Roots 'n' Shoots: May 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, 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! 😆

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


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