Is mankind in danger of backsliding into pre-industrial times?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

spoon_carving_Russia-cottage_industryThe Club of Rome says yes and according to some predictions due to the rise in the world's pollution and the ever decreasing non-renewable resources humanity is threatened to relapse into pre-industrial times.

Modern civilization is dependent on oil (and to some extent still on coal) and (natural) gas, rare earth and phosphate – but soon it won't be able to afford those raw materials. Those are the conclusions the Club of Rome, an association of researchers and scientists, arrived at in the report “The Plundered Planet”, which also includes a detailed inventory and appraisal of the raw materials of the Planet.

The researchers warn in their report of a scarcity of raw materials and the collapse of the ecosystems. Long before the world is going to be running out of raw materials it will no longer be able to continue with the exploitation of them, the Italian author and chemist Udo Bardi said.

Soon it will be necessary to invest more energy for the extraction of oil and gas than they will bring in return and already new the mining industry is using up ten percent of all in the world produced Diesel fuel. Investment in the extraction of energy will soon no longer be profitable. It is obvious that no one will be extraction oil at the cost of one to one or even two to one, that is to say when input and output is equal or when two units of energy are required to extract one then no one is going to do it.

Most raw materials are only to be found, nowadays, in small concentrations for which one has to drill deeper and deeper or, as in the case of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, expensive – and dangerous – technologies have to be used.

The Earth will drastically change

At this moment there are around seven billion people on this Planet. The number is estimated to rise within the next four decades to 9.3 billion. Whether this number is sustainable is, obviously, a question but the greatest problem is the destruction of the ecosystems caused by man's exploitation of the Earth and this will change the Planet, more than likely, in an extreme way.

We are making ourselves to the inhabitants of a new Planet – almost. A Planet with totally different climatic conditions and far fewer resources and raw materials, as far as non-renewable raw materials are concerned.

Should people fail to respond to this new situation in a positive way mankind is in danger, so the report also, to be backsliding and relapsing into pre-industrial times.

If it would be possible to create all our electrical energy from renewables such as solar, wind, etc., the new system would have to forgo motorways and aviation but not the Internet, robots, communication over long distances, and food security.

The energy transition and the exit from nuclear and fossil-fuel energy, as both is equally necessary though, alas, not understood by the powers-that-be, especially not in the UK and the USA, is and can only be the preliminary stage of a change of resources use. Already now are so many raw materials are used that a zero growth cannot even guarantee sustainable development.

This means that our entire system has to be changed where we get away from non-renewable resources and raw materials and based our economy and whatever else on renewable resources and on reclaiming more and more of the non-renewable ones in the form of so-called secondary raw materials. Mining our landfills may not just be an option but, I believe, may actually become a necessity. While iron and steel, in many cases, may by now have rotted away in such facilities, other metals, such as aluminium, copper, gold, and silver will still be recoverable.

The authors of the report stated that mankind is in danger of backsliding into pre-industrial times and while for many, if not indeed all of us, alive today it would mean some serious changes in our attitude and serious adjustments as to how we live and where we live and the work that we do, and so on, the question is to whether this is all such a bad idea. Maybe it is not even so much a backsliding into a pre-industrial era but an advancing into a post-industrial one.

We cannot, however, really backslide into pre-industrial era with the knowledge that we have today and some of the things but rather move forward to a post-industrial time. Though that new era will very much be like the old era though with knowledge, etc., that was not available then. Mankind will, especially in the currently highly industrialized nations, also have to relearn a lot of skills and technologies that were used then.

© 2017

Reusing plastic utensils in the garden

Reusing plastic utensils (flatware) in the garden (and elsewhere)

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Plastic fork plant label holder1-webDon't toss those plastic knives, forks and spoons. There are number of reasons why you should plant them in your garden beds instead. No, they do not sprout roots if you do and reproduce, but for other reasons.

These days people are looking to be more environmentally conscious, which means using reusable utensils instead of plastic ones. However, if you have to use plastic utensils there are ways that you can reuse them instead of just tossing them out after eating one meal.

Also, although to some this may sound gross, why not pick up and take home those plastic cutlery pieces you may find laying about when on a walk or such. Plastic utensils can work wonders for your garden. Well, if not directly wonders then they still can be useful.

Deterring garden “pests”

Place plastic utensils in your garden to keep pests that might sabotage growth, like dogs and cats, at bay. They will not want to maneuver around the pointed objects where your fruits, vegetables, and flowers are in the process of growing.

If you have animals who like to trounce or do their business in your garden, certainly may want to use this option. You can remove the cutlery when your plants grow.

You, obviously, won't keep slugs and snails at bay with this method but it could help to keep squirrels, cats, and others off your plants when they are growing.

Plant labels

Don't waste your money on fancy garden labels. You can write the names of your plants on handles of the utensils and stake them in the ground next to your plant.

This goes especially for the white of light colored ones, not so much the black ones, unless you have a white permanent marker.

Alternatively, use plastic forks, and here the color does not matter, stuck into the soil by their handles, and tuck the pack into the tines.

White plastic spoons, for instance, you could paint and then write the name of the plant, or draw/paint a picture of it, on the spoon. The back of the bowl probably would work best for this.

Make a little fence

Place forks into the soil with the prongs facing upward and in a row to create a spiked fence. This will keep squirrels out – well, hopefully – and can also make a cute fence for a fairy garden, if you are thus inclined.

Strong plastic forks – more of the reusable plastic cutlery kind that people nevertheless tend to treat like disposable – can also serve as small garden forks in pots, hanging baskets, and window boxes, etc. for loosening soil should this be deemed necessary.

Oh yes, I did not get around to ideas about the “elsewhere”, but that might happen in another article.

© 2017

Fleet Farming?

How One Group Wants to Turn Your Front Yard into a Full-Fledge Farm.

Fleet Farming1A group of volunteers in Orlando is trying to change the way we eat. Owners keep a portion of their produce and the volunteers take the rest to local farmer’s markets and restaurants.

Watch the video here.

A cracking idea!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

x-defaultEdinburgh Napier student produces range of tableware made from her own patent pending egg shell material

It’s the food stuff that is traditionally enjoyed scrambled, poached, boiled or fried. The egg that is, not the shell.

But eggs, or at least their shells, could soon be appearing on tables in a way never seen before thanks to the work of one Edinburgh Napier student.

Martina Zupan, a fourth year product design student at the University, has struck upon the cracking idea of using eggshells to make a range of disposable tableware.

The 26 year-old has designed and produced a product called ‘Colleggtion’ – a disposable circular plate with tearaway cutlery that is made from waste eggshells.

One of hundreds of exhibits at Edinburgh Napier’s More Than A Degree Show, the designer has developed a process that allows for waste eggshells to be formed into products.

This process is currently patent pending, but Martina believes her tableware could help highlight the opportunities that upcycling waste eggshells can bring.

She said: “The idea literally came to me one day as I was making scrambled eggs in the house and after some extensive research I found that despite eggshells carrying a range of beneficial components, very little was actually being done to upcycle waste product.

“I tested eggshell powder in a range of formats – including adding it to muffins, into plaster for egg cups and even cement and other resins but it was the tableware idea that really caught my imagination.

“I worked closely with research teams at Edinburgh Napier who had some leftover raw materials from various experiments that they were happy for me to use. I started testing it with the eggshells and things fell into place from there.

