q, Buro Happold, Solarcentury, SSE, Stagecoach and Virgin, and campaigns for greater awareness of the economic threat presented by dwindling oil supplies, said that the meeting had proved "constructive" and had helped to advance the energy security dialogue.

Specifically, Huhne agreed that DECC and ITPOES would work together on peak oil threat assessment and contingency planning.

Details on the collaboration are yet to be agreed, but the group is expected to be tasked with modeling some of the impacts that could result if, as growing number of experts fear, global oil supplies peak within the next five years.

After the ITPOES report that the previous government tried to bury it is about high time that the UK government woke up and smelled the roses and – beofer anyone mentions it – nuclear is NOT an option.

Members of the taskforce said they would also explore steps that would need to be taken now to protect the UK economy "if we knew that the oil price would soar to $250 in 2014".

Oil prices have remained above $100 a barrel for much of the past few months, driven by rising demand and supply fears related to continuing unrest in Libya and the Middle East.

The elevated prices yesterday prompted the International Energy Agency to take the unusual step of calling on the OPEC cartel to increase production in an effort to bring down prices and protect the fragile global economic recovery.

However, there are growing numbers of experts in and outside the oil industry who have voiced fears that there is insufficient spare capacity for oil producers to respond easily to growing demand, with even figures such as IEA chief economist Fatih Birol suggesting that global oil supplies could peak in the near future.

The members of the Taskforce also revealed that Huhne had called on them to present their concerns to the Chancellor and Treasury – a meeting that the ITPOES is now seeking.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said that the department will publish a formal “call for evidence” from interested parties in the near future as it works to develop the new “Oil Shock Response Plan”.

Preparing to create a contingency plan is one thing but when will government be prepared to actually tell the people that the proverbial might be about to hit the air circulation device and that there may no longer be fuel available to continue their love affair with the car or at least none that the ordinary man or woman will be able to afford.

In essence it does not matter as to whether we run out of the black stuff or whether its products just become so expensive that they are totally out of the reach of ordinary mortals; the era of the personal motorcar is about to come to and end.

But that is but one issue as the impact that higher and higher fuel prices will have on transportation costs is something that we cannot even imagine as yet. Food and every other commodity will become more and more expensive and as far as food is concerned it will need to have to be grown locally again; at distance where it can be delivered by horse and cart.

As someone used to say “we have seen nothing yet” and it is therefore high time that we all made our own contingency plans and prepared. Yes, that prep word from the Y2K time again and indeed this time it might be “the end of the world as we know it” – or at least “the end of the world as we have known it for the last century”.

We must prepare for it now and we must all create our own Oil Shock Response Plan.

© 2011

We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity, as belonging to us

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us." - Aldo Leopold

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

We abuse the Earth and Her resources because we regard it as a commodity, as something belonging to us and as something that we, man, have been given dominion over to exploit.

Often this very term “and G-d gave them dominion over the Earth” is being used to justify man's exploitation of the Earth and of Her resources and the total destruction, often, of parts of Creation.

However, “dominion” in this context has never meant and does not mean “domination”. Not by a long shot.

Dominion, in this context, means being, which is also used in some translations, a husbandman of the Earth, a steward of Her and Her resources. There is no license given for exploitation of the Earth and Her riches nor for exploitation of man through man.

The abuse that we have meted out upon the Planet and the resources of Mother Earth is now about to bite us all in the butt, whether or not we are directly responsible for it.

We have based our economy, that of, basically, the entire world, on fossil fuels, on coal, oil and gas, and predominately it has been and still is on oil. Already in the late 19th century scientists warned that we must not base our economy on fossil fuels and no one wanted to know.

A similar warning was issued in the 1940s and even many renewable power projects that are just about being looked at today – and one that has been abandoned for stupid reasons – were on the agenda then already. But the coal and oil lobby was just way too powerful. New we are going to suffer the consequences.

The Sterling Engine, for the production of electrical energy, has been known ever since the end of the 19th century as well but has been totally ignored in the quest for powering our world until only very recently.

In the quest to keeping the status quo with gasoline and diesel vehicles we are now destroying habitats on a wholesale basis to grow crops for palm oil (as base for biodiesel) and other plants the oil of which can be used for this fuel, as well as maize, etc., in order to make into bioethanol, with which to run gasoline engines.

Instead of using land for food to feed the starving, and those of us who not as yet starve but soon will be if the idiots get their way and grow crops for fuel rather than food, land is being used to grow vehicle fuel. This is total and utter madness.

We abuse the Earth left, right and center, and also below the surface, and then wonder why things go wrong and the Earth is in the process of throwing a wobbly.

