Roots 'n' Shoots: 2015

Sunday, 15 November 2015

An Introduction to the Soil Micro-Ecosystem Guest Post @ Gardening Know How

An Introduction to the Soil Micro-Ecosystem


I have posted an article on a large website Gardening Know How and to prevent double posting I decided to post a link to the original article here and as mentioned in the post all follow-up articles will also be done @ Roots'n'Shoots.

I would like to send a shoutout at Shelley Pierce, social media coordinator of Gardening Know How for asking me for a post as well as hosting the article! Thank you for the opportunity it is well appreciated. So in my default scientific setting the post is a bit on the uncommon topic of the Soil microecosystem, but more importantly on how to utilise this natural process to your food growing advantage. Considering that 2015 is the international year of soils I thought it be suitable contribution to the movement too!

Please find the articles at the following links:

Original Article @ Gardening Know How 

Social Media Sharing Links:
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus
Pinterest

Enjoy!


TTFN - TaTa For Now!
- The Shroom -


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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: Twitter, Pinterest, RSS 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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Saturday, 31 October 2015

Aphids – Pest of the Month

Aphids at a glance

Type of Damage
Pierce-sucking
Plant Symptoms
Stunted growth, leaf curl, transmit diseases
Favourite Plant
All plants
Occurrence
Year-round in areas with mild winters (SA)
Distribution
Worldwide
Control
Difficult, physical preferable, biological control agents available



Apple Aphid
Aphis pomi

Quick Intro

Aphids are an ubiquitous pest species, if you have ever taken care of a plant – you would have most certainly run into these nasties! I absolutely loathe aphids – my friend could never understand why until she started a vegetable garden herself, now she is as much an aphid hater as me LOL! They multiply at an enormous rate and no plant is beyond their reach, they are equally difficult to control and counteract, especially when tended to by ant herders.


Science Stuff

Aphids belong to eponymous family, Aphididae, contained within the larger order of Hemiptera. They were previously grouped under the order Homoptera, which included soft-bodied insects whose wings are fully membranous, but recently they have been placed with Hemiptera along with insects whose wings are partially hardened elytra. They are placed under the Sub-order; Strenorrhyncha and Superfamily; Aphidoidae.


Winged Aphid Morphology

Aphids have a worldwide distribution and can spread passively by wind or through human transportation. About 4400 species are presently described and 250 species are known agricultural pests, allowing the family as a whole to feed on a wide range of plant hosts. 

Hosts

Many people believe (me too at some point) that aphids are generalists and feed on whatever plants are available, but strikingly a lot of aphids are monophagous, meaning they are plant species-specific. Hence aphids are named after the host plant they infest, such as the green apple aphid (Aphis pomi) or the common rose aphid (Macrosiphon rosae). To the vegetable gardener aphids can be a huge problem amongst plants of the cabbage family (including Asian greens, cauliflower and broccoli), tamarillos and plants that have been newly transplanted or are still establishing.


Aphid infestation
Adults, nymphs and shedded skin
Life Cycle

During the majority of the aphids’ life cycle they reproduce asexually by means of parthenogenesis and thus offspring are essentially cloned females. Aphids are one of the few insects to bare live young (viviparous) even without prior fertilisation. Aphids produce eggs after sexual reproduction when the host plant becomes crowded or temperatures drop and daylight decreases towards winter. Wingless (clone) females produce sexual male and female clones, these mate and the subsequent eggs overwinter until favourable conditions arise in spring. Winged aphids are also produced during unfavourable conditions and are whisked away by the wind to colonise new plant hosts at a distant site. Aphid populations explode easily due to the high reproductive rate of clone females, which are capable of producing up to 41 generations (each have a lifespan of 20-40 days) leading to thousands of aphids in as little as a month.


Aphid life cycle


Control

Aphids first colonise the underside of plant leaves and then move towards the upper side. Their presence is made known by the curling of leaves and stunted growth of the host, especially new shoots which are easier to pierce with their siphon mouthparts. Feeding aphids reduce the vitality of plant hosts by the removal of plant sap, injecting salivary secretions that suppress host defences and transmission of plant viruses. Aphids produce a sugary waste product (honeydew) that can accumulate on leaf surfaces giving them a shiny appearance and in humid weather this build-up can encourage the growth of black sooty mildew, which weakens the host plant even more.

