Strawberry Tree

 This evergreen shrub or tree from the Mediterranean area is an interesting addition to the English garden. Known as the Strawberry Tree, for obvious reasons, it is said to be the national tree of Italy due to the red fruit, white flowers, and green leaves representing the colours of the Italian flag.

 

Arbutus unedo: the Strawberry Tree - November 2022

In Autumn, flowers and ripe fruit co-exist. The flowers are fragrant and bee-friendly ...

Fragrant white flowers of the Strawberry Tree - November 2022

Our Strawberry Tree was moved from its original position in one of the garden beds to the Paradise Garden a few years ago and placed in a rootbag to restrict the final size of the tree.


The Strawberry Tree is in the family Ericaceae so you might expect it to need acidic infertile soil. However, it seems to grow well in most soil types; if you use a rootbag then you can choose your own soil-type regardless of the nature of your garden soil. Maintenance is minimal - like most of our flower beds, a top dressing of homemade compost once a year and the occasional watering during dry weather.

The fruits are edible, though I wouldn't describe them as tasty, and best used in jams and preserves. It is used to make Medronho, a Portuguese fruit brandy. The leaves are widely used in herbal medicine.

For us, it is just an attractive evergreen providing a splash of colour in autumn/winter as well as a useful nectar source in winter/spring.

Putting the Asparagus Bed to Bed for Winter

Asparagus berries dripping with Autumn morning dew (4/11/22)

The first spears of asparagus started to appear in mid-April and were harvested on April 22. In total, we cut about 60 spears from the 5 crowns planted about 5 years ago. The season finished at the beginning of June in our garden. By November the ferns had turned ...

Asparagus Ferns  - 16 November 2022

... and it is time to cut them back to ground level. Cutting back was a little later this year, in the middle of November rather than the start. [note: the ferns in the background/second bed are a later sprouting variety of asparagus so have yet to turn from green to gold - I did not harvest these this year but allowed them to put all their energy into building up the crowns].

Firstly, I removed the aluminium pole framework that had kept the ferns in some sort of order as they grew strongly during the summer and autumn. The stalks were cut at ground level - leaving up to an inch (2.5 cm) above ground - before shredding and hot composting.

Asparagus bed after autumn cutback

After removing any obvious weeds, a one-inch (2.5 cm) mulch of homemade compost was added ...

Winterised Asparagus Bed

 The smaller bed containing only 2 crowns of later fruiting asparagus will get a similar treatment towards the end of November.

Smaller Asparagus Bed

And that's it. Asparagus takes a few years for the crowns to establish but should provide a regular and substantial crop of delicious spears between April and June for 10 - 20 years. Do not overcrop (six weeks is the typical cropping period) and allow the ferns to fully develop in order to build up the crowns for the next season. Once the ferns turn yellow/brown in Autumn, cut off at the base and apply fertilizer/mulch or homemade compost to boost soil nutrients.

Which is the Biggest Killer - Extreme Heat or Extreme Cold?

This question came about from an interesting BBC article called 'Staying Warm: What does an unheated room do to your body?' Some of the body changes that occur as room temperature drops from 21 ℃ to 10 ℃ are summarised in the pictorial below.


This BBC article is one of a number of posts offering advice on how to stay warm and safe this winter. The hike in energy prices this year means many households will be economizing on home heating and the threat of UK electricity blackouts this winter cannot be discounted.

However, it was this comment by Professor Damien Bailey that caught my eye: "The evidence clearly suggests that cold is more deadly than the heat, there are a higher number of deaths caused through cold snaps than there are through the heat snaps."

Just accepting Professor Bailey's statement as a fact would be an example of the 'argument from authority' fallacy. It doesn't mean it is wrong, just that you should be skeptical until shown the evidence. Of course, if the consensus of the scientific community, supported by the peer-reviewed literature, is that cold is the bigger killer then it is reasonable to assume that is the case based on current knowledge.

The first thing you should acknowledge is that it is probably more complicated than you think.

