Saturday, 30 March 2019

A Dog's Worst Friend?

There's a new arrival in the woods today:  

Considering the location,  a drift on a bank in the local woodlands, and after ruling out other possibilites (e.g. sweet woodruff)  this is identified as Dog's Mercury.  

The drift of Dog's Mercury
 Spear shaped serrated leaves, flower spikes similar in form to nettles all fit. It is a poisonous plant which has little use.  Hence the "dog" tag. It has been known since Pliny's time and supposedly was used in divining the sex of an unborn child.  Hence the Mercury (messenger).  Both parts of the name are up for dispute though.  Dogs do make a bee line for it - and then start salivating copiously and then vomiting as can be vouched for by numerous dog owners online.  So the association may be with the animal after all!  At least the induced reaction ensures it is not fatal, and this hold for humans too.

A plant to be aware of, if you are a dog owner!

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Weed of the Week - Ground Ivy/Red Deadnettle

I can't resist this picture of real ivy (Hedera helix) and "ground ivy" (Glechoma hederacea L). The similarity stops with the creeping habit.  Everything else about them is different.  Here is my best shot at capturing the ground ivy emergent leaf:

While it is not at all like ivy proper it is quite similar to henbit and purple deadnettle, both of which are in the same (mint) family: Lamiaceae.  Now I was sure I had henbit in my garden...

.... but it turned out to be purple deadnettle.  This is a low spreading plant which is why I didn't at first  see any association with the 3ft high stinging nettle or even the white deadnettle which is considerably taller and more statuesque:

White Deadnettle
Out in the woods I have an eye on what I believe to be purple deadnettle behaving a lot more like I would expect:

Purple Deadnettle?
a. It isn't flowering yet and b.  it is standing tall and proud.

Either they are different plants or it is behaving quite differently in different circumstances. Watch this space for when the jury returns (or flowers appear on the wild specimen).  At any rate I have yet to locate henbit, even though I am now primed to spot it with similar flowers and characteristic whorled leaf.

I am really rather enjoying my excursion into wildflower/weed identification which I took up in earnest this winter as a bit of an off season filler, but the demands of spring sowing for the allotment and the school garden mean that I will not be investing much time in research for the time being.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle... Vermiculture

We received a  very generous Christmas present of cheeses delivered over three months.  Each delivery is made with an ice pack in a polystyrene box so that the cheeses arrive in peak condition.  The question arises: what to do with the box?  Well three well insulated stacking boxes is just the right number for a wormery! 

The bottom box needs to be watertight (to catch the "worm tea") but the the top two boxes need holes to allow the air to circulate - and the worms too.  The lid needs holes to allow the air in. So it is out with the trusty soldering iron to make those holes.

Next add worms to the middle box.  No problem as we have a plentiful supply from our maturing dalek composter.  Sure enough it is teaming with them. Along with them comes a layer of "bedding" - partially composted material.  The  worms will soon settle down in their familiar environment, although it is going to be a bit warmer in their new indoor location which they should love.

Next, some new food for them to get to work on, still in the middle box sitting on top of the bottom "reservoir" box:

The third box sits on top.  Once the worms settle into the middle box and grow out of it their food will be added to this box and the worms will move up into this chamber.  Soon after the  worms have departed for their new pasture the middle box can be removed and then emptied so that the top box becomes the new middle box.  The emptied box becomes the new top box.  The bottom box will need to be monitored and worm tea decanted from time to time too.

That's the theory.  Let's just test it out.

Now what tune could cover all the bases on this topic?

Friday, 8 March 2019

Going down??

A month ago I said I would be monitoring how quickly my worm inhabited compost bin was rotting down. So here is an update.

9th February

7th March

9th February
7th March

All credit is due to these chaps:

Brandling worms

Keen eyed readers will notice that absent mindedly I have emptied a couple of flower pots worth of spent compost into the bin.  (I was finally clearing away my tomatoes from the greenhouse)  All the same I think you will agree it is going down well.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Avens above that ain't Wintercress

Guess who this garden visitor is?

In the Garden or in the wild there is one leaf I have been focusing on recently:

Country path

For a start I thought it was a perfect match with Wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) but it turns out to be Wood Avens - Geum urbanum.  The confusing issue is that the winter rosette terminal leaves are rounder than the later terminal leaves which are more clearly three lobed (not unlike strawberry leaves).  Smaller opposite leaf pairs appear down the leaf stem :

Researching the internet the clincher is that a cress being a brassica has a four leaf yellow flower whereas Wood Avens  (a member of the rose family) has a five petal yellow flower and then a characteristic burr seedhead.  I don't need to wait for flowering as these burrs are all to familiar in our garden each summer.  If I needed further proof I could taste the leaves  (neutral for avens, peppery for cress) The root of Wood Avens is said to smell strongly of cloves, perhaps leading to its reputation as a remedy for both dog and snake bites.  Herb Bennet!

Here is the best summary of the features of Wood Avens I could find: wildfooduk 

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

When is a Dandelion not a Dandelion?

The dandelion (Taxaracum officinale) is one of the most successful weeds.  Surprising that ease of identification doesn't equate to ease of eradication.  The common name comes from the French "dent de lion"  lion's tooth, alluding to the characteristic leaf shape.  Ironically the French commonly call this "pis en lit" referring to the diuretic effect of the plant when eaten.  All well so far, but wait what is this:

I have hunted high and low for an ID

Turns out that there are 240 identified dandelion species in the UK and that they can hybridise freely into so called "microspecies".  Looks like this is one of them.   And here's another one:

If you have an alternative theory do let me know.  In the meantime these weeds that will be left to flower  - if only to firm up the ID.  

Below are two more overwintering rosettes that could at first glance be dandelions, but definitely are not.  I think they are both smooth sowthistle
 Smooth Sowthistle.

Smooth Sowthistle - Sonchus oleraceus

All these rosettes  - only one song: