Orange Juicing Economics

I love freshly squeezed orange juice. In fact, I never drink store bought orange juice; it tastes no more real to me than Fanta Orange. Ever since I received the badboy pictured below as a gift, I’ve been capitalising on cheap oranges every winter to get my fix.

The Juicer

Business End of the Juicer

But every winter I see the same thing at Pick ‘n Pay, and every year it bothers me. They have juicing oranges (JO) that are more expensive than “regular” Navel oranges (NO). The juicing oranges sell at R5 for a 2kg bag, or, advertised in big red letters, at R10 for two bags. Go figure. The Navel oranges sell at R12.50 for a 6kg bag. That’s R2.50/kg for the JO, R2.08/kg for the NO.

The Oranges

The smaller ones are the juicing oranges, the larger ones are Navels.

Year after year this conundrum has taunted me. Finally it’s come to a head, and I decided to make a scientific study. I would buy both types of oranges, and then compare the juice yields per kg to get to a juice per Rand figure. And now, I share the results with you.

I weighed out four oranges of each type, juiced them, and weighed the resulting juice. I’m assuming both types of oranges produce juice of about the same density, but I’m OK with that!

The four JO’s weighed 606g, and produced 230g of juice, yielding 380g of juice per kg. The four NO’s weighed 980g and produced 339g of juice, yielding 346g of juice per kg. Dividing the rand per kg by the juice per kg, we get the price per kg (should be rougly a litre) of
juice. The JO’s juice costs R6.59 per kg, while the NO’s juice costs R6.02 per kg.

The Product

Hmm, fresh orange juice. The green of the plastic cup makes the juice colour look a bit odd. Tastes good though!

So there you have it. Juicing oranges is a marketing ripoff. Next time you are tempted by those expensive looking juicing oranges, don’t be. They aren’t any better. The juice doesn’t even taste better as far as I can tell…

Saving Electricity: Hot Water Bottle Economics.

It seems that you either grow up in a hot-water bottle family, or you don’t. Mine wasn’t a hot-water bottle family and so I never used them. Not that I have anything in particular against them, it would just never occur to me. Janneke, on the other hand, is from a family of notable bottle-philes that approach any signs of cold weather armed with several heated hot-water bottles. In spite of this influence on me old habits die hard; I shunned the bottle. Until recently.

A couple of months ago I fell prey to a fairly nasty case of the ‘flu. In this weakened state, the magical abilities of comforting aches and shakes presented by the hot-water bottle that Janneke offered me proved irresistible. So much so that she gifted me a brand new hot-water bottle I could call my own.

Once I had recovered from the ‘flu the bottle found a resting place in a bottom drawer, forgotten for the moment. Winter approached, and so did cold evenings. While I very seldom use a heater during the day, I usually run my little fan heater in my bedroom about an hour or so before I go to bed. Helps to keep the bed-chills at bay. Not excessive, but like most South Africans post 2007, I’m always thinking of ways to reduce my electricity usage.

Then it struck me: if going to bed with a hot-water bottle avoids the need for the pre-warming of my bedroom, I would be exchanging an hour of heater running with the equivalent of about 2 minutes for boiling the kettle. Being of a somewhat empirical bent I decided to try it out. And voila! It worked like a charm!


So, if want to reduce your bedwarming electricity costs by a factor of thirty, try a hot-water bottle. Oh, and thanks for my hot-water bottle, Janneke!

Building Wooden Tomato Cages

Regular readers (they exist?) of this blog will know that I have been growing tomatoes for a while. The Season Red tomato cultivar that I have been growing is supposed to be a determinate type, which means that it should reach a certain size and the stop growing. That and the fact that I am growing it in containers lead me to believe that they would not require much more than a single stake to support.

Instead I found that they grew much larger than was practical to support with stakes. This is particularly true if you want to keep the container movable which means that you cannot place the stakes into the ground around the container. I realised that I needed some sort of more serious support structure for my tomatoes.

I have often though of building cages that look something like this, but the need to weld has put me off. Even if I could get hold of welder, I’d probably kill myself. I’m a klutz… So I decided to think of something that could be built fairly simply and cheaply using only basic tools. This is what I came up with:

Completed wooden tomato cage

Advantages and disadvantages


  • looks natural
  • doesn’t require welding
  • can be made by idiots


  • Less robust
  • more expensive?
  • less durable?


  • 4x 1.8m long, 16mm diameter pine dowels
  • 4x 900mm long 8mm diameter pine dowels
  • 0.9m and 1.8m long 25x40mm pine planks
    • Cut into 4 500mm long sections and 4 40x40mm blocks. There will be some leftover.
  • 8 4x40mm wood screws
  • Wood glue for future repairs :)


  • Electric drill
    • 16 mm wood drill bit
    • 8 mm drill bit
    • 3 mm drill bit
  • Hacksaw/steaknife
  • pencil


Base construction

The base supports the whole structure from the ground up. The trellis will be supported by inserting the 16mm dowels into the 16mm holes that will be drilled into the base.

  • Align the 500mm pieces of plank such that they form a square, with the ends overlapping so that the corners form double-height regions.
  • Starting at a corner
    • Ensure that the two planks meet flush, and at right angles.
    • drill two diagonally opposed 3mm holes, penetrating both pieces of plank. Ensure that you are not to close to the edge of the top or bottom planks, but leave enough space for a 16mm hole through both.
    • Attach the two planks using screws through the 3mm holes.
    • Repeat for the other corners.
  • Drill a 16mm hole at each corner. The holes should go through the top plank, and about 2/3 down the bottom plank. Should look something like this

Top side of base
Bottom side of base

Top support construction

  • Drill a 16mm hole about half way through 4 of the 40x40mm plank blocks.
  • Drill an 8mm hole on two sides of each block such that all four can be connected to form a square.
  • Connect the blocks using the 8mm dowels to form a square.