“I think I’ve managed to produce a sophisticated product that has the potential to highlight a new method of producing sustainable tableware and cutlery – it’s been really exciting to work on.”

Martina’s idea was sparked by becoming dismayed at the lack of recycling options for by-products within the food industry, meaning that potentially beneficial components such as calcium carbonate were simply being lost in landfill.

According to, the UK consumes more than 12.5 billion eggs each year, which equates to more than 75,000 tonnes of eggshell waste. As a result of current laws and regulations, egg processors are obliged to send their eggshell waste to landfill, with more than 17,000 tonnes being disposed of in this way last year.

Despite some eggshell waste being used domestically, in restaurants and recycled generically though food bins, Martina still believes there is room for improvement when it comes to finding an alternative use for leftover waste.

She added: “Sustainability was a key consideration throughout the entire project and I’ve been careful to ensure that nothing goes to waste throughout the process. In my testing, I’ve even tried using waste food material to dye my tableware in certain colors – there is so much scope to be creative with food waste!

“Very few know of the benefits that eggshells can bring to the environment. With this project, eggshell waste could not only be prevented and reduced, but eggshells would be recycled into a valuable product. Being fully compostable means the tableware can be disposed of together with food waste, which will then be, with the help of anaerobic digestion, turned into biogases which act as a source of green energy as well as nutrient-rich bio-fertilizer. It has massive potential.

“I’d love to continue the development of the tableware after my time at University comes to an end. Ideally I’d like to work with like-minded investors who could help commercialize the patent pending process further – it would be great to get some help and support to fully get the product up and running and onto kitchen tables.”

Richard Firth, Programme Leader, BDes (Hons) Product Design, said: “One of the many achievements that singles out Martina’s project is the incredible amount and range of her research and ideation process. Martina’s commitment, determination and drive to ‘try and try again has been rewarded in a design project that is truly unique with the potential to achieve real change with regard to how we think about materials, design our products and how we engage with producing our products within the 21st century.”

Edinburgh Napier’s More Than A Degree Show is an annual showcase of the creative talent of new and emerging designers, photographers, film makers, journalists, publishers, musicians, creative writers and actors from its School of Arts and Creative Industries and School of Computing. The exhibition runs within Merchiston campus and is open to the public from 19-28 May.

Edinburgh Napier University, which takes its name from the brilliant 16th century mathematician John Napier, has more than 19,000 students from more than 130 countries. Its six Edinburgh-based Schools are spread across three campuses, and it also has transnational education partnerships in Hong Kong, China, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Singapore and Switzerland. Teaching programs have strong links with industry, and more than half of the university’s research was recognized as world-leading or internationally excellent in the most recent Research Excellence Framework review. Through the Bright Red Triangle, the university offers a one-stop shop for extra-curricular innovation and enterprise activities.

While this is a good idea, I guess, to make disposable tableware from eggshells rather than plastic, Styrofoam (which is expanded polystyrene, that is to say also a plastic) or coated card, we really, everywhere, should be getting away from this find of tableware.

Un-coated paper plates paper plates can be composted – even in the copost bin at home – but nor recycled as any paper – and that includes the paper from the chips shops – and card, such as pizza boxes, cannot be recycled due to having food residue and grease in the form of fats on them.

I cannot see how, however, those plates, etc. made from eggshells can be composted anywhere else but in commercial hot composting plants which, again, means collecting the waste in a separate waste stream and then processing, both which cost energy and thus compounds the problems.

© 2017

You can thank antibiotics for all the cheap meat

cattle feedlot

Farmers pump livestock full of drugs to keep them 'healthy' and fatten them up quickly. Unfortunately this could be a global death sentence.

In her 2015 TED talk, journalist and author Maryn McKenna tells the tragic story of her 30-year-old great-uncle who died from an infection in a New York hospital in 1940, just three years before penicillin became available. Those were times when people died from injuries and the infections that ensued, not lifestyle diseases like cancer and heart disease. Now, we take for granted the idea that antibiotics can protect us from the simplest things.

This is going to change, McKenna warns. We are poised at the edge of the post-antibiotic era, when drugs will no longer be effective and routine procedures, like heart surgery, C-sections, joint replacements, or anything that "opens the hidden spaces of the body," could be a thing of the past. Already 50,000 people die in the United States and Europe every year from antibiotic-resistant infections. One British study estimates that, unless we get antibiotic use under control by 2050, the death toll will be 10 million people per year. This is a horrifying future to consider.

McKenna, who's written a book called "Superbug," gives several solutions in her talk, including technological data harvesting and gatekeeping to minimize prescriptions, as well as changes to personal habits, such as refusing an unnecessary prescription; but these solutions do little to address the main driver behind antibiotic resistance – the animal agriculture industry.

Meat, dairy, and farmed fish are responsible for using 80 percent of all antibiotics in the United States, totaling 34 million pounds a year. This is four times more than what’s used for human health. And it’s not the only country doing this: Brazil, India, China, and Germany all join the U.S. in the top five.

McKenna argues that drugs play a greater role in producing cheap meat than do genetics, precise nutrition, or the design of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Antibiotics are used to ward off the infections that are rampant in such unhealthy, filthy, and tight living conditions; and they are also used to fatten animals rapidly. Increasing growth speeds production and reduces likelihood of errors.

The result? Whole chickens that go on sale for 69 cents a pound or a buck more for boneless breasts. This is meat so cheap that even poor families can afford to put it on the table every day. Little do they know that they’re clearing the way for their own – and everyone else’s – eventual demise.

Read more here.

How 36 million pounds of soybeans treated with pesticide became 'organic'


A shipment of 36 million pounds of soybeans sailed late last year from Ukraine to Turkey to California. Along the way, it underwent a remarkable transformation.

The cargo began as ordinary soybeans, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. Like ordinary soybeans, they were fumigated with a pesticide. They were priced like ordinary soybeans, too.

But by the time the 600-foot cargo ship carrying them to Stockton, Calif., arrived in December, the soybeans had been labeled "organic," according to receipts, invoices and other shipping records. That switch - the addition of the "USDA Organic" designation - boosted their value by approximately $4 million, creating a windfall for at least one company in the supply chain.

After being contacted by The Post, the broker for the soybeans, Annapolis-based Global Natural, emailed a statement saying it may have been "provided with false certification documents" regarding some grain shipments from Eastern Europe. About 21 million pounds of the soybeans have already been distributed to customers.

Read more here.

Poundland's Charlie Dimmock Tool Bag – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

175215Part of the new and exclusive beautiful garden range, the tool bag (not tool belt as the website refers to it, erroneously) is a useful accessory to carry and store you essentials whilst in the garden.

So, OK, it's a tool bag and what and how much can one say about a tool bag and yes, like (almost?) everything at Poundland, it is just one British Pound.

Well, whatever, let's get down to some details about this bag, such as materials and such.

The bag is made from – what in my opinion is – a medium weight Hessian (known as Burlap in the USA), coated with a plastic kind of material. I assume to make it wipe-able when it becomes soiled on the inside due to dirt on tools.

On the front of it are three pockets sewn on that are a cotton material, though this could be canvass, that is to say hemp, that appears also to be coated with the same kind of plastic material. Those pockets are for small tools and such.

How a bag like this is possible for just a Pound I do not know but whatever for a pound you get a serviceable bag for all your small garden tools, your string, and what have you, to have together with you whenever you venture into the jungle outside your back door. While a machete won't fit into the bag many other gardening hand tools and paraphernalia will. Then again, who uses a machete in the garden (bar me, at times)?

