Merry Christmas and/or Seasonal Greetings

This Hereford resident has gone the extra mile to celebrate Christmas ...

 ... but whatever your faith, religion, belief, worldview, philosophy of life, mindset, ideology, and outlook on life is, we wish you a peaceful and happy time as 2022 draws to a close.  Enjoy the holiday season whether you subscribe to Naturalism, Theism or Pantheism. Think kindly of others and care for those less fortunate.

Ice Pictures

In a recent post, I mentioned the recent cold snap we have been experiencing in the UK. It has been cold & frosty over a period of days which has allowed the ice pictures to develop on the Summerhouse window panes.

Ice Picture #1

Here are some weather data from my Davis Weather Station - minimum and maximum daily temperatures over the period from 1st December 2022 to 18th December 2022. The first six days of the month were mild for December - daytime temperatures around 5-7 ℃ with nighttime temperatures between 1-4 ℃. Temperatures first dipped below freezing point on the morning of the 7th and, since then, minimum daily temperatures have been below 0 ℃. On two days (13th/14th), daytime and nighttime temperatures stayed at, or below, freezing. Minimum temperatures of -6 ℃, -9 ℃ and -8 ℃ were recorded between the 14-16th December - comfortably the coldest temperatures I have recorded with my current weather station.

Max/Min Temperatures from 1/12/22-18/12/22

The record low minimum temperatures had a noticeable effect on my kitchen garden. We are promised a period of relative warmth so it will be interesting to see how the plants recover.

Kitchen Garden - 15/12/22

A few more ice pictures ...

Ice Picture #2

Ice Picture #3

Ice Picture #4

Ice Picture #5

Real or Fake Christmas Trees?

It is that time of year when I plunge into the depths of the cellar and wrestle the Xmas tree out of its cardboard coffin. After assembling the three pieces and placing the tree in its stand, I just need to check the fairy lights still work before handing over the branch-straightening & decoration stage to Mary.

Mary setting up this year's Xmas tree

Also at this time of the year, the discussion of whether real or fake Xmas trees are better for the planet surfaces in the mainstream - and not so mainstream - media. My maxim on this topic was that fake trees used for at least 10 years were equivalent to a new real tree every year - I don't know where that information came from but it was planted into my memory many moons ago.

Since you should update your maxims as new evidence comes to light, I thought I would take another look at this topic. My first port of call was the Soil Association website which confirmed my long-held maxim that you need to re-use an artificial tree 10 times to negate its carbon footprint. Job done! Time to put some presents around our fake Xmas tree!

We then tried to recall how long we had had this particular fake tree. There is certainly a photo from Xmas 2018 where it features in the background ...

Xmas 2018

... and we inherited the tree from our son and daughter-in-law so that means it has been re-used at least five times.

Now for some 'facts and figures' from the Soil Association article:

  1. Seven million Xmas trees sold each year in the UK
  2. About half of these are fake, likely imported from China
  3. Most real trees are UK-grown but trees worth up to £3,000,000 imported
  4. Nordman Fir is the most popular real tree
  5. Xmas trees take 10-12 years to grow 6 feet, the most popular size
  6. A two-metre artificial tree has a carbon footprint of 40 kg (CO2 equivalent), a widely reported statistic
  7. Fake trees are used, on average, only four times before disposal
  8. Artificial trees are difficult to recycle
  9. The method of disposal chosen for real trees is an important factor in determining the overall carbon footprint
  10. A real tree that is burnt after Xmas has a footprint more than 10 times less than an artificial tree

Let us first consider the carbon footprint issue of the debate:

  • According to the Carbon Trust, a two-metre real tree where landfill is the means of disposal has a carbon footprint of 16 kg CO2e - largely down to the methane produced by the anaerobic decomposition process. So an artificial tree only needs to be used three times to have a lower carbon footprint.
  • Chipping the tree for use as a garden mulch or composting (aerobic) at home or in a local authority facility reduces the carbon footprint to about 3.5 kg CO2e. In this case, the artificial tree needs to be used more than 10 times to negate its carbon footprint relative to a real tree disposed of by chipping/composting.
  • Burning the tree has a similar 3.5 kg CO2e footprint
  • Growing your own tree in a pot that you bring inside every Xmas potentially has a negative carbon footprint
  • Suppose you use an artificial tree 10 times, then your annual carbon footprint is 4 kg CO2e. That is equivalent to 36 bananas, or 20 hours watching BBC iPlayer on a 55-inch LED TV, or driving 8 miles in an average UK car, or three 10-inch Margherita pizzas, or two litres of local cow's milk, or a dozen eggs, or one takeaway vegetarian curry for 4
  • While I'm a great believer in 'every little thing counts', it is difficult to get that worked up about the relatively small carbon footprint of an artificial tree
  • Also worth mentioning is the cost of picking up your real tree before Christmas and taking it to the local recycling centre post-Christmas for shredding/composting (i.e. the low-carbon option). A popular local grower of Xmas trees is located about 6 miles away while the recycling centre is 2.5 miles away. So a total of 17 miles in round trips by car - equivalent to 8 kg CO2e per year! Of course, you could have your tree delivered and collected but there will still be an additional carbon cost
  • In summary, although the general meme in the media is that real trumps fake every time in the Xmas tree debate, I find the arguments are far more nuanced. I do wonder whether Xmas tree growers just have a slicker PR machine. Even if you only keep an artificial tree for 4 years (the average), the carbon footprint of 10 kg CO2e per year is less than a real tree sent to lanfill and, potentially, less than a real tree disposed of responsibly. As our American friends say, you need to do the math!
 The average carbon footprint of a UK resident is 13 metric tonnes CO2e; 10 tonnes as carbon dioxide and 3 tonnes as other greenhouse gases. The per capita UK footprint is approximately double the world average and has not changed significantly since 1990. [Note: lower reported per capita footprints (e.g. 6 tonnes/annum) do not include imports/exports, shipping or aviation]

So, a per annum carbon footprint of 4 kg CO2e (real or fake tree) represents only 0.03 % of a typical UK resident's carbon footprint. I cannot help feeling there are better ways to reduce our footprint than worrying about whether to have a real or a fake Christmas tree.

Apart from its carbon footprint, there are a number of other environmental reasons you might prefer a real Xmas tree:

  • Recyclability: a real tree is biodegradable (composted, chipped) whereas a fake tree is not. It is reported that artificial trees are difficult to recycle because they are made up of different materials: wood, metal, plastic. I'm not 100% convinced on the second point. One of my neighbours passes on his real Xmas tree to me for disposal. I shred and compost the leaves and needles and saw up the trunk as fuel for our woodburner. When the time comes to dispose of our fake Xmas tree, I will try to pass it on as a Xmas tree to someone else before looking at recycling options. The plastic needles will be stripped off into a bag and disposed of with our general waste for incineration and electricity production. The separated metal branches and wooden trunk will both be recycled at our local facility. Not that difficult really if you put a bit of effort in.
  • Real trees 'absorb' carbon during their growing stage which has to be good? Except it is the mature trees that sequester the most carbon and at a faster rate. So as a carbon sink, it would be better to allow these Xmas trees to keep growing instead of chopping them down. Furthermore, trees allowed to mature sufficiently to produce lumber for, say, building could lock away that carbon for centuries.
  • During their growing stage, Xmas trees provide habitat for wildlife. While this may be true relative to barren treeless areas, we can provide a much better and more biodiverse habitat by planting a range of local tree-types that are allowed to mature. Or we could grow crops to feed people. 
  • Real trees (and plants) absorb pollutants and improve indoor air quality. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. Pine trees are one of the biggest contributors to air pollution but there are also issues with the plasticizers, flame retardants and other chemicals in fake Xmas trees. Real trees may also bring in other flora and fauna (moulds, insects, bacteria, pollen) that may give an allergenic reaction. Unless the fake Xmas tree is the only bit of plastic in your home, it is unlikely to have an impact on air quality. And you could pick a better alternative to Xmas trees from the range of houseplants known to improve indoor air quality.

So, our fake 6-year-old Xmas tree still has a few more years left in it and we are not planning a replacement anytime soon. By my reckoning, we are already ahead in the carbon footprint game compared with having a real tree every year. All the decorations are decades old and many were made at home by the children.

Everyone's situation will be different but choosing between a real and an artificial Christmas tree should not cause you any anxiety provided you act responsibly. It is a very minor part of your overall carbon footprint and, probably, a relatively minor part of your overall Xmas footprint - e.g. a 6 kg turkey has a carbon footprint of 65.4 kg CO2e!!

Happy Christmas, everyone

Christmas 2022

Frost Damage and Leaky Butts

It has been cold (by UK standards) these last few days. A summary of December 2022 temperatures - upto 11th - recorded on my Davis Weather Station is shown below. Temperature readings are monitored continuously and recorded/saved every 15 minutes.

