Reuse and Upcycling of Plastic Packaging

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

As much as we may wish to avoid plastic (in our lives) the fact remains – at least for the foreseeable future – that it is with us, especially as far as packaging containers are concerned, and thus reuse and upcycling of those is better than any other solution.

The recycling of plastics – as much as that of everything else – still requires a great amount of energy, even though maybe not as much as creating plastic from virgin polymer. But we do have to consider the collecting, etc., of the plastic recyclables as well, and it takes lots of energy in the form of diesel and other sources.

Thus the greener option by far is reuse and recycling before we even as much as think of the recycling bin and tossing those things into it.

Many plastic packaging containers just simply ask to be reused, be those certain ice cream tubs or others.

But other plastic packaging too is a candidate for reuse and, especially, upcycling, such as shampoo, detergent and other such bottles, including plastic milk jugs and even PET bottles.

PET bottles can be reused, or better upcycled, into various things and in a variety of ways. One thing to say first, however, and that is never, repeat never, reuse them for drinks.

  • plastic ollas for the garden

  • cloches for seedlings and plants

  • etc.

Small drinks bottles filled with pebbles, beans or rice, make great maracas, that is to say, percussion instruments.

Milk jugs are another kind of plastic packaging that many of us get more than enough of and they can be reused and upcycled too into a variety of things for home and garden, from storage solutions, over boxes, to scoops and cloches, and even watering cans. To toss out those jugs, even into the recycling bin, before you have exhausted all the reuse and upcycling possibilities, would be a crime.

There are, obviously, some plastic packaging containers and materials that cannot be reused and upcycled and some of those cannot even, alas, be recycled. Those that cane be reused and upcycled, however, should be before even the thought of the recycling bin comes into play, especially as reuse and upcycling has a much smaller impact on the Planet as does recycling even.

Recycling plastic packaging (and other materials as well) has a large environmental footprint that often we are being kept in the dark about. Not only does the recycling process take a large amount of energy still (and water) the collecting of the recyclables, the sorting, the redistribution, etc., too require a high energy input. While it may be a little less than producing from virgin polymer this footprint is still immense.

Thus, let's see to it, as said before, that we reuse and upcycle all these materials before we even think about tossing them into the recycling.

© 2015

Getting a loan: The worst thing you can do

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Taking out a bank loan is the worst thing anyone can do and the same goes for working with so-called credit cards.

While it is true that some people need to take out a loan at times simply to make ends meet, which in itself is already bad due to the system being designed against them, basically, applying for credit in any shape is a bad idea.

And, I may add here also the buying something on the “never-never”, as it is often called in Britain, that is to say on hire purchase or on catalog credit or whatever. The interest rates, even though presently the bank rates may be at an all time low, are horrendous and the same goes for credit cards.

The best thing to do with the latter is to pay them off, if you have any, and then cut them up into tiny little pieces and dispose off those pieces carefully.

When I was a child I was taught not ever to buy anything that I could not afford to buy in cash and almost everything was still bought in cash then in shops. The use of checks was few and far between and though some people used catalog shopping and the credit that was offered buying on hire purchase, paying off in installments, most saved up and then bought with a wad of cash. And, while paying in cash, especially large amounts can get you into trouble nowadays even, I still today buy only something if I have the money to do so in my bank account. If I think I cannot afford something then that has to wait until I have save the money up top buy it.

But people today do not want to wait. Instant gratification seems the order of the day and they have to have what they want immediately, preferably yesterday. And thus, if they can't afford it, they use credit cards or a bank load, if they can get it. Well, and if that does not work for some then it has to be a criminal act but they have to have what they want there and then immediately. But I digressed a little with the last sentence.

Loans, however, whether from mail order catalogs (with the internet those and the loans are few and far between though nowadays), using credit cards, banks, or whatever, all have a very hefty interest rate attached to them, some as high as 35% and more per year. Far higher than any mortgage. But that is also a loan and is, probably, best avoided.

The best thing to do is to avoid debt in any way, shape or form, because it is going to haunt you and may end up biting you in the proverbial. Learn to be frugal instead and to manage your money and save for things and then save for the best possible version of it; go for quality rather than cheapness, and try to get something that will be repairable.

© 2015

Encouraging planting trees will sequester carbon and conserve habitat

by Michael smith (Veshengro)

Oh my G-d! They have needed a university study again to “discover” something that every proper forester has known for ever and a day. They, however, needed a study for it again. Talking about stating the obvious.

