Roots 'n' Shoots: February 2012

Please Help RnS!

Google or Mr G 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 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 rather because RnS is FREE and not paying for page ranking (via AdWords or Ad Ranking). Now it is being aggressively shoved to lower page rankings to accommodate the paid ads.

I would fully appreciate any sharing of RnS via email or social media, because I cannot rely on Google anymore to get RnS' content where it is needed.

Thank you & Enjoy the content!

- The Shroom -

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Amphibians - Garden Critter of the Month

Toads & Frogs at a glance

Value to Gardener:
4/5 - Pest Controller!
Danger to Humans:
0/5 - None
4/5 – They’ll arrive or you can buy some

Quick Intro

Amphibians include three lineages, salamanders, frogs & toads, and caecilians. They all share the characteristic moist skin and mostly four well developed limbs. They are mostly predators that prey on an assortment of insects and small vertebrates (mice and snakes). I will mostly be focusing on Toads and Frogs from the amphibians, as they more common in gardens.

African Bull Frogs
Pyxicephalus adspersus
Science Stuff

So, amphibians have four limbs (some salamanders and caecilians are limbless). All have moist scale less skin that is permeable to both gases and water. The skin contains many mucus glands to keep it moist and thus the skin is termed glandular. The skin allows cutaneous respiration, but this is generally passive. Compounds, such as sodium is actively transported through the skin – this regulates water uptake by terrestrial species. Most breathing is done by the gills (larvae) or lungs (adults). Amphibians can be both terrestrial and aquatic.

Salamaders (Urodeles) have similar body forms as lizards do, with stumpy noses and long tails. The aquatic salamanders are generally limbless. They either live in water bodies (lakes or rivers) or in caves. They catch their prey as frogs do, with a long sticky tongue. They are distributed throughout America, Europe and Asia, but not in Africa or Australia.

Photo: Wikipedia, Scott Camazine

Toads and frogs (Anurans) have stocky bodies and well developed limbs. Frogs have smooth skin, webbed feet, long slender hind legs (for swimming & jumping) and bulging eyes – they are generally aquatic. Toads have warty skin, robust bodies with stocky strong legs (for walking) and the characteristic large and easily seen parotid gland.

Frog vs Toad

Caecillians (Gymnophionans) are strange creatures that look like slimy snakes or huge earthworms. Terrestrial species hide underground and aquatic species are cave-dwelling. Their body form is adapted for burrowing (terrestrial, not necessarily blind) or living underwater (external feathery gills and nearly blind).

Photo: Wikipedia, Dawson

Frogs are mostly water-bound and will live happily in a pond, especially a pond with different water levels, some reeds, that kind of stuff. J

Although toads are terrestrial, they are still confined to moist microclimates (such as thick vegetation or in a pot that gets water daily J).


This be all little things that crawl, bite and creep at night. The problem is that it includes good and bad insects, but I have seen that my mantis stay clear of Fred (the residential garden toad J).

Caution Frogs Ahead!
Globally amphibians are suffering from extinctions and population collapse resulting in many species being placed on the Red List of Endangered/Threatened species. This is due to us reducing and intruding onto their homes – most populations are reduced by habitat loss, air and water pollution, and vehicular homicide! Yes, we drive over so many frogs and toads that this is more of an issue than any pesticide you use in your garden! That is why I make emergency stops when a toad hops in front of my car – note, I am still safe about this, won’t go causing accidents or anything J

So please mind the frogs and toads – the main reason why I was so happy to see Fred moving into the garden – Fred has a new friend now too! J it’s a small 5cm baby toad and seems to be of the same species… I hope Fred isn’t a cannibal, because the baby is still bite-sized…

Fred & Company

Fred is staying in the rose bush, where he/she? has hollowed out a hole to chill in, between the fallen leaves. Fred was very skittish at first, hopping away as if its life depended on it whenever we watered the rose. But now, Fred is quite accustomed to watering J The small one is either in the herbs, with the strawberries or under the beet leaves - I think it is checking out for some prime estate to move into.

