15 December 2014

It's a boy!

I'm excited to write that we're expecting a boy!

We recently had the 20 week, or anomaly, scan. It was exciting to see the major bones being checked and some measured, as well as the brain, lips, heart, and stomach being shown and checked.

Our little meeple was so fidgety last time that it made the 12 week scan difficult and the measurement for the likelihood of down's syndrome couldn't be done (and was later checked by blood test). This time, however, he just wouldn't move! This means that one kidney and some of the spine couldn't be checked and we'll need to have another scan in a couple of weeks.

The sonographer stressed to us that it's very unlikely that there's anything wrong and everything that she checked was absolutely normal.

I was reading the report this afternoon and noticed that one of the measurements is the EFW, or Estimated Fetal Weight. So at the moment they estimate that meeple is 309 g which is about 10.9 oz for the imperialists among us!

I can't wait to meet my little lad. It's so exciting wondering what he'll be into as he grows up. I'm just hoping he'll put up with his dad telling him about nature and how to identify things we see out and about. Who knows - perhaps he'll be the next Attenborough!

Either way I look forward to helping him along the path he chooses (talk about wishing my life away).

Anyway, enough from me, here he is:

08 December 2014

Book Review: Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis

This book is an excellent introduction to the life in our soils and how to treat it well. The book has 2 parts, the first being the organisms in the soil and the second covering the practical side of managing soil and using soil food web tools.

In the first part of the book the first two chapters cover the soil food web and classic soil science. Following this each chapter deals with different organisms in the soil, starting small with bacteria and then archaea and gradually moving up to larger organisms such as arthropods and gastropods. There's lots of interesting information in this part of the book, including information of root exudates that attract bacteria and fungi, which feed on these sugars. This creates a domino effect as bigger and bigger microbes are attracted to these fungi and bacteria, which they eat. In a healthy food web, this is how nutrients are cycled in the soil. However, if you use chemical fertilisers on the soil, then these microbes are killed or starved of their food source which removes competition and allows pathogens to spread - meaning that you then have to use even more products to manage plant pests and diseases and then more chemical fertiliser. I have to say that while there is a lot of great information in this part of the book, I found it a bit dry and felt it went on a bit too long.

However, I felt the book really came into its own in part 2, where we get practical tasks and advice on increasing the diversity and health of the microbes in our soil. As the adage goes: Feed the soil, not the plant. To this end we're given the three soil food web tools of compost, mulch, and compost teas. Each has a chapter on the benefits and how to make the right type for the plants you either already have, want to encourage - or in the case of moss - want to discourage. We're also given a list of 19 'Soil Food Web Gardening Rules' which are concise and allow the reader to know the next step without wading through the book in search of an answer. Rules include: "Most vegetables, annuals, and grasses prefer their nitrogen in nitrate form and do best in bacterially dominated soils" and "Course, dryer mulches support fungal activity".

The book has given me a better understanding of what's happening beneath my feet. I know have the science of why helping these microbes will make my gardening life much easier - and more interesting. The authors impress on the reader that there is a lot of research happening in the area of soil science at the moment - so it sounds like it's an exciting time in that area of research. Each part can be read separately, so if reading about archaea isn't your thing - don't let it put you off. Just read the chapters you are interested in and perhaps by the end of the book you'll want to know about bit about archaea. Even if you don't read part 1, this book is a very useful introduction to soil science and how we can improve our gardens.

It's worth mentioning that the International Year of Soils has begun! For more information about it, click here.

30 November 2014

Book Review: The Great British Year by Stephen Moss

This book accompanies the 2013 BBC series of the same title and follows the same format. The premise is that each chapter will follow the wildlife of the British Isles through a season.

As always with a BBC book, the photography is stunning. The narrative is also very accessible. BBC books rarely venture beyond introductory level, which can often make them rather boring to read; but this book was very readable and includes lots of interesting facts about the wildlife we are blessed with on our isles. The little facts really make the book for me: from reading that unlike some birds raptors only replace a few feathers at a time throughout the year, to finding out that seabirds can fall into the sea due to exhaustion and become known as 'wrecks'. From finding out that apart from bats, only two British mammals hibernate and they are the common dormouse and the hedgehog, to finding that the grey seals of Britain were the first species to be legally protected anywhere in the world.

This book contains some interesting maps too. They serve to show different aspects throughout the seasons, such as a map of water temperatures around Britain.

There is even a chapter, for those interested, documenting the behind the scenes experiences of the crew behind the cameras. However, I found a more interesting addition to the book being a wildlife resources section. This shows 20 places to watch wildlife in the UK and 40 different types of wildlife to see - from bluebells to cuckoos and is followed by a well compiled index.

This book was much better than I expected it to be and would recommend it to anyone interested in wildlife - whether you know a lot about it or are just starting to become interested - there's something for everyone.