Bicycle servicing

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I don't want to put anyone out of business but I cannot understand this thing about bicycle servicing. Some people seem to believe that their bicycle needs an annual service – from a specialist – just like their car does and often it is also being touted in such a way.

Anyone with a bit of common sense – I know that that sense is rare nowadays but nevertheless – can service his or her own bicycle. The exception where, frequently, a mechanic is required, is changing bearings and such. Everything else, including a full service should be in the capabilities of a user or, in case of a child, his or her parent(s). That is what makes owning and using a bicycle such a great thing, namely not having to have a specialist to hand for things like service and repair. Then again I am well aware that many people today do not even know what to do in case of a puncture to a tire. I know of people who have thrown the bike and got a new one because they did not know it could be repaired or how. Sad world we live in nowadays.

Servicing a bicycle is not really something, bar, as said, anything to do with bearings, that one really has to consult a physical expert for in a shop or such. If you really are stuck with something there is nowadays always the Internet and YouTube and there are also some good and cheap little manuals to be had on bicycle maintenance and servicing.

The main part of maintenance and servicing of a standard bicycle is keeping it more or less clean (says he whose bike is currently encrusted in mud which, I know, is not a good thing) and chain, and other moving parts, well lubricated by means of oil. While WD40 or 3-in-1 is fine as a very quick and temporary fix and for easing things if should never be used as a long term measure as it is not a proper lubricant.

If you want to look after your bicycle(s) yourself well a good toolkit should be obtained. The few little spanners (wrenches for our American cousins) that sometimes come with a bike or that you can cheaply obtain to be put on a bike are not what I am talking about but a kit that has all the right tools for every possible type of Bicycle and job in hand, including a chain tool. The latter you will want and need in order to repair, or shorten a chain.

While it is true that you should give your bicycle, whether you use it daily or just occasionally, a once over at least once a year. You could call it a service if you like.

The most important thing to check for – and probably replace too – is your brake pads. In fact you should check those frequently because depending on the quality of them and on how and how often you apply the brakes they do wear and some quite quickly.

The next thing is your chain and its tension – if you do not have a bike with a chain tensioner as with the derailleur system such as Shimano, that is. It should not be too tight but also not too lose. Theoretically a tensioner keeps the chain at the correct tension anyway so you don't have to worry about that in that case.

Two items, or three actually, you have to have on your bicycle to make it road safe (and that by law) and that is lights (front and back) and a bell. Check that those are in good order during your “service” too.

If you have never considered servicing your own bicycle there are some small and larger good books available and today you can find a lot of how to videos on YouTube, often even on the channels from bicycle manufacturers and stores.

In the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic and people trying to avoid public transport the bicycle is seeing a renaissance and many people have begun to dust off their bikes and headed for the bike shops – the few that are open – to get their bicycles serviced. However, with the time on had for some if not indeed many in all honesty money can be saved and the bicycle still being safe with doing the “restoration” and servicing oneself.

© 2020

First Brazilian supermarket where customers can exchange recyclable waste for food open

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

In the Brazilian state of Acre the first supermarket opened its doors where it is possible for customers to exchange recyclables for food.

This establishment, called TrocTroc, offers customers the possibility to exchange recyclables such as PET bottles, aluminum cans and plastic bottle seals for any product sold in the market.

Each kilo of recyclable material is worth R $ 0.50 in purchases. If the customer brings the waste already cleaned and crushed, facilitating its recycling, the bonus amount has an increase of 20%.

On the shelves are articles such as fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables – all produced locally, in order to enhance the region's rural producers.

In fact, it is not just them who are being empowered by the initiative. The TrocTroc was created by Marcelo Valado, president of the House of Indians Foundation – an international entity that fights for the respect and preservation of the indigenous culture and that, not by chance, left the supermarket in the care of members of the Ashaninka tribe, in order to foster local economy and enhance their customs of exchange.

Brazil, like many other countries around the world, has many vulnerable people, such as the homeless, and they could be helped if this kind of supermarket would catch on.

Many of the homeless, and other poor people, in Brazil and other countries get a little money from collection recyclables but are often dependent on the honesty, or lack of it, of middleman buyers. This kind of project could help on many levels.

© 2020

Beyond COVID-19, human rights can help save the planet

Council of Europe statement ahead of World Environment Day (June 5)

Strasbourg, 04.06.2020 – The Secretary General of the 47-nation Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers and Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, and the President of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, Rik Daems, have issued the following statement ahead of World Environment Day on June 5:

“Alongside the huge challenges brought by the coronavirus pandemic, it is clear that climate change and damage to our natural environment pose an immense threat to our well-being.

“The European Convention on Human Rights, which turns 70 this year, helps to protect our lives, our families and our homes against environmental threats – and in all other circumstances.

“The European Court of Human Rights has already ruled in some 300 cases linked to the environment, covering issues ranging from dangerous industrial activities to waste management and pollution.

“Among other things, the Court’s case-law has helped to guarantee people’s right to pass on and receive information about environmental issues, to join forces with others, to take part in decisions which affect them and to challenge official decisions in court.

“We have also seen how the Convention can be used at national level to press governments to take faster and more drastic steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Moreover, the European Social Charter has been interpreted as covering the right to a healthy environment, leading to several important decisions and conclusions from the European Committee of Social Rights prompting state action on environmental issues.

“As countries across Europe emerge from lockdown and look to the future, we must make full use of the tools we have – including human rights – to help build and maintain a healthy environment for generations to come.

“We should also consider how to further sharpen those tools to make them as effective as possible.

“We therefore fully support the declaration adopted last month by the previous, present and future Chairs of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers calling on the organisation to start working towards a new legal text on human rights and the environment.

