WHAT IS A WALNUT?





The walnut is an edible seed of any tree of the genus Juglans, best known of which is the Persian walnut - Juglans regia, although in North America you could argue that it is in fact the native Black Walnut.

Technically, a walnut is a drupe, not a nut, since it takes the form of a fruit enclosed by a fleshy outer layer which parts to reveal a thin shell with a seed inside. As walnuts age on the tree, the outer shell dries and pulls away, leaving the shell and seed behind. Whether you call it a nut or a drupe, walnuts can pose risks to people with allergies, so use them with caution in cooking.

All types of walnuts are quite hardy, and actually require a cold winter period in order to thrive. So anyone living in warmer climates won’t have much success with their own walnut trees.

Walnuts will start to produce nuts at around 10 years of age, give full production at 30 years and keep on producing for more than 50 years. Depending on the specific variety of the walnut tree, they can grow up to 100 feet in height.

The walnut nut!

Walnuts are rounded, single-seeded stone fruits of the walnut tree. It is enclosed in a green, leathery, fleshy husk, but this husk is inedible. After harvest, the removal of the husk reveals the wrinkly walnut shell, which is in two halves. This shell is hard and encloses the kernel, which is also made up of two halves separated by a partition.

Walnut seeds are high density source of nutrients, particularly proteins and essential fatty acids. Like other tree nuts, walnuts must be processed and stored properly. Worryingly, poor storage makes walnuts susceptible to insect and fungal mould infestations; the latter produces aflatoxin - a potent carcinogen. Mould infested walnut seed batch should not be screened then consumed - the entire batch should be discarded.

The seed kernels - commonly available as shelled walnuts - are enclosed in a brown seed coat which contains antioxidants. The antioxidants protect the oil-rich seed from atmospheric oxygen so preventing rancidity.

As mentioned previously there are two major varieties of walnuts grown for its seeds — the English walnut and the Black walnut. The Black walnut is of high flavour  but due to its hard shell and poor hulling characteristics it is not grown commercially for nut production. The commercially produced walnut varieties are nearly all hybrids of the English walnut.

What is a Fig?

WHERE TO FIND RED SQUIRRELS




Although common throughout the forests of Europe and Asia, the red squirrel is now rare in Britain. The exact reasons for its decline are not precisely known, but currently to blame are the competition for food from its larger cousin – the grey squirrel, and the destruction of suitable woodland habitat.

The red squirrel currently enjoys full protection in Britain today, but it was only 100 years ago that measures were taken to eradicate the red squirrel from Scotland because of the damage it caused to its trees.

Where does the red squirrel live?

With powerful hind legs and sharp claws, the red squirrel is perfectly adapted to climbing slender boughs and for leaping from branch to branch in its woodland environment.

In continental Europe, the red squirrel is found in coniferous forest. In Britain, it lives mainly on broad leaved woodland and – unlike the grey squirrel - it is now rarely seen in the towns or cities.

For most of the year outside of the breeding season, the red squirrel is a solitary animal although it frequently shares its nest with others for warmth – especially during our cool winters.

The red squirrel nest is either a drey or a den. A drey is a 30cm domed ball of twigs and leaves built on a twig platform usually in the fork of a branch. The dome is packed out with leaves, soft bark and given a soft lining of feathers, thistledown or dried grasses. A den is often an old, enlarged woodpecker’s nest found in a tree hollow, lined with the same soft materials.

The red squirrel moults and grows a new coat twice a year. In summer it has a short, mainly chestnut coat. This is replaced in August to November by a thicker, dark brown coat, when its ear tufts become prominent.

It is quite easy to mistake a red squirrel for a grey squirrel in summer when its ear tufts are indistinct and its fur is partially grey.

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HOW TO GROW STRAWBERRIES





If like me the thought of home grown English strawberries is enough to make your mouth water then now is the time to start getting to work. You can't beat the flavour of home grown strawberries - the greengrocers just can't touch it. Of course, to get the very best flavour you will need to pick your strawberry straight from the plant, and the best way to achieve this is to grow your own strawberry plants!

If you‘re starting afresh then you should be able to find a good selection of plants in any good plant retailer from the beginning of March. Alternatively you can grow strawberry plants from seed.

Although the strawberry is a heavily associated with the English high tea and Wimbledon, the strawberry is not a native of this fair and pleasant land. In fact, the strawberry was first bred in Brittany, France, in the 1750s via a cross of Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America and Fragaria chiloensis, which was brought from Chile by Amédée-François Frézier in 1714.
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How to grow strawberries

For that perfect summer flavour I can recommend ‘Cambridge Favorite’, a king amongst strawberries, but to ensure a good yield remove any runners before they start to creep along the ground as leaving them will only sap energy from your existing plants.

However if you need new plants for next year, pinch off the flowers from a couple of selected parent plants as this will encourage shoots and runners instead of fruit. Remove them carefully from parent plants in early autumn and pot them on separately using John Innis No 1 or No 2.

