The world's dolphin populations are made up from almost forty species varying in size from 1.2 m and 40 kg for the Maui's dolphin, and up to 9.5 m and 10 tonnes for the killer whale. They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelf. So clearly, with this much variation within the dolphin family, you can expect the same variation in each species diet.

So, while some dolphins eat fishes like herring, cod or mackerel, others species will prefer to eat squids.

Of course, the largest of all the dolphin species - the killer whales - will also eat marine mammals like seals or sea lions and sometime even turtles.

Usually, the amount of fish that they eat depends on the kind of fish that they hunt. While mackerel or herring will contain a lot of fatty oils in their bodies, squid will not have so much, therefore, to get enough energy required for their activities, dolphins will have to eat a lot more squid than mackerel.

On average, a dolphin with a weight of 200 to 250 Kg will eat between 10 and 25 Kg of fish every day.

How do dolphins catch their food

As you can expect, various methods of feeding exist among and within species, some apparently exclusive to a single population. Fish and squid are the main food, but the false killer whale and the orca (the true killer whale) also feed on other marine mammals like seals. They have been known to eat penguins and even sea turtles!

One common feeding method is herding, where a pod squeezes a school of fish into a small volume, known as a bait ball. Individual members then take turns ploughing through the ball, feeding on the stunned fish.

Corralling is another method where dolphins chase fish into shallow water to more easily catch them. In South Carolina, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin takes this further with "strand feeding", driving prey onto mud banks for easy access.

In some places, orcas come to the beach to capture sea lions. Some species also hit fish with their tails, stunning them and sometimes knocking them out of the water.

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What do Dolphins Eat?



There are few plants that can bring a touch of the Mediterranean to the garden as effectively as a palm tree and what's more, there are so many attractive species to choose from - including a decent selection of cold hardy varieties!

The trouble is though, palm trees can be extremely cumbersome to transport and expensive buy, but there is an answer. Grow your own palm trees from seed! Yes it will take time, but you can grow as much stock as you like and the comparative costs are negligible.

How to germinate palm tree seeds

Before you begin, be aware that the best results will usually come from fresh seeds. Try only to germinate ripe seeds and avoid immature, green seeds. If you are collecting palm seeds yourself the ripe seeds will be within the mature, coloured fruit and ready to drop. Poor germination results are usually the result of either old or poor quality seeds.

The most frequently used germination technique is the 'Polythene Bag' technique. Its popularity is down to its simplicity which means you may need to use more sophisticated methods of germination with more exotic seeds.

To begin with, soaks the seeds for 24 hours in warm water. Then place the seeds with either some slightly damp moss or a formulated palm seedling compost mix into a transparent polythene bag. You may also wish to as a small handful of perlite to this mix to help aeration. Avoid overly damp compost as this can encourage fungal rots among the germinating seedlings. Seal the polythene bag and then place in a warm, bright environment at about 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Be aware that germination rates are going to vary wildly depending on the species of seed sown so you will need to keep a reasonably close eye on the seedlings after a few weeks.

Once the seeds have germinated, un-zip the baggies. remember to keep the substrate damp but please make sure that it is not waterlogged.

When the seedlings have grown about an inch or so they can be potted on and moved to a protective environment until they are ready to be transferred outside.

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Whenever you are making a roast chicken dinner make sure that you keep enough of the cooked chicken meat back for this gorgeous recipe for homemade chicken soup. In fact, you can ‘kill two birds with one stone’ by making your own stock too and adding it to this very recipe.

So, just how do you make chicken soup?


55 g/2 oz butter
2 onions, peeled and sliced
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
25 g/2 oz plain flour
1.2 litres/2 pints of chicken stock
450g/1 lb cooked chicken, skinned and shredded
1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

How to make chicken soup

To begin with, melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat then gently fry the onions, celery and carrots until they begin to soften.

Now stir in the flour and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring as you do so, then reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering. Now simmer for another 10 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the cooked, shredded chicken and carry on cooking until it is heated through. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour into warm bowls then stir in the parsley and serve with a couple of oven-warmed, homemade bread rolls filled with a generous spread of butter and grated mature cheese.

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ROME: The Roman Colosseum

Even in today’s world of high rise skyscrapers, the Roman Colosseum remains hugely impressive. While almost two thirds of the original building had been destroyed by earthquakes, fires, or plundered for its once glistening stone by Roman Popes and aristocrats, it still stands as a glorious but troubling monument to Roman imperial power and cruelty.

Inside the Roman Colosseum, and on top of the subterranean ranks of arches and columns, Romans for centuries cold-bloodedly killed thousands of people. these would have included Christian martyrs, anyone who they regarded as a criminal, and their coveted professional fighters - the gladiators.

