Roots 'n' Shoots: 2016

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 October 2016

When Termites Fly... cues from Nature

Flight of the Northern Harvester Termite
Hodotermes mossambicus
- not the best picture, but the camera doesn't see them LOL! -

"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished" , is a quote from Lao Tzu (Loazi), the author of the I-Ching (Tao Te Ching) and the philosophy of Taoism. I thought that it was especially fitting considering that as vegetable gardeners we are very aware of the seasons  and what this means for our crops each year (farmers even more so). If crops do not enter the soil at a specific time then crop yields are impacted or no crops are available at all. It is not just a matter of the time required for a crop to come into production for timely harvest, but also the amount of water content available in the soil and water table that influences how well crops grow or if they grow at all.

Alates (reproductives) and Soldiers
[You can click on the picture to enlarge]

- the one on the right took a bit of a nose dive upon lift off, they're not the best fliers :)  -

I think that we get swept up (as we do in most of our daily lives) with the time at which things 'need' to be done. With the threat of another drought looming for this year most of us are very concerned about when it will rain in order for us to get food production season going. Roodepoort had received a total of 47 mm of rain during the period of 7-23 October. On the 22nd the future kings and queens of the termites took to the sky in their masses. Their brief nuptial flight postponed (along with this year's sowing plans) by the late coming of the rain. I remember that they used to fly a lot earlier in the year with the coming of good rain, usually early September. Just short of two months past their due date, a good stretch of rain had triggered their annual cycle once again and ensured the establishment and maintenance of the next generation.

It's a war!
The ants have stormed the termite stronghold!
You can see the termite soldiers trying to fend off both ant workers and soldiers!
Alas termite alates are being captured!

[You can click on the picture to enlarge]

Termite swarming also means opportunity for food. All manner of predator take full advantage of the sudden oversupply and swoop, mob, peck and carry away countless prey. The swallows and bats are the most prominent predators to intercept the termites by wing. Flocks of swallows feast on the early fliers when there is still enough light in the sky, whereas bats take the night shift and any remaining fliers that emerge after dusk. Predatory insects also capture any victims who stray too close and other night time predators collect the now-wingless reproductives from the ground. Some stragglers are still left the next morning when early birds peck them up from the paving and roads.

Termite victims taken to the ant nest.
On the one side I feel bad for the termites,
but the ants have been so desperate lately (they're all over the kitchen!) and
this food will go a long way.

[You can click on the picture to enlarge]

Seeing the whole familiar scenario unfold once more was quite humbling. Taking some cues from nature in the sense that our vegetables will be planted and crop harvested. The produce may not be as bountiful or timely as we would like, but everything happens in its own time and life carries on.


Some scientific details to supplement my somewhat philosophical piece 

Termites make up their own order, Isoptera. They are not related to ants (from the order Hymenoptera), since they do not have constricted waists or elbowed antennae. The most common species in Gauteng is the Northern Harvester Termite (Afrikaans: Rysmier, translation: "rice ant"), Hodotermes mossambicus. They are not dry-wood termite and, as such they feed on grasses and twigs. They are ubiquitous and form large underground colonies even in very urbanised areas. Parent colonies release eyed, flying reproductives (alates) at dusk after a period of heavy rain. They fly a short distance, fall to the ground and detach their wings. Females produce pheromones to attract males. The pair burrow into suitable substrate and a new colony becomes established after egg laying. New colonies will only produce reproductives in a few years, but once established colonies can last for centuries.

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! 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Calamondin: How to Grow – Fruit of the Month

Calamondin stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
Bi-weekly check-ups
Every 2nd day to Daily
Full sun
Some, pinching out growth or flowers
Moderate, monthly
Time to Harvest:
Forever, 5+ months
Frost Hardiness:
Very hardy, can’t cope with black frost


Most Problematic Nemesis:

Container Plant:
Yes, ideal for containers

Citrus japonica
Flora Japonica 1870
Kurt Stober's Online Library

Quick intro

The calamondin is a citrus hybrid bred for frost hardiness. It is a truly fantastic member of the citrus family and is a joy to have in the garden. The little sour fruits make excellent additions to jams, jellies and marmalade (or to eat if you like sours ).


Not much information is available for the plant from a historic perspective… Its origin is in China and was first introduced to the US in the 1900s and largest cultivations occur in the Philippines.

Science Stuff

The citrus and its hybrids belong to the Rutaceae family, which includes roses, raspberries, and blackberries. The calamondin is a Citrofortunella, an intergenic hybrid between the tangerine (Citrus tangerina) and kumquat (Citrus japonica). Its exact taxonomic placement and species name are still under investigation; as such it sports multiple scientific names (Citrofortunella mitis, Citrofortunella microcarpa or Citrus madurensis) and common names (calamonding, calamondin orange, calamansi, calamandarin, Philippine lime, Panama orange, Chinese orange, musk orange and acid orange). 

