Fact Check – Is Ibuprofen Safe? COVID-19 Coronavirus and Medications that Weaken Your Immune System

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Some medications are known to weaken the immune system, and would therefore compromise the body’s capacity to fight off diseases such as the COVID-19 Coronavirus.

There has been a lot of concerns about the safety of Ibuprofen use during the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak, so we’ll examine the facts from credible and authoritative sources about this drug and several other to determine the truth.

 

What is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which is used for used for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antipyretic properties, in other words, the short-term relief of fever, mild to moderate pain and inflammation (redness, swelling and soreness).

Ibuprofen might ease some of the symptoms of:

  • headaches, such as migraines or tension headaches
  • sinus pain
  • toothache and pain after dental procedures
  • backache, muscular aches and pains
  • menstrual cramps and period pain
  • sore throat
  • joint or tendon sprains and strains such as tennis elbow
  • arthritis
  • fever or high temperature

Please note that ibuprofen only provides temporary relief and will not cure your condition.

 

How Ibuprofen Works

The simple explanation:

Ibuprofen works by reducing the body’s ability to produce compounds known as prostaglandins, which are important mediators of inflammation, fever and pain. Prostaglandins act locally at a site of injury to initiate the body’s protective responses of inflammation and pain, or to initiate a fever as part of the immune response to infection caused by a variety of microorganisms and viruses.When prostaglandins in the body are reduced, fever eases off, and pain and inflammation is reduced.

Additionally, prostaglandins also perform other important functions, such as maintaining the lining of the the digestive tract, regulating kidney function, and controlling the function of platelets, the tiny cells in the bloodstream which form blood clots to stop bleeding.

The drug Ibuprofen blocks both of these groups of functions of prostaglandins, as it is non-selective, which leads to some of the side effects associated with it, such as stomach cramps and irritation, as well as bleeding.

 

The longer explanation:

ibuprofen produces analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting the synthesis of prostaglandins. The enzyme inhibited by NSAIDs is the cyclo-oxygenase (COX) enzyme. The COX enzyme exists in two isoforms: COX-1 and COX-2.

  • COX-1 is primarily responsible for synthesis of prostaglandins important for maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract, renal function, platelet function, and other normal physiologic functions.
  • COX-2 is induced and responsible for synthesizing prostaglandins that are important mediators of pain, inflammation, and fever. However, it is known that there is some crossover of COX-1 and COX-2 effects in some situations, and COX-2 activity is important for some biological effects.

Ibuprofen is not selective for either COX-1 or COX-2, it block both enzymes.

 

Which Medications Contain Ibuprofen?

Formulations which contain Ibuprofen are sold under various brand or trade names:

US Brand Names: Advil, Ibuprofen, Midol, Motrin, Proprinal, PediaCare Children’s Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer, PediaCare Infant’s Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer

Australian Brand Names: Act-3, Advil, Brufen, Bugesic, Butafen, Butalgin, Caldolor, Dimetapp , Fenpaed, Ibuprofen , Iprofen, Nurofen, Panafen IB, Panafen IB Mini Cap, Pedea, Proven, Rafen, Tri-Profen,

 

When to NOT take Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen should NOT be used:

  • Just before or after heart bypass surgery (coronary artery bypass graft or CABG).
  • During the last 3 months of pregnancy as it may may harm the unborn baby. Do not use this medicine without a doctor’s advice if you are pregnant, or if you are breastfeeding as it is not known whether ibuprofen passes into breast milk or can affect a nursing baby.
  • For children younger than 2 years old without the advice of a doctor.
  • If you have ever had an asthma attack, hives, or severe allergic reaction after taking aspirin, acetaminophen (panadol, tylenol) or any NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, celecoxib, diclofenac, naprosyn and others.

Ibuprofen, like all NSAIDs, can also make heart, liver or kidney disease worse.

 

Ask a doctor if Ibuprofen is safe for you to take if you have any of the following conditions, especially if you are over 65:

  • asthma
  • a history of stomach ulcers or bleeding, or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (reflux)
  • a history of heart attack, stroke, blood clots, or are already taking low-dose aspirin to prevent heart disease
  • liver or kidney disease
  • fluid retention
  • a connective tissue disease such as Marfan syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome, or lupus
  • high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or if you smoke.

 

Does Ibuprofen Weaken the Immune System?

Looking at the available research at the time of writing of this article, researchers have found that ibuprofen, along with other drugs such as tylenol, aspirin and naproxen, all strongly inhibit antibody production in human cells in in stimulated human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) in vitro. To be clear, in vitro refers to tests conducted outside of the body, in a test tube so to speak, whereas in vivo refers to tests carried out in a living body.

Why not in vivo testing? Obviously, for ethical reasons, it’s not possible to infect healthy people who have and haven’t taken Ibuprofen (and no other medication) with some form of live disease pathogen to gauge their immune response. They could possibly do it with something else that elicits an immune response, such as a influenza vaccine, and they have. The quoted unpublished research suggests that human subjects vaccinated with influenza vaccine taking NSAIDs had a decrease in antibodies against certain influenza antigens. Further research is required to determine what effect taking ibuprofen at various times, before or after vaccination, has on antibody production.

 

Ibuprofen Immune System Research, the Details

To quote the research conducted by the Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY USA, titled “Ibuprofen and other widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit antibody production in human cells”, published in 2009 (bolded emphasis below is mine).

Quoted abstract:

“The widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) function mainly through inhibition of cyclooxygenases 1 and 2 (Cox-1 and Cox-2). Unlike Cox-1, Cox-2 is considered an inducible and pro-inflammatory enzyme. We previously reported that Cox-2 is upregulated in activated human B lymphocytes and using Cox-2 selective inhibitors that Cox-2 is required for optimal antibody synthesis. It is not known whether commonly used non-prescription and non-Cox-2 selective drugs also influence antibody synthesis. Herein, we tested a variety of Cox-1/Cox-2 non-selective NSAIDs, namely ibuprofen, tylenol, aspirin and naproxen and report that they blunt IgM and IgG synthesis in stimulated human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Ibuprofen had its most profound effects in inhibiting human PBMCs and purified B lymphocyte IgM and IgG synthesis when administered in the first few days after activation. As shown by viability assays, ibuprofen did not kill B cells. The implications of this research are that the use of widely available NSAIDs after infection or vaccination may lower host defense. This may be especially true for the elderly who respond poorly to vaccines and heavily use NSAIDs.”

 

Extract from introduction:

“Herein, we have investigated, (1) the effect of aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and tylenol on antibody synthesis in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells; (2) the time-frame and the concentrations of ibuprofen required to blunt antibody synthesis and (3) the effect of ibuprofen on B cell lymphocytes. Overall, our findings reveal that over-the-counter NSAIDs have potent negative effects on human B lymphocytes and on antibody production.”