The Roman Colosseum was born in the aftermath of Nero's extravagance and the rebellion by the Jews in Palestine against Roman rule. Nero, after the great fire at Rome in AD 64, had built a huge pleasure palace for himself (the Golden House) right in the centre of the city. In AD 68, faced with military uprisings, he committed suicide, and the empire was engulfed in civil wars.

The eventual winner of these civil wars was Vespasian (emperor AD 69-79), and it was his idea to shore up his shaky regime by building an amphitheatre - or pleasure palace for the people - out of the booty from the Jewish War - on the site of the lake in the gardens of Nero's palace.

Known then as the Vespasian amphitheatre, the Colosseum was a grand political gesture. Suitably for that great city, it was - and eventually remained - the largest amphitheatre in the whole of the Roman Empire.

In its day, the Colosseum was capable of seating 50,000 spectators which, besides gladiatorial contests, was also used for such public spectacles as mock sea battles, animal hunts, and re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.

The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era, but it was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and rather surprisingly, a Christian shrine.

Indeed, it was very possible that the Colosseum would have disappeared altogether were it not for the amphitheatres reputation as a Christian sacred ground. Even so, the cathedrals of St Peter and St John Lateran, the Palazzo Venezia and the Tiber river defences all exploited the Colosseum as a convenient quarry.

In the 21st century the Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome as well as one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions. It still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit "Way of the Cross" procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum

Eventually there were well over 250 amphitheatres in the Roman empire - so it is no surprise that the amphitheatre and its associated shows are still the quintessential symbols of Roman culture.

For related articles click onto the following links:
ROME: The Roman Colosseum
ROME: What did the Romans Eat?


The blue whale - Balaenoptera musculus is a marine mammal belonging to the suborder of baleen whales called Mysticeti. It is also arguably the most impressive creature to live or have ever lived on this planet! At 30 metres (98 ft) in length and 180 metric tons or more in weight, it is in fact both the largest and the heaviest animal ever known to have existed!

You would think then, that being the largest animal on Earth they would be quite easy to find.  However, blue whale populations have declined dramatically over the past century or so due to commercial whaling so finding them anywhere can prove to be particularly difficult.

Be that as it may, just where do you find blue whales?

Since the introduction of the whaling ban, scientific studies have failed to show whether global blue whale populations are increasing or remaining stable.

The largest known concentration, consisting of about 2,800 individuals, is the northeast Pacific population of the northern blue whale that ranges from Alaska to Costa Rica, but is most commonly seen from California in summer. Sometimes, this population is known to visit the northwest Pacific between Kamchatka and the northern tip of Japan.

In the North Atlantic, there are two further large populations of northern blue whale. The first is found off Greenland, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. This group is estimated to total about 500. The second, more easterly group is spotted from the Azores in spring to Iceland in July and August; it is presumed the whales follow the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between the two volcanic islands.

Beyond Iceland, blue whales have been spotted as far north as Spitsbergen and Jan Mayen, though such sightings are rare. However, scientists do not know where these whales spend their winters. The total North Atlantic population is estimated to be between 600 and 1,500.

In the Southern Hemisphere, there appear to be two distinct subspecies, the Antarctic blue whale, and the little-studied pygmy blue whale which is found in Indian Ocean waters. The most recent surveys provided an estimate of 2,280 blue whales in the Antarctic (of which fewer than 1% are likely to be pygmy blue whales).

Estimates from a 1996 survey show that 424 pygmy blue whales were in a small area south of Madagascar alone, thus it is likely that numbers in the entire Indian Ocean could be in the thousands.

A fourth subspecies of blue whale -  B. m. indica, was identified in the northern Indian Ocean, but difficulties in identifying distinguishing features for this subspecies led to it being used a synonym for B. m. brevicauda, the pygmy blue whale.

Migratory patterns of these subspecies are not well known. For example, pygmy blue whales have been recorded in the northern Indian Ocean (Oman, Maldives and Sri Lanka), where they may form a distinct resident population. In addition, the population of blue whales occurring off Chile and Peru may also be a distinct population.

Some Antarctic blue whales approach the eastern South Atlantic coast in winter, and occasionally, their vocalisations are heard off Peru, Western Australia, and in the northern Indian Ocean. In Chile, the Cetacean Conservation Center, with support from the Chilean Navy, is undertaking extensive research and conservation work on a recently discovered feeding aggregation of the species off the coast of Chiloe Island in the Gulf of Corcovado, where 326 blue whales were spotted in the summer of 2007.


Killer whales are found in all oceans and most seas, but due to their enormous range, numbers and density, distributional estimates are difficult to compare. However, they clearly prefer higher latitudes and coastal areas over pelagic environments. A pelagic zone is any water in a sea or lake that is not close to the bottom or near to the shore.

