HOW TO GROW RASPBERRIES




When I was a child, for some strange reason I always looked down of the raspberry as being a bit of a paupers food. The were cheap, readily available and usually over-ripe, so you can understand why I would pass my nose at them in favour for something a little more exotic - like a banana or even some strawberries!

Luckily times have changed, and so it seems has the raspberry. After years of improvements in cultivation and selective breeding, modern varieties have managed to turn my head.

Large, flavoursome, and proper juicy with just a touch of tartness - I think that's a real word - modern raspberries are now a pleasurable, if sometimes expensive delicacy.

Of course, you can't beat the flavour of home grown raspberries. And to be fair, they are sooooo easy to grow, and soooooo expensive in the supermarkets, that if you do have space in the garden you would be foolish not to make the effort.

When to plant raspberries

Raspberries are planted any time between November and March, provided the soil is not frozen or waterlogged. They are normally sold as dormant canes.

Which raspberry varieties should I choose?

There are two types of raspberry plants:

Summer-fruiting raspberries - these will fruit between June and early August depending on specific varieties. For the earliest raspberries 'Glen Moy' is a good variety and for delicious flavour you can't beat 'Glen Fyne'!

Autumn-fruiting raspberries - these will fruit between August and October and are ideal for growing in containers on the patio as they don't need supporting. They are also great for beginner gardeners as the pruning is very simple. One of the most reliable varieties is 'Autumn Bliss' , although for something more unusual try growing yellow raspberries such as 'Allgold'.

Primocanes and Floricanes - What's the difference?

Don't let these terms confuse you. Primocane varieties produce flowers and fruit on stems grown in the same year. Most Autumn fruiting varieties are primocanes producing fruit in their first year of growth. Summer fruiting varieties are usually Floricane raspberries which have stems that grow for one year before bearing fruit and flowers. Because floricanes and primocanes produce crops on different aged stems, they require slightly different pruning techniques. Read on to find out how to prune raspberries.

Where to plant raspberries

Raspberries like fertile, well drained soil in a sunny spot. They will tolerate shading but you're unlikely to get as much fruit as raspberries growing in full sun. Summer-fruiting raspberries will need supporting by a fence, wall or other type of framework as they can grow to 1.5m tall. Autumn-fruiting raspberries are normally fine without a support.

Growing raspberries in the garden

Once you've chosen your site, simply break up the soil with a garden fork and dig in some organic matter such as compost (old or new), well rotted manure or recycled green waste. Create a framework of posts about 1.8m (6ft) high and stretch wires horizontally across them. Set the wires about 60cm (2ft) apart. If you have space for more than one row, make sure the rows are 1.8m (6ft) apart. For summer-fruiting raspberries, plant each cane about 40cm apart and for autumn-fruiting raspberries plant each cane about 60cm apart. When planting raspberries, place them at a depth of about 8cm (3in) and gently firm them in and water them well. Once planted, cut the canes to 25cm from the ground to encourage lots of basal shoots.

Growing raspberries in containers

Raspberries can successfully be grown in containers on the patio as long as the container is of a reasonable size about 60cm (24in) diameter. Fill your container with a soil based compost such as John Innes No. 3 as this will add stability to your container and won't dry out as quickly as multi-purpose compost .

Plant 6 raspberry canes around the edge of the container and gently firm them in and water them. As with all patio plants make sure the compost doesn't dry out and feed your raspberries regularly with a high potash fertiliser throughout the growing season to encourage lots of basal shoots.

Caring for your raspberries

Raspberries need feeding in the spring to maintain a good crop throughout the season. Mulch around the canes with well rotted manure (take care not to bury the canes) or apply a balanced fertiliser and then mulch with compost to help keep the roots moist in dry weather.

As well as feeding raspberries it's important to water them during dry weather for the best cropping. You will find that raspberries produce 'suckers' along their root system so new canes may pop up a fair distance from the main plant. Any that are more than 22cm (9in) from the main row should be dug up and pulled out (don't worry severing them won't harm the parent plant). When the plants start to set fruit it's advisable to cover them with netting to prevent the birds eating your delicious crop!

