Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Wing: The Cornish FishmongerDuring the lockdown, some items were extremely difficult to get hold of – and still are, unless you’re prepared to go into shops and markets.

My dad likes crab meat, and in the past I’ve always bought it for him at Makro, where they have very good fish and meat counters. But right now there is no way I am going in those sorts of places. And then my dad decides he wants some crab meat!

I started looking around and came across Wing – The Cornish Fishmonger. They’re recommended by Rick Stein (among others), and that’s good enough for me. Better still, the fish is actually fresh and all recently landed (at the very least, freshly prepared). So I ordered some hand-picked fresh crab meat, a whole Cod fillet (as I suddenly got a hankering for some when I saw the website), and some kippers (my dad likes those, too).

Fresh CodItems are shipped in polystyrene chill box, and you pick the date you want – usually within 24 hours if you order in the morning. For example, I placed another order late today – Wednesday – and it’s coming on Friday. The quality of the first order was excellent – Cod fillet as long as my arm, crab meat sweet, and apparently the kippers (which I don’t like) were ‘just like the ones you used to get’ (they’re whole butterflied fish). You don’t have to order whole fish fillets, as you can specify portions and it is prepared for you, but you can also buy whole fish if that’s what you want – and all the funky kinds you’d never see in Asda or Tesco. The shellfish are supplied live. And they also sell genuine Cornish Pasties, though I haven’t tried those yet.

Wing points out that buyers are supporting the Cornish fishing industry, which is struggling right now with everything that’s going on. They also have a 5-star rating on Trustpilot.

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Virus imageThere’s a news article in The Telegraph about pubs asking for a 20 minute ‘drinking up time’ following the newly introduced 10pm curfew. A quote in it from a supposed ‘industry expert’ made me shake my head in disbelief.

Kate Nicholls, CEO of industry group UK Hospitality, told The Telegraph: “A staggered closing time would be beneficial in reducing transmissions. A hard 10pm curfew was always going to lead to pinch point of customers leaving pubs en masse.”

Erm, excuse me Ms Nicholls, but what precisely do you think customers who are stupid enough to go out drinking in the first place, and who get kicked out of a pub at 9pm are going to do? You know, when other pubs are still open until 9.30pm or 10pm? Or what will they do at twenty past ten, after a ‘drinking up’ period?

Riiiight. In your world, they’re going to catch the bus home so there’s fewer people trying to use public transport at each of the other staggered closing times. It all makes sense, now.

Another ‘industry expert’ is at it again in a story a day later in the Evening Standard. This time, it’s about the government being under pressure to ‘review’ the curfew.

Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association… [said] “The curfew has been another devastating blow to the beer and pub sector. We have invested millions in creating safe socialising environments and had been slowly winning back the confidence of our customers and rebuilding our trade.”

This is on the day the global death toll went above 1 million. I can’t be the only person out here who thinks ‘f**k the hospitality sector’ if they use logic like this. Those twats dancing in the streets and storming off-licences at five past ten were behaving exactly like that inside pubs at five minutes to. How the hell is that part of a ‘safe socialising environment’?

The fact that both of these clowns are from the same gender can pass for now.

Of course, in the real world – a world of people who are stupid enough to go out drinking right now – they don’t give a f**k about ‘reducing transmissions’. If the pub they’re in closes while others are still open, they will head for those. And if they’re kicked out of anywhere before they’re properly tanked up, they’ll still end up creating far worse ‘pinch points’ in local shops, and getting into situations that usually arise when drunken British prats interact with other drunken British prats.

Absolutely none of those shown in the photos and videos are socially distancing or even wearing masks.

As the previous two blog articles with this title have shown, ignorance and stupidity is the problem. And if it is caused by a ‘minority’, as Johnson and his troupe keeps claiming, it’s a f**king huge minority. Frankly, I think it is a considerable majority involved.