Calamondin flower buds
Citrofortunella mitis or C. microcarpa
Growing Calamondins

Most citrus grow well in Mediterranean-type or subtropical climates, they do not fare well in very humid climates and will require additional watering in more arid environments. The increased frost hardiness and moderate drought-tolerance of the calamondin (and other Citrofortunella) is a big advantage in arid or inland regions that are prone to frost.

The plant produces new growth in spring followed by flowers. The fruit develop and remain green for most of the year and all the fruits will ripen towards late winter for one large batch of calamondin fruits. Once the tree has acclimated and established in the garden it is a decent producer, ours produced a kilogram worth of calamondins last winter.

Calamondin flower
Citrofortunella mitis or C. microcarpa

You can fertilise the citrus about once a month or when the water in the pot saucer runs clear (this is usually a good indication for some fertilisation, because brown pot water is indicative of nutrients in the water). Some minimal pruning will be needed to keep the general shape, clear out dead or damaged parts and to promote new growth.  

Pests and disease

Citrus swallowtail caterpillars can be a problem – just be on the lookout for black and orange caterpillars on your plant, they will eat both leaves and fruit rinds. You can dispose of them or collect them to feed for the birds or chickens! Here is my full Pest Profile on this caterpillar (and some others).

Citrus Swallowtail Caterpillars (immatures)
Papillo demodocus

Other Calamondin Tips

I grow a ginger mint in the same pot as the calamondin – it was a bit of an experiment to see whether the scale (or their ant farmers) would want to be in a pot full of strong smelling mint. I haven’t had any scale problems on the calamondin thus far, whether this is because of the mint or the resistance of the plant I am not sure, but I thought it would be worth the mention .

Harvesting & Storing

The plants produce perfect and imperfect flowers which have a lovely strong aroma. The fruits are harvested once fully coloured (light orange) and we eat them peel on, but the peels come off very easily. The rind can be bitter and the fruit is more sour than sweet and they have a very aromatic flavour to them akin to the flower, making them ideal for adding flavour to desserts (icing). The fruits will keep for a while (about two weeks) once picked, but it is better to leave them on the plant until needed and picked well before spring. 

Calamondin fruits from development to harvest
Citrofortunella mitis or C. microcarpa


The calamondin as most other citrus can be propagated through grafting or cuttings in spring and autumn. Seeds can be unpredictable and some take up to a month to germinate – I am not sure whether the calamondin seeds will be fertile considering that they are a hybrid.

My Calamondin

My calamondin has been in the garden for two years now, producing flowers and fruits during its first spring. It produced a handful of fruits and followed the second season with nearly 1 kilogram of fruits which were used to make a mixed citrus marmalade. It is a very easy going plant and when in flowers it fills the garden with its amazing smell. 

Calamondin tree
Citrofortunella mitis or C. microcarpa


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! ðŸ˜†

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Roots 'n' Shoots: Birthday (Blogiversary) Post #5

Moldava stamp
Amanita muscaria
Wikimedia Commons

... *Drum rolls please* ...

Roots 'n' Shoots has been up and running for 5 years! I started the blog waaayy back in 2011 when I was still a neophyte with regards to gardening - the vegetable garden had started in the backyard a year before. I decided that the South African gardening community (especially those in the High Veld biome) should have an information central that gives clear and comprehensive how-to's on gardening (also including information that you 'pick up' as you go, which many books fail to record as well as any other practical hints and tips). Since the blog's initiation I have been writing this special edition birthday post (or blogiversary... well B-day works either way! LOL!) in which I just blab out whatever comes to mind, rant and rave about whatever is problematic at the time (either in the garden or the blogosphere) and if it ends up being a whole bunch of non-informative hogwash then so be it! Bwah ha ha!

The year has been very hard on the garden, I can see it in the way the plant respond to the change in seasons and their growth.  As the year was moving towards the end of summer all of the plants went into their Autumn phase a lot sooner. The El Nino was hard on the insect population too and I think that a lot of the coming season will probably go towards the re-establishment of the plants and insects. I lost a few plants, some not as important as others, but I do have a sneaky feeling that the Apricot and Tamarillos have perished - not due to a lack of watering from my side... I just noticed that around the same time the other plants went into the early Autumn phase, the Apricot and the Tamarillos seemed to have given up the fight. I wasn't too concerned about the Apricot as it had always been a bit sickly, but it was a shame to see the Tamarillos go, but at least I had the good sense to save some of their seed each year - so I'll start on the new seedlings this season.

