Q: My husband has planted two rows of okra. We had so much okra last year (with only one row) I ran out of ideas on how to use it. Do you have any suggestions besides gumbo or boiling?
A: Slice the okra, batter and fry it or deep-fry it. Each restaurant or family seems to have its own twist on frying okra. Most use a cornmeal batter, but some use flour. Experiment with different methods as well as different spices.
Slice it and sauté with olive oil in a large pan with minced garlic.
Thinly slice it and put it on a pizza along with fresh or sun-dried tomatoes. Create a Creole pizza with okra and shrimp.
Slice it and add it with corn, Irish potatoes, carrots, green beans and other vegetables to tomato-based soups. The okra helps thicken the soup as well as adding flavor.
Pickle the young pods. Okra pickles make excellent winter hors d’oeuvres or a good complement to a summer sandwich. They are also used in martinis instead of the olive.
Toss the pods with olive oil and grill them until tender. Sprinkle the grilled pods with lemon juice and a little salt.
Freeze it for use later. You don’t have to eat it all at once.
If you absolutely reach your fill of okra later this summer and do not want to eat, freeze or can any more, let the pods grow and mature on the plant. Then cut the stalks with the pods attached and use them in dried floral arrangements. Or cut off the dried pods, paint them and use them as Christmas decorations.
Q: I have found black widows in my metal storage shed. What can I do to get rid of them?
A: Clear out all clutter and eliminate the small, dark, hiding places that the spiders prefer, especially clutter on the floor and lower areas in the shed. Vacuum it after you clean. Since spiders eat insects, try to keep insects from coming into the shed. Remove weeds that are growing next to the shed to discourage insects from entering. Spray with an insecticide around the base of the shed if you see insects getting in at the base. If possible, seal any openings were insects are getting in. Keep cleaning the shed. Learn to recognize the black widow’s web as well as its egg sac so you can destroy them as you find them.
Q: While cleaning scrub from a vacant lot I started smelling something that reminded me of peanut butter. The smell was coming from the leaves of some sprouting trees. The leaves were large and looked like a sumac. Do you know what this could be?
A: It sounds like the tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima). It has large, pinnately compound leaves that, when crushed, can smell a little like peanut butter. Despite its name, it has some less than heavenly attributes. It is not native and has invaded most of the United States. It will grow almost anywhere and sets copious seeds that sprout everywhere. The tree has separate male and female plants. The flowers of the male trees have a smell that is described as “vile” and “putrid.”
Q: I want to grow azaleas on a depleted bank beside the driveway. Do I need to have the soil tested?
A: Azaleas like acidic, well-drained soil. The most important thing you may want to do is to do is to add organic matter such as fine pine bark mulch to the soil. For azaleas and rhododendrons, the texture/structure of the soil is more important than the amount of specific nutrients. Talk to your local Cooperative Extension agent or to a horticulturist in your area about your specific site and its possible needs.
Q: I have 17 hens and one rooster. What causes them to eat their own eggs? I heard that oyster shells would help stop this, but it must not work. They are getting worse. They have plenty to eat at all times. Can you tell me what to do?
A: Egg eating is not normal behavior for a hen. Here are some tips that may help:
The habit sometimes begins when an egg breaks accidentally and one or more chickens start pecking it for moisture or nutrients. To help prevent eggs from cracking or breaking, line your nests with lots of soft nesting material. Provide one nest per every four (or less) hens to prevent crowding. If too many hens use the same nest, eggs are more likely to get trampled or broken. Having nests off the ground may help since fewer chickens will be stepping on them. Collect the eggs more regularly, at least two or three times daily. The longer the eggs remain in the nest, the greater chance of breakage and consumption.
When an egg breaks, clean it up as quickly and thoroughly as possible to prevent the chickens from tasting the egg. Don’t throw broken or cracked eggs on the floor for chickens to eat. If you feed them eggs, make sure they're cooked and the shells are ground or crushed as to be unidentifiable as pieces of eggs.
If your flock’s eggs are weak, ground oyster shells provide calcium which may strengthen the egg shells. Provide plenty of clean, fresh drinking water. Hens need greater amounts of water than other birds and may consume their eggs for the liquid content.
Cull non-laying hens from the flock. Keep an eye on your birds. It may be only one or two culprits instead of all of them. Maintain a disease-free flock that is treated regularly for internal and external parasites. Egg eating can also occur when the light is too bright in the chicken house.
Some people recommend placing golf balls on the nest. Repeated unproductive pecks at the balls may help cure the hen of the habit.
You may also wish to contact your local Cooperative Extension office to see if they have further advice or more specific advice for your particular case.
Q: I set aside an amaryllis in my basement in the fall so it could go dormant and bloom again. I forgot about it and discovered it already sprouting. The leaves are practically white from sprouting in the dark. What should I do?
A: Place your amaryllis in a sunny window. The leaves will turn green in a couple days. If you are placing it outside, set it in an area of bright or filtered light until the leaves turn green; then it can be transferred to a spot receiving full sun.
Q: What is blackberry winter?
A: Spring is a mixed bag of warm, cool, cold and even hot weather. After weeks of warm weather with leaves on many trees and spring flowers in bloom, we can still get frost, snow or extremely cold temperatures. Blackberry winter is a period of cool or cold weather that arrives late, often when blackberries are blooming. This period of cold weather has happened often enough over the years that it acquired a name. In some areas the country similar periods of cold weather are called redbud winter, dogwood winter or locust winter.
Q: What is grancy graybeard? I saw it advertised in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin.
A: Grancy graybeard (Chionanthus virginicus) is a small tree that blooms in spring. It is sometimes grown as a large shrub and is one of our most beautiful native plants. When in bloom it looks like it has reached into the sky and captured a cloud amid its branches.
It is also called “fringe tree” and “old man’s beard.” The name “grancy graybeard” is a corruption of “grand sir graybeard,” because the frilly flowers look like the beard of a distinguished old gentleman (think Santa Claus or Colonel Sanders.)
You can purchase grancy graybeard from advertisers in the Market Bulletin or at nurseries and garden centers. It is a good choice for a small flowering tree if you are looking for something other than the more common flowering cherries or crabapples.
Q: Can I water my tomatoes and melons by cutting the bottom out of a milk jug and burying the jug in the ground next to the plants with the spout end in the soil? That way the water goes directly to the roots.
A: There is nothing wrong with this method of watering in a home vegetable garden. It makes efficient use of the water, helps the plants develop a deep root system and keeps the foliage dry, which can help prevent foliar fungal diseases. For large plantings, however, many containers will be needed and installing them can be quite a project. The containers will also need to be installed at planting to prevent damaging roots on established plants.
Q: What is this product on the news called “pink slime?” Is it safe to eat?
A: The product is lean finely textured beef (LFTB). “Pink slime” is a recently coined, inaccurate and pejorative term for the product. LFTB is safe.
The process used to produce LFTB was developed more than 30 years ago. It allows for the recovery of more lean muscle tissue. The end result is a leaner ground beef that costs less for consumers.
Ammonium hydroxide is used to process LFTB. It was approved in 1974 and is used today in a variety of food products, including baked goods and confections. In ground beef production, it is used in gaseous form to raise pH levels in order to kill pathogens such as E. coli, which can cause food borne illnesses.
There are many options for consumers at the grocery store, including ground beef with and without LFTB. Whatever your personal choice, it is not a food safety issue.
For a USDA fact sheet with more information, visit www.meatami.com/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/76330 or visit www.fsis.usda.gov.