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Virus imageMy feelings on this government, the Tories in general, and Brexit are well known. But I don’t go so far as to blame them for everything. Only the things they do wrong.

The new Test & Trace app is now available. I downloaded it with no trouble, and it runs with no problems that I can see on my  HTC U11 (come on, HTC, I want a new flagship) from 2017. All you have to do is enter the first part of your postcode and allow a couple of permissions and it is set up. However, the way the app works means that it has to be installed on relatively new phones which have the necessary Bluetooth features on them. Note that I said the necessary Bluetooth features – not Bluetooth per se. The iPhone 6, for example, was released in 2015, and Apple stopped supporting it and earlier models this year. So in other words it is obsolete, and no one in their right mind should automatically expect any new app to run on that phone.

The Test & Trace app doesn’t.

Matt Hancock has gone on record as saying an ‘upgrade’ maybe needed to access the app. Rightly or wrongly he’s going to get slated for this. It’s his ‘let them eat cake’ moment. But how is it his problem? It’s like complaining that you can’t play a C60 cassette in a CD player, or a VHS cassette in a DVD machine (though it’s worth pointing out people did complain when those two things were current issues).

I’m not saying the app is perfect, or that it works properly – I don’t know, and time will tell – but the vultures are out in force over it simply because they can’t download it on to two tin cans joined by a piece of string. It only works on iOS 13.5 and later – and that counts for 70% of the iPhone-owning public. It will only run on Android Marshmallow or later – again, from 2015 – and that covers over 80% of Android users. It doesn’t run for the tiny minority using Windows, Blackberry, or anything else. It doesn’t run on phones which aren’t ‘smart’ (think ‘original Nokia’). And you can’t use it if you don’t have a phone at all – and believe me, there will undoubtedly be some people who are in that bracket who are complaining.

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Virus imageThis is a real example from a couple of weeks ago.

I’m teaching a brother and sister. The sister is virtually test-ready, and has been since before the lockdown in March. However, she is having problems with passing her theory test, so we have put lessons on hold until she gets that sorted (and she’s doing daily private practice with her mum). Shortly before the lockdown began she got a job as a teaching assistant in a Nottingham school.

Her brother started with me when I began working again last month. He’d only had one lesson when he texted me and told me his sister had been sent home because one of the teaching staff had tested positive for COVID-19 (it quickly turned into three). His sister was awaiting her test result, so we cancelled his lesson for the following day. He texted me again to tell me that his sister had tested negative, but she still had to quarantine for 14 days (the guidance at the time on the NHS website). However, his mum had called 111 to find out about everyone in the house and been told that no one else needed to quarantine!

That is (or was) stupid. If the person testing negative had to quarantine because (in the words of the NHS website), ‘you might develop symptoms’, what if they do develop symptoms? By then it would be too late.

I knew what I wanted to do, but I decided to let him make the call. He knows my situation as carer to my parents, and I made a condition before his lessons commenced that if there was any suspicion either of us had been near an infected person, we needed to be honest with each other. He’s a decent lad (a very decent family, in fact), and he said he wouldn’t mind holding off for 14 days. So that’s what we did.

You see, that’s me. I realise we are in the middle of a pandemic which has killed 50,000 people in the UK so far. I realise that we are not back to normal, and won’t be for a while yet. And I know I have to try and make sure I don’t bring the virus back home to my parents. And that’s in spite of having a net negative income if I’m not working. It all comes down to where my dial is set on the side of morality. But it seems that not all driving instructors would take the same approach.

Someone asked about a similar situation (though it might have been a shit-stirring hypothetical one), and asking the question ‘what would you do?’ A frightening number – mainly the same ones who spent the better part of the summer stating they were going to work because no one had specifically said they couldn’t (even though they never actually did work) – appear to have taken the Ernie’s College-o-rama online medical and epidemiology course during the lockdown, and are now expert enough to decide that just because a school has closed down due to a COVID-19 outbreak doesn’t mean they’re going to stop work for two weeks.

