Roots 'n' Shoots: October 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)

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Scale Insects – Pest of the Month

 Scale at a glance

Type of Damage
Plant Symptoms
Stunted growth, leaf drop, leaf curl, death
Favourite Plant
Many trees and shrubs, citrus especially
Year-round in areas with mild winters (SA)
Moderate: physical control and preventative measures preferable, biological control agents available

Cochineal insects on a cactus branch (sizes not accurate)
IA Appleton's Guide to Mexico
Wikimedia Commons
Quick Intro

Scale insects are found across the world in all gardens, whether they have ornamentals or vegetables. Scales are often overlooked due to their small size but easily reach epidemic proportions that can kill off even the healthiest of plants. The best way to control scale is to prevent them from establishing on plants the first time round and to make sure that you control their ‘ant’ herders as well.

Science Stuff

Scale belonged to the previously obsolete Homoptera order, which were insects that had fully membranous wings. Now they have been allocated to the Hemiptera order, which include insects with half of their wings membranous and the other half covered in a thicker elytra. They are placed under the Sub-order; Strenorrhyncha and Superfamily; Coccoidae.

There are 23 families in total, of which 3 are of main concern to edible gardeners:

Coccidae – Soft scale

Soft Scale

These are very small insects, 1-2 mm contained within a waxy shell. They can be a myriad of colours, but the most common are light tan – black. Adult females lose their legs, becoming sessile and remain feeding on the same place for the duration of their life cycle. Males are short lived, 1-2 days, winged and never feed. Therefore the main damage to the plants is induced by the immatures and females.

Monophlebidae – Cottony cushion scale

Australian Bug, Fluted Scale,
Cottony Cushion Scale
Icerya purchasi

These are larger scale insects; immatures are 1-2 mm, whereas adults can be as large as 1 cm. They have soft (do not have a waxy cuticle), white bodies. These are hermaphrodites, meaning that no true males or females are present. They keep their eggs within their bodies and after hatching; bear live young. Adults retain their legs (unusual for scale insects) and limited mobility. 

Pseudococcidae - Mealybugs


Again, small about 1-2 mm grey or white bugs. They do not have a hardened waxy shell, but secrete a waxy coating onto their bodies and eggs (hence the name mealybug). They can often be confused with mealy aphids that have similar appearance and feed on the same host plants.


Woody trees and shrubs are most often targeted, this means any fruit trees or perennial herb are likely to be attacked. Citrus, and its relatives, such as curry plants are most often infested, especially during the winter months when trees become dormant and more susceptible to attack.

Microscopic Scale on underside of curry tree leaf
Soft Scale, Coccidae

Life Cycle

Immature scale can be transported via the wind to new hosts. Afterwards it seeks out a suitable feeding place, such as safe crevices or joints of branches. It will likely remain in the same place throughout its entire life cycle. Depending on the species, there can be one or two nymphal (instar) stages. Most adult female scale, except for mealybugs and cottony cushion scale lose their legs and become sedentary. Males die soon after fertilising females. Many scale species are parthenogenic, where unfertilised females give rise to ‘clones’ without any genetic contribution from the males. Some scale lay eggs outside their bodies, but most retain the eggs under their shell and once the eggs have hatched the adults ‘bear’ live young. Each generation the immatures, known as crawlers, move away from the adults and settle upon new terrain until the whole plant becomes occupied or the nymphs are swept away by the wind to start a new colony elsewhere.

Scale adults and immatures on stems and inside crevices


Multiple natural control remedies are available for scale, although several applications or rounds of scale removal will be necessary to ensure that the entire colony has been destroyed.

Firstly, physical removal is the most successful, but can be labour intensive. This means arming yourself with a blunt butter knife or twig or whatever tool is handy and scrape them from the plant bark. You do not require an excessive amount of force to remove them and once you have dislodged them they will die. I know of somebody who grabs a bucket of soapy water and a brush, then scrubs down her citrus trees when the winter infestation strikes!