Be aware that if you do use synthetic chemical control. Most of these products are general insecticides and are harmful to other insects, which do not include pest species. Aphids become resistant to chemical pesticides quite quickly due to their extreme reproductive capacity that allows resistant offspring to multiply quickly. For more information see my post on Pesticide Resistance. Chemical control on the eco-friendly side includes neem or lantana-based products, which can be a bit pricey or hard to find. Homemade soap solutions and horticultural white oil can also be applied to infestations as spray-on applications, but I suspect you would have more success by rubbing the plant down with a soft cloth soaked in the solution and rinsing out the accumulated aphids. Physical control is usually the most effective, but can be time consuming or laborious. Physical control measures includes spraying them with a jet of water, but considering the drought we are experiencing - this might not be preferable. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, small infestations can be wiped out by squishing them by hand! You can find my Environmentally Friendly Aphid Control Recipes on my Pest Control Page.

Else you can wait for the natural insect predators of aphids to arrive, but they will likely only do so when you have an infestation of catastrophic proportions! Biological control includes aphids predators, such as jumping spiders, baby mantids, adult lacewings, adult and larval lady bugs as well as the larvae of hoverflies. Please be careful not to destroy already present predators, such as larvae, which are small and sometimes camouflage themselves as pest species. I had a huge infestation of aphids on my fennel one year and decided I was too lazy to spray them the whole time (as eco-friendly controls take multiple applications to work). After some time an army of lady bugs arrived and sorted the aphids in double-quick time – it was quite impressive (and I’ve never had so many ladybugs in my garden before!). You can check out my posts on Biological Control for Ladybeetles, Praying Mantids and Spiders. Other bio-controllers would be parasitic wasps, which you can purchase, but they are more suited to greenhouse release as they fly away easily in open gardens. My Wasp Biological Control post also includes other members that will do away with larger pests such as caterpillars. Having shelter and alternative food plants (for non-predatory lifestages) helps to attract biocontrol agents to your garden, you can have a look at my Insectary Post on how to construct a haven for these insects.


Aphid predators

Something Interesting: Aphid Art

Aphids have a mutualistic relationship with ants, this means that both species benefit from the presence of the other, but can also survive and thrive without one another. Ants are herders of many pest species, such as aphids and scale. As aphids feed they produce a sugary waste product known as honeydew, which ants collect as a food source. The ants in turn protect the aphids from predators and some ants even transport aphids between plants for re-establishment when the ants move to new nesting sites. Ants therefore compound the aphid control problem by actively participating in the infestation. Be on the lookout of large masses of ants running the length of your plants as this is indicative of an aphid farm underway. The homemade soap/oil solutions I have suggested should dissuade the ants as well, but since ants are persistent they'll likely re-appear with a new aphid farm in a few weeks. On another note; here is an artist’s illustration on the subject, which I thought was thoroughly amusing. 


Argentine Ants, conquering new niches thru peace and aphid-herding.


Related Posts:

Biological Control -
Ladybeetles
Praying Mantis
Spiders
Wasps
Insectary: Beneficial Insects and the Garden Security Force

Pesticide Resistance: Mechanisms & Prevention


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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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Sunday, 18 October 2015

Sunbirds & Spiderwebs - Something Special

Whitebellied Sunbird Male
Nectarinia talatala

We have a few residential sunbirds in the neighbourhood - not the very flashy ones like those in the fynbos areas of South Africa, but none the less gorgeous little birdies.

The Whitebellied sunbird, Nectarinia talatala is a common sight for those living close to bushveld towards the northern parts of southern Africa. It is a smaller sunbird about 11 cm and the males have metallic bottle green upper backs and heads, with a purple band that separates the white belly. Colourful males aside, this article features the females, which are often overlooked because of their pale colourations.

Whitebellied Sunbird Female
Nectarinia talatala

We have a Bird of Paradise (Sterlitzea spp.) plant in the centre of the vegetable garden, which houses a large collection of hedgehog and garbage line spiders (see my Spider Biocontrol Post). These make up the front line of my garden defence against pestilences. However the female spiders laid their eggs in the webs and during the course of winter most adults are either eaten (by bulbuls) or succumb to the cooler temperatures. The egg casings stay safe until spring and hatch out to thousands of little spindly spiderlings. Before the garden turned into a spider nursery this year, we observed some interesting behaviour from the sunbird females...

