Tried and tested: Gardening equipment

Mark Jennings tried and tested some helpful gardening equipment that make life a whole lot quicker and easier.

As a stay at home dad of two young children, I have to spend a lot of time concentrating on general household chores with little time when the wife's off work to spend in our size-able garden with over-complicated garden machinery and equipment.

It finally looks like summer's here and quite frankly apart from mowing the lawn once a fortnight, little work is done to compliment our adored, but slightly neglected garden. I wanted to try out accessible products that are not only popularly priced, but easy to use being appropriate for today's busy young family.

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Gtech ST05 Li-Ion Cordless Grass Trimmer - £69.95

The Gtech 'ST05' grass trimmer is not only very good looking (yes I need to get out more) but very lightweight, only 1.5kg and the small but powerful 14.4v battery Li-Ion battery with 30 minute running time is incorporated neatly into the handle. Being cordless it's ideal for larger gardens like ours, so no need for the inconvenience of extension cables and having had string trimmer heads in the past that constantly snap and tangle instead of uncoiling, the plastic blade option is much less hassle that leave you with nice, neat edges.

But one of the things I liked most about this proficient trimmer is the adjust-ability, not only can you swivel the head through 180 degrees, adjust the handle for comfort, but there's a telescopic shaft that extends and shortens for those hard to reach places or just for comfort making it a genuinely versatile trimmer.

See more at: www.gtechonline.co.uk            

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Kärcher 'WD3.500P' Wet & Dry Vacuum Cleaner - £149.99

When it comes to uncomplicated simplicity, you can't go wrong with Kärcher's 'WD3.500P' Wet & Dry Vacuum Cleaner. Let's face it, when you want to vac out the car for example, you don't really want to do it with the house vac. This powerful 1400w heavy duty cleaner not only sucks up ample debris, unblocks sinks and water spills but has a blower function that can be used from clearing leaves to blowing up inflatables.

It really does pack a punch with an airflow rate of 68 litres a second and I had no problem clearing up some wood chippings from my front garden in no time at all. Also included is a handy power tool adaptor that means you can plug the 2 metre suction hose onto the back of a jigsaw for instance, plug into the machine and it switches on and off with the vac - ingenious!

See more at: www.karcher.co.uk            

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WOLF-Garten 'CSA700' Li-Ion Power Chainsaw - £179.99

Another 'handy' item for the garden is the compact cordless 18v Power Chainsaw from WOLF-Garten which is really good for sawing through wood with a diameter of around 70mm is ideal for people like me who've never used a chainsaw before. After you've charged the battery, it takes only a few minutes to set-up and once you've added the chainsaw oil (available separately) and read the safety instructions you're off.

From full charge the Lithium-Ion battery should last you around 40 minutes running time which you can do over 100 dry cuts at 70mm. It's nice and light and at just over 2.5kg you won't get stiff or tired and safety being a must you have piece of mind with the 2 hand safety switch and assured grip. Once perfecting my technique, the quality Oregon cutting chain made light work of of the pile of quite sappy conifer branches that I'm drying out and saving to use in the future.

See more at: www.wolfgarten-tools.co.uk

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The Handy 2400w Impact Shredder - £99.99
The Handy 2600w Garden Blow Vac - £41.99           

After chainsawing your conifers or other trees, you're left with the problem of easily getting rid of all the unwanted smaller branches, but 'The Handy' 2400 impact shredder will shred all your garden waste up to surprising 40mm in diameter! You may think of shredders being incredibly noisy and dangerous, but with a little common sense are perfectly safe and I expected it to be a lot noisier. Minimal setup is required and it's very easy to move around the garden and use. Just feed the branches into the top of the machine hopper and the powerful 2400w motor with it's sharp steel cutting blade makes it easy work. The blade has two cutting edges, so when it finally becomes blunt can reverse it to use again. You can then either use the waste for composting or it makes for easier compact transportation up to the local tip.