“Furthermore, we eagerly look forward to the High Level International Conference on ‘Human Rights for the Planet’, to be held at the European Court of Human Rights on 5 October, and the discussions on democracy’s contribution to saving the environment which are scheduled to take place at this year’s World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg from 16 to 18 November.

“We are convinced that respecting human rights and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand. We should make full use of, and further strengthen, the powerful tools that we have to help build a better future for us all.”

Source: Council of Europe Press Office

ARS long-reach pruner – Product review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The ARS-160-0.6 long-reach pruner is a cut and hold snipper, ideally suited for pruning of roses, for instance, but also for other tasks, including harvesting certain crops. It has a length, that is to say a reach of 60cm, to which you can add the reach of your extended arm, and a weight of 360grams.

Price, incl. tax: £57.89

Unlike other pruners where the cut twig or branch will drop to the ground, or lodge in the tree or shrub, here the cut piece is firmly held in the grips and thus can, and needs to, be lowered.
While this makes pruning somewhat slower it is more precise and does not leave debris handing in the plant or laying about on the ground.

An acquaintance of mine, a very avid gardener and manager for a volunteer team in a local park, who has purchased one of these upon my recommendation, is absolutely thrilled with this tool. What can one say more except that I, too, love this tool.

© 2020

Is global travel history after COVID-19?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic might spell the end of global travel as we have known it for quite some time now, jetting from one side of the world to the other.

Not only aids such fast travel to other countries far across the globe, and even countries closer, to the spread of any virus, it also can leave, as we have seen, travelers stranded in countries, affected or not from such an event, with almost no way to get back home.

In the more distant past when people traveled abroad, and could afford it, it was done by ships which took many months from one place to another and if a virus or communicable disease became evident then, alas, the yellow flag was hoisted and the entire ship was under quarantine and yes that often meant that people on that ship were going to die in some cases.

The fast world-wide trade, by aircraft and faster ships than in the past also has led to many pests and diseases in plants, animals, and humans to travel from one far flung place to the other at speed. The tree diseases that were inadvertently “imported” to Britain are an example of this.

A reduction of this rushing around the globe for all manner of reasons, many of them non-essential, would do the Planet a great deal of good and also humans in general, as well as people's finances.

It may be nice to see different countries and different cultures close up but this does come at a cost, a cost to the Planet, a cost to the people that are being invaded by tourists (Costa del England is one example) who want the sun but in the same way as if they would be at home without engaging with the local culture and even the local people, in remote areas it also adversely affects the people in other ways, and the cost to our home countries if travelers, inadvertently, bring diseases home.

Most people who annually, or some people more often even, jet off to Spain, Turkey or wherever, to the tourist hot spots, have never even remotely seen all that is to be seen and experienced in the home country.

Time and again one encounters irate tourists coming back from places in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, etc., complaining that they didn't like the food, and especially that the people there didn't speak English and were “too thick to understand what they said or asked for”. This is especially true for British tourists though Americans are not better in that department.

There are those that will make the excuse that it brings money to those people in those foreign countries, e.g. the tourism industry, and gives them jobs. That may indeed be so, but at what costs to the environment and to the people there themselves if they entire economy, or a great part of it, is only geared to tourism? The same excuse that is being made for “organic” green beans being grown in Kenya and flown to Europe and cold cheaper during the season than local produce; a crop that is not part of the local diet and only grown as a “cash crop”. It gives the farmers an income, we are told. So, instead of growing food that they will eat the farmers are growing crops, and even flowers such as roses, for the European market, crops that require a great deal of irrigation in a country (or countries) often lacking enough water in general, are forced to sell this crop at a pittance and then are dependent on buying in food from traders who, again, cut the farmers' throats with high prices.

This pandemic should – but will it? – make us reconsider how we go about doing things and maybe, just maybe, take a different approach.

© 2020

Growing your own food wherever possible

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

What the COVID-19 pandemic should have shown us that we cannot rely on the capitalist market system to guarantee us a steady supply of the groceries that we need and thus it is important that we, once again, grow for victory, so to speak. And, alas, the situation is not and has not been thus with just food though food (and water) is more important than clothes and even toilet paper.

The system of “just in time” employed by most stores and especially supermarkets just does not cut it when it comes to crises such as this one. The chain breaks far too easily and aided and abetted by people who are able to because they have the money, and the way of transporting it, panic buying and hoarding supplies makes for empty shelves, and some of those, nay, in fact most of those, have looked worse than shelves in the stores in so-called communist countries during the worst of crises there.

But it was and is not just basic supplies that could have been “home-grown” but were and are not but almost everything else is being affected by such a crisis. When aircraft are grounded and ships cannot enter port from places where food and other goods are imported from then we exasperate the problems in the supply chain.

In recent times we have had in the UK one minister for food and farming who one can only describe as a total idiot for he stated that Britain did not really need any farmers for the country was able to import everything it needed from elsewhere. Yes, and we can see that result now in that flour, for instance, has become in very short supply. We are exporting our grain, more than we keep it, and then have to import grain when the demand exceeds the supply. Either those people are born stupid or they have worked very hard at getting that way.

Also each and every time for instance Brexit was being mentioned the first word out of the mouths of the farmers and the farmer's union – and government officials – was that they were worried about what it would do to the exports of farm produce to countries of the EU and elsewhere. The first and foremost task of a farmer is not to produce produce for export but to feed the nation. In the capitalist system, however, the opposite seems to be the case; first exports and then the nation.

We need more farms, small family farms, and smallholdings where food is grown (and sold) locally, rather than the large industrial farms who are mainly concerned with taking the subsidies and predominately think about exporting rather than about feeding the people of the country.

Other countries take a different approach, such as Russia, which enacted a law that enables Russians to obtain between one and six hectares (depending on the region) of land free in perpetuity, though it cannot be sold, only passed on, grant to build a house and for equipment, with the only obligation to grow food for themselves and their family and to sell the surplus on the market, and it works in feeding the nation. Can't be done, obviously, in Britain, the US, or other neoliberal capitalist countries.

