AUTUMN FLOWERING PLANTS



In most countries, spring and early summer are the normal flowering times for the majority of plants and for good reason too. How else would they be able to fit the time in to produce their fruiting bodies and seeds in time for autumn? Why autumn? Well, many of the seeds from cooler, temperate regions require a dormancy period before germination can occur. This dormancy period is usually broken by a period of cold weather, followed by warmer, wetter weather ensuring that germination occurs at the most suitable time. This enables the juvenile plants to make use of the longer warmer days for effective photosynthesis and gives them an entire year to grow, store energy as carbohydrates, and prepare for the following onset of winter.

Unfortunately this natural cycle of growth, flowering and seed production means that - for the ornamental gardener - gardens look a little worse for wear once the summer comes to an end, but with a little investigation there are plants from warmer climates that are ‘tricked’ into flowering at the wrong time of the year.

This is because plants from warmer regions need certain triggers in order to initiate flowering. This can be day length, average day temperatures, average night temperatures, seasonal rainfall, light intensity, the list goes on. In cooler regions many of these triggers occur much later on in the year which is why there warmer climate plants flower later in cooler climates. Unfortunately they tend not to be able to produce fruiting bodies or viable seed before the colder temperatures of winter arrive. This can make it more difficult for propagation but for most gardeners this isn’t a factor when they come to choose their late summer/autumn flowering plants.Below is a list of some of the best late summer/autumn flowering plants.

ANNUALS

Gazanias – this is an easy choice. Not only are they drought tolerant but they just keep on flowering – so long as the sun is out. All you need to do is remove the old flowers and periodically feed them with a liquid or water soluble fertilizer.

Mesembryanthemum – same as the above, flowering from June to September. Again, all you need to do is remove the old flowers and periodically feed them with a liquid or water soluble fertilizer.

Nicotiana – this plant species contains a large group of colourful cultivated varieties ideal for use in bedding schemes. However do not over look the tall gracefulness of the dramatic Nicotianan sylvestris. Ideal for the boarders and in flower from June to October.

PERENNIALS

Agapanthus – a stunning plant from South Africa ranging in colour from pure white to the deepest blue, a must for any garden. Although some species can flower as early as late spring try to keep to A. Praecox and its hybrids which – in Northern Europe – will flower form July until August or September. Perhaps the best known are the popular Headbourne hybrids.

Canna lilies – These highly attractive plants are fantastic for bringing a touch of the tropic to the garden. Exotic flower are borne from July and can last up until November or at least until the first frosts arrive. Popular cultivars include the impressive ‘Lucifer and Tropicanna’.

Crocosmia species - Yet another exotic looking group of late flowering plants from South Africa. There are a number of very popular colour variations within this family notabley 'Lucifer' and 'Emily McKenzie'. They will survuive all but the most severe winters so long as they are planted in a well drained soil and are also excellent as cut flowers.

Dahlias - A good traditional choice that is coming back into fashion. Easy to grow and although considered to be half hardy can often overwinter if given extra protection and kept on the dry side.

Helianthus - the sun flower. Although these are a familiar sight during the main part of the summer the species H. Salicifolius will flower far later showing in September and October.
Helenium autumnalis – As the name suggests this hardy perennial will flower from August through to October. Its cultivars come in a range of colours from a sunlight yellow to a burned red. Easy to grow for a stunning effect.

Hemerocallis – sneaking in just at the end of summer, Day Lilies give a fantastic show in a range of stunning colours.

Phlox paniculata – A superb late flowering, and easy to grow specimen boarder plant. Although its white form is perhaps the most striking there are plenty of good colour variations available.

Rudbekia – A striking plant that has gained huge popularity in recent years. There are a large number of suitable specimens and cultivars within this family almost all of which are easy to grow and are even suitable for cut flower arrangements.

Verbascum - This contains a large family of plants many of which are reliable show stoppers, adding height, structure and a profusion of colour to summer borders. Popular varieties include V. ‘Gainsborough’, and V. ‘Cotswold Cream’ but there are many new varieties coming onto the market. Flowering lasts for up to three months from early to late summer - June to August in northern Europe.

BULBS/CORMS

Colchicums – Commonly known as the Autumn Crocus or Naked Ladies – because they come into flower without leaves – colchicums can give a fantastic display from September to October. Although colchicums look like crocuses, they are actually members of the lily family. The most popular is C. 'Waterlily', and is perhaps the most common of all colchicums whose double pink blooms wouldn't look out of place floating on a pond. Raised almost a hundred years ago in a Dutch nursery, this variety is free-flowering and extremely easy to grow – often already flowering in the bag when purchased. There are a number of forms available but keep an eye out for C. agrippinum as it is one of the most distinctive. If you take closer look at its flower you will find that overlaying its pale pink petals is a deeper chequering, like the pattern found on snake's head fritillaries.

Cyclamen – there are a number of good alpine cyclamen available such as C. Coum, C. hederifolium and C. Neopolitan but with our milder winters it is possible to successfully overwinter the more floriferous bedding species such as Cyclamen persicum which – if allowed to harden off – can apparently tolerate temperatures down to -7 degrees Celsius, but they must be grown in a free draining soil.

Schizostylis coccinea 'Major' – These eye-catching kaffir lilies provide a well needed late splash of colour when many of the summer flowers are coming to an end. Best planted in full sun, they are also perfect for a sheltered, moist but well-drained border. They also make excellent cut flowers.

WHAT IS THE WORLDS BIGGEST SHARK?




There is a unique fascination about sharks that seems to grip both young and old alike. Whether its their cold, bloodless eyes, or their ability to sense prey from the slightest drop of blood, there is something about a sharks ruthless ability to hunt down and attack its prey that captures the imagination.

While the smaller sharks can do an excellent job of looking mean, its the larger ones that you need to keep an eye one - especially if they rip you in half with a single, playful bite!

Of course the bigger the shark, the more scary it is - just look at the film 'Jaws', but what is the worlds biggest shark?

