No to bricks in the toilet tank!

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Some allege that putting a brick in the toilet tank can save water, and we are being told, time and again to do this, or to use the “Hippo” device, but doing that can keep your toilet from flushing correctly.

The best tip in that department, in order to conserve water, is still the adage, “If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down”, rather than flushing with a brick of such inside. Alternatively, but there is a cost involved in obtaining and installing, a dual flush system would be something to consider if one does not want to leave urine to sit in the bowl for a while.

The brick or the “hippo”, however, are best left out of the tank.

Another plumbing tip, avoid liquid drain cleaners. Liquid drain cleaners are sometimes bad news as they eat away at the pipes. Try a plunger or, if that does not work, better yet an auger.

© 2020

Campaign to Ban Disposable Face Masks Launched

The UK will consume 19.2 billion single non-recyclable face masks in 2021. Most of these will be sent to landfill, the weight equivalent of 5 Eiffel Towers. Some will end up in watercourses causing an environmental nightmare. A new campaign has been launched in an attempt to reduce this number.

“It’s really important to consider the wider impact of single-use face masks as they can’t easily be recycled and end up in landfill, in rivers and the sea – that’s why we are supporting a new petition on the Government to ban their sale to the general public”, explains Charlotte Green from commercial recycling company

It should be noted that the petition is specific in that it is not asking the Government to completely ban their sale, they have an important role in medical situations, and where use is controlled, they can be recycled - although this is not always easy.

What 19.2 billion single use face masks in numbers looks like:

  • 52,602,739 a day

  • 1,578,082,191 a month

“We are promoting the petition to raise awareness of the environmental problems created by single use face masks, and also to offer an alternative to those worried about the harm cause to wildlife and the impact on the environment in the UK”, explains Green.

The Petition will be discussed in Parliament when it reaches 100,000 signatures. The aim of the campaign is to hit this number before the end of 2020 in an attempt to slow down the consumption of disposable masks, and encourage washable alternatives.

A link to the Petition is available here:

“We know the consequences of their use, and funnily enough the alternative is actually cheaper – we just need to get the word out that single use face masks just get buried in the ground and that isn’t acceptable!”, concludes Charlotte Green from commercial recycling company

Ditch your Disposable Face Mask and save £190 in 2021

  • A single use disposable face mask costs 18p

  • Over a year using 3 per day this is £197.10

  • A washable face mask costs £1.40 (Pack of 5 is £6.99)

  • If you can use 5 masks by washing them, then over a year this is a saving of £190.

Source: Press Office

Water now a traded commodity


Now water is traded on the stock exchange

Since the beginning of the week, water has been traded on the Chicago Stock Exchange for the first time. Farmers and investors can insure themselves against droughts and water scarcity - or they can place bets upon it.

Hedge funds are driving prices upwards without scruple or remorse

The linked article here is, unfortunately, in German but...  

Working with wood; a Gypsy tradition

Photo description: Bottom: Veshtike Rom spatula, Left to Right: Bertike style spoon (oval bowl), Romanian Roma spatula, traditional Gypsy clothes peg (clothespin), Veshtike Rom stirrer, Veshtike Rom spoon (round bowl), Top: Honey/jam spreader (jam spreader does not, actually, have holes)

The Romani People (Gypsies) have had a knack of making a living from many activities in which they used the materials that were and are found in the environment around them, be this wood or others. Some of those activities today have died out, others continue, such as spoon carving and basket making.

Carving spoons, and the making of other kitchen and household items from wood, is just one of them, another is making baskets from osiers (thin branches), grasses and such.

Neither of those activities are invention of the Romani People, that is true, but the Rom carved – pardon the pun – themselves in many places a niche here and then, later, also in the recycling field well before recycling was even cool and a word.

The various different Romani groups, when it comes to carving spoons, and other kitchen utensils, developed their very own styles which, for instance, differed from the styles of the general Russian (and other) spoon carvers and also those of the Scandinavian ones.

