A Driving Instructor's Blog

Nature

I’ve moved this to the top, because I have a resident! A Great Tit – and I’m certain it’s the same one who – after his first visit, followed by his second longer one – has chosen it as a place to roost now Autumn is setting in. For anyone following this, he tends to arrive between 6.00pm and 6.20pm at the moment (though he flopped in at 5.40pm one evening). After his initial visits at 9.00am on two consecutive days, he’s roosted there every night since, so he clearly likes it. He wakes up and leaves around 7.00am each morning.

When he arrives, he spends several minutes searching for insects in the cavities (on one occasion, he got something with legs between his beak and ate it, so I now know that’s what he’s doing).  I also think that’s why he jumps up to (and above) the camera, – he’s after the insects, because the birdbox has open vents at the top as well as the bottom, so bugs are going to go inside quite readily.

This is the live feed/live streaming from my birdbox camera. It’s on the back of the garden shed facing east, and about 2m from the ground.

The camera is Wi-Fi. It worked seamlessly when I was setting it all up in the house, but when I moved it to the end of the garden the signal strength meant that the connection was intermittent. I tried a Wi-Fi extender, which improved things somewhat, but the real issue was (I think) with my Virgin Media router. I discovered that the Superhub 3 has a known issue with Wi-Fi, resulting in dropouts even if the signal is good – and that tied in with the issues I’d had for a while with my smartphone, where the connection dropped even with a good signal. So I went for a different solution.

I used a TP-Link EAP 225 outdoor wireless access point (WAP). This takes control of the Wi-Fi aspect, so the router’s Wi-FI is irrelevant. I can now get maximum wireless right to the end of our garden, which is about 50m long, and no stupid dropouts. It’s just a constant strong signal.

At the moment, the WAP is propped up indoors near a window. Next job is to drill holes in the wall to mount it outside where it is supposed to be. Since the WAP is powered directly from the ethernet (PoE) I’ve got to get an ethernet cable and plug through the wall, so that means a 16mm hole. I have a 16mm bit, and it is 300mm in length. I’m not looking forward to the next part, but I’m steeling myself for it.

Incidentally, during the day the BirdCam is in full colour. At night, when the sensor detects low light, it turns off the internal LED lamp and switches to infrared, which renders in black and white. Around the time when that switch is made, the feed becomes jittery while the software makes up its mind.

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It might be the same bird as the first time, but this time he stayed for almost ten minutes – some of the time above the camera (you can hear him tapping with his beak). He gave the box a really good going over before finally leaving.

I’m hoping that such a long check means he likes the place.

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Well, here’s something you don’t see everyday in Nottingham. In fact, it’s the first time I have ever seen one in the flesh (or fur) anywhere in my life.

I was on a lesson and we were driving through Stoke Bardolph. We’d just gone past the pub when I noticed what I first thought was someone’s coat at the edge of the road. But as we got closer I realised it was an animal. The words ‘stoat’ and then ‘dog’ (when I realised how big it was) passed through my mind.

But absolutely the last word I expected to end up with was ‘otter’.

I’m not an expert on otters, but what little knowledge I have from nature documentaries is that they are quite fast. This one did seem to be limping – maybe. And it was much bigger than I thought they were. It stopped on the grass at the side at the river and alertly watched us go by. It’s times like these when I wish I carried my proper camera everywhere with me.

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I had my first non-insectoid and non-arachnoid visitor to my birdbox today. What appears to have been a Great Tit popped in and cased the joint.

He (or she) inspected every corner, and even checked the walls for integrity.

Apparently, this time of year they’re looking for places to roost, so I hope he comes back and then sticks around with a mate next Spring.

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We’re now officially into autumn, and I’m getting a lot of hits right now. If your Birch is just starting to show a few yellow leaves, it’s not unusual. The Elms are already turning, because it’s what they do around autumn. My Birch is still fully green, and the feeding and heavy watering has had a lot to do with that. If you haven’t been watering, remember that it’s been a dry summer, so yours may turn earlier. Just prepare for next year and start feeding and watering from March.