A report in The Lancet from 2015 clearly puts deaths from cold much higher than deaths from heat. However, this was really comparing winter deaths to summer deaths which is not the same thing. For example, deaths from influenza (flu) are well-known to peak over the winter months - one of the factors being that people congregate indoors (i.e. in the warmth) when it is cold so this should, perhaps, be collated under the deaths from heat rather than cold!

This blog post on Weather Underground, based on the peer-reviewed literature, puts the case for extreme heat being a bigger killer than extreme cold. The Lancet paper does not disagree with such a conclusion since it clearly shows that moderate cold is the biggest 'killer' due to the higher numbers of deaths from flu and other non-weather-related factors. 

You may see claims that global warming is beneficial because it means fewer deaths from extreme cold. This is likely true but is only beneficial if deaths from extreme cold are greater than from extreme heat and the latter will definitely increase with global warming.

The overall conclusion seems to be that if you correct for the seasonal cycle (the winter flu season) then, in the US, more people die from extreme heat than extreme cold. Consequently, the reduction in extreme cold deaths with global warming may be overwhelmed by the increase in extreme heat deaths. Of course, technology such as air conditioning should help reduce heat-related deaths but this is an energy-intensive  solution best avoided by mitigating global warming.


Electric Vehicles - Good or Bad?

 We have a small campervan - and I do mean small - powered by a 1500 cc diesel engine. It is both our family car and holiday home. It does about 45 mpg (19 kilometres/litre). It was bought new in 2013 so is getting on for 9 years old and has done 47141 miles: a total of 14.6 tonnes CO2  which includes extraction & refining of the fuel, vehicle manufacture and total fuel used.

Vacanza Campervan based on the Nissan NV200

Electric options were not available at the time of purchase and diesel was considered better for the environment back in 2013 due to its lower carbon emissions; typically, 120g CO2/km and 200g CO2/km respectively for diesel and petrol. We then had the 'dieselgate' scandal in 2015 and, more recently, increased concern about the size and amount of Particulate Matter (PM) in the exhaust. Most deleterious to health are the smaller PM2.5 (< 2.5 μm) that are emitted in greater quantites from diesel cars. This is an oversimplification since modern diesel and petrol cars have very similar overall emissions though diesel is still, in general, slightly worse. This YouTube video by Sabine Hossenfelder provides a useful summary of the current situation with diesel cars (her other videos on a wide range of topics are very good too).


Improvements to internal combustion engines (ICE), such as particulate filters/traps and catalytic converters, have reduced the amount and toxicity of tailpipe emissions. Nevertheless, from the perspective of climate change, air pollution, health impacts and depletion of a finite resource, it is time to move away from fossil fuels. 

Oft-heard criticisms of electric vehicles (EVs) include: (i) higher carbon footprint to make EVs compared to ICE vehicles - mainly due to battery manufacture, (ii) EVs run on dirty electricity produced in coal-fired power stations, (iii) mining for lithium, cobalt, nickel, etc for EV batteries is carbon intensive and exploitive.  Some of these ideas are presented in this YouTube video from PragerU (not a university nor an educational platform, more a 'right-wing' advocacy group).


If you thought the arguments presented in the PragerU video were convincing then you are in serious need of a course in critical thinking and skepticism. The YouTube video below, from Potholer 54, addresses the most egregious claims (i.e. misinformation) ...


See here for a recent and global Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from EV and ICE passenger cars. Even in India, which is heavily reliant on coal-fired electricity generation, EVs have 19-34% lower lifetime GHG emissions than gasoline/petrol equivalents.

As regards the 'dirty' mining of metals, let us not forget that the petroleum and petrochemical industries are also heavy users of these materials. There are some valid concerns about whether the supply of lithium can keep up with the current demand for EV and stationary batteries, but there is no shortage of this element in the earth's crust. And new developments in battery technology may circumvent even these problems.