Scientific surveys have indicated that the highest densities of killer whales (1 per 250 km²)  are found in the northeast Atlantic around the Norwegian coast, in the north Pacific along the Aleutian Islands, the Gulf of Alaska and in the Southern Ocean off much of the coast of Antarctica - see Killer whale range map.

They are considered reasonably commonplace (1 - 2 per 500 km²) in the eastern Pacific along the coasts of British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, in the North Atlantic Ocean around Iceland and the Faroe Islands. High densities have also been reported but not quantified in the western North Pacific around the Sea of Japan, Sea of Okhotsk, Kuril Islands, Kamchatka and the Commander Islands and in the southern hemisphere off the coasts of South Australia, Patagonia, off the coast of southern Brazil and the tip of southern Africa.

They are reported as seasonally common in the Canadian Arctic, including Baffin Bay between Greenland and Nunavut, and around Tasmania and Macquarie Island. Information for offshore regions and tropical waters is more scarce, but widespread sightings seem to indicate that the killer whale can survive in most water temperatures. There have been sightings, for example, in the Mediterranean, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Indian Ocean around the Seychelles.

Probably the largest population of Killer whales live in Antarctic waters, where they range up to the edge of the pack ice. They are also believed to venture into the denser pack ice much like beluga whales in the Arctic. In contrast, killer whales are seasonal summer visitors to Arctic waters, where they do not approach the ice pack. With the rapid Arctic sea ice decline in the Hudson Strait, their range now extends deep into the northwest Atlantic.

Unfortunately, the migration pattern of the Killer Whales are poorly understood. Each summer, the same individuals appear off the coasts of British Columbia and Washington State, but despite decades of research, where these animals go for the rest of the year remains unknown. Transient pods have been sighted from southern Alaska to central California. Resident killer whales sometimes travel as much as 160 kilometres (100 mi) in a day, but may be seen in a general area for a month or more. Resident killer whale pod ranges vary from 320 to 1,300 kilometres (200 to 810 miles).

Surprisingly, killer whales will occasionally swim into freshwater rivers! In fact they have been documented 100 miles (160 km) up the Columbia River in the United States. They have also been found in the Fraser River in Canada and the Horikawa River in Japan.

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The French bean has been a perennial favorite for years. It is also called a snap or string bean and while the name 'French bean' is perhaps its most common name, it is in fact a native of South America. Be that as it may, it found its way to mainland Europe in the sixteenth century and soon after crossed the English Channel to England. Some say it was brought in by the French Huguenot refugees during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Disease hardy and super-productive, This delicious climbing bean will give you a heavy crop of long tender green pods for relatively little effort. All you need to do is get the basics right and take a bit of care.

To begin with, prepare the bed in the autumn and dig in well rotted compost or manure. Just avoid planting them in the same place as beans were grown the previous year.

Don't start of your French beans off from seed too early as they will be damaged by the slightest frost. However, if you just can't wait to get out and sow them in the ground then you can start them off indoors under protection towards the end of April. Start by sowing two French bean seeds into individual 3 inch pots using a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Potting', just make sure that they are covered by a good inch of compost.

Gently firm the compost down with your finger then give the compost a good watering. Allow the excess water to drain away the transfer to a warm, bright, but out of direct sunlight window sill. Cover the pot of the pot with a piece of clear plastic/glass or cling film then wait for germination which should be no longer than a couple of weeks.

As soon as the first leaf begins to show you can remove the clear cover. Do not leave it on as this can increase the risk of infection by fungal diseases. After a week, carefully remove the weakest French bean seedling so as not to cause significant root damage to the remaining seedling.

Water as necessary and the French bean seedlings will be ready to transplant outside in to their final position in a couple of weeks. Just make sure that you first harden them off by placing them outside during the day and bringing them in at night for at least a week.

They will prefer a warm and sunny site and like all peas and beans, lime should be added at this point if the soil is too acid. Aim for a pH of 6.5 to 7.0, if you test your soil, you will need to test your soil first to be certain. In the spring, fork over the bed in preparation for growing your French Beans, breaking it down to a finer tilth - raking in a general fertilizer two weeks before you start planting.

When ready, plant your French bean seedlings in the ground in rows, leaving 25 cm between each pair. Space your rows 40- apart. Don't sow if the soil is cold and wet as the seedlings can easily be killed off buy these conditions- wait a bit longer on until the weather warms up. Be aware that you will need to give you French beans some protection against slugs.

French bean seeds can be sown outside from Mid may until June. Sow two seeds straight into the ground in rows, leaving 25 cm between each pair. Once again, space your rows 40-60 cm apart, and don't sow if the soil is cold and wet.

Your plants will need support to grow, so erect a structure using bamboo canes, netting or trellis about 6 ft high. As your plants get bigger they'll need lots of water, so give them a good soaking in dry weather. With luck, you'll be able to start picking beans in July. Make sure you pick the ripe ones every week to keep them cropping.

