Roots 'n' Shoots: March 2014

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, 29 March 2014

How to Grow: Pea plant - Vegetable of the Month

Pea plant stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
- Biweekly check-ups
- Twice a week
- Full sun, shade tolerant
- Moderate, train up a trellis
- Fortnightly, half strength fertiliser
Time to Harvest:
- A long time, 3-4 months
Frost Hardiness:
- Mildly hardy, can’t cope with severe frost

Most Problematic Nemesis:
Heat, mildew
Container Plant:

Pisum savitum
Flora von Deutschland ├ľsterreich und der Schweiz

Quick intro

I’ve never been fond of peas, especially those frozen things, except ham-and-pea-soup! Fresh snap peas direct from the plant, however, had me converted to a pea lover. They are especially convenient when it comes to grab and eat veg for lunches or dinners. Unfortunately peas can only be grown in winter in SA (especially the hot-summer areas), because the heat of the SA sun, peas grow poorly in summer and fail to crop. Peas can be used in any form, whole, split, ground into flour and dried. They feature in many different recipes; such as soups, puddings and convenience-foods (canned or frozen). I also know that the British are especially taken with mushy peas, bangers and mash!

Snap Pea flowers
Pisum savitum var macrocarpon


Peas were likely domesticated in south-western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean during 8000BC. The cultivation of peas spread eastwards to India and China throughout 1000AD. In the 17th century, peas were often grown in English gardens by the Romans and dried peas were very popular in ancient Europe. The love of green peas (specifically mange tout in France) only happened in the 16th century.

Science Stuff

The humble garden pea (AKA English, Green, Common) is known as Pisum sativum. Other pea types such as those with edible pods, snap, sugar or snows are a subtype known as Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon. Peas and beans belong to the same family of leguminous plant, Fabaceae. They are nitrogen-fixing; they convert atmospheric nitrogen to bio-available nitrogen in the soil by symbiotic bacteria contained in their root nodules and thus they add nutrient to the soil. Due to this characteristic peas are high in proteins (of which nitrogen is a main component), 23% protein, 1% fat and 59% carbohydrates. Another advantage of peas is that they contain no toxic parts, many other vegetables might have a poisonous component (such as the fruits of potatoes).

All flowering plants will produce fruits, and are thus, technically botanical fruits. The pea is known as a dry-fruit, a dehiscent legume. The development of the pea pod leads to the classification of two main types:

Shelling: These have though pods and seeds develop rapidly within the pod.

Snap/snow/mange tout: Also known as eat-all peas have crisp/tender pods with delayed seed developed and are eaten with the pod on.

Snap Pea cropping
Pisum savitum var macrocarpon

Several intermediate varieties have been bred with normal seed development rates, but have tender pods suitable for eating. The Asparagus peas have four winged brackets and taste asparagus-like. Asparagus peas are legumes, but belong to a different genus, Lotus tetragonolobus.

Growing Peas

Cool-climate growers will likely be able to grow peas during their summer months or even right through the year. Warm-climate countries, such as South Africa, will have to grow their peas as a seasonal winter crop. I will give growing information on the snap peas (edible podded) varieties.

It is preferable to sow peas directly into the soil of the garden plot, alternatively you can buy seedling or start them up indoors (where it is cooler) in order to plant outside once the average day temperatures drop to below 20oC.

The pea plants germinate fairly quickly, but are slow to mature and produce pods (hence another advantage of starting early). Peas are generally self-sufficient, but they require stakes or trellises for their tendrils to grasp and support the plant. You can feed them, I usually fertilise once every two weeks with half-strength liquid feed.

Snap Pea tendril
Pisum savitum var macrocarpon

 Other Pea plant Tips

Peas are very productive and the more you pick the more they produce.

Don’t leave pods on the plant for too long as they become tough and might slow production of the plant. If you want to harvest seed, let some pods dry towards the end of the season.

The peas can be pruned a bit to have a more ‘open’ branching structure, so that branches don’t cross or pods aren’t produced on the inside of the bush where they are difficult to spot and get to.

Sometimes pea seeds suffer from rot before germinating. Therefore some people plant pea seeds in moist soil, water it once and don’t water it again until the shoots have emerged.

Be careful of not perpetuating legume-disease by planting your peas/beans and green manures in the same bed season after season, try to rotate the crops with non-legumes or interplant with non-legumes.

Remove pea pods with scissors as they can be quite stubborn and yanking might damage the parent plant.

Peas are fairly prone to downy mildew, especially in humid conditions or after long periods of rain. See my Pest control post for a downy mildew spray (duals for cucurbits and carrots as well).

Harvesting and Storing

Pea pods can be harvested as soon as the flower drops and the pea-pods develop. Small pods are very sweet and tender, whereas larger ones with have a good crisp bite to them.

Peas, in my experience, don’t keep well. They can probably do three days to a week in the fridge, but are best prepared or eaten right after harvest. I think that because these are tender-podded varieties they don’t freeze well either, I assume that the peas with though pods can be emptied and the individual peas can be frozen with much more success.

