Question: I want to make some candies to sell and was told that a shared-use kitchen may be the way to go. What exactly is a shared-use kitchen, and where can I get more information?
Answer: Shared-use kitchens are also known as shared-time, community, commercial or incubator kitchens. They are commercial facilities where you can rent time and space to manufacture your own food products. For those just starting out in commercial food production, they can be beneficial places to learn the ropes before investing in your own facilities and equipment. They get the name “incubator kitchens” because they may serve as starter kitchens for young, small businesses.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture licenses each operator using shared-time kitchens. To learn more, contact the department’s Food Safety Division at 404-656-3621 and visit its website at www.agr.georgia.gov/retail.aspx where you will find “Guidelines for Community Kitchens” and “Guidelines for Managers of Community Kitchens” and other information that may be helpful.
Q: Where do peanuts come from?
A: The peanut, one of Georgia’s most important and signature crops, originated in South America but is now grown and enjoyed around the world and is a vital ingredient in Asian, African and American cuisines.
Q: What is the difference between specialty produce and a specialty crop?
A: “Specialty produce” is generally defined as fruits, vegetables and nuts that are not as widely grown by farmers or that are not as commonly known by the public as other produce items. They may have fewer or more narrow uses and require special instructions or explanations and education about what they are and what they are used for. Some of them could be considered niche market items.
For example, almost everyone can recognize a Red Delicious apple and know what to do with it. However, an heirloom apple variety with a russet skin or an apple variety used mainly for cider may be lumped in the specialty produce category. Purple-fleshed sweet potatoes may be considered specialty produce because many people are unfamiliar with them and may need instructions about how they can be used. Specialty produce is not inferior or better than other produce; it is just not as well known, widely used or widely grown.
The term “specialty crop” has its origins in the same basic ideas that define specialty produce. However, there is a specific definition of “specialty crop” as it applies to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the 2014 Farm Bill which defines specialty crops as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).” Specialty crops as defined by USDA may qualify for the agency’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Eligible plants must be cultivated or managed and used by people for food, medicinal purposes, and/or aesthetic gratification to be considered specialty crops. For more information see www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants/scbgp/specialty-crop.
Q: Will you please identify a vine I found growing on my property? It looks like a bean. It has compound leaves that look sort of like a wisteria with five to seven pointed leaflets. It is blooming now (August) and has clusters of two-tone brownish red flowers. The flowers are attractive but a little odd and have an oddly sweet fragrance.
A: It sounds like Apios americana (formerly listed as Apios tuberosa), a perennial vine that dies to the ground in the fall and sprouts again in the spring from its tuberous roots. It is a member of the bean/pea family. It is known by several common names including groundnut, Indian potato and hopniss and is native from eastern Canada and the Upper Midwest to Florida and Texas.
Groundnut is indeed an interesting and odd plant. Its muddy red and fleshy beige flowers are unmistakable in color and structure, and their fragrance is unusual, too. It is not overpowering but may be stronger in the afternoon. At its strongest, it reminds me of the Creomulsion Cough Syrup I took as a child – sweet but with a medicinal, molasses-like heaviness.
The tubers, which look a little like brown-skinned mini-sweet potatoes on a string, were used by Native Americans and colonists for food. Henry David Thoreau poetically wrote about his experiences with groundnut at Walden Pond. He described its “crumpled red velvety blossom” and recorded the tubers have “a sweetish taste, much like that of a frost-bitten potato, and I found it better boiled than roasted.”
Groundnut tubers may be eaten raw or cooked. Others disagree with Thoreau and say that boiling the tubers can leave a glue-like residue on pots. We’ve tasted raw ones but have not tried cooking any. In Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Euell Gibbons describes his experience with groundnuts and mentions that one way he has enjoyed the tubers is sliced thin and fried in bacon fat.
As a garden plant, groundnut can be aggressive and spread readily, popping up where you may not want it and twining into shrubs and perennials where it is hard to remove. If you want to grow it in your garden, grow it in a large pot or barrel or in an area off by itself. It is easy to grow from seeds. It is not readily available in the nursery industry.
With breeding and selection, perhaps this interesting plant will one day become a domesticated food crop and assume a place of honor along with corn, pecans, muscadines and other New World offerings.