15-minute Temperature Readings (1/12/22 to 11/12/22)

The first six days of December were relatively mild before night-time temperatures plummetted into sub-zero territory on the 7th December. The next four days were sunny boosting daytime temperatures as high as 5 ℃ and 6 ℃. The 11th December was cloudy so daytime temperatures only reached 1 ℃ maximum.

The local weather forecast courtesy of the BBC is saying this cold snap will last for another week.

On my daily garden tour checking on the bird feeders, stocking up the hot compost bins and general garden housekeeping, I heard the sound of rushing water that I tracked down to a punctured water butt ...

Leaky Butt - 10th December 2022

The water butt was full of icy water and the location of the puncture (presumably caused by the subzero temperatures) meant I just had to let the butt empty itself.

The last of the celery plants took a bit of a frost hit ... 

Celery after frost - 9th December

The celeriac seemed to have gone the same way ...

Celeriac after frost - 9th December

... but has recovered somewhat ...

Celeriac - 11th December

The Swiss Chard and Perpetual Spinach (blue) look to have survived so far. Last winter they produced all through winter and spring, albeit winter was mild. The small parsnip patch (yellow) will be ready to lift soon now they've had a dose of frost to sweeten the roots.

Alcohol-Free Beer

Ever since humans discovered fermentation, possibly accidentally over 12,000 years ago, they have imbibed alcoholic beverages for many reasons: the buzz, safer to drink than untreated water, reduce inhibitions, Dutch courage, socialising, etc.

When people respond to surveys asking about their alcoholic consumption, it is reasonable to assume they will underestimate it. A better estimate of per capita alcohol intake can be derived from sales of alcoholic drinks. Worldwide, the average consumption of alcohol per person is 5.8 litres. It is significantly lower (<0.5 litres) in North Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia where the Muslim faith dominates but generally much higher (>10 litres) in 'Westernized' countries.

On average, men drink considerably more than women, typically three to four times as much. Surveys suggest people in the UK are drinking fewer alcoholic beverages; the change is not large and, anecdotally, seems to be down to more young people going teetotal

Low Alcohol or Alcohol-Free Beers

In the past, low-alcohol beers (< 1% v/v) tasted pretty dire; presumably the process to remove alcohol also removed or altered/destroyed the flavour. Things have changed dramatically in the past 5 years and there is now a wide choice of low-alcohol and alcohol-free beers, lagers, stouts and ales which actually taste like their alcoholic equivalents.

In the UK, there are three categories of low-alcohol beers:

  • alcohol-free (<0.05 % ABV)
  • de-alcoholised (<0.5 % ABV)
  • low alcohol (<1.2 % ABV)
Making a decent low-alcohol or alcohol-free beer is both an art and a science. For a summary of the most common methods, see here. Basically, you can ferment the beer as usual and then remove the alcohol (usually by distillation or filtration) or use specialised yeasts and ingredients to limit the alcohol content. Guinness 0.0, for example, uses 'cold filtration' (i.e. reverse osmosis).

The photo above shows some of the low-alcohol beers available from our local Sainsbury's supermarket. The Punk IPA and Adnams Ghost Ship are <0.5% ABV whereas the Guinness 0.0 and Doombar Zero are <0.05% ABV. The Guinness and Adnams beers are excellent substitutes for the 'real' thing while the Punk Ale and Doombar are pleasant enough - but that is because I prefer hoppy bitters to malty ales.

There is plenty of choice for low- and zero-alcohol beers and lagers that you should be able to find something you like. It is a shame that pubs do not stock a wider range - usually they are limited to either the Heinekin or Budweiser low-alcohol options which is hardly inspiring. Mind you, I'm usually more than happy to sample the wares of local breweries when visiting different parts of the country. Mary, on the other hand, prefers non-alcoholic provided it is not sweet or sugary (e.g. lemonade).

Broad Bean Trial Update

 Winter has finally arrived with the start of a cold snap estimated to last about a week. Minimum temperatures of -2 ℃, -4 ℃ and -3 ℃ respectively were recorded by my Davis Weather Station during the early hours of Wednesday (7th), Thursday (8th) and Friday (9th). That was enough to bring the broad bean trial to an end.

The trial had two objectives:

  1. Is it possible to avoid blackfly infestations by sowing broad beans late?
  2. How big a crop do late-sown broad beans yield?
It only remains to define what 'late-sown' means. For this trial, the first beans were sown on 5th August and the last beans at the end of August. The variety chosen for this trial was Luz de Otono. The weather for September, October, and November was warm/mild though August was dry and hot and the seeds/plants needed some additional watering.


