Roots 'n' Shoots: 2017

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, 16 December 2017

Christmas Present: New Blog @ Whisker Flowers

Prince Charming Perhaps?
I am very pleased with the decision to move Roots 'n' Shoots to Whisker Flowers over @ Wordpress!

So far I have moved all my posts there (it is in the draft side). Before I post them (currently at 2 times per week) I read through them, give them a clean-out, an update and add some new pictures. I am especially spoilt for pictures these days, as many of my posts back in 2011 had my own photos and some of them aren't that great - but with all the free and PD photo websites available lately, there are tons of photos for me to choose from to spruce up a lot of the older posts! See, Mr Prince Charming above for example, isn't that a cool photo? (One that would not have been public domain/free back in 2011 when I started this blog!!!)

Best Blog Christmas Gift I'd say! πŸŽ„

TTFN
Ta-ta For Now 🐈

The Shroom Whisker Flowers 😸

Come join me @ Whisker Flowers & take a trip down memory lane as I update & post all my articles there!

Friday, 1 December 2017

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Post and Page moves for November to Whisker Flowers

The following pages and posts are moving to Whisker Flowers:

 My New Blog

Click Here to go to My New Blog!

Once published on Wordpress (dates below), all posts and pages will be automatically 301 redirected to Whisker Flowers!

  1. About - page (already moved & 301 redirected!)
  2. Support - page (already moved & 301 redirected!)
  3. Edibles  - page (ONLY AVAILABLE on the 4th of November)
  4. Pest Control - page (...8th)
  5. Radish - post (...11th)
  6. Sustainable Vegetable Growing part1 - post (...15th)
  7. Ladybug - post (...18th)
  8. Solar Power South Africa part 1 - post (...22th)
  9. Raspberry - post (...25th)
  10. Wild Mushrooms - post (...29th)

Please join me at my new blog on Wordpress @ whiskerflowers.wordpress.com!

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Roots 'n' Shoots Is Moving!

Luggage by stux


After much deliberation I have decided to migrate Roots and Shoots to Wordpress! After looking at the state of the blog in the aftermath of Google's algorithm change it was very clear that RnS has been demoted to a 'new blog' with all the disadvantages, but none of the benefits or prospect of further growth.

Here I am trying to grow by planting seed in barren soil, therefore moving to Wordpress will bring renewal and growth! If Google doesn't want RnS, then me and my content are leaving!

I am working on setting up RnS over @ Wordpress, hopefully I can move all RnS content to Wordpress by the end of the year!

So watch this space for the address of the new home for RnS!

TTFN
Ta-ta For Now!
The Shroom

Friday, 18 August 2017

Bloggiversary #6: Nostalgia & Blogging Experiences

The Fly Agaric πŸ„
Amanita muscaria

Today marks the 6th year that RnS has been running – now that is really impressive… an MSc in Garden Blogging πŸ˜‚. In the RnS tradition, Blogiversary is celebrated with a post where the hinges come off, the screws go loose and all kinds of craziness ensue! I write here whatever comes to mind as well as some generalised discussions, which don’t always pertain to gardening. So, let’s get started shall we:

I was feeling somewhat nostalgic this year round when I noticed B-post month coming up. I do know of blogs in the gardening world that seriously outweigh mine (such as Down to Earth which stands at over 24 million pageviews, it is mind-boggling! 😡), but I am also well aware of others that started around the same time as mine, who have very little traffic or have been abandoned. RnS currently has 136 posts and nearly 500 000 views – now that is nothing to sniff at! And I regard RnS as a being a success, since it gets a good deal of readers and attention globally. So I on that note I thought I would share some of my things I have done, my version of a ‘How to create a successful blog’ article.

Dwarf Rose

 Firstly, there are a few things to consider before starting a blog:

1) Your Goal: 
What is your primary goal with a blog? Is it a personal or business blog? On a personal blog you can do whatever you like and depending on your topic/audience you can generate hits fairy quickly. A business blog is a whole other ball game where you need to stay focused around your business as well as writing in a way that attracts customers and gets them to buy something – this immensely hard work and may take substantially longer to generate hits than a personal blog. Another thing about a personal blog is that – do you want to be famous or just share what you know?

2) Your Topic:
The topic of your blog is a huge determinant in the number of views it will receive and impacts on your target audience. For instance, a Science blog about Quantum Physics will likely attract other scientists or serious citizen scientists, whereas a Science blog about Physics in general which includes some quantum physics is likely to attract a broader spectrum of knowledgeables in the field. I imagine that a political or religious blog will attract more views than a physics blog, but it will also attract more controversial comments that may have to potential to spiral into childish name calling. Therefore, choosing your topic has a large impact on views, comments and people’s manners!