So, it is left to us to see that we can grow as much as possible of our own food at home, in whatever place and way.

© 2020

The bee has been declared the most important living being on the Planet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Following a meeting at the Royal Geographical Society in London, United Kingdom the Earthwatch Institute declared bees the most important living beings on this Planet, however, according to wildlife experts & scientists many bees have joined the long list of Endangered species.

With so much about the interdependence in nature unresearched, it is possible there are other organisms that are equally as key, but this recent study shows a dramatic decline in the bees' numbers as almost 90 percent of the bee population has disappeared in the last few years. The uncontrolled use of pesticides, deforestation or lack of flowers are the main reasons for their extinction.

However, why would such a little being be named the most important creature on Earth?

Well, the answer is actually more simple than you ever thought. Seventy percent of the world's agriculture depends exclusively on bees. Needless to mention the pollination is the bees' job, although the plants would not be able to reproduce, therefore the fauna would have been gone in a very short time. More than that, a study conducted by the Apiculture Entrepreneurship Center of the Universidad Mayor (CeapiMayor) and the Apiculture Corporation of Chile (Cach) with the support of the Foundation for Agrarian Innovation (FIA) concluded that the bees are the only living being that do not carry any type of pathogen.

© 2020

#pollinators #bees #biodiversity

Jetting around the world to save the climate

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Or how else should one interpret the annual COP gatherings?

While the great and the good in politics and environmental activism are telling everyone else to stop flying and driving cars they, almost all, jet around the world at least once a year to all those climate conferences regardless of the amount of pollutants (I will no call it CO2 as that is all very misleading) they pump into the air in doing so. But hey, the motorcar must be banned, wood burning for heating and cooking stopped, and people must stop eating meat; that will save the climate and the Planet.

Jet fuel, together with the pollutant from shipping, especially the container ships, cruise liners and navy vessels, all three of which do not burn diesel, as we are led to believe, but the most polluting fuel imaginable, namely heavy bunker oil. And while when they are in port, or anchored in the roadsteads, they are meant to switch to normal diesel fuel the majority of them do not but continue to burn the other version.

In their behavior those who are jetting from one climate conference to the other they are nothing but hypocrites of the worst kinds, of the “do as we tell you but not as we do” kind namely. Much like many of our politicians everywhere as well. While there may be some who let the train take the strain the great majority of all those attendees are not using any kind of environmentally friendly transportation. The use the plane. “Oh, but they are offsetting the carbon they use in their flights”, I now hear some say. You mean they are buying modern day indulgences. Pieces of paper that allow them to continue sinning because they have paid a few coins for it.

With all the technology we have at our disposal today those conferences could be heal in the virtual realm but that makes backslapping and all that kind of activities and expensive meals together and being entertained by heads of government, etc., somewhat difficult.

The attitude of those politicians and the other “great and good” is “do as we say and not as we do.” Well, that simply is not good enough.

Firstly do we really have to gather at such events annually and secondly do such events have to be physical? If it is all about tackling climate change then it is time they started with themselves and had those meetings in the virtual realm. Yes, that also will use “carbon” but I would think a great deal less than their planes to and from the events, their being shuttled around in limos, etc.

time they showed leadership in action rather than just telling others what to do and doing the exact opposite and that includes all those climate activists attending those conferences, whether direct or on the fringes.

© 2020

Gardening myths most people believe but that are not true

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

If you are interested in growing a garden, there are lots of people offering advice from the internet, to books to even those you know very well. However, not all advice is good advice and some is just downright silly. Sorting out the good from the bad is sometimes difficult, especially if you are a novice gardener.

So, no matter where you get your gardening advice from, it is a good idea to be sure that your source is reputable and that there is truth behind the claim. Some gardening tips of old have now been proven wrong in light of new discoveries.

So let us now look into some of these myths that should be discarded in the light of new findings.

Paint pruning cuts

Pruning cuts painted over with tar or pruning paint may give the impression that the tree is well looked after. Latex, shellac, petroleum and asphalt compounds are some of the materials used for wound dressing. The idea is to seal off the cut surfaces to prevent rot and other diseases. However, new research finds that wound dressings of this sort do not benefit trees and that, in most cases, they may be quite harmful.

When any part of the stem is damaged or cut, trees use their self-healing mechanisms to form a scar tissue or callus at the site of the injury. This helps keep out pathogens that may otherwise infect the trees. Wound paints prevent the formation of calluses, thus interfering with this natural healing mechanism. They can actually seal in water along with spores and microorganisms that cause decay. Bleeding cuts, in particular, should never be dressed in any way.

It is better to make the cut as clean as possible using a sharp instrument. With a clean saw/pruning shears and make a slanting cut close to the collar of the branch, but not too close. Then, leave it to the tree to do the rest. Do heavy pruning towards the latter part of winter when the trees are at minimum risk of infections. Exception here being those of the prunus variety where science says to do any pruning and reduction just after the trees have flowered. It is reckoned that as the tree is then in heavy sap flow the flow of said sap will flush away any risk of pathogens entering the cuts.

Organic pesticides are safe

The truth is that they are not necessarily so.

We hear a lot about the detrimental effects of chemical pesticides; so by contrast, organic pesticides may appear to be safe. Organic compounds derived from plants and animals may be more biodegradable than man-made chemicals, but it is just so wrong to think that they are all harmless to people or the environment. Some of the most poisonous substances on earth are derived from plants and animals, typical examples being snake venom, ricin derived from castor plant and botulinum toxins produced by bacteria.

Several organic pesticides are used in agriculture; they have varying amounts of toxicity. For example, Rotenone extracted from the roots of certain tropical bean plants is a very potent pesticide, insecticide, and piscicide, all rolled into one. Despite being organic in origin, it has been found to be six times more toxic to humans and other animals than Sevin, a chemical pesticide of similar action. Rotenone is banned in some countries but continues to be used liberally in others.