Rewarding landowners for converting farmland into forest will be key to sequestering carbon and providing wildlife habitat, according to a new study by Oregon State University and collaborators.

Current land-use trends in the United States will significantly increase urban land development by mid-century, along with a greater than 10 percent reduction in habitat of nearly 50 at-risk species, including amphibians, large predators and birds, said David Lewis, co-author of the study and an environmental economist in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"One of the great challenges of our time is providing food, timber and housing, while also preserving the environment," said Lewis. "Our simulations show our growing appetite for resources could have cascading effects on wildlife and other vital services provided by nature."

"Policymakers have tools to increase tree cover and limit urban sprawl, such as targeted taxes, incentives and zoning," he added.

Paying landowners $100 an acre per year to convert land into forest would increase forestland by an estimated 14 percent and carbon storage by 8 percent by mid-century, the researchers say. Timber production would increase by nearly 20 percent and some key wildlife species would gain at least 10 percent more habitat, they added.

Yet this subsidy program would also shrink food production by 10 percent and comes with an annual $7.5 billion price tag, said Lewis.

Another policy option — charging landowners $100 per acre of land that is deforested for urban development, cropland or pasture — would generate $1.8 billion a year in revenue. More than 30 percent of vital species would gain habitat. Yet carbon storage and food production would shrink slightly, according to the study.

What is worrying in our age is that we seem to need a scientific study, conducted by some researchers, to “discover” the things that we have, actually, known for a long time already; in some cases for ever and a day.

Foresters through the ages have known the importance of trees and their habitat for the Planet, even though they may not have expressed it, or been able to express this, in a scientific way. But is that really necessary. We need more trees, period! It is that simple. And we need them not just for carbon capture (carbon sequestration) but also for raw materials. After all wood is made by trees and not in some factory.

© 2015

For more on woodland management, especially coppicing and why, etc. see “Managing our Woods”, a small book that explains the whys and wherefores of managing our woods in this way and calls for us to return to that way.

Political parties are obsolete

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Political parties may have once had their place but today they are, basically, all the same in that once they gain power they become corrupt, regardless of what their slogans and purported aims may have been prior to the elections.

Also, when only 36%, for instance, of the electorate go to the games that are called elections and then a little over 50% of those that go vote a party in that is not a majority by a very long shot. 51% of, say those 36%, is maybe 19% of electorate as a whole and cannot be seen as the decision of the majority of the people.

The problem with political parties is also and especially that they divide the people, one from another and put them in matchboxes, so to speak, similar to the way religion does. In addition to that party members who become parliamentarians are always forced to vote as the party decrees, and that is just anything but democratic.

However, despite of political apathy and what I have said before as to parties more and more political parties crawl out of the woodwork in a variety of political shades but neither old or new benefit anyone for, as soon as they get a foot on the ladder and into any position they are as bad as the previous lot and the next.

Political parties also cannot be reformed from within as often more left and socialist leaning Labour Party members wish to do with that party. It is not going to work and will not make one iota of a difference. The system is designed this way to make no difference.

What is needed is a new and different approach. One without political parties but of people, independent but interdependent, working for a Co-operative Commonwealth.

© 2015

German media outlet Spiegel TV equates Vegans with Nazis

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

vegetablesNo, apparently, this is no joke and April 1st is still a little while off; at least last time I checked.

According to their mindset vegetarianism and veganism is dangerous as we have to consider that Hitler, after all, was a vegetarian. And that means in the new speak of the elite that anyone who wants to eat different and is concerned about animal welfare and food or genetically engineered food stuffs and wants to do without meat and GM foods is put into the “Nazi” bracket.

The global trend for vegetarianism and veganism has risen exponentially and in many cities around the world vegan supermarkets and restaurants almost mushroom. It is a little something like a latent revolution: Vegans are against the exploitation of animals and at the same time they protect the environment and chose a healthier diet. Although, it has to be said, there are some that argue against pure veganism for a number of reasons, one of them being the lack of B12, for instance, in a purely vegetable-based diet without any animal products, such as dairy, for instance. However, it is the many positive consequences of the vegan diet that makes it so attractive for a great number of people, a number that is on the increase.

If you wish to live in any way, shape or form, different to what the mainstream sees as the right way, and the powers-that-be more or less decree, or do not buy into the stories that are churned out by government and its media clowns then you are decried as a Nazi, a Brown Mystic, a conspiracy theorist, and if you are against the banking cartel then, without even mentioning the ethnicity of many of those bank owners, you declared to be anti-Semitic.

