18 May 2015

Trunk of the Month: May 2015: Pinus sylvestris

It was Ray Mears, many years ago, that first piqued my interest in Pinus sylvestris, commonly known as scots pine. Using this beautiful tree for a wide array of tasks for his bushcraft, from pine needle tea, to using old dead pine for kindling due to the build up of resin.

This reddy-grey-brown bark is beautifully intricate with a layer of ridged scales. In between these scales are places for invertebrates and flora to live, such as moss, which (to my eye) creates a lovely tortoise shell effect.
Pinus is the largest genus of conifers, with over 100 species. The scots pine is the only conifer native to Britain that is grown commercially for timber. In the old days it was used for things like ships and waterwheels. The late seventeenth century saw the great forests of Scotland ransacked, first for charcoal for the iron foundaries in the lowlands, then for the Napoleonic Wars and the demand for timber. These days, the pines are managed much more successfully and on the increase. Scots pine is still used in many applications, from furniture to telegraph poles and from paper pulp to roof timbers.

Scots pine can grow to over 30 metres in height and over 1 metre diameter. Some of these trees can live to 300 years - although some are said to be 700 years in age. Pollen records have shown that pine was present, at least in southern England, 9000 years ago and reach Scotland around 8000 year ago (possibly over the land bridge that was Doggerland).

In you're ever on the look out for squirrels in a pine woodland, then it's helpful to look at the forest floor. If squirrels are present you will see chewed up pine cone with all the scales taken off - and clearly no further use in telling the weather!

Wandering through a natural (or naturally planted) pine woodland is a wonderful experience. However, due to the commercial nature of many pine woodlands, the tree are planted in rows and are all of similar ages. Places like Brownsea Island, a refuge of the red squirrels of England, have naturalistic planting and are keen to ensure a stock of trees at all life stages.

21 April 2015

Gardening with ME: My Favourite Gardening Tool

While it often easy to just choose the cheapest tools for gardening, it can quickly become a chore to use and maintain them if they're not ideal for your garden or your physical abilities.

Websites such as Thrive have a section with tools that can make gardening easier and the telegraph has a slideshow of interesting tools. I like the look of these tools and think that whether or not someone has a disability, they can be very useful.

Prior to ME I would always use full length tools, such as spades and forks, but quickly realised that with ME they take too much energy and move too much soil. Therefore, these days I tend to focus on smaller areas, where possible, and use hand tools with a small trugg, so I don't overload myself.

I also found that energy could quickly be sapped away by touching metal surfaces of tools, so I either wear gloves or use tools with plastic or wooden handles. I also have different seating options depending on the length of tool I'm using for a task - I know that some people buy full length tools and cut them down to 3/4 length, which I might think about in the future. Using small tools has helped me think about how I move when using tools in an attempt to reduce pain during and after activities. This is something the RHS is currently researching.

My favourite gardening tool is one that I've used most of my life and I find it to be a versatile and basically awesome tool! It is the bog standard patio weeder and if I'm gardening I probably have it with me. But why you ask!!? Here are a few things I use this tool for:

  • Weeding the patio.
  • Weeding pretty much anywhere!
  • Getting out tap roots without disturbing too much soil.
  • Cleaning the underside of the Flymo (one of the original uses I found as a child).
  • Making holes for seeds.
  • Making holes for planting small plants.
  • Making rows to sow seeds into.
  • Getting through though plants by slicing the sharp edge against it.
  • Refreshing border lines when the grass gets too adventurous.
  • Removing moss and the top layer of soil when maintaining pot plants.
  • And probably many more!

What's your favourite tool? Has your favourite tool changed due to illness?