So how do you kill the scarlet lily beetle? This is quite possibly the best question I have asked this summer. Why, because my prized Nepalese lilies are covered in them and I have already spent over an hour this morning popping and squishing both the red adults and their evil looking larval children. My first recommendation is to wear gloves when commencing this course of action but unfortunately I saw red (how appropriate) as I cast my eyes over the ravaged mess that was once luxuriant foliage.

The problem with lily beetles is that when they are disturbed, they have this irritating habit of dropping to the ground and lying motionless on their backs. This makes it the devils own job to try and find them if your lilies are growing in the ground. Furthermore, if left unchecked, lily beetles will couple frantically and lay their eggs hidden from view on the underside of the lilies leaves.

In a further attempt to avoid discovery, the dull orange larvae will first hatch, then cover themselves with excreta to deter predators allowing themselves to feast on both the lily leaves and flowers with impunity!

Once they have had their fill they will drop to the floor and bury themselves in the soil beneath your plants in order to pupate before hatching out in their scarlet adult form. In this manner they are more than capable of producing multiple generations in a single year. This is why it is important to regularly check your lily plants late in the season, even when there are no longer any flowers. You really cannot take your eye of the ball with regards to this.


Because of the juveniles effective camouflage and the adults capacity to hid and drop out of site, squashing lily beetles as a control method may not be particularly practical, although it can me extremely satisfying. As a far more effective measures go - and particularly with heavy infestations - you may need to apply a systemic insecticidal spray.

While this may not be an environmentally ethical method of controlling lily beetle, at least it will work, but I will advise that you do not apply this group of chemicals to you plants while they are in flower, otherwise beneficial pollinating insects can be seriously affected.

Alternatively, use a contact insecticide such as Permethrin, one of the Pyrethroid insecticides. Just be aware that you will need to apply Permethrin on a regular basis and it will only kill what it touches. As mentioned before, do not spray the flowers as again, it will kill beneficial pollinating insects.

For related articles click onto the following links:
ATLAS BEETLE - Chalcosoma atlas


Carrot fly is a small black-bodied fly whose larvae feed on the roots of carrots and related plants. In fact carrot fly is the most problematic pest of carrots, able to make the large proportion of your carrot crop inedible!

What are the symptoms of carrot fly?

You can generally spot carrot fly from rusty brown scars that ring the tap roots. This makes the carrot inedible, and susceptible to secondary root rots.

When the roots are cut through, you will see that small tunnels are revealed, often inhabited by slender creamy-yellow maggots up to 9mm long.

Organic control

1. Sow your carrot seed sparsely to avoid thinning the seedlings out later on.

2. Female carrot flies searching for egg-laying opportunities are attracted by the smell released when surplus carrot seedlings are removed. With that in mind, never leave your thinnings on the ground - always remove and destroy.

3. Late sown carrots (after mid-May) avoid the first generation of this pest; similarly carrots harvested before late August avoid the second generation.

4. Protect vulnerable crops by surrounding them with 2ft) high barriers made of clear polythene to exclude the low-flying female flies. Alternatively, cover the plants with horticultural fleece. It is essential to practise crop rotation when growing carrots, otherwise adult carrot flies may emerge within the protected crop from overwintered pupae in the soil.

5. Choose carrot cultivars that are less susceptible to carrot fly, such as 'Fly Away', 'Maestro', 'Resistafly' and 'Saytan'. Be aware however that there is no such thing as a carrot fly proof variety, only carrot fly resistant.

6. A mixture of pathogenic nematodes, can be watered into the soil to control the young larvae. This is available by mail order from biological control suppliers.

For related articles click onto:
Sacrificial Planting


If you are looking to buy angels trumpet seed, you are in luck. The 'Seeds of Eaden' seed shop now has angels trumpet seed in stock as part of its standard range.

‘Angels Trumpet’ is the common name associated with plants from either the Datura or the Brugmansia family and for good reason to – both of these spectacular natives of South America will make a stunning addition to any tropical effect garden.

Often confused with its close relation the Datura, the Brugmansia is distinctly different in that it can grow as large into a small tree whereas Datura's are annuals and will only attain the size of a small bush. In addition, the majority of Brugmansia will display their dramatic flowers pointing downwards while those of a Datura will point upwards.

As a generalization, the Angel's Trumpet, is a large, shrub-like, fragrant flowering plant that behaves like an annual in colder climates, although it can survive winters as far north as zone 5. However, young seedlings will fare better if they don't face a late spring frost. Start seeds indoors, and transplant them after the last expected spring frost date.

Sow Angels Trumpet seed from February to March. To help with germination, soak Angels Trumpet seed in warm water for 24 hours before sowing.