Now I think I miss-identified Fred the first time (under my Garden Helpers page), as I assumed that all toads you find in SA (especially in your garden) would be the guttural toad (Bufo gutturalis). But after looking at all the photos on Google today (and my not-so-wonderful animal ID book) and remembering what the toads look like (as I have seen them a bit more recently) - I think that Fred is a Red toad (Schismaderma carens) – although Fred and the baby aren’t as red as some of the pictures J they're more pinkish, especially on the legs. From memory, they have that dorsal ridge running on the side of their body and the two spots on the back like the Red Toad. Also they aren't nearly as patterned as the Guttural Toad. I dunno, what do you say?

This is Fred, Guttural or Red Toad?
Wanted to get a better picture, but Fred's not home J

African red toad
Schismaderma carens
JMK Wikipedia
African common or Guttural toad,
Amietophrynus gutturalis,
Bufo gutturalis (prev),
Damien Boilley wikipedia

The mistaken identity of Fred the Toad J

Update 10 July 2013: Please note - the African guttural toad has been reclassified from previously Bufo gutturalis to Amietophrynus gutturalis. As usual, our University information is outdated, seems this has occurred somewhere in 2006-2007... grrr!

- Update April 2014 -

We have had many baby freds in the garden since. They seem to over-winter here and use the veg garden as a nursery. I found this one in one of our buckets, very happy with its pool of water.

Red Toad
Schismaderma carens


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! ­čść

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Rosemary: How To Grow - Herb of the Month

Rosemary stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
5/5 – Very Easy, plant and leave
1/5 – Minimal, weekly (especially in a container)
5/5 – Full sun
1/5 – Minimal (only to shape)
1/5 – Minimal (at least once during the growing season)
Time to Harvest:
1/5 – Immediate (purchased a seedling) to Soon (from seed)
Frost Hardiness:
1/4 – Very Hardy (can’t take black frost)

Culinary, Medicinal, Pollinator attractor & Predator sheltering
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Container Plant:
Yes (preferably grown in the garden rather than container)

Rosmarinus officinalis
K├Âhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen mit kurz erl├Ąuterndem Texte 1887
Kurt Stubers Online Library
Quick intro

No garden is complete without rosemary. It is one of the essential herbs for cooking and for aromatherapy. Rosemary is mainly used in savoury dishes, but has various applications such as complementing cocktails and desserts.


Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and grows well near the sea. It soon became popular in Europe and is surrounded by many medieval legends. It was used for protection at weddings and diseases, but the most common non-culinary use for rosemary was to improve memory and alleviate headaches.

Science Stuff

Rosemary belongs to the aromatic herb family Lamiaceae, which includes just about every other herb imaginable, such as mint, oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage, savory, basil and lemon balm.

Most culinary varieties of rosemary belong to the same species, Rosemarinus officinalis. The varieties of rosemary are distinguished by their different leaves (light to dark green), different flower colours (pink, white, blue) and aromas.

Rosemary for Remembrance
Growing Rosemary

Rosemary is generally purchased as a seedling, but can be raised from seed.

Rosemary is very easy to care for, it loves warm sunny areas. As with lavenders, rosemary requires good drainage and water-logging should be avoided (no water in the saucer). This is due to rosemary being fairly heat & drought resistant, I water mine every second day in the garden (whereas container planted rosemary should be watered even less). This make rosemary useful as an ‘ornamental’ plant in the garden, where it is hot and dry – given that it easily gets up to 30oC here - the rosemary/lavenders are standing strong whilst the other plants suffer J.

Rosemary does not appreciate temperatures below -12oC and does not like snow – so for those who have this in winter, simply dig out the rosemary and keep the herb indoors until it can be planted outside again (Ina Garten, chef and owner of “The Barefoot Contessa” does this every year with her rosemary). This ensures that you have rosemary all year round, as it is evergreen.

Rosmarinus officinalis
K├Âhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen in naturgetreuen Abbildungen mit kurz erl├Ąuterndem Texte 1887
Kurt Stubers Online Library

I keep my rosemary shrub in check with regular snipping of the top-most part of the growing sprigs (10cm at the top is cut, once every 1-2 months). This is mostly due to me having limited space, but you can give it a good pruning after flowering in summer (reduce the branches by half). This will keep your rosemary bushy and supply you with new growth for cooking. Pruning is a good thing to do with all you shrubs and trees, especially rosemary, sage and mints, as they become scraggly easily with long bare branches and few leaves at the tips.