Well, if you are looking at an all time record you will need to go back in time 28 to 1.5 million years ago. There - during the the Cenozoic Era  - you could meet the largest ever predatory shark, the exceptionally dangerous Carcharodon megalodon.

This utter beast of a shark is estimated to be around 16 m (53 ft) long, with a mouth approximately 2 m (6 ft) wide.

Today the worlds largest living predatory shark is the infamous 'Great White' shark, with the biggest individuals known to have approached or exceeded 6 metres (20 ft) in length, and 2,268 kilograms (5,000 lb) in weight

It is one of the primary predators of marine mammals as well as a variety of other marine creatures including fish, pinnipeds, and seabirds. It is now the only known surviving species of its genus, Carcharodon, and is ranked first in a list of number of recorded attacks on humans.

However, the largest shark in the world alive today is the the Whale Shark, Rhincodon typus. Unlike either if the first two sharks mentioned, this giant species is a slow-moving filter feeding shark.

The largest confirmed individual was 12.65 metres (41.50 ft) in length and the heaviest weighed more than 36 tonnes (79,000 lb), however there have been unconfirmed claims reports of considerably larger whale sharks.

The whale shark is found in tropical and warm oceans, lives in the open sea with a lifespan of about 70 years.

Originating from about 60 million years ago, they feed mainly, though not exclusively, on plankton, microscopic plants and animals. However, the BBC program Planet Earth filmed a whale shark feeding on a school of small fish.

For related articles click onto:
GIANT OCEANIC MANTA RAY - Manta birostris

HOW TO GROW BANANA TREES FROM SEED


There is nothing even close to a specimen banana plant to bring that exotic, tropical feel to your garden. And now, with ever hardy varieties becoming available, the reality of growing a banana all year round - without cold protection - is becoming more of a reality. Unfortunately, suitably hardy bananas can be both elusive to find and expensive, but if you decide to grow hardy bananas from seed all this can change.

Growing Hardy Bananas from Seed

Hardy banana seed can be sown at anytime of year so long as you can break its seed dormancy. To achieve this, soak the seeds for 24 hours in warm water before planting.

Using either a seed tray of modular tray, fill with a good quality seed compost such as John Innes ‘Seed and Potting’. Then using a dibber – or an old pencil as in my case - sow the hardy banana seed ¼in deep. Back fill the hole with a little more compost then water thoroughly. Allow the excess water to drain then seal the tray inside a polythene bag in order to keep the compost moist. Now place the tray in a warm area while the seeds germinate. Be aware that germination is slow and erratic and even at a temperature of around 28 degrees Celsius banana seeds can take 1-6 months to germinate.

It is worth mentioning here that most banana seed will respond well to fluctuations in temperature. If you have both the time and the facilities, consider give your seeds alternating temperatures of 19 hours cool and 5 hours warm. You will find that some species will respond well to larger fluctuations of temperature – between 35 degrees Celsius and 15 degrees Celsius, while others are better with less severe fluctuations 25 Celsius – 15 Celsius or even 20 Celsius -15 Celsius. However, do not go much below 12 degrees Celsius as this can place your hardy banana seed back into dormancy.Perhaps the easiest way to produce your fluctuating temperatures is keep your seeded trays in a heated propagator. Switch it on during the day and turn it off at night. If your night temperatures are too cold then have the propagator on a night and turned off during the day.

Tropical species of banana will do better with a constant temperature between 20 and 35 Celsius - depending on the variety. Fresh seed will always be the best, although it has been known for banana seed to germinate at room temperature after being stored for 2 years! There are still a lot of unknowns with regards to germinating banana seeds, but the following research may be of help to you.

At a germinating temperature fluctuating between 35 – 15 Degrees Celsius. The banana species listed below had the following success rate:

Musa Helens Hybrid 21%
M. Sikkimensis 23%
M. Sikkimensis Red tiger 0%
M. flaviflora 3%
M. Formosana 4%
E. Glaucum 1%

At a germinating temperature fluctuating between 25 – 15 Degrees Celsius. The banana species listed below had the following success rate:

E. Glaucum 24%
M. Sikkimensis Red tiger 30%
M. Sikkimensis 34%
M. Helens Hyb. 11%
M. Flaviflora 7%
M. Formosana 0%

At a germinating temperature fluctuating between 21 – 15 Degrees Celsius. The banana species listed below had the following success rate:

M. sikkimensis 3%
M. Sikkimensis Red tiger 27%
E. glaucum 18%
M Helens Hyb. 30%
M. flaviflora 15%
M. Formosana 2%

It should be noted that further germination will occur so long as you have the patience to wait for it – including the difficult Musa Formosa which eventually germinated about 50% of all seeds sown.

As each seed germinates, lift carefully from the tray so as to prevent any damage to the juvenile root system, and transfer it to a 3 in pot of good quality, free draining compost. Pot on as required because the larger the container the larger your banana plant will grow.

Grow on in warm well lit conditions. During summer they can be stood outside or planted in the border but should be brought into well lit frost free conditions for the winter when it should be kept moderately dry. Some discolouration of the leaf ends may occur through the winter months but this won't harm the plant.

WHAT IS TOMATO BLIGHT?



Tomato blight is a disease caused by a fungus-like organism which spreads rapidly in the foliage and fruit of tomatoes - typically in wet weather, causing them to collapse and decay.

In particular, it is a serious disease outdoor tomatoes, but not as common on tomatoes grown in greenhouses.

Blight is specific to tomatoes and potatoes, and some ornamental relatives of these two crops are also susceptible. Cases have been recorded on some ornamental Solanum species as well as bedding Petunias.

Symptoms of Tomato Blight

The initial symptom of blight on tomatoes is a rapidly spreading, watery rot of leaves which soon collapse, shrivel and turn brown. During humid conditions, a fine white fungal growth may be seen around the edge of the lesions on the underside of the leaves. Brown lesions may also develop on the stems. If allowed to spread unchecked, the disease will begin to attack the fruit. This is recognised by brown patches appearing on green fruit. If infected, the more mature fruits will decay rapidly.

