Posted in Food, Natural World, Social Issues

Sugar: A Bitter Sweet Industry

Image by 955169 from Pixabay

Sugar is one of the worlds oldest documented commodities. Indigenous people of New Guinea chewed it raw in 8000 BC. Now common place in our pantries, it was once considered so valuable it was locked away in wooden cabinets called sugar safes. In 1319 AD sugar was sold in London at two shillings a pound, approximately £72 a kilogram in todays money.

Interesting Fact Demerara sugar is named after the colony of Demerara in Guyana and the surrounding sugar cane fields.

So What is Sugar?

Sugar is a carbohydrate called sucrose. It is produced naturally in all plants through photosynthesis. The image below shows how water and minerals are drawn from the soil by the plant roots. The leaves take carbon dioxide from the air. Chlorophyll found in the cells of leaves absorb sunlight. The energy from the sunlight turns carbon dioxide and water into sucrose.

Image by Markéta Machová from Pixabay

Glucose (dextrose), fructose (laevulose), and galactose are the building blocks of all carbohydrates. These three simple sugars are called monosaccharides, which bond with themselves and each other to produce more complex carbohydrates. Two monosaccharides joined together are called disaccharides. Common table sugar or sucrose is glucose bonded with fructose. Lactose found in milk is glucose bonded with galactose. Maltose is glucose boded with glucose. When more than ten monosaccharides are joined together, they are called polysaccharides. Starch is a glucose polymer.

Carbohydrates are an essential source of energy for the body, providing fuel for the brain, organs and muscles, enabling them to function and engage in everyday activities.

Sugar Cane and Sugar Beet

Sugar cane and sugar beets contain the greatest amount of sucrose, around 14-16%. This makes them the most efficient plants to extract sugar.

Sugar cane is a perennial grass, grown in tropical climate. They grow between 10-20 foot high. They are ready to harvest in 10-12 months, and are cut just above the root so new sprouts will grow.

Sugar beet was first identified as a source of sugar in 1747. The vested interests in the sugar cane plantations prevented sugar beet being explored further until the beginning of the 19th century. They are a root, ready to harvest in about 5 months, weighing a substantial 3-5lbs.

The Dark History of Sugar

A Brief History of Sugar From Slavery to Sweetener by Crafty Knowledge
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Posted in Natural World

British Beavers are Back for Good

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Once native to Britain, for centuries beavers were excessively hunted for their pelts, meat and scent glands, finally becoming extinct in the 16th century. Back in 2009 they were reintroduced to the UK when 11 beavers were released in Knapdale forest, Scotland. The project aimed to see if the animals could survive and if there presence would benefit conversation and the environment. After five years the beavers had successfully bred and the dams and canals they built were considered beneficial to the environment.

Since the success of the Scottish Beaver Trial, other areas of the UK have gradually released these large rodents into their waterways. But not everybody is happy about the reunion: farmers, landowners and anglers have concerns. Tree felling and dam building by beavers can be destructive and cause flooding. Fishermen fear the presence of beaver can alter fish migration and their dams could block essential spawning routes. There are also fears beaver will spread disease, including a particular tapeworm that can be fatal to humans.

This said, experts believe beaver to be ecosystem engineers. The dams they build slow the flow of water from high ground thus decreasing the risk of flooding. These dams also act as a filtering system for pollution in our waterways. And beaver habitats benefit and encourage other species. Back in August 2020 these buck toothed rodents were granted permanent residence in the river Otter, East Devon. After a five year trial water quality was up, risk of flooding was improved and other species were thriving.

Now after 800 years beaver are returning to Derbyshire, to an area less than 6 miles from my home. Two companies have granted Derbyshire Wildlife Trust £140,000. The money will be spent introducing two family of beaver to 20 acres of protected wetland in Derbyshire. A high risk flood area, the hope is the dams they build will divert water away from the village and instead onto wetland. The new residents will hopefully be arriving from Scotland as early as November 2020. There are also plans to build a visitor centre and circular walk to enable people to get up close to nature and these new residents.

So I would like to say a big hello to our two local beaver families.

Posted in Natural World

Spot Sundays Snow Supermoon

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

The first supermoon of the decade will be visible this weekend. Peaking around 0733 GMT (0233 EST) on Sunday 9th February 2020. The second full moon of the year, will be the first of four supermoons this year.