Nicotine, pyrethrum, and neem are some of the other plant-derived pesticides used by gardeners. Nicotine has high toxicity for mammals, including humans, and is thought to be responsible to bee deaths; pyrethrum has immediate action on pests while being less toxic to mammals. Neem, which has a slow action and disrupts the metabolic pathways of insects, may be safe for other animals.

Bacterial toxins such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin and Alpha Beta Protein are used to trigger defense mechanisms in crops. They induce the crops to produce biochemicals that make them more resistant to potential pathogens. The safety of these toxins, as well as that of the additional substances that plants produce against them, is under the scanner.

So, organic pesticides should be chosen carefully for their merits rather than their “organic” label. And, they should be used with the same caution that you reserve for man-made chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Amend clayey soil with sand

Clay holds on to water; sand quickly drains. So, when you’re told to add sand to clayey soil, it seems quite logical. But what actually happens is that you get more compacted soil that defies tilling, let alone better drainage.

Imagine what would happen if you poured sand into a tin of marbles. The sand will pack into the spaces between the marbles, making it difficult for both the sand and the marbles to move about. The same way, the fine clay particles fill the spaces between the larger sand particles, giving a thick, mortar-like consistency when mixed with water.

The best way to amend clayey soil is adding plenty of compost and leaf mold. These light materials get clay particles to stick all over them, but resist compaction. It gives the soil an airy structure that facilitates better drainage. Once amended with compost, adding sand may have some additional benefit.

Don't water the garden in the heat of the day

No gardener will have escaped this myth. Well-meaning fellow gardeners everywhere would warn you that you will end up killing your plants if you water them at noon. The explanation given is that the water droplets act as lenses concentrating rays of the sun onto the leaves.

The myth may have been handed down from the time the legendary Archimedes burned Roman ships with his parabolic mirror or came from school children who used to burn paper and ants with magnifying glasses.

However, if you have ever attempted it, you would know how long it takes to achieve the expected results, and that the magnifying glass has to be kept at a particular distance from the target throughout and not applied directly to the object. In the same was as the story that (broken) glass bottles in the wild will cause forest and bush fires. Again, the distance is wrong.

Having said this, however, it is possible that soluble salts in your water, as well as possible chlorine (which is added to tap water) can cause burning but not so much as that the droplets themselves act as a magnifying glass but that when the water droplets evaporate, the caustic salts deposited on the leaves may cause burn spots.

Plant trees in deep holes to give them stability

When tree saplings are transplanted, gardeners are often anxious that they should get a good foothold in the new location. After all, they are to face fierce windstorms and other vagaries of nature as they grow. Thus the advice to dig a deep hole, at least twice the height of the root ball, is often followed with religious fervor.

Now it turns out that deep holes are not what give stability to the trees, but wider ones. The planting hole should be ideally twice the diameter of the root ball, if not more. This provides a large area of loose soil for the roots to spread out. A wider base would obviously anchor a top heavy tree better than a narrow one.

Fill the planting hole with compost and fertilizers

This myth probably comes from the desire of every gardener to provide every help possible to help a new plant. Compost-rich soil is a great growing medium, and fertilizers can make plants flourish. But planting time is definitely not the best time to provide these.

When you fill a planting hole with compost, you are giving the plant a relatively loose medium rich in nutrients. It also absorbs moisture well. The plant will restrict its roots to this area since it has no need to spread them out to the harder and drier soil beyond the planting hole. For one thing, it affects the stability of the plant. Another problem crops up when the watering is eventually reduced. The fast-draining compost dries up quicker, leaving a dry zone around the plant. With not enough roots beyond this area, the plant suffers. That's why you often find, in such situations, that, if the plant was raised in a pot, it has not grown any further as far as roots are concerned than the size it was in the pot.

When it comes to fertilizers, high concentrations can burn the roots, especially the new roots the plants need to put out to establish itself. Root burn is a common reason for new plants not thriving despite all your attention.

After keeping the new plant in position, backfill the planting hole with the same soil you dug up. Water well. Allow the plants to spread out its roots in search of nutrients first, and then apply compost and fertilizers around the plant, but never too close to the stem. Some gardeners dig a shallow ditch around the plants for adding compost, but that is not necessary. Just cover the compost with a thick layer of mulch.

You must wash and sterilize your pots

That, alas, is a myth and one that was invented in the time of the big houses by head gardeners loath to lose their well performing staff at the end of the active season having to hire new at the next and then having to train most of them up again. So they claimed to their masters that all pots needed to be washed and sterilized and all that jazz during winter and thus he had to keep the staff on.

And, to all intents and purposes, the list of myths could go on for a great deal longer still. Charles Dowding has written and published a small little book on this subject entitled “Gardening Myths and Misconceptions” and I can very much recommend it.

© 2020

Contiguous cover forestry

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many people will immediately think, and that is what the promoters want everyone to think, of nice woodlands with great biodiversity but, alas, the story often is very much a different one.

More often than not those organization(s) behind this are promoting nothing uniform plantations of conifers, and other trees, in other words, monocultures, which generally lack biodiversity greatly, as opposed to mixed woodlands and forests, but is contiguous forest cover. Only that it has no benefits for wildlife and the Planet. This kind of forestry only benefits the corporations.

All plantations are of a uniform age, generally, and will felled almost at the same time, which is very different to, what I call, proper forestry and woodland management, and I will come to coppicing later, where the ages of the trees and their growth rates are different and thus also the time and age at which they are being felled.

What we really need are not monoculture forests of conifers or even broadleaf trees but a mixture of different kind of trees in our woods and forests and where appropriate they should be broadleaf rather than conifer. Not just do those kind of woods and forests provide greater biodiversity and are better for wildlife in general, they also are better in carbon sequestration.