On the other hand, however, the Romani craftsmen and even -women, created many of their own designs of spoons and kitchen utensils from wood, such as the stirring woods and spatulas, which are so very different from those that are found in Western Europe per se.

Designs and styles of the spoons vary too from group to group. The Romanian – and “Balkan” in general – spoon carvers make the bowls, while egg-shape, with the point towards the from while the Bergtike Rom in Poland have the “tip” of the egg towards the handle and the Veshtike Rom spoon has a more or less round bowl, similar to those of the Doukhobors (a Russian sect).

It was also the Gypsies, the Rom, who seem to have been the first, though whether it can be proven is another question, to have created the clothes peg, or clothespin, as our American cousins call it. When exactly the current design of the Romani clothes peg, and with that I mean the one made from a stick and banded with tin, has come about I cannot say but it will have been, I should guess, when strips of metal could be found or made.

When it comes to the Gypsy clothespins there are then also at least two design variations, at least among the Romani People in Western Europe, both Sinti relations. The Romanichals in Britain, and from Britain, use a strip of tin, which is affixed with short nails (pins) near the top end, in general, while the Manouche in France tend, at times, to use wire which is wrapped around and tightened with pliers of sorts. The latter version has a slight safety issue in that there tends to be a little bit of wire sticking out to the side.

Among the designs of wooden kitchen tools designed and made by the Rom craftspeople are many that have never been known before as such. The ever so useful stirring wood (stirring paddle, or stirdle, as I have termed it) is just one of them, as is the rather narrower trapezoid shaped spatula, narrower than the traditional Western European spatulas, both of Rom Polska origin apparently.

The Romanian Roma of the lowlands have a different spatula design, which is akin to the stirring paddle but more of a triangular shape, and the honey and jam spreaders, in both design variations, follow the stirring paddle, or the Romanian spatula design, depending on the makers, but are much smaller, obviously.

Other wooden articles were also made by Romani woodworkers and the wooden flasks that were so very common in Romania were, in general, made by very skilled Rom on a foot-powered lathe. Alas, today, there is probably not one maker left and those that are turned out today are badly made in factories.

“Wood, Leather & Recycled” produces wooden spoons and other wooden kitchen utensils, plus some other wooden and carved products, including also Gypsy clothespins.

Wood, Leather & Recycled

Autumn season in the garden

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

It’s time to pack away the flip-flops and bring out the boots, scarves and gloves. Temperatures will soon be dropping, meaning gardens and outdoor areas will need to be adapted to the new conditions. Preparing a garden in advance of the season changing will give certain aspects such as plants and shrubbery time to settle into their adjusted environment as well as offer gardeners peace of mind when the cold creeps in.

Cleaning up leaves

With increased wind speeds and colder temperatures, outdoor spaces will soon be covered in leaves and debris from trees. While you may be tempted to sweep them up or even blow them away with a power-blower the thing to do it, at least wherever possible, to leave them be. Better for the wildlife and the garden itself too. Where you do wish to remove them sweep them up, put them into bin liners and in no time you will have great leaf mold to add to your garden beds.

Get ahead of the weeds

In the summer, seeds will have landed in and around outdoor areas and they will eventually develop into weeds and you may well be tempted to apply weed killer to the garden to keep on top of the initial growth. However, weed killer – more often than not glyphosate – is not a sustainable and ecological way to go and even so-called “safe” alternatives, such as the use of vinegar and such like are not as safe as promoted.

To be perfectly honest the best and greenest way to manage weeds in your garden is doing it the old-fashioned way, that is to say manually. Even the often recommended green way of using vinegar is not a green way.

Keep an eye out for damaged hedges and trees

Prior to wind speeds picking up, checking any branches, trees and hedges could be vital for people’s safety in the garden. If any appear damaged or are starting to rot, they can potentially blow off and cause damage to a property or even harm a person.