Our Silver Birch in June 2017Back in 2014, when I originally wrote this, our Birch tree suddenly began to produce a lot of yellow leaves in mid-June. After a lot of research I managed to figure out the possible causes and the remedies. That was the purpose of the original article.

However, 2018 threw up a new issue. It turned out to be the hottest year on record, but even before we found that out people will remember how hot it was, and for how long it stayed like that. My tree once again began to show a few sprays of yellow fairly early in the season.

The article becomes popular each year, firstly in late Spring and early Summer, then again later in the season closer to Autumn.

In 2014, I identified the following as likely causes of premature yellowing:

  • nutrient deficiency
  • iron deficiency
  • manganese deficiency

After the 2018 heatwave, I further identified lack of water as a major factor. With hindsight, it may have also been a factor in that 2014 season, but nothing compared with 2018 for prolonged heat and lack of rain.

When I first experienced yellowing back in 2014, I initially thought my tree was dying. Googling for an answer was pretty much useless, because most of the technical advice is American and focuses on the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches), which isn’t known outside of  North America. But somewhere in among the advice, I came across a simple comment – and I don’t recall where I saw it now – that made a lot more sense.

In a nutshell, premature yellowing/leaf drop can be caused by nutrient and iron deficiencies in the soil. This comes about over a period of time as fallen leaves are swept up each year and sent to the tip, so none of the nutrients are returned to the soil. Consequently, the soil becomes depleted of them.

Birches are ericaceous – lime-hating – plants, and prefer a slightly acidic soil. As such, you need to feed them using ericaceous fertiliser. I first used Miracle-Gro solid fertiliser, intended for Azaleas and Rhododendrons (also lime-hating), but a couple of years later switched to Doff liquid feed so I could use it in my Access Irrigation Static Dilutor. I also got hold of some Maxicrop Seaweed Extract, which is also liquid, and watered that in at the same time.

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My original problem showed itself as canary-yellow leaves, either in sprays, or randomly dotted throughout the canopy. On closer inspection, some of the leaves looked like those in the photograph here.Leaves suffering from chlorosis

This is known as chlorosis. Leaves are usually green because they contain chlorophyll – and chlorophyll is green. Chlorophyll is what allows plants to convert light energy into sugars that they can use as food through the process called photosynthesis. Plants use iron to produce chlorophyll, so if there isn’t enough iron in the soil the tree can’t make enough chlorophyll, and you get yellowed leaves. The tree compensates for being hungry (if it hasn’t got chlorophyll it can’t make food for energy) by going into shutdown and shedding those leaves. And you may also find that new leaves are small and misshapen when chlorosis is the issue.

You can easily treat chlorosis using sequestered iron (or seaweed extract). Being ‘sequestered’, the tree can suck the iron up and use it right away. A longer term solution is to use iron sulphate lawn feed, which also slightly acidifies the soil over time.Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosis

I also bought some manganese to water in the first time, but I am not sure how relevant that was. I used it for a couple of seasons, but stopped. Each year, I simply feed the tree once or twice a month between March and September using fertiliser and seaweed extract.

Note that none of these problems are confined to Silver Birches. All trees and plants can be affected by nutrient deficiencies, and you simply have to deal with the problem using the appropriate, easily purchased treatments.Close-up of our tree's leaves in June 2017

In that first season, a single application of fertiliser stopped the leaf drop almost immediately. Once the already-yellow leaves had fallen, the tree remained green until Autumn, and even threw out some large new leaves and fat catkins. It obviously liked what I had done to it, and I continued doing it from June until September every few weeks.

Everything was fine until the hot summer of 2018. You might recall that the prolonged heatwave began quite early, and by the end of June I was again noticing a few sprays of yellow. I wasn’t a nutrient issue this time – I was feeding the tree regularly – but I’d already guessed the hot weather might have something to do with it, and a bit more research showed that heat stress in trees is a real issue, and Birches are highly susceptible to it.