How to Control Tomato Blight

Perhaps the biggest problem with blight on tomatoes is with its cousin the humble potato. With the majority of potato varieties being highly susceptible to this virulent fungus, the late summer air is full of pathogenic spores just waiting for a suitable host plant to infect. It's Unfortunate that the closely related tomato plant more than readily fits the bill.

This can be a particular problem with tomatoes, especially when grown outside in the more temperate regions of the country. With the late cropping of most true outdoor varieties – and even later cropping if glasshouse varieties are grown outside – the ripening fruit will often coincide with the seasonal incidence of ‘Late Blight’. If the late summer season is particularly hot and humid, your tomato crops will probably stand little hope of survival and your years worth of work can end up as another pile being burned at the local incinerator.

Because infection is so dependent on specific combinations of temperature and rainfall,  periods of high risk  can be predicted accurately. To find out when your tomatoes are at their greatest risk it is worth contacting your local horticultural advisory service. You will be able to access these warnings (visit the Potato Review website), but because this information is more for the commercial grower you must rely on a more restricted range of protectant fungicides containing copper (Bordeaux Mixture or Fruit and Vegetable Disease Control), as the more effective systemic products will not be approved for amateur use.

As a safety net, when wet weather is forecast from June onwards, begin applications of protectant sprays as a matter of course.
 
Blight Resistant Tomato Varieties

Recently there have been some new introductions that have performed extremely well against Late Blight. Given time - and improved availability - these hardier varieties will hopefully give tomato growers around the world a well deserved break. The three best performing varieties are listed below.

TOMATO ‘LEGEND’

This particular variety was bred in the USA by Dr. Jim Baggett at Oregon State University. In recent tests ‘Legend’ had shown impressive blight tolerance, and in particular during trials in a ‘garden’ situation. It produces large, glossy red fruits with an expected crop of up to 6 lbs per plant. The fruit have a slightly flatter shape compared to the norm and come almost completely seedless. Fortunately for most gardeners, best results are produced when the plants were grown outdoors but they are also perfectly fine for growing under glass. They have an excellent flavour and should be sown 6-8 weeks before expected lasts frosts - in the United Kingdom this will be any time from March onwards.

TOMATO ‘FERLINE’ F1 Hybrid

Not only has this new variety shown excellent tolerance to ‘Late Blight’, it has also proven itself to be highly resistant against both fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt. As with the new ‘Legend’ cultivar, ‘Ferline’ has also tested extremely well in garden trials. It produces heavy crops – up to 5lbs per plant – of flavoursome, deep red fruits. Although it does well sown outdoors ‘Ferline’ is also suitable for growing under glass.

TOMATO ‘FANTASIO’ F1 Hybrid

This is a deliciously flavoured variety that has also trialled well in the garden situation against ‘Late Blight’ infection. In fact it has also shown good resistance to Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Verticillium, Fusarium Wilts, and nematodes too. Tomato ‘Fantastico will bear you a good crop of round fruits, with each plant producing up to around 6 lbs of tomatoes.

How to Grow Giant Tomatoes

HOW TO GROW TOMATOES FROM SEED




Tomatoes are the mainstay of sandwich fillers, healthy salads and the starting point for many popular dishes. The trouble is that the tomatoes you buy in the supermarkets are grown to a set of standards - none of which seem to include flavour! So don't be surprised when you cut open your shop bought tomato and find that it is watery and tasteless! You don't think so? Then try eating a naturally produced tomato that has been grown in soil rather than scientifically produced in inert rockwool and fed on drip irrigation!

So, how do you grow tomatoes from seed?

The fact is tomatoes are one of the easiest crops to produce, and so as long as you have a place outside that gets some sun then there is no reason why you can't grow your own.

To make the most of your new seasons tomato crop you can start off your seeds early indoors or in a heated greenhouse – usually about six to eight weeks before the last frosts are anticipated. In Great Britain this would usually be around May.

If you are not sure when would be a safe time to put them out where you live a good guideline would be to put your tomato plants out when average day temperatures are reaching over 20 degrees Celsius and nights aren't dropping below 10 degrees Celsius. Be careful though, because if you start too early your seedlings can outgrow their pots resulting in weak, "leggy" plants. If they end up being planted outdoors in this condition then valuable time is wasted while the plants devote energy to recovering their health, rather than to normal growth and flower production.

Sowing the Seed

Tomato seed is quite easy to handle and is best germinated using a standard seed tray filled with John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' compost. Space the seed evenly and then cover with about 1.5mm of compost. Tomato seedlings will usually germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C . For the best sowing times, see the recommendations listed in 'greenhouse' or 'outdoor' cultivation below. Pot tomato seedlings on when they are large enough to handle without the need to touch the stem.

Just by handling the leaves, transplant them carefully into 3 inch pots using John Innes No.1 potting compost. If only a few plants are required, sow two seeds into a 3 inch pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. Take care not to let the plant and seedlings get cold as frost, cold winds and draughts will cause the plants to turn bluish and in most cases die. If you live in a cold area wait a few extra weeks until the air temperature has risen. Check the compost at all stages for dryness. This is vital in the initial stages of germination as drought can cause poor germination or failure to germinate at all. If this is the case, add a little clean water from below, being careful not to over water. Too much water can kill seedlings just as easily, as it can spread water borne fungal diseases such as 'damping off'

Greenhouse Cultivation

For greenhouse tomatoes first pick a recommended variety such as 'Santa', 'Matador', 'Sungold', 'Money Maker' or 'Supersteak' and sow as directed on the individual seed packet. This will generally be from late December/early January onwards and straight into 3 inch pots.

Plant the young plants when they are about 6-8 inches tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open. If you are planting into your greenhouse border make sure you have dug in plenty of organic compost during the winter.

If you have used the border before for tomatoes, it is better to change the soil or sterilise it before using it for tomatoes again. This will help avoid soil pests and root diseases becoming a problem.

Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser. If you are going to use a grow bag or pot just remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a growbag, generally plant no more than two plants per bag.

Outdoor Cultivation

For growing tomatoes outside, first pick a recommended variety such as 'Gardeners Delight', 'Sungold', 'Money Maker' or 'Sweet 100' or try 'Tumbler' in a flower pouch or hanging basket.

Wait until approximately 6-8 weeks before the last frost is forecast and sow as directed on the individual seed packet in 7.5cm (3in) pots.

When all risk of frost has past and when the plants are about 15-20cm (6-8in) tall and the flowers of the first truss are just beginning to open, you can plant them out. If you are planting into your border make sure you have dug in plenty of garden compost or peat during the winter. Just before planting, rake in a general purpose fertiliser. If you are going to use a grow bag or pot remember they will require a lot more watering and care. Plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows. In a growbag, generally plant no more than two plants per bag

Training Plants

How to train or when to pick your fruit will depend on the varieties and types of tomatoes grown. Cordon (indeterminate) varieties will need their side shoots removed, determinate varieties may stop flower production after several trusses, but upward growth can be carried on by training up the topmost side shoot.

Bush varieties will remain low and will not need their side shoots removal. Tomatoes require a lot of water and feed to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. Feed with a general liquid feed until the first truss is formed then alternate with a high potash feed. This will encourage more flowers and fruit.

BUY GIANT TOMATO SEEDS
How to Grow Giant Tomatoes

CAN YOU REPLANT A CHRISTMAS TREE?


This is surely a question that has been asked an innumerable amount of times once the Christmas period is over, and why wouldn't it be? If you have taken the time and effort to secure the best specimen for your hard earned cash, then why not try and keep it for next years Christmas when it is bound to be bigger and better and for no extra cost!

Well, you can replant up a Christmas tree after Christmas, but it will only survive so long as two simple conditions have been met.

The first is that the tree still has an intact and viable root system.

The second is that the tree has been kept in a cool environment and watered when necessary.

Whether your Christmas tree has a root system or not, if it has been kept in a hot room over the Christmas period, or worst still, near a working radiator or open fire, then you have a problem. Your precious tree would have almost certainly dried out to such a point that it won't survive New Years Eve, let alone next Christmas! If this is the case, it will not worth the effort of planting it up for next year - you tree will effectively be dead.

With regards to Christmas trees it is all about preventing them from drying out. Why, because if they do dry out the tree will drop its needles.

Cut Christmas trees

To keep it simple, most Christmas trees sold over the Christmas period come without a root system so that they readily fit into most Christmas tree stands.

These are known as cut Christmas trees and will not produce a new root system - however deep you plant it!

To help keeps its needles on for as long as possible it is worth giving the tree a fresh cut at its base, and then keep it in a stand that holds water. That way, it has a chance of drawing up some of the water into its trunk and slow down the risk of it drying out and dropping its needles.

Bare-root Christmas trees

These are worth buying as by having at least some of its roots still intact will enable it to keep its leaves/needles on for longer. However the key factor here is how much root has been left on. Too little and the Christmas tree will suffer the same consequence as a cut tree. Just enough root and there is a chance that your tree will survive if planted up in a container of soil from the onset. Plant it up in a pot filled with soil/compost and remember to regularly watered. At the very least, this will help to keep its needles on for as long as possible.

Potted Christmas trees

A potted Christmas tree is one that has been grown in the ground, then lifted with some of its root still intact. Like the bare root trees, the key factor here is how much root has been left on. Too little and the potted tree will suffer the same consequence as a cut tree. Just enough root and there is a good chance that your tree will survive if left in its container.

Keep it outside for a couple of months after the Christmas holiday and with a bit of luck your potted tree with root into its pot. Then - should you wish to - it can be planted directly into the ground.

Pot grown Christmas trees

Pot grown Christmas are your best hope of having a tree survive after Christmas. So long as they are adequately watered and kept in a cool position over the holiday period, they should still be in a perfect condition to cope with the great outdoors. Kept in its pot, or planted in the ground - the choice is yours.

For related articles click onto the following links:
CAN YOU REPLANT A CUT CHRISTMAS TREE?
Christmas Tree
HOW DO YOU STOP A CHRISTMAS TREE FROM GROWING?
HOW TO STOP CHRISTMAS TREES FROM DROPPING THEIR NEEDLES

HOW TO CATCH CRAYFISH




Crayfish are freshwater crustaceans related to lobsters, and there are two main species in UK - the native white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), and the non-native American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus).

Originally the Signal crayfish was commercially bred in this country for the restaurant trade but about 25 years ago a handful managed to find their way into the waterways across England and Wales. Today, populations of Signal crayfish can be found as far south as Cornwall and are now making their way up into areas of Scotland causing devastation amongst our native populations of the smaller and less aggressive white-clawed crayfish. Not just confined to the water, Signal crayfish also have a habit of walking overland in a search for new feeding and breeding ‘grounds’ which is why they have been able to colonise such large areas of the country so quickly.

The Sgnal crayfish is a voracious predator and extremely damaging to sensitive environments as it will eat almost anything it finds including plants, other invertebrates, snails, small fish and fish eggs. It is also cannibalistic and quite happy to make a meal of its own young. The Signal crayfish also digs burrows up to three feet long into river banks where each year a single female can lay more than 250 eggs at a time. At a time of increased flooding risk, areas where there are significant numbers of Signal crayfish have seen their once stable river banks collapse.

Trapping crayfish for food in the UK only involves the signal crayfish, which can be up to 25cm long with claws extended. The native crayfish is never more than a few centimetres long.

Why eat signal crayfish?

Firstly,eating wild caught crayfish pretty much guarantees food that does not contain pesticides, fertilisers, hormones or genetic modification - or least you hope it doesn't.