Should a tree be on the boundary of your property where, especially, the public might pass by, then ensuring that there are no branches that could, potentially, cause a problem to passersby is extremely important because, theoretically, any branch falling and possibly injuring someone could leave you open to litigation. If you can prove that you have taken all possible precautions to avoid such you might just about be in the clear in case something does happen.

In addition to that clear the beds – especially the vegetable ones – of plant remains and prepared the soil for the winter and the next growing season by adding leaf mold and compost, spreading a layer of about two inches at least. Do not dig or fork this in but leave the worms to do their business by carrying the nutrients down into the soil while at the same time aerating and loosening the soil. Come spring just sow or plant into the beds without further ado.

© 2020

Normalize Repair. All forms of repair

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

"Please, can we normalize clothing repair?!" visible mending piece on a pair khaki jeans. (Photo caption)

Although, presently, we still mostly associate wearing mended or repaired clothes with poverty and not being able to afford something new, I firmly believe that together we can change this stigma and introduce something new; loving and caring for our clothes, and other things, as an action and conscious choice to save our Planet and stand up against wasteful and unethical "norms" in our society and the industry.

It was not really than long ago that repairing clothes and, obviously, other things was the norm, and not just for those on the lower end of the scale, and patches on the knees and elbows were common. To mend and repair was also cheaper than buying new and that was important to almost everyone but especially those not so well off. But when it came to kids almost everyone had mended items of clothes. You'd grow out of them anyway in due course. But that was before “cheap” clothes and “fast” fashion.

When I see how people actually deal with clothes today it makes me shake my head in disbelief. Anything from hats, including woolly hats, over T-shirts to coats are being left behind, children's and adult's, in parks, for instance, and no one even as much as inquires made as to whether they have been found and taken in. Aside from that not that very old, in other words almost new to actual new, children's scooters and bicycles, for instance. And the same in those cases in that no one actually asks whether they have been picked up by staff. Some people have far too much money and absolutely no sense. No wonder they can't make ends meet when they behave like that.

We have become such a “throw away society” that it is almost beyond belief and this attitude reflects also on and in other aspects of society and life. Nothing is valued anymore, not even, at times, life itself.

Hopefully repair, the normalization of repair, the way it once was, can be part of our future again and that cannot come soon enough.

But in order to achieve this, we have to talk about it. Buying and wearing secondhand clothes is cool (pardon that phrase), repairing your clothes the same, and the same goes for wearing the same outfit again and again.

However, we also have to acknowledge my privilege here that many of us are able to choose to repair our clothes and buy and wear secondhand by choice. Some people do not have that choice. They are forced to by circumstances and it should not be a stigma to attach to them.

This normalization of repair does not just go for clothes. It should and must go for everything that we have and also simply keeping those things that we have that still work in good order instead of buying new just because we can or because a new version of the product has come onto the market.

Furnishing a home with secondhand is also something that falls into this department and everything, bar a couple of things, are fine when purchased secondhand; mattresses are one of the few items that best are not obtained secondhand, for reasons of hygiene.

While this was and is very much the domain of those that are the poorer in society it would do the Planet no end of good if we all looked at that a little more. Then again, on the other hand, if we all did it secondhand might be priced, by the unscrupulous traders, out of the range of the poorer people.

And, most import of all, whether as regards to furniture or all other things, is to no longer treat things as “throw away” items, even if they were not all that expensive, look after them somewhat more (again) and make them last by, if something happens, repair wherever possible.

© 2020

Electric cars wont save us and the Planet

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

There are, despite what governments and especially industry try to tell us, far too many points against it, and I know that I have said many of those things before.

Aside from everything else and the fact that they have become cheaper nowadays it is in no way certain that they will ever get cheap enough for everyone who wants to or especially needs to drive to afford one.

The cost of the raw materials for the batteries are one point and those costs are not going to go down as demand increases; the opposite will be the case, unless other kinds of materials are found from which to make (more efficient) batteries.