Are we that stupid? Apparently the majority of people are and those in government definitely. We are, for sure, in the Age of Stupid.

© 2011

Perennial foods

Perennial herbs, vegetables, fruits and legumes

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

If you would like to enjoy home-grown food year after year without having to start your garden from scratch each spring then it is high time to discover the perennial food garden. Perennial food plants are the answer here and there are a lot more than most people may have thought.

All of the following herbs, vegetables, fruits and legumes (yes, we have listed them separately from the other vegetables) can be planted once and enjoyed for many seasons to come.

When it comes to perennial herbs we sure have quite a list of them. In fact, the great majority of herbs are perennial, though some will have to be either brought in over winter or kept and grown on the kitchen windowsill.

Basil, Chives, Coriander, Fennel, Garlic, Ginger, Horseradish, Lavender,

Lemon Balm (Warning! If not controlled this herb will take over your garden),

Mint (Same as Lemon Balm), Onions (Potato onions, Shallots, Egyptian onions, Japanese bunching onions, Welsh onions, Chinese leeks), Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme.

Some of those above will need a lot more tender loving care than do others. Coriander, for example, will have to come in during winter – I managed to kill a plant off in the winter we had in 2010/2011. Lemon Balm and Mint need no such consideration and neither does Horseradish and no, you cannot grow that one on the windowsill. No, don't even try to prove me wrong. Horseradish is a huge plant and, erm, watch that one... like Sun Chokes it will take over given half a chance.

Also watch and control mint and Lemon Balm – a mint relation – as both too have a way of spreading, and with the latter even if you keep them in planters. I have Lemon Balm popping up all over the garden and they are about as difficult as nettles to get rid of.

Talking of nettles and other wild foods; they too are perennial and the same is true for dandelion, a sorrel. Nettle tops and leaves can be used cooked, together with dandelion leaves, into what the Greeks call Hortes (which, I understand, just means “greens”) much like spinach and sorrel basically is wild spinach, though best in salads and here goes well with dandelion leaves.

Perennial vegetables

Artichoke (Jerusalem, also known as Sunchoke, and not to be confused with the Globe Artichoke), Asparagus, Broccoli (Nine Star, Purple Cape), Radicchio, Rhubarb, Spinach (Ceylon, Sissoo, New Zeland), Sweet Potato (which is not a potato proper), Swiss Chard, Water Cress, Yams

Perennial fruits

Apples, Apricots, Avocado, Blackberries, Cherries, Currants, Fig, Goji Berries, Huckleberries, Grapes, Kiwi, Lemons, Limes, Nectarines, Oranges, Peaches, Pears, Persimmon, Plums, Raspberries, Strawberries, (Ever-bearing varieties can be maintained as perennials in colder climates) and probably some that aren't included. As a note though: some don't grow well in all climes and thus you may not be able to grow oranges or even apricots above a certain latitude.

Perennial legumes

Beans (Winged bean, Scarlet Runner).

Though I have successfully grown runner beans, aka Lima beans, as perennials I, personally, generally restart them from seeds kept from the previous year. While I may be mistaken I do think that the yields are better from newly seeded plants. On the other hand, I may have not watered and fed the ones I grew as perennials properly.

Note: While all the plants listed above are perennials, they may not grow perennially, that is to say they may not perform with an annual repeat year in year out, in all locations. Check for compatibility with your region before buying seeds or plants.

© 2011

Thousands ensured that The Edible Garden Show launch was a smash hit

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Edible Garden Sow Logo Gardening and food lovers turned out in their thousands at the recent, first ever, national event for grow your own fruit and vegetables, The Edible Garden Show.

The Edible Garden Show was meant to have started last year but, for some reason, that did not come to pass but now it is finally up and running and, judging form the visitor numbers, it is off to a good start.

Crowds were queuing to get in before the doors opened on Saturday and Sunday following the launch day described as an “amazing success” by Jim Paice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food.

Celebrity gardeners and chefs added their praise for the show that has taken the gardening world by storm with TV gardening expert Diarmuid Gavin saying that he had a “fabulous day” and adding: “The show was thronged with visitors and it was brilliant browsing around the stands at everything the budding fruit and vegetable gardener could possibly require.”

TV presenter James Wong, the host of BBC’s Grow Your Own Drugs, declared: “Finally, a dedicated event just for grow your owners. So exciting to see everything you could ever need under one roof. Lots of specialist independents too! The only down side is I think I’ve maxed my credit cards already!”

