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Charlie November

Latest posts by Charlie November

Mares Tail - how to win

Posted: 29/07/2013 at 19:42

So ... it's been around since the time of the dinosaurs, it's survived huge amounts of tectonic drift, several ice ages and goodness knows how many supervolcano eruptions, it laughs at almost every weedkiller we have, it takes ploughing as a chance to reproduce .....

..... and that stuff kills it dead in hours?

I'm thinking these guys are almost adequately dressed to deploy that stuff.

Pest problem on Allotment

Posted: 19/07/2013 at 17:46

This guy?

Small predator, eating smaller things ... possibly including red spider mites? Not a herbivore, anyway.

Millipedes are mostly detritivores, i.e. they convert dead leaves and old teabags to good compost, but they may do serious damage to seedlings, so they're a friend in the potato patch or rose bed but not something you want in your seedling trays.

Hogweed in my meadow

Posted: 19/07/2013 at 17:37

Isn't giant hogweed a bi- or tri-annual? If you manage to get every plant every year so none of them ever produce a seed, it should be scarce four years from now. I think the seeds have been known to wait up to seven years and then sprout again, though, so you'd have to stay vigilant, and if you have a riverbank in that meadow it'll get seeds washed up from further upriver.

Some sprayers have an optional sponge attachment that you can use to wipe weedkiller on to leaves without spraying at all, but you'll get sap on the sponge, so don't touch it afterwards!

Actual eradication plan if you are on a river:

Get an army.

Start scouts at the tops of tributaries, each equipped with a map and a pen. Each scout follows one side of a watercourse downhill, marking on the map every hogweed found.

Copy all hogweed finds onto your master map at HQ, and mark them with the date.

Send out sprayer crews to the hogweeds furthest up each watercourse. Each crew needs a spotter to make sure they don't do something stupid, a sprayer to deliver the toxin and a chopper with a really long spear to lop off flower heads. Each crew marks as far down the river as they got before they ran out of ammo or the wind came up.

Repeat spraying on suitable days until your teams get downstream of you.

Repeat the whole process next year, and the year after that, and the year after that and so on for eight years. Starting in year nine, you can start your scout teams a little further downstream, because any watercourse where no plants have been found in 8 years can be declared clear.

Once the scouts are starting downstream of you, you can declare local victory, and then find out that someone's transported seeds or contaminated soil to a site upstream of you and the b*****d things are BACK.


So, ah, which river valley are we doing first?


Posted: 14/07/2013 at 19:08

Two things:

1) mine took a few years to flower, too, and like many things climbing the northern side of my southern fence it flowered once it had climbed into the sunlight at the top and ran short of places to climb higher.

2) websites selling honeysuckle often say that it flowers particularly well "if kept in check," meaning, presumably, as a response to pruning. As long as it's got climbing to do, it's likely to focus on that.

Feline Invaders.....AKA Cats

Posted: 11/07/2013 at 21:09

It's a weird place that cats occupy, isn't it? If a child, adult human, puppy, adult dog, pet crocodile, wild crocodile, eagle, fox or bear were to capture a human or any pet and deliberately kill it very slowly rather than quickly, then abandon the corpse once its suffering could bring no more pleasure, they'd be hunted down and destroyed ... or incarcerated in a mental home, in the human perpetrator case. If a dog did that to a cat, the dog owner would be selling the house to pay the compensation costs and be banned from ever owning another dog. When grey squirrels come into my garden and go for the birds' food and their nests, I can legally blow holes in them, as long as I'm careful about it, and I can likewise shoot rats and pigeons. If someone shot a dog to save their cat in their own garden, they'd probably get away with it, but if I were to acquire a .357 Magnum and a load of Glaser blue safety slugs (responsible shooter here, after all) or legally acquire a hunting rifle (and choose my angles carefully) or shotgun and blow away a cat to protect the songbirds in my garden, I'd be in all sorts of trouble, wouldn't I? "Oh, my precious little angel" and all that. Then if you mention the birds they tell you "It's nature." Yeah? If a stonking great golden eagle sets up home around here and takes to eating cats, will the cat owners accept that "it's nature" then, too?

I say that if the thing's "companionship" is that vaulable to you, you should keep it where it can "accompany" you: indoors. See for a comic about two indoor cats that are kept indoors. Yes, they use a litter tray.

Maybe the answer is to get a cat of my own, not so I can be infected with mind-altering parasites (that's a thing) and fall in love with moggies in general, but so that I can use against the invaders the one weapon their owners have decreed fair to use against anything, anywhere, any time. I wonder whether cheetahs or ocelots are more fiercely territorial.

Mare's Tail

Posted: 11/07/2013 at 20:48

Not sure crushing the stems is the best way to rough them up. I'd try scraping the sides with a Stanley knife blade, or even slicing them longitudinally. You could also get the weedkiller to stay on them by soaking a scrap of cloth in it, wrapping that around the shoot and bagging it there. Both together ought to get the stuff in. Whether it works applied directly to roots I don't know.

Ammonium nitrate's another one the IRA liked. Mix that with fuel oil and you get ANFO, popular stuff for blasting. Mix it with nitromethane and you get ANNM, which is even better or worse, depending mostly on who's using it for what. I don't think that's a good approach to your weeds, through. It'd just scatter viable root fragments ... and rocks.