3) The Platform:
So this is mostly a Google Blogger vs. Wordpress situation. After having run a blog on both of these, here is my take on it. Wordpress is aesthetically very pleasing and a lot of promotional functionally it built into the free version, however any custom HTML to make up for shortcomings is blocked and only accessible on the paid versions. Google Blogger may not be as nice to look at and getting the design right can take some time, but blogger is completely open in the sense that you can (if you know what you’re doing) fiddle around in the HTML of the template as well as adding custom scripts via gadgets (this would be social media feeds, third party stuff like a MailChimp signup letter etc.). Google Blogger can be frustrating and annoying at times, but the fact that you can add anything to your blog is a real plus. For the layman, you can search “How to I do ABC in Blogger” and you will likely find some kind smart person who will take you through it step-by-step. Thus, the decision lies between functionality vs. aesthetics.
Note: Also keep in mind that Blogger’s link to Google makes search-ability nearly instant and at a higher volume!

I don't even know what this is anymore... how not to label your pictures πŸ˜…

Next, how to drive traffic to your blog:

1) Post Frequency:
Everybody will claim that you need to blog as often as possible, i.e. no less than 3 times per week. I say this depends: Personal or Business, then Maybe and Yes apply, respectively. When your blog starts out you need to blog more often because you have to ‘Get Out There’ basically. If you want to be famous or make a living from your blog, then you're gonna have to post once a day to get ahead and then stay ahead. Alternatively, once you start having a reliable stream of traffic (not counting spammers and at least more than 10 views a day) I would say it is safe to start toning it down and moving towards longer higher quality posts less often.

2) Promotion:
Here I think it is Social Media vs. Search Engines. I have built RnS for search engine optimisation (SEO if I want to be fancy about it). This basically comes down to placing informative key words that pertain to the blog post, such as the keywords for this blog would be: "blog, blogging, Google, Blogger, Wordpress, How to, create, successful, experience, B-post, blogiversary, drive traffic, views, hits" and some geographic locations as well. Having boring titles – because the title is literally the face keyword of the post, so make it what you wrote about (you can add the fancy or snarky or funny topic to the boring part, but the informative boring title must be there). Proper, informative and yes, boring image titles (included in the JPEG title as well)! Images, especially high resolution free images such as those of RnS drove huge amounts of traffic from Google Search and Images alike. The Wordpress blog I had did not have the powerful innate link to Google and hence required a lot more social media marketing… which tended to drive me insane 😯. Because you simply get swallowed in the volume of other posts and trying to be heard and not getting distracted by what is on the feed was challenging. So I would rather spend my time optimising for SEO and generating blog content quite frankly – I also believe that you reach your genuine audience this way and not just passers-by because they actually searched for you!

3) Post Tone and Shelf-life:
Daily posts about what happened on the yard are likely to receive instant once-off views from your followers and depending on your keywords may have a few views through searches. Blog posts on “How to’s” or “Why ABC happens” or other informative articles are generally posts that may not receive a stream of views instantly but they have a long shelf life as the information in them stays relevant for a long time and they kind of snow-ball views as they get older. Also identifying information gaps in your field and writing a really informative post on that is hugely beneficial, such as my South African Biomes post and How to Grow Tree Tomatoes posts I identified because I searched for this info and came across very little. After digging around in all kinds of information dungeons or just simply growing tree tomatoes myself for 3 years I simply then wrote a post about each to fill the gap. Blog posts with a conversational tone are more attractive and approachable to everybody because it kind of sounds like that monologue you have in your head sometimes. Also, letting loose, being a bit more informal also helps and when possible a bit of humour lightens info-packed topics.


Ooh! What's that, can I eat it? 🐈
Asjas PhotoBombing my peanut experiments!
 Lastly, the personal benefits from blogging:

1) Writing: 
Blogging regularly (even once a month) immensely improves your writing, which is a fantastic thing especially when your occupation relies on writing, such as progress reports, scientific articles and theses. It teaches you how to choose or work with a topic at hand, research effectively, outline content, write concisely and in such a way that anyone can understand complicated topics. I think that this is one of the biggest and unexpected gifts that blogging offers.