Q: I purchased several hostas on sale. Would it be possible to grow one indoors as a houseplant?
A: Hostas require a cold period in which their foliage dies and the plant is dormant. Many people would advise against attempting to grow hostas as houseplant for that reason. After all, other popular houseplants don’t require providing a special cold treatment, and, since hostas grow easily outdoors, most people choose other plants for indoors and enjoy their hostas in the garden.
Having said that, there is nothing wrong with experimenting and trying something different, especially since you don’t have a lot of money invested. If you are going to try a hosta as a houseplant, place it in a brightly lit area and keep it well watered but do not allow it to sit in water. Hostas growing outdoors prefer shade, but shade outdoors is brighter than many indoor spaces, and hostas should not be considered low-light houseplants such as sansieveria or pothos. In the fall, set the hosta outdoors for a few months so it can get its required dormant period. You can sink the pot into the ground or mulch around it. Bring the pot back indoors in early spring.
Good luck and let us know how your experiment works.
Q: Can you fry bell pepper rings like onion rings?
A: Yes. In the Georgia Grown Test Kitchen we have made fried bell pepper rings along with Vidalia® onion rings. Place a bell pepper on its side and slice it to create rings. Coat them with your favorite flour or corn meal batter and deep-fry them as you would onion rings.
You can also pan-fry or deep-fry other sweet peppers and hot peppers. While Georgia Grown peppers are in season, now is a good time to try a new recipe with them. Bell pepper rings are great with hamburgers, meals of summer vegetables or at parties while watching the Olympics.
Q: Do you have any ideas for non-alcoholic cocktails? I would like to use fresh produce from the garden and farmers market.
A: While the alcoholic drinks may now define the term for the most part, cocktails may be non-alcoholic (e.g. cranberry juice cocktail) and don’t even have to be drinks (e.g. fruit cocktail and shrimp cocktail.) To make sure there is no misunderstanding, some people use the term “mocktail” to refer to cocktail drinks that do not contain alcohol.
Whatever you call them, good hosts always provide non-alcoholic options to their guests and never assume that a guest will automatically wish to imbibe as there are many people who do not drink alcohol for health, religious or other reasons such as being a designated driver. No one should feel slighted for not choosing an alcoholic beverage and it is the host’s job to make sure they don’t. Since there are numerous tasty, attractive and fun non-alcoholic drinks, no one should feel left out. A good cookbook will provide lots of recipes, but here are a few ideas:
Tomatoes are the base for many savory cocktails and are available all summer from your vegetable garden or farmers market. Cut the tomatoes into cubes and cook them to release their juice. Then strain out the seeds and skins with a pestle and colander. Salt to taste. Serve the juice chilled in small glasses. Mixing in finely grated cucumber to the juice after it has chilled will add an extra level of summer garden goodness.
The juice can also be seasoned with ground horseradish, celery salt and Worcestershire sauce as used in a Bloody Mary. Garnish with a slice of cucumber or a speared okra pickle.
To add more flavors to the tomato juice, cook the tomatoes with chopped onion and celery. Removing the strings from the celery stalks before cooking will help in the juicing process with the colander.
Peel and puree Georgia peaches and add club soda for some peachy refreshment. For a twist, puree a little fresh mint or basil with the peaches or use them as a garnish.
Ginger ale with a few whole and muddled fresh blueberries will be a colorful and cool treat.
Grapefruit or orange juice with a little juice from sweet watermelon rind pickles along with a watermelon pickle garnish is a good choice for brunch instead of a mimosa. Experiment with adding club soda or lemon-lime soft drinks if you want a little fizz. The sweet pickles are usually flavored with cloves, allspice, cinnamon and other spices and can be made from Georgia watermelons or the meat (seeds removed) of overgrown cucumbers.
Virtually any drink can be made to look a little more festive with a wedge of lime or a sprig of mint. Since there is almost always an abundance of mint in the garden, and every gardener we know is looking for ways to use it, garnish, garnish, garnish. The cooling taste and aroma of fresh mint can be especially welcome on hot summer evenings.
You can get other ideas from comprehensive cookbooks or by talking to some of the growers at your local farmers market.
