Sunday, 20 March 2022

Spring at Last

Every spring, I take a picture of the magnolia tree. A piece of plastic has been blown up it during the recent storms this year, which I need to get down before the leaves grow again.

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Plant A Tree

Plant a tree. Or, if your budget will stretch that far, plant two trees. If you really have more money than you know what to do with, you could plant a copse, spinney, wood, or forest.

Sunday, 30 January 2022

Adhara & Pan

Adhara has a ball on a rope. She brought it back to me and pulled it, and the rope detached from the ball.

So now it's two toys and Pan has the other part.


Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Sulcorebutia arenacea

This is one of my favourite plants.
About 25 years ago, I first found seeds of Sulcorebutia arenacea for sale. I bought them and planted them, but without any success. Probably the seeds were old or had been stored in an unsuitable way. Availability of material to make appropriate composts was also terrible back then, which probably didn't help.
Those days were followed a succession of accommodation of varying unsuitabilty for growing cacti in. First I lived in a reasonably modern, well-heated apartment with a west-facing window with a radiator underneath it. Cacti like sun and they like cold, arid conditions in winter, and they never flowered nor grew well there. I developed more of an interest in critically endangered tropical cacti that don't have such a need for a cool winter. The next place was better, with a huge south-facing bay window and the radiator farther back in the room. They fared better here, but the room which functioned as both a sitting-room and a bedroom was miserable to live in during winter when the sun didn't shine.
Then I lived in an impossible to heat, ground-floor, mouldering flat with only north-facing windows whose facing onto the street necessitated having translucent curtains to obscure the view in. The cacti all died, tropical or otherwise.
Following this, I had an improvement in finance and fortune, and bought a house and built a greenhouse in the garden, and started again with new seeds and better compost. Perfect. But then I moved again, to a property that already had an old, heated greenhouse with a lot of old wood and masonry in the frame. The greenhouse, at least on paper, was fantastic. But it soon became apparent there was a problem. The greenhouse had become infested at some point during its previous ownership, and mealy bugs emerged from the cracks and crevices and proceeded to mutilate and destroy the plants I'd carefully nurtured.
Nothing worked. As a last resort, I went to the supermarket and bought up all their stock of tobacco and cheap vodka (I can only speculate upon what exactly the staff there thought I was doing with it, but I got some very funny looks that day). I soaked the former in the latter and doused everything with nicotine death tonic. I dug up all the plants, burned the worst affected, sprayed the plants and the roots with the poison and repotted them all. It worked for a few months, and then they were back. Some of the foul creatures must have survived dormant in deep crevices where they couldn't be reached.
At this point, I gave up and decided to stick with conserving animals instead of plants.
Then I moved somewhere with no greenhouses. Somewhere that was falling to pieces and had poky horrid little windows that didn't retain any heat. What it did have was a lean-to porch with a transparent plastic roof that received a reasonable amount of sun and remained barely above freezing and unpleasant to live in during most of the winter. Two years ago, I decided to start again and buy some more seeds, not tropical this time because I had no facilities for them, and lo and behold, S. arenacea and a number of other Sulcorebutia species caught my attention in the catalogue of a merchant abroad. This time, they germinated like mustard and cress, and this summer just passed, they flowered for the first time. It's been a long time coming, but it has been a satisfying conclusion.
Not the rarest species, but a plant close to my heart. There is some debate amongst people whose interest in plants probably oversteps healthy boundaries, about whether it should be called Sulcorebutia arenacea or Rebutia arenacea. I don't particularly care about this, but Rebutia are very different beasts in their growing habits. Sulcorebutia all have huge tap roots and will split the pots they grow in, whereas Rebutia doesn't have that root structure. Rebutia also flower like mad when only a year old and they're great beginners' plants. Just make sure you buy seed from a good supplier, and if you have an established collection and someone else gives you a cactus, no matter how much you care about and respect the person, you should probably burn it in case it is harbouring parasites.

Friday, 5 November 2021

Bonfire Night Pups

Happy Birthday to Tiffin Pup and her siblings, the 'Bonfire Night' litter, one year old today!


Tuesday, 12 October 2021



Growing chillies at home is not only more sustainable than buying them from a shop, but enables you to find a variety of chilli at the right point on the Scoville scale for your individual pain threshold. These are 'Peruvian Purple' and for me they fall in the Goldilocks Zone. Chillies are too mild if you use three of them in a meal and still can't taste them; they are too hot if you have to dissect them individually into portions to stop them ruining your meal, and then 4 hours later and after washing your hands three times you absently stick your finger up your nose... I digress.

The hottest chilli in the world is contested between the breeders of 'Dragon's Breath' and 'Pepper X', both reputed to be in excess of two million Scovilles, which has led to some experts voicing concerns that eating such chillies could cause anaphylactic shock in addition to already documented side-effects. Why anyone would want to eat these is beyond me, but breeding exceedingly hot chillies has scientific and commercial value as the yield of the active component capsaicin is increased.

Most chilli varieties are genuine breeds, so by retaining seeds you can grow more chillies with exactly the same culinary attributes as the parent plants.

Friday, 1 October 2021

Pavement Pastel Poult

To get this colour on a turkey requires cracking a genetic combination lock of four different loci. It's a yellow-shoulder with a single dilution gene (homozygous blackwing base, homozygous grey, and the absence of Narragansett alleles overlaid with heterozygous slate). I don't know if there's ever been an official name for it, but I'm going with Pavement Pastel Poult.