Other Tips

Rosemary is evergreen, so you really do not need to have copious amounts of dried rosemary as you will always have fresh ones. Give pruning cut-offs to friends and family J

Harvesting & Storing

Rosemary is harvested throughout the year. Some can be dried, if you require a milder taste for certain dishes. Simple pick the leaves, rinse them off and dry on a paper towel inside for about a week. Store the leaves in glass jars.

Rosmarinus officinalis

You can also make rosemary flavoured oils. The leaves are heated in oil (the oil must not boil- that destroys the rosemary essential oils) until smoke comes off the oil. The rosemary leaves are strained while the warm oil is poured into a glass bottle. Unfortunately you cannot leave the rosemary sprigs in the bottle with the oil as it will start to go mouldy (yes right in the oil!) – leaves and other ingredients (peppers …) are left in vinegar bottles as the vinegar acts as a natural preservative, which make them look so pretty as well J

Seed Saving & Propagation

Rosemary seeds can be saved once the flowers have turned brown. The seeds are labelled and stored in a glass jar. The seeds should remain viable for about 1-2 years. The seeds are sowed in soil that has heated to 20oC and will take 2-3 weeks to germinate.

My Rosemary

Tuscan Rosemary: This is the Tuscan Blue variety of Rosemary. I find it a lot more robust than the ‘usual’ rosemary and it grows a lot better in the garden. It has darker green leaves and a deeper earthy flavour, which I prefer to the normal rosemary.

Tuscan Rosemary
Rosmarinus officinalis


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! ­čść

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Aliens Are Amongst US!

*Deep Apocalyptic Tone* Yes, friends… we have aliens that are living amongst us! All those far off stories about government-military cover-ups around alien spaceship landings and conspiracy theories surrounding alien abductions that you have had to suffer through on those long bus rides with the tinfoil-cone-hat-guy sitting next to you each mornin’ … are irrevocably true

Here I present proof of their infiltration into our gardens, possibly our homes and definitely into our society. Yes, friends, they move amongst us! Unseen and unsuspected by the human race they adorn the appearance of other humans. Now you ask me, “How is this possible? How do they do this?”…

The Aliens are Here!

…By studying us from a vantage point close to our homes… Watching, Listening… They learn our behaviour and gain our speech. After, which they shed their alien skin and take on their new human form. “Why!?”, do you ask. Why, indeed… *Dramatic Pause* We have yet to discover whether it is to cause the extinction of the human race, by gathering information on our social imperfections or our natural flaws, to use against us in our greatest hour of need … or whether it is to ensure their own survival by integrating with our lives and continuing their own race… we will never know before it is too late! … … … Um, and I ran out of nonsense to blabber J Although, I suppose that the speaker and those attending the lecture would disappear off the face of the earth, including all traces of their existence … now you should wonder whether this was due to the aliens or our own government … Hmmm….

It has shed its skin and taken on its human form!

…. J

Clearly I watch too many sci-fi movies and read too many crazy books J, but when I saw the leftovers of the cicada outside the window, I couldn’t help imagining some sort of alien plot. You can literally cue the intro music to the X-files! J Too, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo …

On a more serious note. This is a Cicada of the Platypleura genus, the Orange Wings. It is mostly found in the North of South Africa and is associated with large shrubs and trees, such as Acacia. It has that well-known continues chirring call that can drive you absolutely bonkers at times J.

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: 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! J

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Eggplant: How To Grow - Fruit of the Month

Eggplant stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
3/5 – Bi-weekly check up
4/5 – Daily (mostly during fruit set)
5/5 – Full sun, no shade (fruit ripening)
3/5 – Needs some, pinching out of flowers/growth
3-4/5 – Monthly (growing) to Fornightly (fruiting)
Time to Harvest:
2/5 – Soon (1-2 months after flowering)
Frost Hardiness
1/4 – Very Tender (cannot take light frost)

Culinary, Pollinator attractor
Most Problematic Nemesis: 
Eggplant Rust
Container Plant:

Solanum melogena
Afbeeldingen der artseny-gewassen met derzelver Nederduitsche en Latynsche beschryvingen 1796
Kurt Stubers Online Library

