Roots 'n' Shoots: May 2013

Why is RnS Moving to

Google had brought out an algorithm update in May 2017. With previous updates like Panda or Penguin, Mr G had penalized blogs or websites with low quality content and those more focused on aggressive adverts (including multiple ads or pop-up ads in articles). However, many blogs/websites that weren't shady got penalized beyond recovery too and a lot of people lost their income. The May 2017 update has had wide-scale effect on blogs and websites, but without any explanation from Mr G as to why or what it does. RnS has been hit by it too and hard. RnS organic search stats (i.e. users from Google) have dropped by 75% since. Even though RnS is not a source of income, I tried to figure out why RnS is being culled. It seems that it doesn't really have anything to do with RnS per se, but likely because RnS is FREE and not paying for page ranking (via AdWords or Ad Ranking). Now it is likely being aggressively shoved to lower page rankings to accommodate the paid ads.

I cannot rely on Mr G anymore to get RnS' content where it is needed. So I am busy moving RnS to Wordpress where you can find me as Whisker Flowers @

I am also imposing 301 redirects from already moved posts and pages!

- The Shroom - (AKA Whisker Flowers)

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Cucumber: How To Grow - Fruit of the Month

Cucumber stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
2/5       - Weekly check-up
4/5       - Daily
5/5       - Full sun, no shade
2-4/5    – Moderate (on trellis)
3/5       – Moderate (monthly)
Time to Harvest:
3/5       – Moderate (2-3 months from seed)
Frost Hardiness:
1/4       – Very Tender (cannot take light frost)                                                    

Culinary, Pollinator attractor
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Powdery Mildew
Container Plant:
Can be, but preferably train up a trellis

Poisonous cucumber
Cucumis trigonus
Quick intro

Cucumbers are not a particularly important food crop, but they do bring some interest to food dishes and provide refreshing taste to summer salads. Cucumbers can be eaten raw and sliced into salads, pureed into soups or chopped and cooked into Indian-style vegetable dishes. Additionally, young parts of the plant (leaves, shoots, seeds and roots) are also consumed as food. Cucumber do very well in hot climates, with plenty of water for fruit set, and new cultivars are highly productive and only require one or two plants to provide enough for a family.


The present day cucumber is thought to have its origins on the foothills of the Himalayas from the wild Cucumis hardwickii. The plant has been cultivated in India for 3000 years, from Cucumis hystrix, and was introduced to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Several varieties of cucumbers can be found worldwide today with three main varieties; slicing, pickling and burpless cucumbers.

Science Stuff

Cucumbers (including gherkins and melons) belong to the same family as the squash and pumpkins, the Cucurbitaceae, but cucumbers belong to a different genus, namely Cucumis. The most widely cultivated species of cucumber is Cucumis sativus. Several wild cucumbers are also available, but are not commercially grown, specifically the native African cucumbers. Here is a quick run-down of each;

Cucumis sativus – three main varieties. Slicing cucumbers are eaten raw and unripe (green). These are mainly used in salads and cooked dishes. Pickling cucumbers are pickled for flavour and are shorter and thicker than slicing cucumbers. Burpless cucumbers are sweet, nearly seedless and have a thinner skin. This makes them more popular for raw consumption, but need to be grown in a greenhouse to prevent pollination by insects.

Cucumbers, slicing, pickling and burpless
Cucumis sativus
Muu-karhu, Gruepig, Ariya shookh
Cucumis metuliferus – the African horned cucumber. This is a round variety with large spines. It is eaten when fully ripe (bright yellow-orange) and is supposed to have notes of banana, melon and citrus – but I highly disagree (see later for more details J).

African horned cucumber
Cucumis metuliferus
Forest & Kin Starr
Cucumis hirsutus & Cucumis quintanilhae - two African varieties, but largely undescribed.

Cucumis hemifructus – another African species, known as the ‘Aardvark cucumber’. It is also known as the Kiwano, melano, African horned melon, horny cucumber, hedged gourd or English tomato (who knows what’s on with the last name). This is a round variety with large spines. The fruits can be eaten young, mature green or when fully ripe (bright yellow-orange). It is used mainly in desserts and is supposed to have notes of banana, melon and citrus – but I highly disagree (see later for more details J). It originated in Africa, the Kalahari desert. It was introduced to Australia, where it became a weed, and is now cultivated in California and New Zealand.

Aardvark mother & baby
Orycteropus afer
Scotto Bear
Cucumis melo – that’s the melon. Not fond of melons, but I imagine the growth requirements are largely the same as cucumbers.