Place seed on the surface of lightly firmed, moist seed compost in pots or trays and cover with a fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Gently water, then seal container inside a polythene bag and keep at a temperature of between 15-20ºC. After sowing, do not exclude light as this helps germination. Try to keep the surface of the compost moist but not waterlogged. The seed should germinate within 14-30 days.

When large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into 3in pots or trays. Plant out once plants are well grown approximately 5ft apart or transplant into 10in containers. For best results, provide a moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Do not feed the plants at this point, but water well.

Provide a minimum winter temperature of 7C  (they may need to be brought in under protection to achieve this) and reduce watering over the winter. Angel's Trumpet plants require minimal pruning, and the removal of old flower heads - although plants can be cut back to base during spring to rejuvenate every few years.


ROME: Villa Adriana - Tivoli

The ancient remains found at Villa Adriana are part of a site covering an area of at least 80 hectares. Constructed at Tibur (modern-day Tivoli) in 117 A.D, Villa Adriana began its existence as an imperial palace far away from the city of Rome. It remains one of the most remarkable examples of imperial and dynastic palace and has been recognised as such by being appointed as a Human Heritage Monument by UNESCO.

Little is left of the magnificent decoration of the Villa - the result of treasure hunting excavations and the consistent theft of its brick and marble. Through out the centuries it had been common practice to remove marble so that it could be burned to make lime.

Because so few marble fragments survive, most of today's visitors to Villa Adriana have no idea that this place was almost entirely paved with luxury marble pavements. Further more, the walls were completely covered from top to bottom with marble panels.

Rumour has it that the Emperor Hadrian disliked his imperial palace on the Palatine Hill so much that during the later years of his reign, he actually governed the Roman Empire from his villa at Tibur.

How did he achieve this? By creating a dedicated postal service that ran from Villa Adriana to Rome 18 miles away to the west.

After Hadrian’s death, the villa remained in use by his various successors, but during the decline of the Roman Empire, Villa Adriana fell into disuse and was partially ruined. But it didn't all go to waste.

In the 16th century Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este - son of Lucrezia Borgia – was granted the position of Governor of Tivoli. In this position of considerable power he had much of the marble and statues found at Hadrian's villa removed and used to decorate his own Villa - Villa D'Este - which was located nearby.

Even if they are almost two thousand years old, the ruins at Villa Adriana remain imposing, and have fascinated architects and artists throughout the ages. Visiting the site in search of inspiration, they copied the shapes of the domes and tried to uncover, and then master, their technical building secrets.

By walking around the grounds of Villa Adriana, you are treading in the footsteps of Master as this place was visited and studied by the likes of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Borromini.

One of the most striking and best preserved features of the Villa are a pool and an artificial grotto which were named Canopus and Serapeum, respectively. Canopus was an Egyptian city which housed a temple was dedicated to the god Serapis – hence the name Serapeum. However, the architecture is Greek influenced as can be seen in the Corinthian columns and copies of famous Greek statues that surround the pool. One story involves the Serapeum and its peculiarly-shaped dome.

A prominent architect of the day, Apollodorus of Damascus, dismisses Hadrian's designs, comparing the dome on Serapeum to a pumpkin! Apparently, Apollodorus was quoted as saying "Go away and draw your pumpkins. You know nothing about these [architectural] matters." Once Hadrian became emperor, Apollodorus was exiled and later put to death.

Another interesting structure in the Villa is the so-called "Maritime Theatre’ which consists of a round portico with a barrel vault supported by pillars. Inside the portico was a ring-shaped pool with a central island.

During the ancient times the island was connected to the portico by two drawbridges. On the island sits a small Roman house complete with an atrium, a library, a triclinium and small baths. The area was probably used by the emperor as a retreat from the busy life at the court.

How to get to Villa D’Este from Rome


How fast is a snail? A more relevant question is perhaps ' slow is a snail..?'

The answer is very slow indeed. In fact, someone when to the effort of recording the speed of a snail in 1970 and it turned out to be 0.00758 miles - equal to 40 feet or 12.2 meters - per hour.

However the information doesn't stop there! The fastest moving species of land snail - which is probably the common garden snail (Helix aspersa) - can travel at a rate of 0.03 miles (158.5 feet or 48.3 meters) per hour.


On deciding on whether something is either a fruit or a vegetable you have two choices.

1. What is its true botanical description , while the other is...

2. What it is commonly considered to be?

The botanical definition of a fruit is the often fleshy part of a plant that surrounds the seeds. By this definition apples, pumpkins, eggplants, peppers, squashes, rose hips, peppers, beans, and corn kernels are all fruits. All other edible plant parts are considered vegetables. Lettuce, carrots, onions, rhubarb, potatoes and spinach for example are all vegetables.