Tamarillo flowers
Solanum betaceum

I had to do some serious maintenance during mid-winter, the garden had a lot of dead and not-so-healthy plant material to get rid of.  The Nectarine and Peach are looking fantastic as I removed all their blooms last season in preparation for the El Nino - so that they focus on getting through the summer and conserve energy for next seasons fruit production. The blooms on them are a bit earlier this year than I'd like (especially during our windy and frost month!), but I am hoping that they set fruit before any bad weather and being under the shade netting will also protect them. I can see signs of spring in the other plants too; the comfrey is coming back from its dormancy, the solitary bees have joined the honey bees at the basil flowers and the previous season's clover seeds are sprouting. This prompted me to do some good all round fertilisation of the garden with slow release and liquid feed to give the plants a good boost for the coming season. I will be planting a bit later this year as I am going to be overseas on training for the next month and will only start planting once I am back. Until then the copious amounts of homemade compost will be sitting on the garden beds, ready to be directly sown into once I am back.

Nectarine (Sunlight) Blooms
Prunus persica var. nucipersica

I want to re-organise the way I do blog posting, especially seeing as I have taken up new hobbies as well as having revived old ones. I just find that lately I feel like a slave to my computer - I am in my 'data analysis' stage of my studies, which means a lot of computer work. Then the last thing I want is to be in front of the computer over the weekend, which means that my blog posts tend to lag behind (and me feeling like a bad blogger...). I still enjoy posting, but my eyes and wrists generally want nothing to do with computers over weekends so much so that I often end up with headaches and sore hands (regardless of the fact that I do have an egronomic keyboard, mouse and chair!). So blog posting need a re-organise and I am still working out some of the kinks... Also I want to revisit some of my older posts, even though I loathe repetition, there are a few fruit and vegetables that I have improved on growing, but have already been covered. So I was thinking about rewriting the entire post (80% of information will likely remain the same) and adding new photos. Definitely new photos, some of the older posts' photos make me twitch - not that they're terrible, but I have become a better photographer since (upgrade in equipment also helps); not to mention a better writer as well.

Alright I think I am just about fresh out of nonsense... my luggage is literally standing in the doorway and I am flying out tonight (~30 hours & 2 stop-overs! Yikes!) - I will reply to all comments once I am back again :)  and I'll get up to speed with the blog, garden and life in general! Stay tuned for another year of gardening adventures and advise; here on Roots 'n' Shoots!

Lastly; a shout-out to all my readers! Roots 'n' Shoots would not have grown to its current size without your support! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!

TTFN: Ta-Ta For Now!

- Me Out -

Related Posts:

B-Post 1#
B-post 2#
B-post 3#
B-post 4#

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! 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Shroom’s Weather Report 2015/2016

*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 2015-2016.

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) and temperature (oC).

Weekly temperature 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...


I have been tallying the temperature and rainfall of the vegetable garden for three seasons! I will summarise here the average monthly temperature and rainfall for the past season (2015/16) as well as making comparisons to the previous two (2013/14 and 2014/15).

Hailstorms were a massive problem this year as well as very hot weather with irregular rainfall:

1) The rainfall was on time (September), which gave us hope for the growing season but soon dried up for October-November, which resulted in plant loss as well as the rainwater tanks reaching 30% - Yikes!!

2) Droughts were widespread and severe throughout the country leading to loss of crops and animals, including little to no production from our own summer vegetable garden. See my Gardening lessons from Drought post.

3) Winter is still too warm for winter vegetables, but some smarter plantings resulted in an improved harvest for the winter garden.

Here are the graphs on average (mean) temperature and rainfall as well as a discussion about some of the problem areas for the year.

Temperatures overall were a lot higher than usual, especially for the Aug-Dec period. This resulted in quick initial growth of the garden, but come Oct-Dec all the plants were suffering due to the heat. Crops were poor and coupled with no rain resulted in mostly hand-watering, which only provided enough water to survive not thrive. At least we had loads of tomatoes! April was warmer than last year (which was already 5oC higher than 2014), May saw a drop (and us being more hopeful for a colder winter) but alas June temperatures are even warmer than last year. This is reflected in the growth of the winter garden = lots of initial good growth, stagnation and no crops… only beans, which can grow well in larger temperature ranges and planting the leaves in the shade resulted in some leafy crops as well. No peas, no broccoli, cauliflower or any other cabbages are cropping properly, in fact they have all stagnated and remained small immature plants.

Despite the fact that the rainfall tally this year is 709 mm (17.5% more than expected average of 600 mm p.a; where 2015 was 594.3 mm and we had 877.5 mm in 2014) its dispersal was atrocious. We had good rain in Sep, alarmingly less rain in Oct & Nov. The rain dump in March mostly went to filling the rain tanks as no vegetables are active during this time and a very late (yet welcome) rain in May have skewed the rain measurements for this season. Read more on the specific impact of the rain distribution in my Gardening lessons from Drought post.