Others manage to reason that 2 + 2 = 5. Apparently, if a school gets a positive and sends everyone home, it’s an ‘overreaction’, since not all the kids have been in direct contact with the positive subject – and certainly not your kid, of course. These ‘experts’ don’t have a clue. All it boils down to is not wanting the hassle of having the kids home from school, and just wanting to earn money as if nothing’s wrong right now. Their justifying ‘explanations’ are fabricated and twisted to fit in with that.

Take a look at the simple simulation below. The initial red dot is an infected person, and all the blue dots are uninfected people. Once they start moving, if a blue dot touches a red dot (there is more maths involved based on probability of infection by direct contact), it also becomes red. Just look how quickly it spreads to everyone.

This is exponential spread. Apply it to a real situation, and it doesn’t matter one jot whether your kid came into personal contact with the infected one directly. If that initial infected kid had subsequently infected others who hadn’t yet been tested, how the hell can you be so certain your own kid isn’t also infected through contact with them? Did Ernie’s certificate gift you with telepathy or something? Your kid could have been in contact with anyone who was carrying COVID-19 depending on whereabouts in this scatter the positive result was found. That’s why they send everyone home, and not just one. They have to.

Furthermore, with the new Test & Trace app recently launched, these same graduates from Ernie’s reckon that a diary is all you need if you’re a driving instructor. Looking at that simulation again, how in God’s name does writing a pupil’s name in a diary and knowing their home address in any way manage their movements when they are not in the car with you? Or inform you of those they come into contact with?

This is why we are where we are today with COVID-19. You’ve got people who are expecting the virus to fit in with what they want, and they twist the laws of nature to try to justify what they’re doing without understanding a bit of it. And as a result, COVID-19 is spreading rapidly.

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COVID virus graphicDue to the ongoing pandemic, the SEISS has been extended to April 2021. It will be paid in two instalments – the first, covering November-January, and the second covering February-April. This time, it is targeted at people who are working fewer hours than they normally would be as a result of the ongoing situation, and who were eligible for SEISS in the first place (i.e. received the first two grants).

As I understand it, those who couldn’t claim previously still won’t be able to. I do feel for them.

Whereas the first grant paid 80% of someone’s average income, and the second one 70% (while they weren’t working at all during the lockdown), these two extended payments will each give 20% of that income up to a combined maximum of £1,875. It is a top-up for reduced work.

I’m not sure when the claims will open. If it’s like the last two, the first extended payment can be claimed in January, and the second in April. However, that seems a long time to wait, and it may be different this time around.

I also note that no one at our end has done the sums yet and worked out that if the first SEISS covered March-May, and the second June-August, then there is a gap involving September and October. I’m sure it won’t take them long to pick up on it, though. The thing is, HMRC didn’t give time ranges for the first two grants, and said they just covered two three-month periods, and in any case we worked most of March.

Whatever, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

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COVID-19 Infections 2020 (to September)The BBC has an article titled ‘Covid: Is it time we learnt to live with the virus?’ It also has a comments section open in that story.

At the same time, there is another article resulting from today’s government announcements which says that if we don’t do something, we could be looking at 50,000 new cases a day by mid-October, and 200 or more deaths per day once that stage of the increase kicks in.

Comments left in the first article include the following:

[boycie] Just let everyone catch it. The whole country cannot be held back once again for the sake of the few.

[Nick B] …it’s very sad that people have died from this. But locking down and unlocking down continually is no answer.

[Andrew C] …lock yourself down if you want to but don’t expect everyone else to do the same.

[Point_of_view] Do you really think it is people partying and protesting outside that is causing the bulk of transmissions? The main mechanism of transmission has been in people’s homes, inside.

[Ben] Is it time we learnt to live with it? Yes. Further lockdowns are going to do so much more damage than good.

[Richard] Yes, lockdown doesn’t work.