Closeup of top-support connecting blocks
Assembled top support

Marking the posts

The trellis will be constructed by winding wire around the four support posts. To do this we will mark the four posts in sequence such that each quarter rotation results in the trellis being 20cm higher. To do this

  • Lay the four support posts alongside each other on the floor.
  • Alternately mark each of the posts every 20cm, starting again at the first post once you reach the fourth.
Marked posts

The posts are marked every 20cm such that every quarter rotation around the structure results in the wire being 20cm higher.

Assemble all the wooden bits

  • Place the base on the ground with the 16mm holes pointing up
  • Stick the support posts firmly into the 16mm holes. You might wrap paper around the ends if the don’t fit snugly into the holes
  • Connect the four posts to the top support by placing the posts into the 16mm holes in the blocks. This will keep the top from collapsing.
Cage complete except for wire

Winding the trellis

  • If the plant you are trelissing is already somewhat grown, you might want to place it inside the cage before starting to wind the trellis.
  • Using the hacksaw (or knife) make notches in the posts at the pencil marks. Angle the notches slightly down when sawing. This is to keep the trellis wire from slipping out.
  • Tie the construction wire around the first post.
  • Working around the support posts, put the wire into the gaps. Mind to keep the wire under a bit of tension so that it can support the weight of the plant that will one day lean on it.
  • Tie around the top support structure.
Sawing support notches for the wire

Saw slightly downwards, at a 45 degree angle to the base

And there you go, a cage to contain your tomatoes, or other climbing plants.


So far my cages have held up reasonably well. They look a bit distored now due to the tomatoes growing somewhat asymmetrical. They also blew over in one of our Cape windstorms, resulting in some of the top connecting blocks breaking. This is where the woodglue came in :) I have since put some gravel in bowls on the bottom frame to keep the cage upright in the wind. Something that I may also want to try in the future is the tormato, a trellis constructed using only plastic pipes!

Removing alt-* menu accelerators in jed

Sometimes software designers make weird default choices.

Jed is a lightweight emacs-like text editor. It is my axe of choice for editing configuration files and other light-weight text editing duties where quick startup is important. Considering that alt-f and alt-b (meta-f and meta-b in emacs parlance) are the default emacs bindings for moving the cursor forward and backwards by one word, it seems weird that jed binds them to CUA style menu accelerators.

This behaviour annoys me to no end since I use those keybindings frequently in regular emacs and bash. Usually I try and ignore it, but today it annoyed me too much. So commenceth the googling for a solution, but with no luck. As luck would have it, it seems I have managed to find the configuration setting at least once before, since my home desktop machine has it configured the way I like.

And so, in the hope of making the setting more discoverable and as a reminder to myself, the solution is to place the following in $HOME/.jedrc

() = evalfile ("emacs");

Happy jedding!

Taste and the man, or small things that make you like people

This post is perhaps a bit off topic, since it deals neither with gardening nor with food. It’s really just a bit of a mind dump, but read below if you are interested :)

Generally I am someone who believes that first impressions are not reliable. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt initially. Occasionally though there are cultural preferences that make me almost unconditionally like people. When a new co-worker joined the gang at work I noticed that he was wearing a Radiohead T-shirt. Immediately I reckoned that he had to be a reasonable oak. After all, I’ve never met a right bastard who was into Radiohead.

More recently, I have been reading Journey of a thousand miles, an autobiography of the Chinese child prodigy pianist Lang Lang. It was lent to me by someone who knew that I have an amateur interest in playing the piano. While the autobiography is no literary masterpiece and I have never heard Lang Lang play, I have nonetheless been inspired by it to practice a bit harder. A good thing surely.

What really struck me though, is a chapter near the end where he mentions The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemmingway as a story he loved. While I had been touched by the description of music’s power to move people and also the years of hard work and dedication Lang Lang applied to reach his musical goals, that was the first time I really identified with and found myself liking him. Seriously, have you ever met a right bastard that was into The Old Man and the Sea?

Finally completed page on self watering buckets

Quite some time ago I started writing a page on how I built a 10l self watering container. Unfortunately it was half finished for quite a while, bit now it is done! This is probably not the best way to build it, but my bucket certainly does work! In fact I’ve been pretty successful with the tomatoes I grew in it.

Whitefly traps

It seems that whitefly really loves tomato plants. Ever since I planted my first tomato seeds they seem to come at regular intervals. Initially I treated them with a garlic and pyrethrin based pesticide; that generally kept them away for some weeks.

More recently I had a very heavy infestation on mature tomato plants, and the garlic based pesticide appeared to be ineffectual. I’m not sure whether the whitefly got used to the taste of garlic, the pesticide had expired or if I just wasn’t covering the rather unruly plants well enough, but it didn’t seem to help.

An attempt at regaining control

So, I looked for some alternatives. I got sick of smelling garlic all the time, and tried to use a soap spray. One teaspoon of Sunlight liquid dish-washing soap per litre of water was recommended to me. I applied it once, and it seemed to kill some whitefly, but it didn’t really seem to get rid of them.

Apparently the soap has no residual action after the spray dries, so that might have been part of the problem. The other part of the problem was the pathetic hand-sprayer I was using. Apart from only holding a paltry 500 ml of liquid, it doesn’t really work when upside down; makes covering the bottom of leaves quite hard.

The final solution

I did some more research, and decided to A) buy a decent pressurised pesticide sprayer B) make sticky whitefly traps. Apparently they are attracted by the colour yellow. Some site I read claimed that they look for the “healthiest” leaves, and somehow yellow indicates that to them; makes no sense to me. In any case, the traps definitely work.

After bringing the whitefly infestation down to manageable proportions by consecutive daily soap sprayings (the pressurised sprayer made that a joy), I mounted my whitefly traps. Within minutes of mounting a couple around my tomato plants (and giving them a good shake to bother the whitefly) they were covered by a large number of soon-to-be whitefly corpses.

A week later there are virtually no whitefly left on my tomatoes! As an aside, the soap solution seems to work even better on red spider mite than on the whitefly. It seems to finally have rid my black eyed Susans of spider mite.

