Tuesday, 26 November 2013


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This dish is a great festive dish that vegetarians will love and provides a great alternative to the turkey course..  You can prepare it the day before ready for roasting too.

Serves 2


1 butternut squash
1 leek
80 g Stilton cheese
50 g walnuts
3 tea spoon olive oil
2 tea spoon maple syrup


Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Place in a roasting tin and drizzle with oil.

Cook for 45 minutes until tender.

Chop the leek into thin slices and cook in a pan gently for a few minutes until it softens. Transfer to a bowl and add the walnuts.

Gently scoop out the flesh from the cooked squash and add to the bowl.  Mix together and place back into the skins.

Sprinkle Stilton cheese on top and drizzle with maple syrup.

Roast for a further 15 minutes until golden brown.

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Wednesday, 20 November 2013


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Is a zebra just a stripey horse or are the differences between the two more distinct?

The horse and donkey are the closet relatives of the zebra.  They are genetically close and can even mate to produce offspring known as zebriods and zorses.  The offspring are sterile though due to the fact that zebras have 44 chromosomes and domesticated horses have 66.


Zebras belong to the horse family and originate from Africa.  There are three species of zebra; the Plains Zebra, the Mountain Zebra and the Grevy’s Zebra. Each species has its own distinct characteristics.

Physically zebras more closely resemble donkeys than horses.  They are short and stocky in appearance and have long ears.  They have a much shorter mane than that of a horse, and it always sticks up. Their tails are solid with hair only at the end like a paintbrush.  Of course their black and white stripes are the most distinctive feature. These stripes are similar to our fingerprints in that each zebra has distinct and unique pattern of stripes.

Zebras have much better hearing and eyesight than horses, and this may be why they are also more skitish than horses. Unlike horses Zebras tend to hee-haw or honk like geese.  

Zebras differ from horses not just physically but also behave differently too.  Zebras are much more feisty than horses and the species refuses to be domesticated.  With a few exceptions, they cannot be trained to carry out tasks like pulling a cart or being ridden.


Horses originate from Europe. They have shorter ears than zebras, and are leaner and more elegant in stature.  Their mane is long and flowing, falling to one side, and their tail is made up entirely of hair.  Horses are much longer in the leg than zebras, who have about half the leg length.  Most obviously horses lack the distinct black and white stripes of the zebra.  

Horses tend to whinney and neigh. They are much more passive than zebras and have been domesticated over the years. They have been used to pull carts and work fields successfully.  The domestication of the horse goes back to 4000 BC. 

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Sunday, 17 November 2013


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Q:  What is a slug?
A: A snail without a home.

You can often spot slugs and snails in the garden, and certainly will be able to spot their silvery trails across your paths and plants.  Often the first signs of slugs and snails you will notice each morning is your chewed up plants and many silvery trails from the nights activity.

More often than not gardeners will try to control population of slugs and snails. They will often munch through your ornamental plants and vegetables with devastating effect. 

Slugs and snails are closely related and have many similarities.  They both belong to the phylum mollusca, class Gastropod (meaning stomach foot). Their mouth is located just below their eyes and contains many microscopic teeth which chews and shreds vegetation.

There are two pairs tentacles on the base of their head; a pair of long stalky eyes and a smaller pair beneath used to detect for smell.

Slugs and snails propel themselves along the ground using powerful forward propelling contractions, and use the slime gland located just below their mouth to produce a silvery trail on which to slide over. 

The production of this mucus allows snails and slugs to be the only mollusks that can live on land.  They use it to slide over sharp objects with out injury, and can even glide over razor blades without injury.  The mucus also prevents them from drying out and is distasteful to predators. They will follow this slime trail back to their hiding place again.

Slugs and snails like moist conditions as desiccation is a real problem, especially for slugs who do not have the protection of a shell. Therefore they mostly come out during night when the weather is cooler, although they can be seen in the day during damp conditions. 


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda

The main obvious difference between the two is that a snail has a shell, whilst a slug doesn't.  The shell can come in a variety of colours and patterns. 

A snail can retract back into his coiled shell to provide protection against predators or desiccation.  The snails shell grows larger as the snail grows longer.  

The visceral hump is located within the shell and contains all the snails essential organs.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: GastropodaGroup: Onchidiacea, Soleolifera, Sigmurethra

Slugs differ from snails as they lack a conspicuous shell.  The shell may be absent totally or they may only have a small internal shell into which they cannot retract.

Not having a shell means that slugs are much more maneuverable that snails and so they can successfully squeeze themselves through small gaps that would be impossible for a similar sized snail.

Slugs lack a viscal hump.

Slugs are especially prone to desiccation and hate dry conditions  so will stick close to damp environments.  They produce more mucus than snails.

Monday, 11 November 2013


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Often you will see a frog in the garden and watch it for a while, but how can you be sure it is a frog rather than a toad? Frogs are smooth skinned and hop right?  Toads are warty and stout.  Is it that simple?