Mr Paice, who officially opened the event at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, on Friday, March 18, with Diarmuid Gavin, said he was highly impressed by the wide range of educational grow-your- own projects targeted at children and how people didn’t necessarily need a garden to grow fruit and vegetables. He said: “I’ve seen lots of clever stuff on how to grow your own in rainwater gutters, window boxes and patios... all very clever ways of growing fruit and vegetables.”

The show also attracted the hugely popular BBC Radio 4 programme Gardeners’ Question Time which was recorded from Stoneleigh on the opening day with Eric Robson and the GQT panel – Anne Swithinbank, Pippa Greenwood and Bob Flowerdew.

More than 10,800 people attended the inaugural show and spokesman for the organisers said: “We are delighted by the response from the public to our first show. Exhibitors have been reporting a roaring trade at the stands throughout all three days. Many of them had to send out for fresh stock at the end of the opening day.”

To be perfectly honest a show such as this was and is needed, especially in the current climate of “grow-your-own”, which has a number of reasons, and shows such as the RHS Flower Shows and the one or two other Home & DIY shows cannot cater for the “grow-your-own” sector probably.

Stoneleigh, unfortunately, is a location , however, that is not easy to get to unless one has and uses a motorcar. Public transport, in the form of the train, is a difficult and expensive undertaking and maybe it would be a good idea to consider creating some local shows.

It is true that recently we saw one show of this nature in the South of |England, top be more precise, in Surrey but also Loseley Park near Guildford is a place that requires personal motorized transportation to get to.

Next year’s Edible Garden Show will take place at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, from March 16-18, 2012.


© 2011

Why was there no looting in Japan?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Why was there no looting after the earthquake, the tsunami and nuclear meltdown, which is still going on, in Japan?

In any other country, it seems, whenever something like this happens, be it earthquake in Haiti, tsunami somewhere, a hurricane devastation in the US, or in the Caribbean, and in most other cases, in the world, the looters are out in force immediately after the event and well before any aid can arrive and any security can be established.

In the case of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath even cops of the NOPD were involved in the looting incidents. They went into a variety of stores and just took what they wanted, instead of actually preventing the looters to do so.

I japan, on the other hand, no such problems anywhere, it would appear. Unless, like with the ongoing nuclear accident, the media, especially the foreign media, is being kept in the dark.

But, the way we seem to be seeing it is that there has been no looting and is no looting going on in Japan anywhere in the aftermath of the quake and the tsunami.

Instead people seem to be helping others to gather up belongings that can still be salvaged and no one seems to have to mount armed guard over things to prevent them from being stolen.

It seems to be a case that if you fight over something, there is never enough. But if you share, there is always enough. And this appears to be the philosophy that reigns in Japan.

The question has to be whether it is based on the Buddhist religion, in the case of Japan, the Zen Buddhism version, or whether it is something else.

I would, personally, venture to suggest that the Buddhist faith is what seems to be making the people resilient and at the same time work together to help others in adversity.

This is what should happen in the Christian faith, that is to say that we should help our neighbors, and thus our Western countries and those that have a predominately Christian outlook but it does not. Instead in places that are “Christian” looting always seems to happen immediately and people steal from their neighbors and from companies in their neighborhood.

What does that tell us about our so-called Christian society? It tells me that it is all but a sham and that those that so many Christians tend to regard as heathens, such as they do Buddhists, may, in fact, have the better outlook. Maybe there are some lessons to be learned.

© 2011

Palm oil lobby continues to mislead consumers, again...

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

On the Guardian Environment Blog at the end of March a banner advert read: "Sustainable. Food Security. Societal Advancement. This is Palm Oil"

Really? Honestly? I think not.

Palm oil expansion is known to be one of the major drivers of deforestation in South East Asia and not only there, of that we can be sure. Communities like the indigenous Penan people of Malaysia find themselves under severe threat from illegal and sometimes violent encroachment of palm oil companies onto their territory. Therefore making such blatantly misleading claims to consumers should be banned. Well, actually it already has been and twice at that but they continue to make such claims and seem to be flouting the law and judgements against them. They can; they have the big money.

Already in 2008 and 2009 the British Advertising Standards Authority banned two adverts (one on television and one in print) containing similar claims about the sustainability of palm oil on the grounds that "the claim was likely to mislead."

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), however, which happens to be behind all these ads has chosen to disrespect the ASA's ruling and has gone ahead repeating their greenwash for a third time. How many more times will they do so and be allowed to get away with it? And, I ask, how come that the Guardian Environment Blog has no decent ethics and even permits such an ad on its site? It all boils down to money, once again and to greed.

