Posts

Popcorn

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Strawberry Popcorn drying This month we are taking a break from our core topic of toxic plants and looking at the cradle-to-grave life cycle of a plant which is very much non-toxic and edible, namely popcorn, better known as flint corn.  I grew this as a fun plant to try to get my teenage son interested in food production (he loves popcorn).  Not much success getting my son interested so far, but our manic dog Maple shows great enthusiasm for gardening.  When I dig, she digs (although not always in the right place).  When I pull things up, she pulls things up.  When I get my gardening tools out, she thinks they are for her and runs off with them.    I just need to focus her enthusiasm a bit better.   Maple helping with the gardening But seriously, knowing how to produce food will become increasingly important in the years to come, because it’s my belief - which I realise is still only shared by a minority of people, and no politicians - that humanity is in overshoot, and the 8 billion

Belladonna

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Small Belladonna plant This month we are returning to our core theme of toxic plants and we will be discussing one toxic plant in particular: Atropa belladonna , also known as Deadly Nightshade.   But first the usual legal warning:   THIS BLOG IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.   DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.   ANY OF IT.   EVER. Belladonna has a long history of use by humans both in medicine and in warfare.   It was used by the ancient Greeks to induce drowsiness and numbness before surgery.   It was used in larger doses by the ancient Romans as a biological weapon, for example on arrowheads, or for poisoning the enemy’s water supply.   The Roman emperors Claudius and Augustus are reputed to have been poisoned by it. Many toxic plants are therapeutic in small doses but toxic or fatal in large doses.   The medieval herbalists and “cunning folk” who used the plant therapeutically probably trod a fine line between being called healers if things went well, but poisoners if they didn’t.   Many o

Conversations about perpetual growth

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Does the Pope understand overshoot? This month I am going to depart from my usual gardening theme in order to explore “Conversations about perpetual growth”.  Politicians, economists and media people love talking about it, but ever since I was a child I have felt uneasy about the idea.  Surely nothing can grow forever, and everything must stop growing at some point?  However, I have found it surprisingly difficult to have conversations about this.  Whenever I suggest that perpetual growth may be impossible, people act as though they didn’t hear what I said, or change the subject, or look embarrassed as though I’ve said something socially unacceptable.  If I post a comment about it online, I either get no response, or I get “downvoted” which means other readers click on a “thumbs down” symbol to show they don’t like the comment - although they never explain why.  If I write to politicians or economists about it, they usually don’t reply. However, during my lifetime I have managed to eng

Spring update

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The evenings are getting longer, the daffodils are out (in the Isle of Man they are anyway, maybe not so much in Alaska) and gardeners’ thoughts start to turn to the year ahead.   There isn’t a lot to photograph or write about right now as most annual seeds haven’t started to germinate and most perennials are coming out of their winter dormancy, but here is an update. The above photograph shows two cold frames and six seed trays on my patio.   I generally overwinter existing plants and start new plants off on my patio before transferring them to the allotment in late spring or early summer, because the allotment is actually quite a plant-hostile place.   It is out in the countryside, it doesn’t benefit from the “heat island” effect of our small town, so the nights are colder and frostier.   It’s more exposed to wind, which I have spoken about before: the strong, cold, salt-laden winds of the Isle of Man are enough to shrivel even the hardiest of plants.   And it’s full of critters who

Wartime home grown anaesthetics. Part 4: Winter

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White bryony flower In this series we are looking at plants which were used as anaesthetics in ancient Roman and medieval times and in wartime Britain.    In my last three posts in March, June and September, I described the progress of several such plants including henbane, jimsonweed/thornapple, white bryony/English mandrake, mediterranean/european mandrake, opium poppy, hemlock/poison hemlock, monkshood/wolfsbane and deadly nightshade.    It’s now December, the garden is dormant so let’s take a look at how one might use these plants in practice. First the usual warning: DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.   These plants can be highly toxic or even fatal.   The purpose of this series is to imagine what we might have to do if we were thrown into some national emergency, the usual supply lines for the import of pharmaceuticals broke down, and we had to make do with whatever was at hand – just like people did in wartime Britain.   These are not recreational drugs and nobody should attempt to use the