Pruning raspberries

Knowing when to prune raspberries may seem complicated but it is actually very simple! All you need is a good pair of secateurs, some gardening gloves to protect against thorns, and to be able to recognise whether your raspberries are autumn fruiting or summer fruiting.

Autumn fruiting raspberries

Autumn fruiting raspberries will fruit between August and October and are ideal for growing in containers on the patio as they don't need supporting. They are also great for beginner gardeners as the pruning is very simple.

One of the most reliable varieties is 'Autumn Bliss' , although for something more unusual try growing yellow raspberries such as 'Allgold'.

Summer fruiting raspberries

Summer fruiting raspberries will fruit between June and early August depending on specific varieties. For the earliest raspberries 'Glen Moy' is a good variety and for delicious flavour you can't beat 'Glen Fyne'.

Pruning raspberries

Autumn fruiting raspberries are the simplest to prune. In late winter - so you are probably looking at February - prune all the canes to ground level before growth commences. The plants will then fruit on new growth.

Summer fruiting raspberries produce fruit on one year old canes. During the autumn, cut all canes down to soil level that produced fruit during the summer.

To help with pruning summer raspberries, it may be worth marking the fruiting canes during the summer so you can distinguish between these and the new season's canes - the new season's canes will be lush and green.

Aim to tie in 6-8 of the strongest new canes and remove the rest. The new canes should be spaced out about 4 inches apart on their support to allow each cane as much light and air as possible.

For more information click onto:
HOW TO GROW BLUEBERRIES FROM CUTTINGS
HOW TO GROW GOOSEBERRIES
HOW TO GROW THE STRAWBERRY TREE - Arbutus unedo
HOW TO GROW SHARON FRUIT - Diospyros kaki
What is a Fig?

MARRAKESH: The Jemaa el fna






The Jemaa el-Fnaa or Djemaa el Fna, is undoubtably one of the most famous market squares Africa and is the centre of activity and trade for the city of Marrakesh, Morroco. The name roughly means 'the assembly of trespassers' and has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985.

Historically this square was used for public executions and decapitations by the rulers to maintain their power by frightening the people.

Moroccan Fez danser
Jemaa el-Fnaa was renovated along with much of the Marrakech city, whose walls were extended by Abu Yaqub Yusuf and particularly by Yaqub al-Mansur in 1147-1158.

The surrounding mosque, palace, hospital, parade ground and gardens around the edges of the marketplace were also overhauled, and the Kasbah was fortified. Subsequently, with the fortunes of the city, Jemaa el-Fnaa saw periods of decline and also renewal.


The square attracted dwellers from the surrounding desert and mountains to trade here and stalls were set up on the square from early in its history.

The square also attracted tradesmen in foods, animal forage and domestic items, snake charmers, Berber women in long robes, camels and donkeys, dancing boys of the Chleuh Atlas tribe, and shrieking musicians with pipes, tambourines and African drums.

Me with one of the many snake charmers
Today the square attracts people from a diversity of social and ethnic backgrounds and tourists from all around the world. Be aware though that the Jemaa el-Fnaa also attracts pick pockets!

Walking around during the day and you will come across a heady mix of snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, monkey trainers, herb sellers, story-tellers, and dentists.

At night, the whole atmosphere changes with the opening of the food stalls and additional entertainment from fire eaters.

If, like me, you are obviously north European - tall, fair skinned and extremely attractive - you are going to be a very easy target for the wandering vendor. With that in mind I have some suggestions for you.

1. I suggest that you don't give money to beggar children as it will just proliferate the numbers of beggar children. 

2. Don't let strange woman hold your hand as they will immediately try drawing a henna pattern on it, refuse to let go, and then demand a ridiculous price for the privilege.

3. Don't give your camera to a local who says he will take a photo of you because he will want paying for it and won't give you back your camera until you do.

4. Haggle for everything, and if an item you are looking at is '..part of my personal collection..' or '..that one is an antique..'  then you know that you are about to be ripped off.

5. Keep your eyes peeled, not just for pickpockets, but for cyclists, pony and carts, and mental's on mopeds. Ignore them and you will get run over.