While, in this time of austerity and the Great Recession, thrift is indeed called for in many households, those that wish to live a thrifty and sustainable lifestyle and do not want to be part of the consumer society, either for lack of money or because of a wish to have less impact on the Planet they are being declared by the governments to be domestic terrorist even as, if you are not consuming and buying more and more all the time, you are not contributing to the growth of the economy and are undermining the attempts of re floating it.

Totally aside from the fact that we cannot continue with this perpetual growth economy on a finite Planet such as is the Earth and that we have to find alternatives to the current way and ways those labels are all used by way of a divide and rule tactic to keep the elite in power.

People who are wanting to live outside the mainstream, live with less impact on the environment, and especially those that wish to change society are being branded as enemies of the state, more or less. This shows us how desperate the powers-that-be are to keep the people under their thumb and in slavery to the system.

We must break free from that slavery and smash those chains once and for all for the good of all life on Planet Earth. No ifs or buts.

© 2015

UK government plans for ancient woodlands get the axe

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

European Beech1lowIt is a great relief to learn from the Independent that Ex-Environment Secretary Owen Paterson's proposed biodiversity offsetting scheme has been dropped by the Government.

The scheme would have allowed developers to build on ancient woodlands provided that they plant new trees elsewhere.

As most of us know, I am sure, a newly planted woodland would take hundreds of years to mature into a biodiverse area, so this was a ridiculous proposal from the outset.

This was the selfsame Minister of the Environment who also stated that there was no problem with the HS2 high-speed train line cutting through ancient woodlands as the government would simply move those woods to elsewhere.

This also, once again, brings to the fore the uselessness of the Forestry Commission for it should have immediately advised the then Secretary of State that his idea was absolutely ridiculous in the same as way his statement about moving woodlands. But they did nothing. Another proof that Britain needs a Ministry of Forests whose task it is to protect and oversee the proper management of forests and woodlands.

© 2015

The Ultimate Guide to Old-Fashioned Country Skills – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Ultimate Guide to Old-Fashioned Country Skills
Edited by Abigail R. Gehring
Published by: Skyhorse Publishing (5 Aug. 2014)
Just under 800 pages, Paperback, 5.7 x 21.6 x 27.9 cm
ISBN 978-1629142166
List Price: US$ 24.95

Old-Fashioned Country Skills1Here is how the publishers introduce the book:

Whether you’re a suburbanite looking to live more simply or a die-hard homesteader interested in taking your garden to the next level, this guide is packed with step-by-step instructions, useful tips, vintage photographs and illustrations, and time-honored wisdom – creating one of the most comprehensive books on country skills available. This book is compiled of tested and practical experience passed down from generations of farmers and homesteaders.

Here readers can learn about:

  • Creating a vegetable garden
  • Canning and preserving
  • Keeping poultry
  • Soap making
  • Natural medicine
  • Bridge building
  • Farm mechanics
  • Crop rotation
  • Cattle and dairying
  • The basics of beekeeping
  • Foraging for wild food
  • Fertilizing, soils, drainage, and irrigation
  • Building a barn

And much, much more!

Success comes to the person who works the most efficiently – not simply the person who works the hardest. Learn invaluable advice and tips for how to create a sustainable lifestyle and live off the land.

And now let's come to my take on this publication:

I must say that I was not prepared for the size of this book. When it arrived I thought that the book had been over-packaged as Amazon tends to do as I had expected it to be a much smaller book. That, however, I am afraid, is about the only positive thing one can say about this book really.

What we have here is an almost 800 page letter format book filled with pages culled from old books such as “Good Housekeeping Family Cook Book” from 1909, “Carpentry” from 1916, “Fences, Gates and Bridges”, edited by George A Martin (no date), “Shelters, Shacks and Shanties” (1920), “The Amateur Carpenter” (1915), etc., and while it is quite useful, maybe, to have important extracts from such old books in one volume the cover did suggest a book of much greater interest, something more modern, and not something rather edited together from books, some of which are out of copyright. Please note that I say that some of those books are out of copyright here deliberately as some of those books of which extracts have been used, such as “Shelters, Shacks and Shanties” have not so long ago been republished and thus are, once again, under copyright protection.

At a price of almost US$ 25 for information and instructions, alas the pictures are so small in most instances that they are of no use at all, that can today be gathered together on the Internet I, as a reviewer and writer, can but despair at the audacity.

