A Driving Instructor's Blog

Nature

Silver Birch in autumnBack in 2014, our silver birch trees began to yellow and drop leaves in mid-June! We were worried, and Googling for an answer was next to useless.

Most of the technical advice was North American, and focused either on the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches), or trying to grow trees in arid and/or swampy regions. Our trees had none of the beetle infestation symptoms other than leaf drop, and although the British never shut up about the bloody weather, we were not growing ours in either a desert or a mangrove swamp.

Since I first wrote this article, I have discovered that yellowing can be caused by two different things. You can’t really do much harm if you just apply both remedies, though.

The type we had was where the leaves really do turn a bright, canary yellow – just like they do in Autumn – and begin to fall off the tree. It started in mid-June, and although the yellowing/leaf drop wasn’t as widespread throughout the tree as it is during Autumn proper, it was worrying all the same. I can’t honestly remember where I found this now, but somewhere in the hundreds and hundreds of forum pages and obscure “ask the expert” sites rattling on about the bloody Birch Borer I came across two ideas that made absolute sense, and which can be implemented without calling in David Attenborough and Rentokil.Fertiliser and Iron Treatments

Summer leaf-drop and leaf yellowing is caused either by a deficiency of nitrogen in the soil, or a deficiency of iron (or a combination of the two). You can remedy nitrogen deficiency using ericaceous fertiliser (for lime-hating plants, which is what birch trees are). It is available from various manufacturers (I use Miracle-Gro, as shown above), and can be bought from most decent garden centres and from many online retailers (including eBay and Amazon, where I get mine). It only costs about £6 a box, and there’s enough to manage a handful of trees for at least a year (you can also get liquid and slow-release varieties).

Bear in mind that normal fertiliser is no good – it has to be ericaceous – and you just dissolve it and water it in around the tree. Remember that the roots extend outwards quite a long way and you’ll need to cover a wide area. The slow-release granules of the same fertiliser are just sprinkled on the ground and watered in, and they apparently work for up to 3 months.

Iron deficiency – known as chlorosis – is easily dealt with by buying some sequestered (or chelated) iron (I use Maxicrop, as shown above). It comes as a liquid, and you can mix it with your fertiliser and water it in all in one go. Plants need iron to produce chlorophyll, and since chlorophyll is why the leaves are green, not being able to produce it means the leaves become less green and take on a yellowish hue, especially when lit from behind.

Note also that you may see new leaves to be small an misshapen, instead of the classic Birch leaf shape, if you have a soil deficiency.

In our case, after a single application of fertiliser treatment, leaf drop stopped immediately in that 2014 season (after the already-dead leaves dropped). The trees even threw out some catkins, which had been absent up until then. In 2015, I started feeding every few weeks from March with both fertiliser and iron and we had no leaf drop at all. In 2016, it was the same, with very fat catkins hanging from the branches, along with quite significant new growth. As of May 2017 our trees are putting out a lot of new leaves and have lots of catkins.

You can also treat the area around your trees with iron sulphate. This replaces iron in the soil, too, but it also acidifies the ground over time, which is good for ericaceous plants. It’s also good for your lawn.

It’s funny looking back, but I used to think that if you planted a tree you just forgot about it and let it grow. In fact, it turns out you need to look after them almost as much as you would a tomato plant or an ornamental cactus! And judging by the number of hits I’m getting this year, a lot of other people are just discovering the same.

Can you rescue leaves which have turned yellow?

No, probably not. Not the ones which are canary yellow, anyway, since they’re already dead and will have to fall off the tree. How long that takes will vary, and a little wind can speed things up. The important thing is that by feeding the tree you can stop any further yellowing – and believe me, the first time you do it the effects will be quite noticeable.

I would imagine that chlorosis could be reversed if it is caught early, since the yellowing is not due to leaves dying – they’re just iron-deficient. In that case, you might be able to save some yellowed leaves by applying the chelated iron treatment.

Do you have to keep treating the trees?

Yes. If you don’t, the problem just comes back depending on how long the previous treatment lasts for, and that is dependent on how bad the deficiency is, how big your trees are, what else is growing there, and how your soil drains when it rains. Huge trees will suck up all the nutrients, and if you’re raking up and binning the leaves each year nothing gets returned to the soil. It stands to reason, really, but I was as blind to it as anyone else until I encountered the problem.