Cucumis melo
Seth Vidal

Cucumis anguria – the burr gherkin. A West African species that cannot be interbred with the commercial gherkin, but it can be eaten and pickled.

Burr gherkin
Cucumis anguria
Eugenio Hansen

Cucumis myriocarpus – the paddy melon, a mostly inedible species from Spain.

Paddy melon
Cucumis  myriocarpus

Cucumis zeyheri – an African species, very bitter and inedible. Also known as the wild cucumber or bitterappel (again Afrikaans for “bitter apple”).

As you can see, most of the other cucumber species are bitter and inedible. This is due to a compound found in cucumbers, known as cucurbitacins. The cucurbitacins are cytotoxic (causes death to cells) and are often poisonous to livestock, we (humans) perceive this as a bitter taste. Cucurbitacins are species related, where Cucurbitacin C is found in Cucumis sativus, and Cucurbitacin A in other species of Cucumis

The burpless cucumbers are parthenocarpic, meaning that they can produce fruits without pollination/fertilisation. This prevents the production of Cucurbitacins that results in bitter tasting fruits and hence they are grown in greenhouses to prevent pollination. The varieties of slicing cucumber that I have (and the African horned cucumbers) do not produce fruits without pollination. Thus I will be discussing cucumber pollination hereafter.

Growing Cucumbers

Cucumbers are grown outdoors in regions with warm climates.  In temperate or colder regions, cucumbers are grown indoors under glass- or greenhouses (and thus it would be better to get the burpless varieties, since pollinators are not available).

Cucumber plant
Cucumis sativus
Cucumber seeds are sown directly into the ground, or can be started indoors and moved out to the garden once the plant has 3-4 leaves and the threat of frost is over. Seeds should be sown in soil that has reached at least 16oC (60oF), this means well into spring or started indoors under a cloche (this can be an overturned transparent plastic bowl or bottle).

There are two main ways to grow cucumbers:

1 cucumber) Over the soil. This is where the cucumber vine is left to trail over the ground. Problem with this is that fruits either rot on the wet ground or they become hard and yellow on the side that is in contact with the ground. This can be prevented by placing straw or plastic underneath developing fruit.

2 cucumber) Trellis. Many different trellises have been fashioned for cucumbers both in pots and directly in the garden. I have my trellis propped diagonally against the wall with enough space between the wall and the trellis for the cucumber vine to grow and bear fruits. This negates the soil contact issue and also saves soil space for some other vegetables!

The cucumbers will start to produce 1-2 months after sowing. Many standard cultivars are very prolific and two plants produce about 6 cucumbers (a good 30-25cm) every two weeks. You can also stagger the crop, by planting the second set cucumber(s) one month after the first or after the first set has started to flower.

I do not limit the amount of cucumbers on a plant, since they have such a quick turnaround time for fruit set and increased soil fertilisation (every two weeks) during fruiting should help it along. Pinch out the growing tip (with your fingernails or cutters), two leaves after the first fruit – this will encourage a more bushy nature with more fruiting side-shoots.

The first flowers produced are males, after which female flowers emerge (small cucumber behind the flower). If you have a lack of pollination (our bees only have eyes for the basil flowers! L) – then the flowers need to be pollinated by hand. The female flowers are easily pollinated by using a soft paint brush, scoop out some pollen (yellow dust) from the male anthers and deposit on the female stigma. The male anthers have a single yellow structure, whereas the female sigma is a light yellow three-lobed structure, see Squash for more details on hand pollination. For burpless varieties, remove the males, since the females develop fruit without pollination.

Cucumber flower
The one on the left is not pollinated and died.
Cucumis sativus

The fruits will hang from the trellis as they swell, you can support them with thick twine tied around the stems several times- this prevents stem breakage.

Cucumber fruit
Cucumis sativus
Other Cucumber Tips

Cucumbers, as with squash and pumpkins, are susceptible to powdery mildew. Efforts are being made to breed more resistant varieties. Prevention of powdery mildew is to keep the leaves dry, so water at plant stems, and you can also spray some of my organic control as prevention.

Powdery Mildew
Harvesting & Storing

Cucumbers can be harvested when small (10cm) or fully swollen (30cm). Some cucumbers have spines, but these are easily removed by scraping with a butter knife. Cucumbers do not keep well after harvest. The shelf life can be extended by refrigeration (in a plastic bag with a few drops of water to prevent shrivelling), will keep for about a week.

Seed Collection & Storage

Cucumber seeds are harvested from botanically ripe fruits. This is the same for squash. Botanically ripe cucumbers are yellow and mushy, bitter and inedible! The seeds are extracted and the pulp washed from the seeds. You can also ferment the seeds, but all I manage to get is germination and not fermentation – so pick mushy fruits that have already done that for you J. The seeds can be stored in labelled glass jars for up to 5 years.