It turns out that lack of moisture in the ground combined with prolonged high air temperatures causes trees – and especially Birches – to become stressed, which again triggers them to go into emergency shutdown by shedding leaves.

My research provided two options for getting water down to the roots (which fortunately, in the case of Birches, is quite shallow). One involved hammering at least half a dozen hollow spikes into the ground around the tree and dripping water directly down to them. I decided against that on the basis that a) the ground was already as hard as iron plate, b) anything which sounds so simple (i.e. hammering a hollow plastic spike into the soil) was going to turn into a nightmare of split plastic, only being able to get part way down, and discovering chunks of bedrock I didn’t know were there, and c) having these things poking out of the lawn would look bloody awful even if I got them in (and even worse if they only went in part-way). The easier option was to commence heavy-watering immediately – basically, to run the sprinklers for hours at a time every  night.

That method fixed the problem in less than a week.

With hindsight, it is quite possible that lack of moisture was a contributing factor back in 2014, and my feeding routine would have dealt with that automatically (though I did have chlorosis). But in 2018, it was definitely just the result of too little moisture around the roots.

So, to summarise. If you experience premature leave-yellowing, the very first thing you should do is water like crazy. Don’t worry about over-watering too much – Birches like wet soil, which is why they grow near streams. Just don’t turn your garden into a swamp. While you’re doing that, buy some ericaceous feed and seaweed extract, and get that into your soil as soon as possible (how much depends on how big your tree is).

Can you rescue leaves which have turned yellow?

No, probably not. I suppose that chlorosis could be reversed if you caught it early enough, but if the leaf is dead and the tree has triggered its shedding mechanism, you’re going to lose them.

The important thing is that by feeding and watering the tree you can stop any further yellowing – and believe me, the first time you do it the effects will be quite noticeable within a short time.

Do you have to keep treating the trees?

Yes. If you don’t, the problem just comes back once the tree has used up what you’ve fed it, especially if you bin the leaves again the following autumn. Huge trees will suck up all the nutrients and water, and if you’re raking up and binning the leaves each year (or if the soil is dry and there are no prolonged periods of rain) nothing gets returned to the soil.

How often should you feed?

Treat them once or twice a month from March until September. And water regularly.

Can heat and drought cause them to lose leaves?

Yes. If they are stressed you may get them dropping leaves. In extreme cases the leaves can go brown and the tree can even die. It’s a good idea to water them deeply during hot, dry periods. Once or twice a week should be enough, though more frequently won’t hurt if the dry period is prolonged.

Remember that after a period of drought (or prolonged dry weather) it needs an extended period of rain to wet the soil again, especially deep down. A few heavy downpours won’t do it, and you will still need to help things along.

Will a Birch recover from drought?

It depends on whether the drought killed it or not. A reader wrote to me in 2018, mentioning that his tree had lost its leaves, and I advised that the only thing he could do right then was to feed and water – and hope for the best. He wrote to me in 2019 to tell me the tree had started to rock in the wind, and that a tree surgeon had subsequently declared it dead, and had had to remove it. Apparently, the roots were rotten.

There’s no way of knowing if it was just the drought that did the damage. The tree may have been weakened by not feeding and watering over previous years, and the drought was just the final nail in the coffin. But the 2018 heatwave certainly caused problems.

Is there any other way to deal with the problem?

You have to get nutrients and iron back into the soil. And you need water in order for the roots to be able to access those nutrients. Yes, you could use your own mulch or bought compost, but obviously this is not so attractive in a normal garden (removing it is what got you here in the first place). It would also take longer to have an effect. But it would still work, given time.

When do Birch trees normally start to shed their leaves?

In the Autumn! In the UK this is from around September-October, and the onset varies up and down the country. It often seems triggered by a noticeable drop in night time temperatures. The leaves will begin to fall from that point – very lightly at first, then increasing as the yellowing spreads.

Why do birch trees drop leaves so early?

They don’t. They drop them in Autumn, like all other trees which shed their leaves each year. If yours is turning early, you may have a problem.