Secondly, the American crayfish is causing problems for both the native crayfish and for British waterways. Signal crayfish out compete native crayfish because they are bigger, their eggs hatch earlier in the year, females lay up to 500 eggs (the native crayfish lays around 200), and they are less fussy about what they eat. In addition, the signal crayfish carries a fungal disease (Aphanomyces astaci, commonly called the crayfish plague) that kills the native crayfish. Luckily for us it is not harmful to humans. American crayfish also damage the local environment by burrowing into the banks of rivers and streams to build their homes. At the very least this causes erosion of the river banks - at worst, it causes their collapse!

What do you need to catch crayfish?

There are byelaws covering the trapping of crayfish, and what you can do depends on local circumstances - especially if there are native crayfish in your area. Contact the Environment Agency to ask about your local circumstances, or you can get a crayfish trapping advice pack from the National Fisheries Laboratory on 01480 483968. You will need Environment Agency tags on your trap for it to be legal.

The Environment Agency's concerns are that if people are allowed to catch crayfish for food, they will be sold to the restaurant trade, and because there is money to be made, some people might 'seed' rivers and streams that don't have signal crayfish, so that they can be harvested in the future. Crayfish traps are easy enough to buy on line or - depending on whether the Environment Agency allow it in your area - you can make your own trap. Just be aware that trapping crayfish is a summer activity. In winter, they will be hibernating in the river banks. And remember, they best time to catch crayfish is at night!

How to trap a crayfish

Keep in mind that Crawfish are picky eaters, and have no doubt about that! Therefore choose yoru bait carefully. Freshness is the keyword and it MUST be fish based. You can try chicken or cat food but you will not get the same results.

Crayfish also have large apitites, you take it into account when baiting your trap. When crayfish season it at its peak, a commercial size trap should have at least a pound of bait in it.

For the best results use salmon heads with gills, herring, shad, cod heads with guts. But make sure that it is as fresh as you can get it. If the bait is starting to turn, throw it away. Keep your bait frozen until you are ready to use it, then freeze what you have left if it's still good. If you don't have access to this type of bait and most don't you'll need to find some type of fish which is extremely oily and probably local. Carp works well, as do most of the fish you can catch with rod and reel. However, bullheads and catfish are not liked by crayfish.

While a lot of fish are not very oily in their flesh, their heads and guts will still work fine as an effective crayfish bait.

As mentioned before, don't bother with chicken, beef, pork, dog or cat food - they are a very poor substitue.  Also avoid using bait jars unless you have specially formulated bait to put in it. Bait boxes on the other hand will work well provided they are made out of at least 1/2 inch mesh.

Always check your traps the following day, and if you find anything elsi other than signal crayfish, let it go. Furthermore, don't leave a baited trap in a watercourse for more than 24 hours, in case something other than a crayfish gets trapped in it. Let any native crayfish go, but if you catch small signal crayfish, don’t put them back as it is illegal to put them back, once caught - you have been warned. Be aware that Signal crayfish are cannibals, and if you remove only big ones, there will be nothing to keep the numbers of small ones down. Perhaps the Environment Agency in Scotland have urged fishermen to kill signal crayfish on sight.

Look for areas which may provide cover for the crawfish such as rocks, roots, etc. Not only do these areas provide cover for the crayfish but the algae which grows in these areas is also a food base for the crayfish. These areas also give the crayfish a good place to hide while hunting for fish fry and any other moving critter they can capture and eat alive. It is pretty amazing how crawfish can catch even a six inch fish and hold it with their big pincers while they eat the poor fish while it tries to get away.

When taking them out of the trap, remember to keep your fingers away from their pincers. Either keep them in tubs of tap water for a couple of days to purge them of any food in their intestines, or remove them as per the video above.

How to cook crayfish

Boil crayfish in a large pan of water. You can tip them straight in as they are killed instantly.

Simmer for around 3 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave in the water for another 2 minutes. They turn pink when they are cooked, and look like mini-lobsters (which they are).

The edible parts of the crayfish are the tail and the claws.

First, pull and separate the head and tail. Next, pull off the legs, then grab the end of the flesh sticking out of the tail casing and pull. Sometimes there will be pink eggs - you can eat those too. But give it a bit of a rinse to get rid of all traces of intestines and food.

To remove the flesh from the claws, place them on a hard surface and hit sharply with the back of a knife to crack them open. Grab the end of the flesh and pull it out of the claw.

You can serve crayfish with rice, toast, mayonnaise and/or any number of sauces. It looks and tastes a bit like prawn. In fact, there are plenty of recipes out there.

For a meal for one person, you'd probably need the meat of 5 crayfish.

CHARLES DARWIN'S GREATEST EXPERIMENT



Charles Darwin was a gifted naturalist, a prolific writer and author, and one of the most important figures in the history of science. Born on February 12th 1809 in Shropshire, England, he was grandson to Erasmus Darwin - a famous natural philosopher, and Josiah Wedgwood - known for the industrialization of the production of pottery.

Darwin's scientific career began in 1825 as an apprentice doctor moved home to Scotland in order to study medicine at Edinburgh University. However, Darwin became disinterested in this subject and neglected his medical studies to spend time on his latest fascination for taxonomy - the classification of living things, and marine invertebrates  In 1828, Darwin was sent to Cambridge with the intention of studying for a Bachelor of Arts, but once again his focus became diverted, concentrating his energies on beetle collecting, botany, geology and natural philosophy.

Perhaps the cornerstone event of Darwin's life was a five year voyage around the world on the ship HMS Beagle. This voyage took place between 1831 and 1836, and while the ship's primary mission was to survey and chart coasts  to survey and chart the South American coastlines, Darwin was able to study the geology of areas visited, and amass a vast collection of natural history specimens.

Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, was probably the main inspiration for his later ideas. Of these, the most important and best known, was his theory of evolution by natural selection. Although, evolutionary ideas had been common since at least the 18th century, Darwin was able to describe how the process of natural selection (Darwins theory of how which evolution occurred) by presenting overwhelming arguments and clear evidence of his position. This path of scientific discovery was backed by extensive 'evolution-based' experimentation.