 

Extract from conclusion:

The connection between NSAIDs and antibody synthesis is just beginning to be discovered. Given that NSAIDs inhibit Cox activity and Cox-2 is expressed in activated B lymphocytes and is required for optimal antibody production, it is pertinent to predict that NSAID therapy can have repercussions on antibody synthesis. Our preliminary observations (unpublished data) show that human subjects vaccinated with influenza vaccine taking NSAIDs had a decrease in antibody against certain influenza antigens. A full clinical study is required to determine if vaccinated subjects taking NSAIDs, e.g. ibuprofen, at different time points before or after vaccination will show a decrease in antibody synthesis.

In conclusion, we report that a panel of widely used NSAIDs blunts antibody synthesis in human PBMCs and in purified B cells. Ibuprofen’s ability to reduce antibody production was concentration- and time-dependent and likely occurred via Cox-2 inhibition. Our results call for awareness regarding the consequences that NSAIDs can have on immunity. NSAIDs are one of the most commonly used drugs; they are recommended for all age categories, are prescribed for relieving transient pain or in cases of serious inflammatory diseases. By decreasing antibody synthesis, NSAIDs also have the ability to weaken the immune system which can have serious consequences for children, the elderly and the immune-compromised patients.”

 

In a similar US study published in Immunity & Ageing in 2018, “Immune response to influenza vaccination in the elderly is altered by chronic medication use” researchers examined the how the immune responses to the two influenza A virus strains of the trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine (TIV) were affected by patient’s history of using the prescription drugs Metformin, NSAIDs or Statins.

They found evidence for differential antibody (Ab) production, B-cell phenotypic changes, alteration in immune cell proportions in individuals with a history of long-term medication use, compared with non-users. Researchers also noticed a diminished response to the vaccine in the elderly on Metformin, while the patients on NSAIDs or Statins had higher baseline responses compared in comparison, but response levels were still reduced.

 

Assessing Risk

It’s important to recognise that the use of any medication carries some risk and can produce unwanted side effects. Human biochemistry is very complicated, and throwing a man-made chemical into a complex biological system we don’t fully understand will not produce a ‘magic bullet’ effect. What is guaranteed, is that such an action will have some unintended effect.

In respect to reliable information, I suggest you do your own fact checking and search the medical research cited online. Use only authoritative medical research sources for your information (though interpreting it may not be easy without  a background in biomedical science). and not the mass media news channels or any potentially biased sources.

Let’s not be naive, in this money-driven western world where ethics are deemed to be relative, there are plenty of reason for parties with vested interests to misrepresent the facts. According to the Маrkеt US rероrt titled, “Global Іbuрrоfеn Маrkеt bу Туре (UЅР аnd ЕР), Ву Fоrm Туре (Таblе, Сарѕulе, аnd Suspension), Ву Ѕаlеѕ Сhаnnеl (Rеtаіl, Оnlіnе, Нуреrmаrkеt & drug ѕtоrе) аnd bу Rеgіоn – Global Fоrесаѕt tо 2028.”, the global іbuрrоfеn mаrkеt іѕ estimated at UЅ$ 6,888.4 million in 2018 and projected tо rеасh UЅ$ 8,716.8 million bу 2028.

 

Medical Disclaimer . THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INTENDED FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING MEDICAL ADVICE. All information, content, and material of this website is for informational purposes only and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.

 

References:

  1. Drugs.com: Ibuprofen – https://www.drugs.com/ibuprofen.html
  2. Australian Government Department of Health, Healthdirect: Active ingredient: ibuprofen – https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/medicines/medicinal-product/aht,21286/ibuprofen
  3. PharmGKB (managed at Stanford University): Ibuprofen Pathway, Pharmacodynamics – https://www.pharmgkb.org/pathway/PA166121942
  4. Ibuprofen – Mark G. Papich DVM, MS, DACVCP, in Saunders Handbook of Veterinary Drugs (Fourth Edition), 2016
  5. Bancos S, Bernard MP, Topham DJ, Phipps RP. Ibuprofen and other widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs inhibit antibody production in human cells. Cell Immunol. 2009;258(1):18–28. doi:10.1016/j.cellimm.2009.03.007
  6. Agarwal D, Schmader KE, Kossenkov AV, Doyle S, Kurupati R, Ertl HCJ. Immune response to influenza vaccination in the elderly is altered by chronic medication use. Immun Ageing. 2018 Aug 31;15:19. doi: 10.1186/s12979-018-0124-9. PMID: 30186359; PMCID: PMC6119322.
  7. Market US – Global Іbuрrоfеn Маrkеt bу Туре (UЅР аnd ЕР), Ву Fоrm Туре (Таblе, Сарѕulе, аnd ѕuѕреnѕіоn), Ву Ѕаlеѕ Сhаnnеl (Rеtаіl, Оnlіnе, Нуреrmаrkеt & drug ѕtоrе) аnd bу Rеgіоn – Global Fоrесаѕt tо 2028.

 

 

 

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Emergency Survival Prepper Gardening – Part 3, When to Sow Seeds and Plant Seedlings

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Sometimes governments do give sound advice to their nations… During World War I and World War II, in a an effort to reduce the public demand on food supplies and leave more food to send to the soldiers fighting overseas, governments encouraged their people to plant ‘victory gardens’.

A victory garden, also known as a a war garden, was a garden grown in people’s homes and in public parks to produce vegetables, herbs and fruit with the aim of aiding the war effort and boost morale.

Food grown in public spaces? For a bit of a perspective check, before the industrial revolution (1760-1840) which pulled people’s work into cities and pushed food production out into rural areas, food was always grown close to where people lived!

Despite all the nonsense we hear downplaying the value of urban agriculture, victory gardens worked well enough for the US, Canada, UK, Australia and Germany that they used them over both wartime periods, and they work just as well today to produce food.

With the panic from the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading, people are realising that our food production systems aren’t as resilient as they assumed, and that ignorant panic buying by a small proportion of the population can disrupt the just-in-time food supply chains used almost universally in the modern world, even if there’s plenty of food to go round.

Starting your own garden and growing your own food can be an empowering exercise in increasing self reliance. But where to start?

In this series of seven article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started growing food in an emergency!

Previous articles in this series:

 

Step 3 – Sowing Seeds and Planting Seedlings at The Right Time of the Year

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Once you’ve selected a good location to start a food garden, and prepared the soil in the garden bed to make it suitable for growing plants, the next step is to plant it up!

Before any planting is done though, there are a few questions that we need to answer:

  • What vegetables and herbs do we wish to grow, and are they in season?
  • Should we plant seeds or seedlings?
  • How much produce would we like to harvest?
  • How often would we like to harvest our produce?

Remember, you can’t be prepared if you don’t plan! What you do now will determine how much food you’ll have at a future date, so it’s best to be systematic. Being impulsive and taking an ad-hoc approach with matters such as this will always lead to situations of being unprepared.

In this article we’ll look at everything that needs to be done to ensure that we get a consistent harvest month after month to meet our food needs.

 

Seedlings or Seeds, What’s the Difference, Which is Better?

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Growing vegetables from seedlings is much easier than growing from vegetables seed, because the initial work of sowing seeds and raising seedlings is already done for you. If you’ve never done any food gardening before and don’t want to be needlessly discouraged at the outset, it’s best to begin with seedlings. A punnet of seedlings usually contains around 6-8 young plants.