2) Freedom:
On a personal blog you can write what you like, when you like and as much as you like because it is your space and if someone else doesn’t like it and leaves a jerk comment – Delete. Simple as that and don’t give anymore thought to it. Blogs are flexible and you should let it grow with you. For instance, when I started I posted every week, but that was towards the end of my Honours and I had the time. Slowly it became twice a month and for that last two years it has been once a month. The only important thing is to keep at it. Even after taking a blog holiday (which I have done several times before) I always came back to find that the blog had grown and this motivated and inspired me to get to it again. The blog should not be a to-do list item, there is already enough of that – is should remain a flexible creative outlet.

3) Achievement: 
Having a successful blog, even if it is only a personal one makes you feel that there is at least one thing that keeps building on your hard work and dedication. I really admire people who make a living from blogging, because that is something different entirely. Obviously, here, success is a subjective thing: I see any blog as successful when it has a reliable stream of readers, even if 80% are always new. Another thing is that blogs never truly die – they become abandoned yes, but good content will find a way to its audience eventually and so will that persons’ effort. Blogs touch other people, from inspiring them to start their own vegetable garden to simply putting a smile on their face when they see the picture of your cat’s photobomb – blogs get around… πŸ˜‡

Can I play with them? 🐈

Just a side note. Even though RnS has been hugely successful, the Google Algorithm update of May 2017 has severely effected the blog stats. Blog stats have dropped by 75% since the end of May! 😰Google is essentially culling RnS from search results πŸ’€and I don't really know why...  I don't have spammy activity here, neither do I have irritating or flashing advertisements, I update regularly, over 95% of all content here is self generated (articles and images). Is RnS really that awful? I have gone through RnS with a fine tooth comb over the last two weeks and zapped as many potential problems (according to webmaster) as possible, but some of the errors I have no clue how to fix as I am not a programmer or website designer. Fortunately, I do not make a living from RnS, but I really don't want it to die just because Google says so. πŸ˜– Anyways, I think Mr G is having a hard time scrubbing out RnS because of all the keyword and image presence it has, especially for SA- so RnS is keeping up a good fight! πŸ’ͺ I am hoping the added error zapping will get it back on track.πŸ‘

So, this post has turned out to be quite informative as I wanted to write about my blogging experience and the Blogiversary post is the ideal opportunity. Another side note, I have finished writing my PhD theses – it is now an equally frustrating and horrifying situation of waiting for feedback. This was the main reason why post have been scaled back as I spend so much time in front of the computer that I started to get pinched spinal nerves! πŸ˜‘ And the scariest part was that my entire writing area is optimised and ergonomic – but fortunately I was very close to finishing at that stage and was able to sort it out and now I can do something else other than only sitting and writing LOL! 

Anyways, I only started cleaning up the garden this month and I am not planning on planting until I see decent and regular rainfall. I am thinking of a few crazy planting schemes for the garden this year and if it pans out I’ll post about it here. Finally, I want to thank all of my readers and welcome any new ones! πŸ’– As always, come back regularly to find me up to my usual gardening and blogging shenanigans! 😈

- TTFN -

Ta-Ta For Now!
The Shroom
πŸ„


Related Posts:
B-post 1#
B-post 2#
B-post 3#
B-post 4#
B-post 5#

Roots 'n' Shoots Support Page - Referrals



- Update late 18 August 2017 -

After some debating with family and friends I think we have possibly come up with a reason why Mr G is being so mean. Mr G has being pushing their AdWords paid campaigns (or Ad Ranks) since early May 2017, which means keywords don't get you top search page spot anymore - No, the money does πŸ’°. So Mr G will likely suppress all content that is not paying for page ranking, which means that when users are searching for something they will likely get paid ads instead of more relevant (or free) content. So RnS is being culled for greed (or I believe the term is 'Sandboxing' from the 'Sandbox Effect'). It is very sad, I have worked hard to get RnS there, πŸ˜” but I will keep posting here as long as RnS exists! Mwha ha ha! 😈 There is also an option of driving traffic from the other search engines that are available, however this is also similar to starting over... ah well, I have (re)registered RnS with Bing and I see that DuckDuckGo already knows of RnS. Opting for those are similar to all the points that I made above, so now I just need to be patient... again πŸ˜‰


- Update late 1 November 2017 -


It is very ironic that only a few months after posting this article I have decided to move RnS to Wordpress... You can join me there @ Whisker Flowers


Saturday, 8 July 2017

Carrot Revisited: How to Grow - Vegetable of the Month

Alright so this is my first revisit of a growing profile. We will start off with the vegetable garden staple: carrots. I have decided to do a revisit on one or two crops each year so that I can update all the information. But I do loathe repetition, so I will try my best to rewrite most of the post  as well as adding lots of new content and photos (this is also good for Google Stats πŸ˜‰)!