Broadleaf trees can and will regrow when “pruned” on a regular interval, of between seven years to several decades, in a process called coppicing or pollarding, and ideally should be worked as coppice with standards allowing the finest specimens to grow into large trunks.

But present day commercial forestry, even in the country that is the birthplace of sustainable forestry, is only interested in fast growing trees that can be harvested within about a generation to make a quick buck. It is not, despite what they say, about the environment and all that, but all about a quick return on investment.

Under the term “contiguous forest cover” we are being sold a lie in the same way as we are being sold a lie with the Green Pledges and the Green Deal as to forestry. It is all about forestry monocultures, generally, and not about mixed woods and forests. Such monoculture forests do not benefit wildlife and biodiversity and do nothing with regards to “combating climate change”. In fact it is almost the opposite rather.

In a changing climate where there is the possibility of hotter temperatures, droughts and thus forest fires monocultures, especially of conifers, are also a disaster waiting to happen.

The British Forestry Commission, now, to an extent re-branded as Forestry England, Forestry Scotland and Forestry Wales, etc., and the Royal Forestry Society, are advocating bringing in foreign trees to Britain, for instance, including the likes of eucalyptus. This is bordering on insanity.

The only reason, though they are, unfortunately, not open with this, for eucalyptus is the fact that it is fast growing and, apparently, very suitable for the making of biomass pellets.

As a replacement for the ash, affected by Ash Dieback, they are proposing foreign maples and when challenged why not concentrate on the Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), known as Mountain Maple (Bergahorn) in Germany, the reply was that Sycamore was not a native British tree. Apparently American maples are.

Most, if not all, of those foreign trees are unknown to the British wildlife, for instance, and eucalyptus, for instance, has no known benefit to wildlife and Britain is just a little short of wild Koalas. We also have zero idea as to how many of foreign pests, in whichever form, we might be importing with those trees. The driver definitely is not environmental concern but neoliberal capitalism at its worst.

We need to return to an understanding of the ways of the past in dealing with woods and forests and work with the trees once again for the mutual benefit of all concerned, trees, wildlife, environment and humans. But then there are not the huge profits to be made from it as with the current – and future – kinds of forests envisioned by the capitalists, especially not in the biomass market and that is why governments and agencies follow the lobbyist trails and the brown envelopes.

© 2020

Late winter gardening tasks

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Spring is just around the corner here in the UK Mid February 2020 and the way the flowers and trees are slowly – and some quite a bit earlier than usual – are beginning to come to life it is not going to be far off.

It may still be too early to actually put down any seeds into the ground, whether you garden directly in the ground or in containers, as there is still the chance for frost and some plants and even seeds certainly will object to getting frozen, even if but mildly.

But do you have all the seeds you want and need? If not then now is definitely the time to get those orders in if you get them by mail order. If you get them from physical stores on the high street or the garden centers then there still is a little time.

Plan your vegetable garden if you haven't done so yet and I would suggest you do that before you order your seeds.

One of the most important tasks, aside from pruning your fruit trees – we come to that in a minute – is to inspect and maintain all your garden tools, whether trowels, spades, or pruners, and everything in between.

Get cutting and digging tools sharpened now. For sharpening jobs that you can't handle, take tools to a local hardware store that advertises blade sharpening. Make sure power tools are in good working order, too, if you use any.

Digging tools, and that includes trowels, as well as hoes, should be cleaned (in fact they should have been cleaned and oiled before they were put away for the winter but, erm, I didn't do that either) and then their cutting edges sharpened. This can be fairly easily with a mill bastard file. Pruners, loppers and such should be thoroughly cleaned, sharpened and oiled so they are ready to use when you start pruning. A little reminder: Wipe them after every use with a wipe that will remove the sap. It does not have the special wipe you can buy with Sapex but can just be a baby wipe or a cloth with WD40 or 3-in1.

Review your garden supplies. Besides seeds and plants, think about items needed to prepare your garden for the growing season: potting soil, weed cloth, mulch, plant markers, frost blankets, or other supplies. Refresh supplies that are low.

Pruning your fruit trees: Now is the time, in fact it is high time, to prune your fruit trees (bar those of the prunus variety; they should be pruned, I know it sounds totally against all rules but, after flowering as, apparently, the fact that the sap is rising strongly then any infections will be flooded out) and for apple trees you only have a little window of a few weeks from mid-February to mid-March.

Start seeds indoors (or in the greenhouse)

Sow seeds now or early-season vegetables that can go in the ground a couple of weeks before the last average frost date. This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leeks. Aim to start these seeds five to seven weeks before you want to transplant them outdoors.

Consider sowing early lettuce crops in cell packs. When it's warm enough, you'll have clumps of greens ready to transplant into pots or the garden.

Sow plants such as tomatoes or peppers six to eight weeks before the last average frost date. This means you may have to wait until the end of the month or even a little later before planting the seeds.

Pruning ornamentals

Choose a warmish day to prune landscape plants. Remove any dead or damaged branches. Thin plants with heavily branched interiors.

Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs or trees until after they bloom. If you prune now, you'll be cutting off blossoms.

Do not prune oaks and walnuts until July to avoid wilt disease.

© 2020

E-bikes vs. standard bicycles

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

While I personally do have an e-bike (a Gtech one) and have been very happy with it, the maintenance of one, especially when it comes to tire repair of the back, this is where the motor is in this one, aside from the fact that the lifespan of the battery is only a few years and then getting a new one seems difficult, the old-fashioned standard, and I stress standard, bicycle has still a great deal going for it. Maybe more so even than it is realized.

Yes, using a standard bicycle, especially a single-speed one, takes more effort in pedaling and especially up inclines, the robustness and easy of maintenance tends to beat it hands down.