Building the whitefly traps

Combining ideas from the two links above, I decided to cover yellow poster board with plastic, and coating that with a thin layer of oil. Most people seem to use motor oil for some reason, but cooking oil seems to work just as well and is non-toxic to boot! I somehow got confused when shopping, and bought cling-wrap rather than plastic bags. I might have been reading about Roy Orbison that day.

To make the traps, I cut the yellow poster board into roughly 20x15cm pieces and then wrapped them in cling-wrap. I also punched some holes for strings to hang them from using a paper punch. I tied some rope through the holes, and sealed them using prestik. Just to keep it water tight. Finally I applied a light coating of cooking oil using a very advanced brush system. Ok, so I used toilet paper. Below you can seem some pictures of the traps in action.

Whitefly trap 1
Whitefly trap 2

Cos lettuce grow-off followup

A while ago I started a cos lettuce grow-off between three different types of container growing. And how did it work out? Well, all three methods ended up working pretty well, although my possibly biased impression is that the lettuces planted in the soil-less mix (50-50 vermiculite and perlite, left in the pictures) and Mexican style SWC (right in the pictures) both seem to do slightly better than those in he 1 part perlite 4 parts potting soil mix (in the middle). The pictures below were taken about 3 weeks ago. This is not a completely scientific comparison since I have been harvesting lettuce from them.

Cos lettuce from above

Soil-less mixture far left, 20/80 perlite/potting soil in middle, Mexican style SWC far right.

Cos lettuce from the front

Soil-less mixture far left, 20/80 perlite/potting soil in middle, Mexican style SWC far right. Notice the smaller cos plants growing in the windowsill. Even in 7.5 cm pots a number of edible leaves were yielded :)

The trouble with hydroponics

About a week ago the lettuces in the soil-less mix suddenly appeared quite limp and weak. I measured the Ph of the nutrient mix in the reservoir and it was about 4.8. A bit low! For interest sake I checked the Ph in the soily container, and it was similarly low, but the lettuce growing there was fine. After leaching with a good quantity of fresh water, the lettuce in the soil-less container perked up almost immediately.

This demonstrates quite nicely the vicissitudes of 100% soil-less hydroponic growing. You actually need to manage the nutrient Ph etc. actively, since you don’t have the luxury of the soil buffering the Ph for you. I had been watering both the soil-less and soily container using hydroponic nutrient solution without bothering to regulate the Ph in the reservoir, but trouble only arose in the soil-less container. This is not an indictment of hydroponic growing, but simply an observation that if you go hydroponic, you really do need to do it properly :)

Happiness and Joy

I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the quantity and quality of the lettuce that I have been able to harvest. I have made several (10+) salads already, and they still seem to be growing well. It seems that Cos lettuce grows even more easily than rocket :)

Herby tomato and anchovy omelette

I’m a big omelette fan. It’s my weapon of choice for a quick and tasty solitary supper. I’ve recently stumbled across a very tasty filling that has me licking my lips every time I make it. I won’t talk about how to make an omelette since everyone seems to have their own idea. Instead I’ll just discuss the sauce. I actually think that it may make a pretty good pasta sauce too if you make more of it.


  • 8-12 cherry tomatoes
  • a handful of fresh origanum
  • a tablespoon or two of fresh parsley
  • 2-4 anchovy fillets
  • a little oil for frying
  • black pepper to taste


  • Heat oil in a small pot at moderate heat
  • Add cherry tomatoes and stir occasionally
  • Wash and chop the origanum and parsley
  • Chop and mix the anchovy fillets with the herbs
  • When the tomatoes skins start cracking add the herbs and anchovies
  • Fry a short while and then squash the tomatoes to make a sauce
  • Simmer for a minute or 3
  • Season with black pepper to taste


This ratio of ingredients recipe can be varied quite a lot depending on your preference. I tend to use more anchovies rather than less. Also goes well with a bit of grated cheddar cheese in an omelette.

Cos lettuce grow-off

Some time ago, I saved seeds from cos lettuce plants that had bolted. Back then, they did not grow so well, but they did produce a heck of a lot of seed. I decided to do a bit of a grow-off by different methods. The first two contenders are 7l self watering containers, the one filled with 1 part perlite to 4 parts Culterra potting soil, the other a 50/50 mixture of perlite and vermiculite. The third is a low-budget kinda-SWC a la Mexico.

Why the grow-off?

The 1 part perlite (or sometimes with 1 part vermiculite also) with 1 part potting soil mixture seems to be the de-facto standard for SWCs. I find it somewhat unappealing since the potting soil is good for a max of 2 years, or usually just one growing season. The (somewhat expensive) perlite that is mixed with the soil is also discarded, since there is no easy way of recovering it. The purely soil-less vermiculite/perlite mixture is very inert, and can actually be sterilised and re-used many times. The Mexican style SWC really only uses organic waste material that is available for free, so that seems quite attractive too. Seeing which one yields the best crop is of interest too!

Special needs

The vermiculite/perlite mix is completely inert, hence no normal soil mechanisms. This means that hydroponic nutrients need to be used. They are surprisingly cheap from the gro-shop. They are also the cheapest place for perlite that I have found so far. For the Mexican style container, you need to save some urine! Well, you could use other fertilisers, but I thought, you know, what the hell :)

So far

I germinated about 20 seeds, and then selected the best seedlings. I planted three in each of the 7l SWCs, and 5 in the somewhat bigger Mexican style SWC soon after the seedlings formed their first pair of true leaves. Since the Culterra potting soil includes a slow release fertiliser, I decided not to add nutrients to the soil/perlite SWC to start with. I used maple leaves from my back yard to fill the bottom part of the Mexican SWC. Since I also used the Culterra soil for the Mexican style SWC I have not added any additional urine yet. I say additional since I did use some urine for the initial wetting of the maple leaves before I added the soil on top. The nitrogen in the urine is useful for starting the decomposition of the leaves that should be going on below the soil.

All three Cosses in a row
Cos lettuce in 7l SWC with 1 part perlite to 4 parts potting soil mix
Cos lettuce in 7l SWC with 50/50 perlite and vermiculite mix
Cos lettuce in Mexican style SWC

About 60% of the volume is dead leaves, the rest is filled with potting soil. Aparently the leaves below should turn into suitable soil to use next year, so I should not need the potting soil again.

