I previously received an interesting email from one of my local town councillors, Amanda Wheeler, about the maintenance of grass verges around Stamford.
Amanda had put forward a proposal to cut the verges and remove the cuttings just a couple of times a year as opposed to frequently cutting the grass with a mulching mower and leaving the cuttings in place.
Her main reasons for proposing cut and collect are environmental, with aesthetics and economics being secondary benefits. Local paper the Rutland & Stamford Mercury is covering the debate and encouraging residents to engage.
Phil Sterling from Butterfly Conservation, aka “Verge Man”, has done trials on wild flower verges for Dorset Council which involved reducing the cuts to two times or three times a year using a machine that is capable of cutting and collecting long grass, the Grillo FD2200.
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Less frequent mowing is far better for wild flowers and insects and is becoming more appreciated by the public. Dorset Council, having adopted this regime, now reckons it has halved the time staff spend cutting verges in summer, from five or six times a year (sometimes seven) before 2014 to two or sometimes three times a year now.
That is a huge saving in staff time and fuel, and the verges look neat and tidy (once mown) and wild flowers can bloom between the much less-frequent mowing rounds.
The mowings are secreted away in small piles in hedgerow bottoms, the litter having been removed. There are 50,000 hectares of verges in the UK, so Phil’s study could make a massive environmental change for the better.
The quince trees in the courtyard are beginning to flower; they are always magnificent. I should have planted Cydonia oblonga ‘Serbian Gold’ which is far less susceptible to blight than ‘Vranja’, but discovered this too late.
However, good hygiene works wonders – raking up and burning diseased leaves and fruit – but can take a couple of years to work. Commercial growers can use fungicides, such as Signum.
The disease loves high humidity and poor air movement so I take out sizeable branches in summer (pruning in winter tends to increase vegetative growth); this also allows more light to reach plants below.
At this time of year I really relish the shelter belt I planted back in the first week of April, 1984. One thousand tiny transplants just over a foot high, planted in snowy April blizzards – far too late, far too cold – but I was impatient.
Now the star of the mix is the wild cherry, Prunus avium, so-called I think because birds distribute the stones. We certainly have had to put covers on our stacks to stop them all being dropped down the chimney pots. But the mass of white blossom is now visible from inside the courtyard as the canopies have expanded up and out – and the insects are in heaven.
You can also now lean out from a first-floor platform that was a hayloft and pick beautifully sweet red cherries in summer. I had not realised the wild cherry had edible fruit but the trees are obviously seed-grown as different trees have different fruiting characteristics. Some are dark red, almost black, some pillar-box red.
Most trees have very sweet fruit, none are quite as large as commercially grown cherries but a sensation none the less. Because the trees are now so big, the crop is massive and so there are plenty for both the birds and us.
Cherry trees are not long-lived but they are regenerating well from seed in any available spaces, as are the field maple and ash. Another satisfying aspect of my shelter belt is that I notice it is now shown as woodland on the latest OS map, wrapping neatly around our farm buildings and my neighbour’s newer ones – he kindly let me plant trees on unworkable bits of his land in between agricultural buildings.
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Every gardener should know about this horrendous disease, especially if you have long grass and love walking around with bare legs.
Having caught the dreaded disease and still not fully recovered, I am trying to spread the word. Every county in the UK has ticks carrying Lyme, but if you know what to spot and how to deal with the signs you can catch it early with a short course of antibiotics.
Video: 5 gardening tips you need to know (USA TODAY)
GPs think there are around 9,000 cases a year, but many say the figure is far higher due the lack of a reliable test. Many people never fully recover.
I previously got together with the Caudwell LymeCo Charity and produced a video on my YouTube channel called “Lyme Disease – what EVERYONE should know”.
John Caudwell started the charity and is raising money to produce an effective test and treatment. The charity was invaluable with their help to me.
I have had many viewers of my YouTube video “A Garden for my Family and other Animals” asking about the fabulous blue flowering plant Plumbago auriculata that grows outside my backdoor in a chimney pot.
As soon as the shoots are around 150mm long, I will take soft cuttings from them; they root in a few weeks and I will have even more plants. Plumbagos are a useful gift, even to non-gardeners as, take it from me, they take neglect in their stride.
Brilliant new kale
Elsoms Seeds has an impressive record for breeding new vegetables. They were established back in 1884 but are a very forward-looking company.
I sowed a new variety of purple kale, ‘Sunbor’, back in January under cover (it could be sown outdoors now) and have just planted out the seedlings.
It does look very impressive– beautiful purple stems and frilly green leaves with purple mid rib and veins. So attractive I could have put it in the flower borders.
It also has a much more succulent leaf, less like cattle fodder and more designer spinach.
Prickles vs robotic mowers
Sophie Lund Rasmussen of Aalborg University in Denmark previously published her research into hedgehogs and robotic mowers, and has some interesting results – though there are agreed flaws in the work. Sophie says that, as they used dead hedgehogs to test the mowers, the results have to be treated with caution.
Hedgehogs (who have acute hearing, better than ours) freeze, then either curl up into a ball or run on hearing or smelling danger. And they can run faster than a robotic mower. A dead hedgehog, as used in the research, will not have strong flexed muscles and be a curled ball of spines, but will be flat and limp. So the mower will respond differently.
All baby hedgehogs (less than 200g) were undetected by robotic mowers but remain unscathed as they were too low for the blades. But having said that, there were huge differences between mowers. The most damaging mower was the Stigo AL-KO 530, whereas the Gardena Sileno Life did not damage any hedgehogs.
One of the big differences seems to be that a fixed blade is more lethal than a pivoting one. In the scheme of things, cars, dogs, electric fences, habitat loss, badgers and strimmers all do more damage to hedgehogs than robotic mowers, especially if you set your robotic mower to come out during the day as, on the whole, hedgehogs are nocturnal.
Asparagus and sauce mousseline
By Charlie Hibbert
Asparagus hollandaise isn’t a new idea, but it is undeniably delicious. The softly whipped cream folded through makes for an unbelievably rich and light butter sauce for spring veggies.
- 4 free range egg yolks
- ½ lemon, juice
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 250g cold, unsalted butter, cubed
- Sea salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper
- 20 sticks of asparagus, tough ends snapped off
- 100ml whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
- Parmesan and olive oil for finishing
- Bring a pot of water a third full to a simmer over a medium heat.
- In a metal or heatproof bowl, put the egg yolks, lemon juice and cold water and beat with a whisk.
- Place the bowl over the pot of water and add the egg mix, whisking vigorously, incorporating as much air as possible as they begin to cook. Make sure the eggs don’t get too hot and scramble; if they are overheating, remove bowl from heat, continuing to whisk, until putting back over the simmering pot.
- After 5 minutes, the mixture should look thicker and silken, so then start adding the butter three cubes at a time. As they start to melt, add in more and continue to whisk until all is incorporated. The cold butter will help to regulate the temperature.
- Remove the hollandaise from the heat and add salt and a little more lemon juice if required. Set to one side.
- Put the prepared asparagus into the simmering water and cook for 4 minutes. While waiting, fold the cream gently through the hollandaise, making it into mousseline.
- Drain the asparagus, dress in lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Arrange 5 stems on each plate, spoon over the sauce mousseline, grate over a little parmesan, drizzle a little olive oil and serve.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.
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