6. You are responsible for your own health and safety. In the week that was there, I saw one shop catch fire, one food stall catch fire, and part of the roof structure caved in during a rainstorm just 20 yards away from me. Don't get me started on the holes in the pavements!

The artist Richard Hamilton once said that about the Jemaa el-Fnaa:

 '...reeked of Berber particularism, of backward-looking, ill-educated countrymen, rather than the reformist, pan-Arab internationalism and command economy that were the imagined future...'

I don't know what he's going on about either.

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VILLA D'ESTE




If you ever happen to find yourself in Rome for any more than a few days, and don't make the effort to see Villa D'Este then you may well end up kicking yourself. Why? Because Villa D'Este is a world class renaissance garden, and a UNESCO world heritage site to boot!

Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este,
Situated, and well sign-posted in the ancient town of Tivoli, it is only an hours train ride from the terminus station in Rome. From arriving at Tivoli station it is then only a 10-15 minutes walk to reach Villa D'este.

The villa itself is surrounded on three sides by a sixteenth-century courtyard, and sited on the former Benedictine cloister.

Unfortunately, walking through the villa itself - although large - is particularly sparse, and could definitely learn a few lessons from that darling of British institutions - the National Trust.

Be that as it may, this disappointment was of no consequence as the gardens are so fantastical that even a top end renaissance villa would struggle to compete.

The Villa d'Este was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, son of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia, and grandson of Pope Alexander VI.

From an early age it appeared that Ippolito was going to lead a charmed life. He became a bishop at the age of just two, arch-bishop at ten and made cardinal by the age of thirty.

Coming from such a powerful family it seemed that his destiny to become pope was assured.  However, he was defeated to this position by Julius III who effectively exiled d'Este by appointing him Governor of Tivoli, with the gift of the existing villa.

This proved to be a ruthless tactic as Italian law stated that a governor could not leave his province. The situation was clear, from his hill top villa, Cardinal d'Este could see Rome, but could not physically go there.

For the remaining twenty years of his life, Cardinal d'Este, lived out his frustrated ambitions and dreams in Tivoli. He expressed his wealth and power in the only way that was left to him. If he wasn't able to get to Rome then he would bring the spendor of Rome to Tivoli.

The gardens at Villa d'Este

A cornucopia
From 1550 until his death in 1572, Cardinal d'Este created a palatial setting surrounded by a spectacular terraced garden in the late-Renaissance mannerist style.

 He took full advantage of the dramatic slope the grounds offered, but required substantial innovation in order to bring in a sufficient water supply, which was employed in cascades, water tanks, troughs and pools, water jets and fountains, giochi d'acqua.

The result is one of the series of great 17th century villas with water-play structures in the hills surrounding the Roman Campagna, such as the Villa Lante, the Villa Farnese at Caprarola and the Villas Aldobrandini and Torlonia in Frascati. Their garden planning and their water features were imitated in the next two centuries from Portugal to Poland.

Drawing inspiration - and many statues and much of the marble - from the nearby Villa Adriana, Cardinal d'Este revived Roman techniques of hydraulic engineering to supply water to a sequence of spectacular fountains. Its architectural elements and water features had an enormous influence on European landscape design.

Pirro Ligorio, who worked out in the villa's frescos, and  Tommaso Chiruchi of Bologna, - one of the most skilled hydraulic engineers of the sixteenth century were also commissioned to lay out the gardens for the villa.

They were assisted in the technical designs for the fountains by a Frenchman, Claude Venard, who was a manufacturer of hydraulic organs.


Little Rome
The garden plan is laid out on a central axis with subsidiary cross-axes, refreshed by some five hundred jets in fountains, pools and water troughs.

 The water is supplied by the Aniene river which is partly diverted through the town, a distance of a kilometer, and by the Rivellese spring, which supplies a cistern under the villa's courtyard.

The garden is now part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani.

The Villa's uppermost terrace ends in a balustraded balcony at the left end, with a sweeping view over the plain below. A symmetrical double flights of stairs flank the central axis and lead to the next garden terrace. The Grotto of Diana, richly decorated with frescoes and pebble mosaic to one side and the central Fontana del Bicchierone ("Fountain of the Great Cup") loosely attributed to Bernini, where water issues from a seemingly natural rock into a scrolling shell-like cup.