Snap Pea Pod Harvest
Pisum savitum var macrocarpon

 You can pickle peas, but I don’t like pickles, so I haven’t tried that. Therefore, I enjoy my pea bounty once a year during the winter months J


I love the term for pea flowers: “Papillonaceous”. Papillon, it French for butterfly, which is what pea flowers look-like. These butterfly-flowers are self-pollinated, but may be visited by the bees when the other winter-flowers are scarce. Due to this peas outcross rarely, but if you want ‘pure’ stocks, then separate by 15 meters (50 feet) to isolate by distance. 

Snap Pea flowers
Pisum savitum var macrocarpon

Peas are grown as annuals and their seeds can be saved for up to three years. Dry, brown pods that rattle are mature and ready to harvest. Leave them for another week to two weeks before shelling and storage. [No tedious fermentation required, Yay!]. Store in glass, air-tight jars to optimise shelf life. These seeds are then sowed once the soil has reached 4-24oC (40-75oF).

Something interesting – Mendel’s Pea Garden

Gregor Johann Mendel was an Austrian monk (Brno, Czechoslovakia). He is the founding father of genetics. He studied the heredity of discrete, non-overlapping characters that are transferred from the parent to the offspring, more commonly referred to today as genes. He studied the garden pea as he could identify seven heredity characteristics and performed several cross-breeding experiments on these. In order to study the inheritance of these traits Mendel cultivated over 29 000 pea plants over a period of seven years and meticulously recorded what he observed with different crossings and several generations of certain crosses.

His studies resulted in the basic genetic principles (Mendel’s Law of Inheritance) now taught to students who study Life Sciences. These laws have two important fundamentals:

The Law of Segregation: This involves that characteristics are governed by two separate entities (genes). These genes can have different variants, known as alleles. The two genes split during reproduction and only one is transferred to the offspring from each parent.

For example – Let us look at the characteristic of plant height. One plant is tall, the other is short. These two plants are the parents (P generation), which we cross and obtain offspring (F1 generation). We observe that all offspring of this cross are tall. Curious, you say? Well, let us observe what happens when you cross two F1 with one another (Tall x Tall). Now we observe that 75% of the offspring are tall, whereas 25% of the offspring are short (this is the F2 generation).

This is an example of a simple genetic inheritance, where one trait is dominant (and will always be expressed regardless of the status of the other gene) and the other is recessive. Here, the tall trait is dominant and the short is recessive. Let me give them symbols and elaborate the crosses with those: Watch what happens…

Tall plants: T, dominant symbol
Short plants: t, recessive symbol

P1 Tall plant = TT (remember there are 2 genes) & P1 Short = tt
These traits will split during gamete formation, so each gamete will have either one T or t and with 4 gametes we can illustrate in a table (known as a Punnett square, much like a plant seedling punnet LOL!). Gametes are marked in yellow, offspring or zygotes marked in green.


See what happens: all the offspring get one T and one t. This means that the T trait ‘overrules’ the t trait and all offspring (F1) are tall! Now we do the F1 x F1


Hah! Those sneaky pea plants! Now we can see why our F2 are 75% (3 out of 4) tall and 25% (1 of 4) short.

But what about two traits (for instance plant height and pea colour) were analysed together?... this leads to Mendel’s second law-

Snap Pea Winter Plot
Pisum savitum var macrocarpon

The Law of Independent Assortment: If two characteristics are analysed at once, they would act independent from one another (the one doesn’t affect or determine the outcome of the other). I’ll quickly illustrate this as I did above, but with two traits; plant height and pea colour.

Plant height: Tall gene, T, dominant & Short gene, t, recessive
Pea colour: Yellow gene, Y, dominant & Green gene, y, recessive

Parental generation (P1) are Tall Yellow (TTYY) plants crossed with Short Green plants (ttyy) : F1 would be:

So all offspring would be Tall with Yellow peas (TtYy)! Now let’s do F1 x F1 (TtYy x TtYy); we need to expand the table to allow for all combinations:


Whoa! This makes things seem more complicated, but it really isn’t. Each still goes by the 75:25 rule (or 3:1 rule) as above, it is just expanded by adding two traits and becomes a 9:3:3:1, such that:

9/16 plants are Tall with Yellow peas
3/16 plants are Tall with Green peas
3/16 plants are Short with Yellow peas
1/16 plants are Short with Green peas

This is an example of very basic genetic inheritance, and many traits do go by these rules (such as hair colour and eye colour in humans, but with more than two variants). You would also notice that the recessive gene is always in the minority, mostly due to them being detrimental (but not always!) and many diseases are caused by recessive genes (were two recessive genes are need to be present to cause the disease)… Anyways, I hope you enjoyed my quick Genetics 101, so let’s get back to growing peas instead of crossing them J

My Pea plants

I only have good ol’ snap peas: Starke Ayres Green Feast variety

Snap Pea
Pisum savitum var macrocarpon 

So when you grow your pea plants, check to see which of the seven characteristics they have according to Mendel’s observations!


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! ­čść

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The last of Summer; Winter preparations 2014

Summer has ended and for the first time in years we actually have a bit of Autumn (since ~10th March) which is lovely, average day time maximum of 22oC!