If it does come to relaying the flags, we found that two bits of thin rope really help, because two people can each hold one end of each rope, cradling the flag between them, to raise and lower it without gouging the sand.


Posted: 01/07/2013 at 17:42

Not sure how well a Super Soaker would stand up to being loaded with vinegar long-term, but a direct hit with that ought to leave a lasting impression and associated reluctance to return.

The daftest thing you've done in your garden

Posted: 30/06/2013 at 11:31

Not so much daft as a close call:

Was digging out the bottom of the compost heap. It's been here longer than I have, it's huge and it's covered in sticks, but there's good compost at the bottom, albeit mixed with rubbish. Put shovel into heap, loosened compost, got it on the shovel, took it to where I needed it, deployed it and went back for more several times, then hit a dry, soft patch. It fell down beside the head of the shovel, and ... moved. I realized what I'd hit a split second before the angry buzzing sound started, dropped the shovel and ran. I bought compost at the GC and gave them a week to calm down before I went back to the heap.

Slightly daft: attempting to push back the Himalayan balsam from the stream banks, I uprooted two sackfuls of it. The obvious place for this great mass of soggy greenery was the top of the compost heap. I uprooted it before any flowers had formed, and it still managed to form flowers, attract insects, get pollinated and produce seed just running on what it had. I have since had to uproot more plants from the compost heap.

what do you think is the best make of bird food you have bought?

Posted: 27/06/2013 at 17:06

Garden Bird Supplies were my supplier, and have always been good to me, but I switched to the RSPB for most foods and for the mealworms (in 2kg boxes!) The RSPB send me a special offer every week, usually for something of which I just got a month's supply.

Peanuts: forget it. The woodpecker is the only bird interested in peanuts.

Treat pellets with insects, aka buggy nibbles: top food in winter. Fill a peanut feeder with this stuff and watch it get mobbed.

Treat pellets with berries, aka fruit nibbles: second or third choice. They really prefer the bugs.

Seed mix: everyone's got a favourite. I put out the feeder mix with dreid mealworms and the starlings threw the lot on the floor to get at the mealworms. I put out the feeder mix without the mealworms and the finches threw the lot on the floor to get at the sunflower hearts. Currently, I have the "feeder mix extra" and it gets cleaned up. The least popular bit is the little, reddish balls. They go, though.

Live mealworms: currently everybody's number one food. If you want a bird to land on your hands for food, this is the food to use. Even the finches are ignoring seed to hunt these nutrient-rich wrigglers. This is how you feed baby birds. Smaller ones are more expensive, and the birds are quite capable of dismembering a large one to feed it to their babies a chunk at a time.

Treat blocks aka cakes: the same as nibbles, but they charge VAT on the cakes. The big cube of a "squirrel-resistant" feeder is also starling-resistant, which the oval one isn't, so if you want other birds to have a chance, use the cube one ... or use one of each.

I did an experiment with treat blocks, cutting up blocks from the local fruit shop, the supermarket, Garden Bird, the RSPB and a big DIY place and putting them all out in the feeder together, in different patterns. No matter how I arranged them, the birds would find the GB and RSPB blocks and demolish them. They went through three whole blocks from those suppliers before they'd bothered to eat even a tenth of anyone else's block.

Fat balls? Nobody was interested. Nothing wanted them.


Footnote: feeder cages! I got the barrel-style cages from GB, and the squirrels lifted the tops off and went down inside the tubes to get at the food! This wrecked the lids and the mesh tube. Also, the rain tended to get in and flood them, so the bottom of the plastic tube was always jamming up with soggy, rotting seed mix. I made porches for them, and very elegant little porches they were too, but between big birds, squirrels and a few windy days they got smashed off. I also had to put wire around the bases to stop the squirrel hanging off the bottom of the mesh and reaching in to sweep food to the edges.

Now, instead, I have Homebase feeders with bell-jar cages and plastic cone bases. They can be screwed on either way up. On the seed mix feeder, I have it set to shed the mix over the sides onto the ground. Yes, this creates a patch of sunflower seed husk, but that's part of the price of having bird feeders. On the "peanut" feeders (full of treat pellets with a few peanuts on top that have been there all year) I have the bases "dish" way up, to avoid spilling such good food on the ground where rats and pigeons can get it. There is a slight drawback to this: the wire hoop is barely long enough, so getting it on and off the hook is a bit fiddly. Obvious answer would be an S-hook, but so far I've coped with it being fiddly.

A rat did find its way into one. It even managed to get back out after I startled it, too ... but the second time I startled it I startled it by blowing a 4.5mm hole through it from left kidney to right shoulder, so it didn't get very far.

To buy or not to buy

Posted: 25/06/2013 at 17:18

Putting feed in the same spot several times a day will attract all sorts of things to that spot. I have a dozen places I put bird food and the birds always check out those places plus the deep shade under the hedge. If you put food somewhere appropriate like a gently sloping area partway up an earth mound at one end of the polytunnel, you'll find that all sorts of wildlife is drawn to it. You can then set up cameras for close-ups of songbirds feeding or, if you do find you have a rat problem, set yourself up in a comfortable spot with a good view of it and wait. Rats are not bulletproof, but a three-foot mound of soil (no rocks!) or sand is. .177 will take out a rat. 5.56x45mm will stop in an adequate earth mound. Use whichever you prefer. I'd recommend ear protection for the 5.56mm.

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