The Hundred fountains
To descend to the next level, there are stairs at either end — the elaborate fountain complex called the Rometta ("the little Rome") is at the far left — to view the full length of the Hundred Fountains on the next level, where the water jets fill the long rustic trough, and Pirro Ligorio's Fontana dell'Ovato ends the cross-vista.

You can walk behind the water through the rusticated arcade of the concave nymphaeum, which is peopled by marble nymphas by Giambattista della Porta.

Above the nymphaeum, the sculpture of Pegasus recalls to the visitor the fountain of Hippocrene on Parnassus, haunt of the Muses.

 Le Cento Fontane, is better known to us as The Hundred Fountains. This terrace is united to the next by the central Fountain of the Dragons, dominating the central perspective of the gardens, erected for a visit in 1572 of Pope Gregory XIII whose coat-of-arms features a dragon. Central stairs lead down a wooded slope to three rectangular fish ponds set on the cross-axis at the lowest point of the gardens, terminated at the right by the water organ and Fountain of Neptune.

Life after Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este

me.
Cardinal Alessandro d'Este repaired and extended the gardens from 1605.

In the eighteenth century the villa and its gardens passed to the House of Habsburg after Ercole III d'Este bequeathed it to his daughter Maria Beatrice. Sadly, both the villa and its gardens were neglected.

The hydraulics fell into disuse, and many of the sculptures commissioned by Ippolito d'Este were scattered to other sites.

Villa d'Este was purchased for the Italian State after World War I, restored, and refurnished with paintings from the storerooms of the Galleria Nazionale, Rome.

Visited by me in early 2012 - loved it.

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WHAT IS VITAMIN A DEFICIENCY?





Vitamin A deficiency is common in poor countries and extremely rare in developed nations. Sufferers of night blindness - people who cannot see well in dim light - are more likely to have a vitamin A deficiency.

Night blindness is one of the most common signs of vitamin a deficiency. According to the World Health Organization, night blindness among pregnant women in developing nations is worryingly high.

Furthermore, pregnant women with vitamin A deficiency are more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, and may have problems with lactation.

People with vitamin A deficiency can also develop xerophthalmia  - dry eyes, and even complete blindness.

Between 250,000 and 500,000 malnourished children worldwide lose their eyesight each year because they do not have enough vitamin A. Half of them die within twelve months of becoming blind. A child with not enough vitamin A has a higher risk of dying from some infectious diseases, such as measles.

Low vitamin A levels make children more susceptible to diarrhoea  slow bone development, and respiratory infections. Approximately one third of all children globally are thought to be affected by vitamin A deficiency - 670,000 of whom die within their first five years of life.

It is possible to have too much vitamin A, which can lead to anorexia, irritability, abdominal pain, weakness, drowsiness, headaches, hair loss, irritability, dry skin, insomnia, weight loss, bone fractures, diarrhoea and anaemia  However, intake would have to be extremely high.


What is Vitamin A

Put simply, vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is also known as retinol because it produces pigments in the eye's retina. The eye needs a specific metabolite - retinal - a light-absorbing substance that is crucial for low-light vision.

Vitamin A is also important for healthy teeth, skeletal tissue, soft tissue, the skin, and mucous membranes.

It also functions in a very different role, as an irreversibly oxidized form retinoic acid, which is an important hormone-like growth factor for epithelial and other cells.

In foods of animal origin, the major form of vitamin A is an ester, primarily retinyl palmitate, which is converted to an alcohol - known as retinol - in the small intestine. This retinol form functions as a storage form of the vitamin, and can be converted to and from its visually active aldehyde form, retinal.

The associated acid - retinoic acid, a metabolite which can be irreversibly synthesized from vitamin A, has only partial vitamin A activity, and does not function in the retina or some essential parts of the reproductive system.

All forms of vitamin A have a beta-ionone ring to which an isoprenoid chain is attached, called a 'retinyl group'. This structure is essential for vitamin activity.