There is a reason for raw materials that are currently used to be called rare earths, rare minerals and rare metals and the word “rare” should be the dead giveaway. It is true that battery designs and components may change over time but in the short term, considering that many governments want to ban gasoline- or diesel-powered cars and vehicles by 2030 or even earlier, though some have set a later target date, this is not going to happen.

Then there is the problem that presently – though, obviously, the designs may improve – the lifetime of the battery is around three years, give or take, although some manufacturers claim that their batteries are better in performance (though I do not believe this, as yet) and the costs of a replacement around one-third of that of the price of the vehicle. Alone for a £1,000 E-bike that is £370 for a new battery. For that price you can get a fairly good “ordinary” bicycle that has no such issues.

Switching power sources also does nothing to address the vast amount of space the car demands, which could otherwise be used for greens, parks, playgrounds and homes. It doesn’t stop cars from carving up community and turning streets into thoroughfares and outdoor life into a mortal hazard. Electric vehicles don’t and won't solve congestion, or the extreme lack of physical activity that contributes to our poor health.

Also, when it comes to reduction of “carbon emissions”, electric vehicles are not carbon neutral and that not even remotely. First there are those emissions created by manufacturing them and indeed already beforehand in the extraction and preparations of the raw materials for the making of those cars. And then there is the switch from one exhaust, that of the vehicle, to the other one, namely the smokestack of the power station. In addition to that governments already fret that the electricity grid will be unable to cope with all those electric vehicles being put on charge overnight or maybe even at other times.

Even a switch to bicycles (including electric bikes and scooters) is only part of the answer. Fundamentally, this is not a vehicle problem but an urban design problem. Or rather, it is an urban design problem created by our favored vehicle. Cars have made everything bigger and further away.

Because of the car, in all honesty, and, yes, today also because of Internet shopping, the high streets of our towns and cities have been turned into places where coffee shops, sandwich bars, bars, restaurants and whatever else congregate but hardly any “real” shops can be found today.

Supermarkets have moved, very often, away from the walkable and cyclable centers and areas to out-of-town locations and many other shops also have gone into the out-of-town malls. There are some that reversing the trend, like some of the German discounters in the UK, such as Aldi and Lidl, who are deliberately trying to have their stores sited within towns and cities and not to out-of-town locations and on industrial parks. And the same is true for all the discounter stores in Germany that I saw years ago, whether Aldi, Lidl, REWE, or others.

Some countries on mainland Europe are a little different as regards to towns and cities and their centers especially as, unlike in the UK, and often also the US, people actually still live in the centers of those towns and cities. The center of London (UK), on the other hand, is, after the offices close, almost a ghost town as far as people living there are concerned; almost no one does.

The problem for using alternative transport to the car in British cities, and more so even the countryside where many of the towns do not have much of shopping either anymore, and there is a lack of other places such as post offices, banks, etc., is all geared towards the car. Even more so, obviously, in the rural USA where, without a car, you can't even get to the “nearest” store. Doing a 50 mile round trip to get your groceries is not really feasible on a bicycle and not even with horse and buggy.

There was a time when in the rural areas – in the US – the “general stores” abounded, and where not all that far away, necessarily, from where people lived. But all those have gone to the wall ages ago aided and abetted by the car and the likes of Wally World. Obviously, the governments also had their fingers in the pie, so to speak, paid for by the car lobby.

In order to truly change the situation we need to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, and return to the way some things were in times past when places, shops, work and all, were easily accessible and there was no need to travel long distances. The electric car and other electric vehicles will only perpetuate the situation and move the carbon emissions to locations other than the car when it is driven.

© 2020

Green Products

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Whether products are touted as green, environmentally friendly, eco, or whatever or not consumerism is still consumerism and bad for the Planet. Also many of those products are not at all as “green” as they are claimed to be. In fact there are times when the opposite is true, actually.