Most of his experimental work on plants, worms, and barnacles has been well documented - including being published by the great man himself. However, there is one little-known experiment that Darwin undertook, The results of which could be truly ground breaking with regards to securing a future of our planet. It is also an experiment that surprisingly is still ongoing. The subject of this study was terraforming - something that would perhaps be more fitting in a science fiction movie! The story of Charles Darwins greatest experiment is as follows:

Charles Darwin and Ascension Island

Back in 1836, the young Charles Darwin was coming to the end of his five-year survey mission on the HMS Beagle. Whilst aboard HMS Beagle, he called in on St Helena, an island of volcanic origin situated in the South Atlantic Ocean. Its existence - as well  as that of Ascension Island - depends entirely on what geologists call the mid-Atlantic ridge. This is a chain of underwater volcanoes formed as oceanic plates are wrenched apart.

It was previously in possession of the East India Company while Napoleon I was in exile there, but after his death in 1821, control of St Helena was passed from the East India Company to the British Crown. It was now an important and strategic British naval station

Darwin wasn't expecting much upon his arrival at St Helena, and even less for his next port of call.

'We know we live on a rock, but the poor people of Ascension live on a cinder.' Joked one of residents of St Helena before his departure.

When Darwin reached Ascension Island he described it as an arid treeless island, with nothing growing near the coast. Everywhere, bright red volcanic cones and rugged black lava signalled the violent forces that had wrought the island. However, the sparse vegetation inland did manage to support...

‘...about six hundred sheep, many goats, a few cows and horses, and large numbers of guinea fowl imported from the Cape Verde islands, as well as rats, mice and land crabs...’

Darwin also noted the care taken to sustain the houses, gardens and fields with good drinking water. These natural springs were carefully managed...

'...so that a single drop of water may not be lost: indeed the whole island may be compared to a huge ship kept in first-rate order.'

In commenting on this, he noted René Primevère Lesson's remark

‘...that the English nation alone would have thought of making the island of Ascension a productive spot; any other people would have held it as a mere fortress in the ocean...’

And he was right because the Navy was extremely serious about expanding. The trouble was that this shortage of fresh water was a serious problem as it impeded any further expansion by the Royal navy of this prized, imperial outpost. Luckily, a rather cunning plan was beginning to hatch at the back of Darwin's mind. A plan that would that could change the entire Island ecology, environment and climate!

In 1843, botanist, explorer, and future Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew Joseph Hooker also visited the island. Then four years later, Hooker - with a great deal of persuasion and encouragement from Darwin - advised the Royal Navy that with the help of Kew Gardens, they should institute a long term plan of shipping trees to Ascension. Darwin's idea was fantastically simple, and a true insight into his genius. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The 'cinder island' wasn't just to be an enormous, government funded garden. Charles Darwin, Kew Gardens and the Royal Navy had conspired to build a fully functioning, but totally artificial ecosystem!

So, from 1850 and continuing year on year, ships came each depositing a varied assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Argentina, Europe and South Africa. And it didn't take long, soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, Norfolk pines, eucalyptus, bamboo, and banana trees were in lush profusion at the highest point of the island, Green Mountain, creating a tropical cloud forest.

Professor David Catling of the University of Washington, Seattle, is retraced Darwin's travels for a book he was writing. He tells of a letter that was awaiting Darwin on his arrival at Ascension Island from his Cambridge mentor, John Henslow.

'Darwin's voyage of discovery had already caused a huge sensation in London.' explains Catling. 'In this letter Henslow had assured him that on his return, he would take his place among the great men of science.'

How right he would be. Yet could Darwin's secret garden have more far-reaching consequences?

Dr Dave Wilkinson is an ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University, who has written extensively about Ascension Island's strange ecosystem. He had the following to say during a recent interview with the BBC.

'I remember thinking, this is really weird.There were all kinds of plants that don't belong together in nature, growing side by side. I only later found out about Darwin, Hooker and everything that had happened.'

Darwin's artificial forest captures moisture from clouds that drift over Ascension's peaks creating a damp oasis where there was once just aridity. Dr Wilkinson likes to describe the forest vegetation of  Green Mountain - Ascensions highest peak - as a 'cloud forest'.

Such ecosystems normally develop over million of years through a slow process of co-evolution. By contrast, the Green Mountain cloud forest was cobbled together by the Royal Navy in a matter of decades.

Dr Wilkinson exclaimed: 'This is really exciting! What it tells us is that we can build a fully functioning ecosystem through a series of chance accidents or trial and error.'

Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars. In other words, rather than trying to improve an environment by force, the best approach might be to work with life to help it 'find its own way'. However, to date, scientists have been deaf to the parable of Ascension Island.

'It's a terrible waste that no-one is studying it.' remarked Wilkinson at the end of the interview.

It seems that Ascension Island's secret will be safe for years to come or - with current concerns of climate change, de-forestation and recent evidence of increased extinctions - will Darwin's greatest experiment help to save us all?

HOW TO TAKE CUTTINGS FROM CLEMATIS


Clematis are amongst some of the most beautiful flowering plants that money can buy. The trouble is that some of the more impressive varieties will cost you quite a bit of money, while other more interesting varieties - such as the Clematis sieboldii shown above - are few and far between. However, help is at hand as you can take cuttings from any specimen that takes your fancy - if you can find it. Just remember to ask for permission from the owner first!

How to grow clematis from cuttings

Clematis will grow best from softwood cuttings carried out over April, May and June. Careful though as these cuttings should only be taken from the mid section of a length of vine. Why? Because the tips will be too soft and the base will be too hard.

Before you begin propagating, the importance of good hygiene should be considered and then remembered throughout the entire propagating process. With this in mind make sure that you are using fresh rooting hormone, a sterilised, sharp knife, and a clean container filled with freshly made up soluble fungicide.

Using 3 inch pots - preferably terracotta - fill with a good quality cutting compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Gently firm down the compost then top off with a thin layer of horticultural grit. Water the pots with a soluble fungicide and allow to drain.