If the extreme temperature and lack of rain during crucial growing seasons weren’t bad enough a freak hailstorm on the 9th of January decimated my vegetable garden as well as causing structural damage to my vegetable cage. Read more on my Gardening lessons from Drought post for the full story.

The investment in rainwater tanks was well placed, especially during this drought year since we did not only use it for the garden. Thankfully the El Niño system has started to dismantle and we surely hope for improved weather conditions during the next season.

After keen weather watching for three seasons we can summarise observations as follows: floods in 2014, dust in 2015 and droughts in 2016 - what will our crazy and unpredictable weather throw next at the backyard gardeners of South Africa? Well, you will have to stay tuned for another update next year!

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

Related Post:

Drought Gardening Lessons from El Nino
Winter Blues Wires cross & signals lost 2015

Season Lore For the Southern Hemisphere
South Africa Climate & Hardiness Zones  

The Shroom's Weather Report 2014/2015
The Shroom's Weather Report 2013/2014


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! ðŸ˜†

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Utilisation of Kitchen Scraps

Due to the technological and financial advantages of our modern age a lot of food simply gets wasted. You would think that with the development of all our superior food production and storage capabilities food will not go to waste so easily. The average person today is more wealthy that many medieval kings, yet ironically if you have food, clothes and a house you have more than 80% of the people globally. In that respect it is quite sad and shocking when you start to notice all the places where food is lost and I am not only referring to rotten or food not fit for human consumption. Large fresh stock supermarkets and restaurants are big culprits when it comes to throwing away food that is still edible, but has passed the sell-by date. We as consumers are the worst! Many people don’t want to eat any food that is not attractive (whether this is by smell or appearance) and don’t want to eat gnarly looking apples (even though they are more nutritious and tasty) that have been produced with minimal environmental impact… Most people are very happy eating tasteless commercial produce, which is likely forgotten and thrown out with the trash without any further thought – because they have the thought that can just go to the grocer to get a new one.

Recently a lot of people have been moving towards more ethical and responsible use of consumables, including food (see the Inglorious Fruit Initiative and French Food Waste Donations – seems like the French set an example for all!). In developing countries it is estimated that  nearly 100 kg of food is lost per year per person (just to put that into perspective – we had 120 kg worth of produce from the summer and winter garden 2013/2014 collectively for 1 year – that is a lot of food! Likely enough to feed 1-2 people for a year!). Food is biodegradable, so composting your food waste already goes a long way towards trying to make back what has been lost, especially if you can distribute that to your vegetable garden to make the food back in a small way. Yet certain foods cannot be composted, such as starch and meats. I am going to provide some suggestions and a table on how to re-allocate food waste, either to a third party that can eat food unsuitable for human consumption, or it can go towards the next season’s crops with various decomposing/composting methods.

Kitchen Scrap Utilisation Table
You can click on the table to enlarge!

The table has been scored according to preference regarding my personal observations of which foods work well for compost or are particularly appreciated by other systems. The compost heap refers to an outdoors heap made in or on the ground. A compost bin refers to a closed system, such as those specialised composters or dustbins with drainage. Both the compost heap and bin are generalised systems that can take just about anything expect large quantities of meat, starch or dairy (if some slip in as part of a mainly-vegetarian dish then it’s OK). As you move away from the composting system they become more specialised. Citrus peels and maize cobs, after they have been stripped of any remaining flesh by the birds and chickens, respectively are great additions to the compost systems. The peels and cobs add fibrous water-retentive material to the compost heap. For more information on the composting system, see my Composting Page.

Kitchen scraps collected in a bucket for the compost heap

Earthworms have additional critters that live with them in their systems, which you either inherit with the purchase of the worms from the previous owner or they simply introduce themselves into the system. I have tiny crustaceans, springtails and black beetles in my worm farm. None of them threaten the earthworm and seem to co-exist quite happily, decomposing material the earthworms find tough or not-so tasty. Earthworms love rotten peppers (sweet bells), any flesh remaining on watermelon rinds and banana peels! They will dangle from the peels when lifted from the farm LOL! Tea bags and spent coffee are another sure favourite as the material is already partly broken down and make for easy worm digestion. If you have to prune some herbs and have too much leaves to deal with you can toss a good thick layer of this onto the worm farm, the worms will make quick work of it. The worms will eat tougher stuff like potato peels and such, but do prefer more squishy things. 

However, the crustaceans, mites and beetles will consume very fibrous materials – they also eat any dairy (some crumbs of feta from a once edible salad won’t do harm to the system). Generally dairy, starch and meat are not added to the wormery, since they’re strictly vegetarian! I would also suggest limiting citrus, onion or vegetables from the cabbage family. These alter the pH of the wormery to be more acidic (which the worms tolerate, but it attracts pot worms to the system who compete with the earthworms for food), also too much cabbage make for a smelly wormery. Eggshells are good to add to the wormery as it balances/buffers the pH as well as providing additional hiding places for the worms (they like to chill-out a bit in the mostly whole shells). Thus, earthworms will eat any rotten/mouldy vegetables or fruits as well as fresh surplus from the herb garden. Another note, I have noticed that earthworms don’t like lettuce; they’ll eat spinach or pak choy, but won’t eat the lettuce (which makes me wonder why do we eat it?). For more information on wormeries, check out my Wormery Page.