The bag seems to be quite well made though a double seam, such as often employed for jeans and other workwear, might have been better than the single seam with the rather thin thread. But then again, it's just a Pound. Definitely beats using a plastic bag for one's tools or a thin cotton tote and you are not going to carry heavy items in the bag.

A nice addition to anyone's garden armory, I'd say, in which to carry the weapons.

© 2017

A green Aggresivhaus proposed for Hamburg


The Passivhaus is Germany's most important recent contribution to sustainable design, but here is another that I will label Aggressivhaus: the repurposing of very aggressive buildings like bunkers into alternative uses.

Read more here.

'The Moveable Feast Garden' – Let's Roll With It Baby!

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Bringing a touch of portable gardening to the brand new RHS Chatsworth House Flower Show

Tanya Batkin's 'Moveable Feast Garden', which will be on display at the RHS Chatsworth House Flower Show in June, will be showcasing the best in fruits, plants and well...wheels!

ac74d581-398b-4981-b500-1b91e64da39fThis garden will provide all the knowledge that 'generation renters' will need to produce edibles for seasonal recipes, a beautiful outside area to simply enjoy and all safe in the knowledge that even if they move property, they will be able to simply take their garden with them!

A stunning array of flowering plants, including Anemones, Brunnera and Geraniums will be provided by Hawkesmill Nurseries, and edibles such as DeliDahlias and Tiger Nuts will be supplied by Lubera.

'69ff7638-52d3-49ac-9253-283c1ca69529The Moveable Feast Garden' can be specifically reconfigured for moving and adapting to a new area. Natural materials such as the wood fencing which will be supplied by Zest For Leisure and the stone which has been supplied by Digby Stone, can be updated with paint finishes and semi permanent transfer colour, to ensure your garden keeps up with your fashion desires.

In keeping with the natural feel of the garden design, the shed and pergola will be topped with a green roof from Green Roofs Direct. 'The Moveable Feast Garden' planters will be handmade with wood from Gibbs & Dandy and the wheels ....finally lets talk about wheels, because every 'Moveable Feast Garden's' gotta have 'em and the bright blue beauties, which will be attached to the specially designed planters, have come from Castors Online.

So let the good times (and our garden) roll baby.

Tanya is the director of Vergette Ltd, Garden Design. Vergette Ltd – Garden Design can be found on the border of Hereford and Worcester in the fabulous Teme Valley. She design gardens in and around the UK as well as Internationally.

So, here ends the text from the press release. Now let's talk tacheles about this.

The problem, as with so many of the RHS show gardens, is, once again also with this one, that anyone wishing to replicate one would have to take out a second or third mortgage. We can see this once again with regards to the winning garden at the 2017 RHS Chelsea Flower Show; a garden that now one could financially be able to reproduce and, to be honest, I also don't think anyone would want to.

As to the “moveable feast garden on the other hand, if one does not want to be that ambitious and totally replicate a garden such as this then it can be done “on the cheap” without a problem though maybe not looking as beautiful but nevertheless, and that's what counts also and especially, functional.

Castors, of the right kind, can be put on (almost) any container and even shopping carts can be used for a moveable vegetable garden. And, while the latter definitely don't look very beautiful they make a statement of a different kind. No, they don't scream I am a cheapskate but more like “here is someone who cares about the environment and thinks laterally”.

© 2017

Nashville Teens Mapped Their Daily Routes—And Got a New Bike Lane as a Result

In Nashville, Tennessee, and Chicago, city planners are responding to demands for better neighborhood mobility and bicycling infrastructure.



North Nashville was once a “mobility desert”: A highway dissected the neighborhood, and public transportation left many areas without service. For young people, the burden was especially heavy.

“When you get dropped off of the school bus, you’re pretty much confined to your neighborhood,” says Dan Furbish, who runs Oasis Bike Workshop, which provides students with bicycles and mentoring. He finds that many kids have not visited parks just 2 miles from their homes.

To make the case for better neighborhood mobility, Furbish’s class of middle and high school students mapped their movements around North Nashville, tracking the spaces they visited most and the barriers that kept them from getting around, such as the lack of crosswalks and paths. They developed suggestions for connecting North Nashville to the rest of the city, eventually sharing their findings with urban planners.

After meeting with the class, city planners incorporated a new bicycle lane along Rosa L. Parks Boulevard. Although the lane stretched only 2 miles, it created a bicycle route across the interstate, connecting North Nashville to downtown.


Studies show that improving city bike infrastructure isn’t just good for reducing traffic congestion. More sidewalks and bike lanes also boost health, generate business for local merchants, and help people feel more connected to their communities. The reason is simple: Moving through a city at 10 miles per hour allows for taking in more than if zooming by in a car.

With those benefits in mind and inspired by a community bike project in Detroit, Jamal Julien and Oboi Reed launched Slow Roll Chicago in 2014. Every Wednesday night, they lead group members—sometimes a few, sometimes a few hundred—on bike rides to introduce them to Chicago neighborhoods. “People don’t patronize the local businesses here because of this narrative that there’s crime and violence and you’ll get killed,” says Julien. “So what we found is that taking these people on the slow-based community rides, they can enjoy the local culture despite what the media says.”

The program yielded an additional result. After riding through the South Side, cyclists were most alarmed by traffic, not violence, Julien says. Despite Chicago’s commitment to being one of the most bikeable cities in the country, the South Side and West Side neighborhoods lacked a network of bike lanes.

Later that year, Slow Roll Chicago, together with other local cycling groups, published an open letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel calling for the equitable distribution of bicycle resources across Chicago. They attended city meetings and cycling forums, spoke with officials, and organized with other cyclists to push the city to expand infrastructure.

Read more here.

Greenwash, greenwash everywhere

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Greenwash, greenwash everywhere but very little truth.

Pet peeve warning! If there is one thing that I hate more than unnecessary waste then it is greenwash, and I hate both with a vengeance.

NoPapercupThere seems to be greenwash almost everywhere that we look at the moment, and that especially in the UK (won't talk about the US).

Only the other day we reported about the stunt in the Square Mile about single use coffee cup recycling, which does not actually work, and you will read in that article why not.

The “coordinator” of the organizing company contacted me via Facebook after my initial article telling me that indeed the cups are recyclable and are being properly recycled. Now then they are capable to doing things that all recycling experts and the UK government say are not possible, namely recycling those plastic lined cardboard coffee cups.

Then there is the glass recycling which is not recycling but downcycling for when waste operatives state that they cannot understand why people meticulously sort bottles and jars by color as it all ends up in the same bin in the wagon anyway. That should give us something to think about, should it not? All colors in the same bin. In other words when we are being told that new bottles and jars are made out of those “recyclables” we are being lied to.

There is the claim that Sweden is so great in recycling and that because of that the country keeps running out of rubbish is also rubbish. Why? It is not because of their great recycling rate though, admittedly, it is better than the British one, but due to the fact that all the refuse in Sweden which is burnable ends up in waste-to-energy plants. In other words, it is incinerated. OK! They get electricity and heat from it at the same time but that is neither here nor there. It is the way that this is presented in the media and by the governments that should give us food for thought.