Far too many products that are being touted as green, as environmentally friendly, and so on are not, necessarily, as claimed but they are green-washed, as I refer to them.

Bamboo products, for instance, are some, for starters. Bamboo, in the way products are, traditionally, made from the material in the countries where bamboo grows is one thing but as soon as the stuff is made into, say, flooring or clothing then the “green” goes out of the window, regardless of the fact that bamboo is a grass, really, and grown and matures rather fast.

Bamboo flooring requires heat and pressure and glues, and is nothing but laminate flooring, and bamboo fiber, as in clothing, is rayon by all but a different name and made in exactly the same way using lots of energy and chemicals. Green neither of those two are but they are being sold to us as being environmentally friendly and all the rest.

And bamboo products are but a small example of this dilemma and issue.

Another one is the failure in communication over recycling and reuse in that people thrown glass jars – yes, I am back at a very old example – that could very well serve as storage jars into the recycling bin and are very proud with themselves for buying recycled glass (how recycled is that glass really) storage jars (green, you know) at exorbitant prices.

Or a similar thing when they want a pencil/pen bin for the desk they spend almost $10 for something that is basically a glorifies tin can while throwing – yes, I am at it again – a cleaned produce tin can into the recycling bin; something that would do the same job equally well.

The message of the three “Rs”, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has, it would appear, become one of “Recycle, Recycle, Recycle” as the first thing everyone – well, almost everyone – seems to think of is the recycling bin. There should also be more than the three “Rs” in that list, and “Recycle” should be the very last option of all. It has, however, become the very first. Rather than reducing the comment you near is “but it can all be recycled”. Somewhere along the line there has been a serious communication breakdown, though this seems to have been aided and abetted by governments.

A great many of those “green” products are also not very green and environmentally friendly when one considers the environmental footprint their manufacture and their shipping, more often than not, like most stuff nowadays, “Made in China” and then shipped from there to point of sale (and then, obviously, to you and me, the consumer).

Most products today, whether they are conventional or green, are made, even if from recycled materials from our own countries, made in places such as China and then are carted across the globe, to the country as recyclables and back to us as finished products.

If we want really and truly green and environmentally friendly products we should insist that they are made, whether recycled or made from natural renewable materials, locally, in our own countries or at least in one of the neighboring countries and not on the other side of the world and we also must insist that products are durable and repairable.

The greenest products, however, we can have are those that we have already or reusing the things that cross our paths daily.

Instead of buying recycled glass storage jar we should consider using large glass jars from produce, such as pickles or whatever, and instead of recycled drinking glasses how about repurposing suitable glass produce or jam jars. In fact, they work very well indeed. When I was growing up that was what we, as children, were given to use instead of expensive glass jars. And, in fact, in general even our parents used such glasses, such jars, as drinking vessels.

© 2020

Root Pouch – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I encountered Root Pouch for the first time at the Garden Press Event 2020 in the beginning of March that year and it immediately, for me, ticked a number of boxes in the green department.

Root Pouch distributed by Ikon International and they are fabric planting containers made from recycled water bottles and available from all good garden centers and also from Amazon. Personally I do not do Amazon because of the company's unethical practices in the treatment of their employees and others, but that is for everyone to decide for themselves.

Price – typical RRP Grey 3.8 ltr (1 Gal) – £1.05, 39 ltr (10 Gal) - £3.89

Better for the plant: The circling root from a black plastic pot will choke and harm a plant. The dense lateral root growth experienced in a non-circling self-pruning Root Pouch will not only easily provide the tree with healthy root uptake, but also offer the tree a strong supportive root structure to weather any storm, allowing the tree to grow for decades not years.

Better for the planet: Root Pouch is the only fabric pot company that manufactures its own fabric giving them full control of quality and consistency. Root Pouch uses on average 400 metric tons of plastic water bottles a year in making their containers. Giving single use plastics a second life.