Quick intro

You either like eggplant or you don’t. I wasn’t a big fan of eggplant, but since eating fresh eggplant from the garden and knowing the best way to prepare it, I do eat it a lot more regularly. Also, there are varieties that are not so bitter than the usual black (purple) eggplant. Eggplants are generally a no-fuss. They do get eggplant rust in spring, but after much experimenting I have developed an enviro-friendly control for it. J


Eggplants (aubergines or brinjals, whatever you prefer J) are native to tropical Asia and were first cultivated in India. Its popularity spread during the 18th century and is now grown in warm, tropical and subtropical areas worldwide. In cooler parts of the world it is grown in greenhouses (glasshouse). Eggplants have many varieties, including small green ones, medium sized white fruits and the large ‘Black Beauty’ we are all familiar with.

Science Stuff

Solanum melongena, as the name suggests, belongs to the Solanaceae Family, which includes potato, tobacco, peppers, nightshade and of course tomato!

Again the purple colour of the fruit is brought on by the bitter tasting Anthocyanin, which can be visualised in a range of colours from red-blue, depending on the pH of the surrounding tissue.

The eggplant is considered a berry in botanical terms and its seeds are bitter tasting due to them containing an alkaloid, known as nicotine J - not enough to do any harm J. Alkaloids are generally produced by plants to prevent herbivores from eating them.

Growing Eggplant

Eggplants are easily raised from seed when the ground is warm enough after the last frost. You can let them germinate and grow inside, and then transplant outside once true leaves have formed. This can be done if the soil has not warmed sufficiently and to get a head start on the growing season J. You can also buy seedlings from the local nursery.

Make a 1-2cm hole in the soil, place a seed inside and sprinkle with soil to cover. You will have a seedling popping out of the soil in about 1-2 weeks. Thereafter, the eggplants grow quickly in a sunny warm spot. It is usually at this stage when they start to get eggplant rust, especially if it rains a lot. See my Pest Control page for a solution to your eggplant rust problem J. The rust below is likely the Pearl Millet rust, Puccinia substriata, and infects eggplant during their aecial  life stage (sexual). Whereas grasses, such as the Millet are infected during the fungi's uredinial life stage (asexual) and the millet remains the main site for fungal population persistence. See my Eggplant Rust post for a full profile on the disease.

Eggplant Rust - orange aeciospores

Eggplants do need some training, but not nearly as extensive as for tomatoes. They need one sturdy stake tied to the main stem, this prevents any wind damage and assist with the weight of the developing fruits. I can not remember whether I heard this or read this as none of my reference books have it, but do not let your eggplant carry more than 8 fruits at any time. If more flowers develop, simply remove them so that you can get eggplant fruits earlier. If eggplants are removed, flowers can be allowed to set again, keeping the number at 8. Also, only let one eggplant flower occupy the same flowering stem, as illustrated below.

Just snip the smaller flower off 

Eggplants do well in containers and this opens space in the main garden for larger and more nutrient hungry vegetables (such as cauliflower/broccoli). Container saucers must be kept full once fruit set starts to allow fruits to swell. Fertilising is also increased from monthly to every two weeks when fruit set starts.  They love sun, so put them in a warm sunny spot with 6-8 hours of full sunlight.

Other eggplant tips

Eggplants are perennial and can be kept through the winter (in areas that have a warm enough winter with no snow) to fruit immediately once spring is in full swing. So what you can do is keep one through the winter and then plant a new one during the next growing season and then you can remove the older one from the last season when it has finished fruiting for the second time J. This allows the new one to grow and will you still get eggplants from the old one.

Do not grab the eggplant by its calyx or sepals – the green leftovers from the flower, as they have nasty thorns that can do quite some damage J.

Eggplant Calyx
Solanum melongena

The flowers and stigma detached quite well, unlike the tomato flowers that can remain on the fruit during set and will damage/scar the fruit.

Make sure to prepare the containers for the eggplants with a good amount of kitchen waste and pot ash. I feed them Starke Ayres Nutrifeed (monthly and fortnightly), the Cultura 2:3:2 granulated fertiliser (sprinkled every month), see Composting.

