Roots 'n' Shoots: April 2012

Monday, 9 April 2012

End of Season Review

It is autumn in SA (April-May) and everything is slowing down with the increasingly cold bite in the air. So it was a good time to give the garden a general 'service' and evaluate the success of the past season's crop.

We did have a better crop this year; not so hairy carrots/beets any more, lots of tomatoes given pruning, some of our fruit trees have bared their first crop (although not much) and we have had many potatoes and salad-based crops to enjoy. But the pumpkin/squash harvest of this year was poorer than last year, mainly due the certain pollinators not doing their job... All the pollinators in the garden (bees and flies) only come round for the basil flowers and neglect all the other plants (I had to personally pollinate all the passion fruit flowers that where desperately displaying to an uninterested audience!). So now I shall become head gardener and pollinator of this yard :)

Sad looking end-of-season plants

We dug out most of the garden and added all kinds of goodies (chicken manure, grass clippings, organic and inorganic fertiliser) which will hopefully pay off in return for lots and lots of big root crops, potatoes and whatever else that may be planted there. Lots of bare ground around the garden now, but I can try out my new crop succession planting strategy of increasing the square size to hopefully get  better crop stagger out of it (details in Beet Root article).

Bare ground

The chickens are really big now! They stand higher off the ground than the cats! And they are still growing! Not laying eggs yet, apparently due to the grow pellets we give them, but we can't put them on lay pellets yet because two of them are not at their point of lay yet :) So I'll rather have big chickens that are ready to lay eggs than force them when their biologically not ready yet, so we will wait patiently for our free-range eggs :)

The Chickens

Big Chickens


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Parktown Prawn aka King Crickets - Garden Critter of the Month:

King Crickets at a glance

Value to Gardener:
?    -  Depends on personal opinion
Danger to Humans:
0/5 - None (Gross factor 5/5!)
5/5 – If you live in northern SA, they're all over the place!

Libanasidus vittatus, King Cricket,
Wikipedia, Paul Venter

Quick Intro

These are my least favourite insect! And likely the bane of SA gardeners. Since they have this reputation, I thought I’ll feature them in a garden critter of the month discussion.

Science Stuff

The scientific classification is Libanasidus vittatus, under the insect order of Orthoptera. This includes all insects related to the cricket body-type, grasshoppers, katydids, locusts and crickets.

It is basically a large cricket, hence it’s called the King Cricket (common name parktown prawn). They can grow larger then 10cm with a red head and thorax, orange and black striped abdomen and large spiky orange legs. They have large mandibles which are capable of devouring just about everything. They are found in northern South Africa and in Angola.

Basic Cricket Morphology

Their strong legs allow them to jump a meter easily; although their directional control is lacking and when threatened they eject black foul smelling faecal liquid (eew!). This makes very entertaining scenes when you watch someone trying to catch them when they’re in the house J - they jump unpredictably and squirt nasty stuff all over the place! This is usually accompanied by equal amounts of 'eeking' and jumping of the person trying to catch the prawn. J

I think they are absolutely disgusting, but I understand their important role as both a predator and prey in the ecosystem. They also help with decomposition.


They like gardens with rich soil and lots of burrowing places (especially in your shoes!). As long as there is food they’ll move in!

Prawn burrowing under the logs - I ain't getting closer than this!


They are generalist in every way, from being predators to being prey themselves. They are omnivores and eat insects, snails, rotting plant and animal matter, pet food and sometimes wooden flooring. They are prey to Hadeda Ibis ('noisy big birds', I remember a French family, who visited the same guest house as we did, wrote in the comment book J), Fiscal Shrike (we have always had a dominant male that claimed our property as its territory) and Helmeted Guineafowl (we have 3 flocks living in the open areas around our neighbourhood).

Hadeda Ibis,
Wikipedia, DawidI
We call it Hadeda - it makes a haa haa de dah noise
Fiscal Shrike,
Wikipedia, Jerry Friedman

Helmeted Guineafowl,
Wikipedia, Bod

King Cricket 101

It is a true generalist and the opinions on whether it is useful or not varies. Some consider it a pest, while some gardeners consider them a friend as they perform natural snail control (maybe that’s one of the reasons why we do not have snails?), but they in turn will munch away at your vegetables! I just do not want them in the house! They always seem to be in my bedroom for some reason, being nocturnal they make clicking noises when they walk, which make it impossible to sleep – also they are not easy to find!

Libanasidus vittatus, King Cricket

Here is a quick 3 second video of one running across our lawn: The Insect from Hell

- Update 09 Feb 2013 -

Found a site with hilarious comments - check it out @

- Update 13 Nov 2013 -

For all of those who are here to find out whether parkies are dangerous: Don't stress, they are not dangerous or poisonous or going to rip off your legs. They just have a massive gross factor -even when their dead! One drowned itself in one of the buckets that we use to collect rain water, we scooped it out and dropped it on the floor - and its head came off! So gross... K

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