To grow strawberries successfully outside all you need is a little preparation. Strawberries do not produce deep roots and can be prone to damage from water logging so they appreciate the soil being both well drained and well-dug before planting. If you can, prepare the soil at least one month before planting and incorporate as much organic matter as possible. You can even give a little extra help hand by adding bonemeal at a rate of two handfuls per square metre. Then - a few days before planting - you can apply a general fertiliser as Strawberries are greedy feeders over a relatively short period of time.

Plant them 13-15 inches apart along the row with each row being about 30 inches apart. They will need regular watering until they establish - again don't allow them to become water-logged at which time watering can usually be left until they come into fruit. You will also need to keep control of weeds growing near strawberries as they will compete for nutrients and can drastically reduce cropping.
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As the fruit develops their weight will cause them to drop to the ground, but before this happens it’s important to cover the surrounding soil with straw or black plastic. This prevents the fruit from rotting on the soil. In fact it’s from the traditional use of straw that strawberries got their name. Where plastic is used, punch small holes in the plastic to help drainage and to stop water pooling under the fruit.

If you have a problem with birds then the plants will need to be protected with light weight plastic netting. Put this in place when the fruits begin to swell, making sure that netting is well clear of the plants. Depending on your situation you may wish to invest in a fruit cage.
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HOW TO TAKE CUTTINGS FROM BAMBOO




Hardy bamboo make fantastic ornamental garden plants. They are also very popular as they are evergreen, easy to grow, and extremely 'pest and disease' resistant. Not only will bamboo provide form, structure and height in the garden, they will also provide a pleasing rustling sound from the slightest breeze.

However, the trouble with bamboo is that they can be expensive, so you have a choice - you can either lift a root cutting from an existing plant growing in the ground, or you can buy a containerised bamboo and decide it into several smaller plants.

How to take a root cuttings from bamboo

This is a very simple operation, just make sure you have gained permission from the plants owner. Done carefully, this is a job that can be done at almost any time of year - weather permitting - but best results will be obtained during early spring and autumn.

First, dig around the outside of the clump you wish to remove with a spade. Then gently lift the clump from the soil, trying to keep the root-ball as intact as possible. If you need to, get someone to help with this in order to prevent the fibrous roots from becoming damaged by the root ball falling apart under its own weight.

Look over the clump and decide where you want to make your division.Each division should have at least 3 culms (the large woody stems), and make sure that you get a reasonable amount of root and foliage for each division. Discard any pieces that don't have both roots and culms.

Use a sharp pruning saw, divide the bamboo clump in several pieces. If you do not have a saw and your chosen divisions are big enough, you can always cut through the clump using a decent spade - but you are more likely to cause more root damage this way.  If a significant amount of root is lost in lifting the root-ball, you can still save your root cutting by reducing the amount of foliage that the remaining roots need to support Remember that roots will only support a certain amount of foliage. Too much foliage and your cutting will dry out and in all likelihood die. Just make sure  that when you cut back the culms, there are some green leaves left so that the new plant divisions can photosynthesise.


You can either plant your divisions directly into the ground where you expect them to remain and spread or you can pot them on into a suitable container.

When planting them directly into the ground, start by digging a hole with the same depth as the root cutting and about twice its width.

The most common mistake made is to dig the hole too deep and too narrow.

Planting a bamboo too deep or narrow will inhibit the roots ability to absorb oxygen and gather nutrients. Do not disturb the root system when planting as this can inhibit the speed at which the plant can establish itself in the new environment.


It is generally advised to avoid using fertiliser or manure during the initial planting, as this too can potentially damage the root system. High levels of nitrogen in a fertiliser can actually burn the young rhizomes. Keep in mind that, bamboos do not grow well in soggy or heavy soils, and if you need to contain the spread of the rhizomes, it may be necessary to install some kind of root barrier.

Once the newly planted bamboo is secured in the hole, it is worth testing its stability. You may need to secure it to a suitable point so that strong winds will not be able to knock the plant over while its roots are establishing themselves.

Bamboo will thrive best with a regular layer of mulch to protect the roots and rhizomes. The mulch not only serves as protection from pests and weeds, it will also help to retain water and providing nutrients.

How to plant Bamboo in to pots


Fill suitably sized container halfway with potting soil that is rich in organic matter and fast draining. Then set your bamboo division in the middle of your container. Adjust the soil so that the top of the root ball sits a couple of inches below the surface of the container then top dress with potting soil to 1 inch below the rim of the pot - leaving room for water.
>Water your roots cuttings thoroughly, then place the new plants in a sheltered location in partial shade. Avoid     having the root cuttings in direct sun until new growth appears, and water whenever the soil feels dry to the touch.

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HOW DO YOU GET ACID RAIN?




You may think that 'acid rain' is a relatively modern concept, but it was actually first used over 100 years ago to describe worrying conditions in Manchester, England.

