Sustainable Happiness – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

sustainable-happinessSustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference
Edited by Sarah van Gelder and the staff of YES! Magazine
Published by Berrett-Koehler
Paperback, 168 pages, 1.3x14x21.6cm
ISBN: 978-1626563292

With contributions by writers like Annie Leonard, Matthieu Ricard, and Vandana Shiva, this book features some of the most insightful and eloquent thinkers on the eternally fascinating subject of the meaning of happiness.

Redefines happiness: The book argues that true happiness is sustainable not only for individuals but also for society and the planet.

Already in the general introduction to the book the reader will be confronted with the origins of our consumer culture and how it was created and it may come as a surprise and even a shock to many how we are being duped into believing that we can buy ourselves happiness. You cannot buy happiness nor can you buy love despite the advert that was run by the Salvation Army some years back panhandling for donations that above the picture of a small child and a Salvation Army officer had the caption “Can buy me love!” In fact advertising people went to a great deal of trouble to get us where they wanted us and where most of us are today.

We are being bombarded daily, nay hourly, by messages telling us that more, bigger, and better things are the keys to happiness – but after we pile up the stuff and pile on the hours, we end up exhausted and broke on a planet full of trash.

I found a great problem with this book – no, this is not negative but very positive indeed – in that I had to stop after every essay in the book and really had to think about and digest what I had just read. That is what I would call a good problem and what makes this book great. It makes you stop and think and it inspires. A very powerful book with a compelling message on every page.

The book is an anthology, for lack of a better word, of articles that have previously appeared in issues of the “Yes! Magazine” but which have been brilliantly edited together Sarah van Gelder and her colleagues at YES! Magazine to form this highly inspirational book, where they marshal fascinating research, in-depth essays, and compelling personal stories that lead to a life-altering conclusion: what makes us truly happy are the depth of our relationships, the quality of our communities, the contribution we make through the work we do, and the renewal we receive from a thriving natural world. The authors offer creative ways to cultivate a happiness that is sustainable in every sense: one that is nurturing, enduring, just, and life affirming for individuals, society, and the earth.

A rating of five out of five hardly conveys the value of this book and the way it causes the reader – or should cause the reader – to think and reevaluate his or her life and priorities.

© 2015

Interested in urban agriculture?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Rose_Nicholas_2013_Innovative_models_of_urban_agricultureIf you are interested in urban agriculture, and in the promotion of it, then check out the report of the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance's Nick Rose who recently journeyed to study innovative models in the American Midwest, Toronto and five provinces of Argentina.

'The focus of the study was to explore models of urban agriculture that could generate livelihood opportunities, especially for young people; and/or enhance food security for vulnerable and low-income groups. The study involved visits to over 80 organizations and institutions across the regions visited, and interviews with more than 150 people.'

The entire report can be downloaded at: and those of us who are interested in the subject and/or want to promote it in our own locales can get some valuable information from it.

(C) 2015

Potato Pots make it easier to grow your own potatoes

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Agralan Potato Pots

PotatoPot2_webPick your own new potatoes week after week throughout the season with the new Potato pot.

New potatoes ready to pick in 8 weeks (10 weeks if the potatoes haven’t been chitted). Simply lift the inner pot and pick the larger tubers, leaving the smaller ones to grow on.

M681 Potato Pot (single) £7.99

M686 Potato Pot (pack of 3) £21.99

This is one of those absolute great ideas for those who wish to grow some of their own food but who have little garden space or no garden at all.

Pots like this can be places almost anywhere, by the front door, by the back door, on the patio, on a balcony, you name it, and thus some potatoes, that is to say some food, can be grown in even the smallest of spaces.

Growing instructions:

• Place the inner pot in the outer pot and half fill with a multi-purpose compost.

• Place 3 seed potatoes in a triangle shape about 10cm apart in line with the openings on the inner pot.

• Cover the potatoes over with more compost and water them thoroughly and place the Potato Pot in a warm and bright location.

• As the shoots appear and get to between 5-10cm high cover them with more compost.