Root Pouch only uses water bottles for recycling and diverted 1000 metric tons of water bottles from landfills and the oceans in 2019 and eliminates the need to create plastic pots using fossil fuels.

Root Pouch is the only pouch made from PET bottles and a textile weave for which the company has the patents. Other pouches more often than not contain unknown sourced plastics and no recycled textiles and their weave bears little in common with Root Pouch which has the optimal weave for Air Pruning/Entrapment.

The smaller pouches also make for great totes for the gardener (or even others) for tools.

© 2020

Wood in the kitchen

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Wooden implement are better on pots and pans and not just those Teflon or similarly coated ones. In all honesty you should avoid such so-called non-stick ones anyway.

Metal implements should, ideally, never be used in pots and pans, even in stainless steel ones. Plastic, on the other hand, often nylon, is not heat resistant enough frequently and tends to have “problems” and what we do not know is how such heated plastics in contact with food may actually affect our bodies and health. A wooden spatula, or even the edge of a wooden stirring paddle, can even be used for scrape cast iron or steel skillets and pots in case somethings has burned on (after soaking it a little, the interior of the pot or pan that is, not the implement).

When it comes to cutting and chopping boards wood is also way more hygienic than plastic and also much better than glass, which some people are using. The latter has one major problem and that is that it dulls knives rather quickly and the former that any groves caused by the the knives used are real good for harboring bacteria. Not so with wood. Bamboo is also an option but bamboo does not come in slabs but a bamboo cutting board is made with lots of heat and pressure and also some glue.

Wood is antibacterial by his very action in that it removes moisture from its surface are into itself, that is to say the body of the implement, in this case, and bacteria need moisture to live and multiply, and that holds equally true for the wooden spoon, the stirring paddle, the spatula, or whatever, and the cutting and chopping boards and everything else wooden in use in the kitchen.

Wood is a renewable resource and kitchen implements made by the artisan spoon/treen1 carver will generally made from prunings and other wood which often would end up in the chipper or otherwise disposed off. Hence such wooden utensils and other wooden ware tick all the boxes in the “green department”.

The one important thing to remember with wooden utensils and such is to never, ever, put them into the dishwasher and one should not even put them into the washing-up bowl with detergent. If it should be necessary then washing the working part of the utensil under hot water or by dunking it quickly into hot water and washing it and then thoroughly drying that part.

Because of its natural antibacterial properties wooden utensils will, generally, require nothing more than to be wiped clean with a kitchen towel and then, with the working part up, stood in holder of sorts or placed in a spoon rack, say, on the wall. They should not go into the “cutlery” drawer (or any other drawer for that matter).

Wooden kitchen implements, as well as wooden spoons, if treated well can last for centuries and can thus even become heirlooms. Imagine still stirring your porridge or stew with an implement that your grandmother may have used or even her mother.

While hand-crafted wooden implements, and other treen ware, are generally more expensive – a great deal more expensive – than mass-produced they, first of all, come mostly from sustainable woodland management operations or from local tree workers and tree surgeons and hence are local wood, local to the area where they are made. Secondly, as they are carved with the grain they are stronger than mass-produced, machined, products and due to the natural drying process, in other words the wood is neither pressure not heat treated, are not tainted with anything either. Furthermore they are hand-crafted and, as already mentioned, carved or otherwise worked, with the grain and thus retaining the strength of the wood.

© 2020

1Treen (literally "of a tree") is a generic name for small handmade functional household objects made of wood.

We will not go back to normal

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

We will not go back to normal nor should we. Normal never was. Our pre-Covid-19 existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, depletion,extraction, the exploitation of nature and man by man for ever greater profits.

We should not even long to return to this so-called “normal”. We have been given the opportunity now to create a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and Nature.

Normal, in fact, has not been for a very long time, probably not since the beginning of the industrialized age, the so-called industrial revolution, followed in the 1970s by the so-called “green revolution” in agriculture, which was not green at all and certainly was not good for most, also not as far as our food was and is concerned.