However, acid rain is certainly not a new phenomenon brought on by modern industrialization as all rainfall has a certain amount of natural acidity. It is just that pollutants released from industrialization increases this acidity a thousand fold! And don't think it's just rain you need to worry about as acidity can also be present - and be just as damaging - in snow hail, cloud, fog, mist and even air borne dust!

What causes acid rain? 

Approximately 300 million years ago, huge areas of the Earth were forested. Over time, tress came to the end of their natural life and died. Where they fell, they were gradually transformed into seams of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

 Today we mine and burn fossil fuels in enormous quantities to generate electricity, heat our homes and power our factories. Unfortunately, burning fossil fuels releases releases huge amounts of pollutants - notably sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbons - into the atmosphere.

Once they are in the atmosphere, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and the hydrocarbons react with sunlight to produce a selection of secondary pollutants such as ozone.

These secondary pollutants react with the sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide to form sulphuric-acid and nitric acid in the tiny droplets of water that go to make up our clouds. In this form the acids are carried on the wind to fall as 'acid rain' , often great distances away. Today, in spite of growing environmental awareness all around the world - and so is the damage caused by acid rain., large scale industrialization is still increasing.

The damage caused by acid rain

Over 1,000,000 square kilometres of Europe's forests have suffered the effects of acid rain, with conifers being damaged the most. The sulphur dioxide from burning fossil fuels may damage and kill many trees, but this is compounded as acid rain reacts with vital plant nutrients, preventing their uptake through root systems.

Even slight damage to a mature tree caused by pollution can be enough to kill it because it reduces the trees frost hardiness and its resistance to fungal and pest attack.

American studies have indicated that even where forests are showing none of the easily visible external signs of acid rain damage, pollution is nevertheless limiting their growth.

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HOW TO TAKE HONEYSUCKLE CUTTINGS




Honeysuckles are arching shrubs or twining vines in the family Caprifoliaceae, and are native to the Northern Hemisphere. There are about 180 species of honeysuckle mostly occurring in China, Europe, India and North America.

The most widely known species include Lonicera periclymenum (honeysuckle or woodbine), Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle, white honeysuckle, or Chinese honeysuckle) and Lonicera sempervirens (coral honeysuckle, trumpet honeysuckle, or woodbine honeysuckle).

As attractive and fragrant as they are, honeysuckles can be expensive to purchase and you may not be able to find the varieties you want.

However,  it turns out that honeysuckles are reasonably easy to propagate from cuttings.

How to propagate honeysuckles from cuttings

You can propagate honeysuckles by taking softwood or semi-ripe cuttings 5cm-7.5cm (2-3in) long from late spring to summer. Evergreens varieties - such as the Lonicera standishii - also take well from hardwood cuttings, about 20-30cm (8-12in) long, from autumn to mid-winter.

Softwood cuttings

To begin with, prepare a rooting container by filling it to the top with a good quality potting compost such as John Innes 'seed and cutting' compost. Gently water the surface of the potting soil in order to moisten the soil.

Select a stem on your chosen honeysuckle plant that is both actively growing, and showing tender growth. Remove the stem from the vine, then cut and discard the top 6 to 8 inches of the vine with a pair of clean, and sterilized secateurs.

Cut the stem into sections 1 inch above a leaf joint and make another cut at the midway point -  between the top leaf joint and the next lowest leaf joint.

If the species you are propagating from has particularly large leaves then these can be cut in half in order to reduce transpiration, and helping to prevent the cutting from drying out before it is able to produce roots. This will produce a stem with one pair of leaves on it.

Dip the bottom inch of the stem into rooting hormone and insert the stem into the center of the moist potting soil.

Place the plastic bag over the container and secure the bag to the container with the rubber band.

Mist the potting soil every day to keep it moist. When you see new growth on the stem, you can assume roots are forming beneath the potting soil.

Remove the plastic bag and continue to keep the soil moist while the new honeysuckle plant grows stronger and larger.

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HOW TO PLANT PUMPKINS






As true fruits go, pumpkins can achieve monstrous sizes - so when it comes to growing them from seed you need to get the timing right so that they can make use of the warmest and sunniest part of the year.

Traditionally – in England anyway – pumpkins are sown during the third week in May and this is to make sure that the ground temperature is warm enough for germination. This needs to be at least 60 degrees Celsius, in fact in Lincolnshire it’s believed that pumpkin growers test the soil by pulling down their trousers and sitting on the ground!


If you live in an area where the summers are neither long or warm enough, you will need to give your seeds a head start by germinating them under controlled conditions indoors i.e. plenty of additional light and soil temperatures of between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius.

To give you seeds the best start - although it is not strictly necessary – lightly file the edges of the seed with a nail file, apart from the pointed end. Not only will this allow for a quicker and greater uptake of moisture into the seed more makes it easier for the leaves to emerge from the shell without damage.


