Contiguous cover forestry

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020

Late winter gardening tasks

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start seeds indoors (or in the greenhouse)

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

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

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

Pruning ornamentals

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

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

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

© 2020

E-bikes vs. standard bicycles

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020

Frozen in time

Your freezer is your friend

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

Reducing your food waste

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

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

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

Three simple tips to reduce food waste

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

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

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

© 2020

Stirring Paddle

Eastern European Gypsy pot stirrer

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

Stirring paddles of all sizes can be obtained here.

© 2020