No.  First of all, all toads in fact are frogs and belong to the frog family.  You can find frogs with warty skin that aren't toads, or toads with slimy skin so it can be hard to distinguish between the two.  Sometimes the physical distinctions between them can be less than obvious. 

Frogs and Toads are both amphibians that make up the order Anura in the animal kingdom, but there are some key differences to look out for to help you distinguish between the two.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Clade: Salientia
Order: Anura
Suborders: ArchaeobatrachiaMesobatrachiaNeobatrachia 

Frogs have two bulging eyes and a stout body. Their hind legs are long with webbed feet, making them well adapted for swimming and leaping. Frogs have smooth or slimy skin which is often covered in mucus and so looks moist even when out of the water.

Frogs are carnivorous, eating often small Invertebrates.  They are great companions in a garden as they eat slugs, snails and other pests.  Unlike toads they have a long sticky tongue that helps them secure food.

They can range significantly in colour from modest green to vivid colours such as red, yellow or black, with a whitish coloured throat. The skin on a frog is glandular and can produce toxic or distasteful secretions to ward off predators. 

They live in moist environments and so keep close to ponds.  You are much  more likely to spot a frog in the water than on land. Frogs behave much more timidly than toads and will often hop away as you approach. 

Frogs lay their eggs in water as frog spawn in clusters that resemble bunches of grapes. These larvae hatch as tadpoles which later change into adults.


Kingdom: Animalia 
Phylum: Chordata 
Class: Amphibia 
Order: Anura

Family: BufonidaeBombinatoridaeDiscoglossidaePelobatidaeRhinophrynidaeScaphiopodidaeMicrohylidae.     

Toads have stubby bodies, with shorter hind legs which means they walk rather than hop.  Their skin is dry and warty; the bumps help to break up their outline and evade predators.  They are often khaki or beige in colour. 

Toads like drier conditions than frogs and are more terrestrial, often walking across land and farther away from water than a frog.  Toads are not timid and will often stay put if you approach them, or perhaps move only a short distance.

Toads have poison glands, which are located in puffy pockets behind their eyes.  They are a defense mechanism and squirt poison at potential predators.

Like frogs, toads lay their eggs in water but they can be distinguished as they are produced in long chains rather than in bunches.

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Thursday, 7 November 2013


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Although Saturn is  not the only planet to have rings (Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus also have rings) it can be distinguished in our solar system by the scale of them. There are between 500 and 100 rings which cover a distance of 400,000 kilometers (240,000 miles) wide.  This is the same distance as from the earth to the moon.

Its rings consist of mostly rock and ice, which vary in size from tiny dust like particles to much larger pieces the size of buses.

Saturn is one of the larger planets and has many moons, which gives it a significant gravity pull.  It is believed that this gravitation pull is responsible for the rock and ice particles orbiting the planet, giving the distinctive rings effect.

It is unclear where these particles come from but there are two main theories.  It may be due to dust from its moons when asteroids impact or perhaps the dust remains from an old moon that was destroyed when the planet was created.

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Tuesday, 5 November 2013


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Mars is often referred to as the red planet but is it really red, and if so why?

Mars is the forth planet from the sun, next to Earth.  However it is much further away from the sun then our planet and so it is very cold with an average temperature of minus 63 Celsius. The atmosphere is 100 times thinner than here on Earth and consists of mostly carbon dioxide.  Violent dust storms rage across the planet and often obscure mars from our view.

Mars appears in the sky as an orange-red star.  The orange effect is due to the rock formation of the planet. Space craft landing on Mars have collected rock samples which reveal that Iron oxide (rust) is present in the rocks, giving an orange hue to the planet. The iron oxide would have formed in the past when water was present on the surface, and has been deposited across the surface of the planet by dust clouds.  If you dig down a few just below the surface the soil is brown in colour similar to ours.  The red colour can vary from location to location, sometimes being vivid orange, red or even black.

The sky on mars is also red, due to the scattering of red photons by dust particles in the atmosphere.  However sunsets on mars are blue as the dust absorbs the red particles revealing more of the blue photons from the sun.

Saturday, 2 November 2013


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The moon is the closet object we have to our planet. We have all looked up at the sky and stared at the stars and the moon, thinking about the immense size of space or possibly the man that lives in the moon.

But how big is the moon? We know space is big, and there are many universes outside of our own. Surely the moon cant be that far away as we can see it with our naked eye; and even see the craters on its surface.  We landed there right?  If we can build rockets that take us to the moon then surely it is close by.

However the moon is very far way.  If we were to travel to the moon it would be the equivalent of going to from the UK to Australia 23 times.

The distance between the moon and the Earth can vary as the moon moves closer and farther away from the Earth.  This is because the moon takes a elliptical path around the Earth.  At it closest point (perigee) the Moon is only 225,622 miles (363,104 km away). At it farthest point (apogee) the Moon is 252,088 miles away (406,696 km).  The average measurement is used by astronauts and this is called the semi-major axis and is 238,857 miles (384,403 km).