Next the seeds can be soaked for several hours in warm water – not hot – as again this will speed up germination. For the cautious grower, once you have removed the seeds from the water, remove any excess with a paper towel and then treat the seed with a fungicidal powder. This will help to reduce the incidence of fungal infections – especially if soil temperatures start to drop or if the young seedlings get overly wet.

SOWING PUMPKIN SEEDS INDOORS

.Start off with 6 inch pots with the bottom inch or so filled with a good quality seed mix such as John Innes ‘Seed and Potting’ compost. Take one seed and place it either on its side, or with the pointed end down, then fill the pot to within 1 inch of the top with more of the compost mix. Water thoroughly, and then move to a warm and sunny position such as south facing windowsill - preferably by a radiator, but not on a radiator. However if you have a heated propagator or germination mat – use that.

Once the new seedlings start to emerge – anytime between 4 and 6 days - remove the basal heat, but keep them in a well lit area that receives as much direct sunlight as possible. If the seeds have not sprouted after ten days then consider that that batch has failed and you will need to make another sowing.

Your pumpkin seedlings will need to be watered every couple of days due to their high rate of growth but allow the surface to dry off before re-watering as this can tempt fungal infections. Also – after the first couple of days – you can commence feeding with a liquid fertiliser, but only at a half strength dose and only once a week.

Once the seedlings have been grown on for a couple of weeks they should be ready for transplanting outside so long as the threat of late frosts are over.

SOWING AND GROWING PUMPKINS OUTSIDE

The most important consideration with sowing pumpkin seeds outside is to make sure that the site receives as much direct sun as possible. Neither do you want a position that is particularly free draining soil as you pumpkins will require a lot of water in order to attain a decent size. In addition, they will also require a large amount of soil nutrition and so it is well worth while digging in plenty of well-rotted farm manure a few weeks before planting. If you are in an area that is prone to a lot of spring rain that you may also wish to mound up the soil where you will be sowing or planting your pumpkin seedlings so that they don’t become waterlogged at this early stage.

Mound sowing

Create a mound of soil three feet in diameter with a shallow trench surrounding it for collecting water. Plant four to five pumpkin seeds on each hill, spaced between six to eight inches apart.

If you are intending planting more than one hill, make sure that each hill is at least 10 feet apart to give plants enough space to spread their tendrils. Once the seeds have germinated, remove all but the strongest seedling to continue on through to fruiting.

Row planting

This is similar to mound planting but instead you are creating an elevated row of soil with small, shallow trenches on either side to collect water. Plant 2 or 3 pumpkin seeds every 18 inches along the row. If you are planting multiple rows, each row should be at least 6 inches apart from its neighbour. Once the seeds have germinated, remove all but the strongest seedling in each grouping to continue through to fruiting.

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WHEN ARE PUMPKINS READY FOR HARVEST?

THE PEANUT




Once called 'goober peas' in the United States, peanuts were- and are still today -  a very popular snack food. They are most often eaten roasted on their own, as opposed to many other nuts that are used more in cooking. They are also easily shelled by hand, which adds to their appeal.

However, peanuts do not look like most regular nuts - and there is a good reason for that. This is because peanuts are fairly unique in the nut world, as they grow underground and - unlike most other nut varieties - are not produced by large trees.

Peanuts are a native to South America and are believed to have first been cultivated as a farmed crop in the valleys of Peru. To be fair though, peanuts are not what we would consider to be a true nut, but are in fact legumes - the pea family. This then really does make it a pea nut!

What is a peanut?

The peanut is a small annual herbaceous plant that grows to 30-40 cm tall. It produces a typical peaflower flower which is usually yellow with reddish veining.

Weirdly, once pollinated the flower stalk will begin to bend until the fertilized ovary touches the ground. However, the stalk continues to grow and pushes the ovary underground! The ovary continues to develop into a legume pod which matures into what we commonly call a peanut. Each pod can be between 1-3 inches long and containing as many as 4 ‘seeds’.

How to grow peanuts

While you can have some good success by planting peanuts bought at the grocery store -  raw ones, not roasted, you will do far better by purchasing proper seed peanuts from a good plant retailer. Purchased peanut seed should still be in their shells, but you will have to shell them immediately before planting or they may dry out to  a point where they will not germinate.

Given their long growing season, you may want to get your peanut plants started early indoors. Use paper or peat pots as can reduce root shock when it comes to transplanting. You will need pots that are 3-4 inches in diameter so if you cant find biodegradable pots at this size them use plastic instead.

Start your seeds 3 or 4 weeks before you expect your last frost date. Using a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Potting' , plant 2 or 3 seeds in each pot, and  covered them with 2 inches of compost soil. Keep them well watered, but don’t have the compost waterlogged as this will damage the juvenile root system.

Once the peanut seeds begin to germinate, remove the weakest leaving just one strong peanut plant per pot. Your peanuts or seedlings should be planted outside into their final position once there is no more threat of frost.