The only time that we are not, it would seem, lied to when it comes to recycling seems to be with regards to metals, be that aluminium or tin cans, etc. Those really do become aluminium or steel again in that they are melted down to get new metal from them. As far as the rest is concerned, with a possible exception of some plastic recycling, greenwash abounds and that by the tonne. But as far as plastic recycling goes it is also not without greenwash.

I think it is high time that government and industry came clean and stopped pretending to be green when they are not. Admit to the people what works and what does not and tell the people honestly how the recycling is done or whether it is at all done.

Too much about recycling is just a box-ticking exercise which achieves very little to nothing. We need to take a different approach, that of reduction of waste, be that packaging, food or other, as in the case of take out coffee cups, and then reuse and repair, for products. Products must be made repairable so that they can be used for as long as possible. It can be done and is not rocket science. The packaging that is necessary should be made in such a way that either it is biodegradable, that is to say it will turn into soil over time if left to do so, or designed in such a way that an immediate reuse is obvious. That too was done, at least by some companies in times not so long ago and some still do it.

© 2017

Biodegradability greenwash

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Biodegradable does not – necessarily – mean what people think it does.

BiodegradabilityWe are told that this plastic and that plastic, because it is made from or with plant-based polymers, is biodegradable. But what does biodegradability for plastic, including the vegetable-based plastic, mean? In short all – yes, all – plastic will biodegrade, but that does not mean that it will, miraculously, turn into harmless soil; it will not. And that includes the plant-based ones. They biodegrade, at least in Nature, in a similar way to ordinary plastic, namely into small, smaller and ever smaller plastic particles. Some of the plant-based ones may, in commercial hot composting plants be composted but not in the normal environment, not even in that that of a compost heap or even compost bin. The same also goes for compostable. It does not – necessarily – mean it will work in your compost heap. More than likely it will not.

It does not even work for the so-called compostable plastic liners for the food waste caddy. After two years they were still not composted in the home composter. Again they only work, if at all. in a commercial hot composting plant and not at home.

Another great villain in this department are the wet wipes of all kinds that are causing havoc in the sewers and sewer systems and waste water treatment plants. While it may says “flushable” and even biodegradable on the packs they are neither, regardless of what the manufacturers may claim to the contrary.

Today's tea bags also are – no longer – compostable as they are either entirely made of nylon, as in the case of at least one manufacturer in the UK, or partly. They still can, like the “compostable” waste food caddy liners, be found years after almost entirely whole in the compost heap. So they are not compostable either.

We encounter greenwash, it would seem, at almost every corner along the street, so to speak, and the companies even use this to push products on us at a higher price compared to the “ordinary” products because they have been greenwashed.

Plastics today are so ubiquitous that we almost cannot get away from them. A large, if not indeed the largest, percentage of all packaging is, well, plastic of some kind or the other. And, if and when we cannot avoid it we should – at least afterward – stop and think as to whether there is a way that we can use, reuse, repurpose or upcycle the packaging, be that a plastic jar, bottle or whatever, for something for our use or for someone else to use. Well before we even think of tossing the thing into the plastic recycling.

The other problem with so-called biodegradable plastics, the plant-based ones, is that they cannot be recycled into other plastic products, or at least with some difficulty, and that the that kind of polymer cannot be mixed successfully with oil-based polymers to make new products. Looks like we have shot ourselves in the foot here.

It would appear that probably the only way out of this dilemma would be to return to the ways of our grandparents and their parents, such as shopping loose products (not all that easy), taking our own shopping bags to the stores (very easy and simple), and so on and so forth. We certainly cannot rely on industry and not even government to tell us the truth, it would appear, nor it would seem, to make and bring about any positive changes.

© 2017

Scottish potato enthusiasts go for Gold Medal hat trick at Chelsea Flower Show


Morrice and Ann Innes of Newmachar, north of Aberdeen, have won a prestigious RHS Chelsea Gold Medal at the renowned annual Flower Show for the past two years. They are returning to the Great Pavilion this year in the hope of making it three in a row. What is unusual is that there are no flowers blooming on the Innes’ exhibit. Their stand, sponsored by Thompson & Morgan, is a showcase of potatoes; a homage to the tuber.

The potato display aims to highlight the diversity and versatility of the nation’s favourite vegetable, whilst tracing the origins of some of the potatoes in Morrice’s extensive collection of some 500 varieties.

CHELSEA16 Potato Stand_TM use only copyright Thompson & Morgan_web

In 2015, Morrice and Ann won the first ever Chelsea Gold Medal for a potato-only display in the show’s 150 year history.

CHELSEA16 Innes photo_TM use only copyright Thompson & Morgan_webFrom l to r: John Marshall, Rhona Marshall, Ann Innes, Morrice Innes

Displayed on the stand this year will be a selection of Wild Solanum potato plants, grown by Morrice and Ann, and by Thompson & Morgan’s potato expert, Colin Randel, as well as around 150 potato varieties in all shapes and colours. According to Ann, there will also be some ‘weird and wonderful’ tubers of Solanum Tuberosum, cultivated from wild species of the group Stenotomum, as well as a selection of mini tubers which are in the early stages of new variety production.

The display will feature a new variety, Vizelle, which will be launched in September 2017 ready for the 2018 growing season. Vizelle will be available exclusively from Thompson & Morgan.

Based in Ipswich, Suffolk since 1855, Thompson & Morgan is the UK’s most successful horticultural mail order company.

It is the only mail order seed and plant specialist to develop its own plant lines in the UK. Due to the continued success of its breeding programme, the company has introduced more species and varieties to the British gardening public than any other mail order company in the industry.

Its product range includes an award-winning choice of seeds, young plants, bulbs, seed potatoes, onion and garlic sets, soft fruit and fruit trees, as well as an extensive range of gardening equipment and supplies. See the full range at

Source: Thompson & Morgan

Thriftiness in the garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)


Top: Mushroom tray repurposed as a riddle. Bottom: Chopstick dibblet 

There are many methods to gardening on a fixed income and being thrifty has always been the way of the allotment gardeners, whether in Britain or in continental Europe such as Denmark and Germany. Often you had, and have, to be.

I have somewhat the tendency – well, more than somewhat really – to pick up all manner of things for reuse and repurposing in the garden (and elsewhere) and those even include abandoned shopping carts. I know that, theoretically, those carts are the property of the stores but when they are found and the stores in fact refuse to come and pick them up then what is one to do? So, lined with a variety of materials, but more often than not old builder's bags (ton bags), they become high planters and I found them especially good for growing carrots as the height is above the vector of the carrot root fly.

A small old stepladder found – no longer useable really as a ladder – is employed as a plant stand, and part of an old folding bed is currently awaiting the arrival, once they have come up and are ready to go out, of cucumber plants, in a planter, to act as a trellis for them.

Five liter and smaller PET water and soda bottles become, with their bottoms cut off, cloches for use outdoors to cover young plants when frost threatens, and indoors they become propagators for raising seedlings.

Although I generally do have many plastic plant pots in which to start my seedlings due to my work as a groundsman at a municipal park nevertheless pots from yoghurt, cream and sour cream, etc., all become, by drilling a drainage hole in the bottom, seed starting pots. Waste not, want not.

In a way, I can't help myself. I have always been a thrift-loving person for as long as I can remember. In fact, I guess I could say I was raised that way, which also is true. And, as far as I am concerned there is a certain thrill (unlike any other) that I get when I save money by utilizing something I found for free or make use of some kind of packaging waste or such. I also the excitement I get, the buzz, when my mind employs its ingenuity for to “design” some use for this or that.