Treat your trees from March until September. Feed at least once a month.

When do Birch trees normally start to shed their leaves?

The short – and very obvious – answer is: in the Autumn. It can vary a little up and down the country (just as Spring tends to start earlier the further south you are), but in the Midlands they usually start to show sprays of yellow from early October. The leaves will begin to fall from that point – very lightly at first, then increasing as the yellowing spreads.

In 2016 (almost overnight during the first week or so into October), ours produced a lot of yellow on the inside, whereas the outer canopy remained green – it looked rather nice. The neighbours’ trees had much sparser canopies than ours and they had clumps of yellow all over.

Autumn officially begins in mid- to late-September and you probably can’t do much to fix your trees after August if you’ve got the early yellowing problem. I’d still recommend a good feed or two, but not beyond the end of September.

But be ready to start feeding from March.

How do you apply these treatments?

You make up the required solution as directed on the pack, then water it into the area specified. A single watering can is usually spread over 10 square metres (a medium sized tree probably requires watering over as much as 100 square metres). You can also buy mixer units which have a small tank and connect to your garden hose. You put the concentrate into the tank and the device mixes it with water as you spray the ground under your trees.

What I do is make up a concentrate in a 5L drum, then use 1L of that in a 15L watering can topped up with water. It’s quicker this way. I put 14 large spoonfuls of Miracle-gro and about 250mls of Maxicrop in the drum (marked with 1L divisions) and make up to 5L with tepid water. Once dissolved, I just pour out 1L into my watering can, top up from the garden hose, and evenly spread it over about 10-20 square metres, making sure I include flower beds as well as the lawn.

Although I haven’t used it yet, I have built an irrigation system which mixes the fertiliser/concentrate and feeds it to a garden sprinkler system. It consists of a venturi mixer and 5L container, and can treat around 30-40 square metres in a single go without any human intervention. I’ll post more next year when I start using it.

My tree is losing branches and twigs

If the tree is weak then it is understandable that twigs and branches might fall off. Once they’re stronger this will stop.

Another likely problem, though, is crows. Yes, the winged variety. From March they will be nest-building, and they are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose. We get great amusement watching a pair that have nested near us for the last 10 years or so. They will tear off a hundred twigs and drop them until they get the one they want. It’s nature, so we don’t worry.

Mind you, I’ve never seen a crow carry off a branch – they stick to the smaller stuff – so if your tree is dropping large branches you might need to get a tree surgeon in to have a look at it.

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I wonder if anyone proof-reads BBC articles anymore? They’re riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, with numerous typos thrown in for good measure.The Moon

But it’s the content that has me worried. Take this article, entitled How to see biggest supermoon in almost 70 years.

Well, just like on any other night, the usual trick is to go outside and look upwards towards that big, round, glowing thing in the sky and hope that there aren’t any clouds. I almost feel embarrassed at having to explain this.

Incidentally, the photo above is one I took last year. I didn’t have any trouble finding the moon in this instance, nor did I have to look up how to do it.

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The local BBC News site had a warning after some local troglodytes were seen waving bags at stags in Wollaton Park. Bear in mind that it is the rutting season, and the last thing any sane person needs is a pair of deer antlers up their backside.Stags fighting

But this bit is funny:

Kath George, museum assistant at Wollaton Hall, said…

“Our advice is always the same, no matter what the season, or whether the deer have children with them – DO NOT approach them!

“They are wild animals…”

I always thought a young deer was a fawn. But it seems that we’re now anthropomorphising them for some reason.

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The answer is when it is Trent University – which is more of a glorified sixth form that takes people from around the country instead of just locally. I say this after seeing this story in the week. It laughingly refers to the people ultimately responsible for killing a hedgehog as “researchers”.

In case any Trent University “researchers” are reading this, it is probably worth reminding them what a hedgehog normally looks like.A healthy hedgehog

However, this is what one looks like after Trent University “researchers” have got to it.Hedgehog festooned with a radio and various other tags

The dirty silver thing is a radio transmitter, and the various coloured tags are shrink- or heat-wrapped to the hedgehog’s spines. You have to wonder what sort of retard would attach THAT many tags to a single animal. Well, actually you don’t have to wonder too much when you think of sixth-formers pretending they’re scientists.