Planting peanuts outside

Dig your soil down at least 6 inches to loose in it up for the growing peanut roots. You may need to add a little extra lime to the soil to balance the pH, but this should only be done once a soil test has confirmed that this is necessary.

As it grows, your peanut plant will produce runners, and each one will eventually grow a peanut at the end underground. These runners start out as the above-ground flowers. So once you see the plant’s flower starting to wilt and bend down, do not pick them off. That’s where the next generation of peanuts will be produced. Those downward growing stems are commonly known as “pegs”

When you see your plants starting to grow their pegs, lightly dig around the plants in order to loosen up the soil. The peg needs to grow down underground so you don’t want it blocked by stones or compacted soil.

Once your plant has set down its pegs, do not cultivate or weed to roughly around the plant or you could accidentally pull up or break off a runner. Mulching can help keep the weeds down, but do not add mulch until the pegs have moved down into the soil.

You will want to water your plants frequently, but avoid giving them too much water at once. Fertilizing is fine though not really necessary. Use a low-nitrogen formula or you will end up with very bushy plants and no peanuts. When the plants begin to flower, a treatment with a calcium-rich fertilizer can help with nut formation.

Growing peanuts in containers

Peanuts can be grown to harvest in containers, but you need to allow for extra surface space for the pegs to be put down by the plant. Your peanuts should be in pots no smaller than 20 inches across and at least a foot deep. You can only have one plant per pot.

Keep your plants well-watered but take care not to let the roots get waterlogged. It is important that your containers are well drained.

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THE OSTRICH




Although native only to parts of Africa, the ostrich is still one of the world’s best known birds. This is partly due to its bizarre appearance, characterised by a round dumpy body, spindly legs and a long neck that extends upwards to a small head.

The ostrich holds many world records. It is the world’s largest bird and it can run faster than any other two-legged animal with a maximum speed of about 70 km/h (43 mph). Furthermore, this flightless bird lays the largest eggs of any living creature. In fact, only the extinct elephant birds of Madagascar and the giant moa of New Zealand laid larger eggs!

The ostrich was once famed for its feathers, which were used as hat plumes. Now the ostrich is farmed for its meat, its skin and kept in zoos as a tourist attraction. It has also been trained to scare birds away from crops, to round up sheep, as well as to be ridden in ostrich races.

The ostrich was first introduced into Australia in the 1860’s. As in South Africa, many of those farmed managed to escape and began to breed in the wild.

What do ostriches eat?

With its long strides, the ostrich is an efficient grazer of the scarce but nutritious plant, shoots, leaves and flowers and seeds on which it depends. The ostrich also also eats invertebrates.

Lowering its long neck, it accurately pecks up the food and then stores it in its gullet, before finally passing it down the gut in a large ball. This passage can be clearly seen, as it stretches the highly elastic skin of the ostrich’s neck.

Like many other birds, the ostrich also swallows grit and small stones with its food. These grind up the tough plant material which it eats, in the muscular gizzard – the ostrich’s second stomach – and so helps with its digestion.

While grazing, the ostrich regularly raises its long neck to scan the horizon for any signs of danger. It has acute vision and its eyes are the largest of any land animal in relation to the size of its head.

Ostrich breeding

The male ostrich makes several shallow nest scrapes in well-guarded territories. He pairs up with a female known as the ‘major hen’, who selects one of the nest scrapes and lays up to 11 eggs in it.

Now it gets a bit complicated. Up to 18, although more usually 2 to 5 ‘minor hens’ then lay their eggs in the same nest. The minor hens leave the male and major hen to guard and incubate the clutch.

However, as night falls, the male takes over the task of incubation.

The ostrich can incubate a large number of eggs, and 20 is not unusual! If there are more eggs than can be incubated, the major hen will roll some of the minor hens eggs to the edge of the nest where they will fail to hatch. Soon after hatching, the brood joins up with broods from other nests, with one or two adults guarding the whole lot. Only about 15% of chicks will live beyond a year which is when they reach their adult height. The remainder mainly fall prey to hyenas and jackals.

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HOW TO TAKE CUTTINGS FROM GRAPE VINES




For many of gardeners, growing grapes vines in the garden is usually no more than a miss-placed romantic idea of producing your own wine. Whereas it is far more realistic to look at it as a concerted attempt at fruit production.

However, the history of grape production and human kind has been entwined for thousands of years, and - to be fair - its not a bad ornamental plant in its own right. So whatever your reasons for growing, you will get some benefit.

Unfortunately, vines can be expensive to purchase and you may not be able to find the varieties you want, but as it turns out, grape vines are very easy to propagate from cuttings.

 Be aware though that modern vine production involves grafting cultivated varieties onto rootstocks resistant to the phylloxera aphida major pest of commercial grapevines worldwide.