So here we go!


                       ______________________________________________________________________________

Carrot stats/requirements at a glance


Ease of Raising:
4/5 – Easy, monthly check up
Water:
3/5 – Moderate (high heat, every second day)
Sun:
5/5 – Full sun, no shade
Training:
1/5 – None
Fertilise/Feeding:
3/5 – Moderate (growing, monthly) to Minimal (during root set, none)
Time to Harvest:
4/5 – A long time (3-4 months)
Frost Hardiness:
3/4 – Mildly Hardy (can’t take severe frost)


Uses
Culinary
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Powdery mildew, nutrient deficiencies, nematodes
Container Plant:
Only ‘short-rooted’ varieties

Daucus carota
Strum 12033
Kurt Stober Online Library BioLib

Quick Intro

Carrots are a vegetable garden and dinner staple, but due to the revitalisation of older and heirloom varieties - one does not have to plant boring old orange carrots. Carrots come in a diversity of colours, shapes and sizes to suit any garden, balcony or culinary taste. Carrots are generally easy going, but take a long time to root and act as indicators of poor soil quality.

History

The modern orange, crisp and sweet carrot that we all know and love had far more humble beginnings, a pale, tough and small tap-rooted plant. Its origins are speculated to be from Afghanistan varieties that are purple in colour. It spread to Europe, where yellow carrots were selectively bred along with orange varieties from The Netherlands to yield the modern day carrot.

Science Stuff

Carrots (Daucus carota) belong to the Apiaceae family, which is commonly known as the parsley and carrot family. Apiaceae includes other roots, herbs and spice plants, such as, Celeriac, Chervil, Angelica, Anise, Dill, Fennel, Parsnip, Celery, Lovage, Cicely, Coriander, Cumin, Celery and Caraway.

The different colours of carrots are derived from different pigments or lack thereof. Anthocyanin, is responsible for purple and red colouring of fruits, flowers and roots. The red and purple pigmentation of fruits and flowers attract pollinators as well as animals that eat and disperse seeds. Anthocyanin is a powerful anti-oxidant and is found in any fruit or vegetable with purple or dark red colouring. Yellow or white carrots lack this pigment, due to the loss or mutation of the gene responsible, which affects pigment production. This pale characteristic was preferred as these carrots did not colour soups or sauces purple - but I personally find them a bit bland in taste and they aren't as hardy.

Ξ²-carotene or Carotene is responsible for the bright orange colour of supermarket carrots, which is metabolised in the presence of bile salts to Vitamin A. Eating way too many carrots can make your skin orange!

Carrots of the Rainbow!
Different pigmented and non-pigmented carrots,
Photo: ARS, Stephen Ausmus

Growing Carrots

Carrots are easiest to raise through direct-seeding into the garden as they do not transplant well. I know that the seed packages claim that year-round carrot seeding can be done in our South African climate (Zone 7 especially), but winter sown carrot take excrusiatingly long to root. Also winter carrots tend to be fibrous by harvest time. So I would suggest the earliest time to plant carrots would be about a month before Spring Equinox (so anytime from the 20th of August) up to the Autumn Equinox (~20 March).

Long rooted carrots should be planted in the garden with soil dug over at least 30cm deep (that is about as the full length of the garden spade) and are designated as your main crop. Short rooted, globe varieties or baby varieties can be grown in pots that are at least 20cm deep and will supply carrots earlier than the main crop.

Carrots in my garden take up to 3 months to set a decent sized root and I think that it is likely the standard amount of time. Potassium is essential for carrot root set. My very first carrots looked like bottle-brushes with a lot of fine roots that resembled hairs and nearly no tap-root, due to the lack of potassium in the soil. Potassium in general is very good for all fruits and vegetables, so be sure to get some organic fertiliser (such as Talborne Organics Vita - Flower & Fruit) with a 3:1:5 (NPK) value works great! I also use some half-strength liquid feed once every two weeks (Biogrow Biotrissol, NPK 3:2:5) when carrots are seedlings. But stop any fertilisation once the carrots are about a month old or when root set starts (orange root development becomes apparent). If you fertilise past this stage you will get split roots! πŸ˜‘ Potash from burning non-treated wood from garden cleanup, which also contains lots of potassium and other goodies can be added regardless of root set – which makes for really useful stuff!