The orange pigment of carrots - beta-carotene - can be represented as two connected retinyl groups, which are used in the body to contribute to vitamin A levels.

Alpha-carotene and gamma-carotene also have a single retinyl group which give them some vitamin activity. None of the other carotenes have vitamin activity. The carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin possesses an ionone group and has vitamin activity in humans.

Vitamin A comes from two main types of foods:

Retinol - a yellow, fat-soluble substance. It is the form of vitamin A absorbed when eating animal food sources. Sources include cod liver oil, butter, margarine, liver, eggs, cheese and milk.

Carotenes - such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, gamma-carotene, and xanthophyl beta- cryptoxanthin.

Carotene is an orange photosynthetic pigment crucial for plant photosynthesis. The orange colours of carrots, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe melons come from its carotene content. Lower carotene concentrations are what give the yellowish colouration to butter and milk-fat. Some omnivores have yellow-coloured body fat, such as chickens and humans.

Good food sources of vitamin A include Apricots, Butter, Broccoli leaf, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Cheddar cheese, Cod liver oil, Collard greens, Eggs, Fortified cereals, Kale, Liver, Mangos, Milk, Papayas, Peaches, Peas, Pumpkin, Spinach, and Sweet potatoes.

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HOW TO PRUNE RASPBERRIES



Knowing when to prune raspberries may seem complicated but it is actually very simple! All you need is a good pair of secateurs, some gardening gloves to protect against thorns, and to be able to recognise whether your raspberries are autumn fruiting or summer fruiting.

Autumn fruiting raspberries

Autumn fruiting raspberries will fruit between August and October and are ideal for growing in containers on the patio as they don't need supporting. They are also great for beginner gardeners as the pruning is very simple.

One of the most reliable varieties is 'Autumn Bliss' , although for something more unusual try growing yellow raspberries such as 'Allgold'.

Summer fruiting raspberries

Summer fruiting raspberries will fruit between June and early August depending on specific varieties. For the earliest raspberries 'Glen Moy' is a good variety and for delicious flavour you can't beat 'Glen Fyne'.

Pruning raspberries

Autumn fruiting raspberries are the simplest to prune. In late winter - so you are probably looking at February - prune all the canes to ground level before growth commences. The plants will then fruit on new growth.

Summer fruiting raspberries produce fruit on one year old canes. During the autumn, cut all canes down to soil level that produced fruit during the summer.

To help with pruning summer raspberries, it may be worth marking the fruiting canes during the summer so you can distinguish between these and the new season's canes - the new season's canes will be lush and green.

Aim to tie in 6-8 of the strongest new canes and remove the rest. The new canes should be spaced out about 4 inches apart on their support to allow each cane as much light and air as possible.

For more information click onto:
HOW TO GROW BLUEBERRIES FROM CUTTINGS

THE SALTWATER CROCODILE




The Saltwater Crocodile - Crocodylus porosus, is a formidable, opportunistic and adaptable predator which occurs over a considerable range. It's habitat ranges from Northern Australia through south-east Asia, and as far as the eastern coast of India. Historically, this range once reached as far west as off the eastern coast of Africa and as far east as waters off of Japan.

What does the saltwater crocodile eat?

Occasionally, saltwater crocodiles will attack and kill humans, but as an opportunistic apex predator it is capable of taking almost any animal that enters its territory.

Juvenile Saltwater Crocodiles are restricted to feeding on smaller animals such as insects, amphibians, crustaceans, small reptiles, and fish. However, the larger the animal grows, the greater the variety of animals it includes in its diet. Be that as it may, relatively small aquatic prey, especially fish, make up an important part of the diet - even in adults.

Large adult saltwater crocodiles can potentially eat any animal within their range. Wild animals taken by adult crocodiles can range from small to large and formidable, including monkeys, kangaroos, wild boar, dingos, snakes, turtles, goannas, lizards, amphibians, water buffalo, and even sharks.

How big does the saltwater crocodile get?

It turns out that the salt water crocodile is actually the worlds largest reptile alive today! However, the largest size that salt water crocodiles can reach is the subject of some considerable controversy.