Chickens love tomatoes, so any tomato waste (such as cut off tops) that is not mouldy or rotten can go to the chickens. The appreciate other fruits as well (especially fruit peels with some flesh inside or eaten maize cobs – they’ll pick it clean), but most of this will depend on their personal preferences, for example we had one chicken that didn’t like tomatoes all (I mean what respectable chicken does not enjoy tomatoes), but loved bananas (she’ll even clean out the peels!). Depending on the breed, there will also be different preferences, for instance some are bred to forage for most of their food and thus will be enjoy leaf-based scraps. Most chickens like plants from the cabbage family, such as kale, pak choy and also enjoy spinach or lettuce. I usually leave the pak choy to flower for the bees to have some flowers late winter, but pluck out those setting seed – I saw that the chickens will deftly peck open the pods and eat the seeds inside. For some reason our new chickens have decided that they like basil! They have completely hen-pecked the basil in the ornamental garden and when I chuck some prunings on the ground from the one in the vegetable garden they ravage it in a few minutes flat. I don’t think that this is standard practise for chickens to eat herbs, but if they do at least it’ll help with their digestive wellbeing LOL! All starch food waste (not too salty) can be given to the chickens, even if it has little bits of mince or cheese along with it (such as in some pasta dishes). 

Chickens are crazy about dairy, just don’t feed too much as it is high in fat, but it can be a great treat (especially in winter) if you give them some milk soak bread! I would suggest not feeding them cooked chicken or eggs – there is something terribly wrong with that in my opinion. While on the subject of eggs, eggshells can be given to chickens as part of their calcium and grit intake. Some people clean, dry out the eggs in the oven and mash them up before giving them to the chickens, whereas ours just help themselves to the eggshells in the compost heap. I know that some folk say that you *may* promote cannibalism and egg eating if you do this, but I have found no evidence of this. The only time I have seen chickens eat their own eggs is when they had a big scare and laid a shell-less egg afterwards. They peck open the membrane and eat the egg, which to me does make sense as they know that the egg is unviable and it is unwise to waste energy, so the shell-less egg is promptly consumed and the energy returned to the chicken’s body. You can feed the chickens meat, but I will keep it in reasonable amounts since meat also contains a lot of fat and salt. If your chickens have access to the compost heap, they will also help themselves to whatever they like in there as well – I am usually of the principle that chickens know what they can’t and cannot eat. For more information on chicken keeping, see my various chicken posts (listed below).

Chickens in the compost heap

All right! For those without chickens I suggest setting out a lot of you fruit, starch and even dairy food waste for the birds (even if it is rotten or mouldy). The fruit lovers will swoop down on any apple or pear cores and will clean out the peels of bananas and citrus (such as grapefruit with some flesh still inside). In winter when food is scarce this becomes a big help to a lot of birds, even the fruitivores will help themselves to rice, cheese and vegetable scraps. You can even plop down a spoonful of sour yogurt in a bowl for them (good for the crop) – chickens also enjoy yogurt! We have our fruits skewered on wire that has been stuck into a piece of polystyrene and fastened to the tree branch. All the other goodies are in a large (broken) pot saucer on the wall (with a brick inside to prevent the wind from blowing it off). I would suggest putting out food for the birds in the trees or on walls close to trees as they want to feel safe when eating. Feeding the birds this way will also give you an opportunity for some birdwatching! Generally speaking what the chickens can eat, the birds can eat.
A collection of some apple cores, oats that fell on the floor and some other
unidentifiable things for the birds...

Mushroom compost is mainly made from hay, but if you already are growing mushies, you can add tea bags and spent coffee to this for some added nutrients. I tried to grow mushrooms from spent coffee and pine saw (hamster fluff) – after collecting and drying millions of spent coffee and tea bags from the household… the mushrooms grew really well, I had nice thick mycelium throughout the medium. The biggest problem was fruiting, as our climate is not really suited to mushrooms and I tried all kinds of different things to get the mushies to fruit properly. They would make tiny little fruiting bodies and some would simply shrivel! Very disappointing considering how much I like mushrooms (both to eat and as a research topic!). Anyways, if you like to grow you own mushrooms with spent coffee at no extra cost you can give this system a go! Mayhap you would be more successful than me! Let me know! For more information on growing mushrooms as home, see the Mushroom Guru website.