Talking of designing (and making) I have also made a harvesting pot – belt-worn – from a plastic milk jug and am now looking at employing that selfsame, or similar plastic material, from other kinds of strong(er) plastic bottles (non-PET), from which to design and make tool holsters for secateurs, folding pruning saws and such like. We shall see how it goes. Shall report on that, no doubt, in due course.

I know I am strange but I prefer making things from waste materials – if possible – rather than buying something like this or other things.

As far as tools go I am a lucky guy that in being a garden writer I get quite a lot of them for review (or in press packs at events). If I have to buy tools, on the other hand, which is rather rare, then I prefer to go to flea-markets and look for good old tools that can be refurbished and thus rescued and put back to use for another generation or so.

For pricking out seedlings I have adapted a wooden chopstick – one of those that come with takeout Oriental meals, including sushi, and are often found discarded after picnics and such. But, in all honesty, you could just use a twig to do this job or a pencil or ballpoint pen. I just loved the idea of reusing, repurposing and to a degree upcycling that thrown-away chopstick.

And don't forget to pocket any bailing twine that you may find. That stuff comes very handy indeed for many jobs in the garden and the tool shed. Oh, and don't get me started on pallets and their many uses in the garden.

I highly recommend opening minds and seeing beyond the normal use for things before casting them aside or those that others have cast aside. Warning, however! Once you start you will see more and more things that you could reuse and repurpose and even upcycle, and not just in the garden, and you may not be able to stop that easily.

I could – probably – write a book on the subject on thriftiness and reuse, whether in the garden or elsewhere; maybe I really should.

© 2017

Comment on “villainous” recycling products

Simon - B&W_webSimon Ward, Head of Environment at Prova PR, gives his views on the current recycling debate, and in particular today’s Recycling Association list of troublesome packaging: “It’s clear the recycling debate needs impetus and fresh thinking. Whether naming ‘villains’ is the right way to go about it, I’m not so sure. But it certainly puts a spotlight on the challenges the industry faces and on the question about what good recycling really is.

“I would argue that the notion of ‘good recycling’ has yet to really filter into public consciousness. We know vaguely that we need to do something (put stuff in different coloured bins, right?). But if I asked you what to do with last night’s messy takeaway pizza box? Most people would put it in recycling, which is wrong. The food and the oils have ruined the potential for that item to be recycled. But how many consumers know this and, more importantly, how do we get them to know this?

“Education is key. We need a public awareness campaign, explaining what good recycling is and how and why to do it. Otherwise the dreams of a circular economy will remain just that.

“We also need a collaborative approach, working together with commercial bodies and councils to create a unified approach across quality, consistency and collection.

“The issue isn’t just Lucozade bottle tops or Pringles tubes. It’s a lack of consistency that’s permeating across the whole of the recycling industry. Brands and councils need to work with households and reprocessors to ensure a consistent approach.

“We would like to see a system which separates fibres and food, uniformly applied across all councils and communicated with clarity. Only then will householders be able to confidently and accurately place out for collection a common set of materials and food waste for recycling.”

Source: Prova PR

Keith Taylor MEP: Tory manifesto scraps 'greenest government' pledge for 'energy extremist government'


fracking_2Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP for the South East, has slammed the Conservative Party's manifesto pledge to weaken oil and gas drilling regulations in a bid to fast-track fracking across the UK [1].

Mr Taylor, a member of the European Parliament's Environment Committee, said: "Theresa May has previously committed to putting the UK up for shale but it's not happening quickly enough for our wannabe supreme leader or the oil and gas firms she's in hock to."

"It is little wonder then that the Conservative manifesto is desperate to strip away all those irksome barriers to extreme oil and gas extraction, like local democracy and environmental regulations."

"That the processes are extremely dangerous and overwhelmingly opposed by local communities, that avoiding the exploitation any new fossil fuel resources is essential if we're to avert the very worst effects of climate change, that our countryside needs protection, not industrialisation counts for very little when you have oil and gas barons to keep happy.

"Rather than address the weaknesses in the current regulations - defiantly flouted by oil and gas firms like Angus Energy in Surrey without sanction - Theresa May has decided that the easiest way to stop firms abusing the rules is to scrap the rules."

"It's one of many retrograde steps in a manifesto full of backwards-looking policies. Theresa May is abandoning the Tory promise to be the 'greenest government' and instead pledging to be an 'energy extremist government'. The Conservatives have given up even pretending to care about the environment or climate change."


Keith is the Green MEP for the South East of England and is one of 50 Greens/EFA MEPs in the European Parliament. He sits on the Committee on Transport and Tourism, and the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. He is a member of the European Parliament’s delegation to the Palestinian Legislative Council which works to forge greater links between MEPs and parliamentarians in Palestine. Keith is also Vice Chair of the parliament’s Intergroup on animal welfare and a member of the parliament’s Intergroup on LGBTI Rights.

41 is the age Britons officially get into gardening


41 is the age we officially get in to gardening, a new survey has revealed.

14517581_1436859639688223_7420774459892560744_nResearchers took an in depth look into the precise time in our lives that we turn our attention to our outdoor spaces – and found that it is not until we reach 41 that we become green fingered.

Up until this point, nearly three in ten adults continue to rely on elderly parents to sort out their outdoor space – with one in twenty even calling on grandparents to tend to their gardens.

A further one in ten resort to watching clips on YouTube to help remedy their horticultural issues.

The poll by garden tool supplier Fiskars revealed a third of clueless adults have NEVER trimmed a hedge and nearly a quarter haven’t ever potted a plant.

A further 23 percent of the 1,500 adults polled claim to have NEVER mown a lawn or raked leaves in the garden.

Botanist and broadcaster, James Wong, comments: “The study shows there is a lack of engagement between the younger generation and gardening, but it’s so important we don’t lose that passion for our outdoor spaces.

“A lack of enjoyment or interest in maintaining a garden usually stems from people not knowing where to start. That’s why developing an interest in gardening and showing the rewards that outdoor spaces can bring is essential, such as growing plants in small spaces, which can be fun and productive – you just need a little sunshine and some imagination.”

A spokesman for Fiskars commented: “Getting in to gardening at the age of 41 may seem late, but with many adults not getting on the property ladder or living in flats until their late thirties, it’s becoming the norm.

“Gardening can seem daunting at first and it’s only natural to want to call upon parents or grandparents who tend to be much more knowledgeable. Our innovative range of products makes gardening easy and hassle free, helping you to reconnect with your outside space, no matter your level of skill.”

The survey showed more than a third of respondents describe their garden as a place to escape it all and one in ten said they were immensely proud of the way their outdoor space looked.

James Wong added: “Despite these findings, there is still some hope that Brits get into gardening at an earlier age. Nowadays there are plenty of cutting-edge gardening tools at hand which are ideal for all types of gardeners – amateur to novice – making light work of transforming outdoor spaces. Gardening is a great hobby for people of all ages and is particularly beneficial. It’s a fun, healthy activity plus the sense of satisfaction you feel when you watch something you’ve had a hand in growing is immeasurable.”

A quarter of Brits see themselves as a keen gardener – with more than half of adults itching for summer to arrive so they can get back out in to their gardens.

However, half of the adults that took part in the poll said they wouldn’t be able to identify a fuchsia, 40 percent would struggle to spot a pansy and more than half wouldn’t know a germanium when they saw one.