In the pictures I tried to take the close-ups of all three containers from about the same distance. Since the Mexican SWC is somewhat larger than the other two, it does not quite fit in the frame. So far (about 3 weeks after planting out the seedlings) the Mexican container and the soil/perlite container seems to be doing somewhat better than the vermiculite/perlite container. All the seedlings look quite healthy though. I think the slower growth in the vermiculite/perlite SWC may be because I started out with a very weak hydroponic nutrient mix, while the seedlings in the other two containers benefit from the included fertiliser in the potting soil. I’ve recently put a stronger nutrient in, so we’ll see if that evens things out a bit.

Stealing Sage update

A while ago I blogged about trying to make sage cuttings from fresh sage left over from a recipe. The short answer is that it worked! As originally mentioned, I placed two cuttings in plain tap water, and another two cutting in tap water after applying rooting powder to them. One of the cuttings with no rooting powder did root, while both those that had the powder applied rooted. The cuttings with the root powder also had much further developed roots at the time that I planted them out. I planted one in my dry-herb container, and planted the other two in 7.5cm pots to give away.

Notice the new leaf growth in the centres of the cuttings shown below. The 7.5cm size of the pot should give you an idea of the scale.

Rooted sage in a 7.5cm pot
Rooted sage in my dry herb container

It took quite a while (about 1 month) for them to root. In fact, as luck would have it, I had just given up and bought sage seeds earlier the day that I saw the first roots forming. Poetic justice? In any case, if you’d like a packet of sage seeds do ask :)

African Chicken with Dumplings

Janneke came across a very simiple recipe for chicken with dumplings titled “Umleqwa and dombolo” in a magazine. It translates, aparently, as “African Chicken and Dumplings.” The recipe is quite simple, and also available online. The recipe as published seems to contain a serious typo. It claims that for 4-6 people, the dumplings require 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, 1 tsp of yeast and 2.5 kilograms of flour!

After much deliberation (and reading the back of the yeast packet), it was decided that they meant 2.5 cups of flour, not kilograms. We also reduced the sugar to 3 tblsp, which seemed about right. So, without further ado, the recipe!


For the chicken

  • 1 large free-range chicken
  • 500 ml (2 cups) of water
  • 2 cubes of chicken stock (those that are meant for 400ml water)
  • 1 medium (or large!) onion, chopped

For the dombolo (dumplings)

  • 250 ml (1 cup) warm water
  • 2.5 cups (625 ml) cake flour
  • 3 tblsp (45 ml) sugar
  • 2 ml salt
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) dry/instant yeast


  • Mix all the dombolo dry ingredients with the warm water
  • Cover the mixture with a cloth, and knead down after 15 minutes
  • Recover the dombolo mixture and start with the chicken!
  • Put whole chicken in a large pot
  • Add the water and stock cubes. You may want to pre-dissolve the stock cubes with a bit of boiling water
  • Cook for 20 minutes on low heat
  • Add the onions
  • Divide the dombolo dough into 6 portions, and place in the pot. It should rest on the chicken and not be submerged in the stock
  • Cover the pot and simmer for 1.5 hours
  • You can put the chicken under the grill for a couple of minutes to brown it if you like


The chicken should be falling off the bone when it is done. The original recipe doesn’t call for grilling, but somehow, in spite of the recipe only calling for boiling, the picture shows a browned chicken! That’s why we decided to do a quick grill. The dombolo seems to absorb some of the chicken flavour while cooking, which is quite nice. So there you have it; simple, cheap and tasty chicken!

An interesting note about eggshells

Eggshells are a good source of calcium for plants. Commonly people recommend things like “12 crushed eggshells for a tomato plant”. Problem is, storing eggshells in their original shape takes quite a bit of space. On the other hand, they are kinda hard to count once they have been crushed… Enter the realisation of a long held dream:

My shiny new kitchen scale

Yes, that is a kitchen scale. Not the pretiest, but by a long shot not the ugliest scale I saw on the day, it weighed in at a fairly affordable R 130 from Game. The only question is why it took me so long to buy one. I guess after hinting that I want a kitchen scale before several successive birthdays and christmasses I should have gotten the message.

But more importantly, said scale loaded with 4 large eggshells (yes I did remember to zero with the bowl on) indicates that each shell weighs about 5.5g. So there you have it, if ever you need to add 12 eggshells to your tomato plant, you can just weigh out 66g of crushed eggshell.

The weight of eggshells

Beef Casserole (Beesvleiskasserol) a la Huisgenoot Wenresepte

If you’re an Afrikaans South African, the odds are that the conerstone of your culinary tradition is “Kook en Geniet”. Following that tome of culinary culture, came the “Huisgenoot Wenresepte” series; a collection that may be considered as addendums to the original “Kook en Geniet.” Having purloined a copy of Wenrespte (vol 1), I have finally started cooking from it. A note though: just about every recipe in here may be classified as comfort food, not really one for those watching their weight. But I digress. The recipe that lead to my theft of sage will be the topic of this post. The basic recipe as published is a little short on detail, so I’ve embellished it a bit.


  • 800g stewing beef (I used pre-cut “Goulash” cubes)
  • flour (I guess one uses about 5 tablespoons, but perhaps that wasn’t quite enough)
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • rosemary and sage (chopped)
  • 1 clove
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • frying oil
  • 500 ml dry red wine (I used Robertson Shiraz)


  • Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C
  • Prepare onions (sliced) and herbs (chopped)
  • Cut beef into cubes
  • Cover beef in flour (I mixed some salt and pepper with the flour)
  • Fry beef in hot cooking oil until brown
  • Reserve beef and fry onions in same pan (or skillet if you’re being fancy)
  • In a medium casserole dish, place onion aand beef in alternating layers.
  • Sprinkle sage and rosemary between each layer. I also added some salt, pepper and flour between each layer.
  • Pour wine over everything in the casserole dish.
  • Add clove and nutmeg
  • Cover casserole and bake in oven (at 180 deg C) for about and hour until meat is tender.