Harvesting & Storing

Eggplants are harvested once the fruit has a uniform purple colour. Do not leave the fruit on the plant for too long (exceeding I would say about 20cm in length) as they become progressively bitter. But on the same note, it is better to ‘store’ the fruit on the plant and use immediately as they become bitter after being picked. If all else fails, the eggplants should keep well in the fridge (in a baggy with a few water drops) for about a week. -  no freezing away, unfortunately, because the flesh is too tender – so you’ll have to settle for store bought eggplants in winter or just have it seasonally.

Just a few notes on preparing eggplants. If you want proper recipes, it is good to look at Asian cuisine, especially Indian and Chinese – they really know what to do with an eggplant J. Otherwise, we have found that brushing the eggplant with a little bit of oil (rosemary or thyme flavoured oil complements the eggplant really well) and then grilling or roasting it, makes for a fine and sweet eggplant.

Seed Saving

Seeds saving with all fruiting plants remains the same. Leave the last fruit on the dying plant to let it ferment (past eating stage) and ‘naturally’ prepare the seeds for planting for you. The fruit will ripen and go brown, yellow or orange (it really gets nasty J) and fall from the plant. Leave the fruit for another two weeks! Remove the seeds, rub between your fingers to separate and wash in a sifter. The seeds are placed in a little water and those that sink are considered viable and will be saved. The seeds are dried thoroughly on a paper towel for about a day and then store in labelled glass jars. The seeds will last for about 4 years.

White Eggplant (Rosa Bianca)
Physiologically (botanically) ripe
Do not eat - too bitter! Leave for seeds!
The seeds are held in water at 50oC (122oF) for 25 minutes before planting to kill any diseases that may remain on the seeds.

My Eggplants

I have Starke Ayres Black Beauty: A very good variety in terms of resistance and fruiting.

And a Rosa Bianca (Franchi seeds, a bit expensive, but save its seeds J): This is a white eggplant and is a good idea to try if you do not like the black eggplants that can be bitter, as its flesh will be tender and not bitter. I struggled to it germinated so I’ll probably get to taste it next year J.

Eggplant flower
Solanum melongena


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! ­čść

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Versatility whilst Blogging

It was quite the surprise to get the Versatile blogger award after only blogging for a short amount of time, so I want the say Thanx to KL from Beautiful Boonton and A Novice Gardener. It is good to know that the information I provide on this blog is appreciated J. So now onto the nitty gritty…

The rules for accepting this award are:
1. Add the Versatile Blogger Award.
2. Thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.
3. Share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.
4. Include this set of rules.
5. Forward this award to 15 fellow bloggers, and inform them with a comment on each of their blogs.

I can easily come up with seven pretty random stuff. I suffer from social network impairment, such as facebook and twitter. I do not have any internet persona, except for the blog (which is meant for sharing knowledge J), as I do not really like talking about myself or boring people with my day – also not interested in other people’s daily doings. One of the skills that I definitely want to acquire in the future by some way would be lock-picking and skateboarding… that makes two skills. Hm. Anyways, I also suffer from chronic sinus problems, which has a nasty way of catching me off guard sometimes – like having a massive hayfever attack when I am driving home, so much so that I cannot see the road through all the tears! J … I have always been fascinated by Mythology, there is even a degree you can get to become a Mythologist, but I do not think that there is any great demand for such a thing J. So, on that note my favourite mythology creature is the DRAGON! I am a perfectionist with slight OCD J, combine that with an analytical mind, makes for one pain-in-the-butt scientist at times J. Lastly, I am always doing something weird and unconventional that make people think I am off my hat – that’s the reason why I am usually referred to by other people as “That crazy friend of yours” J. And that makes for 7.

…what was the next thing… Oh! Yes, the other blogging peeps I nominate for the Versatile Blogger award. That be people with practical blogs, people who support good causes and people who just do amazing stuff. So in no specific order:

     1.      Medusa’s Garden
     2.      Whispering Earth
     3.      …the Garden Roof Coop
     4.      Suburban Tomato
     5.      A Bug’s Playground
     6.      Veg Plotting
     7.      Skippy’s Vegetable Garden
     8.      The Pitcher Plant Project
     9.      My Little Vegetable Garden
     10.    The School Vegetable Patch
     11.    Heirloom Gardener
     12.    The Cheap Vegetable Gardener
     13.    iGrowVeg
     14.    From Seed to Scrumptious
     15.    Sustainable Garden

So go forth and blog!

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Let your friends know!

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