Mushroom fruiting bodies from my experiments - the biggest they got were about 5 cm.

Next up, Bokashi! Now from this point forward I cannot supply my own personal observations as I have not done Bokashi, neither have I kept mealworms (the main reason being that it is not a self-sustaining systems and you need to continuously buy new substrate…). Bokashi contains a mixture of anaerobic fermenters, which includes bacteria and fungi. Basically you are pickling the waste by a natural biological process, which occurs without the need of oxygen (anaerobic). Because of this you can ferment anything, vegetable and fruit matter as well as meat, bones, dairy and I assume starch as well. The main point is not to get the system too wet, because that when it becomes a smelly business! I imagine the fermentation process will also take some time and that it can only get through a certain amount of food (likely an average sized family will generate too much waste for the system to deal with in a short amount of time). After the fermenters have done their work, the contents is added to the compost heap or buried in the soil for further decomposition. I would venture that if you buy this system just to deal with your meat and dairy waste, it might be a bit more sustainable. If you would like more information on the Bokashi system, please see the Earth Probiotic Recycling website

I was very interested in raising mealworms at one point as additional protein for the chickens, but the main substrate for mealworms is wheat bran or oats, which you have to constantly buy to sustain the colony. This system is basically a colony of beetles, which will go through their life cycles from egg throughout the larvae, grubs and beetles stages. You can feed them additional vegetable and fruit scraps from which they receive their water as well. As long as the substrate doesn’t become wet and the colony is kept at room temperature they will happily go about their lifecycle ensuring that you have an on-going food supply for the chickens. If you would like more information on how to keep mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) as chicken feed, see the following Post @ Backyard Chickens.

Mealworm larvae,
Tenebrio molitor

Do you have any additional suggestions for the use of kitchen scraps? Please share! I will also add them to the table!

Related Posts:


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! ðŸ˜†

Saturday, 28 May 2016

How to Grow: Common Bean plant - Vegetable of the Month

Bean plant stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
- Biweekly check-ups
- Twice a week
- Full sun, shade tolerant
- Some, support with stakes
- Monthly, half strength liquid fertiliser
Time to Harvest:
- Moderate, 2-3 months
Frost Hardiness:
- Tender, can’t cope with mild frost

Most Problematic Nemesis:
Black bean aphids
Container Plant:

Common Bean
Phaseolus vulgaris
Horticulture Jardin potager et jardin fruitier
Vintage Printable

Quick intro

Beans are best known for bean soup – a reliable, easy to come by and nutritious food supply, especially during winter for suppers. Dry beans come in a huge variety of shapes, colours and flavours. Several canned varieties are also available, ensuring year round supply of bean goodness, but you won’t find me eating red sauce beans on toast – I much more partial towards eating cannellinis! However, in the vegetable garden, green beans are more suited and economic to produce. They are a delight to grow as they germinate with ease and once in production will likely generate more beans than you can eat!


Beans are some of the oldest cultivated vegetables with archaeological remains dating back to 5000 BC. Their origins lie in mountainous regions of central and south America where separate domestication by local tribes lead to distinct gene pools; one the Andes population (containing 26% of the  diversity of the ancestral population) and the Central or Mesoamerican (with 46% ancestral diversity). Subsequently, beans travelled to Europe in the 16th century along with the Spanish and Portuguese ships.

Beans have remained the primary pulse crop in tropical America, where it is grown as one of the “Three Sisters” with squash and maize. Its distinct populations have remained largely intact with some overlap in genetic identity as well as distribution in the overlapping range between Mexico and South America, see map in this article for more details (REF 1). Although the overlapping region contains both populations; more migrants are observed from the Andes population towards the Mesoamerican population (References 1-3, "A reference genome" pdf contains a map of the genetic spread of the populations).

Science Stuff

The common bean has several names, such as French, kidney, haricot, snap, string and frijoles. They are all grouped under dwarf or bush beans, due to their compact growth. These are further classified according to their pod structure: 

String or snap: round/flattened pods. 
Stingless: pods lack the fibrous spine. 

Haricot Plantes potageres
Spedona Wikipedia
Most cultivated beans belong to the Phaseolus genus, including the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris. Runner beans are slower to produce than bush varieties, but are more prolific and belong to a different species, Phaseolus coccineus. All beans are nitrogen fixing, they convert atmospheric nitrogen to bio-available nitrogen in the soil  with the assistance of symbiotic bacteria (Rhizobia) contained in their root nodules and thus they add nutrients to the soil.  Peas and beans belong to the same family of leguminous plant, Fabaceae (synonymous with Leguminasae or Papilionaceae) and also include soybean, peanuts, alfalfa and clover.

Growing Beans

The seed packages bought in store specify growing them in summer, but I have found that common beans (P. vulgaris) grow better as a winter crop in South Africa. I have grown runner beans in summer, but for this article I am concerned with the common bean. Considering that bush beans are native to mountainous regions of South America, it also makes more sense to me that they would prefer cooler growth conditions. 