  1. A very minor blackfly infestation on the earliest sown beans was treated successfully with SB Invigorator. No blackfly observed on the broad beans sown after the middle of August. So, success!!
  2. After showing some early promise, the conversion of broad bean flowers into pods was almost non-existent (probably, less than 1%) - and, there was no shortage of flowers! So, failure!!
The pod below, featured in this post, was picked following the December frosts. It had grown but not as much as I had expected.

Broad bean picked on 9th December after frosts

The contents of the pod (frost-damaged) are shown below ...

Contents of the above broad bean pod

... six beans per pod is fine, we just needed more pods.

The broad bean plants do not look strong enough to survive the winter so I will be adding them to my hot composting bins.

Future Plans

In 2023, I will give this another try. Clearly, I need to start the process earlier than August 5th. So I will be sowing two lots: one lot at the beginning of June and the other lot at the beginning of July. Success or otherwise will be based on the same two criteria: yield and blackfly tolerance.

View from the Rear Window - November 2022

 As November drew to a close, so did the Autumn Season of 2022, meteorologically-speaking. I remember it as warm and overcast - but what does the weather data reveal. October's report is here with links to previous months.

At the start of the month, there are still plenty of leaves on the trees and shrubs albeit tinged with seasonal golden-browns. We thankfully avoided the storms of November 2021, so we could enjoy the autumn colours for a little longer.

Rear Garden on 2nd November 2022

We had visited Westonbirt Arboretum in early November to see the autumn colours - we could have saved ourselves some money by staying at home!!

Rear Garden 14th November 2022

By the 21st November, the transition from autumn to winter had begun in earnest ...

Rear Garden 21st November 2022

... just before we entered December ...

Rear Garden 30th November 2022

Jobs in the Garden

  1. Harvest celery, cauliflower, cucumbers, tomatoes, leeks, spinach, red cabbage, kale, medlars
  2. Still consuming earlier harvests of fresh potatoes, onions, chilli peppers, apples and pears, marrows and squashes
  3. Winterize the asparagus bed
  4. Lots of garden-tidying, shredding and composting
  5. Sow green manure in the sweetcorn bed
November 2022 Weather

Weather parameters for October 2022 are collated below. Generally mild with only one frost at the end of the month. Plenty of rain kept the sunshine away and not too windy so we could enjoy the autumn leaves for longer. 

November 2022

Weather Parameter



Average Monthly Temperature 

9 oC

Maximum Monthly Temperature

18 oC


Minimum Monthly Temperature

-0 oC


Number of Air Frost Days


Number of Hot Days (> 25 oC)


Monthly Precipitation

101.6 mm

Greatest 24 h Precipitation

17.2 mm

Oct 31th - Nov 1st

Number of Dry Days


Monthly Sunshine Hours (estimated)


Average Wind Speed

3 km/h

Highest Wind Speed

48 km/h


Maximum Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1028.9 hPa


Minimum Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

981.0 hPa


Average Barometric Pressure (Sea Level)

1012.5 hPa

Daily min/max temperatures are shown in the next plot. Day time temperatures remained high throughout the month until the last few days: overnight temperatures held up well for the first half of the month.

Daily rainfall and sunshine hours (using solar radiation as a proxy) are plotted below. Not many dry or sunny days with plenty of rain though not enough yet to compensate for the dry hot summer ...

The Met Office noted the UK would need near-record cold temperatures in December to prevent 2022 being the warmest year on record. Autumn 2022 (September, October & November) was the third warmest (average mean temperature = 11.1 ℃) since detailed records began in 1884; 2006 and 2011 were warmer.

The following image is taken from the Met Office website and annotated to indicate the approximate location of Herefordshire. For Autumn 2022, both mean temperature and rainfall were above average for Herefordshire and sunshine hours were about average ...

The next bargraph shows the November temperature variations recorded by my Davis Weather Station for 2020, 2021 and 2022. The unusual warmth this November can be attributed to higher night time temperatures and fewer frost days.

The following bargraph illustrates the higher than normal rainfall in November in what would, otherwise, be quite a 'normal' November for the 2020s.

And finally, a few photos from the garden ...

Fungi on an old apple tree stump

Apple and Plum Trees given a winter feed/mulch

Bletted Medlars

Acer Helicopter Seeds

Balletic beauty of autumn fuschsia

Autumn colour in the mini-wood

Hare baying at the moon

Sunbeams in the Acer

Winter-flowering Coronilla

Hot Lips Salvia


Impressive Autumn Colour in Neighbour's Garden

Bee on Broad Bean

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