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The killer whale - also known as an orca - is the only whale to feed on other warm blooded animals. Old sailor stories have built up an infamous reputation for the killer whale, yet this mammal has never been known to attack a human being in the water.

While mankind is not on the menu, killer whales have a varied diet and will also specialize on certain prey depending on where in the world they inhabit.

The killer whale diet can include fish, squid, seals, sea lions, walruses, birds, sea turtles, otters, penguins, polar bears, reptiles, sharks, octopus and even smaller whales.

Killer whales eat about 500 pounds of food each day. Therefore, up to 60% of their time can be spent to get food.

In some odd cases, even land mammals have been found in the stomach of some Killer whales and some occasions Killer whales have eaten some other killer whales, although this behavior has not been scientifically documented.

An agile and intelligent animal, the killer whale will use several tactics in order to catch its prey, but the secret to the hunting success of killer whales is co-operation within their closely-knit groups, with the catch being shared later. A group of dolphins is more accurately known as a pod.

For example of their hunting technique, when seeking out a shoal of fish, a killer whale will use begin by using echolocation in order to find it. Once found, the fish are herded towards the shore where there is no escape before feasting on their catch. Killer whales are also known to hunt seals using this method.

In open water, the killer whale can often be seen 'spy hopping' which is when they rise upright out of the water in order to look around for prey.

When attacking larger species of whales for food the whole pod joins in for the hunt. Some seize the quarries tail in an attempt to immobilise it, while others attack from any direction.

In colder regions, some small pods are skilled enough to tip over small ice floes using a their combined bow wave in order to catch basking seals that slide off into the water.

However killer whales easily change their eating habits if they move from one place to another, adapting quickly to the available food in the region.

For larger prey, killer whales may not use herding, but they instead use their tail flukes to stun or kill the prey and then tear it with their large and sharp teeth. However, their teeth are not used to chew like us, they use it only to tear their prey and then they swallow it whole.

For related articles click onto the following links:
What do Dolphins Eat?


The world is full of beautiful creatures, each perfectly designed to take advantage of their environmental niche. However, every once in a while evolution has thrown a curve ball in the 'looks' department. And while every animal has an important its role to play in the grand scheme of things, some of them would perhaps be better off fulfilling their role in the dark.

Be that as it may, check out my list of the worlds ugliest animals, but beware! Some of these animals have truly been beaten by the ugly stick!

The World's Ugliest Animals

In the swamps of Southern United States of America there is one creature that most will find absolutely grotesque.

It is the Alligator snapping turtle, and while it may not be the prettiest, it is by far the largest freshwater turtle in America - weighing up to 300lbs.

Perhaps worse than its face is the 'creepy' specialised organ that wriggles inside its mouth! This is a lure which is used to attract fish within striking distance.

The budget frog from south America looks as though it has come straight out of a jelly mold and not quite set properly. However,its unusual looks are a case of function over form as the Budgets frogs loose fitting folds of skin help it to survive dry conditions by becoming dormant. Instead of breathing, it absorbs minute traces of oxygen from the dwindling pools!

The star nosed mole is the worlds weirdest earth mover. However, this creature holds the world record for having the best sense of touch of any animal on the planet. The secret of the 'star' of the star nosed mole is its 20 super-sensitive tentacles which ring the snout. These fleshy fingers on his nose may seem unsightly but there are the secret to the star nosed moles success.

The unprepossessing protuberances allow the star nosed mole to hunt 14 times faster than other moles. Smell and hearing first alert the mole to a meal. Once close the mole will turn to the touch sensitive tentacles. Gripping like separate fingers they drag the prey into the moles mouth.

Most people will agree that the warthog is the ugliest mammal in Africa. However, it's strange, disproportionate head is very useful for is survival. The warthogs mussel is shaped like a shovel which it uses to turn over hard earth in order to dig up tasty bulbs and roots.

Its tusks are formidable weapons which it uses to defend itself, and the four warts on the face - from which the warthog gets its name - are strategically placed in order to protect the face and eyes from the jabbing tusks of other challenging males.  

In most peoples mind, the most grotesque bird of all is the vulture. Many birds have a thick coating of feathers upon their head and neck, but why are vulture so wanting?

Vultures can't preen their own heads and any feathers in this area would become heavily matted with blood and gore. These bald looks therefore help vultures to stay clean when the going get tough.

There are some creatures that many people think that only a mother could love and a prime example of this is the northern elephant seal. Its enormous proboscis can reach over two feet long, but where big is good, bigger is better - especially when it come to attracting prospective females!

A male can have a harem of up to 50 females. In the breeding season, the male shows off his nose by using it to create a loud, bellowing bark which can be heard up to a mile away. A big nose enhances not only sound but the owners status so challengers beware!