Never judge a book by its cover the old adage goes and in this instance it is more than true. The cover also never indicated that it was a book that was edited together out of stuff culled from other books but list the editor, as does Amazon, as the author, as it simply says “by Abigail R. Gehring” and not “edited by Abigail R. Gehring”, as it should in this case. Thus the cover and the publicity coverage about this book is misleading as, as said already, the cover promised a book of a much different nature and one that one hoped was actually written by someone with knowledge on the subjects and not culled from books by other authors, even though the books and authors are mentioned.

All I can say in summing up this book and my take on it, though it will neither make me very popular with the, well I cannot call her the author, nor the publishers, that it is a shame that so much paper has been wasted on this book. But, even though I will not be very popular after this in certain quarters it is not my business to ingratiate myself with publishers or authors, editors, writers, but to present to my audience the truth.

Had I bought this book and not received it as a review copy I would certainly not be very happy at all and would have been felt misled by the cover and the write up concerning the book.

Let's just leave it at that, I think...

© 2015

British beanpoles beat bamboo

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

workerConsidering buying bamboo beanpoles for your runner beans? Well don't! Buy British beanpoles instead which are sourced for local coppice woodlands and your purchase will help those woodlands to thrive.

Slowly but surely, and not before time, our woodlands are being managed, in some places, in the old and time-proven way of coppicing and beanpoles are but one of the products that can be made from those woodlands managed in this way.

We need all to get reconnected with the natural world of wood and its endless possibilities.

Coppicing is a management system – probably the only management system – for our woods that benefits the woods, the wildlife and us and this system has been used in the British Isles since, probably, neolithic times and under this management the woods have thrived as did the wildlife and, to some extent, also the people making a living from such woods. Yes, there was a time when it really was possible to make a living working the woods and selling the produce from them, and it was not just beanpoles, hurdles and charcoal.

At the beginning of the 20th century in many rural places in Britain and elsewhere wooden spoons were still used for eating and wooden bowls and those, in general, were all made by local craftsmen from the wood from local coppice woods.

When it comes to beanpoles, and let us return to them, while they may be more expensive (yes, in fact, they are) than bamboo poles the environmental impact and footprint of them it, however, a very small one, especially if the poles are harvested locally.

Many people seem to believe that such bamboo poles last almost for ever but I have found that a season is about all that they can handle before they become brittle and I must say that I have had hazel poles that have lasted two or even three seasons.

This year's National Beanpole Week runs from the11th to 19th April 2015. Support your local events and buy some British beanpoles for your gardens. For more details see

© 2015

For more on coppicing and why, etc. see “Managing our Woods”, a small book that explains the whys and wherefores of managing our woods in this way and calls for us to return to that way.

Original Löwe 14.104 compact bypass pruners – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Lowe-14.104_webOriginal Löwe is best known for its anvil pruning shears and, though many many not know it, the parent to the Rolcut pruning shears that once were made and sold in Britain.

The bypass pruner Löwe 14.104 convinces with its compact design and good balance. A balance, in fact, that is very positive indeed and the cutting head and handle, at the right place, will balance like a scale.

The Löwe 14.104 also features dual shock absorber in order to minimize cutting impact, the slim and the pointed design offers as well in tight locations access and the possibility for a clean cut.

The blade also has a built-in wire cutter that completes the picture of this lightweight model. This wire cutter is intended for use with thin tying wire and obviously not meant to cut fencing wire or such. Having such a cutter available at the bottom of the blade of a pair of secateurs is important for those who professionally work with them, especially those in vineyards.

These pruners are 19mm (7.5 inches) in length and the maximum cutting diameter is 22mm (5/8 inch) and such a maximum diameter, ideally, should not be exceeded. Its weight is 180grams (6.35 ounces).

Spare parts are available for this, as for all other, Original Löwe pruners and shears.

The price in the UK should be around the £20 mark making it cheaper than any of the competition in the same quality range.

© 2015

Is it time for the Forestry Commission to be stood down?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

European Beech1lowIs it time for the Forestry Commission, maybe, to be stood down and that our woodlands (and our forests) be placed into cooperative – I did say cooperative not corporate – management? I certainly do think so and so does the cooperative movement. At least they do think so as far as cooperative management of our woodlands is concerned.

I am not saying that the British Forestry Commission is not fit for purpose; it has had its time and purpose and its original purpose, when founded just after World War One, has been fulfilled, and that already a long time ago. Thus the Commission is, to all intents and purposes, obsolete; both the purpose and the Commission.