Now you can prepare a section of clematis vine - start with a piece about 3ft long -  by cutting through it immediately above a leaf joint and again a couple of inches below the same node - the place on a plant stem where a leaf is attached. Repeat this until you have you required amount of propagation material.  Now, to prevent your freshly cut shoots from wilting, place them into a plastic bag moistened with water to help to keep your material fresh.

To help reduce moisture loss from within the cutting before they get to root, you can remove all of the leaves from one side of the cutting. If the leaves are very large then you may also wish to consider cutting these in half. How you decide to do this will depend on the size of the leaves and how many of them there are.

Completely immerse your cuttings in the fungicide mix, allow to drain off, then dip the base of each cutting into the rooting hormone powder. Insert each cutting into compost until the leaf joint is at the same level as the grit. label the pot.

Place your potted cuttings in a well lit area, but out of direct sunlight. Help to maintain a humid atmosphere place the potted cuttings under a propagator lid.

Applying basal heat of approximately 20 degrees Celsius will also promote new root growth, but it is not essential. Keep the compost moist and the cuttings should root in about 4 weeks. You can check this by looking for roots emerging through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Another good indicator is when the leaves appear to perk up.

If your cuttings have taken well, then they can be re-potted by the end of the summer, otherwise pot them up to a larger sized pot next spring. Your rooted clematis cuttings will still need to be grown on for another year before they are of a decent size to be planted directly into the ground outside.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MOTH AND A BUTTERFLY?



Of all the insect groups, we are probably most familiar with the butterflies and moths. We see moths fluttering around our porch lights, and watch butterflies visiting flowers in our gardens.

However, there is no real taxonomic difference between butterflies and moths, and both are classified in the order Lepidoptera. This order contains over 100 families of insects worldwide, some of which are moths and some of which are butterflies. However, there are some differences in physical and behavioural characteristics that are easy to learn and recognize.

Below is a concise list of the most obvious differences, but as with most rules there are exceptions.

The physical differences between moths and butterflies

The most obvious difference is in the feelers, or antennae. Most butterflies have thin slender filamentous antennae which are club-shaped at the end. Moths, on the other hand, often have comb-like or feathery antennae, or filamentous and unclubbed. This distinction is the basis for the earliest taxonomic divisions in the Lepidoptera:, separating them into the following two groups:

The Rhopalocera - 'clubbed horn', the butterflies, and

The Heterocera - 'varied horn', the moths.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule and a few moths - the families Castniidae, Uraniidae, Apoprogonidae, and Sematuridae - have clubbed antennae. Some butterflies, like Pseudopontia paradoxa from the forests of central Africa, lack the club ends. The Hesperiids often have an angle to the tip of the antenna.

Wing-coupling mechanisms

Many moths have a frenulum which is a filament arising from the hindwing and coupling (matching up) with barbs on the forewing. The frenulum can be observed only when a specimen is in hand. Some moths have a lobe on the forewing called a jugum that helps in coupling with the hindwing. Butterflies however lack these structures.

Pupae

Most moth caterpillars spin a cocoon made of silk within which they metamorphose into the pupal stage. Most butterfly caterpillars, on the other hand, form an exposed pupa, also termed a chrysalis.

There are many exceptions to this rule, however. For example, the Hawk moths form an exposed chrysalis which is underground. Gypsy moths sometimes form butterfly-style pupae, hanging on twigs or tree bark, although usually they create flimsy cocoons out of silk strands and a few leaves, partially exposing the chrysalis. A few Skipper butterfly larvae also make crude cocoons in which they pupate, exposing the pupa a bit. The Parnassius butterfly larvae make a flimsy cocoon for pupation and they pupate near the ground surface between debris.

Colouration of the wings

Most butterflies have bright colours on their wings. Nocturnal (active at night) moths on the other hand are usually plain brown, grey, white or black and often with obscuring patterns of zigzags or swirls which help camouflage them from predators as they rest during the day. However, many day-flying moths are brightly-coloured, particularly if they are toxic. These diurnal (active during the day) species evolved to locate their mates visually and not primary by pheromone as their drab nocturnal cousins. A few butterflies are also quite plain-coloured, like the Cabbage White butterfly.

Structure of the body

Moths tend to have stout and hairy or furry-looking bodies, while butterflies have slender and smoother abdomens. Moths have larger scales on their wings which makes them look more dense and fluffy. Butterflies on the other hand possess fine scales. This difference is possibly due to the need for moths to conserve heat during the cooler nights whereas butterflies are able to absorb solar radiation.

The behavioral differences between moths and butterflies

Most moths are nocturnal (active at night) or crepuscular (primarily during dusk and dawn), while most butterflies are diurnal (active during the day). There are however exceptions, including the diurnal Gypsy moth and the spectacular "Uraniidae" or Sunset moths.

Moths usually rest with their wings spread out to their sides. Butterflies frequently fold their wings above their backs when they are perched although they will occasionally 'bask' with their wings spread for short periods. However, some butterflies, like the skippers, may hold their wings either flat, or folded, or even in-between in the so-called 'jet plane' position.

Most moths also occasionally fold their wings above their backs, but usually when they are in a position where there is no room to fully spread their wings.

A sometimes confusing family can be the "Geometridae" (such as the Winter moth) because the adults often rest with their wings folded vertically. These moths have thin bodies and large wings like many butterflies but may be distinguished easily by structural differences in their antennae.

For related articles click onto the following links:
FOOD PLANTS FOR BUTTERFLIES
FOOD PLANTS FOR CATERPILLARS
HOW TO ATTRACT THE HUMMINGBIRD HAWK MOTH
HOW TO MAKE A BUTTERFLY GARDEN
THE DECLINE OF BUTTERFLY AND CATERPILLAR HABITAT

HOW TO GROW GRASS FROM SEED



If you want to grow a successful, quality lawn from seed then the first thing you will need to know is that it is ALL about the preparation! In fact the decisions you make before you even start to work on your new lawn can have a crucial effect on the end result.