Beans are easily raised from seed in early autumn. Direct seed them into their permanent spot in the garden as they do not transplant well. They do well in pots of 20 cm depth for optimum root development and water drainage. Bush beans do not require supports, but I prefer to secure them to a short stake when they start to flower. The plant can become top heavy due to pod formation and a gush of wind can bend and damage the plants if they are kept unsupported. Beans are not frost hardy, therefore protection from early frost might be necessary with frost netting. You can feed them, I usually fertilise once every two-four weeks with half-strength liquid feed.

Keep your eye out for any ant activity or shiny leaves (honeydew deposits), which may be indicative of black aphid infestation, especially towards the end of the season when most of the plant energy goes towards pod development. These nasty little mongrels can easily get out of hand as winter sees a lack of natural enemies. A spray with my environmentally friendly organic treatment should keep them at bay until the plant is spent and removed (Pest Control Page, Aphid article). 

Other Bean plant Tips

I would recommend some pruning of overcrowded leaves and even some flowers, especially in the centre of the plant. Due to its compact nature, bean plants can entangle themselves in their own stems, this hampers proper growth and leaf development as well as providing a sheltered place for pests. Once the plant has reached it full size 30-50 cm, prune away some of the leaf, stem and flower spire bulk towards the centre of the plant. I aim to get the plant to produce more flower spires towards the outside of the plant, which allows for full unrestrained pod development and easy harvesting.

If you want to harvest seed, set aside some pods dry towards the end of the season.

Be careful of not perpetuating legume-disease (such as chocolate spot, a fungal infection) 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.

Harvesting and Storing

Green beans are the young pods containing immature seeds, which are ready for harvesting in 8-10 weeks from planting. Stringed varieties are picked before they become fibrous, whereas stringless varieties can be picked when desired. Beans will produce more prolifically when you continuously harvest them from the plant well before the pods mature. Cut the pods from the plant with a pair of scissors, since yanking might damage the parent plant.

Common Bean Flowers
Phaseolus vulgaris

Beans are best enjoyed fresh, although surplus can be frozen by topping and tailing, chopping into 2.5 – 5cm lengths. Afterwards they are blanched for 1-2 minutes, drained, cooled and properly dried before freezing. Frozen beans can keep for up to 12 months.

Dry beans can be collected once the pods have become brown and rattle when shaken. Dried beans are easily collected from the pods and stored in glass jars as long as they do not become mouldy or shrivel. Dried beans contain more protein than green beans, but contain an anti-nutritional toxin, known as lectin (a phytohaemagglutinin), which is deactivated by either soaking the dry beans for 5 hours (dispose of water) or boiling the beans at 100oC (212oF) before consumption.


Beans bare perfect flowers in a raceme (spire), which open at night and are self-pollinated. Cultivar preservation does not require isolation by distance as flowers do not easily cross-pollinate, but tall barriers can be erected between stands should pure ‘stock' be required. Flowers come in a variety of colours (white, yellow, pink and violet) and are very similar to the papillonaceous (butterfly) flowers of peas. Pods and beans are just as colourful with green, red, purple, yellow, black and white with several streaked combinations. Pods contain 4-6 beans and some do not retain their vivid colours once cooked.

Common Bean developing pod
Phaseolus vulgaris

Bush varieties flower, fruit and mature in a short amount of time. The pods are botanically classified as a dehiscent (dry) fruit. Seeds are mature when the pods become dried husks. The pods are removed and cured for another 1-2 weeks in a brown paper bag, this will allow the pods to break open and release the beans into the bag. Allowing the beans to be released naturally from the pods ensures that the protective seed coat remains intact which is crucial for germination. The beans can be stored in the paper bag or glass jar and can be saved for up to 3 years. Beans germinate when the soil temperature reaches 16-29oC (60-85oF), where warmer soil promotes quicker germination. 

Something interesting – Jumping Beans

Jumping beans are a little bit of a misnomer as they are not truly related to legumes. The seeds of such plants are known to twitch when handled giving their name ‘jumping beans”. The beans ‘jump’ due to the presence of a moth larvae (type of parasitism). Females lay their eggs on the young seeds, which hatch and larvae burrow into the seed. They hollow out the inside and spin a cocoon with the larvae suspended inside by silk threads. When disturbed by an environmental stimulus, such as the warming of the seed when held, causes the larvae to pull on the threads making the seed twitch. It is a protective response meant to roll the seed away from the stimulus, which might prove fatal to the larvae inside.

iley, Charles V., “Jumping seeds and galls,”
Proceedings of the United States National Museum,
5(330); 632-635
Figure 1
Vintage Printable

Mexican jumping beans, Sebastiania pavoniana, is well known in America where the beans are sold as a novelty. It is parasitized by the jumping bean moth, Cydia deshaisiana. Another plant indigenous to Southern Africa known as the jumping bean tree (produces lovely ‘tambotie’ wood) is parasitized by a snout moth (Emporia melanobasis). When the seed matures and splits it causes the larvae to wriggle about inside and makes the beans ‘jump’ erratically.