The pros and cons of EV ownership have been expounded many times. Compared with ICE vehicles, EVs are more efficient, have fewer moving parts (lower maintenance costs), low/zero on-road tailpipe emissions, quiet, easy to drive (like automatics), can be charged at home, and are, generally, cheaper to run. The disadvantages include higher upfront cost of EVs, moderate mileage range, lack of charging infrastructure, longer 'refill' times, battery replacement is expensive, low/zero emissions only if electricity produced from renewable of low-carbon sources.

Also do not forget that pollution from vehicle tyre wear is now significantly higher than that emitted from the exhaust pipe of modern cars.

Ultimately, we must all change our habits regarding personal transport. Less personal and more community transport. This will enable humanity to decarbonize and reduce its energy use in the transport sector. Your personal freedom will be curtailed a little but you will still be able to fly to that holiday destination in the sun. On the plus side, cities become people-based rather than car-based and much nicer and healthier to live in.

If we were to buy another car, it would be an EV. However, I expect our campervan to be the last car we own before we start to rely on public transport. Ideally, we would run it into the ground and then recycle it (i.e. scrap or break up for parts). If we were to sell a working campervan in order to buy an EV then we would not be reducing our carbon footprint - merely passing on that responsibility to someone else. Decarbonizing the personal transport sector needs (i) reducing the total number of vehicles on the road, (ii) direct substitution of EVs for ICE vehicles which are then scrapped, (iii) expansion of public transport, (iv) improved safety for very low carbon transport (bikes, scooters, walking, etc), (v) implementing the '15 minute city' concept into existing and new urban design and planning.

This YouTube video is meant to make you think ...


 ... you don't have to agree with him but you should give it some careful thought.

A couple of days ago, we left the campervan on the drive and used our bus passes (free travel for pensioners) to visit Leominster, a market town approximately 14 miles away. There were a couple of bus options; both had journey times of about 40 minutes. The trip to Leominster from Hereford on the 501 (the bus stop was only a minute's walk from home) was the more circuitous route involving lots of winding country lanes. By the time we arrived in Leominster, I was feeling distinctly under the weather due to travel sickness - a long-standing issue for me, especially on small boats! Mary was fine! The return journey on a similar-sized bus (route 492) was more direct, mainly on A-roads and a good deal less stomach-churning; we also had a longer walk back home (10-15 minutes) in the colder afternoon weather.

The trip made me think of a few things (in no particular order):
  • Travelling by bus does take longer and lacks the convenience of personal door-to-door transport.
  • Travel sickness is an issue for me but is not a game changer. I'm fine on intercity buses/coaches and trains. It is something I'm going to have to get used to living in a rural county like Herefordshire.
  • Diesel buses are noisy and vibrate a lot; electric buses would be quieter, less polluting and altogether more pleasant.
  • Mary, who does all the driving, enjoyed taking in the many scenic views that Herefordshire offers and the lower stress levels from not having to drive.
  • There is some 'bus timetable anxiety', particularly in rural counties such as Herefordshire where the number and frequency of bus routes are severely limited. We never had this problem when we lived in London because there was always another bus in 10-15 minutes. In Herefordshire, you are lucky if the next bus is only two hours later and you want to travel in daylight hours only. At least these days you can check on your mobile (assuming you have a signal) whether you have just missed the bus, it has been cancelled or, as you planned, it will arrive in the next 5 minutes!
  • Careful planning of your journey certainly helps. We also had a backup plan to catch the train back from Leominster - albeit this was not a free journey.
  • I counted only 5 other passengers on the Hereford to Leominster leg of the journey. At least 3 of these came from a very rural caravan encampment where the bus service was, clearly, their only option. I suspect the remaining two passengers (of the age to have a free bus pass) were also dependent on this bus service. There were probably a dozen or so passengers, including ourselves, on the return journey. This seemed a reasonably high number for a Friday between 11 am and 3 pm.
  • About 20% of households in England do not have access to a car. In London, over 40% of households do not have a car thanks to better and affordable public transport (buses, tube, trains, trams, light railway, river ferries/taxis, bicycles) operated under a single authority, Transport for London (TfL).
  • In my opinion, the way forward is to establish local transport hubs (e.g. integrated train and bus stations) and electrify all modes of transport (trains, buses, bicycles, scooters). If services were regular and affordable then it would encourage people to ditch the car in favour of public transport. Either offer a regular 10-minute service or use technology to inform passengers when the next service is available. The benefits would be huge: no more traffic jams, reduced air pollution, less stress, smaller road-building programmes, less strain on the NHS, a rebirth of nature in urban environments, and much more.
  • The average cost of running a car in the UK is about £3,500 per year. So, with about 33 million cars on the road, that is £112 billion in total spent on personal transport by UK citizens. About the same as the GDP of Ukraine before Putin's illegal invasion. The operating costs for TfL are about £7 billion for the 9 million people living in London while the railways covering the rest of England cost £17 billion. It appears to me that we are not spending our money wisely just to kill off 30,000 people a year by polluting the air!
  • Finally, a couple of YouTube channels highlighting how car-centrism is destroying our lives, our cities and our planet. These are examples - don't forget to have a look at some of the other videos they produce.







