Gardening thyme is here again

GARDENING time is here again as householders search long grass and overgrown borders for their “lost” mower, fork and spade.
You can’t start too early because those ignoring Nature and succumbing to the lure of the armchair may finally discover their plot has grown so much that they can’t get out of the back door to deal with it.
Believe it or not, the key to success is that humble pockmarked patch of weeds and rubble, your lawn.
If you can get on top of that and stay on top of it then you’ll always have a clear area to retreat to if the borders and vegetable garden get too rampant.
Looking after your lawn can provide hours of reward later relaxing on a bench, chair or recliner on a smooth expanse of green under a sunny blue sky….but you have to get there first.
Never leave the initial mower cut too late. Do this and the grass will be lush and long and will rapidly become obscured by clouds of smoke as your mower engine burns out trying to chew through conditions more suited to silage making. Kicking the mower won’t help. You’ll need it later in the season.
Ideally you need to put the mower on its “stilts” highest setting so that it only trims the top of the lawn for a first cut. Later cuts can slowly bring grass levels down to the height your lawn should be for the summer. This can be judged by dropping a beer can on to the grass. If you can’t see it keep mowing, first removing and drinking the can of beer.
Having established a forward base in the garden you can turn your attention to the flower borders.
These are willful areas which need a stern hand. Plant a flower billed as “good border backing” and you could wind up with something so big you can’t find the shed.
Equally it is no good planting “small, delightfully coloured flowers” at the back of a border where you risk another growth, Wife’s Wrath.
This perennial and bitter presence is the bane of all male gardeners who never seem able to create a garden without it.
So make sure flowers are graded in size from the front of the border to the back to ensure wives are happy and the scent can obscure where cats have gone to the toilet.
Not all gardens are plagued by cats. It only seems that way, but a few simple and humane measures can deter felines and ensure flower borders can reach maturity in safety.
Deterents can include the careful siting of anti-personnel mines for night cover to the more usual daytime cover provided by a handy shotgun or a carefully aimed brick.
Finally, for the true gardener, there is a patch of ground kept for the production of vegetables.
This really does sort the men out from the boys because such areas are not only prone to Wife’s Wrath and cats but to a common disease affecting many gardeners called: “Sod this for a game of soldiers!”
The only weapon which can help the gardener in this war is his shed, a haven to retreat to or a camouflaged bunker from which to launch a pre-emptive strike against Tiddles.
Some vegetable patches are no bigger that a tabletop while others are almost of allotment size, but they all produce one thing, a feeling of satisfaction when vegetables are harvested.
What you plant is up to you but there can be no better way to start than by making sure neighbours can’t just hop over and grab a tureen or two full of beans, sprouts or spuds for their Sunday lunch. You’ve put the effort in and you want the reward. Try planting a boundary hedge of pyracantha. That should do the trick.
Whether you turn the ground over with a spade or a cultivator you’ll need to mix in compost. Leftovers such as last night’s evening meal, Surprise Legumes et Maux d’Estomac, should do the trick.
Once reduced to a fine tilth, don’t just go bull-at-a-gate and start planting all over the place. Mark out which areas are for what and tread in narrow pathways between different vegetables so later on you can get at them to weed, water or start all over again if you have a serious cat problem.
As for choice, asparagus is nice…..but do you really need it? Think main meal. Whatever you normally eat then have a go at planting some be it carrots, runner beans or even potatoes.
I say even potatoes because they take a lot of space and next year, unless you’ve laboriously sieved out every last tiny potato, you suddenly find yourself growing potatoes you never knew you had. They really are prolific in open ground, so perhaps try them in tubs or plan them for an allotment if you are lucky enough to be at the top of the 15-year waiting list.
Once you’ve finished planting then really the only thing to do apart from an occasional liquid feed (that’s food for the plants not a pint for you) is to make sure everything is kept well watered.
Water butts are very useful for this and stave off the need for a hosepipe until drought orders come in. Everyone uses a hosepipe then, usually to fill up their now-empty water butts.
So that’s it, the garden sorted for another year. Must go now. The front doorbell has just gone and the gardener wants paying. You didn’t think I exhausted myself looking after my own garden, did you?



Ukraine, Crimea and missing plane MH370

LIFE in a critical airplane incident and a country’s rights and borders both no longer seem to have the value they once did.

You’d have thought that if anyone was going to stand up for a country or state’s independence then it would be the United Nations.

And you’d actually be right, but for a long time now the UN has been a guard dog without any teeth.

That situation was starkly revealed by the crisis in the Ukraine, the UN Security Council being overwhelmingly resolved to censure the Crimea independence referendum.

But just one problem. It had to be a unanimous censure, Russia is a member of the Security Council and, what a surprise, it used its veto to torpedo the whole process.

The secession referendum for the Crimea to leave Ukraine, an independent state since 1991, had rightly been deemed unconstitutional by Ukraine.

Forces deemed “pro-Russian” took control of Crimea in February after Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president was overthrown in February.

Ethnic Russians make up 58 percent of the region’s population and they called for  a referendum to vote on joining the Big Bear.

But Russia, far from accepting it had no business interfering in the affairs of an independent state, claimed its military presence was merely support for those ethnic Russians.

A few little things like having no right to be there and firing over the heads of independent observers was apparently scarcely worth mentioning…..and so it goes on.

The UN continues to give its famous impression of a malfunctioning geyser – lots of spluttering but no action – allowing Russian might to get the Crimea it wants and possibly a lot more besides.

That military might takes me neatly on to the missing MH370 flight and a scandal of international proportions.