This is a very small sample, but it illustrates the crass stupidity and selfishness of what is quite possibly the majority of the British public – the same public that has put us where we are with the second wave right now.

The first commenter, ‘boycie’, fails to recognise that it is already proven that you can catch COVID-19 again. It has also been shown that resistance (‘immunity’) in those who have had it begins to wane after just 2-3 months. In other words, there is no such thing as ‘immunity’ at all – it is so short-lived that it is of no practical benefit. He also fails to recognise that anyone who got ill the first time may well have suffered damage that means they’re now one of those with an ‘underlying condition’. For them, a second infection will probably not be as mild as the first. This character, ‘boycie’, therefore appears to be completely happy to send his parents or grandparents to their graves just so he can carry on like nothing is wrong – and all because of his stupidity and ignorance.

As I have said many times, if my parents caught COVID-19, it would almost definitely kill them. If it didn’t on its first try, it would on its second. In a civilised world, you do not play that card on purpose. You do not even consider it – even for the short time this government did at the start of the pandemic, with its ‘herd immunity’ idea. Because we now know that ‘herd immunity’ from natural infection with COVID-19 does not exist, even if the ignorant ‘boycie’ types of this world are still stuck in the past and believe that it does.

‘Nick B’ and ‘Richard’ demonstrate ignorance in a different way. The chart at the top of this article shows the infection rates for the duration of the pandemic up until nearly the end of September in the UK. It seems fairly obvious to me that if you don’t do anything to try and limit how something spreads, there is no way that a thing the size of a COVID-19 virus has any ability to choose a cyclical or wave-like approach, such as we are seeing. It just spreads wherever it can. Therefore, almost the whole reason the numbers fell after the first peak was because action was taken to try and limit it. And almost the whole reason it is rising again now is because that action was reversed last month, and people who are theoretically far smarter than a COVID-19 virus started booking holidays to Spain and Greece (and other places where it was prevalent), and caused whole flights to have to be quarantined as they shipped it back to the UK. Almost the whole reason it never fell to zero was precisely because of people like ‘Nick B’, ‘Richard’, and the prats living it up in Zante or Ibiza, who most likely flouted or ignored the rules that were brought in even in the early days.

‘Andrew C’ probably couldn’t even spell ‘epidemiology’, let alone have the first clue what it involved. If any individual is going to dodge receiving a COVID-19 bullet, they have a much better chance if there are fewer bullets flying around to start with. ‘Andrew C’s’ solution is like saying everyone can run around going ‘yee-haaa’ and shooting at whatever they want, and anyone who doesn’t like it is at fault, and should stay at home and try to keep out the way. That’s fine, as long as there are no stray bullets – like grocery delivery drivers and postal workers – going from house to house.

‘Point_of_view’, like all the others, doesn’t like being locked down or told what to do, so he tries to justify that with cherry-picked details. How the hell does he think the virus gets into a home setting in the first place? It doesn’t just magically appear out of thin air – it has to be brought in. People like these commenters, who think they know more than the scientific experts, are the cause. They’re outside, pissing around like there’s nothing wrong, nipping off to the Balearics, then coming back and not isolating. They pick it up, then they take it home. The whole household becomes infected. But then, if any of that household has the same ridiculous beliefs as the commenters here, they will also go out, and the same cycle repeats in multiple households. It’s how exponential spread of the virus occurs, and is exactly like what that prat, Layton Migas, did when he came back from Ibiza, didn’t isolate (when he should have), and caused Bolton to be locked down.

‘Ben’ is one of those whose life revolves around money – his money – and nothing else, and who resents any restrictions. He is prepared to put that money above the lives of the 50,000 who have already died, and the additional deaths that are inevitable as a result of his ‘I don’t wanna’ approach.

That’s what it comes down to with all these people. They just ‘don’t wanna’, so they come out with these pathetic and uninformed excuses.