The vegetable group can be sub divided further in to:

1. Roots
2. Tubers
3. Bulbs
4. Stems
5. Legumes
6. Aqueous
7. Leaves
8. Flower Heads
9. Fungi

The popular definitions of fruit and vegetable are somewhat different from the technical definitions. Most people will categorize 'vegetables' as foods that are eaten as part of a meal's main course and 'fruits' as foods that are eaten for dessert or as a snack.

So my question to you is this:

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable - (you can't use 'salad' as an answer)


Holly berries ripen in the late autumn, usually in November or December, which is why they make such great Christmas decoration. They sometimes remain on the tree throughout the winter, so could possibly be collected as late as April the following year. Berries are stripped from the trees by hand.

The collected berries should be separated from any twigs and ‘de-bunched’. They can be left in buckets or baskets for a week or two, provided they are stored in a cool, dry place.

You have a choice now. Do you want nature take its course or do you want to pre-treat the seed - stratification - to speed up germination?

Natures way

Mix the seeds with equal parts horticultural sand or a sand/compost mixture. Use 50% leafmould or peat-free compost and 50% horticultural sand. For each handful of seeds add two or three handfuls of mixture. Select a pot that has enough room for this seed/sand mixture (and a bit more) and put a layer of stones in the bottom. Cover the stones with sand. Place the seed/sand mixture on top of this and cover this with 2-3cm sand. Label the pot and stand in a shady spot outdoors.

The pot needs to remain outside for eighteen months. This is where patience is required! Water the pots if they show signs of drying out and protect from birds and mice if they discover your seeds. We will be sowing the seeds the second spring following collection. Holly seed has a very hard outer seedcoat that needs a full summer (warm temperatures) to break down, allowing oxygen and water to reach the embryo tree inside.


You will need to stratify holly seeds in order to break the dormancy period. To achieve this, place a 1-inch layer of damp moss peat over the bottom of a zip top plastic bag. Place the holly seeds onto the moss peat and cover them with secondary 1-inch layer of damp moss peat.

Seal the zip top bag and store it at about 3 - 4 degrees Celsius for four to five months. The salad drawer in the bottom of your refrigerator will work well for this.

Remove the seeds from their chilled area in the spring or early summer as they will now be ready for sowing.

How to sow Holly Seeds

Plant the holly seeds out in a nursery bed in the garden. An area that has deep, loamy soil and full to part shade is ideal. Avoid areas that are prone to periods of standing water during the year.

Plant holly seeds ¾ to 1 inch deep and cover with soil. Keep the area damp with frequent, light water applications.

Place a tomato cage or other wire structure over the seedlings when they emerge to protect the young holly plants from being trampled.

Spread a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost over the seedbed to add nutrients to the soil and encourage strong seedling development. Keep the compost back 2 inches from the young holly plants to avoid smothering them.

Transplant the holly seedlings into their permanent position when they are 12 inches tall. Dig down 12 to 18 inches when transplanting to avoid damaging the taproot. Dig out the root ball 24 inches in diameter.


Yes, that perennial question that fleets through the mind whenever you pick up a packet of dried fruit - well it does for me. Unfortunately, as soon as I put back the packet of dried fruit the question has long since disappeared - usually along with the reason why I took the packet out in the first place!

Be that as it may the differences between a current, a raisin and a sultana are as follows:

Raisins are dried white grapes usually of the variety 'Muscatel'. The main producers are the USA, Turkey, Greece and Australia

Sultanas are small raisins. They are seedless, sweet, pale golden in colour and come mainly from Turkey

Currants are dried, black, seedless grapes originally produced in Greece. They were known as 'raisins of the sun'.

And now you life will be many times improved. Enjoy your dried mixed fruit.


Unless you've spent your life avoiding how to cook - you know who you are - you've probably cut up an onion and experienced the burning tears you get from the onion vapours. Why does this happen? Well, this is a natural response that the onion has evolved in order to protect itself from those humans and animals who are trying to eating.

So how does an onion make you cry?

When you slice into an onion, you cut through the tiny plant cells within it, breaking them open so that they release their contents. Unfortunately, when this happens amino acids within onions cells oxidise to form sulfenic acids. Other enzymes that were once kept separate are now are freely able to mix with naturally occurring sulfenic acids to produce propanethial S-oxide. This is the volatile sulfur compound that wafts upward toward your eyes. This gas reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid burns your eyeballs, stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away.

As the tears run down your cheeks, they take the stinging chemical away with them, making your eyes feel better again.

You may have heard of the Scoville Scale Rating which is used to measure the 'hotness' of a pepper. Well, there is something similar for onions. Called the Pyruvate Scale, it measures the pungency in onions and garlic. To avoid the worst of having onion acid in your eyes, avoid cutting into the basal root of the onion.

You can thank me later!




Many parents live in dread of being asked a question by their child and not knowing the answer. Take this example ‘…why is sea water salty…? it seems simple enough but get the answer wrong and you could be on the road to having your child lose faith in your role as an – up ‘til now – all knowing figurehead.