The advantage of seeds is that they’re much cheaper, you get a lot of seeds in a packet, and they can be planted repeatedly throughout the growing season. Be aware that all seeds have a limited life, they don’t keep forever, so there’s no point hoarding them! For further information on how long different seeds can be kept, please see my article – Seed Saving – How Long Can You Keep Seeds?

Regardless of whether you choose seedlings or seeds to grow food, there are some rules of nature which all of humanity has been forced to follow since the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, and these rules are dictated by the seasons of the planet we all know well, spring, summer, autumn and winter, together with climate.

Nature decides when certain vegetables are planted, and when they can’t be planted, and there’s nothing much we can do about that.

We can artificially extend the productive season by growing warm season plants in greenhouses, which allow us to start warm season vegetables a bit earlier and keep them producing further into the season when the weather begins to cools down. Large greenhouses can get expensive, and artificially heated greenhouses are out of the reach of most people in terms of purchase and running costs!

What this means is we have to grow plants when they’re in season! How do we know what to grow when? We use a garden calendar.

 

Know What to Plant When, Using a Garden Calendar

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Ready to plant seeds or seedlings?

  • It’s important to plant seedlings or sow seeds in the correct season, as some plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and chillies grow in the warmer seasons (spring-summer), while others such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli grow in the cooler seasons (autumn-winter), while a few, like lettuce can grow almost all year.
  • You can’t just plant at any time during the correct season though, you must also plant seedlings or sow seeds in the correct months of their season.
  • You can plant seedlings or sow seeds every month, all year round, but the types of vegetables and herbs you can plant changes from month to month, which is why there’s a gardening calendar for each and every month of the year.

 

To know which vegetables and herbs are in season, and when they should be planted, gardeners use a gardening calendar.

You will need a gardening calendar for your location, different climates (cool, temperate, subtropical, tropical and arid) affect the planting times and what can be grown.

Gardening calendars are based around the monthly cycle, and a good gardening calendar will tell you:

  • what weather to expect for that month
  • gardening tasks that need to be carried out during that month
  • what seeds to sow, where to sow them (in the ground in in a seed tray) and how many weeks till harvest

 

Where Can I Get a Free Gardening Calendar?

  1. Check with your local gardening groups, community gardens or local government, many have free gardening calendars.
  2. Online gardening calendars are great as long as you select the correct climate zone for your location, ! recommend the website Gardenate, its very good, and also lets you search by food plants to see which months they can be sown as a seed or planted as a seedling.
  3. I produce a free gardening calendar for Melbourne Australia, which is where I’m based. I’m in a temperate climate, and some US readers who live in similar climates use my calendar and ‘flip=over’ the months so it makes sense.

 

Converting months to seasons for different hemispheres

If you’re a gardener from the Southern hemisphere (such as Australia, New Zealand) reading gardening material from the Northern hemisphere (US, UK, Canada) and need to convert seasons to months, I’ve created the seasonal conversion table shown below to make the task easier.

season timing and conversion chart

Note: click on graphic above to enlarge and save image, or download the PDF version of the gardening season timing and conversion chart for printing

Want to learn more about the various categories of seasons and how the seasons come about, see my article  – Converting Months to Seasons – Northern and Southern Hemisphere, Meteorological and Astronomical

 

How to Use a Gardening Calendar for Seedlings Rather Than Seeds

Gardening calendars are typically seed sowing calendars. What if you’re planting seedlings?

Seedlings are usually 4-6 weeks ahead of seeds, which simply means that if you plant a seed, it takes 4-6 weeks to grow into a decent seedling

So when you buy seedlings to plant, and want to know what’s in season, refer to the previous month’s calendar, because that’s when these plants were seeds!

Ethical garden nurseries will only sell seeds and seedlings when they are in season, and take them off the shelves when they’re not, the big chain stores usually don’t do that so keep this in mind.

Once we’ve selected the appropriate seeds or seedlings that are in season, it’s planting time!

 

Sowing Seeds and Planting Seedlings, How Much and How Often?

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How much lettuce do you need all at once? (Image credits – Wikipedia commons Rodney Burton / Lettuce harvest, Methwold Common, Norfolk / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Many new gardeners buy a packet of seeds and plant the lot all at once, never do that!

If you do that with lettuce seeds, of which there are a few hundred in a pack, you’ll end up with at least 100 lettuce plants after 8-12 weeks (2-3 months), and they’ll all be ready to harvest around the same time, but they only keep for a week in the vegetable crisper drawer of the refrigerator.

Similarly, you’d never go to the supermarket and purchase a dozen heads of cabbage all at once, so it makes no sense to plant that many all at once, because that’s what will happen after 8-15 weeks.

With a pack of seeds you decide how many you will sow, but with a punnet of seedlings usually contains around 6-9 plants, what happens of you buy one and don’t need to use all the plants all at once?

It is possible to only use part of the punnet to buy some time, and plant the rest a fortnight later. The other option is to give the spare plants to friends, or to swap their surplus seedlings with them. This is a real community-building gesture which fosters generosity and a culture of helping each other out. This is how resilient communities function.

 

Planning Seed Sowing and Seedling Planting to Meet Your Food Needs

There’s a sensible way to sow seeds and plant seedlings which makes best use of available garden space and minimises food waste:

  • Only put in as much plants (seeds or seedlings) every two weeks as you would buy from a greengrocer or supermarket every two weeks!
  • Put a mix of plants into the garden, ones with short harvest periods, medium harvest periods, and long harvest periods to keep the supply of food constant.

If you use ten lettuce plants each fortnight (2-week period), then plants a bit more than ten lettuce plants each fortnight, it’s that simple.

Using this method with the various vegetables that are in season, you’ll have a garden in which there will be something to harvest each and every week, and there will be space to plant more each fortnight.

It’s a good idea to plant a bit extra than you might use, just in case any plants die for any reason or get eaten by pests. Any excess may be able to be preserved, or swapped within the community for other food you may not have grown yourself.

If we look at any gardening calendar, we see that the time to harvest is listed. This is how many weeks it will take from when we sow the seeds to when the plants are ready to be harvested.

With seedlings, the time-to-harvest is 4-6 weeks less than seeds because they’ve already had 4-6 weeks of growing time when they’re purchased. Many seedling labels give an estimate of time-to-harvest, along with plant spacing and sun requirements.

 

Planting a Diverse Food Garden for Increased Resilience and Continuous Cropping

Looking at the gardening calendar for any month, we see that some plants can be harvested very quickly, radishes are ready to eat in 5-7 weeks, which is a bit more than a month, while garlic takes 17-25 weeks, which is almost half a year!

If you fill the garden with short harvest time plants, you’ll be forever harvesting and replanting, but conversely, a garden filled with long harvest period plants will have you waiting for ages while the garden produces nothing at all. By growing various vegetables in the garden, there is always something to pick on any day, and the garden is far more resilient. You’re not placing all your eggs in one basket so to speak. If there’s a bad season and one vegetable crop fails, there will be plenty more to carry you through.