• Repeat this until the compost level is about 2-3cm from the top of the pot.

• Continue to water regularly, preferably daily and feed with a liquid feed.

• You can follow the development by lifting the inner pot up once the plants are well established (after approx. 5 weeks)

• After approx. 10 weeks you can begin harvesting your own new potatoes - right up until the arrival of the first frost of the autumn.

• To harvest, lift the inner pot and carefully remove the larger tubers, leaving more to grow.


• You can start harvesting up to 2 weeks earlier by pre-sprouting seed potatoes, also known as 'chitting'. Place them in a light, frost free location with the bud end upwards. Egg boxes are ideal for this as it stops the potatoes falling over. This can be done from February.

• The process can be started in a greenhouse but once the potatoes have sprouted they should be moved outdoors.

• Do not place outside until after the last frost.

• Potatoes cannot withstand frost. If there is a chance of frost, move the pot indoors or cover with Envirofleece 30g or a Plant Cosie.

• The plants can be cut back to approx. 25cm in height if they become lanky.

New shoots will form.

• Use the 'earlies' potato varieties you like the best.

• Do not use a soil based compost, say Agralan. However, this last recommendation here by the makers is something that I must strongly disagree with as I have grown good crops of potatoes even in “ordinary” soil rather than compost.

This type of pot has given me an idea, and I know I should not really say this as the people would like to sell their potato pots, and that is as to whether it is possible to recycle or upcyle some small tree tubs (pots) that I have got (and which often can be had for little to nothing at garden centers, and especially council yards after municipal tree plantings, into such potato planters. I think it can be done and would be quite easy.

© 2015

How to Create a new Vegetable Garden – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

How to Create a new Vegetable Garden
Producing a beautiful and fruitful garden from scratch
by Charles Dowding
Published by Green Books, 12th February 2015
Hardcover,  224 pages, 23.5 x 16.5 x 1.8 cm
ISBN: 978-0857842442

How to Create a new Vegetable GardenCharles Dowding draws on his years of experience to show how easy it is to start a new vegetable garden. Any plot – whether a building site, overgrown with weeds or unwanted lawn – can be turned into a beautiful and productive vegetable area.

In his foreword to the book Steve Mercer, former journalist for Which? Gardening magazine, says: “Charles has had years of experience growing his own veg (not forgetting fruit and ornamentals) and his advice is founded on his experimental approach to growing, which is the real strength of his latest book. It doesn't just provide advice on starting your own veg plot, but also documents in detail the first year in his own new garden. If there are alternative techniques for clearing land and building fertility, you can be sure Charles has tried them – as you would expect of a teacher and experimenter.”

This is a great book in which the author leads the reader step by step, with every chapter, from planning to running a garden, through the task of establishing a new vegetable garden from scratch, with all different methods and findings presented in a very understandable way, covering all the possible aspects and stages and various different ways of creating and establishing a new vegetable garden (from scratch) via using as example his own experiences and trials establishing a new at Newacres. Not that I would have expected anything less from Mr Dowding.

While this book, or should I better call it manual, is more or less aimed at those starting a new vegetable garden those of us who have an established garden can learn a great deals for it as well, especially as regards to the “no dig method” of gardening for which he is famous.

He proves in this book that there is no plot of land too wild to tame, nor does anyone have all the answers – if you have but a vision then this book will give you the helpful hints and tips to save you time as well as giving you the confidence to have a go and find your own solutions.

Charles Dowding won the 2014 Garden Media Guild Practical Journalist of the Year award. He has written several books including, Organic Gardening, Salad Leaves for all Seasons, How to Grow Winter Vegetables and Gardening Myths and Misconceptions. He is the leading authority on no-dig gardening as well as a gardening writer. He also grows vegetables commercially and runs popular courses for amateur gardeners.

This is yet another book that I would love to be able to give six out of five, but alas, as said so often, as this does not compute it will have to be five out of five. And let's add a star for good measure even though that, once again, does probably not work either. This is yet another book that will, as a manual, be on my bookshelf, but it will sure spend more in my hand than on the shelf, I should guess.