However, all is not lost because the answer to why the sea is salty is simple enough.

The saltiness in our oceans is the result of millions of years of minerals leaching and dissolving from the stones and rocks found within the earth. While the largest proportion of dissolved salts comes from our rivers, a good quantity of these salts are dissolved from rocks and sediments below the ocean floor, and released through volcanic vents. To a lesser degree the weather is also a contributing factor as rain also deposits mineral particles into the oceans.

As time goes on the sun's heat distils or vaporizes almost pure water from the surface of the sea, and this leaves the salts and minerals behind. The water returns to the ocean, via rivers or rain washing down even more salt which becomes ever more concentrated. This process is part of the continual exchange of water between the Earth and the atmosphere that is called the hydrological or water cycle


Although the sweet potato is an exotic, tropical root crop from South America, it is becoming an increasingly common sight in our local supermarkets. Nutritious and easy to grow, you can plant it just about anywhere so long as the soil is free draining and the plant gets plenty of sun.

Generally pest free in the northern European countries, the only problem that you likely to get with growing sweet potatoes is slug damage, and possibly even mice damage - mice have been known to actually dig into the ground to get at the root! This is why the practice of growing them in containers is becoming a far more popular method.

Being grown in a pot has other benefits too because not only will it provide better drainage than it would otherwise get in the ground, it will also afford warmer soil temperatures as the pot can transfer heat from the sun directly into the root environment. Both of these factors help to create improved growing conditions.

To make the most of the growing season your crop can be started off indoors by planting slips (rooted sweet potato cuttings) or tubers into as large a pot as you can physically move around. This will need to be done approximately 3-4 weeks before the last frost - which in the United Kingdom will mean planting from the beginning of April onwards.

TIP. Sweet potatoes like good drainage, sandy soils, lots of sun, lots of space, and a reasonable amount of water and nutrients. They love the warmth, the hotter it is then the faster they grow.

Sweet potatoes do not like heavy, waterlogged soils, or cold weather. Neither will they like fertilizers high in nitrogen - like chicken manure. It will make them grow lots of leaves but no sweet potatoes.

To start growing sweet potatoes you will require a rich, free-draining compost and you can create this by using good quality garden topsoil, horticultural grit and well rotted farm manure mixed together using a 1:1:1 ratio. Slips should be planted at the same depth that they were lifted from, while tubers should be planted on their side at a depth of about 6 inches. To give you a rough idea of spacing you can plant 3 slips/ tubers in an 18 inch diameter pot.

Being a semi tropical plants they require at least 110 days to mature. They are vigorous, and once they start growing, will readily spread. You can choose to control the vines by growing them vertically up a wigwam or trellis or allow them to trail naturally along the ground.

They can be lifted from the end of August, but it is usually better to leave them until the leaves begin to yellow and die back. In fact, you can leave them in the pot for as long as you can so long as they are not damaged by early frosts. Once lifted, the new tubers will need to be allowed to mature for a week or so in the warmest area you have in the house - something like the airing cupboard will be fine. This will allow the skins to ripen and the flavour to sweeten and become true to type. They are now ready for use in cooking and will store quite happily in a cool dry place for a month or so.

For related articles click onto the following links:


The question '...why is the sea blue...' is one that everybody thinks they know, but only realise that they don't know when someone - usually a child - asks them.

However, the answer is know and was a discovery that earned C. V. Raman the 1930 Nobel Prize in physics. Returning to his native India by way of the Mediterranean Sea, Raman himself wondered at the sea's stunning deep blue color. Dissatisfied with the accepted explanation - that it reflected the sky - the looked into it further further and demonstrated a universal truth about the behavior of light.

In 1928, Raman discovered that when a beam of colored light enters a liquid, it scatters and some of it emerges as a different color. This deceptively simple observation had profound implications. As Raman said:

'...the character of the scattered radiations enable us to obtain an insight into the ultimate structure of the scattering substance...'

There are two reasons as to why the sea is blue:

Firstly, the sea reflects the sky does have some merit, but you have probably noticed that the sea is not very blue-looking when the sky is overcast. We know that water reflects and scatters the light that strikes it; this is shown by the fact that you can see your reflection in puddles. When the sky is brilliant blue, the sea is also, because it reflects the blue of the sky. Be aware however, that the sea is still blue-ish though not such a brilliant blue even if the sky is gray. In other words, something else is at work here.

The second reason is exactly the same reason as to why the sky is blue. Blue light is more easily bent, or refracted, than red light; therefore light refracted back from the surface of the sea appears blue. Furthermore, when you are underwater the water around you appears blue because more blue light is scattered back to your eye than red light.