Getting stung by stinging nettles, pulling up a flower, mistaking it for a weed and trapping fingers in deckchairs are just some of the calamities Brits have faced when trying to tackle the garden.

Cutting the grass with no blade in the mower, putting your hand in cat mess and treading on an upturned rake were other common faux pas.

Despite spending on average five hours per week in their gardens, Brits say they are ashamed of the state of their outdoor areas, yet in a typical year they will invest just £119 in maintaining and improving the space.

Kid’s toys strewn everywhere, the grass growing too quickly and not having the right tools for the job are among the things that annoy us about our gardens.

Source: Ginger Comms on behalf of FISKARS

Parents Learn School Choice Options at Virginia Homeschool Convention

HSLDA President Michael Smith Addresses Homeschoolers at One of the Nation's Largest Homeschool Conventions


shutterstock_251872234RICHMOND, May 17, 2017 – School choice remains a hot debate across the country and the conversation shows no signs of cooling down. Just recently, Congress considered a new tax program that includes a school choice tax credit. Depending on the outcome, school choice options could broaden for many families. Regardless, homeschooling remains a viable option.

Michael Smith, president of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), will discuss this freedom as a keynote speaker during this year's Virginia Homeschool Convention in Richmond. The annual convention, scheduled for June 8 - June 10, takes place at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. In addition, Smith will address the need for homeschooling families to continue to push back on Common Core curriculum.

"Homeschooling continues to grow in popularity because it gives parents the opportunity to provide an individualized education for their child," says HEAV president Anne Miller. "Coming to the convention gives parents three days of unparalleled support, resources, encouragement and instruction."

Taking the step to educate children at home can be intimidating. That is why HEAV offers FREE "How-to-Begin Homeschooling" sessions at the annual Virginia Homeschool Convention on Thursday, June 8. These sessions include information on the homeschool law, curriculum choices, high school requirements, how to begin, and more.

The Virginia Homeschool Convention is the second largest homeschool convention in the nation with nearly 14,000 participants last year. The convention offers support to thousands of families through more than 140 workshops on teaching high school at home, special needs, healthy living, preschool, home management, college, finance, and more.

For more information and to register, please visit or call 804-278-9200.
Home Educators Association of Virginia equips and encourages homeschooling parents, and protects homeschooling freedoms in Virginia. HEAV, a statewide, member-supported, nonprofit association, has served Virginia homeschool families through information, legislation, and resources for more than 30 years. Teaching children today. Bringing hope for tomorrow.

Poundland Charlie Dimmock In the Garden Hand Hoe – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Poundland hoeThis hand hoe – which is a like a small mattock – is part of the new and exclusive Charlie Dimmock range assortment of wooden handled hand tools at Poundland and yes, it costs just one British Pound. The assortment, according to the website, includes, aside from this hoe, a trowel (already reviewed), a “rake”, which actually is a three-pronged weeder more than a rake, a fork, and a scoop.

OK, but we shall, in this review, be talking about the hand hoe; a review of the trowel you can find here.

Like in the case of the trowel the steel of the blades of the how appear to be stamped steel rather than hammer forged steel but I have found it to be, in initial tests, quite robust, and I even attempted to dig out some bramble roots out of rather hard, compacted, soil. Anyone who has ever attempted to dig out bramble roots knows what fun that is (not) and that they don't actually come out, at least not all if the root, and that was also the case in this test. The hoe stood up fine to it, however, without any bending or what have you. Then again, I really would not want to overdo it but then neither would one want to do that with any small hand tool, regardless of who the maker might be. I have had a Bulldog trowel fail on me before due to bad spot welding between the blade and the shaft that goes into the handle.

The quality of those tools is good for the price but you cannot expect Rollins Bulldog or Burgon & Ball quality for a Pound now, nor should you expect a ten or even twenty-five year warranty.

Considering the price of just one Pound, including VAT, I cannot fault the tool and if you have to count your pennies but still want a dual-purpose hand hoe that you can afford – and the cheapest you will find elsewhere if metal blade and wooden handle is desired will set you back around seven to ten times that much – then this is a good choice.

The trowel-shaped blade of the hoe can be useful for a number of things, aside from hoeing, and that includes the making of furrows for sowing and also in lieu of a trowel for planting.

This hand hoe from Poundland may just become yet another tool that will regularly travel with me – not that it is a long distance – into my (vegetable) garden with me, together with some other favorite ones.

As I said before for less than a tenner you can, at Poundland, get all the hand tools you will need for your gardening endeavors, as long as you do not expect battle tank strength.

© 2017

How can anyone working class vote Conservatives?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

2012-05-12 polling station 580I am sorry to say this but to me any worker voting for the Conservative Party, the Tories, is the same as turkeys voting for Christmas; or for Thanksgiving if in the US, and treachery.

Personally I must say that I even have problems voting for the social-democrat model of Labour, as we have it today. The Labour Party, founded, originally, as a socialist party, has become social-democrat, and even, as far as so-called “New Labour” and its outcrops are concerned, neo-liberal, and thus an enemy of the working class themselves.

Social-democrats are dealing in socialism-lite, trying to create capitalism with a social face and -conscience, rather than abolishing capitalism and its structures and working towards true socialism.

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher “romped” to victory in the general election. That election was was to be the first of three consecutive election triumphs for Thatcher and the Tories and they immediately set about unleashing unfettered, laissez faire capitalism on the British public, the disastrous consequences of which are still being felt today. And a very crucial element in those Tory victories was the working class vote.

Working class Tories. What a contradiction in terms. That is like turkeys voting for Christmas (or Thanksgiving if they'd be in the USA). But it is nothing new. Ever since working class people won the right to vote a large number of workers have voted for the Conservatives. It beggars belief, I know.

And the question is, simply, why? Why do working class people vote for a party that so clearly and consistently attacks their interests and that of the class? What does someone eking out a living on the minimum wage or collecting benefits have in common with an over-privileged, multimillionaire Tory politician? Absolutely nothing as far as I can see. But, somehow, the Tories manage to persuade gullible sections of the working class to help put them – and keep them – in power. The lack of class consciousness may also have something to do with it, I hazard to guess, and it is this lack of class consciousness that gets those workers time and again to vote for the class enemy.

And Tories are still at it. Cameron, Osbourne, Lansley et al. Mostly Old Etonians, Oxbridge, filthy rich. That is about as elite as it gets. Yet, again, working class people, tugging at their collective forelocks, have voted for those toffs. Turkeys voting for Christmas. And the tragic (and this really is a tragedy) irony is that the present government is presiding over the dismantling of the welfare state whose whole premise was to provide a decent life for working class people.

It all is ominously, and depressingly, reminiscent of some of the characters in Robert Tressell's classic book: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Completed in 1910, the book was a detailed and scathing analysis of the relationship between working class people and their “betters”. The “philanthropists” of the book's title are the workers who, in Tressell's view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses. Some things, it seems, never change. They also blamed foreigners, such as French onion sellers, and others, for their ills rather than the capitalists and the politicians in their pay.

Robert Tressel's “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” should be mandatory reading for every member of the working class and maybe, just maybe, we need to get some working class education established again in several ways.

For any working class person to vote Tory is nothing short of a betrayal. In fact, at least to me, it is treachery of the highest order. A betrayal of the workers who fought and died to create a better world for their class. It is also a betrayal of future generations of workers who will have to start all over again.

Those people are the enemies of the working class and even more so that that they are of the that class themselves.