The country is in a f***ing mess for all sorts of reasons. Right now, COVID-19 is the biggest reason. And – right now – there is no ideal solution. The government is trying to balance letting people die, with letting businesses (and individuals’ finances) collapse. It is physically impossible to support both sides of that equation, and I don’t envy anyone who has to try. Right now, there is no solution, and I wish idiots like ‘boycie’, ‘ Nick B’, ‘Andrew C’, ‘Point_of_view’, ‘Ben’, and ‘Richard’ (plus the millions of others who think they know best – even though they can’t spell or use good grammar) would stop trying.

For me, if it was a choice between my business or my parents’ lives, my parents would come out tops every time. I just have to accept that there are people who are so materialistic (or whatever their motivation) that they see it differently.

We need a vaccine.

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We’re now into Autumn. And yes, if your tree is starting to turn yellow and drop a few leaves, that is perfectly normal. Just be ready for next year and start feeding (and watering) from March.

Our Silver Birch in June 2017I originally wrote this article back in 2014. At that time, our tree began to produce a lot of yellow leaves in mid-June, and after a lot of research I managed to figure out the cause and remedy, which was what this article was originally about.

However, 2018 was the hottest year on record. The heat lasted for months, and it introduced another problem (which may well have been a contributing factor back in 2014 without me realising it) that affected pretty much every tree in the country. Heat stress.

The article becomes popular each year, but things kicked off much earlier in 2019, and I suspect that this was down to a combination of the after-effects of the 2018 drought and a relatively dry and mild Winter. As a result, people began to see problems much earlier because their trees were already on the back foot.

We also had a lot of green fly in 2019, possibly caused by the mild winter. In Spring and early Summer they were merrily chowing down on the new leaves on my tree. I bought some Ladybird larvae and released them into the canopy, and they seemed to do the trick.

But to summarise the subject of premature yellowing and leaf drop in Silver Birches over the last few years, it can occur for the following reasons:

  • nutrient deficiency
  • iron deficiency
  • lack of water and heat stress
  • manganese deficiency

It’s easy to get all of them at once. And do not under-estimate the importance of water.

When I first experienced yellowing back in 2014, I was worried. I 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, or the drawbacks of trying to grow trees in deserts or swamps (neither of which Birches are particularly fond of). And that was only from the experts. These days, if you don’t know the answer to something, standard procedure is to guess the most outlandish explanation possible, spread it around, then defend it vigorously when people laugh at you. The average tree-growing American was quite prepared to blame their problems on the Democrats, the Republicans, or an alien conspiracy!

So back in Blighty, the Birch Borer was definitely out. And although the British never shut up about the bloody weather, we were growing ours in normally-drained British garden soil, where it had been happily and vigorously growing for the previous 15 years.

I concluded that yellowing/leaf drop can be caused by nutrient and iron deficiencies in the soil. I subsequently discovered, especially in 2018, that lack of moisture and prolonged high air temperatures can lead to heat stress, which birches are highly susceptible to (I wrote a separate article about it in August 2018).

None of these problems are confined to Silver Birches. All trees and plants can be affected by nutrient deficiencies or heat stress. And you simply have to deal with the problem using the appropriate, easily purchased treatments.

My original 2014 problem was characterised by bright, canary yellow leaves – just like in the Autumn. Not as widespread throughout the canopy – just a few clusters – but still enough for the tree to start shedding them. I can’t remember where I found it, but somewhere in amongst the interminable forum pages and obscure “ask the expert” sites rattling on about the bloody Birch Borer I came across a single one-line comment that made absolute sense and led me down the nutrient deficiency path.

Birches favour a slightly acidic soil – they are sometimes referred to as ericaceous (lime-hating). Therefore, you can replace essential nutrients and fix any issued with nitrogen deficiency using ericaceous fertiliser. Initially, I used the Miracle-Gro solid version, which is available from garden centres and online (including eBay and Amazon (above)). It’s not expensive, and you often get multi-pack deals. You can also get liquid varieties, such as the one manufactured by Doff (above), which I switched to in 2018 because of my new irrigator toy. And you can also buy  slow-release granules, which work for up to three months, and which are great for treating small areas (I use them in my containers of Blueberries, which are also ericaceous).