How to propagate vines from hardwood cuttings

To begin with, prepare a small pot for rooting the cutting by filling with equal amounts of sand, peat and perlite. You can also use fine gravel for rooting your cuttings.

If you wish to use rooting hormones, pour an inch of rooting hormone into a plastic cup and set it aside. However, vines are so easy to root, it really isn't worth the effort or cost of purchasing hormone powder.

Cut 4 to 8 inch long sections of hardwood stems from the vines you wish to propagate. Use a sharp, sterile scissors and measure from the stem tip. Make sure that the uppermost cut is sloping.

The recommended time to take hardwood cuttings is anywhere between November and February.

Remove all the lateral shoots and any dormant buds from the lower half of each cutting. Insert a pencil at a depth of about 2 to 3 inches in the rooting medium to create planting holes.

At this point - should you wish to - dip the base of each cutting into the rooting hormone and plant immediately in individual planting holes.

Firm the soil around the cuttings and water well.

Place the pot in a warm, bright area, but make sure that they are out of direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.

Cuttings started off in January or February should by June have grown a stem 3 to 5 ft long and they will be ready for planting out in the greenhouse border or hardened off on the patio or in a sheltered place before going to their permanent position in the garden.

Ensure that the vine is well watered in when being planted outside to prevent a dry spell from dehydrating the plant.

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THE PEREGRINE FALCON




For pure, unadulterated speed, nothing can touch the peregrine falcon. When it is in a hunting dive, it is the worlds fastest bird and by considerable margin. In fact, it is the fastest animal on Earth!

So far, no bird known can match the flying speed of a peregrine falcon while it is in its hunting dive.  As it executes this specialist dive, the peregrine falcon begins by soaring to a great height, after which it dives steeply at speeds of over 300 kilometers (200 miles) per hour!

While the peregrine falcon’s diving speed is truly amazing, it isn't even able to make the top 10 when traveling in a level flight. For that record, studies have clocked  the spine-tailed swift, at over 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour.



The Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus,  is a widespread bird of prey in the family Falconidae. A large, crow-sized falcon, it has a blue-gray back, barred white underparts, and a black head and 'moustache'.

Typical of bird-eating raptors, Peregrine Falcons are sexually dimorphic, in this case the females are considerably larger than males  making it one of the few vertebrate animal species with larger females.

The Peregrine's breeding range includes land regions from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. It can be found nearly everywhere on Earth, except extreme polar regions, very high mountains, and most tropical rainforests. The only major ice-free land mass from which it is entirely absent is New Zealand, making it the world's most widespread bird of prey.

Both the English and scientific names of this species mean 'wandering falcon' which refers to the migratory habits of many northern populations.

While its diet consists almost exclusively of medium-sized birds, the Peregrine falcon will occasionally hunt small mammals, small reptiles, or even insects. Reaching sexual maturity at one year, it mates for life and nests in a scrape, normally on cliff edges or - in more recent times - on tall human-made structures.

The Peregrine Falcon became an endangered species in many areas because of pesticides, especially DDT. Since the ban on DDT from the early 1970s, populations have recovered, supported by large-scale protection of nesting places and releases to the wild.

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WOLF FACTS




The grey wolf - otherwise known as the timber wolf, white wolf or 'common' wolf -  lives in a variety of habitats, from the Arctic tundra and open steppes of Russia, to the mountainous regions and forests of the northern hemisphere. It has a highly organised social structure which enables it to enjoy the maximum cooperation when hunting, communicating, and defending its territory.

The grey wolf lives in packs of between five and ten animals. Each pack contains a family unit,consisting of a dominant male and female, and the offspring from several years.

The hierarchy that exists within each pack is maintained by dominant or submissive body posturing, as well as other behavioural patterns such as the communal care of the young.

The size of the pack's territory depends on the availability of prey, but usually covers several hundred square kilometres. The grey wolf is fiercely territorial.

It scent marks boundaries and makes its presence known by howling to other members of the pack. Calls may be answered by rival wolf packs.

Wolf facts

1. Wolves are legendary because of their spine-tingling howl, which they use to communicate. A separated wolf howls to attract the attention of his pack, while communal howls may send territorial messages from one pack to another. Some howls are confrontational. Much like barking domestic dogs, wolves may simply begin howling because a nearby wolf has already begun.

2. A wolf that has been driven from the pack, or has left on its own accord is called a lone wolf. It avoids contact with packs and rarely howls.

3. The wolf is the largest of the wild dog species.

4. Wolves are generally shy of people and will avoid them whenever possible. Most of the attacks on humans by wolves have been carried out by rabid animals.

5. Wolf packs in the far north often travel hundreds of kilometre following migrating herds.


6. Centuries ago, wolves were 'tried' by people and burned at the stake.

7. A Wolf in a hurry can go as fast as 35 miles per hour for short distances.

8. Wolves are highly intelligent animals. Studies indicate that the domestic dog's brain is 15% to 30% smaller than the wolf's.