It would appear though that there are many people who own bicycles of the standard kind who are even incapable of changing an inner tube let alone do any other maintenance to the bike. Time and again one sees them asking on social media, for instance, if someone knows someone who could fix or service a bicycle.

Personally I cannot stand the derailleur type of gear changers on any bicycle and therefore have converted, and suggest converting to people who have trouble keeping the shifting mechanism properly aligned, to convert the bicycle(s) to single speed without actually modifying the bike in any other way. This only works well with bicycles that are not vertical dropout at the back. Those with vertical dropout do require a chain tensioner wheel though that is not too much of a problem either.

For all those bike with the more or less horizontal dropout of the back wheel no tensioner is required and all that needs doing is to shorten the chain to the appropriate length, using a chain tool, and, voila, a single speed bicycle is born, one that is much easier to maintain though may require a little more effort in use as no low gears.

While e-bikes are nice and make cycling easier (it is also a little cheating as you get far less exercise as you do not need to do as much work) they are first off rather expensive (still) and secondly the lifespan of the battery if a maximum of three years after which you need to buy a new one at about one-third of the cost of the new bike but which is also more than most new standard bicycles.

Having now had experience using an e-bike for more than 3 years, courtesy of G-tech (I got the bike for review and was allowed to keep it and that told that before the review was even written and published) I have to say that I do not think I would, personally, after the experience, even though in general very good, bar the fact of the lifetime of the battery (OK, it is only now beginning to really fail) and the difficulty of actually obtaining a new battery (which seems to be nigh impossible), not buy one. Sorry to say that, but it is true.

Considering the high initial cost of an e-bike and the fact that about every three years a new battery will be required, if not earlier, at almost one-third of the initial purchase cost, together with rigmarole of removing the back wheel (where the motor sits with the G-tech) the standard bicycle make for a much better investment in personal transport than does an e-bike, especially if it is not the derailleur gear change kind.

With the standard bicycle very little maintenance is required and servicing consists of a thorough clean and a thorough oiling and the occasional change of brake pads. It also does not mind getting into deep water, literally, while that is something to be avoided rather with an e-bike considering electric motor and battery.

“Oh, what about climbing hills with the standard bike with no or very few gears?” “What about it? Ever heard of feet? That's why in England the standard bicycle is often referred to as a “push bike” because that is when you push it.”

I have beaten man a cyclist with fancy bikes and all the Lycra gear and environmental fruit bowl on their heads who were pedaling hell for leather up a hill while walking up it. Those other cyclists then had to take a little rest atop the hill to get their breath back while I jumped, almost fresh, onto the bike and coasted down the other side, being almost half up the other incline before the others just about made it to the bottom of the former. So, it is not all that difficult and people did it quite well before the advent of all the gearing and e-bikes.

On the sustainability scale the standard bicycle, especially if it is a conversion from an old one where the gearing may have been damaged beyond repair or such, which is then even more sustainable, wins hands down over the e-bike for, aside from manufacturing and shipping, more often than not from China, we have to consider the environmental costs of the battery and its components, also and especially considering that the batteries fall under toxic waste. And that aside from the human costs in the mining of cobalt, coltan, lithium and others, the miners often being children who are virtual and actual slaves.

© 2020

Frozen in time

Your freezer is your friend

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Your freezer can be your greatest friend in the prevention of food waste, whether you have a large family or you a single parent or, simply, single.

Save food, money and the planet and move food that’s nearing its ‘use by’ date to your freezer.

Reducing your food waste

It is estimated that one in five bags of food shopping goes to waste each week. That adds up to a substantial amount of food, but also money wasted. Did you know that an average family of four could save £70 a month simply by reducing the amount of food they waste?

Recycling your food waste going into the waste stream, such as landfill, by using a caddy, or into your composting bin, is great; but reducing the amount of food waste we produce in the first place is the real solution.

Surprisingly there are some small, easy changes we can make to our daily habits that could make a world of difference.

Three simple tips to reduce food waste

Save food, money and the planet by:
  • Freezing food near its ‘Use By’ date
  • Making meals from leftovers
  • Planning meals and avoiding over-buying
While the packaging label generally says “freeze on day of purchase” generally it is just good enough to freeze before the “use by” date.

Another advice, though I do know that there are some who would argue with it, is to buy as much of your food, especially vegetables, frozen, and when it comes to meat and fish, especially when buying larger packs which are often cheaper, to freeze those into individual packs immediately.

Using frozen vegetables, especially if you consider that, due to the way and shortness of time they get from field to package, is that firstly they are fresher than so-called “fresh” vegetables on the shelves and secondly that you have no waste such as peelings and that you only use the amount you really want and need as they can be used straight from the freezer. This is not only good advice for the single person but for everyone.

© 2020

Stirring Paddle

Eastern European Gypsy pot stirrer

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

This one, relatively inexpensive, hand-carved, wooden tool will replace more or less all your other kitchen utensils that are used for stirring. Its versatility is second to none. It is the answer for all those who want fewer tools in their kitchen, as this one will replace the great majority of – if not indeed all other – stirring implements in use.

In Eastern Europe, from whence the design appears to stem and where this tool is made in great numbers by the Gypsy carvers for sale to the public, though they use this kind of stirrer themselves as well, albeit theirs often are somewhat larger, due to the size of the pots and amount of food to be cooked, than the ones made for sale to the public (generally), you tend to rarely see a wooden spoon used for stirring. Wooden spoons are either larger spoons and ladles for serving food or or smaller ones for eating with. Stirring is generally always done with this kind of stirring paddle.

The advantage of the stirring paddle compared to a wooden spoon is that, generally, all that is required in order to clean it is to wipe the “blade” of the stirrer with a cloth. Washing the tool is, generally, not required. On the other hand the problem with a spoon is that the bowl tends to collect food residue that is not as easily wiped away and hence they often requires water and some washing. Never ever, though, immerse a wooden implement into soapy water and leave it there and on no account put it into the dishwasher.

