BBC BLOGS - Gregory's First Law

Archives for September 2011

Autumn Asparagus

David Gregory | 12:13 UK time, Friday, 23 September 2011

So today I'm reporting on the UK's first autumn asparagus crop being harvested from now right through to November. This is well outside the traditional season which stretches from St George's Day through to midsummer's day.

In my report this is how I explain how the farmer has managed to do this;

It's a variety from the south of france, and by using polytunnels to control temperature and the water supply you can trick it into producing plump juicy spears from now until November.

Well dear blog reader as ever with science it is a little bit more complicated than that. This particular variety will happily produce spears of asparagus all year round. But here in England the climate would lead to lots of feeble little spears and quickly exhaust the plant.

Putting the plant in a polytunnel allows the farmer to do two things. Keep the plant warmer (although without actually needing heaters to warm things up) and also control the water supply. And it's this that allows you to trick the plant and make it dormant earlier in the year and then waking it up to start producing spears around now.

There are plenty of other clever details which the farmer and supermarket who've created this autumn asparagus wouldn't reveal. And to give you some idea it's taken seven years and hundreds of thousands of pounds to get this far. Even if the competion worked out exactly how to do it it would still take them 18 months to catch up. Clever innovation like this is a tribute to Midlands' ingenuity.

Meanwhile here's some other of my favourite facts about asparagus. It really does grow one centimetre an hour. In fact we are planning to get a time lapse camera to film some very soon. Others have already tried it.

And the reason it makes your urine smell funny? Methyl Mercaptan. Although interestingly there's a genetic component to all this, only some people have the genes to make the smell and only some people have the genes to actually smell the result. Not always the same person.

The Vernon Manuscript

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David Gregory | 17:14 UK time, Friday, 9 September 2011

The Vernon manuscript

This is an image from the Vernon manuscript. A book of religious stories for "pious people" that was written around 1400AD. But in recent times this "treasure of English literature" has been kept in the Bodleian Library in Oxford with little chance for anyone apart from academics to see it.

It's thought the book is from the West Midlands because of the dialect used within it. So "you" is written "yow" which is of course how someone with a Black Country accent would still pronounce the word today.

Now researchers at the University of Birmingham want to bring the Vernon Manuscript back to the Midlands and they're especially keen to record it being read by people with Black Country and Birmingham accents. To hear it sound like it would have done six hundren years ago. You can listen to the results here.

Although it isn't online sadly, the manuscript has now been digitised and it's this that has allowed this project to go ahead. On the University of Birmingham website you can read much more about the project and see a list of locations where you can meet the team and try your hand at reading from one of our most important books.

And if you can't wait, here's a text from the Vernon Manuscript to try for yourself;

IN . A . somer sesun . whon softe was the sonne .
I schop me in to a schroud . A scheep as I were.
In habite of an hermite un holy of werkes.
Wende I wydene in this world wondres to here.
Bote in a Mayes Morwnynge on Maluerne hulles.
Me bi fel a ferly. A Feyrie me thouhte.
I was weori of wandringe And wente me to reste.
Undur a brod banke bi A Bourne syde
And as I lay and leonede And lokede on the watres.
I slumberde in A slepyng hit sownede so murie.
Thenne gon I. Meeten A Meruelous sweuene.
That I was in A wildernesse wuste I neuer where
And as I beo heold in to the Est An heig to the sonne.
I sauh a Tour on a Toft wonderliche I maket.
With deop dich and derk And dredful of siht.
A Feir feld ful of folk fond I ther bi twene.
Of alle maner of men the mene and the riche.
Worchinge and wondringe as the world asketh
Summe putten hem to the plough. and pleiden hem ful seldene.
In Eringe And in Sowynge swonken ful harde.
that monie of theos wasturs . In Glotonye distruen.
To preyere And to penaunce putten heom money .
For loue of ur lord liueden ful harde
In Hope for to haue Heuene riche blisse.

Favourite fact from this story? It took two hundred calves to produce the skin needed for the vellum pages of this book.

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