© 2017

The basket full of garbage

basket-of-flowers1One day a rich man gave a poor man a basket filled with garbage. The poor man smiled at the rich man and went away. He then emptied and cleaned the basket and filled it with beautiful flowers.

Thereafter he went back to the rich man and presented him with the basket with the flowers. The rich man was very surprised and asked: “Why have you given men this basket full of all those beautiful flowers while I gave you a basket full of garbage?”

The poor man replied: “Because everyone gives that which he has in his heart!”

Author unknown


Ein Korb voll Müll

Eines Tages gab ein reicher Mann einem Armen einen Korb voll Müll.

Der arme Mann lächelte ihn an und ging mit dem Korb fort.

Er leerte und reinigte ihn, und füllte ihn mit wundervollen Blumen.

Dann ging er zum Reichen und überreichte ihm den Korb mit Blumen. Der Reiche staunte sehr und fragte ihn: “Warum hast du mir diesen Korb voller wunderschöner Blumen gegeben, wo ich dir doch einen Korb voll Müll gegeben habe??”

Der Arme antwortete: “Weil jeder das gibt, was er im Herzen hat!”

Verfasser unbekannt

Space exploration; who does it benefit?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

spaceflightWe search for life on other planets and in other regions of our galaxy and we search for Earth-like planets. In the meantime we destroy and ignore and destroy the other life on this Planet and the very Planet, on which our very survival depends, as well.

Billions of dollars are wasted – yes, wasted – on flights to Mars, to Pluto, and to other areas of this galaxy (and beyond, if it would be just possible) while the same resources would be much better employed to deal with the problems on this Planet, our Earth, the only Earth that we will ever have, and on which we depend for our survival. This survival, however, is only possible through clean air, clean water and healthy soil.

Oh, the space industry says, but it creates jobs here on Earth. Yes, and many more jobs would be created if this ingenuity and other skills be employed to actually heal this Planet and all life on it. Instead money – well, money is not really a problem as they create it out of thin air anyway – resources and human endeavor are squandered – yes, squandered – on trying to “explore” the universe. For what and whose benefit? Definitely not for the benefit of the Earth and its inhabitants.

Satellites and such are one thing which do have a benefit but going beyond this is really not very clever at all. And yes, the space industry has given us some new materials in the process of overcoming certain hurdles but in general it is doing more harm than good and instead of looking to the stars in an attempt to go there it would be much better if looked at the earth beneath our feet, at the water in the rivers, lakes and oceans, the forests and other areas, and find ways of how man can live in harmony with Nature.

We have, at least so they claim, gone to the Moon a number of time, with unmanned and manned space vehicles and, so it is being claimed, man actually set foot on the surface of the Moon a couple of times. So? What does it benefit mankind?

At the same time we have destroyed, and are destroying, and have raped and are raping the Earth for minerals and other materials needed for such space explorations, and not just for that.

We are looking to the stars but cannot see – or refuse to – see Nature around us and we do not see that our future is not in the stars. No, Professor Hawkins, there is no other Planet that can support human life and thus we must ensure that the Earth, our home, remains a home fit for all its inhabitants.

The Earth is our home, where is where things are happening and where things need fixing if we want to have a chance to live and thrive. The planets just happen to be there and it does not benefit us one iota to go clambering about on them. We can't go and settle on them when we have destroyed the Earth, and we are doing the very best to do just that. They are uninhabitable and cannot sustain life.

Therefore, instead of wasting our efforts at exploring space and the other planets we should spend this time, energy and money on keeping this Planet healthy so that we, and those that come after us, can live here.

© 2017

A young couple moves into a new neighborhood

washing-on-lineA lesson in not judging or remove first the beam in your own eye before you try to remove the splinter in your neighbor's one.

A young couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. "That laundry is not very clean; she doesn't know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap."

Her husband looks on, remaining silent. Every time her neighbor hangs her wash to dry, the young woman makes the same comments. A month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and says to her husband: "Look, she's finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?"

The husband replies, "I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows."

And so it is with life... What we see when watching others depends on the clarity of the window through which we look.

New wood culture

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

woodlands12A new term is making the rounds, so to speak, and it is called “wood culture”, “new wood culture”, or “wood culture renaissance”, and we can but hope that it is catching on.

The new wood culture and use of local coppiced wood is also entering mainstream, so to speak, in the fist decade of the twenty-first century, with wooden kitchen ware of all kinds, made by local craftsmen and -women appearing in stores such as the Conran shops in London and also B&Q supporting locally grown wood and wood products from such wood.

Wood was once the most important raw material and most of that timber came from coppiced woods, at least in Europe. Wood is the product derived from the structure of trees and the various products that are made from this wood, are often referred to as treen goods, unless they happen to be products that do not fall into this category, such as furniture, fences, houses and other structures, wagons, and such. Without trees wood would not be possible and without well managed woodlands and forests the supply of good wood is not feasible.

In some people's minds – presently – this “wood culture renaissance”, “new wood culture”, or “wood culture”, is represented by the resurgence in green woodworking, that is to say making spoons and other products from wood that is either freshly cut or eighteen month or less laid up to semi-season.

Wood was king not so long ago in every home, and almost everywhere else as well. That was before the advent of plastic. Kitchen utensils, whether spoons, even for eating, or spatulas, chopping and cutting boards, salt containers, and much more, were all made from wood. So were baskets of all kinds, from small ones for holding bread (rolls), over those used to collect eggs from the hen house and for going to the grocery store, to those for the laundry, to, in fact, baskets that were, much like rucksacks, worn on the back that were used for all manner of things. Walking sticks, hiking staffs and the handles of tools were all made from wood. So were most bowls in use, whether troughs for the making of bread or those for fruit to be placed on the table, etc. as were the tables themselves (and in the main the later are still today).

Trees have been the backbone of terrestrial ecology across the planet since before humans evolved. Throughout history, they have been central to our cultures and to our economies, and in many cultures trees were revered the the extent of worship even, especially certain types of trees.

Trees were critical in the making of fire, to the building houses for homes and other uses, including churches, for food, and a myriad of other necessities.

With the advent of petroleum based fuels and polymers, trees have been relegated to far fewer human uses than in than they and wood were in the past, perhaps to the detriment of human culture and economy, and definitely to the detriment of the woods themselves, as the reduction in use of wood products caused the woods to fall into disrepair, especially coppice woods and small woods in Britain (and probably also elsewhere).

Now wood, and with it trees, are coming back into vogue, so to speak. Whether it directly started with the use of wood for fire fuel again, as a more environmentally friendly one to fossil fuels, as it is carbon neutral, in that wood being burned (not counting any particle emissions) only releases as much carbon (dioxide) than what the tree absorbed during its life. And any wood product, other than firewood or charcoal, retains this carbon for as long as the product exists. Therefore, when you buy and use a wooden spoon, bowl, or other kitchen implement, or wooden products in any other way and maintain it, for as long as that product exists. This goes, obviously, for all wood products, regardless where they are made and how, in the regard of carbon retention. However, when you buy a product that is made from local, ideally coppiced, wood and ideally made by hand you buy a much more sustainable product than a wooden object that is made by machines in some far away country or made from wood that has been imported from abroad.

This new wood culture or wood renaissance includes much more than the wooden objects that are still common place, such as furniture, cabinetry, and various architectural additions. It includes green wood stick chairs, spoon carving and other household treen... but with a certain ethos and this ethos is, basically, that things are made by hand. This is the heart of The New Wood Culture or Renaissance.