By having a range of food crops to rely on each season, we eliminate any single point of failure in a garden. This approach to creating resilient food production systems can also be used for fruit tree orchards and any other productive crops, and is described in the permaculture design (ecological gardening design) principle ‘Each Important Function is Supported by Many Elements’.

So, to summarise, for successful food gardening, the goal is not to fill all available space all at once, but to plant a variety of crops at the same rate that you would harvest them, allowing for some surplus as a bit of insurance against mishaps. This approach will provide continuous cropping, and a regular supply of produce to the kitchen table!

Once we know what seeds we’ll be planting, how many, and how often, the next step is to sow the seeds, as discussed in the next article  – Part 4, How to Sow Seeds Directly Into the Ground and Into Seedling Trays.

 

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What Are The Best Rocks to Use for Building Wicking Beds

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One of the questions that many people have when constructing wicking beds is what are the best rocks to use in the water reservoir section underneath. Coarse scoria is the recommended material, but are there any reasonable substitutes?

As a bit of background, a wicking bed is a self-watering raised garden bed which works by the principle of sub-irrigation, where the water supply sits underneath and is wicked upward into the soil in the container above. It is essentially nothing more than a large-scale version of a self-watering pot, and as most gardeners know, self watering pots have been around for decades.

If you would like step-by-step instructions on how to build and maintain a wicking bed, please see my article – Wicking Bed Construction, How to Build a Self-Watering Wicking Bed.

 

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A completed wicking bed ready to be planted up.

 

This is a diagram of how a wicking bed works. The water reservoir at the bottom is filled with coarse grade scoria – this is a porous volcanic rock that fills the water reservoir, and holds up the heavy layer or soil above it. The geotextile fabric layer separates the soil at the top from the scoria water storage area below.

Wicking Bed Design

 

Why is Coarse Scoria the Best for Wicking Beds?

The purpose of the water reservoir at the bottom of a wicking bed is to hold water, not rocks!

Coarse grade scoria is used in the wicking bed water reservoir for the following reasons:

  • Scoria is porous, it’s really light because it’s filled with air holes holes like a sponge, which can fill with water and let water drain through, so there’s less rock and more space for water in a given volume compared to other materials.
  • Scoria is extremely strong for its very light weight, it can hold up a large volume of soil easily without any risk of collapsing, and being light it keeps the overall weight of the completed wicking bed down so it doesn’t stress any components of the structure of the raised bed, or overstretch the pond liner. If the wicking bed is used on a deck or rooftop garden, keeping the weight down is critical!
  • Scoria in the coarse grades is made up of rather big pieces, which all grip onto each other and lock together leaving large air spaces between them, allowing more water to be stored in the water reservoir with less space being occupied by rocks.

 

Can Other Rocks be Used as Substitutes?

Scoria is classed as a structural lightweight aggregate according to the ASTM C 330 Standard Specification for Lightweight Aggregates for Structural Concrete, where:

  • fine aggregates have a bulk density of  less than 70 lb/ft³ (1120 kg/m³)
  • coarse aggregates have a bulk density of  less than 55 lb/ft³ (880 kg/m³)

Put simply, a cubic metre of coarse scoria weighs less than 880kg.

Many people ask if gravel can be used in wicking beds. The bulk density of loose coarse gravel is around 1522 kg/m³, in other words a cubic metre of gravel will weigh around 1.5 tonnes, almost twice the weight of the scoria, but without the water holding capacity, because gravel is sold, it’s not porous.

Using gravel will increase the weight and reduce the water holding capacity of a wicking bed, so it will need watering more often in hot weather, and can’t be left as long between watering visits. So, it will work, but badly…

 

How to Calculate the Volume of Scoria for a Wicking Bed

You will need enough to fill the raised garden bed to a height of 20cm (8”). To work out the volume in litres,use the following formula: (length of garden bed (cm) x width of garden bed (cm) x 20cm)/1000, so for example a 2mx1m garden bed will take (200*100*20)/1000 = 400L of scoria. or 0.4 cubic metres.

 

The Other Wicking Bed Question – What Can I Use for the Geotextile Fabric Layer?

The geotextile fabric layer is there to stop the soil from falling into the scoria water storage area, and filling it with mud, it doesn’t do anything else. It doesn’t need to wick at all, it’s just a barrier to keep the soil and water layers separate.

A good geotextile fabric is Marix weedmat, used doubled over, as in two layers of the material are used. It feels like fabric and lets water through but keeps the soil out. It’s deigned to be buried and to last beneath the soil.

Even shadecloth would work if the holes are fine enough to prevent soil washing through, use the 90% shade rating shadecloth if choosing this material. Shade cloth isn’t designed to be buried, so I’m unsure how well it will last underground, but this would be the most often used second choice material in wicking bed construction.

Don’t use pond felt, that’s for lining ponds to prevent the lining being punctured, and don’t use capillary matting, that’s used to wick water to sub-irrigate seedling punnets in commercial greenhouses, it’s very expensive, way to narrow and is best used for making self-watering capillary trays.

 

 

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Emergency Survival Prepper Gardening – Part 2, How to Prepare the Soil

Sometimes governments do give sound advice to their nations… During World War I and World War II, in a an effort to reduce the public demand on food supplies and leave more food to send to the soldiers fighting overseas, governments encouraged their people to plant ‘victory gardens’.

A victory garden, also known as a a war garden, was a garden grown in people’s homes and in public parks to produce vegetables, herbs and fruit with the aim of aiding the war effort and boost morale.

Food grown in public spaces? For a bit of a perspective check, before the industrial revolution (1760-1840) which pulled people’s work into cities and pushed food production out into rural areas, food was always grown close to where people lived!

Despite all the nonsense we hear downplaying the value of urban agriculture, victory gardens worked well enough for the US, Canada, UK, Australia and Germany that they used them over both wartime periods, and they work just as well today to produce food.

With the panic from the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading, people are realising that our food production systems aren’t as resilient as they assumed, and that ignorant panic buying by a small proportion of the population can disrupt the just-in-time food supply chains used almost universally in the modern world, even if there’s plenty of food to go round.

Starting your own garden and growing your own food can be an empowering exercise in increasing self reliance. But where to start?

In this series of seven article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started growing food in an emergency!

Previous articles in this series:

Step 2 – Preparing the Soil for Growing Food

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The secret to successful food gardening is rich, healthy soil. What goes into the soil goes into the food coming out of it! Plants take mineral nutrients and water from the soil, along with carbon dioxide from the air and sunlight from the sun to feed themselves and produce food for us.

How do you rejuvenate a neglected garden bed?

  1. Weed the garden bed if it’s filled with grass and other unwanted plants.
  2. Restore soil fertility by digging in manure, this acts as a slow-release fertiliser which provides plants with the food they need food to grow.
  3. Restore soil structure by digging in compost, as plants grow better when they can easily push their roots through loose , friable soil, and water soaks through the soil much more easily to reach plant roots.