When upon it's time to clean up all the mess 'The Handy' 2600 garden blow vac is perfect for the job. Not only can you either suck up garden waste into the 35L collection bag (can compact leaves 10 times smaller to their original capacity), but also precisely blows any debris away to the corners of your garden perimeter. This blower/vac is very simple to use and the single speed 2600w motor is extremely powerful. With a shoulder strap it makes it effortless to walk around in comfort and with 6 metres there's plenty of cable to access a wide area of your garden. For the casual gardener like myself, this really is a useful product and great value for money!

See more at: www.notcutts.co.uk

 

Packed lunches may be off the menu: A healthier education is needed

As the stay at home dad in our family, I have the wonderful job of staggering down the stairs at 7.30am every morning to make our daughter Amber's packed lunch.

Not only does the bar have to be set high by her expectations for something awe-inspiring every single day, I also have to make sure she's getting the right amount for a balanced healthy diet.

With the news today that schools have been 'urged' to ban packed lunches by a government-commissioned school food review, I can't help feeling like we, the responsible parents are being treated like school children ourselves!

My daughter has a cooked meal every evening, anything from a Sunday roast style dinner to spaghetti on toast, but I make sure it's a balance of food she likes and something I know is healthier than just chips and nuggets every evening.

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Yes, I agree I'm not perfect, but at least I'm in control. Does having a cooked meal at school mean she'll be having two cooked meals a day, or do I have to give her sandwiches for tea?

Another reason why I'm slightly at unease with this idea is apart from not knowing what my child is eating everyday, how will I know if she's eating what we're paying for?

The teachers can't possibly observe every child to make sure they're eating their greens, not that a school child would choose vegetables if they had the chance.

And on a matter of cost, there's mention of actually lowering the prices to boost take-up. Healthy food is far too expensive to implement this and I can see cost just going up and up OR the standard of food going down and down!

Beyond doubt contracts for school dinners will go to companies that can provide the cheapest competitive prices, but at what real cost in the long run?

Surely as a responsible adult, we the parents need to be accountable for the health of our beloved children. It's just another case of the feckless spoiling it for everyone else.

If they choose to put fatty crisps, sugary fizzy drinks and chocolate bars into their kid's lunch box, that's their nonchalant decision and we should educate those parents.

Why should I have the control of what I think is best for my children taken away by the uncaring parent and totally out of touch government?

A 6th Sense from Whirlpool

"..hands that do dishes can feel soft as your face..erm, not for me they don't!"

When you've got a busy, young family and have to wash up about 10 times a day your hands are far from soft. And when our dishwasher of 10+ years decided enough was enough and went pop, I was left with piles and piles of dishes everyday from tea stained cups to baked on Weetabix, a dishwasher is just one of those items you can't do without!

When you've got a busy, young family and have to wash up about 10 times a day your hands are far from soft. And when our dishwasher of 10+ years decided enough was enough and went pop, I was left with piles and piles of dishes everyday from tea stained cups to baked on Weetabix, a dishwasher is just one of those items you can't do without!

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Upon choosing a new machine, we wanted to try out a reliable, energy efficient model and when you think of quality kitchen appliances, Whirlpool are among the best in the world. The ADP 8693 is a part of the Whirlpool Green Generation that's not only energy efficient, but water efficient too using just 11 litres of water in a typical wash giving it an A++ rating.

This large capacity appliance holds up to 13 place settings and I was surprised when I overloaded it with my Sunday dinner remains how crisp and clean the results were. You can adjust both racks so you can arrange your crockery to suit your needs, I particularly liked the adjustable flaps in the top rack for my wine glasses that were always too tall and kept falling over or breaking in my previous washer.

Whirlpool prides itself on their exclusive 6th SENSE PowerClean technology which senses and then adapts to measure how dirty the water is, saving you up to 50% on energy and time.

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Having our last dishwasher for such a long time, I was very stuck in my ways - probably out of repetition, so I was slightly apprehensive on re-educating myself on something I used automatically. I was instantly put at ease by the uncomplicated control panel and features and was glad of the LED wash time display with digital countdown indicator for that all important advice on the 8 different wash programs.