The longest crocodile ever measured snout-to-tail and verified was the skin of a dead crocodile, which was 6.2 metres  long. As skins tend to shrink slightly after removal from the carcass, this crocodile's living length was estimated at 6.3 metres, and it could have weighed more than 1,000 kilograms.

However, complete remains (the skull of a crocodile shot in Orissa) have been claimed to come from a 7.6-metre crocodile, but subsequent examinations have suggested a length no greater than 7 metres. There have been numerous claims of salt water crocodiles in the 9-metre range. In fact,a crocodile shot in the Bay of Bengal in 1840, reported a length of 10 metres!

A crocodile shot in Queensland in 1957 was reported to be 8.63 metres long, but no verified measurements were made and no remains of this crocodile exist.

With the recent restoration of salt water crocodile habitat and reduced poaching, it is now possible for salt water crocodiles to grow past 7 metres once more.

The Guinness Book of Records has accepted a claim of a 7-metre, 2,000 kg male salt water crocodile living within Bhitarkanika Park in the state of Orissa, India, although, due to the difficulty of trapping and measuring a very large living crocodile, the accuracy of these dimensions has yet to be verified.

In September 2011 a 6.4 metres salt water crocodile was captured alive in the Philippines, making it one of the largest specimens ever reliably measured snout-to-tail. This specimen - nicknamed 'Lolong' and weighing roughly 1,075 kilograms - has a past as a possible man-eater and is being kept alive as an attraction in a local zoo.

Saltwater crocodile conservation

As well as being hunted for its meat and eggs, the saltwater crocodile has the most commercially valuable skin of any crocodilian, and unregulated hunting during the 20th century caused a dramatic decline in the species throughout its range. Incredibly  the saltwater crocodile population in northern Australia was reduced by around 95% by 1971.

Unfortunately, illegal hunting still persists in some areas, with protection in some countries ineffective, and trade often difficult to monitor and control over such a vast range. Despite this, the species has since made a dramatic recovery in recent decades. Because of its resurgence, the species is now considered of least concern for extinction.

Current populations are estimated to range from 200,000 to 300,000 worldwide, and currently the saltwater crocodile is considered to be at low risk for extinction. However, habitat loss continues to be a major problem. In northern Australia, much of the nesting habitat of the saltwater crocodile has been destroyed by the trampling of feral water buffaloes, although buffalo eradication programs have now reduced this problem considerably. Even where large areas of suitable habitat remain,  habitat alterations can be a problem, such as in the Andaman Islands, where freshwater areas used for nesting, are being increasingly converted for human agriculture. After the commercial value of crocodile skins waned, perhaps the greatest immediate challenge to implementing conservation efforts has been the occasional danger that the species can be to humans and the resulting negative view of the crocodile.

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HOW TO GROW RHUBARB




Cast an eye over any traditional allotment and you will see numerous outcrops of healthy, vigorous rhubarb plants. So well does it grow in this country that you can be forgiven for thinking that it is cultivated from native stock, but you would be wrong as it origins lie far on the other side of the world in Asia.

It's best to try and grow rhubarb in full sun, but it is fairly tolerant of partial shade. In fact, rhubarb can remain in the same position for up to 10 years, so be aware when choosing its position that the soil immediately surrounding the plant cannot be dug.

Luckily, Rhubarb is tolerant of most soil conditions, but will grow best in a neutral soil which has been dug to a depth of 2 ft or more. Incorporate as much organic matter as possible during the digging because it must last the life of the plant. Remember that rhubarb will not tolerate soil disturbance once established. The site should be prepared about 4 weeks in advance of planting in order to give it time to settle.

Be especially careful to remove all weeds at the preparation stage as it will be very difficult to get rid of them once rhubarb is planted,

Rhubarb can be grown either from seed or as plants purchased from your garden centre. The problem with rhubarb grown from seed is that it takes a year longer to produce stalks and even then, the plants are not guaranteed to be true to type. This can make it a bit of a gamble which will take three years before you know if you have succeeded or failed.

Rhubarb plants are available all year round at some garden centres, although by far the best time to plant rhubarb is late autumn to early winter - December is a good month.

