Thursday, 17 June 2010

When is a cape gooseberry not a cape gooseberry?

I have always loved cape gooseberries - those little orange fruits often used to decorate plates in restaurants that taste a bit like tomatoes, but much sweeter.

A couple of years ago I bought what I thought was a cape gooseberry plant. Luckily it died before we had a chance to eat the fruit because it turns out that I bought a chinese lantern plant and whilst the little lanterns look the same the berry of the chinese lantern is not edible. The plant did produce one lantern before dying and I took the seeds and grew them this year. Upon potting up the seedlings I decided to find out if they were supposed to be annuals or perennials, which is when I found out the difference between the plants. Since I have often interchanged the names cape gooseberry and chinese lantern in the past (as have others I know) I do think that the plant should have come with a warning saying that it was in fact inedible.

For those of you who might want to grow one or the other, the edible plant (cape gooseberry) is Physalis peruviana syn. Physalis edulis. This is actually an annual plant so requires growing from seed each year. The inedible, but still very pretty chinese lantern is Physalis alkakenge and this is supposed to be a perennial. I shall look after mine better this year and see if they survive the winter.

Just to confuse matters there is also the tomatillo Physalis ixocarpa which is also edible, but the fruits of this plant are yellow. So now you know!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A new resident at Frog End

For several years I've had a draft excluder in the shape of a frog. For a couple of them he remained unnamed, but upon having his long legs put in some of my boots one day (not by myself I might add) he became "frog in boots". I don't think he's ever been used as a draft excluder - not because I've lived in particularly warm houses, but because pusses don't appreciate being shut in or out of rooms, but he's always been a fond member of the household.

Today frog in boots was joined by a hare doorstop, made by the same company Dora Designs. I've been keeping a cut-out picture of the hare from a catalogue in my desk for several months and when Bryony and Mark gave me a cheque for my birthday I decided that she had to be purchased.

We've decided that the hare is female, because for some reason all my animals, whether they be stuffed toys, ornaments or paperweights so far have been male. The hare will eventually be used to keep one of the French doors open, but there's currently a one foot drop when you walk out the door so she'll have to wait until the new deck is in place before she can be put to work.

She and the frog seem to be getting on well already!

Thanks Bryony & Mark :-)

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Five years and counting

As anyone who has ever published a peer-reviewed journal article will tell you, it is not a quick (or easy) process. In my academic career I have submitted articles (often the same article modified slightly) to the following journals:

Journal of Animal Ecology (twice)
Population Ecology
Bulletin of Mathematical Biology
Science (twice)
Journal of Ecology
Marine Ecology Progress Series
Ecological Applications
Biological Conservation (twice)
PLOS Biology
Ecology Letters (twice)

Of these fifteen submissions, only four were successful (although we're still waiting to hear about one of them). This hopefully in no way reflects upon my work, only upon the difficulty of pleasing other scientists. Only once so far have I given up trying to get an article published. It received only slightly negative comments the first time it was reviewed, but was rejected by the editor and each time I submitted somewhere else the comments got worse.

I am currently in the process of preparing a final two articles for submission and have spent the last week working on these two articles. One of these is by a former student of mine and the other I am entirely responsible for. This particular paper is the paper I was funded to write during my first post doc position, which started in 2005. Although I will be ready to submit it for review in a couple of days it will definitely be the one I have worked on (admittedly on and off) for the longest period of time. Looking at the length of the list above it's likely that I will have to submit it to two or three different journals before it gets accepted. I wonder how many years that will take.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

A busy week

I've been intending to blog all week, but have not found the time until now.

We were sad to hear of the events unfolding in Cumbria near where Ian's grandad lives. Although he was asked by police to stay in his house until the gunman was found he lives too far south to have been in any danger. However he used to live in one of the villages involved and knew (but not well) one of the people killed, as well as the local GP dealing with the victims. Very sad when something like this happens so close to home.

Ian managed to get lots of jobs done in the kitchen this week including removing the mantelpiece above the radiator (there used to be a fire there) and tackling the door frame. The door frames in our house are made of metal, which makes them very strong, but also very difficult to remove. We've had several builders / carpenters in to discuss removing them, but only two were brave enough to provide a quote and both were extortionate. Instead Ian took the angle grinder to one. It was quite scary - producing sparks like a firework all the way down the hall to the front door, but it did the job.

Now all we have to do is figure out how to put a new frame in. All suggestions/tips welcome!

On Wednesday my contact at Pond Conservation sent me the final data to be used in our companies current contract with them. It was a very big rush to incorporate it all by Friday when they wanted the website to go live. I only got 2 and a half hours in bed (and I'm not sure how much of that I slept) on Thursday night, but remarkably by 8am the website was finished with no major bugs apparent. A big thanks to Ian for staying up half the night programming with me.

If you want to have a peek the website is at

Unfortunately the content management system that Pond Conservation use is unable to remove the menu of links on the left hand side so even though I made the frame containing all the content the same width as their lovely header you have to scroll right to see it all. There's a centred version at

The basic idea of the website is to display information on UK biodiversity action plan (BAP) species that are associated with ponds, in particular in relation to aggregate/mineral sites which can be important places for pond creation. Just one of the ways you can use the website is by selecting the 'species view' tab at the top. This shows a list of all the species and by clicking on each species you can see a map of its current distribution and any mineral sites that are located nearby. You can also click on 'species information' to find out some basic information about each species and how you can create ponds that will suit them best.

If you spot any mistakes please let me know. I'm not responsible for the wording and some of the headings read rather oddly in my opinion, but I would be particularly interested to see if anyone manages to break it (i.e., find a species for which maps or information don't load or something similar).

The garden is really beginning to bloom for the summer and I'm really pleased with this bearded iris that Dad gave us. It didn't flower last year so we weren't sure what colour it was until now. I really love iris - thank you.