Scientifically known as perigee syzygy, the term supermoon was first used in 1979. It refers to a full moon at least 90 percent or closer to perigee. The moon obits Earth in an ellipse (oval). The farthest point called the apogee is approximately 253,000 miles (405,500 kilometres) from Earth. Perigee is the closest point, about 226,000 miles (363,300 kilometres) from Earth. Syzygy is the geometric alignment of celestial bodies, in this instance the Sun, Moon, and Earth.

A supermoon can appear 14 percent larger, and up to 30 percent brighter than a standard full moon. Due to the increased gravitational pull of a supermoon stronger high tides are normal, however: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, fires, severe weather, and extreme flooding are a myth.

The modern calendar is based on the length of time it takes the earth to orbit the sun, known as a solar year. In ancient times people more often traced the seasons by following the moon orbiting the earth, known as a lunisolar calender or lunar month. Across Europe and America, settlers used features associated with the season to name the full moon of each month of the year.

JanuaryWolf Moonused by Anglo-Saxons referring to howling wolvesMoon After Yule, Old Moon, Ice Moon
FebruarySnow MoonUsed by Native American tribes referring to snowy conditionsHunger Moon, Storm Moon, Chaste Moon
MarchWorm Moonreferring to the appearance of earthworms at the end of winterCrow Moon, Crust Moon, Sap Moon, Sugar Moon, Chaste Moon, Lenten Moon
AprilPink Moonrepresenting pink flowers called phlox that bloom in early spring
(also used to calculate Easter, known as Paschal Moon)
Sprouting Grass Moon, Fish Moon, Hare Moon, Egg Moon
MayFlower Moonsignifying the array of flowers that bloom in MayCorn Planting Moon, Milk Moon
JuneStrawberry Moona reference to strawberry seasonHot Moon, Mead Moon, Rose Moon
JulyBuck Moonreferring to the new antlers emerging on the foreheads of deer buckThunder Moon, Wort Moon, Hay Moon
AugustSturgeon Moonreferring to the large number of fish in the lakes where the Algonquin tribes fishedGreen Corn Moon, Barley Moon, Fruit Moon, Grain Moon
SeptemberHarvest Moonthe Old Farmers Almanic refer to the Old English/Anglo-Saxon nameCorn Moon, Full Corn Moon, Barley Moon
OctoberHunters Moonpeople in the Northern Hemisphere traditionally spent this month hunting, slaughtering and preserving meat to eat throughout the winterDying Grass Moon, Blood Moon, Sanguine Moon
NovemberBeaver Moonrepresenting beavers become more active in preparation for winterFrosty Moon, Oak Moon, Mourning Moon
DecemberMoon Before YuleThe Old English/Anglo-Saxon name referring to ChristmasCold Moon
Ancient Names of Months

Julius Caesar introduced the Julian Calendar in 45 BC, replacing the complicated Roman calendar based on phases of the moon. From this tine forward Latin month names gradually replaced ancient full moon names.

Posted in Natural World

Pink is the New White

I was eight when the Great Storm of October 1987 blew in from the channel, battering our three storey town house near the Solent. It was gone midnight when the lashing of rain and wind rattling the window panes roused me, the noise outside like an unleveled washing machine on spin cycle.

At that time, me and my older sister shared a bedroom in the basement. My parents at the top of the house seemed a long way to tread shivering in my nightdress, instead choosing as I often did, to pull my torch from beside my bed and read a few pages of my book. The trail of words in black ink against white page soon blurred and I drifted into contented sleep, the sound of the storm like a lullaby.

A study published March 8th 2017 suggests the storm that woke me, may have also helped me drift back into slumber. So here is a little bit of simplified science to explain. Colour is used by scientists to categorize sound. White noise is a consistent static sound like the whir of a fan or hum of an air conditioning unit. They can aid sleep by drowning out the sounds that wake us, or prevent us from dropping off in the first place – a barking dog, the slam of a door, a partner snoring. Natural sounds like babbling brooks, crashing ocean waves, falling rain, whispering winds or brutal gales are known as pink noise – sounds with a consistent frequency. These sounds slow and regulate brain waves and are associated with a deep phase of sleep, which leave us feeling fresh and well rested when we wake.