Split carrots from too much fertiliser


Diverse root plantings, some beet on the left, carrots in the middle row and onions (leeks) to the right.
There are also some trefoil-clover (note not sour-sobs!) amongst the roots
for some extra diversity and green manuring!


In the previous version of this post I had a section on succession planting. But due to my more diverse planting schemes I don't really do succession or use square-foot gardening principles anymore. I tried to combine plants (other than roots) in the carrot plots, but I found that larger plants then to overshadow the carrots or completely smother them. This previous season I had some alfalfa seeds plant themselves in my carrot patch (which included alternating beets and onion rows - it is the easiest method to generate diversity as well as keeping harvesting and seeding easy). The alfalfa has an upright, spindly growth habit and thus did not bother the carrots at all. Alfalfa is also a green manure and soil builder so I just left it with the carrots. Come harvest time and the carrot roots were beautiful! πŸ˜™ I really do think that the alfalfa had something to do with this and next season I am incorporating more alfalfa plants into my other plots! 😎

Carrots harvested this season that had been growing with the alfalfa.
Photo includes some other winter root veg (turnips) and
leafy greens (spinach and pak choy)



Other Carrot Tips

When the carrots start to set their roots – cover the exposed root with soil, this prevents ‘green shoulders’ on the root due to greening on the top of the root when it is subjected to sunlight.

Carrots with green shoulders
Covered carrots, will get orange root right up to the leaves





















Dead and damaged leaves can be removed along with ones infected with Powdery mildew. The powdery mildew spray I use for Cucurbits has an inhibitory effect on the carrot mildew, so it’s worth a try, see Pest Control. Powdery mildew only affects the carrot greens and carrot growth - but the carrot roots are safe to eat with powdery mildew greens.

Powdery Mildew on Carrot leaves
If seedlings are grown next to larger crops – just look out for the larger crop leaves not smacking the seedlings on the head! - especially when the wind blows or during rain. Remove any leaves that are in danger of hitting seedlings or is already lying atop seedlings, since this smothers, damages and sometimes kills seedlings. Also look out for cats or chickens sneaking into the garden and scratching or walking atop the seedlings! 😨


Carrot nematodes 😬


Nematodes can also be a problem for carrots. They cause forking and galling of carrot roots. The nematodes cannot invade plant roots when temperatures go below 15-18oC (59-64oF), so your March sown carrots should be in better shape than summer grown ones if your soil is prone to nematodes. An environmentally friendly way of getting rid of nematodes is to plant marigolds (Tagetes species, same as black-jacks) in the plot for a full season or as a cover crop before sowing of root crops. Marigold roots produce a toxin which is nematicidal. I suppose you can also inter-plant rows of carrots after the marigolds have been in the soil for a while - it should work just as well! πŸ˜‹... Ugh I hate marigolds, they always look like weeds trying to be pretty...hmm, maybe I should just include rows of them just out of principle, get some dwarf varieties... Anyways.


Harvesting & Storing

Carrots are pulled from the ground by grabbing the leaves close to the root and turning the root while you pull it out. If the root is being suborn, do not pull too hard or the root will break in half! Or you fall back and land flat on your bum! πŸ˜‚ Rather dig out or loosen some of the soil around the root and then remove.

Long term storage: If you can, carrots can be stored in trays/boxes containing sand for winter usage. After washing the carrots, the leaves are trimmed to 1 cm from the root, then place them next to one another (not touching) in a tray filled with dampened sterile/clean river sand. Layer the sand and carrots singly. The tray is sealed and stored in a cool, frost-free (and I suppose dark) place. – I have not tried this yet, because I am not sure where to get sand appropriate for this.

More practically, you can blanch the carrots. After blanching dry the carrots - make sure they are dry (leave for a few hours to dry) and then store in the refrigerator – or else you’ll have mushy carrots when you cook them from not-properly-dried-before-frozen carrots 😞. Alternatively if you cannot wait for them to dry completely, pop the carrots into the microwave with a plastic sieve and that should drain away most of the excess moisture preventing too-soggy carrots!

Sort term storage: Fresh carrots can be kept at room temperature for 2 days, after 2 days at room temperature or just a day in the fridge, they start to shrivel. Vacuum packing carrots with a few drops of water, allows them to keep for up to a week in the fridge. The best place for short term storage of carrots, is to just leave it in the ground until needed.


Seed Collection & Storage

Carrots flower in their second ‘summer’ in the ground. Now this can be in the same year (As our year in SA is flanked by summer and spring – Summer in Jan-Mar and Spring in Sep-Dec). The carrots stored in sand can be replanted in spring and will flower πŸ˜ƒ. Flowers can be pollinated by butterflies, beetles, bees and flies.

