Roots 'n' Shoots: July 2015

Why is RnS Moving to whiskerflowers.wordpress.com?

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. And so I am busy moving RnS to Wordpress where you can find me as Whisker Flowers @ whiskerflowers.wordpress.com I am also imposing 301 redirects from already moved posts and pages!

- The Shroom -

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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Saturday, 4 July 2015

Solar Power in South Africa Part 2: Battery Basics, Living with Solar in Gauteng, South Africa.


The very first thing everyone asks when we tell them that we have converted to off-grid Solar is “How many panels do you have?” Yes, panels are important but every off-grid solar system will have three main components:

1. The panels (electricity generation in DC).

2. The all in Inverter (incorporating battery charge control, conversion of DC to AC and supply control to the household).

3. The batteries (power reservoir).


The relative importance of batteries are often underestimated and underappreciated.


We use our solar system for water heating with a heat pump (daytime only), cooking with induction plates (daytime and at night) and use appliances such as the oven and tumble dryer (daytime only). A robust solar battery bank is important for both daytime and night time use. This discussion about the batteries is mostly not technical and is based on experience with regards to the basic research done before buying a solar system, research done to understand how best to look after batteries for an extended life and observation of our batteries in real life and real time.

Your solar batteries must be deep cycle batteries. Unscrupulous salespersons often design solar systems with low quality batteries such as 12v car batteries. Household needs are to fill the battery bank with power during sunlight hours and draw the battery down at night and during overcast spells. Only deep cycle batteries are designed to cope with constant charging and discharging of the batteries. Unsuitable batteries will simply fail within 6-12 months and will degrade fast over its short life span. We have installed AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) deep cycle batteries. AGM batteries are maintenance free and use gel rather than water. 

The maximum household overnight electricity demand for our battery bank must be less than 50% of the battery bank capacity for its model. We refer you here to the viability model at this link and “know what you use” at this link. We use about 7kWh overnight which means that we must have at least 14kWh stored in our batteries. Our battery bank was incomplete due to a shortage of batteries and for the first 3 months we had a total bank of only 14.4 kWh. It often ran out by morning particularly if the batteries were not fully charged the previous evening, or when we used a bit more overnight, or when the winter days got shorter and the nights longer, or when an appliance did a power spike in the morning. The battery bank is now at 28.8 kWh and provides sustainable electricity for about 95% of the time. It is insufficient to cope with our electricity needs during prolonged overcast weather even when we restrict usage of power hogs. We are still vulnerable to large power spikes when power supply from panels are non-existent or low. We will for now experiment with using a solar friendly generator to charge the batteries when they run low on overcast days.

It is important for users to understand the battery bank’s vulnerability to power spikes. Every household has a few energy hogs which are prone to power spikes. The dishwasher is a main culprit. It uses little energy when washing but warms its own water. The power usage spikes strongly when the dishwasher engages its water heating system. It becomes problematic if it spikes during heavy electricity usage or when the batteries are at 75% charged or less as the fast increase in electricity demand cannot then be drawn equally fast from the battery bank. We are aware of this vulnerability and it is not particularly difficult to manage but it cannot be ignored unless we oversize our battery bank to compensate which we do not wish to do right now (though we may want to at a future date).

Oversizing battery banks is better than “just sufficient” or under sizing it. An oversized battery bank will last longer, will be less likely to overheat, will be better able to cope with general and spike electricity demands from the household and will bridge overcast conditions for longer. Our battery bank is only slightly oversized and as a result we must manage our electricity use to protect the batteries against power demand spikes. The larger you battery bank the greater your usage freedom.


Solar 2v Battery bank.
We have two banks of 24 batteries of 2 volts each for a 48 volt system. The volts may be 12, 24 or 48 and the choice will depend on how far the electricity must travel in your house. We had to use a 48 volts configuration. The batteries are 300ah in “strength” which translates to 14.4 kWh per battery bank or 28.8 kWh in total of which we can draw up to 50% (to ensure a longer life for the batteries). Note how the batteries are spaced apart to allow any heat to escape which helps avoid heat sharing among batteries, heat build-up and thermal runaway (see below). We would need to add one more battery bank of 24 batteries to well oversize our total battery bank. 

Our AGM deep cycle batteries are valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries which still need some room ventilation as they may release very small quantities of hydrogen which can collect in unventilated areas and auto-ignite (explode) if trapped in those unventilated areas. It is generally considered an extremely low risk for solar batteries but it is important to be informed and aware of the risk irrespective how small. Additional technical information can be obtained at www.cdtecno.com , and from this document http://www.cdtechno.com/pdf/ref/41_6739_0112.pdf

The fundamental principle is that gassing occurs when the batteries are overcharged thus the owner and householder must at the very least watch for the symptoms of over-charging which is over-heating of the batteries. Also make sure that the batteries are not stacked together but have at least 5mm ventilation gaps between them on all sides (discuss with your installer); don’t have direct sunshine on the battery bank which can over-heat it; and make sure batteries are not in close proximity to any heat source which can influence the ambient temperature of the battery bank. Batteries must not exceed 50 degrees Celsius. A simple test is if your batteries are warm to the touch then you would be well advised to call out your installer to investigate. 

Most solar batteries presently are AGM VRLA batteries and as such home owners must take basic care together with the installer to ensure that the batteries do not over-charge and do not over-heat.  Not only do the batteries gas when they over-heat, they also can go into a state called “Thermal Runaway”. The inverter will be set to charge batteries in a safe manner but it would not normally be able to detect a faulty cell or a faulty battery. The inverter will continue to supply charge as if all the batteries are fully functional and as a result of a single cell failure a chain reaction can occur in the whole battery bank where the faulty cell’s charge gets distributed to the other batteries and cause over-charging and over-heating. In turn more cells and batteries fail and eventually the whole bank will collapse and may even burst the batteries. Again the homeowner risk is relatively low but battery ambient temperatures still need basic awareness and care from the home owner. More information on thermal runaway can be obtained at www.cdtecno.com , and from this document http://www.cdtechno.com/pdf/ref/41_7944_0712.pdf


AGM VRLA Solar Battery valve.
In the event that the battery is over charged or over heated, hydrogen gas will form inside the battery and to prevent the battery from exploding, the hydrogen will be released through this one way (from inside to outside) escape valve.
 

All households are exposed to a myriad of risks, sharp objects, changes in elevation, glass breakage, slippery floors, etc. Solar systems requires the same care that we take to manage all these household risks and will serve the responsible home owner well. Another obvious requirement is that the battery bank must be enclosed in a ventilated space, which will not allow pets or children to gain access or to touch the live wires.

The final take-away on batteries are:

Ö   Use only batteries that are specifically designed for solar systems;

Ö   Oversizing the battery bank is the best, do not economise on batteries;

Ö    A happy battery is one that is not too cold and definitely not too hot; it’s said that the batteries enjoy the same temperature range as humans, batteries are cold when we are cold and batteries are hot when we are hot (not “that” hot!). 


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 3: Solar Power in South Africa - Solar & Seasonality (Solar in winter)


______________________________________________________________________________
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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