 

Choosing the Right Fertiliser

Manures – I like to use organic cow manure, it’s cheap and works well. I avoid sheep manure because it tends to contain weed seeds and fills the garden with weeds. Please be aware that all manures which are sold at garden centres are composted. Don’t use fresh manures in your garden as they’re too strong and can burn plant roots.

Balanced slow-release fertilisers – Many other fertilisers can be purchased to be used to feed your garden, always use slow-release balanced fertilisers which come as pellets, prills, or powders.

Liquid fertilisers – Don’t use liquid fertilisers as the main feed for the garden, they’re just used as a quick additional supplemental feed to use in the weeks after feeding with proper fertiliser, and just wash away.

Organic fertilisers – It’s a good idea to use natural or organic fertilisers, because the synthetic chemical fertilisers tend to force-feed plants, making them soft, sappy and weak, which makes them more vulnerable to pest attack. Also, what you put into your soil goes into your food and into your body!

For more information on feeding the garden and choosing the best fertilisers, see the article Understanding Fertilisers – How and when to feed your garden.

 

To Dig or Not to Dig?

Don’t like digging? There is no need to dig and turn all the soil over to plant a garden, that’s a really inefficient and unsustainable traditional practice carried over from large scale farming, it ruins the soil by killing all the beneficial microorganisms (critters) in the soil which plants depend upon to grow. Many gardeners avoid the back-breaking work of digging these days by using the technique known as No-dig Gardening, or Lasagna Gardening in the US.

 

How to Fix Common Soil Problems

Compacted soil – dig in some compost to improve soil structure and drainage. How much compost should you add? Mix in the proportions of 25% compost to 75% soil. If you add too much compost, the garden will sink down in soil level as the compost breaks down. If you add less compost, it still helps, so add what you have! You only need to dig in compost to a depth of 30cm (1’) as most vegetables are very shallow-rooted, with 80% of their roots in the first 30cm of soil.

Sandy soil – dig in some compost to improve moisture and nutrient retention. Once again, use proportions of 25% compost to 75% soil.

Clay soil – dig in some compost to improve drainage. Once again, use proportions of 25% compost to 75% soil. Gypsum can also be used to break up clay soils, it works by causing dispersed clay to clump, but organic matter must be added in addition to gypsum because organic matter needs to be incorporated between the clay particles to improve the soil. Without the organic matter, gypsum just created clumped clay, which is not soil!

Be aware that gypsum only can break up sodic (sodium-containing) clay soils, it doesn’t work on calcium-rich clay soils at all.

The simple way to test clay soil is to place a small soil sample in a shallow dish filled with water. Leave it there for 10-30 minutes to test clay dispersion in water. Calcium clays don’t disperse, whereas sodic clays disperse strongly, as shown below. The water around the edges of dispersive soil samples will be cloudy and milky-looking due to dispersed clay.

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Dispersion test in dish of water of clay soils that are non-sodic to highly sodic (from left to right)

 

Improving Water and Nutrient Retention in Soils

Digging organic matter such as compost and manure into the soil helps with moisture retention, but most organic matter eventually breaks down and needs replacing.

During drought conditions and heatwaves, soils tend to lose moisture easily, so a once-off solution is very helpful. One permanent way to improve soil moisture retention it to add the following soil amendments:

Zeolite is a naturally occurring mineral with a porous crystalline structure and an incredibly high surface area, allowing it to hold up to 60% of its weight in water. It also binds nutrients and slowly releases them, making fertiliser last longer, and prevents nutrients washing out of the soil.

Biochar is a highly porous soil amendment material which similarly increases water retention and reduces fertiliser leaching.

Both zeolite and biochar work indefinitely and don’t need to be replaced. These soil amendment materials are a much better option than many synthetic soil wetting agents which only act for a short time before losing effectiveness, and are nothing more than detergents which are bad for the soil.

 

Compost Mass Production Made Easy

It should be evident by now that the way to build good productive soil is to add lots of organic matter to it, and a really easy way to do that is to add compost to the soil.

In a food emergency, large areas of garden need to be prepared quickly to commence food production ASAP. A good amount of high quality compost can radically transform sub-standard soil into a rich growing medium overnight. Traditional slow composting is not viable for generating compost for situations such as this because it can take weeks or months, and the quantity of organic material is insufficient due to loss of volume, as the compost that is finally produced is only 20% or 1/5 of the volume of original ingredients.

To put it another way, with slow composting, a cubic metre of materials only yields 200L of compost after a lengthy wait, and the final product may contain weed seeds and pathogens (plant diseases) which may contaminate a new garden!

There’s a far better solution though… It’s possible to make compost in 18 days which is of a much higher quality, which is weed-free and pathogen-free, with no volume loss, so one cubic metre of materials will produce in cubic metre of compost! Please follow this link to learn how to make compost in 18 days using the Berkeley hot composting method.

 

Smart Water Planning

Some plants such as herbs , which are fairly close to wild plants, can get by with very little water, fruit trees need a bit more water but not too much, while most vegies, which have shallow roots, need lots of water.

Consider that many Mediterranean culinary herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage and savory love hot, dry conditions, and if there is a location that might be too harsh for vegetables, it might make an ideal place for a herb garden.

When planning what goes into each garden bed, it’s best to keep all the plants that need lots of water together, that way you can heavily water the garden beds that need the most water, and not waste water on too many garden beds where it’s not needed.

Grouping plants by water requirements not only helps save water, but also prevents overwatering those plants which don’t like too much water and can get root rot if the soil becomes too wet.

 

How Big Should a Garden Bed Be?

Don’t make garden beds so large that you have to stand inside them to garden. There should be paths around garden beds designed for people to stand on and access all parts of a garden bed. People have no place standing in garden beds, treading on the soil just compacts it, destroying soil structure. Plants don’t grow very well in compacted soil because they can’t push their roots through the soil very easily to seek out water and nutrients, and water doesn’t soak into compacted soil very well to reach the plant roots.

Ideally a garden bed should be no more than 1.2m (4‘) wide if it’s accessed from both sides, as this width allows an adult to reach just past the centre from any side, giving optimum accessibility to the gardening area.

What is a garden is against a a wall or fence? A garden bed should be no more than 60cm (2’) wide if it’s accessed from one side only, which is half of the width of a bed that can be accessed from both sides.

For more information on the best sizing of garden beds, including garden beds for children, see the article – Raised Garden Beds – What Size is Best?

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Garden bed ergonomics, if you can’t reach past the middle, it’s too deep, and you’ll end up standing in the garden bed to use all the space available!

Planning a Garden, Start Small and Build Repeatable Units

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Starting a new garden should be a manageable task, so start with a single garden bed, get that working right, then build more of the same, replicating the first successful implementation.

If you have a large site, plan where the garden beds will go, where fruit trees will go, and whether you want separate herb garden beds and vegetable garden beds to save water.

Some gardeners make the mistake of building too many garden beds all at once, and find that they can’t manage them all. To avoid this problem, after you’ve built your first garden bed, add one or two extra garden beds at a time, and continue doing so until you either have enough garden beds that you can manage, or you can’t manage any more.