I think more than an hour was needed, since the meat wasn’t quite tender, and the sauce a bit thin. I used about 2 handsfull of fresh sage which may have been a bit much, resulting in a slightly bitter taste. It also seemed to need a bit more salt to bring out the flavour; this also covered the slight bitterness of the sage. I served it over couscous (instead of the traditional rice) with a tossed salad.

All in all it was very tasty, and I’m definitely making it again. The combination of sage and rosemary with the wine and onions is quite successful. Next time I’ll bake it longer, both to cook the meat better and to allow the wine sauce to reduce a bit more.

Taking Chances

This post is something quite different from my normal fare, dealing with financial decisions rather than gardening or food. May make for interesting reading though. In short, I’d like to be able to retire when I’m 40. Well, perhaps not properly retire, but at least be able to, say, wander the earth for 5 years without eating my capital. I would like to do this in spite of having gotten a late start (long academic careers do that to you), being somewhat lazy and also being quite risk averse. But, often times, taking no apparent risks is itself not merely risky but in fact downright reckless. By taking no chances now, I’m pretty much guaranteeing that I won’t reach my goal.

Keep reading

Stealing Sage

Well, tonight I cooked with Sage for the first time. A Beef Casserole from “Huisgenoot Wenresepte 1”, I’ll write more about that later, Now I want to write about “stealing” plants from supermarket fresh produce isles! I did this before with store bought bell pepper seeds. Have not picked any fruit from them yet, but the plants have actually recently flowered and are starting to bear what looks like bell peppers. But if this works, the bell peppers will seem pedestrian :)

As it turned out, the only sage in the shop was fresh. Not only this, the producers of said sage seem to have been quite lazy about removing leaves from the stems. Hence, complete woody stems that almost seem like the could become cuttings were in the packet. I could not resist. I placed two stems in a bit of water only in one glass, and another with rooting-powder applied. I also removed most of the large leaves; someone once told me that maintaining leaves are expensive and that cuttings have better chances with fewer. In any case, I placed both glasses on a sunny sill, and now we wait!

Edit 21-08-2010

I forgot to mention that the rooting powder I used is “Dynaroot 2” which is distributed by Effekto. The active ingredient is 4-indole-3-butyric acid at a concentration of 3g/kg.

Flowering tomatoes

About a week or so ago I noticed flower buds beginning to appear on first tomato plant I transplanted to a SWC. Exciting, because if you are lucky, the flowers eventually turn into tomatoes! So far I don’t really see anything that looks like tomatoes forming, hope I won’t be suffering from the dreaded blossom drop. Not unlikely, since it’s actually the wrong season to be growing (winter in the southern hemisphere). The plant is in a fairly sunny north-facing spot, so let’s hope for the best.

I meant to put some pictures of the blossoms up. I even bought a cheap digital camera on a 60% off clearance sale and took some pictures, but I can’t for the life of me find the cable for my new camera. Oh my.


Managed to find my camera’s cable. Herewith a closeup and full-plant picture:

Tomato blossom closeup

Tomato plant

Parma ham & fried tomatoes update

Recently I wrote about a Quick Parma ham with fried tomatoes pasta recipe that I tried, but wasn’t quite happy with. Well, the good news is I tried it again following my own suggestions (basically, leaving stuff out), and the result was truly delicious! The final recipe is the same as before, but leaving out the feta, parmesan and olives, using more tomatoes and less parma ham. Just for the record, I’ll write out the complete recipe.


  • 30g sliced Parma ham
  • 20g fresh rocket
  • 20g fresh basil
  • Some sprigs of fresh thyme and origanum
  • 200-300g cherry tomatoes
  • 60g (I’m guessing) pasta screws
  • A little oil for frying

A recipe calling for Parma ham might seem like it would not be very cheap, but you actually don’t need much and it is easy to buy a small quantity from the deli section of most supermarkets. I have fresh herbs growing in my potted garden, so they’re free too :) I’d recommend washing the fresh ingredients before you start.


  1. Start boiling water for the pasta.
  2. In a heated and oiled skillet start frying the cherry tomatoes over medium heat.
  3. Remember to start cooking the pasta according to package directions once the water boils and also to remove it from the water when it is done.
  4. Strip the thyme & origanum from woody stems, and frighten them a little in a mortar & pestle. Guess you could chop them a little if you don’t have such a beast.
  5. Add the thyme & origanum to the tomatoes.
  6. Roll up the Parma ham and slice at +- 2cm intervals.
  7. When the tomatoes look wrinkled and old (from frying!) squash them to let the juice out.
  8. Add the parma ham, basil and rocket to the tomatoes, and stir around for a bit
  9. Add the cooked pasta, toss, remove from heat and enjoy!

The end

Well, there you go. Simple, fast, cheap single-portionable and delicious. Do enjoy!

Quick Parma ham with fried tomatoes, olives and herbs attempted

As a semi-bachelor I’m always looking for quick, tasty and preferably not terribly expensive food that is easy to make for one or two people. Tonight I share with you a recipe that almost worked. It was tasty, but the tastes were a bit muddled. Some simplifications to try later will be discussed at the end :)


  • 30g sliced Parma ham (used about 50g but that’s too much methinks)
  • 8 Calmata style (or other brown/black) olives
  • A quater “cake” of Feta
  • 20g fresh rocket
  • 20g fresh basil
  • Some sprigs of fresh thyme and origanum
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 60g (I’m guessing) pasta screws
  • A little oil for frying
  • A bit of grated parmesan cheese for garnish.

A recipe calling for Parma ham might seem like it would not be very cheap, but you actually don’t need much and it is easy to buy a small quantity from the deli section of most supermarkets. I have fresh herbs growing in my potted garden, so they’re free too :) I’d recommend washing the fresh ingredients before you start.