The reflection part is most effective on surface to near-surface water only. However, as mentioned it is not the only reason. Try putting a glass of water under the sky and you will notice that it is not really that blue. Also, you may have already seen green sea water under the bright blue sky.

Now, here’s the clever part. If we talk about the sky, it slowly turns from blue to violet to black as you move into outer space. The changing of these hues also applies to the sea. The deeper the sea is, the bluer it becomes. For deeper seas, the blue color is given by the penetrating sunbeams. When a sunbeam hits the water surface, it doesn't stop its course at once, but splits into different hues as it goes deeper. The colour yellow disappears along the first meters, then the red fades, and finally the green. The only color left is blue.

Shallow waters on the other hand can only give off a light blue and sometimes even green but deeper waters give off a deeper blue color and if you go diving deep enough, you may be surprised that the surrounding color turns black as sunlight can no longer penetrate it.

In addition you will also need to factor in material that can be found under the sea such as corals, sand, sea grass, etc.

Renowned physicists of the world welcomed Raman's finding as proof of quantum theory. Chemists found it an invaluable tool for analyzing the composition of liquids, gases, and solids. The introduction of lasers in the 1960s made it even more useful. Today, the Raman Effect is used to monitor everything from manufacturing processes to the onset of life-threatening illnesses.

And that - if you understood all that science - is why the sea is blue or blue-ish.

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‘Angels Trumpet’ is the common name associated with plants from either the Datura or the Brugmansia family and for good reason to – both of these spectacular natives of South America will make a stunning addition to any tropical effect garden.

Often confused with its close relation the Datura, the Brugmansia is distinctly different in that it can grow as large into a small tree whereas Datura's are annuals and will only attain the size of a small bush.

In addition, the majority of Brugmansia will display their dramatic flowers pointing downwards while those of a Datura will point upwards.

As a generalisation, the Angel's Trumpet, is a large, shrub-like, fragrant flowering plant that behaves like an annual in colder climates, although it can survive winters as far north as zone 5.

However, young seedlings will fare better if they don't face a late spring frost. Start seeds indoors, and transplant them after the last expected spring frost date.

Sow Angels Trumpet seed from February to March. To help with germination, soak Angels Trumpet seed in warm water for 24 hours before sowing.

Place seed on the surface of lightly firmed, moist seed compost in pots or trays and cover with a fine sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Gently water, then seal container inside a polythene bag and keep at a temperature of between 15-20ºC. After sowing, do not exclude light as this helps germination.

Try to keep the surface of the compost moist but not waterlogged. The seed should germinate within 14-30 days.

When large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into 3in pots or trays. Plant out once plants are well grown approximately 5ft apart or transplant into 10in containers.

For best results, provide a moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Do not feed the plants at this point, but water well.

Provide a minimum winter temperature of 7C  (they may need to be brought in under protection to achieve this) and reduce watering over the winter.

Angel's Trumpet plants require minimal pruning, and the removal of old flower heads - although plants can be cut back to base during spring to rejuvenate every few years.

For related articles click onto the following links:


Mistletoe has always been a bit of an enigma, and although it's a parasite on some of our native deciduous plants it holds such a serene beauty that it's captured the imagination of European cultures throughout the ages. Thankfully, as a native to the UK, it’s relatively easy to grow mistletoe from seed, but along with the decline of our fruit industry – the apple tree is one of its predominant host plants - the mistletoe is no longer as common as it had once been. But with a little effort, and a touch of patience, your garden may well provide the next host for this beautiful and enigmatic species.

To save leaving mistletoe seed germination to chance, you can improve your germination rates by following these six tips for successfully growing mistletoe from seed.

1. The best time to propagate mistletoe is from March to April when the seed is fully ripe. Try to obtain seed from a host plant similar to the one you want to sow onto as this gives the best chance of germination.

If you are obtaining your seed from shop bought mistletoe the chances are that they have been imported in from French apple groves located in Normandy and Brittany. If the berries have been stored then re-hydrate them for a few hours in a little water. Whether they are fresh or stored, the seed will need to be squeezed out of the berry, along with a quantity of its sticky , viscous flesh, known as viscin.

2. Harvest intact berries only, because if the berry skin ruptures the contents inside will harden hindering germination. Unfortunately germination rates for mistletoe seed can be quite low as only about 10% of their seeds survive to becoming a mature plant. With this in mind it's advisable to propagate at least twenty seeds, as when mature, mistletoe will require both male and female plants to produce berries.

3. When choosing your host tree bare in mind the mistletoe references – apples are first, then poplars, limes, false acacia, and then hawthorn. Occasionally they have been known to grow on oak.

4. Select a branch 10cm (4in) or more in girth, preferably on a tree at least 15 years old. If possible sow seeds in the crooks of the higher branches so that sufficient light can reach the seedlings as they grow.