 

Once the garden beds are built, the next step is to sow seeds or plant seedlings, as discussed in the next article – Part 3, Sowing Seeds and Planting Seedlings at The Right Time of the Year.

 

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Emergency Survival Prepper Gardening – Part 1, Selecting a Location for a Food Garden

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Sometimes governments do give sound advice to their nations… During World War I and World War II, in a an effort to reduce the public demand on food supplies and leave more food to send to the soldiers fighting overseas, governments encouraged their people to plant ‘victory gardens’.

A victory garden, also known as a a war garden, was a garden grown in people’s homes and in public parks to produce vegetables, herbs and fruit with the aim of aiding the war effort and boost morale.

Food grown in public spaces? For a bit of a perspective check, before the industrial revolution (1760-1840) which pulled people’s work into cities and pushed food production out into rural areas, food was always grown close to where people lived!

Despite all the nonsense we hear downplaying the value of urban agriculture, victory gardens worked well enough for the US, Canada, UK, Australia and Germany that they used them over both wartime periods, and they work just as well today to produce food.

With the panic from the COVID-19 coronavirus spreading, people are realising that our food production systems aren’t as resilient as they assumed, and that ignorant panic buying by a small proportion of the population can disrupt the just-in-time food supply chains used almost universally in the modern world, even if there’s plenty of food to go round.

Starting your own garden and growing your own food can be an empowering exercise in increasing self reliance. But where to start?

In this series of seven article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to get started growing food in an emergency!

 

Step 1 – Selecting a Site for a New Garden Bed

Plants need soil, light and water to grow. As a general rule, most vegetables, herbs and fruit need full sun for most of the day. When selecting a location for an edible food garden, try to find a sunny spot for a garden.

Please be aware that a garden that is in full sun in summer may be in shade in winter.

  • In summer the sun is almost directly overhead at midday.
  • In winter the sun the sun is low on the horizon at midday.
  • In both spring and autumn, the sun is at a level between the two at midday.

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How Much Sun is Required to Grow Food?

Lots of light – Any vegetables which flower and fruit, such as beans, capsicums, chillies, cucumbers, eggplants, melons, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and zucchini will need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun (full sun) a day. The less sun, the less productive they will be, and when the sunlight exposure becomes too low, they will simply not produce!

Moderate light – Root crops, such as beetroot, carrots, onions and potatoes can grow in slightly less light and can produce in locations that only receive 4-6 hours of direct sun each day.

Low light – Leafy green vegetables, such as lettuce, pak choi, salad rocket (arugula), silverbeet (chard) and spinach will grow in part shade, dappled sun, or in shaded locations which only receive 3-4 hours of direct sun a day.

Fruit trees require a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight.

  • Evergreen trees such as citrus need a location which receives this much light all year round.
  • Deciduous trees which drop their leaves in winter such as apples only need this amount of sun during the spring-summer-autumn period, it doesn’t matter if they’re in deep shade in winter as they are dormant and don’t have leaves.

Subtropical and tropical fruit trees such as guavas tolerate part shade locations as long as the climate supports their growth. Trees such as red cherry guava (also known as red guava, strawberry guava) and yellow cherry guava (also know as lemon guava) will grow in temperate climates.

Brambleberries, gooseberries and currants prefer sun in the morning and midday, with part shade or dappled sun in the afternoon otherwise the leaves and  berries get scorched by the hot afternoon sun.

Grapes, kiwifruit, passionfruit and blueberries require a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to fruit well.

Most herbs prefer lots of sun, but some herbs can grow in part shade, such as the mint family. It’s even possible to grow quite a few herbs indoors, see my article – 15 Herbs You Can Grow Indoors

 

Food Garden Locations to Avoid

  • Steep slopes, as water tends to run off the surface rather than soak into the soil, leaving the soil quite dry.
  • Very low areas which tend to get waterlogged, as soil which stays too wet for prolonged periods causes the roots of vegetables to rot, they’re not water plants! Grow edible aquatic plants such as taro, watercress, arrowhead, water chestnuts, water spinach, and brooklime in these areas.
  • Areas beneath or alongside large trees and shrubs, as they will shade out vegetables, and aggressive tree roots will out-compete the shallow vegetable roots by taking up all the water and nutrients, leaving none for vegetables to grow.

 

Solutions for Garden Beds Over Invasive Tree Roots

If it is not possible to avoid tree roots, there are three solutions:

  1. Using irrigation for regular watering and frequently feeding plants with fertiliser.
  2. Placing a raised garden bed on top of plastic root barrier material.
  3. Building a self-watering wicking bed garden.
  4. Digging or cutting a root-barrier trench around between the garden bed and tree to discourage invasive surface tree roots. Plastic root barrier sheet can be put into trench for a more permanent solution.

 

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No Garden Bed, No Problem – How to Grow Food When You Don’t Have A Garden!

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A container garden utilising pots and self-watering located against a sun-facing wall can be very productive, especially if support structures are used to make use of vertical space.

 

Container growing – It’s possible to grow a wide range of produce in containers, pots and planters – vegetables, berries and even dwarf fruit trees can be planted in pots. The advantage of growing in pots is that they can be moved around to receive more sun, or moved to protected locations during extreme weather such as winds and heatwaves. As long as a container has holes in the bottom for drainage, it can be used to grow food. Cutting a 220L (44 gallon) plastic food drum is a cheap solution to creating two very large containers equivalent in size to a half-wine barrel. Another cheap solution are grow bags, heavy-duty woven plastic bags with handles that have a capacity of 100 litres or more, they’re used to grow advanced trees in.

Hydroponics –  is a system of growing plants without soil. It’s an expensive method, as the equipment and nutrient solutions can get costly, but it’s a possibility. Hydroponic systems can be set up outdoors, or in greenhouses, they don’t need to be located inside with costly electric lighting.

Wicking beds – are self watering raised garden beds, they’re essentially scaled-up self watering pots and are only suitable for vegetables and herbs, but they’re a great solution for hot, dry locations, or in places where it’s not possible to water frequently. I’ve included step-by step instructions on how to build a wicking bed here – Wicking Bed Construction, How to Build a Self-Watering Wicking Bed.

No-dig garden built over concrete or asphalt – is an easy way to create a garden bed in a location when there is no access to soil. The essence of no-dig gardening is soil building. Yes, that’s right, creating your own soil from organic material. You can find instructions on how to build a no-dig garden bed here – No Dig Gardening, Sustainable Gardening With Less Effort

Community gardens – gardening in public spaces is possible, and community gardens offer two models, the first being one where each person is allocated their own garden bed to grow whatever they please, the second being one where everyone works on every bed in the community garden and shares the produce.

Guerrilla gardening – gardening in public spaces is possible without the blessing, permission and red-tape of local government. Look for spots that are out of immediate public sight that also get receive water and light. They’re easy to identify, the weeds grow much better in these places, they’ll be taller, greener and more lush than the surrounding area. Just make sure that the soil is not contaminated with heavy metals, hydrocarbons or herbicides (weedkillers)! People have the right to produce their own food in the way they choose rather than accept the substandard or chemically contaminated offerings from profit-based industrial agriculture, that’s the whole idea behind the concept of food sovereignty!