How do you apply these treatments?

You make up the required solution as directed on the pack, then water it into the area specified. I use a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. However, you can use a watering can and hosepipe/sprinkler as necessary. Note that if the ground is dry, a watering can won’t get the nutrients down to the roots, so a heavy watering is essential.

Why are fallen leaves sticky?

You’ve probably got greenfly! Specifically, the birch aphid, Euceraphis betulae. They feed on the European Birch, Betula pendula, and they increase in number during warm and dry weather. Aphids secrete honeydew as they feed, and that’s the sticky stuff you’re seeing. Apparently, you can get different species of greenfly that feed on specific trees.

You can kill them with a soap/water mixture, though no one has ever been able to tell me precisely how you apply that to a 20 metre high tree. And the same goes for any chemical method relying on direct contact. An alternative solution is to introduce predatory insects – something that eats aphids. The best one is the Ladybird larva, and you can buy them online. There are other predatory insects you can buy, too.

My tree is losing branches and twigs

If the tree is weak then it is understandable that twigs and small branches might fall off. Once they’re stronger this will stop. In any case, if it is windy, a few dead twigs are bound to fall off. It’s just nature – and birches also have a fungus which can cause small twigs to die and fall.

In the Spring, Crows can also be a problem if they’re nesting nearby. They are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose, and they will tear off dozens until they get the right one. It’s nature, so we don’t worry when they’re using ours for their twigs.

When do birches start to show leaves?

In Spring, obviously, but the precise date varies depending on both the tree and the weather. In 2019, they were about a month earlier than 2018 in the UK. Mine is usually showing leaves sometime during April each year.

I’ve got catkins but no leaves

Someone found the site in April 2018 with that query. You’ll probably find that in a couple of weeks you’ll have lots of leaves. As I have said in this article, I start feeding mine from March onwards. Leaves start sprouting a week or two earlier than my neighbours’ trees, and the foliage on mine is usually much denser. The catkins often come before the leaves.

Are the leaves changing early this year?

This was a generic search term used to find the blog in mid-July 2017. The short answer is no, they are not – not in July in the UK, anyway. They change towards the end of September in the UK.

Do Weeping Silver Birches lose their leaves in Autumn?

Yes.

When do Silver Birch leaves go all brown?

They don’t. The leaves should go yellow and fall off in the autumn.

I had quite a few visitors from this search term in 2018, and when I looked it up it seems that extreme cases of chlorosis and heat stress can result in leaves turning brown (see this supplementary article). It could also be a disease or infestation which you could treat, but the tree itself might also be dead – especially if it has been having any of the problems I mentioned above over previous years. Best to call in the experts.

Does this advice only apply to Silver Birch trees?

No. Chlorosis can affect many plants, and lack of nutrients is a universal issue. You might need a different fertiliser to address any nutrient problem, but iron will likely fix chlorosis. Lack of water can kill virtually any plant.

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The empty bird box at nightI have a new toy. A birdbox with a camera fitted into it. I will be installing it outside over the next few weeks, and maybe I’ll get some roosting birds in the autumn and winter, but I’m hoping to get them nesting next year.

The plan is to get Blue Tits nesting in my box. If that works, I intend to get another box and entice our Robin, who is tame enough to fly against you if you’re out gardening to let you know he or she is there so you can feed him/her mealworms (he won’t take them from your hand just yet, but he’s getting close on that).

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The birdbox I bought is from Green Feathers. They also supply their kits through Amazon. I chose the deluxe kit, which includes the birdbox, Wi-Fi HD camera, and all the necessary accessories. I also bought the daylight LED lamp to illuminate the inside of the box.

It comes with excellent instructions, and is easy to assemble as long as you can use a screwdriver (and perhaps an awl or small drill), and it connects to the Green Feathers app equally easily. I had it running with a live feed to the app within a few  minutes. For most people, that’s really all they need. The app tells you when any birds visit (motion detection). The camera also has a microphone, so you’ll be able to hear any sounds the birds make. The LED lamp (optional extra) uses a sensor to detect daylight, and turns on during the day to give a true colour feed. At night, the LEDs turn off automatically, and the camera records in infrared (black and white). You can record the video stream and save it through the app, and you can also take snapshots. For most people, the birdbox and app are all that is required. But me being me, that wasn’t enough.