  1. Start boiling water for the pasta.
  2. In a heated and oiled skillet start frying the cherry tomatoes over medium heat.
  3. Remember to start cooking the pasta according to package directions once the water boils and also to remove it from the water when it is done.
  4. Strip the thyme & origanum from woody stems, and frighten them a little in a mortar & pestle. Guess you could chop them a little if you don’t have such a beast.
  5. Add the thyme & origanum to the tomatoes.
  6. After a minute or 2 add the olives
  7. Roll up the Parma ham and slice at +- 2cm intervals.
  8. When the tomatoes look wrinkled and old (from frying!) squash them to let the juice out.
  9. Add the parma ham, basil, rocket, and feta to the tomatoes, and stir around for a bit
  10. Add the cooked pasta, toss, remove from heat, add grated parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Notes & Conclusion

In spite of the number of steps, this dish was very quick to make, since you can do everying while stuff is cooking. Took about 25 minutes from start to finish. Taste-testing while making the sauce seemed very promising, but in the end I was a little dissapointed.I think this recipe suffers from too many good things. I think I could have used less parma ham, since it has a very concentrated flavour. More tomatoes would probably have been good too. Next time I’m going to forgo the feta, parmesan and olives completely; if that seems a bit bland I’ll add ingredients one by one.

These days I use Fatti & Moni’s wholewheat pasta in most of my pasta dishes. Initially I was sceptical of wholewheat pasta, but tried it out because its healthier. Much to my surprise I can hardly tell the difference in taste, and so far it has worked quite well in every dish I’ve tried it in.

Going somewhat strong

Planting out to SWCs

I planted one of the tomato seedlings out into my 10 Litre Self-watering Bucket, and it has really taken off! Seems pleased as punch with its new surroundings. The bell pepper plant has also been doing well in its 7l SWC, but is not growing quite as fast as the tomato. I managed to get more buckets from the restaurant. I used one to transplant a sorrel plant that was sharing a container with (and getting abused by) origanum plants and it has been growing well. Also (Saturday) planted another each of tomato and pepper seedlings into 7l SWCs, as well as a parsley plant that was getting crowded out by the mint plant sharing its pot.

About a week ago (or two, my mind…) I sowed some more rocket seeds, as well as some of the basil seeds that I saved from a now departed plant. They have now germinated, and seem to be progressing well. I’m going to plant some of the rocket seedlings in the 50l SWC, and one of them in a 7l SWC. The other rocket plants in the 50l SWC never did well, but it is possible that I gave them too much sun in the sumer. Perhaps they’ll like the winter.

Spreading the Origanum

I had (for a long time) two origanum plants (along with the sorrel mentioned above) in a rectangular (oh, let’s say 50x15x15 cm) container. The origanums grew very well, while the sorrel suffered. I wanted to clear the pot so I could put some of the marigold seedlings in it. I planted one of the origanum plants directly into my “garden” (i.e. in the sandy soil under the gravel cover of my patio), and one in a 7l food container. I had another type of origanum (has somewhat softer leaves, but grows slower) growing in a small container. It was a small stem with roots that I accidentally pulled out a while ago while harvesting from the softer-leaved origanum plant. It had grown nicely, so I planted it out into my 50l dry-herb container.

Dry herb container progress

At long last the rosemary and thyme in my 50l dry herb containers seem to have started growing in earnest. The rosemary hasn’t really increased its footprint, but has ramified quite a bit and has a number of new shoots growing upwards. Now I just hope the new origanum plant also grows well. Actually, my other rosemary plants also seem to be waking up. so hopefully I’ll have a well-establised rosemary bush or 2 to harvest from soon.


It did not take long, but white-fly seems to have found the recently transplanted tomato plant, and something seemed to be at the peper plant too. Gave them all (along with all the other pepper and tomato plants) a good treatment with Ludwig’s spray on Saturday. Seemed to result in the tomato plant virtually doubling its size overnight, though that may just be my impression of the situation ;) Some of my marigolds also seem to be suffering from something (spider mite?) so used the leftover solution to give them a good dusting. In spite of whatever may be wrong with them the are still flowering and growing.

A late update

It’s been a while, but herewith some gardening updates! The damn spider mites seem to be a recurring nightmare on my black eyed suzans. Cooler winter weather coming, so perhaps that will give me a chance to bring them under control. I’ve also had my first good harvest of basil; used it to make pesto. Had no idea pine nuts were so expensive (R60 for 100g!), ended up substituting wallnuts. Tasted good though.

I also planted a rosemary bush into the “real” ground outside my apartment. My “garden” is covered with decorative gravel, but there seems to be (very sandy) soil underneath. Good for rosemary, and since my potted rosemaries don’t seem to be doing anything, I gave it a try. The bush seemed to be doing well till I carelessly stepped on it (while spraying the black eyed susans for spider mite) and broke half the twigs off. Hope it recovers.

Procreational update

A while ago I went about creating a whole bunch of baby plants! The tomatoes are looking good, and I’ve re-potted them again into somewhat larger pots. The bell pepper seedlings are doing similarly well. One of the bell pepper seedlings have been planted into a self watering container made from 7l chutney containers that I got (for free!) from a local restaurant.

I ended up giving one each of the tomato and bell pepper seedlings to a colleague. Also gave her one of the successful origanum cuttings. The other (along with a bell pepper, chives, marigolds and store-bought rosemary and thyme plants) were given as a wedding gift. The wedding couple really seemed to like they idea of receiving plants, although I did have inside info that they were looking to gussy up the garden at their new home :)

Have had no luck with thyme cuttings, even when using growth hormones! I dunno what’s up with that. May be that I used too small cuttings and put them in too shallow soil. Have now tried a much longer (and tender) cutting, planted in more soil, and so far it seems to have made what looks like the beginning of roots fingers crossed. As an aside, it is useful not to harvest your thyme for a while if you are looking for longer tender shoots :)

The garlic seedling has been planted in a 50l washbasin container along with some chives, garlic chives and basil. The basil seems to be thriving, while the garlic chives and garlic are doing fairly well, while the normal chives seem to be just hanging on. Not sure if the (single) basil plant is interfering with the others, or if the basil just doesn’t care as much about the mix of container soil and earth in the pot. I’ll see how it goes, perhaps the chives will do well once they establish themselves, otherwise I’ll make a different plan.