 

Once a location for a garden is selected, the next step is to prepare the soil, as discussed in the next article – Part 2, How to Prepare the Soil for Growing Food.

 

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How COVID-19 Coronavirus Spreads and What You Can Do to Control It

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The general public can play a significant role in reducing the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, it’s everyone’s responsibility, not just the government’s, and everyone has a role to play.

 

Epidemic Control is a Community Effort, Why Selfishness is Dangerous!

Since epidemics can affect everyone, the most vulnerable people are the weakest links in the population, which is why everyone needs to look after everyone else. Selfishness is extremely counterproductive!

If greedy people hoard hand sanitizer, tissue paper, toilet paper and protective masks, they leave other without necessary hygiene supplies which reduce virus transmission. If more people get infected by the the COVID-19 coronavirus, everyone is at a much higher risk of becoming infected. We need everyone to have these hygiene products and to be using them regularly, they don’t help anyone stockpiled in some ignorant person’s garage!

In permaculture, an ecological design system, we have three ethical principles which are very relevant in times such as this, care for the people, care for the planet, and only use your fair share of resources, leaving enough for others and sharing the surplus.

By understanding how the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads, and how to counteract all of its paths of transmission through all the hygiene and disinfection methods available, we’re better able to contribute to the control of this global epidemic.

 

How the COVID-19 Coronavirus Spreads

This COVID-19 coronavirus has various means of transmission, in this article we will look at each one in detail and discuss available controls.

Respiratory droplets in the air

The COVID-19 coronavirus is mainly spread through respiratory droplets in the air, which are produced when people cough or sneeze, and these tiny droplets suspended in the air carrying the virus can remain viable for up to three hours.

What You Can Do:

  1. The first way to minimise this risk is social distancing, keeping a safe distance away from people. The suggested distance is 1.5m in Australia and 6’ (1.8m) in the US.
  2. The second ways to minimise this risk is to use a respirator mask with a Australia/NZ rating of P2 or P3 (equivalent US rating of N95 or N99). Note: surgical masks to do filter out small droplets in the air which carry bacteria and viruses, they are ineffective, and are only suitable for covering the coughs of infected patients.In some cities in China, everyone is required to wear masks when going out in public, even if they’re healthy, in order to reduce the possibility of people who may be infected but don’t know it coughing or sneezing out the virus into the air and infecting others.
  3. The third is to to minimise this risk is by sneezing and coughing into a tissue or your elbow.

 

Contact with infected people

The COVID-19 coronavirus can remain viable on contaminated surfaces for hours to days depending on the material, so people are advised not to touch their faces and mouths, especially after touching items and surfaces in public areas.

What You Can Do:

  1. The first way to minimise this risk is by washing hands regularly, with soap and water, for at least twenty seconds. Hands should always be washed in the following instances:
    > After blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing
    > After using the restroom
    > Before eating or preparing food
    > After contact with animals or pets
    > Before and after providing routine care for another person who needs assistance (e.g., a child)
  2. If hand-washing facilities are not available, the recommendation is to use hand sanitiser which contains at least 60% alcohol.
  3. Avoid touching your face, especially mouth and eyes.
  4. Stay home if you think you might be sick, and consult with a healthcare professional..
  5. Another way of minimising this risk is to disinfect surfaces. A study by researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Princeton University and UCLA published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests the coronavirus is viable in aerosols such as respiratory droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes for up to three hours. If a person infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus coughs on or touches a surface, it can become contaminated, and the virus was found to be viable on surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to two to three days, on cardboard up to 24 hours. and on copper up to four hours, all which suggests that people could become infected through the air and after touching contaminated objects.The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends daily disinfection for frequently touched surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.

    Disinfection of surfaces can be carried out using the following, which need to be in contact with the surface or item for 30 seconds to a minute to be effective:

    > 0.1% sodium hypochlorite (diluted household bleach)
    > alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol
    > hydrogen peroxide with a concentration of  at least 0.5%

    Note – use an appropriate disinfectant for the surface being treated to avoid damaging it!

    Please see the section below for more information on how to use disinfectants.

 

Faecal transmission

Yes,  COVID-19 coronavirus may spread through poo! According to Chinese researchers, COVID-19 coronavirus is shed in the faeces of infected people, which may help explain why it has spread so fast. So, to not be too blunt about it, good toilet hygiene practices are very important to prevent the spread of the virus.

What You Can Do:

  1. Wash your hands after using the bathroom.
  2. Use good toilet hygiene practices, and toilet paper is an integral part of that.

 

How Dilute and Use Disinfectants for COVID-19 Coronavirus Control

The following instructions explain how to dilute and use bleach, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide for disinfection.

Why dilute disinfectants? They go further and last longer, which is important when there are shortages, and alcohol works better diluted.

 

Household Bleach

The required concentration for disinfection is 0.1% sodium hypochlorite, to dilute common household bleach for COVID-19 coronavirus the US CDC, recommends preparing a bleach solution by mixing:

  • US imperial measurements – 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per (US liquid) gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water
  • metric measurements – 4 teaspoons (20ml) bleach per litre of water

Once bleach is mixed with water, use it within 24 hours, as its disinfecting ability fades with time.

Non-porous items such as plastic toys can be immersed in diluted bleach for 30 seconds to disinfect them.

Leave diluted bleach solution on household surfaces that won’t be damaged by it for 10 minutes or more to disinfect.

Don’t use diluted bleach in place of hand sanitizer or to wash your hands, as it’s very harsh on the skin.

 

Alcohol Solutions

Various alcohol solutions, such as ethanol (methylated spirits), or isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) with at least 70% alcohol can be used for COVID-19 coronavirus disinfection.

For alcohol to be an effective disinfectant, in needs to be in contact with a surface or item for at least 30 seconds. The reason not to use pure (100%) alcohol is because evaporates too quickly for this purpose.

100% alcohol can be diluted with water to make 70% alcohol, just combine 700ml of alcohol with 300ml of water to make up a litre of 70% alcohol solution.

Solutions of 70% alcohol must be kept in a sealed bottle to prevent evaporation, and can be stored, the potency doesn’t fade away with time like it does with diluted bleach.

Don’t use 70% alcohol in place of hand sanitizer or to wash your hands, as it’s very harsh on the skin.

 

Making Your Own Hand Sanitizer With Rubbing Alcohol

The final hand sanitizer formulation needs to contain 60% or more alcohol to be effective.

To make your own hand sanitizer, mix the following ingredients into a bowl in the proportions listed:

  • 2/3-cup of Rubbing alcohol (99% isopropyl alcohol)
  • 1/3-cup of Aloe vera gel

Stir the ingredients together to mix them, then pour into a clean squeeze or pump bottle.

This creates a mix of 66.6% alcohol to 33.3% Aloe vera gel. If you have isopropyl alcohol which is les than 99%, use proportionately less Aloe vera gel.