In general though, as wood is natural antibacterial through its action of withdrawing moisture inside itself and bacteria die without moisture, it is only necessary to wipe a wooden implement as far as cleaning is concerned.

The stirring paddle is equally at home doing the porridge, the stew, the soup, the scrambled eggs, or the dough, or whatever else needs stirring. Larger sized ones are also suitable for stirring an errant child's behind, but, please bear in mind, I never said this.

Stirring paddles of all sizes can be obtained here.

© 2020

Used Electric Vehicles batteries could be used for rickshaws in Bangladesh

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
  • Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries made for Electric Vehicles (EVs) only use around 70% of their life, the remaining 30% can be used for the second life
  • One second-life application being explored by researchers at WMG, University of Warwick, is for motorized rickshaws (easy-bikes) in Bangladesh
  • The current batteries used for easy-bikes only last 6-12 months and have a high carbon footprint, therefore using used Li-ion batteries could lower their carbon footprint
Used EV batteries could be used to power rickshaws in Bangladesh, as researchers from WMG, University of Warwick, seeking to find out how they can be repurposed for the rickshaws and lower peoples’ carbon footprint.

Motorised rickshaws, also known as easy-bikes, have gained popularity in Bangladesh due to their cost-effectiveness with one million of them all over the country.

However, the easy-bike currently uses a lead-acid battery for power, which has a lifetime of 6-12 months and therefore increases the operating cost as well as the carbon footprint.

In order to reduce the carbon footprint, researchers at WMG are exploring the possibility of repurposing used EV Li-ion batteries thanks to a £25,000 grant from Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), an award from the UKRI aimed to deliver scalable solutions to issues faced by low and middle-income countries.

Currently, Li-ion batteries retire from EVs after reaching 70-80% of their state of health (SoH). At 70% SoH, the lithium-ion battery still have 3 times higher energy density than a new lead-acid battery, and potentially can have a lifetime of 3-5 years in easy-bike application.

The researchers hope to repurpose the batteries to improve the energy storage life from 6-12 months to 3-5 years, which in turn will reduce the number of batteries being recycled and improve the ecosystem.

The new application of Li-ion batteries will be better environmentally without an additional cost in transport. As easy-bike replaces manual driving, the quality of life will improve significantly and bring a socio-economic change to a large community in Bangladesh. Furthermore, this development could reduce the consumption of grid-connected electricity which could be used to develop industries and infrastructure.

In fact, there are currently one million rickshaw pullers in Bangladesh who earn $4.8 billion every year. The new development in easy-bikes will directly improve their economic status. A few million people involved in vehicle support such as mechanics and manufacturing industries will also be benefited.

This project eventually could lead to mass production of second-life Li-ion batteries in Bangladesh, in conjunction with UK automobile industries, which will create job opportunities for thousands of people.

Dr Mohammad Al-Amin from WMG, University of Warwick comments: “To prevent climate change, all cars in the future will need to be electric. However, the batteries in EVs once they have reached their end of life, for car purposes, is something that can be explored more, as there is still energy left in them to be used.”

“If we can re-purpose them to be used for easy-bikes in Bangladesh it will help lower their carbon footprint and provide the country with a new economy. Thousands of jobs opportunities could be created both in Bangladesh and the UK.”

OK, so much for the press release that has been relayed above.

I must say that I am very much unconvinced about the statement as to the lead-acid batteries lasting only such a short time considering that golf buggies and the Toro electric vehicles (and others) used on golf courses and such, as well as the electric milk floats in the UK, are in daily use and recharged daily and their batteries seem to last for years.

Lithium-ion batteries have a large environmental footprint not least caused by mining operations and then the inherent dangers of being prone to explode when charging and such like and, should they catch fire, are almost impossible to extinguish. In more than one case of an accident with a Tesla vehicle where the car caught fire (and this is mostly the case) the fire spread so rapidly that it was impossible to rescue the occupant(s). The vehicles then have to be cooled down in a special container or the flames doused for at least three days, and even afterwards there remains the danger that the battery can self-ignite again.

There have also been a number of fires recorded that have been started by exploding e-Bike batteries well after those batteries had been removed from their chargers. Several of those started in cycle shops where the batteries that had been charged has been brand-new ones.

On top of that comes the safe disposal of those batteries at the end of their lives which, apparently, is also a small environmental nightmare.

From where I am standing the good old lead-acid battery still has a lot going for it, at least in the above rickshaw department and, as said, I do not buy the short lifespan of them. The general lifespan of the Li-on battery also appears to be no more than three to four years, if lucky, however well one deals with the maintenance cycles when charging.

© 2020

There is more to creating a woodland than just planting trees

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Many people, and, apparently, even most governments, seem to think that all that is needed to create a woodland is to stick some trees in the ground and the rest will do itself. Alas, that is a fallacy.

Just planting trees and leaving them for Mother Nature to do its work is a waste of trees, money, time and effort and will lead to nothing but disaster. Mother Nature, unfortunately, is not the best gardener and forester, and especially when the woodland is not caused by natural regeneration but has been man-made.

Left to its own devices, and Mother Nature's care, brambles and other such will soon smother the newly planted trees and that will be it. Unfortunately many do not realize this and believe, as said above, that all that is needed to establish new woodlands is to plant some trees and leave them be. They also do not want to listen to those who have worked the woods for generations often.

Newly planted trees to create a woodland are planted relatively close together in order for them to raise each other up, so to speak. But that only works if man helps them along as well by keeping any weeds and such at bay so that the young trees do not get smothered. That also must be done in newly coppiced areas and natural regeneration if one wants the woods to live and thrive. Protection from browsing deer and other animals may also be required.

