Saturday 28 March 2015


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You know its Spring when you start to see primroses in bloom along the verges and in woodlands.  You can easily transfer this look to your own back garden or make up a brightly coloured pot for Easter.

Primula vulgaris (primrose) and the many strains of polyanthus primulas will grow happily indoors.  However they are happier grown outside in borders or tubs and will flower for longer.

Primulas have a long flowering period from May to December. Early flowering primulas look good planted with other spring flowers such as forget-me-nots (Mytosis), lungworts (pulmonaria), daffadils (narcissi) and grape hyacinths (Muscari). Large flowering polyanthus primulas look good in tubs and when they have finished blooming can be dug up and replanted in the garden to flower again the following year.

Primroses prefer cool temperatures and a rich humus soil so add lots of compost and leaf mould to your soil. As woodland flowering plants primulas appreciate full sun in the spring but they must have partial shade as the summer temperatures wa.

Primulas are tolerant of being transplanted, even when in bloom, and new plants can be set into the garden in early spring. Remove the yellow and rotten lower leaves regularly to encourage fresh growth and deadhead regularly removing the rmfaded flower all the way down to the end of the stem. 

You can reinvigorate your primulas and encourage a fresh hit of by dead heading the whole patch at the same time.  A wash of new flowers will appear within several weeks.  Feed with a liquid fertiliser every two weeks.

Most primulas can be propagated by division. Divide and transplant older plants after they are finished blooming. Primula denticulata can be propagated by root cuttings. Cut 5 cm long root sections and lay them horizontally in a box filled with peat and sand then cover with a 1cm layer of the mixture.  Place in a cold frame during the winter.  New shoots will emerge quickly but do not disturb the plants as rooting will not occur until; the spring. The new plants will flower the following season.

Primulas hybridise easily and planting different strains of primulas together will result in new specimens of different colours the following year. Successive plants bear little resemblance to the original varieties.

Sunday 22 March 2015


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I recently visited a pet shop and was watching the parrots until my Nathaniel came along and told me that they were Macaws.  This started a parrot/Macaw debate and I pondered the differences between them. We concluded that we needed to find out more about them, hence this article.

Both are very attractive birds that are usually large and brightly coloured.  Their behaviour is similar too, so it is not surprising to find out that Macaws are in fact a type of parrot. In fact there are 370 species of parrots and 18 species of Macaws.


Macaws are a group of parrots that are native to the New world (the Americas). There are six genera of macaws from which 18 species have been identified, although it is suspected that there are more unidentified species in the wild.

Macaws are mainly tropical or sub tropical birds. Most macaws live in the rain forests, but can inhabit woodland and Savannah's too.  Macaws are usually bigger than parrots, with larger beaks and bodies.  They include the largest of all parrots, the Hycinth Macaw, which is over one meter long with a wingspan of 1.2 metres. However they also include smaller parakeet macaws too. 

Unlike parrots Macaws have a distinctive light coloured facial patch.  They have a longer tail too which enables them to glide from tree to tree without the need to flap. 


Parrots belong to the group Psittaciformes, a large group of colourful birds that includes Parakeets, Cockatiels, macaws, cockatoos, lorries, love birds and Amazons. 

There are 86 genera of parrots from which 370 species are identified and so are a highly diversified group of birds and range significantly in size.  Unlike Macaws parrots are found all over the world except Antarctica, although the largest diversity lives in topical and subtropical climates such as South America and Australasia.

Parrots have shorter bodies and tails than Macaws which enables them to manoeuvre through tight spaces whilst in flight. Their plumage is extremely well coloured and attractive. Parrots have a strong, curved bill and a slightly leaning upright posture.
Similar to Macaws parrots Their feet have two toes pointing forward and two pointing backwards which enables them to grasp well. 

Parrots are very intelligent birds, equivalent to that of a young toddler. Parents are more talkative than Macaws and can mimic sounds and words enabling them to 'talk' to visitors. The African grey parrot is the most talkative of all and can perform simple tasks such as counting, identifying shapes and objects. This intelligence can often be seen at parrot shows where they master the use of equipment such as bicycles and skates.

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Sunday 15 March 2015


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A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Sun and the Earth and obscures the Sun. This eclipse can be either full, when the Sun is fully obscured by the Moon, or partial when only part of the Sun is obscured.  

Although the Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon it is positioned 400 times further away. This means that if you view the alignment of the Sun and the Moon from the Earth they will appear similar in size and overlap each other exactly.

The Earth orbits around the sun in what is called the ecliptic plane. The Moon orbits around the Earth and must cross this plane at regular intervals. A solar eclipse occurs during a New Moon, the first phase of the moon when it orbits closest to the Sun in the sky as observed from the Earth.

The moon orbits the earth every 27.3 days but there are only between two and five solar eclipses each year.  This is because the moon earth and moon do not share the same orbital plane. The moon does not travel in a perfect circular orbit around the earth and tilts in comparison to the earth by 5 degrees, meaning that moons shadow regularly misses the sun on some of these orbits.