 

Hydrogen Peroxide

The required concentration for effective disinfection of surface is at least 0.5% hydrogen peroxide.

The hydrogen peroxide solutions sold are usually around 3%, and can be used straight or diluted to 0.5% concentration. To dilute 3% hydrogen peroxide to a 0.5% solution, add 10ml (2 teaspoons) to 50ml of water to make 60ml of 0.5% hydrogen peroxide solution, or 100ml to 500ml (0.5L) of water.

Leave hydrogen peroxide solutions on surfaces for one minute before wiping off to disinfect them properly.

 

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COVID-19 Coronavirus Misinformation – Are Masks Protective?

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Both the US and Australian governments are advising people that masks don’t work as protection against the COVID-19 coronavirus, but is this true?

Half-truths are as bad as outright lies, and both governments are guilty of a dangerous half-truth here because they’re being very vague and non-specific in their advice, making it worse than useless. So what is the actual truth?

 

Surgical Masks vs Fine Particulate Respirators

Masks are not all the same, they are designed for different purposes, so it’s important to use the right one!

  • Surgical masks are only designed to prevent large-particle droplets which may contain pathogens from reaching your mouth and nose, and don’t form an airtight seal. They WILL NOT protect against airborne viruses and bacteria, and are not effective against COVID-19 coronavirus transmission.
  • According to Australia/NZ and US national safety standards, respirator masks rated as P2 and P3 in Australia (N95 and N99 in the US) are what must be used when dealing with bacteria and viruses, so these masks WILL protect against COVID-19 coronavirus transmission.

 

To provide further explanation, I’ll quote my previous article “Choosing a Disposable Dust Mask Respirator for Air Pollution and Smoke Protection” :

“P2 rated masks are the preferred choice for protection against smoke particles in the air because they are a bit cheaper and easier to breathe through than P3 rated masks. A P2 rated mask/respirator is an AS/NZS1716 rated particle filter for use with mechanically and thermally generated particles (such as smoke), and are also the recommended type for use for infectious diseases. P2 filters are known to effectively capture particles in the sub micron range and are suitable for very small particulates such as bacteria or viruses (although these are normally associated into or onto larger droplets or aerosols, for example, when people sneeze). The USA’s equivalent rating for P2 respirators is N95.

A mask only works well if it fits well on your face, as any gaps between the mask and your skin will allow the pollutants to enter your nasal passage and cause health issues. Make sure any mask fits well and makes a good air seal, especially around the bridge of the nose. Facial hair, such as a beard, will prevent a good seal against the skin.

The above information was sourced from the respirator manufacturer’s website, and it is clear from the Australia/NZ and US national safety standards that masks with these ratings are specifically designed for use against bacteria and viruses.

 

Downplaying the Threat or Being Condescending to US Citizens?

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

For the general American public, there is no added health benefit to wear a respiratory protective device (such as an N95 respirator), and the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.”

Apparently one reason for the FDA discouraging the use of effective N95 respirator masks is because these masks need to fit well to form a seal around the face!

The suggestion that the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low is preposterous, it’s a been declared a global epidemic by the World Health Organization and the United States declared a state of emergency on Friday 13th of March.

I’m not surprised that the Pew Research Centre reports that in 2019 only 17% of Americans say they can trust the government to do what is right. It looks like the US government has no faith in its citizen’s intelligence!

Here are some basic instructions on how to fit a respirator properly by the company 3M:

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Please feel free to download these instructions in pdf format for your safety.

 

If Masks Don’t Work, Why Do Chinese People Wear Them?

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Police officers wearing 3M 9501 P2/N95 rated respirator masks standing in front of the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing as authorities shut down tourist attractions on January 26. Photo: Getty

It’s curious how the Chinese have managed to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, yet the west doesn’t seem too interested in what they did to contain it. From all the video footage of the crisis in China, it was apparent that everyone was wearing masks. Were they surgical masks? No, the masks sold on the Chinese online superstores are P2 (N95) rated masks.

I checked a Chinese site and selected a random mask, the one pictured below.

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Checking the specifications, they list it as follows:

Protection Level: KN95=N95=FFP2

In classic Chinglish, the description states “Adjustable nose clip strip, no scraping & air leakage prevention,tightly fit the face & filter well”. Basically, what they’re saying is that the mask seals well around the face and the strip under the adjustable nose clip sits snugly and prevents air leakage.

 

Are P2/N95 Masks the Solution?

Yes and no. Proper P2/N95 respirator masks are uncomfortable to wear for 8 hours doing hard physical work in the heat of summer, I know from experience from wearing them for smoke protection during the Australian bushfire events. Tight fitting masks may cause some bruising to the face, for me it was slight bruising at the bridge of my nose only after the hottest day, but the redness it cleared overnight.

According to the World Health Organization:

“The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick.”

A properly rated mask will prevent the inhalation of fine droplets suspended in the air that carry the virus, which can stay active for almost 3 hours.

According to testing conducted by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UCLA and Princeton University, COVID-19 can survive in the air for nearly 3 hours, and remain viable on surfaces such as plastic and steel for up to three days and cardboard surfaces for up to 24 hours.

Without safety glasses, droplets can land on the eye and infect a person that way, which is why all the factories in China selling respirators are also selling safety glasses, but a mask alone will drastically reduce the risk of infection via inhalation.

 

What Advice Does the World Health Organization Give about Surgical Masks?

In the advice below quoted directly from the World Health Organization (WHO), they are discussing the use of medical (surgical) masks, not P2/N95 respirators, and they are suggesting that people infected with COVID-19  should wear them to reduce the spread of the virus.

 

Should I wear a mask to protect myself?

Only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19. Disposable face mask can only be used once. If you are not ill or looking after someone who is ill then you are wasting a mask. There is a world-wide shortage of masks, so WHO urges people to use masks wisely.

WHO advises rational use of medical masks to avoid unnecessary wastage of precious resources and mis-use of masks  (see Advice on the use of masks).

The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue and maintain a distance of at least 1 meter (3 feet) from people who are coughing or sneezing.

 

How to put on, use, take off and dispose of a mask?

  1. Remember, a mask should only be used by health workers, care takers, and individuals with respiratory symptoms, such as fever and cough.
  2. Before touching the mask, clean hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  3. Take the mask and inspect it for tears or holes.
  4. Orient which side is the top side (where the metal strip is).
  5. Ensure the proper side of the mask faces outwards (the coloured side).
  6. Place the mask to your face. Pinch the metal strip or stiff edge of the mask so it moulds to the shape of your nose.
  7. Pull down the mask’s bottom so it covers your mouth and your chin.
  8. After use, take off the mask; remove the elastic loops from behind the ears while keeping the mask away from your face and clothes, to avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces of the mask.
  9. Discard the mask in a closed bin immediately after use.
  10. Perform hand hygiene after touching or discarding the mask – Use alcohol-based hand rub or, if visibly soiled, wash your hands with soap and water.

 

Hopefully the information that I have provided in this article is of help to readers during this global pandemic crisis.

Stay safe!

 

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