I am not a ‘millennial’, but I am computer literate (I have been building and repairing them for over 20 years). I cannot see the attraction of doing everything on your smartphone when you have a PC in front of you. Fine, getting a live feed of the birdbox to your phone is pretty cool, but this is a HD camera we’re talking about, and there is no way on God’s green earth that you can get a decent HD image on a smartphone. They’re just too damned small – especially iPhones, which most millennials seem to want to own at all costs.

So, once the system was running on the app, the next thing I did was download ONVIF Device Manager (Green Feathers cameras are ONVIF devices). It is a network video client, which means it can access and manage as many ONVIF devices you like. On running it for the first time, it immediately saw my BirdCam, and I was able to view the video live feed on my PC.

Then, I turned to my Synology NAS, and set up Surveillance Station. Now I know most people won’t have a NAS, but I do. Surveillance Station is software on the Synology NAS which monitors multiple video feeds, and allows recording and playback. It is mainly intended for security cameras, but it will work with any IP Camera (which Green Feathers cameras are). It, too, picked up my BirdCam immediately.

Note that ONVIF Device Manager and Surveillance Station are completely independent of each other, and have little if anything to do with what I wanted to do next (ONVIF did help me identify my video feed address). ONVIF Device Manager was simply playing around (and understanding what was happening), and Surveillance Station would provide an alternative if what I did want to do next turned out to be difficult or prohibitively expensive.

My main aim was to be able to put a live feed of my BirdCam on the blog.

I’ve not done anything like this before, though I knew it was possible. But how? My first thought was that I could provide the feed directly from my computer, but my internet provider might not be happy (or capable of it) if I tried to do it through my router, and my router might not be happy if more than a couple of people tried to view the feed at the same time. It was clear that I needed a media server service, where I provided a single feed, and the server managed the necessary bandwidth and distributed it to others.

To that end, after some searching – and being put off by silly prices – I came across ipcamlive, who do just what I wanted. I’d got this far on my own, but I have to admit I needed to contact their technical support a couple of times to get it working. However, thanks to them, I can now be certain that I can do a blog page with a live BirdCam feed on it.

Right now, all I have to do is bolt the bird box to the shed and I’m set to go. And hope that some Blue Tits like the location enough to set up home next spring.

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ReadlyA couple of years ago I was having a clear out and I was amazed at the number of magazines I’d collected over the years. They were mainly my Classic Rock mags, and part of my decision to have a clear out was that I’d been getting more and more disillusioned with that particular publication.

At the time, I was on an annual subscription, but Planet Rock had just launched its own magazine and that did exactly what it said on the tin – it covered rock music. Classic Rock acquired a new editor, and she made it clear in her introductory piece what she was planning. Subsequently, any rock music they covered had to include at least half female acts – meaning it became obscure and far from ‘classic’, at best – and they also decided that (as just one example) Depeche Mode somehow ticked both the ‘classic’ and ‘rock’ boxes at the same time (actually, they decided twice in the space of just a couple of months with that one example). Then they did their ‘best 100 female artists of all time’ issue, and necessarily had to include non-rock genres to fill it out. That was it from me, and I cancelled my sub.

Before any feminists start frothing at the mouth over this, I go to see lots of female artists and bands with female members. I actually seek them out if I hear them on Planet Rock and like the sound. Like Samantha Fish, Haim, Paramore, Evanescence, Courtney Love, Joanne Shaw Taylor, The Lounge Kittens… I just don’t need any feminist magazine editors trying to filter out the men for me. And if you don’t like the fact that I don’t like that fact, click the back button and go somewhere else.