Carrot Flowers

Carrot varieties will cross pollinate (such as yellow x purple, round x globe ect). So cover the flowers with netting/fleece and hand pollinate those you desire to be 'pure bred'. The seeds are ready for collection after they have dried and the flower stem has become brittle.

The seeds are then placed in water at 50oC (112oF) for 15-20 minutes to kill any seed-borne disease, dried and stored in a labelled glass jar.


My carrots:

I still only plant the Starke Ayres Kudora, which is an orange, long rooted and straight carrot. They produce large roots and are heat resistant with a good germination/emergence percentage.

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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! πŸ˜†
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Saturday, 13 May 2017

Butterfly: Garden Critter of the Month

Butterflies - Garden Critter of the Month

Butterflies at a glance
Occupation:
Pollinators & Pests
Value to Gardener:
2/5 – Mostly pest species, specialist pollinators
Danger to Humans:
1/5 – Harmless
Availability:
5/5 – They’ll arrive

Tafel CXXVIII

Reise der Γ–sterreichischen Fregatte Novara um die
 Erde in den Jahren 1857, 1858, 1859 unter den 
Befehlen des Commodore B. von WΓΌllerstorf-Urbair. (1864)Acidalia pedilata; Cidaria undosata; Timandra goniaria; Semiothisa foveolata; Acidalia tuhuata; Asellodes thyreata; Erosia verticaria; Trygodes physciata; Acidalia quadrigata; Acidalia argentifilata; Acidalia mimetata; Berberordes conchylata; Iodis olivacea; Problepsis aegretta; Acidalia concinnata; Semiothisa diplotata; Cidaria ondinata; Semiothisa gambarina; Trygodes agrata; Erosia hians; Erosia bisinuata; Semiothisa divergentata; Cambogia lurida; Anisodes lateritia; Nedusia acalis; Acidalia insolata; Semiothisa marmorea; Semiothisa dominicata; Semiothisa gentilata; Epiplema furcillata; Schidax evulsa; Krananda vitraria; Acidalia straminea; Molybdophora schedata; Syngria drepanata; Cambogia leprosa; Semiothisa delauta; Erosia bidens; Strophidia pannata; Strophidia phantasma



Quick Intro

Most of us find great joy in watching one of these little fluttering beauties pass us by on their way to some sweet coloured delicacy. However, most of the butterfly’s lifetime is spent as a caterpillar, which can become destructive when their hosts plants include edible crops and precious garden ornamentals. We do not have colonies of butterflies in the area and few are of high aesthetic value, but over the years we have amassed quite a photo collection of our local bushveld lovelies.


Science Stuff

Butterflies belong to the insect order of Lepidoptera, which includes moths. They can range from 3 – 200 mm in size. Butterflies are distinguished from moths by their elongated antennae, 2 pairs of membranous wings held vertical, their larval stages are not protected with a silk cocoon and nearly all are diurnal. Similar to moths, both their bodies and wings are covered in scales and they have a siphoning proboscis (mouthpart).

Peacock butterfly eyespot
Inachis io
taken by MichaD

The structure and arrangement of scales on the body and wings give butterflies their colourful markings. Black and brown are produced by pigments, such as melanin, and yellows are derived from uric acids and flavones obtained from their diets. Light play and reflections created by the micro-structure of scales and hairs produce red, green, blue and iridescent colours.


Habitat & Diet

Generalists have a cosmopolitan distribution and are found in any environment boasting plants and flowers as food for caterpillars and adults, respectively. Some species are specialists that only feed on a select handful of hosts or one plant species. Most have a large habitat range, whereas some species are only found in certain biomes or areas.


Some butterflies

I have several photographs of some of the flutterlings in our area:

Family Nymphalidae; are brightly coloured with reduced forelegs giving them a four-legged appearance.

A: Dancing Acraea (Telchinia serena or Hyalites eponina)
B: Garden acaraea (Acaraea horta, larvae potential pest of granadilla)
C: Garden Inspector (Junonia octavia, wet and dry season variants)
D: Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta, males are territorial)


Nymphalidae

E: Eyed Pansy (Junonia orithya madagascariensis, widespread but uncommon)
F: Diadem (Hypolimnas misioous, females mimic African monarchs)
G: Painted Lady (Cynthia cardui, common widespread species)
H: Spotted Joker (Byblia ilythia, attracted to rotten fruit)
I: Forest Leopard (Phalanta eurytis, restricted to heavy woodland)

Nymphalidae

Family Hesperiidae; are small stocky and unassuming butterflies with a quick darting flight. The clubs of their antennae are hooked backwards.