The End

Bed time for this one, folks. Hope to share some more soon, as well as a recipe or two. For now, all the best!

Sharing, Caring and Spider-mites

It feels nice to give, and I got the feeling by donating one each of the tomato, bell pepper and origanum seedlings/cuttings metioned before to a colleague. The garlic chives are also doing better; intially it seemed like only about 4 of the seeds I planted had germinated, but a couple of warm days seems to have brought the total to 10. Perhaps I’ll be giving some of them away too :)

Spider Mite Woes

On a less positive note, my black eyed Susans have been attacked by spider-mite. These little buggers are quite vicious and hard to get rid of. Part of the problem is their very short life-cycle, which frequently leads to resistance against pesticides. Luckily Ludwig’s organic pesticide that I have mentioned before seems effective. I applied it on Saturday (2010-02-20) night, and the following morning the little red specks previously visible on the leaves had changed to black. Interestingly, the concentration of Ludwig’s spray recommended (by the included instructions) for spider mite is much stronger than for just about any other pest, and you also also need to be sure to completely coat the top and bottom sides of the leaves.

A follow-up application will be needed to take care of new hatchlings as the pesticide does not damage the mite eggs. Will probably do that tomorrow night or perhaps even morning, since high temperatures (like Stellenbosch is currently experiencing) leads to a gestation period of as little as 3 days. I saw another organic spider mite specific insecticide in Stellenbosch’s Builders Warehouse Express which claims to be effective against the eggs too. Supposedly it also results in in less colateral damage, but it was quite expensive. I decided to give it a skip.

Yesterday, while collecting herbs for Sunday lunch cooking, I saw that my flat-leaved parsley also seemed to have spider-mites. Since it was next to herbs I wanted to use immediately (Ludwig’s requires you to wait 48 hours after application before harvesting edible food) I squashed them between thumb and forefinger, and tore off the most badly affected leaves. The very flat leaves of the parsely don’t seem to mind the pressure, and there were few enough leaves for it to be manageable.

Seed Collecting

It takes quite a bit longer for the seeds on plants that have bolted to become harvestable that I had imagined. Today I collected some pods from a basil plant that has gone to seed. It seems like it took forever for the pods to turn brown after the petals have droped. Even now only a fraction of them have gone brown.

I’ve been waiting similarly long for a the cos-lettuce that bolted after an aphid attack to produce seeds. Yesterday I got a bit of a surprise when a guest looking at my garden pointed out the Dandelion like parachute balls that had formed on this plant. And attached to the little parachutes were litte seeds! Yay!

I placed the collected seeds in labeled envelopes for storage. They shouldn’t stay there for too long, since I hope to plant them out soon.

The End

I’m getting better at not blogging during times of day that I should be sleeping! In any case, I also wanted to talk about some of my more recent self watering container experiences, but this post is getting too long. But don’t fret, that news will come in the near future :)

Various Acts of Procreation

In this exciting update, we hear the fate of several newly germinated and cloned members of my plant family, inter alia bell peppers, garlic, garlic chives and tomatoes. Some of them area alive and well, others, alas, did not make it. Wake at noon!

Keep reading

Making Amends and Other Exciting Updates

Quite a busy gardening day! In fact, probably my only whole day spent gardening to date :) In part it was sad, since I had to admit to earlier mistakes and throw out my tatsoi and pinokio cos lettuce, neither of which yielded anything. This allowed me to make amends by amending the terrible soil that I think resulted in my lettuce no-shows. I also finished building a 50l self-watering container to plant rocket in, and started my dry-herb container. To top it all off, I planted tomato and garlic chive seeds.

Lessons about soil

When I first started gardening (not too long ago) I had the attitude that potting mix is expensive, and that I should water it down, so to speak, using normal soil. I felt I was on solid ground, since my GF’s mother plants all her containers using exclusively garden soil with some success. Initially this worked for me too, but later cought up with me.

The thing is, my GF’s house has very nice soil that is fairly light and well airated and full of organic matter. When I started I took a bag of soil from her house, and mixed that with the potting mix. Later, when I adding more pots, I started using soil from my flat complex’s beds, expecting the same results, but oh-no. Not a good idea.

The Dead Rosemary Bush

After killing a rosemary bush (which is quite hard), I found that the bottom two-thirds of the pot was pretty much a solid lump of clay, completely preventing drainage. Mystery solved there. So, I think, let’s just remove half the soil, and mix it down with more potting mix. Certainly that should be good enough. Well, it was better, but after a while the new rosemary plant was going nowhere. By now I’ve come to respect the importance of drainage for potting soils, and realised what was going on.

Of Al and his Mixes

There is a regular container mix guru on the gardenweb forums known as Al. What he has impressed on me is the importance of good drainage and aeration for pot plants. As he puts it, on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is gardening in regular soil and 10 is hydroponics, container growing is about a 7-8.

When gardening in the real earth there are natural processing going about the conversion of organic matter to plant-nutrients (bacteria, earthworms), processes keeping the ground aerated (earthworms, burrowing animals, etc) and probably a hundred other processes doing a hundred important things I’m not aware of ;) In container gardening you can’t depend on them.

His chief aims when choosing a potting mix is that it is

  1. Well aerated. Surprisingly, plants actually need to obtain most of their oxygen an CO2 requirement via their roots rather than their leaves.
  2. Durable. Some components used in a potting mix can decompose and turn the mix into “soup” that kills aeration.
  3. Well drained.

Al has some mixes that he prescribes, and also goes to some length to explain the rationale behind his mix-design. He also discusses container fertilisation.

Paying for Sins Past

Well, as I mentioned, the new rosemary bush also started looking not so good. After the first death I took care not to over-water, and occasionally tilled the soil bit, but there is only so much you can do in a pot!. For my efforts the top layer of soil was in reasonable condition, but as I went deeper I found pretty much a replay of the soild conditions implicated in the first rosemary death, including a nice rotten-egg smell in the bottom layer. The rotten smell indicates a complete lack of oxygen, resulting in anaerobic bacteria doing their stinky thing.