The tiny birds would swoop into the Sterlitzea plant - at first we assumed it was for the nectar (since we saw the males feeding on the flowers - picture above). Yet the females weren't feeding on the flowers, then we saw them eyeing the spider webs and again we thought that they were eating the spiders (maybe the baby birds need some protein rather than nectar?), but the spider webs were empty. So I sat outside about 2 m away from the Sterlitzea and watched as the female (indifferent to my presence) bounced around inside. There were two photographers snapping up the action - I was outside and another was hiding behind the curtains of a window closer to the action. Here is what we saw:

Whitebellied Sunbird Femlae collecting spiderwebs
Nectarinia talatala

 The female sunbird was collecting spider webs - I could hear her beak make a loud clap every time she gathered up a beakful! This was strange - we have never heard of such behaviour and it lead to some investigating... Many birds collect spider silk from empty webs as part of the nest construction (males and females both partake in this behaviour) seemingly using the material as sticky tape for the structural scaffolding of the nest and to keep other add-ons from falling off. 

We had lots of fun observing the fascinating behaviour and it was truly special to be so close to a very skittish wild bird - here I have another photo of the black-eyed Bulbul female (Pycnonotus barbatus) also making a stop at the Sterlitzea to gather up some spider silk nesting material. 

Blackeyed Bulbul female collecting spiderwebs
Pycnonotus barbatus


References:





____________________________________________________________________________________
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: Twitter, Pinterest, RSS 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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Sunday, 20 September 2015

Natural (Bio)fertilisers & Living Mulches: The Edible Legumes

I have been running several posts on using plants as biofertilisers, living mulch and even chicken feed. This post is a follow up on the living mulches that I have been experimenting with. In my previous post on the topic I discussed Penny Royal as a weed barrier as well as several plants (which include many legumes) that can be used as green manures and green chicken forage.

The Penny Royal has done a awesome job at keeping weeds at bay in The Weed Zones that border the vegetable plots - but I wanted a living mulch to plant inside the vegetable plots as well. Preferably a legume to fix nitrogen and release the nutrient once it dies off (legumes do not share their nitrogen when alive!). It must, however, still be a ground cover so that it doesn't out compete the vegetables for light... hence after some research and looking at what is available in the nurseries - I had two choices: Red clover or White clover.

The other idea I had was, once I had big patches of clover (and if I needed to uproot some to plant new veggies) I could move the extra plants to the alfalfa patch - this allows more green forage for the chickens in winter. I also hoped to find both species so that I can have more diversity in the garden, but unfornutately the nurseries only stocked white clover.

The white clover (Trifolium repens) I acquired is a black cultivar sold under "Black Shamrock". It did a little poorly when I just transplanted it (winter last year) - it was a bit sickly, had chocolate spot fungal problems (a common infection for legumes so watch for signs on peas & beans!). It had a tough time during summer as well (very hot last season) - but it established and grew like a beast this last winter. The penny royal had died off in some areas during the last winter, which the white clover has encroached on - doesn't bother me either way... Here it is with it adorable white flower heads!


Similar flowering structures of legumes in the vegetable garden.


A 'wild' clover had made its way into my vegetable garden during the same time I transplanted the others. I noticed the subtle similarities in flower and leaf structure between the two. I took to some digging around the Internet dungeons to find that it was, Trifolium dubium (lesser hop trefoil or tick trefoil!). It has a less compact growth and its low branches spread outwards from a single plant. It carries a small cluster of yellow flowers and self seeds remarkably easily. The yellow clover has an additional bonus - it is more drought and heat tolerant than the white clover. By some selective weeding between the sour sobs (Oxalis sp.), which look very similar especially as seedlings, I managed to get  a good patch going. The seeds of the lesser hop trefoil (lets call it yellow clover for simplicity) is ripe when they turn completely black - you pick them off an sow somewhere else (likely only germinate in warm weather) or leave to self seed.


Similar looking weeds that grow naturally in the vegetable garden and how to distinghuish from clover species.


Whilst I was reading up on literature for my research project, I glanced over some articles pertaining to nitrogen fixation in alfalfa and clover. Legumes associate with certain bacteria in the soil, which infiltrate the roots and form nodules - this is where nitrogen is created and accessed by the plant. It is only during the death of these nodules that the nitrogen is released (along with the bacteria) into the soil. Interestingly I read that the bacterium associated with Soybeans is not native to South African soils and needs to be added to the soil by farmers through special liquid fertilisers! Here is a list of legumes I grow and their associated bacteria:

Legume
Species bacteria (bv. = biovar)
Pea
Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. viciae
Bean
Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. phaseoli
Alfalfa
Sinorhizobium meliloti
Clover
Rhizobium leguminosarum bv trifolii

All these legumes are not native to South Africa, but in some areas due to their widespread cultivation; natural and on-going population have become established in the soil. Also if you are fortunate enough to get seed inoculated with the bacteria there is a good chance for the plant to establish its own nodulating population. So this lead to some digging into whether or not my legumes would develop any nodules in order to fix nitrogen. Hence, some investigation! I promptly gathered up my camera and some digging tools and set out to the veg garden. I dug up each plant and recorded the nodule formation.