Most people own a wooden spoon and you probably have one, or more, in your kitchen, and maybe even other wooden utensils. Your wooden spoon may not be handmade, but you probably turn to it often since it serves such a fundamental role, stirring food to prevent it from burning. Most cooks have their well-loved and hard worn wooden spoon. A wooden spoon does not scratch pans, it feels soft in the hand, and has a sense to it that no metal or plastic spoon can achieve. And, what is more even, you can safely leave it in the pot or pan without causing it to heat up making it hot to the touch or without the danger of the plastic melting or infusing some nasty chemical into the dish that you are cooking.

Your cherished wooden spoon has a story, however, whether this story is obvious or not. The main problem with this spoon's story, as with so many other wooden kitchen utensils, and other wooden products for that matter, is the manner of how it was produced. It more than likely was manufactured, as the word made does not really fit here, in a far away land, likely in a factory, and today most of those spoons, spatulas and what have you are, indeed, “Made in China” or “Made in Vietnam”. That is to say they were made by machines, more often than not, in those countries or other countries.

The problem is that the spoon was manufactured and not “made”. A nameless tree, felled in a factory way, shaped by machines on a production line operated by what could be described as human machines. The shape and size of the spoon having been more than likely engineered to use the least amount of material and be produced as uniformly as possible at the lowest possible cost. Often this also means that no consideration is given to the grain of the wood and thus strength is compromised also.

This model of production may have “created” an end product that is useful enough, should the end user think nothing of an alternative, let alone the conditions which created it, but sustainable it is not, even though it is produced from wood. But then, those conditions are unanimous with other economic conditions of modern industrial capitalism, which is to produce a lot of something as cheaply as possible for the benefit of a small number of individuals, and all that at the expense of all other parties, including the Planet.

A spoon, spatula, or other treen object, that has come out of the New Wood Culture or Renaissance has a much different story to tell. And for that matter it is also the offspring of a much different economy and method of “production”.

The worker of greenwood uses a very traditional process that has changed little through the centuries and even millennia and mostly the tools are all hand tools, often only handsaw, hand axe, and an assortment of knives. Maybe added to that a few rasps and maybe a plane or two (no, those ones don't fly). The only power tool that is used in this process is usually a chainsaw used to fell and cut up the tree into manageable pieces.

In most cases the woodworker also works with the world around him or her, be those the forests, woods, orchards or other such places where wood for the products can be obtained. And in many cases the woodworker him- or herself is also a coppice worker, maintaining the wood to ensure a continuing supply of raw material, while at the same time enhancing the woods for wildlife. Others sources for raw material may be local tree surgeons, tree prunings from gardens, parks, and cemeteries, etc.

The entire process from working with and amongst the trees, chopping carefully at the wood with my axe, and shaping it finely with my knives, and finishing it whether just by knife or by sanding and oiling, are all thoughtful and informed by craft and a greater awareness.

The end product of this is a spoon, or other treen object, that not only supported an entire system of reverence and work with trees, but one that lives on to bring life and culture to those who cherish and use them. And the management that stands behind it, the management of our woods, by coppicing, enhances the ecological balance in our woods no end.

A wood culture, and even more so this new wood culture, links economic activity to a working landscape that underpins both the stewardship of the commons and of local economic vitality and resilience. Economically speaking, the woodworker of the new wood culture takes something which is often considered low-grade material by foresters, loggers, and the wood industry at large, or something that tree surgeons have to pay for to get rid off, and turns this material into something both very functional, full of beauty and life, and of significant value.

In this way some seemingly unprofitable trees, or bits of trees, become a viable source of economic production, allowing the woodworker to manifest profitable activity, as well as incentives for his or her connection and ongoing work with the trees. The simple process of carving, whether it be a spoon or other treen object (and there are many besides spoons) then starts to foster a greater and greater reverence for trees, all of which supports the larger cultural and economic landscapes of a wood culture renaissance.

Many people are involved in maintaining and propagating this wood culture and its renaissance, myself as forester, writer and woodworker included, and many of those are true masters of their crafts and who are committed to working with the trees, with the traditional tools and skills, and to passing on and reviving a world enchanted by the presence and daily connection to trees.

Trees are central to any human ecology and have been since time immemorial and they are essential to any human ecology that wishes to exist indefinitely into the future. Thus, the wood culture renaissance must take place and we must do everything to encourage it and bring it about.

This new wood culture supports, stimulates and incentivizes a connection and work centered around skills, craft, and of working with wood and trees and of tending trees, woodlands, forests, orchards, and more, and at the same time it empowers local economic activity on more than just one level.

Yes, a handmade spoon, or other treen object, may show some flaws that do not seem to exist (or have been hidden) in factory produced wooden goods and do not have a uniform shape. They also may still retain, in some instances on purpose, the marks of the tools used, as in the case of “knife finished”. That, in my opinion, is, however, the beauty of the handmade ones as they allow the wood to be what it wants to be, to some extent at least. Such treen products are also more expensive, it is true, than the factory produced ones that nowadays mostly come from China and other parts of the Far East.

Do your part to bring about this wood culture renaissance by supporting your local artisans by purchasing tableware and other treen objects from them. I can guarantee that the quality, in general, and the beauty of such wooden objects, will make you want to take up carving as well and join in the crafting of this wood culture renaissance.

What is most important about this new wood culture is that it could and will, if we let it, all of us, including those who believe that a tree should never be cut, bring about a healthy woodland and forest ecology and a world enhanced by trees and by wood, whether in the form of food production, building materials, firewood and charcoal, beanpoles and pea sticks, or as sources of material from which to produce an almost unimaginable list of useful and necessary items that will enhance our lives.

© 2017

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.

Big Pharma's Pollution Is Creating Deadly Superbugs While the World Looks the Other Way

Environmental standards do not feature in international regulations governing drug production

Big Pharma's Pollution Is Creating Deadly Superbugs While the World Looks the Other Way

Industrial pollution from Indian pharmaceutical companies making medicines for nearly all the world’s major drug companies is fuelling the creation of deadly superbugs, suggests new research. Global health authorities have no regulations in place to stop this happening.

A major study published today in the prestigious scientific journal Infection found “excessively high” levels of antibiotic and antifungal drug residue in water sources in and around a major drug production hub in the Indian city of Hyderabad, as well as high levels of bacteria and fungi resistant to those drugs. Scientists told the Bureau the quantities found meant the drug residues must have originated from pharmaceutical factories.

The presence of drug residues in the natural environment allows the microbes living there to build up resistance to the ingredients in the medicines that are supposed to kill them, turning them into what we call superbugs. The resistant microbes travel easily and have multiplied in huge numbers all over the world, creating a grave public health emergency that is already thought to kill hundreds of thousands of people a year.

When antimicrobial drugs stop working common infections can become fatal, and scientists and public health leaders say the worsening problem of antibiotic resistance (also known as AMR) could reverse half a century of medical progress if the world does not act fast. Yet while policies are being put into place to counter the overuse and misuse of drugs which has propelled the crisis, international regulators are allowing dirty drug production methods to continue unchecked.

Global authorities like the Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency strictly regulate drug supply chains in terms of drug safety - but environmental standards do not feature in their rulebook. Drug producers must adhere to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines - but those guidelines do not cover pollution.

Read more here.