PREPARING THE SITE

The proposed area for your new lawn will need to be well drained. If the area suffers from damp or even periodic water logging, it may be necessary to lay either a soak away or drainage pipes under the soil. If drainage problems are not dealt with at this initial stage then you are only opening the door for plenty of work later on.

A lawn will grow best on well drained medium loam. If this sounds like your soil then your preparation can be minimal, but if the soil is clay or sandy, you'll need to do more work.

With heavy clay soils, you should add sharp sand, and any well-rotted organic compost as this will improve drainage under the lawn.

With sandy soils, you should just add well-rotted organic compost as this will help to improve moisture retention under the lawn.

The top soil will need to be prepared to give a fine, workable tilth to a depth of 4 to 5 inches. If you are adding organic matter, you should aim for a minimum depth of 6 inches. If the area of the lawn is fairly small, it can be prepared by hand using a spade. For larger areas it is well worth using a rotavator.

When starting to prepare the soil, it needs to be not too dry and not too wet. Start by digging or rotavating the whole area to the required depth, breaking down any large clumps of soil and remove any stones or rubbish you come across.

TIP. When digging, work backwards so you don't tread down the soil you've just broken up.

Having turned over the whole area and broken down the soil, add only half the sharp sand or organic compost that you need, and dig over or rotorvate the whole area again. Once completed, add the other half of the material waiting to be dug in, and go over the whole area once last time.

Rake over the area to level it while removing any vegetation, stones or rubbish which may appear. Now leave the area to settle for a week.

If a lot of weed or vegetation appear in the first week, consider using a non-residual herbicide to kill them off. Carefully follow the instructions and leave the soil for the recommended period before proceeding.

Rake over the area again and remove any more vegetation, stones or rubbish which may appear.

Tread down the entire area. Start in one corner, then walk slowly across the soil placing one foot in front of the other. When you reach the other end, turn around and repeat until the whole area has been trod down (if the area is large, you may need more than one person!). The first time you do this, you'll probably find some humps and dips, remove these by giving the surface a light racking and repeat the treading down.

SOWING THE GRASS SEED

To give your newly seeded lawn the best chance of creating a quality lawn, the best time to achieve this is to sow the lawn in the spring or autumn - depending on the weather conditions and temperature.

Sow the lawn on a wind free day, but just before you start sowing, give the area one last rake over Divide the quantity of seeds into two, (it is better to sow two lighter sowings rather than one heavy one). If the area to be sown is large, you can divide the seeds further. This will reduce the chances of covering three quarters of the area and finding that all the seed has gone!

Sow one covering of seeds while walking in one direction, and the second sowing while walking at right-angles to the first covering.

Lightly rake the seed into the top of the soil, you won't cover all the seed but try to cover about half. Once finished the area should not be walked on so you may wish to cordon off the area until the new lawn is in place.

AFTER CARE

Grass seed should germinate within 7 to 21 days depending upon the weather. If a dry period occurs then you may wish to water during this germination stage, use a gentle watering technique (a garden sprinkler or hose with a fine spray attachment pointed skywards) to keep the top of the soil moist.

TIP. Too much water applied in the early days can float the individual seeds into concentrations.

If possible, protect the area from birds and domestic pets. Chicken wire is ideal but probably impractical except for small areas. On larger areas, tin foil attached to string stretched across the area may help.

When the grass is about 1 inch high, gently roll the area with a light garden roller. Alternatively, if you have a cylinder mower, set the blades as high as possible and use this instead. If you have just a small patch of lawn, you may be able to get away with treading the area in the same way as was done before the grass seed was sown.

Avoid mowing the grass until it is about 3 inches high. After this first cut, lightly mow the lawn with the cutter set to about 2 inches. If you are not using a cylinder mower, you will still need to lightly roll - or tread - the area after the lawn has been cut.

Further reduce the cutting height of your mower with each subsequent mowing - and still roll after each mowing - but don't cut lower than 1 inch during the first season.

NOTE. Keep playing children and pets off the lawn for the first season, the first year grass seedlings are plants and need time to become established.

HOW TO GROW SPINACH FROM SEED



Loved by Popeye, hated by most children, spinach is most defiantly an acquired taste. Personally, I love it served freshly boiled. Why, because it brings out a delicious milkiness to its flavour, a quality that is perfectly utilised in the creation of eggs Florentine - one of my favorite dishes!

Be aware that spinach needs cool weather to thrive, but if you choose your planting times carefully and look for heat-resistant varieties, you can grow it anywhere in the country.

Growing spinach from seed

If you can, try and choose a site that gets full sun in cool weather and partial shade in warmer temperatures. Your soil should be light, fertile and moisture-retentive, with a pH of between 6.0 and 7.0. Dig in plenty of well rotted farm manures - a task preferably done late autumn - as this will help to ensure good soil conditions and to provide the nitrogen necessary for good leaf production.

Sowing spinach seeds directly into the garden as soon as the ground can be worked is the best way to produce a decent spinach crop. This can be done, normally anywhere from four to eight weeks before the last expected frost. Be aware that spinach seedlings do not transplant well so there is no real advantage to buying plants or to starting seed off early indoors.

Plant spinach seeds 1/2 inch deep and 2 inches apart in wide rows. To maintain a continuous harvest, sow every two weeks until daytime temperatures start to average 75 degrees F. You can begin sowing for autumn crops mid-August in cool climates, later in warm ones.

Thin out spinach seedlings to 6 inches apart when the plants are 4 inches tall. You will need to be ruthless though as crowded plants are more likely to bolt (go to seed prematurely), and you can use the cuts in salads.

Keep the soil moist, and feed the plants a liquid fertiliser every 10 days until they're about 6 inches tall. Mulch established plants to help conserve moisture and deter weeds, and cover the area with floating row covers to discourage insects.

Cut spinach leaves as you need them from the outside of the plant, or harvest entire plants when they reach maturity and before they begin to flower. If you see buds starting to form at the center, you can cut the whole plant immediately as the energy of the plant will now be diverted into producing flowers and seed.