© 2015

Glyphosate Destroys Earthworm Eisenia fetida Populations

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Using glyphosate herbicide can wipe out local earthworm populations, a new study shows.

Redwiggler1Glyphosate Sublethal Effects on the Population Dynamics of the Earthworm Eisenia fetida
Authors: Marina Santadino, Carlos Coviella, Fernando Momo

While the full paper is available on-line it is behind a pay-wall, for anyone wanting to download it and thus the summary, aka abstract, will have to do, I guess. Though there is a way to read it there via the “Look Inside” button. Find the full paper here

Abstract: Pesticides' sublethal effects are not regularly taken into account when assessing agrochemical's toxicity. With the objective of detecting chronic, sublethal effects of the widely used herbicide glyphosate, an experiment was performed using the earthworm Eisenia fetida as model organism. Earthworm adults were randomly assigned to three glyphosate treatments: control (no glyphosate), regular dose for perennial weeds, and double dose. Six E. fetida individuals were placed in each pot. Two random pots were taken weekly from each treatment and the number of adults, individual weight, number of cocoons, and presence and number of young earthworms were recorded. A matrix analysis was performed with the data. The matrix population model built showed that while the control population had a positive growth rate, both glyphosate treatments showed negative growth rates. The results suggest that under these sublethal effects, non-target populations are at risk of local extinction, underscoring the importance of this type of studies in agrochemical environmental risk assessment.

I don't think it will take much explaining as to why therefore such herbicides, such as Roundup, etc., are detrimental to everything. Without earthworms the soil will die and so will we.

Not only need the use to be reevaluated, as the authors of the report state in the conclusion of it, it needs to be banned and all other glyphosate herbicides too.

Monsanto, and some others, are becoming the greatest threat to live on this Planet and it is time that a stop be put to their game, and that not just in the realm of herbicides but also and especially in the realm of genetically modified and engineered organisms.

As said, without earthworms (and one can but wonder what it does to other beneficial organisms) the soil will die and without healthy living soil plants will die and all animal life will too, including humans, for we are but animals, though we often behave much worse than them.

It is time for a change and that time is now... in fact it really was yesterday.

© 2015

Abundant Living – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith( Veshengro)

Abundant Living in the Coming Age of the Tree
by Kathleen Jannaway
Published by Movement for Compassionate Living 1991
44 Pages A4

This book is available as a free download from

abundant_living-1Kathleen Jannaway's classic text sets out the practical and philosophical basis for ecological veganism – that we can feed the world healthily and compassionately and protect the planet with a diverse, mostly home grown, plant-based diet that includes tree crops – from the Movement of Compassionate Living

“We are faced with the challenge”, they say, “of providing for the needs of a rapidly increasing world population from the diminishing resources of a finite and endangered planet. Fundamental changes in the values and practices of the dominant world system, which has created a situation in which millions of people and animals already suffer extreme deprivation and die prematurely, is essential. What is needed is a trend towards compassionate living the vegan way, with the emphasis on the use of trees and their products. As people face the challenge of environmental crises, as the supreme importance of using awesome intellectual powers with compassion for all sentient beings is realized, an evolutionary leap will be achieved. An era of truly abundant living will dawn in which humans, at peace with themselves, with each other and with all living creatures, will reach heights of creativity as yet unimagined.”

While the principal point of the book is that of promoting veganism the book does, however, not just deal with veganism but with the importance of trees and wood and the many products and food that can be had from trees, and that line of thought can surely not be faulted.

There are a few things in this small volume one can and maybe even must disagree with such as some claims as to the vitamin B12 issue but more importantly the production of Rayon from frees, as it is still a chemical production path and thus a man-made fiber and products from Rayon are not biodegrabale. The use of flax, hemp and nettle for plant fibers from which to make clothing and other cloth products would be a much better choice.

