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Charlie November

Latest posts by Charlie November

Do you grow Aconitum's?

Posted: 09/11/2014 at 22:40

It's really hard to find good data about this thing.

Dried root must be at least 0.5% by weight aconitine ... for ... something.

Aconitine LD50 for mice and rats I can find, but for humans? Widely differing data, with links to .pdf files that don't actually include the information. They say 1.5 to 6 mg, but are we really 25 to 100 times more sensitive than mice? Maybe they meant "per kg" as is normal for these figures. That's *oral* though, not by skin contact.

Pulling figures out of the air and another .pdf (I hate those files) we see that fruit and veg are 80% to 95% water. That means 0.5% ... let's call it 1% by weight in the dried root would be only 0.1% in the raw root.

Yes, the leaves are toxic too.

In 1996, a 61 year old man died after eating the leaves of Aconitum thinking it was an edible grass.

The 2002 annual meeting of the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology heard a case report of a 36-year old man who ate an estimated 30gms of crushed root, believing it would reduce his neuropathic pain. He had heart palpitations and chest discomfort but no vomiting. He recovered after 24 hours of treatment to control ventricular tachycardia. The fact that such a large dose can have such a relatively small effect illustrates the difficulty of answering the question 'How much would it take to kill?' when applied to any poisonous plant.

In 2005, a 21-year old man made up his own capsules of crushed Aconitum root which, he believed, would work as 'natural' sleeping tablets. He suffered all the classic symptoms of monkshood poisoning but recovered after two days in the hospital ICU.

A couple thought it looked so lovely they planted it to brighten up their herb garden. When the wife picked a herb leaf salad she, accidentally, included some leaves from the monkshood and both suffered severe stomach upsets lasting two days.

Okay. So 30g would be about 30mg of the actual toxin, meaning the low lethal dose is 1.5-6 mg/kg, not just 1.5-6mg. Now how the heck does a gardener absorb 400mg of a non-water-soluble alkaloid toxin from a plant through his skin?

Do you grow Aconitum's?

Posted: 09/11/2014 at 22:14

There are several important points to note. The first is that this was a pre-inquest hearing at which only the father’s view of what happened had been presented. The full inquest, when it happens, will hear all of the evidence in detail and will take due note of all of it rather than, as the Mail and other media have done, over-emphasise the histopathologist’s assertion.

The second point is that this poor unfortunate man took several days to die. Aconite and aconitine, the main alkaloids, are known to be quick-acting with death, if it happens, coming within hours.

And, finally, for now, the idea that simply brushing against a plant would be enough to get a lethal dose goes against everything that is known about the plant. I’ve spoken to people who’ve eaten a few leaves and survived and I haven’t spoken to the millions of people who have monkshood in their gardens and handle it every year without coming to any harm.


When I looked at the Mail story I noticed it had a video about Aconitum napellus and I thought the still image looked familiar. Clicking play, I heard my own voice and realised this was a shortened version of one of my YouTube videos. Now I’m not a copyright lawyer. I know that by allowing my video to be shared, when I uploaded it to YouTube, it was OK for anyone to place the whole thing on their own site. What I’m not sure is whether it is OK to edit someone else’s work.
Here’s the whole video if you’re interested. I assume that, at 4 minute 38 seconds, Mail Online assumed it was beyond the attention span of its readers.

Camera Corner

Posted: 09/11/2014 at 22:03

Lily's going to *hate* this one.


That's a sunrise not a sunset. Sorry, Lily.


That one's a sunset.

So's that. I wasn't actually zooming in on that, either. That's just air pollution.

What I learned about photographing sunsets: do it a long way from the Equator. Get up near the Arctic Circle and you can spend an hour photographing one sunset. Down near the tropics it's more like photographing a diving guillemot: *splash* "That was it. Did you get it?"



squirrels and their cleverness

Posted: 06/11/2014 at 17:15

I tend to think of moles as a free aeration and rotavation service. As long as you rake (or kick) the molehills away before they have time to create pale patches in the lawn, they're not that big a deal ... unless you're into precision gardening, with the grass trimmed with scissors one blade at a time and every pebble carefully placed, or you've got some really fragile plants. I just checked a website for how much damage they do and the FAQ includes: "Will the moles attack me?"

WHEN MOLES ATTACK! Really, what would it do, push your fingers apart and nuzzle you? Rub its fur against your cheek until you fall asleep, then steal your sandwich?

squirrels and their cleverness

Posted: 05/11/2014 at 18:14

They're buggers for digging up seedlings, too, and they take eggs and chicks from nests. Shotguns are noisy things and kick like mules. Your best bet is probably an Air Arms S400 in .177 calibre. At 25m it'll go right through a squirrel. If you don't want it to suffer, hit it in the head.

If you're not up for that, try one of these:


Camera Corner

Posted: 05/11/2014 at 18:04

KEF: your first picture looks like the "scaly" effect my pictures all have before I scale them down to 1080p to save upload bandwidth. I've noticed it's a lot less severe in some of my recent pictures taken in very bright light. If you're a long way off and zooming in, you've got the inverse square law working against you, and even on a bright day there's not much light coming your way from the subject. Twice as far away, a quarter as much light. Three times as far away, a ninth as much.