Yellow Clover nodules, be careful to uproot as nodules break off easily!

Images of legume roots and their nodule formation.
Longest nodules are indicated by the orange circles.

As you will notice the Peas and Beans have minuscule to no nodules, meaning that my soil lacks Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. viciae and Rhizobium leguminosarum bv. phaseoli. Therefore organic fertilisers are required to supply the Peas and Beans with enough nitrogen for healthy growth. The alfalfa and clover however are a different story - just look at the lovely nodules! Therefore both the clover and the alfalfa are generating nitrogen. Thus, during the death of the plants nitrogen is released back into the soil. The alfalfa plants are a permanent stand and would likely not release any nitrogen into the soil (they have many other soil building properties however), but the clover dies and resprouts the whole time. Therefore, each generation of clover helps build up the soil nitrogen! How cool is that?!

Since the establishment of my weed barriers and biofertilising crops over a year ago; the garden is (almost) weed free and with the help of the clovers my vegetable garden's soil should drastically improve over each successive clover crop. Therefore, legumes are an essential tool for organic gardeners by taking advantage of it being a living mulch, biofertiliser and chicken forage crop!

Now then - here is a sneak peak to my latest experiment - Peanuts! Just look at them nodules (Bradyrhizobium yuaminhense & B. elkanii, about 22 Bradyrihzobium spp. that associated with peanuts are native to South African soils)!!! I added a picture of Soybean nodules (Bradyrhizobium japonica inoculated soils) - forgot about measuring, but if I recall correctly they were anything from 1 cm to 3 cm. This is what healthy pea and bean nodules should look like too!


Healthy peanut and soybean nodules.

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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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Saturday, 5 September 2015

Solar Power in South Africa Part 3: Solar & Seasonality, Living with Solar in Gauteng, South Africa


How’s your Solar in Winter? (Author: The Economist)


Winter sneaked up on our solar electricity system during July. We hardly took notice of the change in the length of a day before installing solar and now it matters. We lose up to 6 hours in daylight from the longest day in summer to the shortest day in winter. That is a lot. The days shrink by almost 2 minutes per day, that’s about 20 minutes every 10 days! The result is that the supply of solar electricity shrinks as the days get shorter and the demand for reservoir electricity increases as the nights get longer.

The daylight and night time effects combine with a third negative, a drop in temperatures for a triple punch to the solar electricity system. The drop in temperature means that all heat based electricity needs increase and here I exclude home heating. The heat pump takes 3 hours to get the geyser temperature to 60 degrees when in summer it would take between 1.5 and 2 hours to do the same job. The kettle takes a few minutes more every time it is used. The dishwasher has to contend with much lower temperature water inflows to be heated up and the tumble dryer also has to work harder to dry the clothes. It all adds up to increased electricity demand when days get shorter and reservoir needs increase.


Winter is when you find out how robust (or not) your solar electricity system is. So, let’s look at supply of electricity from the solar panels.




There is one additional observation with regards to supply in winter which matters for us here in Gauteng South Africa. Winter sees atmospheric interference which causes hazy mornings and afternoons. So the solar electricity production is muted even with good sunshine at around 08h30. Once the hazy conditions clear up around 09h30 we experience a steep rise in electricity production. Sadly the loss of electricity generation due to haziness has a significant effect on total daily electricity production in winter and haziness is the norm not the exception, so we show hazy conditions on the graph as the “best” case. The electricity generation in winter is about 55% of summer generation with hazy conditions, but on clear winter days we can get around 65%-70% of summer electricity production.

Overcast days in winter are terrible for solar electricity production but fortunately Gauteng is a summer rainfall area with very few overcast winter days. We’ve discussed generator back-up in our first article here, Part 1: How to go off grid permanently (The System Set-up).


The change is season requires a resource management response from us. We have to use the electricity with more care with the most important effect having to spread the use of electricity. An example is not to do the washing only once a week, which requires the tumble dryer to run 4 times during the day but to spread the washing over two non-consecutive days. Thus, the tumble dryer runs only twice on those days. Demand management will be the subject of our next post.

Here is a table of our summer and winter electricity supply and demand data. Keep in mind that it applies to our system and our household needs, which for each household would differ.