Palm oil, in the same way as biofuels, is not good for the Planet, nor its people, and the wholesale destruction of rainforests more than likely, speaking as a forester, has an adverse effect on the climate locally and globally.

In response to this renewed advertising campaign Friends of the Earth has submitted another complaint to the ASA and are confident that they will get a ruling against MPOC's continued misinformation.

However this time hopefully the ASA will actually show some teeth and to advise UK media to ban the repeat offender MPOC from any advertising for a substantial period of time. In addition to that MPOC should be made to publish an advert clarifying the truth around their misleading claims. Furthermore, any media outlet, whether in print, in broadcast or on the Internet, should also be held to account should they permit an advert by the MPOC or any other palm oil company with such misleading claims.

The amount of greenwash out there, even on green and eco websites and Blogs, is absolutely mind boggling and it is those outlets that should know better, and the same goes for the greenwash that comes out of green and eco shops, online or in the High Street.

© 2011

What happened to the “end of the world”?

The Rapture didn't happen either, I take it…

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Harold_Camping On May 21, 2011, so many “Christian” churches, and some others, believed that the world was going to end, that a certain number of specially born-again believers would be “taken up” in the Rapture to be with Christ in Heaven, and that the period of Tribulation would begin on Earth. All this according to Scriptures, so they claimed.

So, what happened? I guess someone got the calculations wrong. But then again did not the Lord say that we will not know what day or hour He is going to return? That was also a basic warning not to even dabble in attempting to fathom a time and day; be ready always, it was supposed to be.

Instead of entering the annals of history as the day that the world ended and that the “true” believers were gathered up this day will become known as yet another “Great Disappointment” for some of those Christian groups.

This is what happens when one takes the Bible, or any holy book, too literal and when one tries to calculate dates from certain mentions and quotes in the text of those Scriptures. Just to make things a little more awkward... which calendar are we to use? The Gregorian or the Julian?

In addition to that the very idea of the Rapture is not at all scriptural and has basis only in the fact that some people like to “read between the lines” of the New Testament and also the Old. But, hello people, there is nothing written between the lines. Honest, I have checked.

Followers of the “prophet” Harold Camping, and others, who predicted the end of the world and rapture for May 21, 2011 now say that G-d is further testing their faith for it not have happened. Wakie, wakie, people! That's not the way the cookie crumbles.

Have those people never read the passages about the “false prophets?” Apparently not or they believe that everyone else is a false prophet bar their lying and conniving leaders and “pastors.”

As to Harold Camping – who should do more of the latter – this is not the first time he falsely predicted the Rapture and the Second Coming. And still the people following him have not learned. A little like the Jehovah's Witnesses who also still believe in the garbage put out by their sect despite the fact that predictions of Christ's Return have been wrong more than once.

It is not G-d that is the problem nor the Nazarene; it is organized Religion that is, and especially the three Abrahamic Faiths in their organized form. They so easily develop fanaticism and not just in Islam, for sure. Christianity and Judaism too have their fair share of fanatics and fanatic groupings.

You do not have to belong to a grouping if you are a follower of Christ. All you have to do is to follow Him, according to the Gospels and the New Testament. G-d does not dwell in a building, whether temple or church, nor are house churches required either.

Leaders come and go and many are false, but Christ and the Word endures.

© 2011

Weeding and watering are starting to get a bit boring after a while

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Weeding and watering are starting to get a bit boring now, in the South-East of England at the end of May 2011, seeing that we have been at it ever since March of this year.

But we also know that we have to keep it up, especially the watering, or we'll have no vegetables later but it can really start to get you down after a while.

Weeding too, obviously, is a necessary task so that the weed do not compete for the veg for water and nutrients, but it is less of importance than is watering in this time of drought and a drought it, officially, is by now.

Mind you, on the morning of Sunday, May 22, we woke to some dampness on the ground and even a little standing water here and there on the hard surfaces but it is nothing in way of what really is needed.

The trouble is that tap water, while fine for us for drinking, somehow only just about keeps the plants alive; a discovery that I shared with the readers before. Rain water, on the other hand, especially in the form of rain, immediately makes everything perk up and get going and growing.

Now I have also have to consider planting a couple of tomato plants that I have got – bought (I cheated, as those i tried growing from seed - a new variety – did not do much at all) – into grow bags.

The problem with using grow bags, however, is that they dry out quickly and thus there will be need for even more watering and being in a bag that, to a great degree, remains closed rain does not get to the plants easily either.

However, this year I have a few things here to trial for review. One of them is a set of three GrowPots (from Garden Innovations via Lakeland) and the other being the GrowTube, a watering system for grow bags that employs a 2liter soda bottle, (also from Lakeland).