Then, after a while, thinning will be required, which means first those trees are cut that are weak, sick, of bad growth and stature, overbearing thus suppressing others, and such like. This brings in space and light allowing the other trees to better develop.

While our woodlands are to have amenity value and be a valuable habitat for wildlife, as well as, in today's thinking “carbon sinks”, they are also created, or should be so, as a source for homegrown timber from which to make all manner of things from wood.

There was a time when woods, old and new ones, were much better managed than they are today with trees even being “pruned” in order to grow more or less knot-free trunks and this was the “by hook and by crook” method of brashing, often done by youngsters, children even, and also and especially those that had the estovers' rights to firewood from those means.

We also used to grow our own trees, either by natural regeneration and protecting them, or in our own nurseries on the farms, estates, what have you, where the trees were grown from seed and only planted in the area from whence the seeds were taken because many trees behave like hefted sheep in that they like the area of their parents and do not, necessarily, thrive when planted elsewhere. Unlike today where we gather the seeds here, as in the case of the ash, which apparently brought ash dieback to our shores, send the seeds to countries such as Belgium and Denmark, have the nurseries there grow the seeds into trees and then import them. That to me is about the same as importing tulips to Amsterdam. Apparently it is cheaper to do it this way than to have our own forest tree nurseries and cost is, it would seem, all that counts nowadays, but I digressed, as I often do.

Depending on whether the woodland created is intended to be worked by coppicing, coppice with standards, or as standards, depends on whether there will be more thinning cycles.

If the woodland is to be worked in coppice rotation then there will be no further thinning cycles required as the cutting will be done, a parcel at a time, from the time of or even before the second thinning. In the second case, the coppice with standards there will also be no further thinning while in the last case there will be at least two more thinnings before the trees are able to grow without further “interference”.

The timber resulting from all thinnings should be, in one way or the other, depending on trunk thickness and structure, turned into forest produce and products, even if only firewood.

But until we get to the fist thinning even there is lots of work to be done in the new woods, such as keeping vegetation at bay from encroaching upon and smothering the young trees and even whips of a couple of years old need that kind of care and this work goes on for month after month, and year after year until the first thinning. After that the trees will, more or less, be big enough to continue, more or less, on their own.

This is all work, I am afraid, that Mother Nature is not going to do for us and lots of work it is.
So, if you just want to stick some whips in the ground and then forget about them in the hope that it will be a nice woodland in some ten, twenty or so years, forget about even setting out on that path. All you will end up with is an overgrown tangle of wilderness that is no good to beast or man, and wasted effort, time and money.

© 2020

Everyone talks about climate, too few about pollution and general environmental destruction

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

All we are hearing is CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and occasionally the issue with plastic, especially the kind that is plastic bottles of all sorts. The word carbon is being manipulated to include soot, for instance, which is now called “brown carbon” and all that in order to be able to trade all those issues under the carbon trading schemes, what I would refer to as modern day indulgences.

The Hippies of the late 60s and early 70s of the last century were ever so right when they simply talked and warmed about pollution of air, water, soil, etc. and about the general environmental degradation and destruction. In their days though we still had mostly glass bottles for everything and in most places there was a deposit attached to those bottles the refund of which made up the pocket money for many a child back then.

We scoured the highways and byways, pulling a small handcart, and taking bottle after bottle out of the ditches that those too lazy to dispose off properly had thrown to take back to the shops for the refund money. The lazy people were about already then when there actually was a small incentive to bring the bottles back. We kids benefited from this and the environment benefited from us taking the bottles back to the shops.

But today, when we are not talking about plastic pollution, everything is carbon this and carbon that. Soot, the stuff that is covering the glaciers in the Himalayas and causing them to melt (and probably also in places such as Switzerland and elsewhere) is now referred to as “brown carbon”. It is soot and this soot comes from oil and coal fired power plants. Exhaust fumes from combustion engines are now referred to as “carbon emissions”, etc., ad infinitum. It has all become “carbon this” and “carbon that” and for but one reason, aside from confusing everyone, and that is that carbon can be traded in the modern day indulgences scheme called carbon trading.

Let's get back down to earth and call a spade a spade and deal with pollution of air, water, soil and everything else in between. In fact, had we done that when the warning messages came from the Hippies we would have a much better Planet by now than we have and had we not done away with practices of the native peoples, such as back burning to prevent bush fires, we would have a lot less of them. But hey, that releases carbon into the atmosphere and for other reasons the Greenies put a stop to that. Now those bush and wild fires, whether in the USA, Siberia, Australia or other places release a far greater amount of “carbon” into the atmosphere on an annual level than any of the back burning would have ever done.

Modern man thinks himself so superior – that includes so many of the experts – in comparison to tribal people who have practiced certain things for particular reasons. We think that we have much greater knowledge and understanding and that our technology will safe us. Yes, we have seen to where that has lead us, aside from smartphone zombies, I mean.

The same attitude has been taken as to our woodlands and their management, especially in some parts of Europe, such as Britain, where coppicing was the standard management practice for broadleaf woodlands. But the self-appointed apostles and experts claimed that cutting trees was bad for the environment and the practice of cutting parcels of woodland in rotation had to be stopped. Another reason for the decline of coppicing, it is true, was also that the bottom fell out market for wood products from such operations, but the main culprit was the pressure from the misguided. Now some of the once thriving coppice woods are so severely overstood that they are in danger of collapsing, which will be the end of the coppice stools, some of which can be a thousand year or more in age.

I could go on and on citing examples be this in forest management, or agriculture, or so many others, but we would be here for the next month or so. Suffice to say that the belief of certain people that they knew so much better about all the things than the people who had sustainably managed woods and countryside for centuries and more and our belief that technology could save us, so to speak, is the reason that we are were we are today. Sixty wasted years.
© 2020