Our solar electricity system can supply up to 56.5kWh electricity per day in high summer. We usually only need around 20kWh per day in summer on high use days, which means that we have surplus supply of more than double our needs. Here the “use it or lose it” principle applies so one can store it in ever larger battery banks or use it for unusual needs such as cooling the house (aircon) or processing of excess fruit and vegetables into jams or for drying (which uses the oven), etc.

In winter the picture changes fairly dramatically. We produce only around 31kWh electricity per day while a high use winter day can easily get to 28kWh. Our winter surplus now falls to only about 3kWh per day slightly more than a 10% surplus margin. Our daylight supply in deep winter is tight and our overnight reservoir is also under pressure. I’ve discussed the battery banks here, Part 2: Living with Solar in Gauteng, South Africa. Our solar electricity supply is adequate albeit tight as the few high winter weeks are manageable and soon after we are back to ever increasing surpluses as the length of days increase by 20 minutes every 10 days.

Sun position in the sky at 18h00 from January to December 2015
(read from- top left to bottom right). 
Notice differece in available light;
this has an effect on solar production throughout the year.
Picture generated with screenprints from Stellarium 0.11.2 software.

The solar experience so far is a positive adventure with no load shedding and with significant economic benefits!




Program reference: Stellarium - A free planetarium software, allows you to look up and track stars, planets and constellations in the night sky.


Our solar system was designed and installed with the assistance of Jurie Venter, cellphone 083 557 6031 and email jurie@sunor.co.za . For details on the whole system, see the post How to go off grid permanently.


Related Posts:

Part 1: Solar Power in South Africa - How to go off grid permanently (The System Set-up)
Part 2: Living with Solar in Gauteng, South Africa (Batteries)

______________________________________________________________________________
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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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Roots 'n' Shoots Blogiversary Post 4#

What time is it? It is Blogiversary again! A whole book full of posts brings us to year number 4! This is my special edition, once-a-year, random-off-topic, give-it-a-good-rant, unrelated-and-unorganised brain-blah! [Everyone need such a post once in a while] Also my 4th Blogiversary happens to fall on my 100th post as well! How cool is that!?! *Music please! Do the 100th post jive* On that note... here we goes!

A BIG Thank You to all my readers out there for your continuous support and comments! The blog has grown enormously the last year and its all because of you guys! Stay tuned for more articles, discussions and random rants!

Posting has been a bit erratic this year due to first year PhD duties, but next year should be a bit more organised - the first year of any degree is usually a bit chaotic seeing that most of the foundation work is done, but later it is only a matter of getting all the data in! As I mentioned the last time; my studies and gardening are more aligned than before and I find that they have mutual topics in common helping with building good all-round knowledge on each front! Makes post topics and writing a bit easier too! Hee hee...



Hmm...I feel a rant coming on now...

My blog has a chronic disease know as RSS Feed Failure Syndrome or more commonly know as RSSFFS and symptoms include sporadic collapse of the RSS feed and third-party feed host login declines! (LOL!) *Sigh* Each blog has a RSS Feed that is run automatically by Google's FeedBurner service, which had collapsed in 2012 for my blog. This means that any social media updates, such as twitter and feed readers, do not get updated anymore. I had to re-route the feed through a third party site FeedCat.net, which in the most part does a fantastic job. I subscribed to my own feed via email (no, it's not a sad case of me trying to up my subscribers numbers...) to check that my feed is working as it should and if I don't receive an email of my new post, I know something has gone bung again! So, every once in  a while the feed fails and this can be many different reasons, some still unbeknown to me. The following possible causes my be the root of the syndrome, for example;

1) Incorrect URLs; of feeds or posts themselves. Not too much of a problem to fix.

2) MS Word formatting junk in the HTML coding. I write my posts in word to save as a backup on my computer. Then I copy-and-paste it into a text document, then copy-and-paste it from the text document to blogger. This gets rid of most of the unnecessary coding from Word, but things like tables need to be pasted directly from Word, leaving <o:p></o:p> stuff in the HTML file, which I have to manually delete. Once I had to go through each and every single post I have every wrote and delete these #%&^! things - took me forever. Now I make sure to zap them before the post goes out - which can be a major pain especially with large tables that generate up to 100 of these stupid things....

3) No apparent reason whatsoever - and FeedCat blocks my login when I try to manually fix it from there! So fine! Considering my password is 'incorrect' - even though it isn't - let's do the Forgot Password function! *Loading, loading.... Email account doesn't exist! ...* DARGH!

So apologies to any delayed or non-existent updates, weird feed reader layouts and general non-functional inconveniences... I'll fix it as soon as the gremlins are out of my computer and internet connection!