Normal fertiliser is no good for birches – it has to be the ericaceous stuff, so don’t waste your time using whatever it is you have in the garage or shed if it doesn’t say it is specifically for ericaceous plants. You just dissolve or mix it with water as per the pack instructions, and spread it around the tree. The slow-release granules are sprinkled on the ground and initially watered in (I just wish they’d make the damned things in camouflage green, instead of the “hey, look at me all over the lawn” multicoloured mix they actually are). Then, when it rains – or in subsequent watering sessions – more of it dissolves and the feeding continues. In all honesty, you cannot rely just on the slow-release type if you have an immediate yellowing problem. You’ve got to get a lot of food down to the roots fast.

Leaves suffering from chlorosisIron deficiency causes yellowed leaves to look like those in the images here. It’s known as chlorosis.

Most plants have leaves which are usually green because they contain chlorophyll – and chlorophyll is green. Simplifying the subject, 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.

Chlorosis is resolved using sequestered (or chelated) iron, such as Maxicrop (above). It’s a seaweed extract, so perfectly natural, and it comes as a liquid. You can mix it in with your fertiliser and water it in at the same time. I buy it in commercial 10L containers, which is more cost-effective than buying it in 1L bottles. It stains like hell, so be careful not to drop any on pathways and decking (it’s OK when it’s diluted, though).

Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosisAnother symptom of soil nutrient deficiency is that new leaves may be small and misshapen, instead of the classic Birch leaf shape. Some of ours were like that in that first season, though I didn’t take any photos of them.

A single application of fertiliser in that first year stopped the leaf drop almost immediately once the already-yellow leaves had fallen. The tree even threw out some large catkins, which had been absent up until then, so it obviously enjoyed what I’d fed it. Since 2014, I begin feeding every few weeks from the beginning of March with both fertiliser and iron, and had no significant issues after than until 2018.

Close-up of our tree's leaves in June 2017To get iron into the soil, you can also water-in iron (ferrous) sulphate periodically. It also has the advantage of gradually  acidifying the soil, which might be useful if yours is a bit too alkaline. If your soil pH is above about 6.5, then iron already in the soil is not available to the plants growing in it, and this can cause chlorosis problems. Iron sulphate is also a superb moss killer and grass greener – my lawn loves it.

This brand – all of them are by TradeFarm NI – is a free flowing and stable powder as long as it is kept dry (I think it is either the monohydrate or dihydrate salt). Be wary buying cheaper brands which are ‘damp’ (heptahydrate) crystals, because they go off very quickly and turn brown (which is the ferric salt, and this could be corrosive to plants).

Why does nutrient deficiency occur? Well, bear in mind that when trees and plants die back in winter in the wild, the leaves they shed decompose and return nutrients to the soil as they do so. In urban gardens leaves are usually swept up and taken to the tip to keep the garden looking tidy. That means the soil becomes depleted of those nutrients over time and you get problems like this. I used to think that all you did was plant a tree and watch it grow, but I know now that you have to look after them like any other plant in your garden.

You have to keep these treatments going at least once a month between March and September, and you have to follow the same routine each year, or at least over alternate years. If you don’t, the problem will just come back at some point.

Now we come to the extremely hot summer of 2018. Around the end of June that year, I once again noticed a few sprays of yellow appearing. I briefly wondered what was going on, but I guessed right away it might be linked to the prolonged high temperatures and low rainfall we’d experienced up until then. After Googling it I concluded my tree was, indeed, suffering from heat stress. The solution to this is to get water down to the roots – it’s called deep watering – but that’s easier said than done.

One way of doing it is to use deep watering spikes. These are tapered tubes that are hammered into the ground around the tree, and into which water is fed slowly so that it gets to the roots deep down. I didn’t have time for that (with the ground as dry as it was, it’d have been like trying to hammer a nail into plate steel), so I went for the longer-term sprinkler method. Every night, I set the sprinkler going and watered for a couple of hours in each of several zones to ensure even saturation. We didn’t have any hosepipe restrictions, and I wouldn’t have continued if we had. This allowed water to seep down deep into the hard soil, and it fixed the problem in less than a week. It also turned a completely brown lawn into a lush green carpet.

With hindsight, all trees in 2018 had much thinner canopies than usual. The leaves on my own trees were smaller than they were in previous years, but about a week after starting deep watering the birch produced some new shoots and the leaves that appeared were much larger. And some very fat catkins also appeared.

As a result of the heat stress problem, and still needing to keep the other treatments going, I have now invested in a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. I can highly recommend that device – the Access Irrigation Static Dilutor.

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, the onset varies up and down the country, but it usually starts here from the end of September into October. 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 – which is what we have right now (and did have for most of the winter). 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.

Early in the year, another likely problem is crows (the winged variety). From March (February in 2019) they will be nest-building, and they are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose. We get them nesting near us, and 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.

Why do Silver Birches drop so many twigs?

As I said above, crows (and similar birds). As of February/March they are usually actively nest building.

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, 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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Flightradar screenshotAs I write this, I’m looking at FlightRadar24, which shows active flights all over the world.

At 9.40pm, incoming flights include Milan-East Midlands (Ryanair). Zakynthos-Newcastle (Jet2), Skiathos-Manchester (Jet2), Kefalonia-Stansted (Jet2), Athens-Luton (Ryanair), Rhodes-Luton (EasyJet), Kalamata-Heathrow (BA), Izmir-Luton (TUI), Katowice-Birmingham (Ryanair), Larnaca-Heathrow (BA), Ibiza-East Midlands (Ryanair), Venice-Manchester (Ryanair), Istanbul-Stansted (Flypgs), Krakow-Manchester (Easyjet), Copenhagen-Manchester (Ryanair), Poznan-Doncaster (Wizzair), Kaunas-Bristol (Ryanair), Palma de Mallorca-Luton (Easyjet), Palma de Mallorca-Manchester (Ryanair), Girona-Manchester (Ryanair), Alicante-Stansted (Ryanair)… This is just a sample.

It goes on and on, and then on again some more, all day, every day.

Our idiot government locked down too late back in March.Then it opened up too soon at the start of last month. It pandered to ‘the people’ – the very same twats who are now filling these planes coming in from hotspots where there are more daily new infections now than there were at the height of the first wave.

These same twats are desperately rushing back to avoid having to quarantine. Quarantine is telegraphed by Bojo’s committee of clowns to various arbitrary future cut-off times. That means that if a country is added to the quarantine list because it has high infection rates, people have at least two days to wallow in even higher infection rates, then ignore social distancing in the cattle rush to try and beat the deadline to get back in time. There’s no difference whatsoever between someone making it back at 3.59am and someone arriving at 4.01am – except one has to quarantine and the other doesn’t. It’s a complete joke.

Then there is the issue of whether people do quarantine even when they should (government advisers have indicated that 4 in 5 people don’t). Bolton has been locked down recently, and it is suggested that one moron who failed to adhere to quarantine was at least partly responsible. It would need an incredible level of naïveté to  believe that he was unique (he has been fined), and that everyone else followed the rules. The reality is that a huge number – even the majority – don’t. Incidentally, the Boltonese halfwit was called Layton Migas.

People should not be going on holiday. Period. Argue about it – and try to defend yourself – as much as you like, but if you fly abroad for leisure and come back right now, you are an inconsiderate (and probably orange-tinted, tooth-whitened) prat like Migas, who doesn’t have a clue what this is about. Any surge in deaths as a result of this second wave, and you are part of the cause.

Hospital admissions are rising again. Deaths appear to be rising – these are usually weeks behind infection rates.

Another lockdown is almost inevitable, thanks to your Ibiza or Zante jaunt. And just think. You’ve probably been whining about how ‘the country can’t afford to lockdown’ all the way through it. The weak government gave in to you. But instead of going back to work and earning some of that money you reckon you so desperately needed, the first thing you did was blow a stack to get to Spain or Greece to top up your orange glow and wave your fat arse for some Instagram material. If you’d have saved that money from your pointless piss up in the sun, then a) a second lockdown might not have been on the cards, b) you’d be more able to absorb the financial hit if it was, and c) fewer people will have died once all this is over. I sincerely hope that if the government steps in to assist people financially in a second lockdown, they don’t pay out to people who went abroad, seeing as they were the ones who effectively made it necessary.

I started doing limited lessons again three weeks ago – I left it much later than many instructors before going back to work. For the last two of those weeks I have been warning pupils we’ll likely have to stop again with the way things are going. It looks like I was right.

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DVSA LogoAt the start of 2020, DVSA announced they were planning to make some changes to the theory test. Any planned schedule for that went right out of the window when COVID-19 came along. However, with things firing on two or three cylinders again, an email today gives a date for when the changes come into effect.

From 28 September 2020, candidates taking their theory tests will – instead of the current written scenario with questions – be shown a video clip and asked questions. For all practical purposes, a video of a scenario replaces the current written description of the scenario.

You still get asked the same number of questions and you still need to get the same number right in order to pass (note my comments elsewhere on the blog that if you are one point off the pass mark, you haven’t ‘failed by one’ – you’ve failed by eight). And you still have to do the Hazard Perception part of the test.

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Drizzling OilRegular readers will know I do a bit of cooking when the fancy takes me. The kind of stuff I cook involves any, some, or all of Olive Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Peanut Oil, Sesame Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Sunflower Oil, light Soy Sauce, dark Soy Sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, and several others.

Recently, and to simplify my use of my ingredients, I bought a pack of those long-necked ‘oil’ dispensers with silicone ‘corks’. They fit in any bottle as long as it isn’t too wide at the neck, and they work like a charm. But with the lockdown and everything, my usual source of cooking ingredients has moved online, and that means usually getting smaller bottles than I’d buy at the cash & carry or the Asian supermarkets. Typically, I buy 1L bottles of Soy, for example, but online the brand I use is only half that.

You can buy oil dispenser bottles, of course, but these too are often very small, and they’re not made of strong glass in many cases. Others are opaque and made out of porcelain, so you can’t see how much is in there, and come is silly shapes for some reason. They also cost a small fortune – more than a pack of ten dispenser nozzles if you want a decent one.

Anyway, my dad finished off a bottle of his rum and I decided to use the bottle for one of my oils. I needed to get the labels off, so I soaked it in hot water for a couple of hours, then scraped off most of the paper. Then I soaked it for a few hours more and got the rest of the paper off. And I was left with every bit of glue that was originally on there stuck firmly on the bottle (along with the RFID chip). Nothing would get it off – even that Glue Gone stuff that is supposed to shift label glue. Even scraping it with a penknife just moved it around (though that’s how I got rid of the RFID, albeit in tiny pieces).

Then I had an idea. Sodium Bicarbonate is supposed to be a miracle cleaner, so I made a 50:50 paste of Sodium Bicarbonate (aka Baking Soda) and regular cooking oil, painted it all over the glue, and left it to stand for about an hour. The oil kept it in place. Then, using the scouring side of one of those foam kitchen sponges and a little bit of Fairy Liquid and warm tap water, it just scoured straight off!

So there you go. To get rid of stubborn label glue, you need to make a paste of equal parts of Sodium Bicarbonate and oil, paint or dab it over the glue, and let it stand for a while. With a little elbow grease after that, it should come right off.

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