 Mark each berry with some coloured string to identify where they have been positioned. Alternatively make shallow cuts into the bark, remove the seed coats from the seeds, and insert them under the bark flaps. Cover the flaps with hessian and secure the bark back in place with twine protecting the seed from birds.

5. Germination is fairly rapid and a short green hypocotyl (a growing tip which bears the embryonic leaves) should appear and bend to make contact with the host bark.

At this stage these tiny plants are particularly susceptible to grazing invertebrates and birds. They are also prone to dehydration until their roots have connected with the hosts vascular system. If all goes well the hypocotyl will remain unchanged until the following February. Only then will a small new plant appear.

6. As the mistletoe develops the host branch will begin to swell in girth. Growth of this juvenile plant will remain slow taking five years to reach berrying-size. If either all male, or all female plants develop you can attach more seeds the mistletoe parent plant.

Strangely mistletoe will readily act as a host to its own parasitic seed.

For related articles click onto the following links:
How Does Mistletoe grow
How to Propagate and Grow Mistletoe
KEW Mistletoe



It really isn't possible to put on a truly traditional Christmas dinner with that most iconic of Christmas foods - the Christmas pudding! But you can't just put any old thing on the table, you need a proper traditional English recipe and - if you can - you need to get your Mum or your Gran to make it otherwise it just won't taste right.

Yes, making it is an utter faff, and yes, you need to make it a couple of months before Christmas - but get it right and your family will love you, and the presents you bought them, even more!

This recipe makes one large pudding in a 2 pint (1.2 litre) basin. If you have any left over you can re-heat it, wrapped in foil, in the oven next day. If you want two smaller puddings, use two 1 pint (570 ml) basins, but give them the same steaming time. If you can't get barley wine, use extra stout instead.

4 oz (110 g) shredded suet
2 oz (50 g) self-raising flour, sifted
4 oz (110 g) white breadcrumbs
1 level teaspoon ground mixed spice
¼ level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
good pinch ground cinnamon
8 oz (225 g) soft dark brown sugar
4 oz (110 g) sultanas
4 oz (110 g) raisins
10 oz (275 g) currants
1 oz (25 g) mixed candied peel, finely chopped (buy whole peel if possible, then chop it yourself)
1 oz (25 g) almonds, skinned and chopped
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
grated zest ½ large orange
grated zest ½ large lemon
2 tablespoons rum
2½ fl oz (75 ml) barley wine
2½ fl oz (75 ml) stout
2 large eggs


Begin the day before you want to steam the pudding. Take your largest, mixing bowl and start by putting in the suet, sifted flour and breadcrumbs, spices and sugar. Mix these ingredients thoroughly together, then gradually mix in all the dried fruit, mixed peel and nuts followed by the apple and the grated orange and lemon zests. Don't forget to check the ingredients list to make sure that you haven't left anything out.

Now in a smaller basin measure out the rum, barley wine and stout, then add the eggs and beat these thoroughly together. Next pour this over all the other ingredients, and begin to mix very thoroughly. At this point, it's traditional to gather all the family round, especially the children, and invite them to have a really good stir of the pudding mix and then to make a wish! 

The mixture should have a fairly sloppy consistency – that is, it should fall instantly from the spoon when this is tapped on the side of the bowl. If you think it needs a bit more liquid add a spot more stout. Cover the bowl and leave overnight.

Next day, pack the mixture into the lightly greased basin, cover it with a double sheet of baking paper and a sheet of foil and tie it securely with string. It's also a good idea to tie a piece of string across the top to make a handle. Place the pudding in a steamer set over a saucepan of simmering water and steam the pudding for 8 hours. Do make sure you keep a regular eye on the water underneath and top it up with boiling water from the kettle from time to time.

When the pudding is steamed let it get quite cold, then remove the steam papers and foil and replace them with some fresh ones, again making a string handle for easier manoeuvring. Now your Christmas pudding is all ready for Christmas Day. Keep it in a cool place away from the light. Under the bed in an unheated bedroom is an ideal place.

To cook, fill a saucepan quite full with boiling water, put it on the heat and, when it comes back to the boil, place a steamer on top of the pan and turn it down to a gentle simmer. Put the Christmas pudding in the steamer, cover and leave to steam away for 2¼ hours. You'll need to check the water from time to time and maybe top it up a bit.

To serve, remove the pudding from the steamer and take off the wrapping. Slide a palette knife all round the pudding, then turn it out on to a warmed plate. Place a suitably sized sprig of holly or mistletoe on top. Now warm a ladleful of brandy over direct heat, and as soon as the brandy is hot it can be lit. Place the ladle, now gently flaming, on top of the pudding – but don't pour it over until you reach the table. When you do, pour it slowly over the pudding, sides and all and watch it flame - close the curtains and turn off the lights for the best effect!