Anyways, spring is a little over a month away (although with this heat you would think we are there already!) and preparations are already underway in the garden. If you would like to know the official astronomical dates of spring & summer then check out my Season Lore for the Southern Hemisphere Post. I do hope our rainfall won't be as late as last year and that the rain would be a bit more evenly distributed for proper cropping during February and March, but with "Godzilla El Niño" about we might be having even worse weather! For records on rainfall and seasonal temperatures, check out my latest Weather Report.



I have posted on a majority of the 'standard' vegetables and fruits, therefore I will be posting more often about uncommon/exotic food plants in the future - so watch this space for some interesting experiments for you to try too! I also thought about doing some 'revisits' to the standard fruits and vegies as I have refined my growing techniques and discovered a few new things about the food plants already covered - I am still deciding on how exactly to go about it. Either way, stay  tuned for another year of posts and general garden mayhem, right here on Roots 'n' Shoots!

- Me Out -


Related Posts:

B-Post 1#
B-post 2#
B-post 3#

____________________________________________________________________________________
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: Twitter, Pinterest, RSS 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
____________________________________________________________________________________

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Winter Garden Blues - Wires Crossed & Signals Lost

I recently posted on the our weather for the growing season of 2014/2015 and how it differed from the previous year (2013/2014).

The winter vegetable garden had been stunted this year, because of the very warm April month that we had this year (5oC warmer than last year! See The Shroom's Weather Report 2014/2015). As a result all the plants in the garden had gotten their signals confused. Most of the herbs that go dormant during winter clung onto some green foliage, such as the Tarragon and Comfrey plants. The berries also did not entered a full-on dormancy stage. At least our fruit trees went into dormancy on cue, so their fruit carrying capacity should not be effected next season...

Not only are dormancy issues a problem for the summer-growing plants, but the winter vegetables didn't experience cool enough temperatures that encourage them to grow and crop. Usually, I start up the winter garden end March/ beginning April. This gives them the opportunity to grow while it is still moderately 'warm', but after about a month we should be getting really cool weather in May so that they can crop by June. But, the whole of April was quite warm instead of having a gradual decrease in temperature. This made the winter veg halt their growth and wait for cooler temperatures, which had resulted in stunted plants that seem to have stayed stunted for the most part even though we had a cold front during mid-June and late-July.

Here is a photo of last year's garden (23 June 2014) and this year's garden (27 June 2015):


As you will notice we already started to harvest leaf veg in May last year, peas and broccoli by June and Brussels as well as cauliflowers by end July. The peas don't even have flowers yet - this was in June! So far we have had a dismal winter vegetable harvest, a handful of leafy veg, peas and some tender stem broccoli.

I am not sure whether other people are experienced the same issues with their winter vegetable garden this year or whether it is a localised problem. If the increase in temperature is a wide-spread trend and our seasons seem to be shifting (El Niño is also about!) - then we will have to shift up the winter garden by a month (as well as planing out the summer veg later should it still be too cold by September).

I will be keeping a close eye on the temperatures closer to spring in order to make some planting-time decisions about the summer vegetables/fruit - but if we are experiencing a shift in season I am afraid there is little to do, but to adapt with it. Just when you thought you've got it all figured out...

____________________________________________________________________________________
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: Twitter, Pinterest, RSS 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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Saturday, 25 July 2015

Lemon Grass: How to Grow - Herb of the Month

Lemon Grass stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
5/5 – Very Easy, plant and leave
Water:
4/5 – Daily
Sun:
5/5 – Full sun
Training:
1/5 – Minimal (3Ds: Dead, damaged and diseased)
Fertilise/Feeding:
1/5 – Minimal (at least during the growing season)
Time to Harvest:
2/5 – Soon, 1-2 months after propagation
Frost Hardiness:
2/4 – Very tender (can’t cope with light frost)


Uses:
Culinary & Medicinal
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Eggplant rust or Pearl Millet rust, Puccinia substriata
Container Plant:
Yes

Grasses, Gramineae
Handbuch der Systematischen Botanik
1924
Kurt Stoberts Online Library

Quick intro

The first article on an ‘exotic’ herb features Lemon grass, a popular addition to Asian cuisine. Lemon grass imparts a lovely lemon flavour to any dish without any of the acidity of a lemon. The base of the stems are used in poultry, fish, beef and seafood dishes, whereas the leaves add a wonderful hint of lemon to tea, cool drinks and soups.


History

The main culinary lemon grasses have their origins in the Indo-Malayan ecozone, which includes India, Southeast Asia and southern China. There are many species of lemon grass found in Africa, Australia and the Middle East.