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It is hard to argue that Zebras are without doubt one of the most exotic and stunning of all the horse species, but there is one question that haunts many an idle mind:
'...are Zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes?...'
Well, go back a few years and it was commonly believed that zebras were white animals with black stripes. Why, because some zebras have white underbellies. However this thinking has now changed with recent embryological evidence. Now it is believed that the animal's background color is black and the white stripes and bellies are additions. What difference this makes to an individual Zebras is surely negligible but why would  an animal whose natural habitat would be out on the open plains have such a bold and striking pattern? Surely this would put the Zebra at an increased risk of being predated by Lions?

Why do Zebras have stripes?

There have been a number of reasons put forward as to why zebras are striped.

1. The vertical striping may help the zebra hide in grass and brushland. While seeming absurd at first glance, as grass and brushland are neither white nor black, it is supposed to be effective against the zebra's main predator - the lion.

If you consider that lions do most of their hunting at night when their night vision - although excellent - functions in black and white, a herd of black and white zebra begins to make sense.

2. Another belief is that since zebras are herd animals, their stripes may help to confuse a predators. A number of zebras standing or moving close together may appear as one large animal, making it more difficult for the lion to pick out an individual zebra to attack.

3. It has been suggested that the stripes serve as visual cues and identification. Although each striping pattern is unique to each individual - the variation greatest is found in the shoulder region -  it is not known whether zebras can recognise one another by their stripes. And lets be honest here, it is quite unlikely!

Image credit - http://www.msafirimag.com/
4. One innovative experiment suggested that the disruptive colouration is an effective means of confusing the visual system of the blood-sucking tsetse fly. However, the Burchell's zebra - unfortunately now extinct - was immune to the bite of the tsetse fly, so perhaps more work in this area is needed.

5. There are other, alternative theories for the stripes which suggest that the stripes coincide with fat patterning beneath the skin, or that they serve as a thermo-regulatory mechanism for the zebra, or that wounds sustained disrupt the striping pattern to clearly indicate the fitness of the animal to potential mates.

Whatever the truth behind their stripes may turn out to be, using stripes as a defence against predators has only helped them so far. Why? Because the largest threat to Zebra populations is the risk of being hunted for their skins, and meat by man.

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Snow leopards - Panthera uncia syn. Uncia uncia, are without doubt one of the most beautiful species of large cat in existence. Unfortunately their beauty has become their curse as their global existence is now under threat. They live in the high rhododendron forests of the Himalayas and have been relentlessly pursued by man because of their remarkable coat. While it is now protected by laws banning the sale of its fur, the high prices that such furs command means that illegal hunting still goes on.

Image credit - http://tolweb.org/treehouses/
It has had full protection in India since 1952 and also enjoys year round protection in the USSR. Despite this and the fact that, on the recommendation of the international furriers association, it has become illegal to possess the fur of the snow leopard, snow leopard coats still make their way on to the market.

The snow leopard is smaller than most big cats and breeds less prolifically in captivity than lions or tigers. They become sexually mature at two to three years, and normally live for 15–18 years, although they have been known to live in captivity for up to 21 years. With that in mind, emergency action must be taken to protect the snow leopard if it is to survive in the wild.

Snow leopard habitat

Snow leopards live in the high, rugged mountains of Central Asia, extending through twelve countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The snow leopards range is roughly indicated on the map below by the red shading.

Snow leopard range covers 2 million square kilometres, about the size of Greenland or Mexico. China contains as much as 60% of snow leopard habitat. Sadly, the snow leopard has already disappeared from some areas where they formerly lived, such as certain parts of Mongolia.

Much of the snow leopard's habitat is located along international borders, some of them disputed between two countries. To some degree, this situation protects the cats because sensitive border areas are often closed to public access, making them almost 'accidental' protected areas. This also adds to the difficulty of studying snow leopards in their native habitat and establishing their current status and distribution.

Snow leopards prefer steep, broken terrain of cliffs, rocky outcrops, and ravines. These specialist environments are usually found between 3,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level. While it can be harsh and forbidding, this type of habitat provides good cover and clear views which helps them sneak up on their prey unseen.

Each individual snow leopard inhabits a defined home range. However, these home ranges overlap and snow leopards do not defend them the way more aggressively territorial species do. Home range sizes vary greatly. It is thought that in Nepal and other areas where prey is abundant, cats inhabit home ranges as small as 30-65 square kilometres. In areas where there is less prey, such as Mongolia, snow leopards need more land in order to survive and their home ranges may be over 1,000 square kilometres in area.

As they move about their home ranges, the cats often travel along ridgelines and cliff bases, and choose bedding sites near cliffs or ridges with good views over the surrounding terrain.

Radio collar studies of snow leopards in the wild have indicated that they usually stay in one area for several days before moving on to another part of their home range.

