Derek – Friday 4th February 2022

It’s been dry for the last four weeks but today it rained. At last. A long dry spell in winter hinders growth, as plants are coming out of winter dormancy and need water in order to make new shoots. But the trouble with rain is you either get too much or too little. And with climate change, we don’t know quite where we are.

Who’d be a farmer?

We are planning a herbs and spices display. A herb is an herbaceous plant whose leaves, usually, are useful to us. This can be in the kitchen to add flavour, as cosmetics, as dyes, or medicinal uses. That is so vast a spectrum that we are confining our project to culinary herbs. Last week, we gathered, or split, those we found around the garden and put them on our large sleeper display. These include: rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, bay, chives, mint, lemon balm, marjoram, fennel. There’s more to come.

Spices are generally from woody plants and may be the seeds, fruit, bark, or roots of the plant. Many are tropical, which means growing them in the greenhouse or hoping for a hot summer outside. For others, we have missed the bus. Cloves, for instance, are the flower buds of a tree which begins blossoming after 6 years or so. So forget cloves. Peppercorns are the fruit of the peppercorn plant, but unfortunately for us, it takes a couple of years to produce flowers. Too late on that one too.

We’ll have a few spices though, like cumin and ginger. Bay leaves are considered a spice because they come from a tree which is not herbaceous. Herbaceous plants die back each year, unlike trees. But we tend to think of bay as a herb because we use the leaves in cooking; it’s a quandary, like a mammal that lays eggs.

A few days ago, at 7.30 am, near the corner of the garden by Sprowston Road, I saw the Morning Star. It is the planet Venus, rising an hour or so before the sun, and so easiest to see before the sun is up. It is visible at other times, but you have to know exactly where it is, being so dim in the sunlit sky. You’d fare better in less light-polluted areas. Venus is also the Evening Star, but not at the same time. Being an inner planet, the second from the sun, it orbits the sun faster than Earth (225 days as opposed to 365) and so gets gradually ahead, allowing it to be both the Morning Star and the Evening Star at different times of year.

Venus has a mean surface temperature of 467 C, the hottest of the planets, beating even Mercury which is the closest to the sun. The reason for Venus’ heat is thought to be a runaway greenhouse effect, which is a poignant reminder of the damage we are doing to our own planet.

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