My Bean plants

I have grown Stark Ayres Dwarf Beans as well as the Franchi French Beans.

Common Bean Plants
Phaseolus vulgaris


Related Articles:


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! ðŸ˜†

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Sci-Fi Beehives: Smart Phones & Hives on Tap!

African Honey Bee
Apis mellifera
Bees are one of the most important animals when it comes to food production (a close second in my opinion after earthworms who supply healthy soil). Bees have been domesticated since antiquity; the ancient Egyptians depict workers smoking hives and collecting honeycombs in temple paintings dating before 2422 BC. Bee hives have taken on many shapes across the centuries and cultures, from clay or straw skeps (an open ended dome) to wooden barrels. Even today most beehives are usually wooden boxes with removable lids or drawers. Lately I have been seeing more features on next generation high tech beehives.

Traditionally, honey is harvested from beehives by smoking the bees (after you’re properly suited up to look like a UFO researcher! LOL!). The smoke makes the bees a bit woozy so that they don’t attack the beekeeper (or at least not too much…). The honeycombs are removed and the combs are scrapped to break the wax seal on the cells, which allows the honey to be collected. Commercial beekeepers have machinery that spin out the honey, which is collected in a large barrel. Debris are removed by several filters and finally the honey is bottled and ready for the market. The initial disturbance of the hive can be stressful on the bees and thus new ways of harvesting and monitoring beehive health have been investigated. Several new hives have made their way onto the scene recently, here I have a few that I found the most interesting:

1.) FlowTM Hive (

This hive was designed to make harvesting of honey easier and more efficient, as well as limiting the amount of work necessary for bees to build honeycombs. The hive was designed by Cedar and Stuart Anderson. It has plastic honeycombs with partially lined cells. The bees only have to finish off the cell walls, deposit the honey and top off with a wax seal. When harvesting begins, the beekeeper turns the key and the plastic honeycombs split the cells vertically. The honey flows towards the bottom, into a trough and out of the hive. The key is tuned again and the plastic combs are reset to be refilled with honey once more. Unfortunately, the bees still need to be smoked and checked up on manually to ensure their overall health.

FlowTM Hive ©

2.) APiS Monitoring System (

Apis Technology supplies their own beehive, but it is the smart phone app that comes with it, which really steals the show. They are a bit secretive about how exactly it works, but I assume that several different measuring devices are fitted into the beehive. The system is able to record and monitor several different physical and behavioural aspects of the bee colony, including: GPS location, temperature, weight, humidity, foraging (bee counts at the entrance/exit most likely J) and probably a motion sensor for the hive. All these measurements are likely used to extrapolate bee behaviour and production estimates. You can check up on any of the hives from your phone as well as receive any alerts should the physical conditions become suboptimal or someone/something is attacking/stealing from the hive!

APiS Monitoring System ©

(Apparently the APiS system has not performed so well, according to this article – but the information and ordering are still available on the original website, so I am not convinced that it hasn’t been somewhat of a success.)

The remote hive monitoring has been taken one step further by Arnia; they have added acoustic sensors in addition to physical parameter measurements (temperature, humidity etc.). Bees communicate with some visual cues, but most of the communication is up to pheromones, odours and different types of buzzing noises. The ‘acoustic signatures’ can signal whether the colony should swarm or follow others to food sources, which are picked up by the sensors and interpreted. Should the colony ‘sound’ irregular; a notice is sent to your smart phone. It has also been suggested that colony sounds can also be used to determine the level of pest infestation and when hives are under attack from predators. Research is still underway and should improve with time to produce a comprehensive library of bee signatures with which beekeepers should be able to monitor the colony health without the need for manual inspection.

Arnia Hive Monitoring System ©

For additional information on the use of sounds in bee communication, see the following references:

The ultimate goal behind the development of smart-hives are to approach a semi-natural system for honey production; where bees are disturbed as little as possible during honey production and mankind can still enjoy all the benefits of this liquid gold. I think that these are fantastic new developments where technology benefits nature as well as humans, since timely warning systems of disease and colony unease will likely limit the use of treatment methods that are harmful to the environment – this is where the old adage of prevention is better than cure benefits all parties involved.

Other Bee Related Articles:

SA Bees in Trouble

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


Absolutely Gorgeous Beautique

Absolutely Gorgeous Beautique
Your beauty, weight loss, slimming and skin care salon of choice! Products with International Shipping!