Natural chemical control includes the use of horticultural white oil (see my Pest Control page for the recipe). Another option is to mix 50% v/v isopropyl alcohol with 1% w/v SDS, the alcohol dissolves the waxy cuticle and the SDS attacks the soft body beneath. Now I don’t think that these chemicals are too readily available to the public, so you can substitute it with ethanol and sunlight liquid – The exact quantities would be determined through some trial and error whereas the effect on the plant might be unknown (I would recommend avoiding the leaves of the plant should you wish to go this route).

Another alternative is diatomaceous earth, which contains small sharp particles that cut the bodies and leads to desiccation. This will control both the scale and ant herders, but might be a bit hard to come by or expensive.

Several insects parasitise or predators prey upon scale. Those that make up the front line in biological control are:

Biological Control Agent
Parasite or Predator
Prey species
Metaphycus helvolusEncyrtus spp., Encarsia citriniaAphytis spp., Coccophagus spp.
Coccus hesperidumSaitettia coffeae
Parasitic fly
Cryptochaetum iceryae
Icerya purchasi (cottony cusion scale)
Chilocorus spp., Hyperospisspp., Rhyzobius spp.

Rodolia cordinalis (Vedalia ladybug)
Various species

Icerya purchasi (cottony cusion scale)

The tiny parasitic wasps are most effective in greenhouses as they are simply swept away by the wind in outdoor gardens. Ladybeetles are more readily available, but will only arrive and remain in the garden if the scale populations are very high. Ladybeetle larvae feed beneath the scale insects and some of the adults resemble scale insects, such as the Mealy bug destroyer, so be careful not to harm them during your scale control efforts. Please refer to my Ladybird and Wasps Biological Control Posts for more detail information about each insect.

Preventative Tips

The old adage that ‘Prevention in better than Cure’ certainly applies to scale insects. This comes down to two crucial points:

1) Prevent scale attachment
2) Limit ant access

This can be done by applying Petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, to the base of the tree or shrub BEFORE infestation. Scale insects cannot move past this barrier which effectively keeps them off the plants. BUT, ants – AKA herders – seek the honeydew (sugary secretion) that scale and other pests produce. Ants will actively tend, protect and transport scale to hosts plant to keep them like cattle and harvest the honeydew. This is the biggest problem, because the ants do figure out how to manoeuvre over the Petroleum jelly and bring along their herds.

Scale and Ant Herders

I have found that fresh Vaseline (still sticky) works very well until it becomes clogged with dust or develops a crusted layer. So depending on the season and weather you would need to replace the Vaseline once every few months. Also any support ties between the plant and stakes or other supports (such as ties to a nail in the wall or I tie the trees to some of our burglar bars) also need to be Vaselined or else the ant tightrope walk along the ties to gain access to the host plant once more.

Ant and Scale Vaseline barriers
Cover all bases and access points
The Vaseline should be applied about 20-30 cm from the ground on the stem if possible in order to prevent it from becoming dirt-clogged too quickly due to soil back splash when it rains.

Another option is to get double-sided tape and stick them onto the stems and other access point. I haven’t tried this yet, but I am planning to in the near future. The same applies to the double sided tape – once enough dirt has settled onto it, it becomes useless.

I have Vaselined all my fruit trees and it makes the world of difference to keep the ants and associated pests (aphids and scale) off the plants in the first place. The honeydew is not only attractive for ants to eat, but the affected 
leaves soon become breeding grounds for black sooty mould that weakens the plants even more.

Something Interesting: Carmine Dye

One would believe that scale insects are merely an agricultural pests and that no good has ever come from them, but surprisingly a certain group of scale insects have been used to make dye since the middle ages. 

Cochineal Dyed Wool

Cochineal insects, a type of mealybug, are soft-bodied, oval shaped and use their beak-like mouthparts to feed on members of the Opuntia cacti (this includes the Prickly Pear). As with many other scale, female cochineal insects are wingless, but have limited mobility and form the bulk of the infesting colony.