Science Stuff

Lemon grass belongs to the Cymbopogon genus (isn’t that an awesome scientific name!?) from the Poaceae grass family. It is a member of the Andropogoneae or Sorghum tribe of grasses. Several species of lemon grasses are used for culinary purposes, essential oil production and perfumes. The two most popular species include;

West Indian lemon grass,
Cymbopogon citratus

1) Cymbopogon citratus or West Indian lemon grass, is native to Malaysia, Indonesia and southern India. This species is more suitable to cooking.

2) Cymbopogon flexousus or East Indian lemon grass, is native to India, Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand. This species is more suitable for essential oil pressing.


Growing & Pruning Lemon Grass

Lemon grass is a tropical & subtropical perennial that will do very well in areas with hot & wet summers and mild, dry winters. Oil development and flavour depend on recieve a sufficient amount of sunlight. In cool climates, lemon grasses will go dormant, but remains evergreen during winters with temperatures above 10oC (or 50oF). It prefers a lot of water, but will suffer from root-rot if left in standing water for too long.

It does very well in both the garden and as a container plant. It can become a large monster in the garden, yet growth can be managed when it is planted in a container. A container grown plant will be easier to move indoors should very cold weather prevail (below 10oC or 50oF) or if frost threatens. Prolonged temperatures of below -2oC (28.4oF) will kill the plant as it is extremely cold-sensitive.


Other Tips

Always wear gloves when handling lemon grass! It has serrated leaves that do quite a bit of damage to unprotected hands!

Lemon grasses can become scruffy after a year of good growth as intense sunlight can cause the tips of the plant to tinge red, whereas some leaves die back in winter. Before spring arrives, don some gloves and grab a pair of scissors. Simply cut all the green leaves to 30 cm from the base of the plant and remove any dead leaves. Come spring the lemon grass will repay you with lush new growth.

West Indian lemon grass,
Cymbopogon citratus


Lemon grass is susceptible to Pearl Millet or Eggplant rust, Puccinia substriata. It does not affect the growth or flavour of the plant that much, but it may be a source of infection for other plants, such as eggplant. I don’t bother with it as I don’t grow eggplant anymore, but should you wish to treat it organically, I did develop an environmentally-friendly fungicide against it – check out my Eggplant Rust post or Pest Control page.

Pearl Millet or Eggplant rust,
Puccinia substriata,
on lemon grass,  Cymbopogon citratus


Harvesting & Storing

Newly purchased lemon grasses will only have a few clumps. Once it has grown to a decent size, which does not take very long considering it is a grass, you can start harvesting. Clumps are removed by grabbing it at the base of the stem and ripping out with a twisting motion. The leaves and roots are trimmed. The fleshy white part (lower 10 cm) is used for cooking after being bruised with a knife to release its flavour. You can keep the leaves for addition to more ‘liquid’ food preparations, such as teas, soups and cool drinks.

Lemon grass clumps can be stored in the fridge for about 3-5 days in a damped paper towel, but it is best used fresh for maximum flavour. Lemon grass can also be stored as chunks in the freezer.


Seed Saving & Propagation

Lemon grass is rarely raised from seed as it is so easy to propagate from stem cuttings (it is even easier than Basil!!!). When you do your winter pruning you can also reduce the size of your lemon grass by removing a few clumps. You can stick these into pots and they will make enough roots during the rest of winter to be transplanted by summer (if you rip out clumps with root intact it will speed up the process).

Garden and container plants will require splitting after several years of growth. Simply take a spade and split it into halves or quarters to be replanted elsewhere.

Lemon grass does produce flowers, but these are not commonly seen from cultivated specimens.


Something interesting: Lemon grass essential oil

The essential oil obtained from lemon grass has a wide range of uses. Teas made from fresh leaves are used as stomach and gut relaxants, whereas the oil is antiseptic, antifungal and deodorising. Poultices are used to treat arthritis and to ease pain. Rooms or areas treated with (I assume sprayed or smeared) lemon grass essential oil repels insects, such as flies and mosquitoes!



Reference: Baldacchino, F., Tramut, C., Salem, A., Liénard, E., Delétré, E., Franc, M., Martin, T., Duvallet, G. & Jay-Robert, P. 2013: The repellency of lemongrass oil against stable flies, tested using video tracking. Parasite, 20, 21. doi:10.1051/parasite/2013021


My Lemon Grass

I have two plants, each two years old. They produce more than enough lemon grass for our family and have been a joy to keep as they are care-free additions to the edible garden.