For an extra thorough clean for really baked on food (eg: a shepherds pie), there's the option for Whirpool's unique PowerClean jet system which uses 28 water jets at the back of the lower rack to blast away any stubborn dried-on food without using any extra water.

As well as being intelligent and super efficient, this Whirlpool is very hygienic for your family too, it's antibacterial hygiene wash and rinse kills 99.9% of all bacteria and even has a self cleaning wash filter for continuous optimum performance. I found this a very quiet (about 42dB, so ideal for open plan living) and a low energy machine that doesn't compromise on cleaning and drying even on the rapid 30 minute wash and I couldn't believe the intensive wash, my glasses came out looking brand new and have never been so clean!

Priced at £449. For full product specifications and information, please visit: www.whirlpool.co.uk

 

Kids love cycling: Get on your bike this summer

Need help choosing the right kids bikes? Save £££'s online and instore from Halfords. Stay at Home dad, Mark Jennings, reviews 2 children's bikes.

Jacob and Amber on their bikes

Jacob and Amber on their bikes

As it seems that finally the British weather is starting to warm up, there's no greater way to get the kids fit having fun in the garden by updating their old cycles with the latest great models and fantastic offers at Halfords. Our 9 year old daughter, Amber, is growing up fast and our 2 year old son, Jacob, is getting more and more boisterous and mobile. So when I checked on the bike situation in the shed, Amber's was far too small and rusty, plus this would be our sons 1st proper bike. When it comes to piece-of-mind, you can always trust Halfords to deliver quality, safe products.

The cycle recommended for our maturing pre-teen was the cool looking Apollo 'Krypt' Girls Mountain Bike. Our daughter's into 'Green Day' and 'Blink-182' at the moment so she loves the Gothic-Style decals which perfectly harmonize with the metallic silver/purple paintwork. With a good spec for a childs bike the 'Krypt' boasts front suspension for a smoother ride, 18-speed 'Shimano' gears, front disc breaks for complete but careful breaking all housed on a solid steel frame with 24" wheels!

Amber on her Apollo Krypt Girls Mountain Bike from Halfords

Amber on her Apollo Krypt Girls Mountain Bike from Halfords

Our daughter found this very easy to ride and with a change of gear for the grass, was whizzing around the garden in no time at all and this well made bike gave her total confidence immediately. Now when she comes home from school after her homework she asks if she can go out and play on her bike instead of her games console, so that makes us very happy!

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www.halfords.com

Our little boy's choice of bike was the adorable Apollo 'Firechief'. What budding trainee wouldn't be thrilled to get straight into the action on his wicked bright red Fire and Rescue wheels complete with with siren, megaphone and emergency tool box!

With safety in mind, there's full chain and mudguards so busy fingers don't get dirty or trapped, front and rear brakes for extra confidence and detachable stabilisers for eventually when your little one has enough firmness to try two wheels only! Our son was fearlessly straight onto this bike encouraged by the brightness and interest in the extra gadgets. It's recommended for ages 3-5 so when his little legs get a bit stronger I'm sure he'll be off in no time at all!

Jacob on his Apollo Firechief Boys Bike from Halfords

Jacob on his Apollo Firechief Boys Bike from Halfords

Apollo Firechief Boys Bike - 12" WAS £159.99 NOW £69.99 SAVE £90.00 www.halfords.com

Helmets have become a necessity especially when it comes to the safety of our children and Halfords have got a range to suit every age and style. For our daughters bike the MET Crackerjack 'Pink Hearts' Bike Helmet goes well and is very in tune with her age group. Well fitting, It features an anti-pinch buckle, a safe-t-twist retention system for easy adjustment and an LED rear flashing light! And for our sons bike the Apollo 'Firechief & Police Patrol' Bike Helmet, with it's action and emergency scene decals makes it the perfect match. It has a dial-a-fit system so is easy to adjust without stress, adjustable straps under the chin and plenty of ventilation holes to keep them cool. He loved it so much he screamed his head of when i was time to take it off! Both helmets of course conform to EN1078 safety regulations.