They originate from Mexico and South America where they have been raised on cacti for the red substance they produce within their bodies. This is carminic acid (19-22% of a mealybug's body), which is a predator deterrent and when mixed with either aluminium or calcium salts it becomes a red carmine dye. This dye is one of the few naturally derived dyes that is a water-soluble colourant yet remains resistant to degradation, light, heat and oxidation. It is more suited to the dyeing of animal derived fabrics and is also used in cosmetics (lipstick, blush) and food colouring (labelled E120), since it is less allergenic and more stable than many synthetic colourants. 

Cochineal insect
Dactylopius coccus
Carminic acid

- Update September 2015 -

Just a quick note on the Vaseline barrier on the tree trunks. Some trees do not seem to appreciate this Vaseline collar (such as the Brush cherry) and don't form any new bark at the collar site (likely too moist). This means you will end up with a restricted trunk at the collar and a weakened trunk. Therefore I suggest checking up on the collars just to make sure. If you notice restrictions occurring remove the Vaseline from the afflicted tree.

Alternatively you can use the white oil or bicarb/sunlight solutions along with a soft bristle brush to scrub off the nasties - no need to take off any bark in the process, only enough to dislodge the scale.

Good luck!


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! 😆

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Monsters, Garions and Onlics

I have been growing onions and garlic in the garden for quite some time. The onions have been very successful, although the larger bulbs do take there sweet time to develop. The garlic grows fine, but for some reason I have strange things happening to the garlic come harvest time.

The first odd occurrence came when we planted about 40 Hadeco garlic bulbs in the beginning of 2013. These were all planted outside near the veld where the Alfalfa patch is situated. Garlic also takes its time to develop, so they only received as much attention as the Alfalfa (but, the onions that grew there where fine!). When harvest time came around, the garlic well... had disappeared!!! I mean 40+ bulbs just vanished! We still haven't figured out who or what the garlic monster was, but I decided to then plant them in the main garden lest the Garlic Monster strike again.

Our recent oddity regarding my garlic growing endeavours was when I purchased a bunch of cloves in a brown paper bag, about 10 or so. (I can't remember the manufacturer, when I see them again I'll post it here). I dedicated a pot for them and they grew very happily for a few months. Harvest time came round again and I was grossly disappointed, many of the bulbs had hardly developed and others seemed more... oniony...

The minute garlic cloves did not have any proper flavour at all and the oniony ones had such a pungent garlic smell that all vampires would have fled from Ruimsig! Thus investigation into the garlic-onions began...

...We suspected that these garlic-onions are likely the result of garlic x onion hybrids. I have never heard of garlic x onion hybrids before (which I refer to as garions and onlics LOL!) but I have found that there have been attempts to create garlic-onion hybrids for future culinary use. Maybe our bulbs where rejects from the breeding programmes or simply accidents from allium farms, which have lead them to be sold to the unsuspecting home gardener?

I have a link to a patent here that describes the process of establishing a garlic x onion or onion x chive hybrid - Patent US5367111. In this patent the onion (Allium cepa) is the ovum donor and garlic (Allium sativum) is the pollen donor, resulting in a near-intermediate garion/onlic plant. Here is a photo of the one of the garions/onlics from my garden:

Garlic x Onion

The leaves represent that of garlic whereas the bulb is fleshy and layered like an onion. I am not sure about the plants developed from the patent, but these garions and onlics from my garden are definitely not a culinary delight! Alas, I will wait patiently until Hadeco brings out their garlic bulbs in Feb/March to plant once more...

There will be garlic! I will not let Garlic Monsters, Garions or Onlics prevent me from savouring homegrown organic garlic!

[Garlic Monster Picture Credits: Monsters; Aleksandr Obuhov. Garlic; Eric Jewell]

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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