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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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Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Shroom's Weather Report 2014/2015

Altocumulus clouds

*Cue music*

… da da da dum dum…

*Serious reporting voice*… Good morning and welcome to The Shroom’s annual weather report for the period of July 2014-2015.

Since the establishment of a mechanical weather monitoring system at The Shroom’s vegetable garden premises during July 2013; several observations of extreme weather have been made and empirical data collected of these events with regards to precipitation (mm), temperature (oC) and humidity (% r.h.).

Mechanical weather monitoring equipment

Weekly temperature and humidity data was collected of maximum daytime temperatures during the peak hours from 11h00 to 13h00 and precipitation was measured in mm, or more accurately, the amount of rainfall in millimetres on a flat surface.

The results were as follows:


*Ahem*


Another year of weather monitoring has passed and now the fun starts! Let us have a look at the weather during our 2014-2015 period as well as do some comparisons to the previous season (2013/14) and I will make some general comments as to happenings in the garden.


We did not as many dramatic weather events as reported last year, such as huge hailstorms or flooding - in fact it was quite the opposite:

1) The rainfall was very late as well as drying up too early.

2) Droughts were prevalent in many regions around South Africa. Although we did not suffer as much, we definitely noticed an increase in the manual watering frequency of the garden.

3) On the 16th of October 2014, many parts of eastern South Africa experienced a ‘Dust Storm’ due to the extremely dry conditions and late summer rains. I was outside busy in the vegetable garden at around 17h00 when it hit. I remember thinking, “Who put out the lights?” LOL! You can read more about it at The Citizen: Sandstorm hits Joburg, Bloem (video).

I have here two tables comparing the total rainfall and average temperatures for our main growing season (which begins in August) for 2013-2015. Data for the rest of July is not in yet, so no comparisons there, but I doubt it would change much…

Rainfall
2013/14
2014/15
Difference from previous  year (+ more, - less)
Aug
5.5
5
-0.5
Sep
3.7
9
+5.3
Oct
109
29.5
-79.5
Nov
89
111.3
+22.3
Dec
173.8
125.5
-48.3
Jan
163
126.5
-36.5
Feb
173
67.5
-105.5
Mar
157
72
-85.0
Apr
0
49.5
+49.5
May
3.5
0
-3.5
June
0
1
+1.0
Jul
0
Data lacking

Total
877.5
596.8
-281

Temperature
2013/14
2014/15
Difference from previous year (+ more, - less)
Aug
15
16
0
Sep
24
23
-1
Oct
22
20
-2
Nov
26
21
-5
Dec
23
26
3
Jan
28
28
0
Feb
25
26
1
Mar
22
23
2
Apr
16
21
5
May
21
20
-1
June
12
12
0
Jul
15
Data lacking



The tables might be a bit difficult to visualise to here are two comparative graphs as well:






Lets take a look at the problem ‘months’ shall we say:

1) October had just about zero rainfall, hence the dust storm. We had to manually water some of the crops that we generally left rain irrigated, such as the Squash and Maize (my new experiment tee, hee!). The near to nothing rainfall had a profound affect on the insect population as well - the chickens went hungry for grub longer and my pest control squad was not up to full strenght until end November.

2) The rain was far less during February and March, with more rain during April. This means that all our plants were drier during their most important cropping stage, which had a huge negative impact on a few of our produce, especially the Sweet Potato harvests as they like a flooding type watering system (lots of water, followed by drying out and then lots of water). Manual watering did not make up entirely for the loss in rainfall.

3) November was 5oC lower than the previous year, although I do not recall a huge difference in the growth of the garden, but the April 5oC warmer scenario has definitely impacted on our winter garden and dormancy signals for deciduous trees/shrubs. I will provide more detail on the winter garden setbacks next month.

4) Our total rainfall is about 68% of last year’s amount and although it is the average rainfall we can expect (~600 mm), the decrease and shift in rainfall had made a huge difference to the total number as well as the weight of produce harvested this year from the summer garden.

Here were the problem months for this year:



I am surely keeping my fingers crossed for more rainfall next year and with a better distribution in the main growing/harvesting months – good thing we added some more rain harvesting tanks to our collection, should this become the norm for the next few years…

Anyways, we went from one really wet year with floods and hailstorms to drought and dust storms the next- what will our crazy and unpredictable weather throw at the backyard gardeners next? Well, you will have to stay tuned for another update next year!


*Serious reporting voice*
…Keep well and good night…



Related Post:

The Shroom's Weather Report 2013/2014


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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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