Planet Rock mag suits me fine, but when the lockdown came along, it also came with a lot of extra time for reading and finding tips on how to do stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise had time for. And going out to buy magazines wasn’t an option – even if it would have been of benefit with the ‘current’ issue on sale (you usually need a series of them).

A few years ago, as a result of my quest to find some authentic German food recipes, I came across a subscription service called Readly. It carries – and this is no exaggeration – thousands of UK titles. They’re all the ones you see on the newsstands (and many you don’t), from TV Times, OK!, Hello!, through all the photography and amateur DIY magazines, through to music and musicians (including Classic Rock). They cover specialist computer and technology subjects, gaming, weddings, cycling, fishing, horse riding, pets… everything (but no X-rated adult stuff). Including back issues, too, which multiplies the content by at least ten. And as I already implied, they have similar numbers of publications from Europe, Asia, and America. They’ve also recently started including newspapers, though it’s only The Independent and Evening Standard right now.

My normal Readly subscription is less than £8 a month, but they offer a two months for free trial. Even so, at £8 a month, that’s the newsstand cost of just three magazines! If you were after foreign magazines, you’d probably pay more than that for a single issue once shipping was included.

You can get the Readly app with the offer through Amazon (it’s free), and you can read on your phone, tablet, or computer. You can also read offline by downloading the content.

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Silver Birch - summer 2017My article about early leaf drop in Silver Birch trees is very popular – but it has really peaked this year (2018).

My own trees started going yellow this time around in mid-June. After a lot of research, I concluded that it was due to heat stress as a result of the prolonged warm weather and low rainfall we have experienced. I know that some places have had torrential downpours, but it isn’t enough. The temperature has remained pretty much in double digits the whole time, and has been in the mid-20s and low-30s most days for almost two solid months, and with no end in sight.

I commenced deep watering right after I found it as a remedy in June, and it has worked like magic. Right now, I simply set the sprinkler going for about an hour in each of three separate locations, and I do this each night (next year, I’m going to install deep-watering spikes to help the water get deeper into the soil). I have also found a way of watering and fertilizing at the same time.

When trees are stressed as a result of high humidity and low rainfall, they can’t get enough water and begin to shut down just as they do in the Autumn. It doesn’t kill them unless it happens year after a year, but obviously you can take steps to deal with it once you notice it.

My Silver Birch in 2017One thing I have noticed with the benefit of hindsight is that the foliage on virtually every Silver Birch I have seen this year is thinner than in previous years (that’s also true for a lot of other trees I’ve seen). The leaves are actually smaller. The reason I say “hindsight” is that about a month into deep-watering and my tree has put out some significant new growth and the leaves on that new growth are much larger, and just like the photo I took last year.

Note that we have no hosepipe ban, and I wouldn’t be doing this if we did.

Once I commenced the watering, the yellowed leaves all fell over the next week or so, but no more were produced. Right now, not a single leaf has fallen in the last month at least and the whole tree is green with the aforementioned new growth. It is also producing fat catkins.

Will a Birch recover from drought?

It depends on whether the drought killed it or not. A reader wrote to me last year, mentioning that his tree had lost its leaves, and I advised that the only thing he could do right then was to feed and water – and hope for the best. He wrote to me recently to tell me the tree had started to rock in the wind, and that a tree surgeon had subsequently declared it dead, and had had to remove it. Apparently, the roots were rotten.

There’s no way of knowing if it was just the drought that did the damage. The tree may have been weakened by not feeding and watering over previous years, and the drought was just the final nail in the coffin. But last year’s drought certainly caused problems.

By now – early April 2019 – Birches are showing profuse growth of leaves and catkins (mine is). If yours is still completely bare then it doesn’t look good. Last year’s drought did a lot of damage, and since not many people do the feeding ritual that I have covered in the main leaf drop article, trees may already have been struggling.

That said, mine has certainly recovered from last year’s drought, although I did catch on very early and stopped it becoming a major issue.

All I can say is: water (if it’s not raining much) and feed.

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The Access Irrigation Fertlizer DilutorLet me introduce you to my new toy – the Access Irrigation Static Dilutor.