2022's Olive Crop

 Picked this year's olive harvest picked a couple of days ago ...


Cherry Tomato and this year's Olive Crop

One very small olive now looking a bit wrinkled! The tree is doing fine ...

Olive Tree - 17th November 2022

... although that wasn't the case this Spring. New growth was weak and under attack from aphids. We bought some Vitax Olive Tree Feed and top-dressed the soil in early May after removing all weeds. A further top-dressing was applied in summer. During the hot summer, the soil was given a good soak about once a fortnight.

One rescued olive tree with hopes for two olives next year.

Malmesbury

 While visiting Westonbirt Arboretum, we spent a pleasant, damp, morning looking around Malmesbury. Depending on your worldview, you may have heard of Malmesbury because of this ...

King Æhelstan's tomb, Malmesbury Abbey

... or this ...

Dyson hoover/vacuum cleaner

The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology was set up by James Dyson and is located on the outskirts of Malmesbury It offers sandwich degree courses in engineering and technology. While Dyson has moved its head office to Singapore and its manufacturing to Malaysia, it maintains its R&D centre in Malmesbury.

Some 1200 years BD (before Dyson), Æthelstan was King of the Anglo-Saxons and his final resting place is Malmesbury Abbey. 

Malmesbury Abbey's impressive entrance

Some interesting artwork ...

Wonder by Tom Lawton

... illuminated bibles, very friendly and knowledgeable guides, and nice tea and cakes in the cafe.

Make sure you also visit the small but excellent Æthelstan Museum in the centre of Malmesbury where you can learn about St Aldheim and the history of the town as well as view the JMW Turner watercolour of Malmesbury Abbey.

We had parked up in the Station Road car park and headed off on the river walk before ending up at the Abbey and Museum. The walk started with a footpath through the Conygre Mead Nature Reserve where we came upon this lockdown project ...

Lockdown Project by Graham?

... which if you can hang around for 10-15 minutes will provide some animated action ...



Additional sound effects are provided by Mary!

The river walk included urban and rural parts, was a little muddy in places and we had to shelter under the umbrella a couple of times. On the plus side was this rainbow ...

Rainbow seen on Malmesbury River Walk

Despite the inclement weather, a very enjoyable 3 hours spent in and around Malmesbury.





Westonbirt Arboretum

 We have just returned from a weekend trip where the primary objective was a visit to Westonbirt Arboretum to see its "spectacular display of autumn colour". We stayed in an excellent self-catering cottage in nearby Crudwell.

Westonbirt is the National Arboretum containing over 15,000 trees spread over 2,500 species ...

Paperbark Maple?

We had booked a guided walk around the old arboretum at 2 pm but managed to get on the 11 am walk as the weather did not look too promising. Our two volunteer guides were knowledgeable and friendly - the guided walks are free so well worth going on.

Now you might think this post will just be a lot of photographs of trees. And you would be right!




And as a change from trees: a splash of colour from these nerines near the entrance to the new arboretum, Silk Wood ...