A: Hottentot Skipper (Gegenes niso, fond of muddy places)

Family Lycaenidae; are small and brightly coloured with iridescent blues, purples and coppers. Many have eyespots and tail appendages on their wings resembling antennae.

B: Common Zebra Blue (Leptotes pirithous, attracted to mud)
C: Topaz Babul Blue (Azanus jesous, larvae feed on Acacia species)
D: Common Scarlet (Axiocerses tjoane, larvae feed on Acacia species)

Hesperiidae and Lycaenidae


Family Papilionidae; are large and brightly coloured with eyespots on wings. Caterpillar taste and smell foul due to their brightly coloured, forked defense organ (osmeterium).

A: Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus, pest species of citrus and curry tree)
B: Common Dotted Border (Mylothris agathina, gregarious feeder)
C: Twin Dotted Border (Mylothris rueppellii haemus, larvae feed on mistletoe)

Papilionidae

Famliy Peiridae; are mostly white, yellow and orange. Some are serious pest species.

A: Brown Veined White (Belenois aurota, seasonal migrant, see Post)
B: Angled Grass Yellow (Eurema desjardinsii marshalli, attracted to damp sand)
C: African Migrant (Catopsilia florella, sporadic migration from Botswana to Northern South Africa)
D: Forest White (Belenois zochalia, roost communally at night)

Peiridae


Butterflies in the vegetable garden


From personal observation I have found that butterflies prefer different flowers to most insects. The basil is usually a hub of insect activity, but the majority of pollinators there are bee and fly species. I have noticed on several occasions some moth visitors and medium sized butterflies, but I have seen them more often visit smaller tubed flowers and large open flowers. For example, small tubular flowers will include statice (Limonium latifolium), butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii, as well as our indigenous species - there are 7 in SA, such as Buddleja auriculata) and garden heloitrope (Heliotropium arborescens) and alfalfa flowers (Medicago sativa). The little blues are very fond of the minute yellow flowers of the wild clover (Lesser hop trefoil, Trifolium dubium). Large and open flowers would include those of the daisy family, such as black jacks (yes! they love these awful weeds!) as well as pompoms and cosmos. In general butterflies can see red as a separate colour but are also attracted to blue (Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis and Lavender, Lavendula aungustifolia) and yellow flowers (Sunflower, Helianthus annuus). You can also have a look at my Insectary post for more ideas!


Something Interesting: We have an endemic butterfly in Roodepoort! 

In 1985, the Ruimsig Entomological Reserve in Roodepoort close to the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden was established to preserve the Roodepoort Copper (Aloeides dentatis) (Ref 1 and 2). This was due to the fact that the Roodepoort Copper has a symbiotic relationship with an Acantholepis ant species and the presence of its larval host plant, Hermannia depressa (Ref 2 and 3). A singular article about the reserve exists here (Ref 3, GSNDEV ).


Roodepoort Copper
Aloeides dentaties

Ref 1: Wikipedia  
Ref 2: Arkive 
Ref 3: GSNDEV 

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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! πŸ˜†
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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Friends of Free Wildlife

FreeMe wildlife rehabilitation centre was a volunteer organisation run by a board of directors, a small core staff and volunteers. The volunteers were the main workforce behind FreeMe and their hard work and dedication has facilitated the care and release of orphaned, sick and injured indigenous wildlife. They founded FreeMe back in 1997 in the north side of Johannesburg near the Rietfontein Nature Reserve and it was one of the only wildlife clinics in the area, since out veterinary clinics are not educated or equipped in dealing with wild animals. They used to collaborate with many veterinary clinics that treat the animals pro bono and organised drop-offs to be collected later and taken to FreeMe.

I myself had dropped off a few animals at the centre and kept an ear open about any news surrounding FreeMe. Little more than a year ago (November 2015) I had heard that the FreeMe volunteers had called for a resignation of 4 board members due to a dereliction of duty, which included the mistreatment of animals and the misappropriation of funds. The NSPCA (National Council of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has received many complaints regarding the care and wellbeing of the animals at FreeMe. This lead to a temporary closure of the facility, which later had become a permanent situation.