9. The wolf has two types of hair: guard and undercoat. The long guard hairs repel moisture and the undercoat insulates. It sheds its bulky winter coat in sheets (unlike most dogs); females tend to lose their winter coats more slowly than males.

10. A wolf's hearing is at least 16 times sharper than a human's. Wolves can hear a sound as far as six miles away in the forest and ten miles away in open country. The wolf also has excellent peripheral vision and superior night vision. The outer perimeter of the wolf's retina is highly sensitive to movement. However, a wolf's eyes lack a foveal pit that allows for sharp focusing at long distances.

Breeding

The grey wolf becomes sexually mature at about two years of age. Once a wolf has found a mate the pair will usually stay together for life. The mating season begins at the end of winter and often causes tension within the pack.

Subordinate males and females compete for a higher place in the hierarchy of the pack, for it only the most dominant wolves that get the opportunity to mate. Unfortunately, the majority of wolves do not get to breed. Instead, they get to choose to help their siblings rear pups by hunting prey for them.

Once they have paired, the dominant male and female will mate once or twice a day over a period of about 14 days.

The female wolf will give birth after about nine weeks to between 3 and 10 cubs. The birth occurs in an underground den that she would have excavated herself. However, she will sometime enlarge the disused den of another animal.

The young are born helpless and their eyes are closed. The mother will feed the cubs for 6 to 8 weeks, and - if she has to leave them - the father or another babysitter will guard them.

Gradually, the cubs will learn to eat meat  brought to them in the den by adult wolves. The adult will sometimes carry the meat in its mouth, but over long distances it will swallow it, only to regurgitate it later at the den.

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LAUREL AND HARDY SONG - The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia



I was listening to a feature on Radio four this afternoon on the way back from work. It was an unexpected programme extolling the virtues of Stan Laurel's and Oliver Hardy's film career, as discussed by our very own national treasure - Kenn Dodd. Yes, he is still alive.

Although their career spanned the 1920's, 1930's and even the 1940's, their popular black and white  films were endlessly featured on our family television through the early years of my 1970's.

The Laurel and Hardy song known as 'The Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia' was performed as a duet in their 1937 film Way Out West, and this was played as part of the radio show. It brought back so many childhood memories I had to share it through this YouTube clip.

"The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" is a popular song published in 1913, with lyrics by Ballard MacDonald and music by Harry Carroll. In the song the singer expresses his love for June who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The chorus is:

In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
On the trail of the lonesome pine—
In the pale moonshine our hearts entwine,
Where she carved her name and I carved mine;
Oh, June, like the mountains I'm blue—
Like the pine I am lonesome for you,
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia,
On the trail of the lonesome pine.

I hope that you enjoy watching it as I did listening to it.

WHAT IS LOBELIA?



If you are talking bedding lobelia then look no further than Lobelia erinus. Available in both bush and trailing varieties, lobelia is a very popular edging plant in gardens. It has a particularly long flowering period, from mid spring to early autumn, and while it is clearly a perennial plant in subtropical climates, it is often grown as an annual plant in colder areas.

Although lobelia is widely available in Spring as a young plant,  it must be kept indoors until all danger of frost has passed.

Numerous cultivars have been selected, either with a bushy or a trailing habit, in a wide range of flower colours, including white, pink, red, pale to dark blue, and purple, often with a prominent white eye. Some of the better known cultivars include:

'Blue Moon', 'Gracilis', 'Crystal Palace', 'Sapphire', 'Rosamund' and 'Riviela Rose'.

However, the following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:

'Cambridge Blue', Cascade series, 'Colour Cascade',  'Crystal Palace', 'Mrs Clibran', 'Regatta Midnight Blue',  'Regatta Sky Blue',  'Riviera Blue Eyes', and 'String of Pearls'.

Clearly, lobelia is one of the true backbones of summer bedding arrangements.

Suitable for hanging baskets, containers, as well as island bed schemes, it will flower its heart out as soon as the spring frosts are over and will continue to do so right up until the first ground frost of winter.

Take care though, get taken in by an early bit of sun and you could end up losing your lobelia to a late ground frost.

Not only is this disheartening, it can also end up being a costly mistake!

However, all is not lost as lobelia plants are easily grow from seed, so you could have another batch of lobelia seed waiting to germinate in the greenhouse could save the day!

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THE HARDY BEGONIA - Begonia grandis




Any gardener worth their salt would be familiar with begonias. Of course, there is the usual range of annual bedding, as well as a selection of 'foliage effect' house plants, but did you know that a hardy variety existed? In fact, did you know that one begonia species above all is proper tough enough to be tolerant of the cold experienced by northern European countries? Well of course you did, as you more than likely found this article by typing 'hardy begonia' into a search engine.