When the author makes mention of the use of human excreta for fertilizer on crops it is not a new approach and this has been done by gardeners in many countries, including China and also Germany, without any ill effect. While it may be good to “carefully treat” it, as she puts it, but it has been used untreated in China and years ago in Germany. In those cases, however, it was from the pits of the outhouses though rather than from today’s sewage system. In actual fact we may entirely change the way we deal with our bodily wastes, and use composting toilets as a rule. Still in the early part of the 20th century night soil was collected and it was indeed spread as fertilizer on farms.

Though with reference to forest and woodland management the author could have done with doing a little more research, especially with regards to the ancient system of coppicing and the benefits of the same for woodland health and a continuous supply of wood for all manner of things, without the need to ever having to fell and replace trees as, in rotation coppice, the felled trees regenerate into more stems and a stool, as that is what a coppiced tree is called, can live for a thousand and more years. For more information on this kind of woodland management “Managing our Woods” (Michael Smith (Veshengro), 2014).

© 2015

One Magic Square – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

One Magic Square
Grow your own food on one square metre

by Lolo Houbein
368 pages Hardback, 20 x 20 cm
Published by: Green Books, 5th February 2015
Price: £19.99
ISBN: 9780857842800

3929Little Lolo Houbein was delighted with her gift of a cabbage from the friendly German soldier. During World War II, starving during the famine in occupied Holland, she was too weak to carry it, but managed to drag it home to her family. Ever since then, she has been preoccupied with food security and food self-sufficiency and One Magic Square is the result.

Lolo shows how you can have a productive food garden on a single square metre. She provides inspiration for everyone, with easy plot designs for hardy vegetables, and others for tender and exotic produce. She starts with five seasonal plans for salads and leads you in easy stages to just the degree of food self-sufficiency that you want.


Little Lolo feeding the chickens in uncle Wim's garden

Lolo Houbein sees the vast areas of unused spaces around our homes as an opportunity to be more in control of our food supply, with fewer food miles and a healthier diet: you can do a lot in one square meter. You do not have to live in the country or have a large garden, or an allotment. Food will grow where you are. Square meter gardening is perfect for growing in:

  • Balconies, terraces and courtyards

  • Small gardens with limited space

  • Large gardens or allotments with abundant space

It's a myth that you need to spend ages gardening to grow your own food. Some foods you plant once and forget until harvest time. People sometimes see gardens laden with produce and then take on a huge allotment, never having gardened before and fail, dejectedly. Don't to this to yourself! Small is Beautiful, so no matter how unkempt your patch, you can weed one square meter, plant it and keep it tidy and productive. Gradually increase the area if you want, as you get used to the peaceful routine of gardening and the rhythm of the seasons.

You can change your lifestyle instantly by digging up one square meter. It won't take much time or work, but it will relax and delight you, rejuvenate you and get you in touch with your wild side without leaving home! In no time at all, you'll discover a great sense of achievement in growing the smallest salad, carrot or potato. You'll be eating a wider variety of fresh food, some of which is not available in shops.

This is a very detailed and highly informative book on all aspects of square foot gardening, only that here it is geared at a square meter rather than a square foot, and a square meter equals approximately three square foot (or should that be feet), though I will continue to refer to the method as “square foot gardening”, if the reader does not mind. It is easy and even fun to read and fact-filled book that also makes you look at the toilet roll tube with completely different eyes.

“One Magic Square” is, probably, one of the most detailed manuals for square foot gardening I have – so far – seen. At the same time it is easy to read and not just full of theory. The author also leads the reader into cooking of the vegetables grown, and much more.

“This book has been inspired by the chaotic times we live in. It aims to put you in control of the production of at least part of the food you need”, says the author on page 74 and with this she speaks right from my own heart also. Personal food security, at least to some extent, is what it is all about.

Lolo Houbein was born in Holland and later moved to Australia. Since surviving the famine in Holland in 1944-1945, food security - and the absence of it - has been a lifelong preoccupation for her. She is an author of both fiction and gardening books.

If I could give this book more that five out of five I certainly would but six out of five does not really compute and neither does a five plus. So, I guess it just has to be five out of five. Great book and I can but recommend it, and not just to the newbie.

© 2014