One of the most popular posts on the blog is the one about Silver Birch Trees shedding leaves in the middle of summer as a result of nutrient deficiency in the soil. The remedy involves applying fertilizer and watering it in so the trees can get at it.

In 2018, though, another cause of premature yellowing has surfaced. The prolonged hot weather has stressed many trees, and the remedy for that is deep watering.

Ever since I found the solution to the nutrient problem I had toyed with the idea of semi-automating the fertilizer/watering process by combining the two and applying it via a sprinkler system. Indeed, I toyed to the extent that I bought a cheap Venturi mixer – which should have worked, but didn’t. I concluded that my water pressure was not sufficient to provide the necessary lift in the Venturi, because I just couldn’t get it to suck anything up. So I gave up on the idea for a year or two until 2018, when watering became such an issue in its own right.

I started Googling and many things came up, but they were all on a small scale – watering plants in greenhouses or by drip-feeders. But there was an American dilutor which apparently did exactly what I was after. You put your fertilizer in the mixer container, connected it to a tap, connected the other side to a hosepipe, and let it do the mixing before sending it down to your sprinkler or spray nozzle. The problem was availability in the UK. It came in various sizes, and the only one carried by any UK-based seller had a capacity of one pint (damned American units), which is no bloody use at all except for window boxes or greenhouses. The next size up was only available from American suppliers, so apart from the $100+ price tag, there was also the $100+ shipping fee – not to mention whatever UK Customs & Excise (who have become very sharp of late) slapped on it when it came into the country.

I was just steeling myself to order the American product, but while I was searching for the best price I accidentally came across the Access Irrigation Static Dilutor. It hadn’t come up on any of my previous searches over the last three years, and even when it did this time it hardly stood out until I followed the link and read the specification sheet and user manual. As an aside, whoever designed the Access Irrigation website decided to use images of text for product titles instead of just plain old searchable text. As a result, Google isn’t indexing them and normal search terms like  “inline fertilizer dispenser” or “fertilizer dispenser using sprinkler” don’t stand a chance.

Access Irrigation were very helpful with my pre-order questions, so I went ahead an ordered it. It came next day.

Gardena ZoomMaxx SprinklerI’ve also recently bought a new sprinkler – a Gardena ZoomMaxx. Depending on water pressure it can water over a range of between 3m and 18m, or an area between 9m² and 216m² in an almost circular pattern (though the pattern is adjustable). In my case, with a water flow rate of 7L per minute (which is classed as “low pressure”), it was able to cover an area of around 80-90m² – which is about 5 times what my old bar sprinkler could manage.

The Access Dilutor consists of a thick plastic bottle which can hold about 9L of liquid. A screw-fit head assembly consists of a Venturi unit with a choice of Hozelock or GEKA fittings (Hozelock fitted as standard, but both types supplied).

For anyone who is interested, a Venturi is so-called because of the Venturi Effect. This is where a fluid flowing through a constriction in a tube creates a pressure drop, and this can be used for various effects. I became familiar with it when I was still at school, because we used small Venturi devices connected to laboratory taps to produce a partial vacuum when filtering liquids using conical flasks. In the case of the Dilutor, water flowing from your tap goes via the Venturi and down to the sprinkler head, and the pressure drop created inside the Venturi is used to pull liquid fertilizer from the bottle and into the main water flow. There is a bit more to the device than that, though, because as the fertilizer is removed, it is replaced by clean water to keep the bottle completely full. Since the fertilizer solution is more dense than water, this clean water sits on top, so you have a distinct border between fertilizer and water. Access Irrigation says you should use food dye if your fertilizer is colourless so that you can see when it is all used up. In my case, my mixture contains chelated iron, so it is almost black. Incidentally, this is why they call it the “static” dilutor, because you mustn’t move it when you’re using it, otherwise the divided liquids get all mixed up.