Prepare the soil as described previously, and dig a hole a little bit wider than the plant. The depth should be such that the top of the plant is 1 inch below the soil surface. Fill in around the plant with soil, gently firming it down to ensure no air pockets remain. Water well if the conditions are dry. Spread a mulch - garden compost or other well-rotted organic material - around the plants, but not directly above where the crown will emerge in a month or so.

Three plants should be sufficient to meet most needs - the spacing between plants should be about 2 ft 6 in for varieties such as Cawood Delight, Victoria, Ruby and Canada Red. However, some varieties such as 'The Sutton' will need a wider spacing of about 4ft.

Rhubarb require very little care, but if you give them that care they will produce much finer stalks than neglected plants.

Every year after the leaves have died down, spread a new layer of garden compost or other well-rotted organic material around (but not touching the plants. This will conserve water and prevent weeds. In warm, dry periods give the plants a good watering, although this should only be required occasionally. In February , sprinkle a handful of general fertiliser around the plants. Remove any weeds as they appear.

The only other attention required is to cut off flower heads which may appear in early spring as the new rhubarb stalks emerge. Do this as soon as possible - if the flower head is left to grow and set seed, the plant will never fully recover to good strength.

Tempting though it may be, do not pull any stems during the first season - this would seriously weaken the plant. Let the plant grow during the first year and establish a good healthy root system. During the second season, pull only a few stems, ensuring that you only pull two per plant at any one time. Make sure that five healthy stems always remain.

For further information on the history of plants click onto:

WHAT IS A BANANA?





A question that regularly comes up is '...just what is a banana...'? It is always found on the supermarket fruit section but the banana is very different to all the other produce displayed there.

The question comes about not just because of the banana unique appearance  but also that it doesn't grown on a conventional tree. In fact, the 'tree' is more accurately called a herb.

So, is a banana a fruit or a herb? Well, the answer is both. A banana (the yellow thing you peel and eat) is undoubtedly a fruit as it contains the seeds of the plant. Though since commercially grown banana plants are sterile, the seeds are reduced to little specks.

The banana plant is called a 'banana tree' in popular use, but it's technically regarded as a herbaceous plant (or 'herb'), not a tree, because the stem does not contain true woody tissue. So now you know.

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WHAT ANIMAL IS SID FROM THE FILM ICE AGE?




The 'Ice Age' character known as Sid is a ground sloth which so far features in all four of the 'Ice Age' films. While Sid is clearly meant to be loveable, he is also portrayed as being clumsy, annoying, slow moving, and for fast-talking with a lateral lisp.

Little is known from Sid's early life other than that he once lived in a tree with other sloths. Unfortunately, these other sloths wanted to leave Sid behind when the migration occurred, and employed several different methods to achieve this. We do know that Sid's mother told him that '...bad news is just good news in disguise...' prior to abandoning him for good.

He is voiced by the Colombian actor - John Leguizamo.

What is a ground sloth?

Ground sloths are a diverse group of extinct large bodied mamals, in the mammalian superorder Xenarthra.

Their most recent survivors lived in the Antilles, where it is believed they may have survived as recently as 1550 BC.

However, as far as Sid is concerned, ground sloths have been extinct on the mainland of North and South America for 10,000 years or more.

The term 'ground sloth' is used as a reference for all extinct sloths because of the large size of the earliest forms discovered, as opposed to the still surviving 'tree sloths'. In reality this is a historical convention and does not imply that all extinct sloths were strictly terrestrial in nature.

Why did ground sloths die out

Researchers at the University of Florida reported in 2005 that the Ground Sloth may have died out as a result of human predation, rather than climate change.

Researcher David Steadman reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that evidence of the existence several species of giant sloth has been found in the West Indian islands of Cuba and Hispaniola as recently as 4,400 years ago, about the time of the first human occupation of the area.

Nineteen different species of sloths once roamed the Americas, but they were previously thought to have died out approximately 11,000 years ago. Steadman argues that the coincidence of timing is strong circumstantial evidence that while climate change may have decimated the population, human predation assisted the extinction of ground sloth in the Americas.

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