 

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MET Crackerjack Bike Helmet - Pink Hearts (52-57cm) WAS £34.99 NOW £27.99 SAVE £7 www.halfords.com

Apollo Firechief & Police Patrol Bike Helmet (48-52cm) WAS £17.99 NOW £14.39 SAVE £3.60 www.halfords.com

Halfords also offer a FREE 'Bike Build & Safety Inspection' on all new bikes which you can see all about this in this short video, so you really don't need to worry about all those nuts & bolts, seat heights and tricky gear adjustments.

Prices are web exclusive - Save While You Shop on All Bikes* ?*Spend £100 save £10, Spend £200 save £20, Spend £400 save £40, Spend £600 save £60. Discount Applied in Basket. Offer ends Tuesday June 11 2013.

SEGA Super Sonic Raceway experience at Brooklands

Where better than to view the latest SEGA products for 'Sonic the Hedgehog' the iconic blue anthropomorphic hedgehog that has the ability to run at supersonic speeds than Mercedes-Benz World at the historic Brooklands racing circuit.

Our Children, Amber 9 and Jacob 2½ were treated to a one-off afternoon of fun activities including face painting, testing out the latest Sonic game and even speeding around in electric Go-Karts!

Amber with Sonic painted on her face

Amber with Sonic painted on her face

After meeting the SEGA team, Amber and her friend went to get their faces painted whilst Jacob played cars with the 'Sonic & Knuckles Meccano Chemical Plant Racing Playset'. It gave me a chance to look at the wide range of 'Sonic the Hedgehog products now available in the 2013 product catalogue. There's everything from plush toys to bedding, t-shirts to personalised cakes and even a Sonic bike - Sonic's come a long way since I remember playing the original game on my Mega Drive in the early 1990's!

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Now looking the part with her Sonic facepaint, Amber climbed in her Medium Speedster for a few hot laps of the Brooklands Hall. They were timed laps so everyone under 1.5m had a go, but I think she must have had at least 15 goes! At a more leisurely pace, Jacob didn't hesitate to try out the 'Little Learners Drivers Zone' that's available to the public for 3-5yr olds. He absolutely loved testing his road skills on a specially built indoor road course behind the wheel of a miniature SL-Roadster!

After a spot of lunch and some flag making, our daughter and friend tested the latest Sonic racing game 'Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed' - an improved sequel to the last game where players can alternate between car, boat and plane modes and where you can earn boost by drifting around corners or performing tricks whilst in the air. With new weapons and challenges as well as old favourites, this is must for any Sonic or Racing fan.

Our Super Sonic afternoon came to a close with a Medal Ceremony for all the children where the received a certificate, medal and goodie bag to remind them of their racing experience and Sissel Henno head of brand marketing at SEGA Europe thanked us for coming! ...no problem, anytime!

We wrapped up the afternoon by looking around the excellent 'Mercedes-Benz World' exhibition (which is free to the general public) something for the bigger kids as well as the little ones. Apart from the Formula One, historic and modern sports cars to look at they offer several driving experiences to suit any ages over 1.5 meters tall.

For more details please visit: www.sonicmerchandise.com and www2.mercedes-benz.co.uk   

 

Kärcher puts on the pressure...

When you think of big brand names for certain products, you think of Sony for Walkman, Dyson for bag-less vacuums and Kindle for e-book readers. But even I have to admit Kärcher wasn't yet in my limited vocabulary when it came to choosing pressure washers. Don't get me wrong, I'd always new those bright yellow machines existed, but I always forgot that name!

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Alfred Kärcher invented the high-pressure cleaner in 1950, with the introduction of the 1st portable devices in the early 1980's. Kärcher originally set up his business in 1935 and in 1939 the company moved to Winnenden, Germany, where the family still has its headquarters to this day!

 

The job in hand was to clean a very large stone patio, pathway, steps and parking area, so it really would put the 'Kärcher K5.800' that was recommended for us through it's paces. With our area recently being made a drought free zone, I had piece of mind that this model features an Eco switch which reduces energy and water by 20% and with the wettest drought on record, you even have the option to source water from you garden water butt!