Nerines at Westonbirt

Where we also found this ubiquitous woodland dweller ...

Gruffalo

... and this unsavoury character ...

... from the children's game ...

What's the time, Mr Wolf?

Anyway, back to the trees. This lime tree is thought to be 2000 years old, though it could be much younger as they are difficult to age when coppiced like this one. 

2000-year-old lime tree?

At this time of year, everyone comes to see the acers/maples in their glorious autumn colours ...


Larches are deciduous conifers made famous in this sketch by Monty Python. Being deciduous, larches are often grown with acers because they allow light to fall on the acers in spring while providing important shade in summer.

No. 1 The Larch
More acers ...





Although the weather had been fairly kind (no strong winds or rain), we were probably a week or two too late to see the acer trees in tiptop condition. The best leaf displays were often found on the ground ...

Mozaic of Acer Leaves

Serbian Spruce

With a few exceptions, grey squirrels dominate UK woodlands ...


Mary couldn't resist getting the lowdown on these fungi ...

Hare's Foot Inkcap






All the day was a little on the damp side, it was highly enjoyable and informative. The bread and mushroom soup in the cafe was tasty and washed down with hot chocolate. We had time for tea and cake in Tetbury (Llamas in Pyjamas) before returning to our cottage.

On returning home, we could appreciate the autumn colour changes in our miniature wood ...

Miniature Wood back home
and the magnificence of acers ...

Flame red Acer in the back garden




Cauliflower 'ere

 

Cauliflower (3rd November)

Never had much success growing cauliflowers which is a shame because cauliflower cheese is very much a 'comfort' food, either as a mains or side dish, on a winter's afternoon. I like to fry up onions, courgettes, sweet peppers, celery, garlic and chilli pepper in oil, add chopped vegetables (carrot, potato, parsnip, sweet potato) 'parboiled' in a microwave, some protein in the form of butter beans, green lentils, red kidney beans, etc before adding a rich creamy sauce made from dried milk, cornflour, vegetable bouillon and water. The cauliflour is steamed separately, laid out in the bottom of a lasagne dish and covered with the saucy vegetable. You can add cheese to the sauce or, as I do, just smother the dish with grated cheese covered with nutritional yeast flakes. Pop in the oven for about 45 minutes at 170 ℃.

Another cauliflower (3rd November 2022)

I was always told you needed well-drained fertile soil to grow cauliflowers and assumed that, in past gardens and allotments, my soil did not meet these criteria.

When we first set out the current kitchen garden some 20 years ago, I had to clear the bramble, dig out 8 4-yard skips of rubbish (bricks, toilets, clay pipes, etc), hand sieve the soil and prepare a raised-bed system that was filled with premium topsoil. Premium topsoil is a good base but lacks the biological activity and biodiversity (i.e. it is rather sterile) that the best soils have. Over the years I have slowly improved the soil by adding my own compost to increase fertility. More recently, I have also been adding biochar to the compost-making process and I suspect this might be an important factor.

About 10 years ago, I did try growing cauliflowers in the kitchen garden but the 'head' never formed and the plants just became compost fodder. This year I decided to give it another go and bought some Cauliflower Trevi F1 seeds from D.T. Brown. The seed was sown in May (polytunnel) and planted outside in June. Progress was a little slow to start with (hot, dry conditions?) but picked up, especially in September and October. Whitefly is a problem, as it always is with my brassicas, but does not seem to affect the cauliflower heads. Thankfully, slug and snail damage is minimal and netting keeps the cabbage white butterflies away.

Yet another cauliflower (3rd November)

Suggested growing conditions given by various websites:

Gardeners WorldCauliflowers do best in a sunny spot with rich, moist, alkaline soil incorporated with plenty of organic matter such as well-rotted horse manure or garden compost.

RHSThey take up quite a bit of space, need rich, deep soil and need plenty of watering, especially in summer. Cauliflowers do best in very fertile soil, and digging in a bucketful of well-rotted manure or organic matter before planting, and raking in a high potassium general fertiliser. Water well in dry weather, watering every 10 days, and apply sufficient water to thoroughly wet the root zone. Once the plants are growing well, add 30g (1oz) per square metre of high nitrogen fertiliser such as sulphate of ammonia to boost growth and curd formation.