Greed became normalized and has been for a very long time already, probably ever since people ended up with someone lording it over the majority.

And then, after all the upheaval of the two world wars and the aftermath we ended up with the consumer society that wend from bad to worse and we arrived today at a stage where were consume the resources of our Planet in such a way and at such a speed that even renewable resources, such as wood, cannot be renewed fast enough.

Products are being manufactured in such a way that repair no longer is feasible and we have to constantly buy the same product, not even, necessarily an improved version of the same, over and over again every couple of years of even less, leading to a mountain of waste that destroys our environment.

And we want to go back to “normal”? Really?

We should take this opportunity, now, to create something better, something sustainable. A new system which will benefit all creatures inhabiting the Earth and not just a few individuals who become super rich by exploiting both man and Planet.

© 2020

Going back to so-called normal after pandemic would be madness

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Instead of waiting that everything goes back to “normal” after the pandemic and all this economic madness restarts would it not better to consider doing things differently? To make things better rather than going back to “normal” because this so-called “normal” was not normal at all. Rather the opposite. But then again the system is not broken either, it was designed this way not to function properly.

How about instead of building ever more car parks to create parks and playgrounds.

Instead of more and more consumption to design and manufacture products again – yes, I did say again – that can be repaired and create a repair economy to boot, that is to say shops that specialize in repair of those things that we cannot fix at home.

Instead of events experience and instead of everyone for himself a spirit of Ubuntu, a together rather than competing against each other.

And there are so many insteads that the list could go on and on, to be honest. I think we can all add a fair few of them to this small list that I have put together here.

The truth is, and most people, I am certain, would agree, that the so-called normal we have had for so long was anything but normal. What is normal with shop till you drop and buy crap only to impress others and also stuff that gets tossed a short time after. That is keeping the economy, the way it has been designed for the last how many decades, but normal it is not.

Products have been designed, in capitalism, ever since World War Two or not long thereafter, to have but a limited lifespan and more and more they can no longer be repaired, not even by specialists. We are, thus, forced to buy the same product over and over again simply because after a couple of years they are broken and cannot be repaired, because they have been designed that way.

There was a time when most things could be repaired, often by the tinkerer at home even, or tinkering was not even needed but just to know how to repair or replace a switch, for instance. A simple screwdriver was sufficient to open the things and repair could commence. But that was not to the liking of the capitalists.

The point is that is we have to buy the same products over and over over time because they keep breaking and can't be repaired means that manufacturers do not have to be innovative and do not need to design and make new products, better products, but can just keep making the same over and over.
However, what this pandemic has also shown us is, and this is a great irony, that the world's economy is in danger of collapsing simply because people are only and have only been buying what they really need. It proves the point that nothing of the normal was ever normal.

So, do we really want to go back to that kind of “normal”? I would think that we truly and honestly consider the options the answer, from the majority, would be a no.

© 2020

Bicycle servicing

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020

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

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Council of Europe Press Office

ARS long-reach pruner – Product review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

Price, incl. tax: £57.89

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

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

© 2020

Is global travel history after COVID-19?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020

Growing your own food wherever possible

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020

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

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

© 2020

#pollinators #bees #biodiversity

Jetting around the world to save the climate

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Or how else should one interpret the annual COP gatherings?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020

Gardening myths most people believe but that are not true

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

Paint pruning cuts

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

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

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

Organic pesticides are safe

The truth is that they are not necessarily so.

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

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

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

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

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

Amend clayey soil with sand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plant trees in deep holes to give them stability

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

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

Fill the planting hole with compost and fertilizers

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

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

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

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

You must wash and sterilize your pots

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

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

© 2020

Contiguous cover forestry

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020

Late winter gardening tasks

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start seeds indoors (or in the greenhouse)

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

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

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

Pruning ornamentals

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

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

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

© 2020