The original brief of the Forestry Commission was to produce timer for the trenches for another possible way (in the end World War Two was different and did not require that much on timber for trench fortification) and for the pits, the mines, and that was the very reason for pine and spruce plantations. Today, however, our woods (and forests) require a different kind of direction and management and the Commission, in fact, seems to be almost incapable of providing that, and our industry is asking for more hardwood than softwood.

While we might need in Britain, a Ministry or Department, of Woods and Forests, that has an advisory role and a legislative one and one especially that ensures that our forest cover is increased rather than diminished and that the appropriate trees are planted and that woods are managed in the age-old ways that have served us and the woods so very well over previous millennia, and that also has a hand in research, and quasi-quango such as is the Forestry Commission is surplus to requirements.

Our country's woodlands especially, and here in particular those that are in “public” hands, for starters, should be handed over to be managed by interested community groups, but also by individuals and small cooperative enterprises, to be run for the good of the wood and the nation.

While the Commission talks much about the need of bringing all the woods in Britain back into production it does very little to actually facilitate this and often seems more of a hindrance.

The Forestry Commission, to a great degree, despite its many words, has become focused on the amenity use of its – actually the nation's – forests and far too many resources are pumped into the creation of “play grounds”, be those mountain bike trails, or whatever, and treat the forests more and more like a leisure enterprise and nature “reserves”. Wrong approach. Period!

The Commission keeps talking about the need of bringing more, ideally all, of our woods back into production but still does not seem to understand how this is too happen while at the same time pandering to leisure and recreation and creating trails for this and that.

The brief of the Forestry Commission from its founding was the production of timer for the War Department and the mines and not for furniture manufacturing and even building in Britain. The majority of the hardwood for furniture came from abroad, from the Empire, with but a little home-grown.

What is needed today is timber for British industry, including the building industry, from local sources, and the predominately conifer plantations of the Forestry Commission cannot supply that.

In years gone by our woods and forests had greater biodiversity and wildlife in spite little debris being left on the forest floor. Is our modern management to blame? I certainly do think so and so do others.

If we want state forestry, and national forests, in the United Kingdom it would be best to have a proper Ministry of Forests and a Forest Service but by far better would it be to have proper cooperative community-based management of our woodlands and forests – all of them.

The Forestry Commission is, basically, the law maker – or maker of the rules governing forestry (granting felling licenses, for instance) while it is also the biggest producer of timber. Thus it is almost like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. We need a Ministry of Forests or a Department of Forests that governs – where needed – operators and not a quango like the Forestry Commission.

© 2015

The land shall sing with the promise of Spring

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

800px-Martenitsa_magnoliaIt is March and where have the first months of this year gone to? Not long ago it was New Year's Day and now we are already a couple of months in and it seems only like yesterday.

The start of March brings the promise of Spring and is a very significant month in the countryside calendar. As the old German poem which translated – no, only the first lines, don't worry – goes “In March the farmer harnesses the horses, he restores his fields and his meadows...”

March is a time of beginnings and of endings. It is the time when winter transitions into spring and the spring equinox later in the month sees the equal balance between light and dark before the light gains the ascendancy in the endlessly shifting battle waged between the two. Though, as we all know, winter will still battle for a while with spring before it finally gives up and spring will succeed.

It is a time of new life, with woodland flowers emerging, birds nesting, bees and butterflies on the wing once again and the expectant arrival of newborn lambs in the coming weeks.

But it is also the time when the woodland tasks of coppicing, woodland restoration and tree planting, as well as hedge laying, come to an end until autumn, when the cycle begins anew.

Also March is the month when the clocks, at the end of it, go forward to summer time (not that farmers generally would agree with it being a good thing), lengthening the evenings in a single giant step, while making the mornings darker again though only for a while. However as, apparently, a Native American chief has said “only the white man would think that by cutting off one end of a blanket and sewing it to the other he would get a bigger blanket.”

For the gardener and the farmer March is the beginning of new planting and then of ongoing maintenance for the rest of the growing season, followed by the harvest, while for the woodland worker it is a period of little activity in the woods. This would have been the time, in the years of old, however, where he would have turned some of the wood that he had hewn during winter into products for sale and the wood that has been left laid up from the winter before. And, for those of us who work with wood from coppice woodlands it is also not a season of idleness nowadays.

So, a happy March to all and let the land sing with the promise of Spring and our hearts too.

© 2015