Wildlife experts have commented that the coloured tags are far too long and would most likely interfere with the animal’s normal behaviour. They could easily have become entangled. Apparently, the radio transmitter was twisted around the animal when it was found by someone in their garden. Experts have pointed out that such a bulky device would have prevented the animal from crawling under low hedges, gates, and fences, and would thus have put it at risk from predators.

The vet who treated the hedgehog removed TWENTY SIX tags.Tags removed from the animal

The hedgehog was:

…dehydrated, underweight, had mange, severe colitis, broken toes on one foot and [sic] intestinal fluke, and died despite attempts to treat him.

This is the part where you need to make your mind up for yourselves. Do you think that a hedgehog festooned with 26 tags, all of them at least six times longer than its spines, and a radio transmitter the size of a matchbox bearing – if you look at the picture – an antenna which appears to be approximately the same length as the animal itself, is going to be adversely affected?

Or do these two quotes convince you otherwise?

Hugh Warwick from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, which part-funded the study, said: “Over 30 years of work there is no evidence that our research interferes with the well-being of hedgehogs at all.

“The heat-shrink plastic tags that are now the standard marking technique do not require plastic to be melted onto the spines and cause the hedgehog no trouble at all. It is not far off humans getting hair-extensions.”

Nottingham Trent University said: “The animal is completely unhindered and able to go about its activities – such as feeding and breeding – in the usual way.

“Research is crucial to furthering our understanding of the threats hedgehogs face and to develop appropriate responses to those.”

Hugh Warwick is clearly one of those pseudo-scientists who likes to anthropomorphise things. However, I think it is safe to say that what was done to this hedgehog had f__k all to do with human hair extensions (which, incidentally, cause MAJOR problems for humans if done incorrectly).

And Trent University – who are clearly too embarrassed to identify the cretin of a “researcher” responsible – have managed one of those brilliant paradoxes. They say they want to further their understanding of “threats to hedgehogs”. Obviously by becoming one.

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Following on from that story about the Americans shooting a gorilla as a precautionary measure n their attempts to deal with crass stupidity on the part of their citizens, at least the Aussies are more sanguine about such episodes.Crocodile - not necessarily an Australian one

Oh, I know they were looking down their noses at us over that bloody Boaty McBoatface debacle, but they’re still refreshingly down to earth otherwise. As this story today demonstrates quite clearly.

If the victim had survived in this case, then she would automatically have been in the finals for the 2016 Darwin Awards. Such was the level of stupidity on display.

It happened in the Daintree National park, in Northern Queensland. The presence of signs, local warnings about it being a known crocodile habitat, Queensland’s “be croc-wise” safety policy, and I would suspect a fair degree of understanding of the dangers of living in Australia in the first place, not to mention those associated with just being Australian at all did not deter this 47-year old woman from attempting to swim in waist-deep water. At night. It seems that the only thing she didn’t do was bring some extra crocodiles with her just to be sure. Unfortunately for her, though, one of the resident crocs was also taking a swim nearby, and saw its chance for a snack.

Unlike the Americans, who you can almost imagine tripping over themselves to get their guns in order to blow away a gorilla who had not actually made any threatening moves towards a four-year-old (some reports say he was actually three) child whose parents had been so monstrously neglectful as to allow him to climb through a fence and fall into a moat surrounding an enclosure, the Aussies are a little more logical over this incident. A local politician, Warren Enstch, said:

This is a tragedy but it was avoidable. There are warning signs everywhere up there.

You can only get there by ferry, and there are signs there saying watch out for the bloody crocodiles.

You can’t legislate against human stupidity. If you go in swimming at 10 o’clock at night, you’re going to get consumed.

Meanwhile, Australian police have been practising the art of understatement:

We would hold grave fears for the welfare of the woman.

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I saw this on the news this morning. Zoo keepers – sorry, “officials” – shot dead a gorilla in a zoo in Cincinnati, after a four-year-old boy climbed through a barrier and fell into a moat.Harambe - shot dead "just in case" in USA

The gorilla made no threatening moves towards the boy, and was shot as a precaution (hey, this is America, right?) The gorilla, who was named Harambe, was a western lowland gorilla – a critically-endangered species.

No mention is made of the boy’s parents, who really are the ones who should have been in the guns’ sights. What the hell were they doing letting a four-year-old run loose and allowing him do something so ridiculously stupid? And what does it say about the job they’ve done of bringing him up if he was dumb enough to behave this way?