This is usually to another valley, where the likelihood of more prey is hopefully increased.

Surprisingly, they are quite capable of covering long distances in a single night, and in Mongolia they have even been documented to cross over 25 miles of open desert between mountain slopes.

Hopefully, as awareness of the snow leopards plight increases, their stunning natural beauty will be appreciated by generations to come.


The snow leopard will typically breed towards the end of winter. The female will come on heat twice a year. First for about a week and then, if mating does not occur, for a second period of up to 70 days.

The female snow leopard will make her nest among the rocks, using her own fur as bedding. About 14 weeks after mating, she will give birth to a litter containing anything between two to five cubs.

When born, the cubs are much darker than their mother. They are blind for their first week and can crawl after ten days. By the time they are two months old they have learned how to run, are eating solid food as well as still suckling milk. By mid-summer they will follow their mother when she goes out to hunt, and will remain with her until they are about a year old.

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Lion Facts


Broccoli isn't everyone's favourite vegetable but there is no denying that it's packed with health promoting nutrients. And besides, if you are bored eating the standard green varieties consider trying the Purple Sprouting Broccoli or the even more exotic Romanesco natalino.

Growing Broccoli

As a rule of thumb, broccoli varieties are heavy feeders, preferring a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. To get the best out of your crop it is best to start your site preparation the autumn before planting. Broccoli also prefer a site in partial shade with a soil pH between 6.2 to 7.2.

To prepare the soil, add a couple of inches of organic compost or well rotted manure to the ground and work it in - removing any large stones that turn up. Add lime - if necessary – to balance out the pH as your broccoli crop can fail if the soil is too acidic.

You can check the pH of your soil using an 'off the shelf' pH testing kit obtained from any good plant retailer. Once finished, tread over the soil to remove any air pockets, firming up the soil surface.

TIP. Autumn plantings of broccoli tend to do well following an earlier planting of peas or beans as these crops will naturally increase nitrogen levels with the soil.

Broccoli should be planted either directly into a seedbed, or singularly in modules under glass which can be transferred outside at a later date. As a general `rule of thumb` both white and Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants are sown in April - May time and transplanted June - July, but check your seed packet for more exacting times. When sown directly outside, the seeds should be sown relatively sparsely to reduce future thinning and the potential risk from pests. When lifting from modules try and keep the root ball as intact as possible to minimise any damage to the juvenile root system,

Broccoli seeds can be 'direct sown' outside when temperatures are as low as 4°C, but temperatures of 7°-29°C will be more preferable for successful germination. Aim to sow broccoli seeds in ½ inch deep in rows spaced 6in apart and cover with soil, lightly firming with the head of the rake. Mark both ends of the row, labelling one end with the variety and date of sowing. Keep the seedbed moist, always use a fine spray.

When the seedlings are about 1 inch tall, thin them out to about 3 inches apart in the rows. This will stop overcrowding which would otherwise causing the seedlings to become weak and spindly.

The seedlings are ready to plant out when they are about 4 to 6 inches  tall. Water the bed the previous day before removing the Broccoli seedlings to their permanent position.

If you have a greenhouse, cold frame or cloches - it is probably going to be easier to sow your broccoli into seed trays under protection.

Sow broccoli seed in a tray filled with a good quality  compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Water thoroughly and place them inside your greenhouse, cold frame etc.

When the first two leaves have formed prick them out into 3 pots filled with potting compost. Plant them into these pots a little deeper - to just below the two leaves - water in well.

Broccoli seedlings sown under protection will also be ready for transplanting outside once they have reached between 3 - 5 inches high. Make sure that your protected broccoli seedlings are hardened off for at least a week or two before planting outside to make sure that they are tough enough to cope with ‘real’ weather conditions. Broccoli like a firm bed so transplant them firmly and about 1 inch deeper than the growing Broccoli were when in their pots. Leave a gap of about 18 inches between plants.

Water the broccoli the day before transplanting, water the hole you have created for the vegetable prior to planting, and keep well watered once outside until they are established.

Keep control of the weeds as they grow between your crop by hand weeding. Try and avoid using a how as this can disturb your crops roots and lead to the wind rock making the plants less productive

TIP. Avoid growing broccoli on the same piece of ground more often than one year in three, as this will help to avoid the buildup of soil pests and diseases.

TIP. Broccoli are a particular favourite of birds so use an appropriate and safe deterrent to stop them from picking off your seedlings. Broccoli are also susceptible to attack by the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly. Try covering crops with a crop protection mesh. It keeps the butterflies out, so they can't lay their eggs on the plants.

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The snow leopard is arguably one of the world's most beautiful and exotic big cats, and yet we know so little about them. Worse still, their exquisite beauty has also put them at risk from extinction due to loss of habitat and being hunted for their highly prized, long, thick fur.

However, conservation projects are working hard and the more we learn about these secretive beasts the more likely we will be able to save snow leopards for future generations.

So what do snow leopards prey on?

Like all big cats Snow leopards are carnivorous and and while they will go out and actively hunt their prey, they are also opportunistic feeders, eating whatever meat they can find, including carrion and unfortunately domestic livestock. Sadly this brings it into direct conflict with humans and herders will go out of their way to kill snow leopards to prevent them from taking their animals.

Amazingly, snow leopards are so strong that they can kill prey three to four times their size, such as the Bharal, Himalayan Tahr, Markhor and Argali. However, because of the extreme climates in which they live they will readily take much smaller prey such as hares and birds.

Unusual among cats, snow leopards will also eat a significant amount of vegetation as part of their normal diet.

The diet of the snow leopard will vary across its range and will be also be dependent on the time of year, and prey availability.

In the Himalayas, it will prey mostly on bharals (Himalayan blue sheep) but in other mountain ranges such as the Karakoram, Tian Shan, and Altai, its will mainly feed on the Siberian ibex and argali, a type of wild sheep.

 Other large animals that will be considered suitable prey by the Snow leopard will include various types of wild goats and sheep (such as markhors and urials), other goat-like ruminants such as Himalayan tahr and gorals, plus deer, boars, and langur monkeys. Smaller prey consists of marmots, woolly hares, pikas, various rodents, and birds such as the snow cock and chukar.

Snow leopards have not been reported to attack humans, and appear to be among the least aggressive of all the big cats. As a result, they are easily driven away from livestock; they readily abandon their kills when threatened and may not even defend themselves when attacked.

Snow leopards prefer to ambush prey from above, using broken terrain to conceal their approach, and can leap as far as 14 meters (46ft). They will actively pursue prey down steep mountainsides, using the momentum of their initial leap to chase animals for up to 300 metres (980 ft). They kill with a bite to the neck, and may drag the prey to a safe location before feeding. They consume all edible parts of the carcass, and can survive on a single bharal for two weeks before hunting again.

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Gardeners have been competing against each other regarding the size of their vegetables for centuries now - no smut intended. And of course, in an age where the cost of fresh produce is becoming evermore expensive - the bigger your crop, the better. But just how do you grow a giant vegetable?

Well this is the million dollar question because the growing of giant vegetables is still highly competitive, and any secret that could give a gardener the edge is kept close to the heart.

The first secret is the seed. Without seed that is genetically capable of growing to these huge sizes then all you efforts will be wasted. You can either obtain your own seed by growing generation after generation of plants and selecting those which show a bias towards gigantism or you can buy them from a specialist supplier.

Once you have your seed, the basics are as follows. To grow a giant vegetable you need to take full advantage of the growing season and that will include artificially extending the growing period by using a protective environment. Sounds highly scientific, but this just means you need to grow your prized crop in a heated greenhouse in order to get a head start. Also, higher temperature will increase the metabolism of your plant allowing it to make the most of favourable growing conditions. But don't make conditions too hot or they will go dormant. Be aware that maximum favourable growing temperatures will vary for each crop you grow.

The next aspect of growing a giant vegetable is to allow your crop to make the most of available water and nutrition. Many growers will choose to use automated irrigation systems and some will even go to the expense of an automated chemical fertilising system. Why? Because if you over water your giant vegetable will stop growing until more favourable conditions arise. If you underwater your crop your giant vegetable will stop growing until favourable conditions arise. If you under feed you giant vegetable it will not grow as quickly and if you overfeed your giant vegetable it will stop growing until the excess nutrients are leached through from increased watering - don't water-log the compost though or you could end up killing your crop!

Beyond this you all you have are the normal production techniques for each crop and trial and error. If you are lucky then sometimes someone will throw you a gem of advice.

For the rest I am afraid it will have to be a challenging adventure.

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A very good question and one which has two answers. Unfortunately, both answers are no.

First answer: (ie. short answer) No.

Second answer: (ie. long answer) Nooooooooooooooooooo!

These are the facts. Once your cut Christmas tree has spent the past few weeks drying out inside a warm house it is difficult enough for it to re-root, even if it was a bought with a rudimentary root system still intact.

The problem with conifers (yes, your Christmas tree is just a large conifer) is that they are hard enough to root as cuttings - and that would be with basal heat, root hormone powder, mist irrigation and juvenile propagation material!

With a 'mature' tree you are going to come unstuck as there are no dormant root nodules at the base of the trunk with which to grow new roots from.

So sorry, but the answer is still no.

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Christmas Tree


Geraniums are one of the world's most popular summer bedding plants and have been so for over 150 years. Disease resistant, tolerant of drought and available in a very wide range of flower colours, it is easy to see why geraniums have remained as popular as they have ever been.