QuickcropCauliflower likes cool growing conditions and quite high humidity. They need a deep rich soil and must be kept well watered throughout the season. Any check in their growing cycle will result in tiny heads and a frustrated gardener! In short, they are tricky.

Gardening Know HowThe main thing to remember is that the plant thrives in temperatures around 60-65 F. (16-18 C.) and no higher than 75 F. (24 C.).

My cauliflowers were in a sunny spot and the soil is definitely fertile. However, apart from adding some compost to the planting hole, no extra fertilizer was used and I only watered the brassicas about four times during July and August when it was hottest and driest. On 19 out of 31 days in August, the daily temperature reached 25 ℃ or more.

My conclusion, based on one successful growing season, is that fertile well-drained soil is the key. Other factors may help but may not be essential. I'll be able to tell you more next season!


End of the Cucumber Season?

 


Cucumbers and Tomatoes picked on 10th November

A busy day in the polytunnel picking the last of the cucumbers and tomatoes. While the weather is still mild, it is a good time for clearing out the polytunnel and preparing it for next season.

The first cucumbers were picked on the 20th June, some five and a half months ago. My four plants, grown using the Quadgrow system, yielded a minimum of 25 cucumbers per plant. I don't think it was a particularly good year for cukes due to the excessive heat in July and August. At times, the temperature in the polytunnel exceeded 40 ℃ though, fortunately, the plants did not have to cope with drought conditions because of the self-watering Quadgrow units. The plants clearly suffered (pale green leaves and poor fruit setting) as this photo shows ...

Stressed Cucumber Plant - 20th July

... but it was brought back into production by some TLC. The majority of cucumbers were eaten raw in salads, sandwiches and dips or processed into soup or cucumber relish ...

Last year's Cucumber Relish

[Note: this is the last jar of cucumber relish from 2021 - this year's production, about 10 jars, is less photogenic as Mary forgot to label them!

We have also reached the end of the tomato season - at least for us. We are harvesting a mix of red and green tomatoes for eating now or leaving to ripen indoors on a sunny windowsill ...

End-of-season ripe/unripe tomatoes

BREAKING NEWS: It is possible the cucumber season may not quite be finished!! A juvenile cuke has been discovered hiding under a leaf and may yet develop into a fully-fledged adult. Watch this space ...

Definitely the final cucumber of 2022??



Broad Bean & Leek Trial Update

 To avoid common pests of leeks and broad beans, I am trialling the late sowing of these vegetables. See here for the last update 2-3 weeks ago. The earliest sown seeds (Luz de Otono, 5th August) are now sporting 10 - 12 cm bean pods after about three months growth ...

Out-of-focus broad beans (3rd November)

...while later-sown plants have exhibited plenty of growth and flowers but not much in the way of bean pods. Days and nights are getting cooler though rainfall has increased. It is beginning to look like beans sown after mid-August in Herefordshire will not produce a useful crop this year. The plants have remained almost completely pest-free which is a bonus. Although we are still awaiting the first frost of Autumn, a few plants have shown frost damage on the leaves ...

Minor frost damage on Luz de Otono broad beans

There are still plenty of pollinators about ...


... which is helpful though not essential.

If the later-sown plants do not produce edible pods, then I will try to overwinter the plants; hoping for a mild winter but with plenty of horticultural fleece to hand for those colder nights. A severe winter may 'do' for the plants but at least we will have improved soil fertility via nitrogen fixation.

Main broad bean plot (3rd November)

Meanwhile, the leek plot next to the main broad bean plot is doing nicely ...

Late-sown leeks on November 3rd

No leeks were lost to pests and diseases which more than compensates for the lower yields expected from late sowings. I have informed Mary that she can start using them in the kitchen. I will be making leek and potato soup in the Vitamix which will make a nice change from courgette soup!

  


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