When I was four I wouldn’t have been allowed to run around like that, and especially not in a zoo. And since I can remember when I was four, I wouldn’t have tried to climb into an animal enclosure – my parents would have told me not to, and I would have listened.

Buy hey! This IS America, right?


And it seems I’m not the only one who thinks the child’s parents need a damned good talking to.

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I was doing a bit of online research for some recipes for a slow cooker I just purchased. One recipe called for coconut milk, and I noticed one of the comments underneath:

I forgot coconut milk, will it still work with passata?? HELP PLS

This is what coconut milk looks like compared to passata. In case anyone is wondering, coconut milk is the one on the left.Coconut Milk vs Passata

Furthermore, coconut milk tends to come from something called a “coconut”, like this.A coconut

Passata, on the other hand, is commonly made from things called “tomatoes”, which look like this.Tomatoes

This gives rise to a distinct difference in the colour region when you compare coconut milk alongside passata. There are also a few notable differences between the plants which produce them. Coconut Palm vs Tomato Vine

Coconuts grow somewhere between 15 and 30 metres in the air at the top of palm trees in various tropical and subtropical locations around the world (if you’re still stuck, coconut palms are the ones on the left). Each coconut – once it is removed from its tough outer casing – is hard and woody, and weighs nearly 1.5kg, and each palm can produce fruit for 70 years or more. On the other hand, tomatoes grow pretty much anywhere you want them on bushes usually no more than about 1-2 metres off the ground. A tomato plant can live for a few years, though they’re mostly treated as annuals and new ones planted each year. A typical tomato is soft and squishy and weighs in at around 100 grams. Every 100 grams of coconut contains about 6g of sugar and over 30 grams of fat, compared with about 2.5 grams of sugar and virtually no fat in the same amount of tomato. There are a lot of other nutritional differences.

I wonder if the person who asked that question ever tried the recipe using passata instead of coconut milk?

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I’m still making the most of the clear weather, which is forecast to come to an end this weekend. The moon is almost at its third quarter and the angle of the sun is showing just how uneven the earth-facing side really is.The moon as it appeared on 3 October 2015

I bought a new tripod, and this one is much more solid and easy to adjust than the super-cheap one I was using.

I should point out that I’m only doing this because I was surprised at how much detail I could get when I when I did that test photo last week (before the eclipse). So I thought I’d experiment.

The picture below shows the same area of the moon (two craters, in particular) as they appeared at full moon last Sunday and subsequently up until tonight.Crater sequence

At full moon, the two craters I have outlined are barely discernible as the sun’s light falls directly on to them. As the sun’s position changes, the craters become progressively more visible as shadows are cast by their walls. The edge of what I think is the Mare Imbrium is also more sharply defined, and craters which weren’t even visible to begin with suddenly appear.

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Having seen the effect of the sun casting shadows across the face of the moon I took the opportunity to catch the latest phase tonight. The moon rises later each night, and it is quite low on the horizon – which led to this lucky shot.The tree got there first

Anyway, after moving away from the Silver Birch tree, this is the detail visible tonight.Moon as it appeared on 2 October 2015

I was brought up to believe that although there were craters on the moon, much of it – and certainly the front – was like a big dusty desert. Apollo mission photos did a lot to create this impression.Apollo 15 moon surface photo

When I was a child I used to have a telescope, but it wasn’t very powerful – as I’ve discovered the last week or so, much less powerful than the telephoto lens on my camera. With my telescope, you could just make out mountain ranges at the edge of the sun’s coverage, but little else. How times change.

The areas on the moon you think of as being quite featureless show up as being pocked by craters.The top part of the moon

Even the edges of the “seas” (or maria) are seen to cast shadows, suggestive of steep sides.The bottom part of the moon

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It’s a clear night and I couldn’t resist getting a few more snaps of the moon now that it is waning. It’s amazing how much extra detail you get when the sun starts casting shadows instead of just hitting square on, as it does when the moon is full.The moon on 1st October 2015

This one shows the top corner.Moon - top corner

This is the top middle corner.Moon - top middle

Here’s the lower middle.Moon - lower middle

And finally, the bottom.Moon - bottom corner

At this rate, I’ll need to grow a beard and buy some horn-rimmed glasses.

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