Confusion reigns over the whole incident with the plane first being lost, remaining missing despite a huge search and wreckage being found which turned out not to be wreckage.

In the latest twist it seems person or persons on the flight may have switched off various pieces of equipment to confuse detection of the aircraft while you can take your pick with theories from a crash in the sea thousands of miles off course to a touch-down on land so passengers can be ransomed.

But one thing looms horribly in the background of this terrible incident.

There is a very real possibility that countries involved in using their hardware to try and track the course of the plane may have delayed the release of information or withheld it altogether in order to conceal just how powerful their military capability might be.

Just the thought of doing that when potentially lives were at stake doesn’t bear thinking about.

A Chinese satellite image on plane wreckage eventually turned out not to be plane wreckage but, even so, that image was not released until four days after it was recorded.

What if it had been aircraft wreckage and, because of its size, a potential life raft for survivors?

 In those circumstances those survivors would have been condemned to four days exposure in waters where there are considerably more menacing things than sardines.

Crash investigation experts know what they are talking about and one didn’t mince his words by openly exploring the scarcely credible fact that every country in the area had just missed seeing the plane.

Far more likely, he suggested, was a scenario where sophisticated equipment had not only spotted MH370 but could considerably narrow the search area if not pinpoint pretty closely where it was.

But therein hangs the dilemma for the country with that equipment or satellite savvy. If it releases those facts then it reveals crucial information about its capability.

Far more likely, the expert suggested, was that the country or countries in question held off, hoping to be baled out by the international rescue operation finally finding the plane….only it didn’t happen.

I believe that if the plane is ever found then any inquiry into what happened will raise huge questions about the availability of satellite data, who potentially had it and why it wasn’t disseminated.

At the end of the day, neither the Ukraine situation or the misery surrounding flight MH370 does much to show military might in a favourable situation.

What An Inch Of Rain Means

WE have all been battered by rain this winter, but this is nothing new as this except from a 1920 newspaper shows.


Our television screens have been jammed with flood scenes and experts talking about rising floodwater, giant pumps and how much rain is expected from the next storm to hit us.


But all this speculation is nothing new as the 94-year-old article shows.


It, too, mused about just what a downpour might translate in to and came up with this scenario about what a wet day really means when an inch of rain falls.


It urged us to picture a canal four hundred miles long, stretching all the way from London to Edinburgh.


It would be 24 feet deep and so wide that fifty vessels of 5,000 tons and more could steam abreast along its whole length….adding that every drop of water in this imposing waterway could be supplied by one-inch of rainfall over the United Kingdom.


The article, which was written long before modern meteorological equipment was available for evaluation, still correctly pointed out that people talk lightly about “an inch of rain” which is the familiar result of a wet day.


Yet Stye in Cumberland had 197 inches of rain fall in 1897-1898 while a bludgeoning 20 inches of rain fell in Darjeeling in a single day.


Still, all this pales when stacked up against Cherrapongu in Assam, India, where the rainfall for 1861 reached an unbelievable 905 inches.


The article points out that by comparison “a mere inch of rain seems but a summer shower”, yet, if spread over the country, it represents something stupendous.


The article adds: “It means, for example, that if we allow our 400 mile long canal to empty its water into the Thames at the rate of three million gallons a minute then a whole year must elapse before the last gallon is drained from its bed.”


Almost prophetically, the article goes on to choose, of all places, Somerset – famous for the 2014 flood devastation wrecked on the Levels – for its next observation.


It says: “Let us in fancy level the whole county of Somerset and convert it into a reservoir with stout embankments six feet high.


“Now let us drain into our vast reservoir all the water represented by an inch downfall over the British Isles. We shall then find that our reservoir or lake, of over 1,600 square miles, is full to the brim.


“If we convert the more familiar county of Middlesex, with its 178,000, acres, into a gigantic reservoir, we shall find that our inch of rain will fill it to a depth of 36 feet.


“Similarly, if we girdle the County of London (roughly 117 square miles) with strong embankments, and let our inch of rain flow into it, Greater London would be under water so deep that, if Cleopatra’s needle were dropped into it upright, it would be lost to sight eight yards below the surface.


“Our inch of rain would fill a reservoir covering the site of the City of London – a little over a square mile — to such depth that, if you were to drop 3,560ft-high Mount Snowdon into it, pile Scafell at 3,210 ft on its summit, put Skiddaw at 3,045 ft on top of Scafell then the topmost peak of these three lofty mountains would only be visible for a height of about 100 yards. The contents of our reservoir would be 1,723,042 million gallons.


“Let us fancy, essay the task of emptying our City reservoir and transporting its contents. For this purpose we will requisition every locomotive in the United Kingdom. We shall see that, if each engine makes a couple of journeys dragging its maximum weight, a whole year must elapse before the last wagon tank is on its way from the drained City.


“Every horse in the British Isles, each drawing a ton of water would have to make ten journeys daily for twelve months before our gigantic reservoir is empty. While the entire population of the world would each require the strength of a score of giants to raise the weight from the ground, for the average individual the load would weigh 4¾ tons.


“So vast is the quantity of water represented by the fall of an inch of rain over the United Kingdom that it would allow a distribution of 160 tons to every man, woman and child living on the earth today. The equivalent of 35,840 gallons which, spread over a year, would furnish a daily allowance of ninety-eight gallons.”


Time marches on and it is interesting to note that, 35 years after this article was written, a record was set at Martinstown in Dorset on July 18th, 1955, for the most rain in 24 hours. Eleven inches of rain fell in just 15 hours.


The highest rainfall recorded in Weymouth over 24 hours was also on this date with seven inches.


Bet you’ll never consider an inch of rain in the same way again!