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Minimal set-up is required out of the box, a simple click of the wheels and handle. The only screwing required is the dosage regulator (the unit comes with detergent if you so wish to use) and once you've attached the pressure hose and spray gun you're ready to plug in, attach the water supply and off you go.

You have a choice of 3 high pressure nozzle attachments depending on your cleaning needs. The 'Vario-power spray lance' which adjusts from low to to high pressure jet with just a twist at the end is ideal for all types of cleaning. The 'Dirt-blaster lance' is a rotary nozzle lance for seriously embedded dirt which uses a more precise and powerful blast (up to 50%). And finally the 'T300 T-Racer lance', which is an extended 'broom like' lance that works like a hovercraft, with 2 rotary fan jet nozzles and encloses the water so you don't get wet! This is recommended for patios and areas you don't want splash-back, but I personally preferred the 'Dirt-blaster lance' for the majority of the work.

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Immediately on start-up, I was slightly taken back how powerful the 'K5.800' was compared to the cheaper DIY shop branded pressure washers that I've had before, maximum pressure from this unit is powerful 140 bar. The 14.5kg unit weight doesn't feel particularly heavy as it's on wheels an you don't really have to move it much as the high-pressure hose is a very generous 9 metres in length. As I mentioned you have the option for detergent with the simple 'Plug & Clean' system.

Depending on your task there's 6 detergents available that can be placed easily into the visible chamber for cleaning use on either wood or washing & waxing your car. I didn't need to use the detergent this time as the 'Dirt-blaster lance' effortlessly cut through the black embedded dirt with ease and in one afternoon I was left with a gleaming white path!

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When thinking of those bright yellow pressure washers you see in the shops, think Kärcher, the 'Rolls Royce' of cleaning systems. For all types of cleaning jobs big and small, take a look at the fantastic range of Kärcher pressure washers on-line at www.karcher.co.uk and available from all good DIY stockists. 

Pump 'n' Pitch with Vango Tents

It's been nearly 30 years since I had my first tent and was allowed to camp in my back garden. I remember emptying all the tightly packed bits and laying all the separate poles out eagerly ready for construction. Over the years, tents have become overly complicated, with their incomprehensible instructions and bendy fibre-glass poles! Not anymore so it seems with the Vango AirBeam® range of tents, which offers an advanced 'no poles' structure. I was slightly sceptical that it was so quick and easy to erect a tent in under 5 minutes, but now you can.

 

Mark and Amber at The Hop Farm festival 2012

Mark and Amber at The Hop Farm festival 2012

I tested the 2 man tent, the 'Vango AirBeam® Velocity 200' and what better place than the Hop Farm Festival at Paddock Wood, Kent. The bag that it comes in seems on the larger size for a 2 man tent (as it also houses the excellent quality hand pump), but only weighs 7.5kg and can comfortably worn over your shoulder or as I found across your back.

Amber with the super speedy Vango AirBeam tent

Amber with the super speedy Vango AirBeam tent

Once you've pegged the four corners of the all-in-one tent (groundsheet already attached) you attach the pump to the base of each AirBeam® and inflate with only a few effortless pumps. The beauty of this apart from the speed is that if it's raining you can quickly jump in straight away before you have to complete the construction. After you've pegged the rest of the tent and guy ropes, you attach the inner tent with easy colour coded clips which takes seconds and hey presto, you're done, it's as easy as that!

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In complete honesty it probably took me about 10 minutes to erect, only because is was the first time, but would easily take less than 5 minutes now that I know what I'm doing. The only draw back to this is you've got to wait around for everyone else to put their tents up! One of the first things I noticed once the tent was up was the rigidity compared to all of the other tents around me, it was a windy day and it hardly moved. There's double entry doors for ease of access and extra ventilation on warm days that lead into a very ample porch space (enough room to even sleep 2 children) - the actual sleeping area being a large 210x140cm.

For more information and pricing of these remarkable tents, please visit vango.co.uk

Check out this cool video...