My Cucumbers

I have the Starke Ayers Ashley variety – produces thick, up to 30cm cucumbers and is very prolific. Some spines are present.

African horned cucumber – I decided to try this. The plants grow very well –trailing all over the place, but they are slow to produce fruits. The fruits are horrible – very bitter – I was not impressed especially after being lied to about how nice they are! They do have a large ornamental value, for those interested in some strange looking plants, but as an edible crop - no.

African Horned Cucumber
Cucumis metuliferus
Bitterappel – We have a bushveld next to our house on the same property. We find all kinds of interesting things in there. This year, for the first time that I noticed, we came across some wild cucumbers. I first had them wrongly identified as there is loads of confusion on the internet about the African cucumbers. So I thought I till give it a try (this was before sampling the African horned cucumber) and it is so horrible that the bitterness will even stick to water K!!! K Eish! After that unpleasant experience, I had tons of suspicion about the African one – so did not have such a humongous bite of that! The other problem is that they smell so wonderful, much like a banana melon, but Egh! So, I think it is safe to say that these wild cucumbers are likely Cucumis zeyheri and that I won’t be planting any African cucumbers again.

Wild cucumber
Cucumis sp.
(likely Cucumis zeyheri, Bitterappel)
On that note, I think it was a bunch of people who have the genetic defect for tasting bitterness that wrote the descriptions! Yes, about 70% of the population can taste bitterness, whereas the other 30% have a mutation in the gene and they cannot taste bitterness – and will likely have more appreciation for ‘other’ flavours of bitter cucumbers! Apparently there are non-bitter cultivars … so maybe I got cheated instead!

Last note, I had some lemon cucumber seeds, but got confused about whether I planted them or not. Thought that some of the African ones were lemons until they started fruiting – oh the horror! J Anyways – will try the lemons again next season and report back.

So stick to Cucumis savitus!

- Update 13 Nov 2013 - 

I have finally gotten some lemon cucumbers growing!!! BUT they aren't all good to eat, some of them are bitter! Not as much as the African ones, but there are one or two that come out bitter. Besides I don't taste the difference between them and normal cucumbers (maybe a bit sweeter?) - so I decided to stick to my Ashley! J

Lemon Cucumber
Cucumis sativus


Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆

Sunday, 19 May 2013

DIY Bird Deterrent (Part 1)

During the summer growing season we have had some problems with Black-eyed Bulbuls that help themselves to our tomatoes, raspberries and figs. The nasty little buggers always managed to get to the fruits just when they’ve ripened – the cats aren't doing their jobs of scaring the birds away J!

Black-Eyed Bulbul - what naughty little birds!
Pycnonotus tricolor
Snowmanradio, Derek Keats

So with some old CDs and a bit of creative savvy I made a few bird deterrents. Initially I wanted to purchase one of those reflective bird pyramids, but after seeing the price and surviving a minor heart attack – I decided to create my own based on the same principle.

So birds' visual colour - and light spectrums are different to humans. Humans can see in the 400-750nm wavelength range (the visual light range, indicated on the figure below). Our range has a normalised bell curve (the purple curve on the left side of the figure below) and our optimum colour range peaks at 555nm (which is green). Whereas birds have three optimum range peaks, one at green (508m), blue (445nm) and red (565nm). This makes birds more sensitive to these colours, red being the most prominent. By incorporating red and reflective surfaces into your bird deterrent devices will make your garden a literal eye-sore to birds and they will avoid landing close by.

Bird vision: as compared to human vision.
Top: Electromagnetic spectrum of light (note circle indicates the visible light spectrum); Inductive load & N174, Wikipedia.
Left: Human visual spectrum, with normalised curve superimposed, same axes lables as on right; Vanessaezekowits& BenRG, Wikipedia. 
Right: Bird visual spectrum, L. Shaymal, Wikipedia.

So I took some old scratched up CDs, glued some red and mirror mosaic pieces onto them and voila! It works really well… given the sun is shining J. A lot less expensive than the bird pyramids! Hung one close by the chicken coop to scare off would-be pigeon scavengers that eat all the chicken pellets – don’t worry; it is hung at pigeon-eye level, not chicken eye-level, so the chickens are unaffected J. The CDs swing around when the wind blows, which scatters light across the garden and helps to fend off fruit thieves.

DIY Bird deterrents, front (left) and back (right) hung from tomato stakes. Now the tomatoes and chicken pellets can be spared!


Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! 😆

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