However, purchasing geraniums can be expensive, but there is an alternative. Why not implement some forward planning and propagate your own geraniums from cuttings? That way you will get exactly the right varieties you fancy and as much free (relatively free) stock as you like. Not only for next year, but for as many years as your heart desires!

Just how do you take cuttings from geraniums?

As with most things timing is all important, and when it comes to taking geranium cuttings you will need be looking at doing so at the end of the summer. But before you start, make sure that all of your tools are sterilised as geraniums can be very susceptible to fungal diseases during propagation.

With this in mind, the pots you are going to use for your cuttings should also be sterilised and this can be achieved by washing them in a very mild bleach solution. This is particularly important with used pots. Just remember that whatever pots you end up using rinse them thoroughly with tap water after the sterilisation process.

Make a cut about four or five inches down from one of the growing tips of the plant, just below a leaf joint. Now remove all of the leaves on the plant cutting with the exception of the top three to five leaves. If the cutting has any flower heads on it these should be removed so that the cutting can direct all of its energy into rooting.

Now there are two way to continue from here.

1. Plant the cutting directly into a good quality, free draining compost such as John Innes ‘Seed and Cutting’. You may wish to mix in additional horticultural grit or perlite in order to improve drainage further, or...

2. Allow the cuttings to be stored loosely within some old newspaper for 3-7 days so that a callus can form on the cut end before potting on.

Whatever you decide, continue by placing approximately 3 cuttings per 3 inch pot. I would recommend terracotta pots for this and try to place the cuttings at the very edge of the pot.

Allow a good inch gap from the soil surface to the top of the pot and add ¼ inch of horticultural grit to its surface. Water in and move to a bright windowsill of greenhouse but keep it out of direct sunlight. Also try to make sure that there is good ventilation as this will also help to reduce the incidence of fungal infection.

Allow the cuttings to dry out between watering, but make sure that the soil is never waterlogged! Apart from this, the next consideration is to make sure that the temperature doesn't fluctuate too much between day and night. Cold temperature in particular can increase the risk of fungal infections.

If you do see the beginnings of a fungal infection apply a liquid fungicide such as Benlate, but try to do so when the soil is relatively dry.

With a bit of luck, the cuttings should root in about 10 to 20 days. Once rooted they will need to be transferred into there own 3-4 inch pots using a standard potting compost. Again, you may wish to add some horticultural grit or perlite to ensure good drainage.

Once your cuttings have rooted, pinch out the top to encourage the new plant to produce side shoots.

Overwinter in a frost free area and keep on the dry side. That way there will be in perfect condition to take advantage of next year’s summer.

For more about overwintering geraniums click here.


Halloween falls on the 31st October of every year and is the day before All Hallows' Day, also known as All Saints' Day in the Christian calendar. Traditionally, the Christian Church held a vigil on All Hallows' Eve when worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself.

The name Halloween, now synonymous with ghouls and witches, actually derives from the Old English word 'hallowed' meaning holy or sanctified. This is now usually contracted to the more familiar word Hallowe'en, but how did this day become associated with all things ’unchristian’?

Well, the date of Halloween, 31st October, marked the end of the Celtic year and was believed to be the day when the spirits of those who died in the previous year would come back and possess a body of the living to allow themselves to pass into the afterlife.

However, the people who were still living were not keen on being possessed and would dress up in scary costumes to try and frighten away spirits. And this is the how the modern Halloween holiday was born.

Modern Halloween

So nowadays, Halloween is mostly a time when people dress in scary costumes, go ‘trick or treating’, display carved pumpkins and play traditional Halloween games, such as apple bobbing.

Trick or treating involves dressing up in costumes and knocking on neighbours doors for treats. If treats are not given then tricks are played on the neighbour. It is thought to have come from a traditional European custom called 'souling'. It is believed that Christians used to go from door to door in villages to ask for soul cakes and for every cake you gave them they would say a prayer for one of your dead relatives.

Apple bobbing is a game traditionally played on Halloween. A number of apples are placed in a large bowl of water. Players have to try to catch one of the apples using only their teeth. The hands must remain behind the back at all times. This game is believed to date back to Roman times when Romans used to celebrate Pomona, their goddess of fruit, in October. The symbol for Pomona was an apple.

Carving a face into a pumpkin and placing a candle inside is to represent the Irish folklore about a man called Jack. It is believed that Jack was a notorious trickster and once even managed to trap the Devil up a tree. When Jack died, he was refused from heaven because of his bad behaviour and in revenge for being trapped up a tree, the Devil refused Jack entry into hell. Instead, he gave him a single ember to guide him through the darkness. The folklore tells us that the ember was said to be placed inside a turnip to make it last longer. Over time the turnip has changed to a pumpkin.

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