I did a last cheeky plant of summer vegetables (during Jan and Feb) seeing that our winters are a bit warmer than usual; so here they are:

Zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers

Waiting for the tamarillos and raspberries (two true autumn crops) to ripen!

Raspberry and tamarillo

We have had a good pumpkin and winter squash harvest this year and I have several beauties stashed for the winter. Other vegetables we horded and are storing long-term for winter use include sweet potatoes (white and jewel) as well as red and white potatoes! Look at that box of potatoes, complete with packing peanuts J

Squash and root crops

Winter preparations in the garden has included digging, composting and mulching over my ‘early’ beds. I have potted up some sweet potatoes slips in a sheltered place as insurance for sweet potatoes next summer.

Winter veg garden prep
The ‘late’ beds are still occupied with my last cheeky planting of summer veg. My early bed seedlings have already germinated and include peas, beans, broccoli and Brussels.

Winter vegetables ready to go!

We have three good stands of Alfalfa as winter green forage for the chickens this year as well.
Alfalfa (18% protein) for the chickens to eat in winter

Related Posts
Winter vegetable garden 2013
Winter leafy vegetables
Green manures, cover crops and green forage

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Saturday, 15 March 2014

Backyard Bushveld Safari

We live on a property that is based on an old agricultural small holding. It is roughly 1 hand about 2/3 of the plot is bushveld. So we have a walkabout each spring and summer to check on what happening in the veld. I took some pictures of the interesting plants and tried to ID most of them. So join me for a backyard bushveld safari - unfortunately, no lions though!

Backyard Bushveld in Spring (October)
The area above is what you see after passing the pumpkin patch, the compost heaps and the alfalfa plantation for the chickens. Most of the plants in the bushveld are native and traditionally used for their medicinal purposes.

 The African star grass belongs to the Hypoxidaceae family, which seems to be related to Asparagus.
African Star Grass
Hypoxis hemerocallidea

No common name for this one, but it is also a member of the Asparagaceae family.
Chlorophytum bowkeri

We have several common sugar bushed (Proteas) that put on a wonderful display each year, here are a couple of photos showing there different flowering stages
Common sugarbush
Protea caffra

A scary looking beetle helping itself to the nectar of the sugar bush
Hooked winged net winged beetle
Lycus melanurus

I did not expect to find any ferns in the veld, seeing as they prefer moist habitats. This one is drought tolerant and can be used for xeriscaping. Ecklon's lip fern belongs to the Adiantaceae fern family.
Ecklon's Lip Fern
Cheilanthes eckloniona

Everlastings are members of the Asteraceae (Daisy & Sunflower) family and is of high ornamental value as dried flowers in displays.
Everlasting species
Helichrysum pilosellum

Another member of the Asteraceae family. Gazania, like Gerberas, are native to South Africa and have the same showy display with colours of yellow and orange.
Gazania species
Gazania krebsiana

I think that this is a fairly common Gerbera to come across in SA bushvelds. A member of the Asteraceae family with many species and colours of white, pink, red, yellow, orange and purples.
Pink and white Gerbera
Gerbera ambigua

Both of these plant belong to the Solanaceae family, with the poison apple in the same genus (Solanum) as tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, nightshade and peppers. The spiky poison apple (or gifappeltjie in Afrikaans) is often confused with the Cape Gooseberry (note different genus, Physalis), where the former is very poisonous and the later is edible. The Gooseberries appeared in 2012 and made a large stand in the veld - their berries didn't ripen properly, so none for us L.
Poison apple
Solanum panduriforme
Cape gooseberry
Physalis peruviana

Nothing much is known about this group of flowering plants, but they do have pretty flowers. They belong to the Colchicaceae family of lilies.
Wurmbea spicata

The Syringa (Oleaceae family) is a highly invasive species. It has been removed since the photo was taken as it was sending roots into the pumpkin patch.
Melia azederach

This is the showiest of the veld flowers. This is a poisonous bulb of the Amaryllidaceae family (Alliums) and has lovely fan-like leaves.
Boophane disticha
Boophane disticha

Tumbleweed fan
Boophane disticha

I am going to dump a bunch of photos here, because I can't seem to ID them as my ID booklet is limited :)

I have know idea what this is, but the insects (especially
the bees) are crazy about the flowers. Will see if I can
propagate some for myself.

I think I have seen some of these as bright red
additions to cut flowers.

Here are a few more plants and critters I came across later in the season (March).

Bushveld in Autumn

Wild African Cucumber species. Very spiky and horridly bitter!!!
African Horned cucumber vine
Cucumis species

African lantana species, which have edible ripe berries (green ones are mildly poisonous).
African Lantana species

A serious weed and the bane of all bush walks, the Blackjack, Bidens species.
Bidens species

Cute bright yellow butterfly...
Broad bordered Grass Yellow butterfly
Eurema brigitta

The Chickens chilling in the brush

Wild Amaranth
Amaranthus species

Again, another unknown dump of Autumn beauties:

That's the end of our backyard bushveld safari! Hope you enjoyed the journey through some of the native plants of South Africa. If you would like to see more of our native wildlife, check out My Profile @ Project Noah!

If you enjoy the content 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 or Follow Your Way 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! J

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