Recently the Friends of Free Wildlife (FFW) had stepped in and taken over the role of FreeMe. They have located a property to house the facilities and are fully complaint to take in wildlife. They require some expansion and modification to the existing buildings, which you can support through donations.
I hope that they receive all the funding and support they require in no time, since we are all counting on them to rescue, rehabilitate and release our suburban wildlife!

Links of FFW:

Sign the Petition for the resignation of FreeMe board members

Donate


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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 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! πŸ˜†
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Saturday, 18 February 2017

Curry Tree: How to Grow - Herb of the Month

Curry Tree stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
5/5 – Very Easy, plant and leave
Water:
4/5 – Daily
Sun:
4-5/5 – Partial Shade to 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:
1/5 – Immediate, yet slow growing
Frost Hardiness:
1/4 – Tender (can’t cope with mild frost)


Uses:
Culinary & Medicinal
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Aphids, Swallowtail Butterfly
Container Plant:
Yes

Curry Tree Flower buds
 Murraya koenigii 

Quick intro

My second exotic herb post of South Asian cuisine! All of us are quite familiar with the curry plant and its distinct aroma in Indian stews and local dishes. It is a very versatile herb that is mainly used in vegetable or lentil stews, as well as meat stews, soups, rice dishes and pickles. It is a true delight in the garden as it doesn’t take much space not does it require extraordinary care.

History

The curry tree has its origins in India and Sri-Lanka, where it is also known as Kadipatta. There is an Indian saying that compares the curry to a person which you only interact with for a specific reason, since the curry leaves are only used to flavour the dish and is subsequently removed and discarded.

Science Stuff

The curry tree, Murraya koenigii or Bergera koenigii, belongs to the rue family Rutaceae, which includes roses, citrus and several berries. Another shrub, known as the curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) is an herb of the Asteraceae (daisy) family and loses much of its flavour upon cooking. It has silver foliage and should not be confused with the true Sri Lankan curry tree.

Curry tree
Murraya koenigii
 Royal Botanical Gardens
Sydney Australia 


Curry Plant
Helichrysum italicum
Growing & Pruning the Curry tree

The curry tree stands 6 m tall with a spread of 5 m, but its size can be easily restricted by growing in a pot plant (diameter 30+ cm). You can purchase one at the local nursery and plant it up in summer. It is a slow grower that enjoys a warm sunny position. It is a tropical plant and enjoys daily watering. If you plant it in a cool climate or where winter temperatures drop below 13oC (55oF) then it would be ideal to pot it so that you can bring the plant indoors during cold spells.


Other Tips

It is a very striking plant with layered leaf stalks, which remain green throughout the year. If planted in the garden, the plant can be pruned to shape the tree and to stimulate new growth. Pot planted specimens do not require pruning other that the removal of dead, damaged or diseased parts.

Citrus swallowtail caterpillar with osmeterium visible,
Papillio demodocus
























The curry tree is generally care free when it comes to insect and disease problems – likely due to its taste and aroma. New shoots (translucent red) may suffer from aphid attack on occasion. I have found by rare chance that the Swallowtail butterfly larvae eat the leaves, but the females prefer to lay their eggs on the citrus relatives instead. Both of the pest species I have discussed in their separate articles as well as developing environmental friendly homemade pest controls, see my Pest control page for more information.


Harvesting & Storing

Fresh curry leaves are preferred in cooking, since the distinct aroma is lost during freezing or drying. Remove the sprigs before cooking and remove leaves prior serving the dish.

Curry tree leaves for sale
Murraya koenigii
Satok market,
Malaysia Wikipedia, Thomas Quine 


Seed Saving & Propagation

The curry tree produces tiny white, self-pollinated flowers borne is delicate clusters. These are popular amongst some of the non-bee pollinators, which later develop into tiny edible single-seeded black berries – but be cautious of the seeds as they are poisonous!

Curry tree flowers, developing fruits and pollinating flies!
Murraya koenigii

It is not common to propagate curry trees from seed as they have highly erratic germination times. They do however produce suckers (new shoots from the main root system) at regular intervals. The suckers can be removed and re-potted after two seasons. I have done so myself, but the tiny plants seem to prefer their original position and attachment to the main plant as they don’t thrive after relocation.

Curry tree sucker
Murraya koenigii

My Curry Tree

Mine is about five years old now and has produced several new suckers in the past year. It sheds all of its leaves at regular intervals – I am not sure whether all curry trees do this, or just mine or just potted specimens… Anyways, it is about 1 m tall and I don’t prune it at all, since it only has a few branches and because it sheds its leaves so often.

Curry tree
Murraya koenigii

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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! πŸ˜†
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