Tomatoes, like potatoes, like to be fed, and that quite a good deal. You can use Tomarite or Tomato Food from Chempak which was voted Best Buy Tomato Food in May 2010 by the Which? Magazine.

I am also using the Vegetable Fertilizer from Chempak and must say that my potatoes, which are one of the primary recipients of this fertilizer under review, are doing very well with its help.

© 2011

Green Spaces essential for human health, study finds

Who would have thought? </sarcasm off>

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Now that was the very reason why Parks were created in Britain under the Public Health Act of 1875 and subsequent ones.

You probably also already know about the power of green spaces on your mind and body, but there hasn’t been any sort of real scientific assessment of that – until now.

But, was there really a scientific study needed? Well, maybe yes. Maybe this will make people value their parks and open spaces more.

Frances "Ming" Kuo, Director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois has studied the effect of green space on humans in a number of settings and measured the effect of nature on human health and well being by using data such as police crime reports, blood pressure, performance on standardized neurocognitive tests, and physiological measures of immune system functioning.

What she discovered was what most of us probably already know. "In greener settings, we find that people are more generous and more sociable. We find stronger neighborhood social ties and greater sense of community, more mutual trust and willingness to help others. "In less green environments, we find higher rates of aggression, violence, violent crime, and property crime -- even after controlling for income and other differences," she said. "We also find more evidence of loneliness and more individuals reporting inadequate social support."

Because of this strong correlation between nature and health, Kuo encourages city planners to design communities with more public green spaces in mind, not as mere amenities to beautify a neighborhood, but as a vital component that will promote healthier, kinder, smarter, more effective, more resilient people.

It is for that very reasons that publicly owned parks and open spaces, parks to which the public has access to and gardens at home and especially also allotments must be part and parcel of our (urban) environment.

For that very reason also the provisions for parks and open spaces and those for allotment garden must not be reduced but must be increased rather. More people having access to such areas would, more than likely, reduce a lot of our problems in society today.

Not that that, probably, will make any difference to the people wielding the knife and the axe in Whitehall and other government departments in the UK as well as in countries such as the USA, etc.

They rather tackle the problems than to provide preventive means, which parks and open spaces and allotments are. In addition to that allotments are a vital part of national food security.

When that was mentioned, however, and the fact that we need to be more self-sufficient in food production some idiots in DEFRA and other government departments stated that, as a nation we have enough money to buy our food from abroad. Doh? And what are we going to do when we can no longer (afford to) bring the stuff in because of lack of fuel or of uneconomic costs of same? What then?

© 2011

National office survey finds managers failing to go green

A national office survey finds that managers at all levels fail to go green

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

According to the findings of a national survey most office workers have little or no confidence in their managers when it comes to making their workplaces greener.

The research, conducted by YouGov, commissioned by office products manufacturer Avery, found only a third of those surveyed think their managers are clear about the steps that can be taken. In a way, I must say, this is also understandable as there are many mixed messages about and a great deal of greenwashing.

The poll, carried out for 2011's Green Office Week, also found that only 17% of respondents think their office is ‘very or completely green’, with more than a quarter, 28%, saying it is ‘still not very green’.

A number of factors prevent people being greener in the office. A quarter of office workers (24%) highlighted a lack of encouragement, 19% said there was too much effort involved, 18% referred to cost and 16% blamed a lack of information on how to go about it.

Avery’s third annual Green Office Week is an award-winning initiative designed to address some of these concerns and encourage office workers to spring into action and adopt practical ways to help the environment.

As well as raising awareness, the Green Office Week encourages offices to review purchasing habits in line with environmental targets, devise action plans for the future and celebrate the achievements of people who consider the environment at work.

Avery won the ‘Green Champions (Customers)’ Award for last year’s Green Office Week at the 2010 Green Business Awards, the UK's most comprehensive awards scheme for environmental business performance.

Regardless of the findings per se, for, I am sure, no one asked the respondents, one of the greatest problems facing managers and staff in offices as to going green is the fact that, as I have said already, there is so much greenwash and controversial information about.

What may be needed is a “green champion” in every office and every place of work and environmental development officers in large companies and government offices and departments who really know their stuff as to what is what when it comes to green and environmentally friendly procurement.

Green has to become part of the agenda but green also must mean savings and not costing more, and that can be done.

The “green champion”, for instance, should champion the cause of reuse in an office and actively be able to show how this or that can be reused instead of new having to be bought and with the PC many a piece of waste paper can become a notepad, for example. Templates for such abound on the Net.

© 2011