Derek – Sunday 18th September 2022

It is Autumn, or nearly so. Meteorological autumn began on 1 September, so we are well into that. But astronomical autumn starts in a few days’ time. The Greenwich Observatory give the date as Friday 23 September. That day will have equal day and night, 12 hours apiece. After the equinox, the nights win out until the Winter Solstice on 21 December when we get the longest night (and shortest day) of roughly 16 hours. From then on the days lengthen, catching up at the Spring equinox on 21 March, and pulling away until the Summer Solstice, 21 June.

Autumn is, as John Keats tells us:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core

So we have our fruits and seeds: apples, pears, sycamore, rose hips, iris seed heads, acorns and much more. But it is also the season of dying. Leaves on deciduous trees die as the parent tree ceases sustaining them, making the capitalist argument that they are not worth their keep, as the sunshine weakens. Annuals die, and herbaceous perennials die back to their roots. It is a solemn time, as well as the days of baked apples.

I miss the spiders this time of year. The drought and heat killed most of them off over the summer, and many insects too. I have hardly seen a ladybird all summer long. Drought and sustained temperatures in the high 30s, or even getting into the 40s in future years, will see a great culling of arthropods (insects and spiders). Insects especially are necessary for pollination, so we are setting up a bleak future for ourselves.

James Wong, one of our gardening experts, is extolling rock wool in a Guardian article as a substitute for compost. It is now widespread in nurseries, and also used in hydroponics. It can be re-used, he suggests, over and over. But I am immediately suspicious. Rock wool is made by melting rock. How can that be environmentally friendly? Wong glosses over this.

I looked into it. To make rock wool, manufacturers combine chalk and various rocks. They heat them up to over 1600ºC, and then spin the melt into a spongy wool. The site:

is critical, citing the high temperatures and the possibly-carcinogenic nature of the dust. The dust is especially dangerous when the material is dry. These days we are conscious of the price of energy, and its contribution, in fossil fuel usage, to global warming. We don’t need such high energy usage for our composts.

Rock wool manufacture reminds me of cement, which is made from chalk or limestone (both calcium carbonate), heated in kilns, giving off much CO2 directly, as the carbonate breaks down, and indirectly via the energy used in firing the kilns, contributing 8% to global greenhouse gases.

The main colour in the garden today is via marigolds. Gold they are, and will stay, if we keep deadheading them. There’s also a couple of Japanese anemones, by the middle gate and at the back of the pond. And some colour too in the wildflower bed with the hedge mustard, its small 4-petalled blooms flowering on and on.

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