The plants with built-in antifreeze


ON FRIDAY night we had the first hard frost of the winter. I thought it would be the end of my geraniums which I have not got in yet, though presumably because they are against a south-facing wall they did in fact live to tell the tale. However it won’t be long.

Anyway this got me wondering why some plants are killed by frost while others shrug it off.

Here is a time-lapse video of a potato plant succumbing, while here and here are tulips and pansies recovering when the temperature rises.

It seems that plants which are more frost tolerant than others have higher levels of sugar or salt in their leaves. Water with these impurities will freeze at a lower temperature than plain water. Because freezing water expands, it ruptures the walls of the plant’s cells. In some cases the damage may not be visible for days. Alternatively, ice on the surface of the plant causes the cells to dehydrate as water is pulled out to join the crystals forming on the surface. Some plants are able to create proteins that act as a type of antifreeze. I have noticed that when evergreen branches and foliage are put on the bonfire they crackle and burn well even when damp, and I wonder if they have some sort of protective oil or similar in them?

There are several levels of cold tolerance. Some plants are fully hardy, which means they will put up with whatever the winter can throw at them. Some vegetables, including carrots, parsnips, beetroot, leeks, swedes and sprouts taste better when they have been frosted because their stored starches are broken down and converted to sugar, making the flavour sweeter. This is the plants’ defence mechanism against the cold because, as mentioned above, the sugar molecules make the water in the plant cells less likely to freeze.

The next level is frost tolerant, when they are ok if the temperature doesn’t go much below freezing.

Above that is frost sensitive, when the leaves will be killed by frost but the plant may grow back from the roots if they have not got too cold. This applies to tomatoes.

The rest will not stand anything much below 40F. Lucky gardeners in the south west and the Isle of Wight!


LAST week I said that it is hard to resist the feeling that ravens perform flying stunts for the fun of it. Quite by chance I have since come across two videos of wild crows behaving in a way which to me can only mean they are playing. See what you think here and here.


Fowl of the Week

THIS week I am starting another new section on livestock. This magnificent bird is a silver-laced Wyandotte rooster.

The breed is popular with amateur poultry keepers, being a reliable producer of large brown eggs. It was developed in the north-western United States in the 1870s as the first dual-purpose breed, supplying meat and eggs. It was imported into Britain from around 1880. When intensive farming became widespread the breed went into decline but it has been revived by back-garden keepers and smallholders.

The various chicken websites say the birds are ‘docile’ but ‘not exactly lap chickens’ and have ‘strong personalities’. Reading between the lines I would say it looks as if they take no nonsense. You would probably not want to be on the receiving end of a peck from a cockerel weighing eight or nine pounds.

There are several equally lovely colour variants including the gold-laced. Here is a time lapse video of a chick growing up.

And here are some adults.

This handsome chap is another variation, the partridge.


Wheels of the Week

A COUPLE of weeks ago I wrote about the Excelsior Autobyk, which for some reason prompted a commenters’ conversation about the three-wheel Bond minicar, so I thought I would do that today.

The first version was designed by Lawrence ‘Lawrie’ Bond, who had worked during the war as an aeronautical designer for the Blackburn Aircraft Company. After the war he ran a company in Longridge, near Preston, where he built a series of small innovative racing cars. In 1948, he revealed the prototype of a new minicar which was described as a ‘short radius runabout, for the purpose of shopping and calls within a 20-30-mile radius’. From 1949 it was produced by Sharp’s Commercials Ltd in Preston.

I’m afraid no one could call it beautiful.

It had a 125 cc Villiers two-stroke engine with a three-speed gearbox, weighed 195 pounds and had a cruising speed of around 30 mph. It had no doors, so driver and passenger stepped in over the side panels, and there was no reverse gear. If you wanted to turn it round you got out, lifted the front end and walked it round. (Later in 1949 an optional reversing device became available. Wikipedia describes it thus: ‘It comprised a long lever with a ratchet and a hexagonal socket on the end which fitted onto the centre of the driver’s side rear wheel hub. This device could then be operated from the driving seat and allowed the car to be cranked backwards by hand to assist with manoeuvring’. Sounds as if picking it up was easier.) Alternatively it could turn 180 degrees almost within its own length. A method of reversing was offered on later models via a ‘Dynastart’ unit which (simplicity itself) made the engine operate in the opposite direction.

Still, it was pretty cheap. The three-wheel configuration meant that it qualified for lower rates of purchase taxvehicle excise duty and insurance than comparable four-wheel cars, and it could be driven on a motor-cycle licence. In 1949 it sold for £262 which according to the Bank of England inflation calculator would be £7,650 today. For comparison a Morris Minor at the time cost about £359 (£10,500).

It was replaced in 1952 by the Mark B, and subsequently Marks C to G, which you can see and read about at the Bond Owners’ Club website. It looks as if side doors were added from the Mark C onwards.

Here is video of a Mark F, and this is what you could do if the ignition was playing up.

TCW’s expert on anything with two, three or four wheels, Derek Reynolds, had a secondhand Mark G, probably similar to this one:

He told me: ‘I never took any photos of the Bond I had back in the early seventies, it was too embarrassing! Mine was a disaster from day one, when I looked at why there was a makeshift, home-made steering connection between the horizontal steering column and the aluminium bulkhead through which it fitted. This was due to the fact that the bulkhead itself had two structural stays which had cracked, preventing the necessary perfect alignment of the worm gear (which looked like a pasta twist) on the end of the steering column, lining up with and engaging as it should have with the toothed quadrant which was bolted to the bulkhead. Had the bodge not been there, the steering would not have worked at all! It was a lethal combination that saw it off the road pronto.

‘With the engine and gearbox unit mounted on and above the front wheel, the entire unit was able to be turned through 90° in either direction from straight ahead, enabling the car to be turned around in little more than its own length, making a reverse gear virtually obsolete. Being as light as it was, one could also pick the back end up and wheel it around like a wheelbarrow! The front end likewise.

‘Despite that, the thirty or so miles I did actually get to drive it gave the impression of a very capable, if small, lightweight car that clung to the road like a limpet. Low to the ground with a flat floor within gave a fair bit of leg room. The gears were changed by a column mounted gear lever that was connected to the Villiers engine and gearbox unit. This meant that the lever was moved upwards for first after which it returned to the centre sprung position, then downwards through neutral for second, and downwards again for third. Changing down was obtained by simply moving the same lever in the upwards direction, there being no ‘gate’ through which the gear lever could move. Knowledge of how gears are changed on a motorcycle would see this as a natural form of movement, whereas if you are used to changing gears in a conventional car with a lever moving through a ‘gate’ pattern, it will seem very strange. The closest thing to it today are the ‘paddle’ controls on some expensive sports cars which have mimicked formula racing cars. Clutch and brakes were pedal-operated as in most cars.’

From 1962 the tax on four-wheel cars was gradually reduced to the level of the three-wheelers, destroying their price advantage, and sales fell. The last minicar, the Mark G, was made in 1966, by which time 24,482 in the whole series had been produced.

The firm, renamed Bond in 1964, produced two more three-wheelers, the 875 from 1965 to 1970,

and the Bug, made from 1970 to 1974.

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