Serve the pudding with rum sauce, or rum or brandy butter.


If you are looking to buy artichoke seed, you are in luck. The 'Seeds of Eaden' seed shop now has artichoke seed in stock as part of its standard range.

Artichokes are at risk of becoming one of the gardeners worst kept secrets. Still considered to be a true gourmet food, artichokes once commanded such high prices that only kings and members of the aristocracy could afford to eat them. Today things are a little different with hundreds of varieties available - even to the passionate, amateur gardener - with many of them suitable for growing as an annual or perennial crop - even in the cooler northern European climates. If you are prepared to do a little research you can still buy a few of the old historic varieties such as 'Violetta di Chioggia', and 'Gros Vert de Laon'.
The unavoidable fact, and so called ‘worst kept secret’, is that artichokes plants are just so easy to grow from seed. While they will not all grow genetically ‘true’ to the parent plants, because they are so easy to germinate it is just a matter of growing a few extra plants so that any rogue specimens that turn up can be removed later on without the worry of losing some of your future crop.
Artichokes can be started from seed in a greenhouse, conservatory or even in a well lit, warm room by the windowsill. Starting anytime from around late February, plant a couple of seeds into 9cm pots using a good quality soil-based composts such as John Innes ‘Seed’. You may wish to mix in a little horticultural grit or perlite to help with the drainage. Give the seeds a further, light covering of compost, then water in well - placing them in a greenhouse or warm room once the excess water has drained off. Water as necessary from that point on, but at no time should the compost be left sodden or be allowed to completely dry out.
The seeds should germinate between 2-3 weeks but they will need to remain in their protected environment right up until the threat of late frosts are over. Wait a couple of weeks after germination before removing the weaker artichoke seedlings from each pot. They can now be placed outside, but they will still need 2-3 weeks to harden off before planting out into their final position, so try to keep them under some sort of cover such as a cold frame or plastic tunnel. Starting them off early in a protected environment like this is a vital step in producing artichokes during the first year, whether they are grown as an annual or as a perennial.
Artichoke seedlings need lots of nutrients as they develop, so feed them once a week with a good quality liquid plant fertiliser. They will be ready for planting outside once the soil has warmed up and - as said before - once the danger of frost is over. Typically the transplants should be around 8 to 10 inches tall, with stocky stems and two sets of true leaves. Because they grow quite large, they should be planted at least 4 feet apart into a rich, deep, free-draining soil. For best results place them in a sheltered position where they can receive full sun for most of the day.

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ROME: What did the Romans Eat?

The Romans have been a source of fascination for centuries now, but after the collapse of the Roman empire and the world subsequent drift into the dark ages, much of the lives of ordinary Romans is shrouded in mystery.

So, what did the ancient Romans eat?

For the ordinary Roman, food was basic. Their staple diet consisted mostly of a wheat-based porridge, seasoned with herbs or meat if available. But is they were lucky, and in season, the occasional baked dormouse would have been presented!

However, archaeologists researching the ancient Roman fort of Vindolanda  have uncovered a fascinating insight into what the wealthier Roman classes with their discovery of what is now known as the Vindolanda tablets. It turns out that the diet of these particular inhabitants of was pretty varied. Within the Vindolanda tablets, 46 different types of foodstuff are mentioned.

Whilst the more exotic of these, such as roe deer, venison, spices, olives, wine and honey, appear in the letters and accounts of the slaves attached to the commander's house; it is clear that the soldiers and ordinary people around the fort did not eat badly.

We have already seen the grain accounts of the brothers Octavius and Candidus, demonstrating that a wide variety of people in and around the fort were supplied with wheat.

Added to that are a couple of interesting accounts and letters which show that the ordinary soldiers could get hold of such luxuries as pepper and oysters, and that the local butcher was doing a roaring trade in bacon.

However, as Sally Grainger's recipes show, on special occasions the table would be festooned with even more luxurious fare.

Stuffed Kidneys
Serves 4

8 lambs kidneys.
2 heaped tsp fennel seed (dry roasted in pan).
1 heaped tbsp whole pepper corns.
4 oz pine nuts.
1 large handful fresh coriander.
2 tbsp olive oil.
2 tbsp fish sauce.
4 oz pigs caul or large sausage skins.

Skin the kidney, split in half and remove the fat and fibers. In a mortar, pound the fennel seed with the pepper to a coarse powder. Add this to a food processor with the pine nuts. Add the washed and chopped coriander and process to a uniform consistency. Divide the mixture into 8 and place in the centre of each kidney and close them up. If you have caul use it to wrap the kidneys up to prevent the stuffing coming out. Similarly stuff the kidney inside the sausage skin. Heat the oil and seal the kidneys in a frying pan. Transfer to an oven dish and add the fish sauce. Finish cooking in a medium oven. Serve as a starter or light snack with crusty bread and a little of the juice.

