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Have a Boron Christmas!
By Bowser
22, Dec 2001 - 20:02

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Christmas trees like a bit of boron
Christmas trees need boron to stay healthy as, apparently, it helps to move water and sugars to the leaves. Christmas tree growers have to be conscious of the amount of boron in the foliage which is needed in just minute, tiny amounts. Adding a little to your cut tree can help to keep your tree fresh and green for longer - the following recipe also fireproofs your Christmas tree. You need to saw a little off the end of the tree and stand it in a solution of the following for 24 hours - the solution is made by adding to 8 litres of hot water: a half litre of corn syrup (sugary water might do just as well), 60 mls of liquid bleach, 2 pinches of Epsom salts, 1/2 teaspoon of Borax, and 1 teaspoon of chelated iron (available at garden centres). Use the same solution for watering the tree. Probably too late now for this year but try it next year! A solution, which acts just as a fireproofer, is made from 5 litres of water to which you add a cup of ammonium sulphate, a half cup of boric acid and 2 tablespoons of borax. This can be misted onto the tree with a plant spray bottle. Not a bad idea, especially as we get closer to Little Christmas and the damn things start to really dry out and become dangerously flammable (or even inflammable).

Eggsactly right for Christmas
Another boron-Christmas link is the Christmas cake. Borax as a preservative may not be familiar nowadays. With JIT (just in time) delivery of goods we expect to have fresh eggs (and fresh everything else too for that matter) all year round. But in the old days, before the EU's CAP, eggs were routinely preserved when they were plentiful (and cheap) in the summer months so that you would have enough to make your Christmas cake later in the year when they were either unavailable or so expensive you couldn't afford them. Eggs were preserved by sealing them from the air - a gooey mix that included borax was coated onto the egg surface to exclude the air so that no microbes could penetrate the porous shell. They stayed fresh enough for cake mixture, although people generally didn't use preserved eggs straight as boiled eggs. That's the way I remember it as a kid at least.
The sediments beneath Bilberry Lake record Chernobyl and nuclear weapons tests

The other recipe that needed lots of boron was the mix required to extinguish the fire at Chernobyl in 1986. A mixture of borated sand and lead finally succeeded in putting the fire out. The lead in the mix was used to seal off the reactor from air when it melted. Boron is used in nuclear reactor rods to shut down fission reactions because it absorbs neutrons very efficiently and can stop a chain reactions in its tracks. An emergency shutdown is called a SCRAM as in "we had to scram the reactor to prevent a meltdown"! In the case of Chernobyl they didn't succeed in scramming the reactor though. A lot of those in the helicopters and cleanup crews died subsequently due to radiation exposure. Illnesses such as thyroid cancer in children have been documented in three countries adjacent to the reactor at levels that are dramatically higher than expected by the World Health Organisation. Following the initial explosion, the graphite in the reactor burned for ten days - the thing got so hot that graphite actually burned - a minimum of 650°C is required to ignite graphite. Chernobyl released 400 times the amount of radioactivity released during the Hiroshima atomic bomb explosion so it was an extremely 'dirty' event. Irish lakes such as Bilberry and Lough Lannagh all still store a record of the event. The fallout of radioactivity following the Chernobyl explosion is easily measured in the surface layers of lake sediments. It provides a dateline in the mud for 1986 - similar to a tree ring. It's just 10 centimetres or so above a similar sedimentary layer formed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons at the time spread a very nasty radioactive cocktail right around the globe literally from pole to pole.

Carbon can be a girl's best friend....

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