And so, I decided, enough messing around. Time to get rid of all my bad soil. Out came the old rotten soil, and in came fresh Culterra potting mix. I hope Rosemary enjoys her re-decorated home. An added advantage of using proper potting mix is that it is much lighter than garden dirt, making it much easier to move pots around.

I also ripped out the pinokio Cos Lettuces that I planted some time ago. After going absolutely nowhere since I first planted them, they started to bolt without having given me a single usable leaf! Also planted with them was some tatsoi that also suffered from going nowhere. I remembered doing some dodgy soil-mixing with that container, but was surprised when the soil appeared to be pretty much pure potting mix. As I dug deeper, however, I soon came to a solid-blocked layer of clay-soil again. Ahah. I planted two of the bolting lettuce plants in another container with the hope of harvesting some seeds, so perhaps I will get something for my efforts in another generation of plant!

Planting out Rocket Seedlings

In the 50l self-watering container I built today, I planted out some of the rocket seedlings that I raised from seed. I also removed a wild rocket plant from another pot that had bolted before making hardly any leaves. I think the problem with that rocket was that it was in the small pot at the nursery for way too long. I was about to throw all of it away when I saw that it actually consisted of several separate plants, and that a couple of them looked like young plants and were not bolting. I planted those out for the joke too. I may have been a bit hard-handed in removing them from the other pot, so we’ll see if they make it.

What was interesting to note was how quickly the seedling roots grew down, through the bottom aeration holes and into the water resevoir! I hope that does not cause problems later.

Planting out Marigold Seedlings

I planted Marigold seeds at the same time as the rocket mentioned above, and planted a couple of them out into the pot vacated by the wild rocket. Their roots had grown even more crazily than the rocket seedlings’. The roots of some of the seedlings were probably 20 times longer than the seedling itself! I may have broken some of them off in the process of transferring the seedlings, so I’m hoping for the best.

Bellpepper seedlings.

Lo and behold, the seeds I saved from a store-bought pepper have germinated. Now we must see what we get!

Dry-herb Container

By dry I mean herbs that like dry growing conditions, such as rosemary, thyme and origanum. I re-purposed the 50l basin-type container vacated by the cos lettuce (I think I’ll try a self-watering container next time I grow lettuce) for this. To make the soil even better drained, I added (what I hope is) pine bark-fines to the potting mix, making up about a third of the mix. I haven’t come across bark-fines at local nurseries yet, but the bark sold as mulch usually has a fair portion of fines. By fishing out the largest pieces by hand, a reasonable mix can be had.

The reason I hope it is pine is that some other tree bark can inhibit growth; I bought at Cape Garden Centre on the R44, but they could not tell me if it was pine or not. It looks like pine though. Earlier the day I was at the Stellenbosch Builder’s Warehouse Express where they were certain that their product was pine, but I did not buy it then. Later when I realised I wanted it, they were closed, and I had to go the the Garden Centre.

I re-planted another rosemary bush in this container; this bush was previously in the same container as my basil and chives. Since the basil and chives like more water than rosemary, replanting seemed like a good idea. I also planted a new thyme plant that I bought at a supermarket. I have a thyme plant in another container, but did not want to re-plant it at this time. I will probably add origanum if/when my cuttings take off, and then see if it makes sense to add anything else to this container.

Garlic Chives and Tomato seeds

I planted about 10 garlic chive seeds in the 2l self-watering container vacated by the rocket I planted out today. I also planted some Season Red tomatoes. These being hybrid seeds, you only get about 10 or so seeds in a packet. In fact, they package the seeds within another little paper envelope inside the seed-packet. For now I’m only planning to grow one plant, but just in case I planted four seeds into 5cm pots. with the Master Organics Super Premium Potting Mix. I’m keeping them wet from below in a tray. If they all germinate successfully I’ll decide what to do with the extra seedlings.

The End

Phew, what a day. I hope I can one day pick the fruits of my labour :) It’s getting a little late, so Good Night!

Attempting Propagation (Thyme, Origanum and Bell Peppers)

Tonight I tried my hand at propagation. I read that thyme can be propagated from cuttings. Since my single thyme plant is not quite keeping up with my demands, I decided to try the cuttings-thing. I also mentioned this to a colleague who is interested in adding thyme to her garden, so let’s hope it works!

Propagating Cuttings

The basic method seems to be to cut off about 7-8cm long shoot-tips of the plant, removing their bottom leaves and placing somewhere damp. The general consensus seems to be that you should use tender young tips, not ones with woody stems. I used some seedling trays saved from store bought seedlings, and stuck the stems about 3cm into the potting mix.

I used Master Organics Master Supermix, which the nursery man suggested might work well for starting seedlings. I placed two shoots in each tray pocket (gee, what should you call them?) to increase the odds. For now I’m watering them from below by placing the seedling trays in a plastic container shallowly filled with water. It’s summer here, so mostly quite warm; I will however keep them indoors at night for now.

I also took some origanum cuttings and planted them the same way. Apparently this should work equally well. My origanum plants actually produce more than I need, but perhaps my colleague would like some. Besides, the more the merrier I say.

Stolen Bell Peppers

While I was at it, I decided to also sow some of the bell-pepper seed I saved from a store-bought red-pepper. This is probably a bad idea for two reasons:

  1. You won’t know what you’re gonna get, because commercial peppers are frequently hybrids.
  2. Commercial peppers may not be ripe enough to contain viable seed.

At least I did the “right” thing by using a red pepper, since red peppers should be riper. In any case, its just for fun and the seeds didn’t cost me anything, so let’s see what happens!

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs and More Damn Bugs

Aphids (I’m pretty sure that’s what they are now) seem to have a voracious appetite for my tatsoi plants. While the organic pestecide spray I’m using is definitely killing them, they come back with distressing regularity. I did at least witness the effectiveness of the spray first hand tonight; it seems to kill the aphids within minutes.

Anyhoo, good night and go well!