The longest time a solar eclipse can last is 7.5 minutes. Totality occurs when the Moon completely obscures Sun so only the solar corona is showing. When a total solar eclipse occurs the sun disappears and the sky darkens for a few minutes during the day. This naturally occurring phenomenon has been interpreted as having supernatural properties or as a bad omen by our predecessors who were unaware of the scientific principles behind the event. 

A total solar eclipse can happen once every 1-2 years, making them very rare events. It is not advisable to stare straight at the sun as this causes eye damage and so to observe such an event eye protection is advised.  Glasses can be purchased at large events as these are promoted heavily.

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How far is the moon?

Saturday 7 March 2015


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Fresh peas taste exquisite, and are much firmer and sweeter than their frozen brothers. They are great in salad, shelled and boiled with fish and chips or just eaten straight from the pod.

Peas, like beans, are legumes and produce a dry fruit contained within a pod. They are  available as early or later main crop varieties, ready for harvest from June to October. There are dwarf pea varieties that require little staking but larger plants will require support from trellis or bamboo canes. 

To save on space within the garden you could inter-plant peas with cucumbers, potatoes or early greens such as radishes, spinach, lettuce.   Avoid planting peas near near garlic or onions as they have detrimental chemical and flavour interactions.

Peas will grow successfully in most soils. They enjoy a moist, fertile well drained soil in full sun. Early peas benefit from raised beds or sandy loam soils as the soil warms up quickly.

Choose a sheltered location that is sunny and sheltered from high winds. Two weeks prior to sowing seeds dig over the bed to a medium tilth and add well rotted farm yard manure as this will help with moisture retention and improve soil fertility.

Peas can be sown outside from March onwards, when the soil has warmed up to 10 C / 50 F.  Cloches will help to protect against frost buy you can start your peas off earlier by sowing seeds indoors, however wait until the last frost has passed before planting them outdoors. Carefully select early and main crop varieties to give you a long cropping season or sow seeds every 3 weeks to ensure a constant supply of peas.

Sow bush and dwarf pea varieties in drills 5 cm deep at 5 cm spacing's, allowing 60 cm between rows. Vining varieties can be planted in double rows 15-20 cm apart.

Cover with soil and water gently. Your peas will germinate within 7-14 days. Protect the seedlings from birds by covering with netting and regularly remove competing weeds. Thin the seedlings to 5-8 cm apart.

Peas produce tendrils which they use to climb. Taller pea varieties will require support to prevent them from toppling over so use bamboo canes or trellis to create a structure upon which the peas can climb.  Position your poles at the same distance you will sow your seeds. Dwarf pea varieties can be support with twiggy pea sticks (small twiggy branches about 90 cm long).

Tie in the young seedlings to the poles until they support their selves. Mulch under the plants in June to conserve moisture. Ensure you water well when the first flowers appear and then at weekly intervals to enable the pods to swell. Peas supply their own nitrogen and thrive in a low nutrient soil. Too much nitrogen produces lush foliage but few peas so do not feed them as they will have sufficient nutrients for the organic matter added to the soil.

You can harvest your peas when the pods are well filled. The pods at the bottom of the plant will mature first. Mangetout and sugar snaps peas should be picked when the pods are just starting to develop and are around 7 cm long. 

Pick regularly to avoid any pods maturing as leaving pods to mature will result in the flower-producing mechanism to switch off and reduce your crop. At the end of the season cut the plants down to the base rather than pulling them up.  This is because peas are nitrogen fixers and nodules in the roots release nitrogen into the soil which is perfect for next years  brassicas.

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Sunday 1 March 2015


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The life cycle of a flowering plant can be defined simply. Plants germinate from seed, grow leaves and develop flowers which then set seed. The seeds form a new generation of flowering plants and the parent plant may either die at this stage of go on to repeat this cycle.

Some plants carry out this cycle quickly, whilst others may may longer. Plants can be classified as either annual, biennial, or perennial depending on their life cycle.


Much like their name suggests annuals are plants that perform their entire life cycle from seed to flower to seed within a single year.  All this occurs with the growing season (Spring to Autumn) and only the dormant seed bridges the gap between one generation and the next.

Annual plants include many seasonal bedding plants such as marigold, zinnias, and sunflowers as well as many food crops such as wheat, corn, peas, watermelon, beans, lettuce and rice.

Some biennials and perennials are grown as annuals in out climates because they are tender and would not survive the winter. 


These plants require two years to complete their life cycle. Biennial grow from seed to form small plants in the first year, overwinter and then grow more vigorous and flower in the second year.  Once they have set seed they have completed their cycle and the plant dies.

Example of biennials includes foxgloves, primulas, hollyhocks, Rudbeckia, Dianthus, carrots, onions, cabbage and parsley.


Perennial plants are similar to biennials in that they form small plants in the first year and flower in the second.  However unlike biennials they do not die after they set seed but continue to live longer than  two  years and will flower and set seed for many growing seasons.

Many perennials keep their leaves all year round, although the top section may die back. 
Perennials that grow and bloom over the spring, die back in the winter and then return in the spring from their root-stock are known as herbaceous perennials.

Perennials include Alstroemeria, Aster, Euphorbia, Echinacea, Geum, Heuchera, lavender, salvia, sedum, ginger, yarrow, sweet potato, leek, rhubarb and chives.