Be that as it may, the hardy begonia - Begonia grandis is a tuberous-rooted, clump-forming perennial that typically forms a bushy mound of foliage to 2’ tall on branching stems. The male and female - pale pink to white and 1 inch across - flowers bloom in pendent clusters which appear in late summer and continue on into the autumn.

Large, obliquely ovate leaves (up to 4” long) are medium to olive green above and reddish green with red veining beneath.

The Begonia grandis, commonly known as the 'hardy begonia', is the only species of Begonia that can be considered as winter hardy - hence the name.

It can hibernate down to below - 10 degrees celsius as bulbs or bulbils  -these are formed in the axils.

Other succulent parts of the plant eventually wither to death as temperature lowers. However it is generally regarded as hardy to zones 6-7, but to be on the safe side a heavy winter mulch is advisable in these areas.

The family name honors Michael Begon (1638-1710), amateur botanist and French Canadian Governor.

Its native range is found from Malaysia to China and Japan. It is best grown in moist, organically rich, well-drained soils.

The soil around the hardy begonia should not be allowed to dry out, in fact it can even tolerate being waterlogged for short periods of time. Be aware that hardy begonias can be susceptible to slug and snail damage.

The hardy begonia will perform best in part shade to full shade. Unfortunately, the soft, succulent leaves and stems can become scorched in full sun.

The hardy begonia is generally self-propagation from seed.

 Sow seed or bulbils when fresh. Take basal or stem cuttings in spring; divide perennial clumps in spring.

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THE COYOTE




Ranging from the frozen wastes of Alaska and as far south as Costa Roca, the coyote has demonstrated a remarkable adaptability to its habitat.

It is however, most at home in open grassland and thinly wooded bush country.

The coyote is territorial within its chosen habitat, but live more of a nomadic lie in less favourable areas.

It marks out its territory with urine and declares its residence with a variety of loud calls including the familiar chilling howl.

In some areas the coyote moves into the hills during the summer and then returns to the valleys in the winter

What do coyotes eat?

The coyote hunts mainly under the cover of darkness, and is actually a surprisingly co-operative predator, able to improvise its hunting techniques to suit the prey species and conditions available to it.

The coyote is almost exclusively carnivorous, with jack rabbits, ground squirrels and other small rodents comprising over 90% of its diet.

However, these adaptable animals will eat almost anything, happily dining on fish, frogs, insects, snakes, fruit, grass, and carrion.

Because they sometimes kill lambs, calves, other small livestock - as well as pets - many ranchers and farmers regard them as destructive pests.

Much like a fox, it stalks prey the suddenly pounces on it. The coyote will also tackle larger prey animals such as deer or moose.

However, this larger prey will require a team effort of about six coyotes. The coyote work together in a similar way to wolves by picking out, worrying, and then running down their prey.

Far less stable than wolf packs, coyote packs are usually made up of a breeding pair and their young, which - for whatever reason - have not left their parents territory.

The coyote can feed on dead animals as well as live prey. In some areas, as much as half the coyote’s diet can be made up of carrion, such as cattle and sheep.

Breeding

The coyote generally mates for life, but as its life is typically short, a longer-lived individual will usually have more than one partner during its lifetime.

During the breeding season, the female comes on heat for about 10 days.

Once mated, she will seek out a secluded denning site. Depending on the terrain, this may be in a specially prepared burrow dug by the pair, or one stolen from a fox or a badger and enlarged.

A den may also be made in a small cave, on a rock ledge, or within a dense thicket in scrubby terrain.

The pups are born after a two month gestation period and are nursed for up to seven weeks. They grow quickly and begin to eat solid food, caught and regurgitated by the parents, from about three weeks of age.

The young are fully grown when about nine months old and may breed in their first year, although a good number do not pair up until their second year.

They often disperse widely from their parents’ territory, moving up to 150km before establishing territories from their own.

Where food is particularly plentiful, the young may well remain with their parents for a while and hunt in a pack.

Such packs seldom last long, however as the coyote’s early maturity soon leads to tension and fierce competition between individuals.

Coyote facts 

1. Although the coyote’s name sounds Spanish, it comes in fact from coyotl, the ancient word for this species.

2. As well as its distinctive high-pitched howl, the coyote makes at least ten other, quite different sounds which it uses to communicate.

3. The coyote is also known as the ‘praire’ or ‘brush’ wolf.

4. The coyote is reputed to have a strange relationship with the American badger. It apparently leads the badger to the burrows of ground squirrels and other rodents which it sniffs out. The badger digs open the burrow and the pair seem to share the prey.


5. Coyotes are formidable in the field where they enjoy keen vision and a strong sense of smell. They can run up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) an hour.

6. The most common enemy that coyotes face is disease. Bears, wolves and mountain lions will also prey upon coyotes.

7. In the wild, coyotes live between 10-14 years. In captivity they are known to live much longer, as many as 20 years.

8. A coyote usually weighs between 15 to 25 pounds. They stand about 25 inches tall and are 4 feet in length.

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