Pear Patina
Serves 4

1½ lb firm pears.
10fl oz red wine.
2 oz raisins.
4 oz honey.
1 tspn ground cumin.
1 tbsp olive oil.
2 tbsp fish sauce.
4 eggs.
plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

Peel and core the pears and cook in the wine, honey and raisins until tender. Strain and process the fruit and return to the cooking liquor. Add the cumin, oil and fish sauce and the eggs well beaten. Pour into a greased shallow dish and bake in a preheated oven (375 ºF) for 20 mins or until set. Let the custard stand for 10 mins before serving warm.

Serves 2

10 oz ricotta cheese.
1 egg.
2½ oz plain flour.
Runny honey.

Beat the cheese with the egg and add the sieved flour very slowly and gently. Flour your hands and pat mixture into a ball and place it on a bay leaf on a baking tray. Place in moderate oven (400ºF) until set and slightly risen.

Place cake on serving plate and score the top with a cross. our plenty of runny honey over the cross and serve immediately.

For related articles click onto the following links:
What did the Romans Eat?
ROME: Who were the Ancient Gladiators?
ROME: What does 'SPQR' mean?


Myrrh is the dried Oleo gum resin that is harvested from a number of trees from the genus Commiphora. The Myrrh trees are found as either small or low thorny shrubs that grow in rocky terrain. Like frankincense, myrrh resin it is produced by the tree as a reaction to a wound that has broken through the bark and into the sapwood. The trees are bled in this way on a regular basis.

When left on the tree, myrrh is waxy and brittle, but after the resin is collected into large bales it becomes a dry, hard and glossy substance that can be clear or opaque, and vary in colour. Depending on ageing, this colour can range from yellowish to almost black, with white streaks.

The principal species is Commiphora myrrha, which is native to Yemen, Somalia, and the eastern parts of Ethiopia. Another important species is C. momol. The related Commiphora gileadensis, native to Eastern Mediterranean and particularly the Arabian Peninsula, is the biblically referenced Balm of Gilead. Furthermore, there are still several other tree species that yield bdellium, and Indian myrrh.

Myrrh the 'bitter' Facts

The term is derived from the Aramaic ܡܪܝܪܐ (murr), meaning "bitter". Its name entered the English language from the Hebrew Bible where it is called mor, מור, and later as a Semitic loan word was used in the Greek myth of Myrrha, and later in the Septuagint; in the Greek language, the related word μύρον became a general term for perfume.

So valuable has it been at times in ancient history that it has been equal in weight value to gold. During times of scarcity its value rose even higher than that.

Myrrh has been used throughout history as a perfume, incense and medicine.

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If you are looking to buy pyrethrum seed, you are in luck. The 'Seeds of Eaden' seed shop now has pyrethrum seed in stock as part of its standard range. 


Image credit - KENPEI
Pyrethrum seeds can be sown indoors any time from late winter to the middle of spring. Using a plug tray or normal seed tray, fill with a good quality seed mix such as John Innes ‘seed’ compost. Firm the compost down then give it gentle water making sure that the compost is moist, but not too wet. Lightly sow the seed on the compost, then cover it with a thin layer of perlite or horticultural grit. Seal the tray in a polythene bag and leave in a warm sunny position such as a south facing windowsill. As soon as germination occurs - which usually takes 30-60 days - remove the bag to prevent the incidence of fungal rots.

When the seedlings are large enough to handle they can be transplanted into 3in pots. Once established they can be planted outside into their final position. They will do well in most ordinary soils but will prefer to be positioned in full sun.

Once the young plants have grown to about 6 inches tall the tops can be pinched out to promote lateral growth and to help prevent legginess.


When sowing pyrethrum seeds directly outside you will need to time it so that there is no longer a threat of late frosts. If a frost is forecast then appropriate protection will need to be given or a second sowing will probably need to be made.

To begin with, you should only sow pyrethrum seeds in areas that will receive the most amount of direct sunlight. This will be of particular importance if you are intending to harvest the flowers for insecticidal use because the plant will produce more of its natural insect repellent, the warmer it is in its final position.

Before sowing the ground will need to prepared into a suitable seed bed so dig it over to loosen the soil then rake the surface into a fine tilth. Place the seeds at least 3 to 4 inches apart then cover with a thin layer of soil approximately twice the depth of the size of the seed. Tamp the soil down firmly, then water in making sure the area is kept moist during the germination period.

Outside, pyrethrum seeds will usually germinate in about 7 to 10 days. These can either be left where they are or transplant to their final position when the seedlings are about 2 inches high.

Once the young plants have grown to about 6 inches tall the tops can be pinched out to promote lateral growth and to help prevent legginess.

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Pyrethrum the natural insecticide