The white sky has shown up in mine too. Our eyes adject for brightness on a cell-by-cell basis. The camera does it whole-field. We may be able to see a pale blue sky and green foreground trees, but the camera gives silhouettes against the sky or green against a blazing nuclear fireball sky.

Honestly, it wasn't that dark where I was.

Honestly, it wasn't that bright outside.

Honestly, there was a sky above us.

 See? Sky. It's a question of getting the brightness of the foreground and background similar.

 Really clear skies on really sunny days apparently turn really intense blue overhead.

 The opposite of the silhouette effect here: I aimed in through an opening to get a picture of the interior of the tomb. It was awfully dark in there, so the brightly-lit exterior got over-exposed.


Camera Corner

Posted: 03/11/2014 at 19:23


 I know where it was, but I don't know what it was.

Camera Corner

Posted: 02/11/2014 at 20:06


Screening my fence with a hedge

Posted: 15/10/2014 at 12:12

A 3' gap? I'm not all that broad-shouldered and I wouldn't want to have to work in there. I don't see why you'd need a hedge in that bit. Now, if the fence extends all the way along the side of the garden and the greenhosue is just one corner, I could see why you'd hide most of the fence, but I'd suggest some low-maintenance perennials in that gap, maybe food plants for butterflies (nettles: easy to grow and the food plant for peacock butterflies) and bees or some strawberry plants (which will then come up inside the greenhouse and next door because they're creepy like that) or some sort of dense ground cover.

A quick search on a company's website lists Erica carnea, Calluan vulgaris and a couple of Thymus for evergreen and a bunch of Helleborus for semi-evergreen ground cover attractive to bees, and adds Aubretia, Bergenia and Trifolium repens for butterflies. I don't know them personally, so can't say which ones are suitable for the "shove it in the ground, water it once and leave it to do its thing" approach, but they look nice, especially that Aubretia.

For "covering eyesores," which isn't a nice thing to call someone's fence, they recommend a load of Clematis and Lonicera plus Passiflora and ... heh ... Wisteria. Yeah, you're really going to put a wisteria on a wooden fence. What kind of eyesore does one cover with a wisteria? A crashed airliner? A battleship that got washed ashore in the tsunami, maybe?

A cautionary note about Lonicera: it will happily grow up a narrow trellis attached to the face of a fencepost, and can get heavy enough to pull the fence over. You may want to prop the posts up before you start on the trellises and plants.

One thing that might work for covering a fence, but I say "might" because I haven't tried this out, is Hydrangea anomala petiolaris (for shady places) or seemanii (for sunnier places), which will cling all by themselves. No need no screw trellises onto your neighbour's fence!

Christmas stuff in shop

Posted: 15/10/2014 at 11:43

Once upon a time, before light pollution, people paid a lot of attention to the stars. Very pretty, the stars, on those cold, clear nights. To the south, there is a group of five visible in winter in the shape of a cross. They're called the Southern Cross. Fairly obvious geometric shape. The Sun is the source of our warmth and life. Plants turn to face it, it warms our skin, it melts the ice and clears the fog and it allows us to see the leopards coming. That's quite important in Africa. Leopards can be sneaky and mean. Because the axis of the Earth's rotation is tilted relative to the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, we have seasons. The Sun appears higher in the sky for longer in summer and lower in the sky for less time in winter ... at least if you're not in the tropics. Get as far north as, say, ancient Egypt and you get seasons, cold winter, beautiful spring, warm (or just too **** hot) summer and fruitful autumn. Every year, the Sun, which is the light that lights the way and the source of all life, sinks to its lowest level. For three days, it's at its lowest, the nights are at their darkest and life feels pretty grim, and the Sun is exactly level with the Southern Cross. Then, a couple of days after the winter solstice, the Sun is just noticeably higher in the sky. Base a religion on this and you have a god who is the light that lights the way and the source of all life, who dies on the cross for three days then is born again or 25 December. What else happens in the stars just before that? Look east, and you'll see the three stars of Orion's Belt, called the Three Kings, lined up with the second-brightest star in the sky (the brightest being Sol). Three kings in the east following a star? Sound familiar? So, we have myths about the way, the truth and the light being born on 25 Dec, his coming heralded by three kings from the east following a bright star and celebrated with brightly-wrapped gifts that cheer up the short, dark, winter days, and dying on a cross for three days. Hundreds of them. So what happened to that? Someone with a lot of money saw a way to get even more money, and made a mess of everything for everyone else.


If you want to give people brightly-wrapped gifts that'll cheer up their lives, go for it. Ignore the date. Party because it's 4 Feb, because it's Beethoven's birthday, because it's exactly 500 days since you received those seeds in the post, because your daughter is now 3'0" tall, not just 2'11.9" tall, because the Sun came up today, because it rained last weekend or whatever. Sod all that ancient mythology and, as Bill and Ted (yes, really) put it: "Be excellent to one another."


I deleted the "15% off our Christmas range" email from zazzle weeks ago.

Discussions started by Charlie November

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Rose cuttings: timing

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At least I didn't spend anything. 
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Apple tree with white leaves

It seems to be healthy enough, if slow-growing 
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Not a lily. Not an apple tree. 
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Planning? Measuring? Me? 
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Leaving tulips in the ground

Can they be left in if the drainage is good? 
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7 threads returned