Until I tried it I was sceptical, but it really does work. The Dilutor is supplied with a range of nozzles which fit on the end of the dip-tube that carries the fertilizer. This allows you to control how quickly the fertilizer is used up. In my case, since I wanted to irrigate for an hour at each of several locations, and since my water flow was 7L/min – or 420L/hour – I used the light blue nozzle corresponding to this volume of water (edit: I have since changed to the grey nozzle, which uses the fertiliser more quickly, my logic being that I want to get the fertiliser on the lawn, then make sure it is watered in properly). I was doing my first run in the dark – literally – and using a torch the border between the black solution and clean water was dramatic. It was all used up in slightly more than one hour.

Previously, and as I have pointed out in my article about summer leaf drop, I was dissolving solid ericaceous fertilizer in water (which takes a couple of hours), and using this as a concentrate in five watering cans-full each liberally spread over 10-20m² (about half an hour overall), then watered in using a bar sprinkler for about half an hour in each of five locations to get the coverage. Overall, it was maybe 8 hours involving frequent interventions by me.

Now, using a liquid version of the same ericaceous fertilizer, I can make up a full batch in the Dilutor in about three minutes, and just set the sprinkler running for an hour. Then, I make another batch, move the sprinkler, and repeat. It only takes a couple of hours now to get the same coverage – and I’m doing a lot more irrigation because of the heat stress problem this year.

What are the different nozzle colours?

I don’t want to state what the colours are (though I did mention a couple, above), because Access Irrigation might change them at some stage, and then whatever I’ve written would be wrong (one of mine was not quite the colour the instructions said, anyway). However, four of these are supplied, and they give you a 10:1, 25:1, 50:1, or 100:1 dilution ratio.

Obviously, the 100:1 jet will be the smallest, and the 10:1 jet will be the widest. So you can work it out from there just by looking at them. The lowest ratio jet (widest) will use up whatever you’re spreading quicker than the highest ratio (narrowest) jet.

To be honest, unless you’re doing something really strange, the best thing is not to overthink these numbers. In my case, for example, I use a jet which empties my feed in about 45-60 minutes. That’s long enough to get an even spread and deliver an effective watering over about 100m².

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The Lake District - How it Should LookOr, how to destroy the environment and get paid loads of money for doing it.

This BBC news article reports on campaigners’ claims that the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) has “violated [the park’s] World Heritage status”.

They cite the dramatic increase in “off-roaders” on motorbikes and 4x4s, who have damaged the landscape. The LDNPA actually encourages morons to come and tear up the countryside.

Let’s not play games here. Absolutely no 4×4 or quadbike/motorbike rider who goes to the Lake District to ride “off-road” – not a single one of them –  gives a flying f*ck about the environment other than how they can turn it into mud every weekend. If they did, they wouldn’t have a 4×4 in the first place, and as for motorbike/quadbike riders… well, there’s more processing power in a mosquito’s genitalia than there is in the typical biker’s head area, and all they want to do is make a noise and send mud flying in the air.

That’s why the comments of Mark Eccles, the alleged leader of LDNPA, are laughable:

We encourage users to behave responsibly on what can be vulnerable tracks to minimise environmental impact and respect other users.

This idiot WANTS off-roaders to come to the Lake District and to “behave responsibly. There’s more chance of a squirrel becoming Pope.

He then says something which is almost the exact opposite:

[It would be] preferable if people did not take vehicles on these routes” [but it is legal].

If he had any balls, he’d stop them or deter them. It would be easy to justify simply on the basis of how much damage they cause. But he is no doubt one of that modern breed of men who have artificially balanced hormones, and for whom “equal opportunities” is the mantra that governs every decision they make. He’s no doubt of a mind that trees have to be cut down to make every corner of the Lake District accessible by wheelchair, and is probably considering painting it pink to try to attract more female visitors. So, in this case, he mustn’t discriminate against monkeys who like things that make a noise and go fast.

For anyone who doesn’t know, The Lake District National Park covers almost 1,000 square miles. And it looks like the photo above when there are no off-roaders around. Once they’ve been and gone, though, it looks like this.

The Lake District - How Off-roaders leave it

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