Q: Please help me identify the small, attractive butterfly that has been visiting my zinnias. It has wings sort of like a swallowtail (one pair much longer than the other). It is dark brown with bluish green on its wings and body. Any idea what it could be? What can I plant to attract more of them?
A: It sounds like a long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus), one of the most distinctive and beautiful of all the skipper butterflies due to the shape of its wings and its color which can be described as bluish green, teal, peacock blue or Pewabic green.
Adult long-tailed skippers visit a wide array of flowers with zinnias and native asters among their favorites. The adults lay eggs on numerous members of the pea family including butterfly pea (Clitoria mariana), spurred or climbing butterfly pea (Centrosema virginianum), hog peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata), tick-trefoils/beggar’s lice (Desmodium spp.) and groundnut (Apios americana).
In vegetable gardens and agricultural fields, the caterpillars may be considered a pest because they feed on the leaves of various beans and are known as the “bean leaf roller.” In a home flower garden, however, long-tailed skippers can be appreciated for their beauty. We can also appreciate them because they eat kudzu. For more information visit www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Urbanus-proteus.
Q: Will rain lilies grow in Georgia?
A: Yes. They are appreciated for their lily-like flowers, attractive grassy foliage and durability.
One of the best, and the one most commonly sold, is the white rain lily (Zephyranthes candida). This late summer to fall bloomer is beautiful as well as easy to grow. Two other popular species are the yellow rain lily (Zephyranthes citrina) and the pink rain lily (Zephyranthes rosea). Please also consider Zephyranthes atamasca, our native species of rain lily known as the Atamasco lily. (Editor’s note: In a quirk of botanical nomenclature, the species name ends in “a” while the common name ends in “o”.) Although not commonly sold, it is worth searching for. It is native from Maryland to Florida and Mississippi.
Rain lilies are available from finer bulb suppliers and garden centers. You will also find some hybrids and rarer species. Some garden centers and mail-order sources may sell them potted instead of as dormant bulbs.
Q: What are pepper spots on watermelons?
A: Pepper spots are little, black spots that may appear on the underside of some watermelons. They are harmless and are one of the signs that farmers and gardeners may use to help indicate the melon is ripe.
Q: Do you have any ideas on ways to cut down on water use in my landscape?
A: During hot summers and periods of drought, gardeners spend more time and money watering plants than they would like. Besides the strain watering can put on their time and pocketbook, most gardeners recognize that water is a valuable resource that should not be wasted, and they want to do their part to use it wisely to help ensure there is enough to meet their needs and as well as the needs of agriculture, industry and a growing population.
Some actions to conserve water need to be done in advance of heat and dry weather. A good example is proper soil preparation. A plant with a well-established root system in properly prepared soil will better withstand dry conditions. Another good example is knowing your plant’s requirements and placing it accordingly. A plant that needs a lot of water should not be placed in the highest and driest spot in your landscape. Mulching is another good way to conserve soil moisture.
A few other tips include:
Monitor your sprinkler or irrigation system when it is operating. If water is running off and not being absorbed into the soil, turn it off and allow the water to be absorbed before starting again.
Do not water in the hottest part of the day. That is when the most water is lost to evaporation. Watering in the coolest part of the day reduces evaporation and will allow more water to reach plant roots. Use drip irrigation and soaker hoses that deliver water directly to the root zone of plants with less evaporation.
Water lawns only when they need it.
Concentrate on your most valuable plants. They should be the main focus of your watering efforts. Lawns and annual flowers can be easily replaced; a 30-year-old flowering dogwood cannot.
Have your irrigation system audited by a Certified Irrigation Professional to check for leaks and to insure it is running at maximum efficiency. Retrofit old irrigation heads with newer, more efficient models.
The Georgia Green Industry Association (www.ggia.org) and its members are distributing a flier with tips to save water titled “Make Every Drop Count.” A copy can be downloaded here: http://files.ctctcdn.com/cfdf4ef7001/5e2b1565-4129-4638-8871-a421bb164e29.pdf.
Q: What is the difference between a spider lily, a spider flower and a spider plant?
A: There are several plants with spidery common names that may confuse people. Here are a few you may encounter:
Spider flower is another name for cleome (Cleome hassleriana), a heat-tolerant and durable annual with purple, pink or white blooms. Its spideriness is due to its long stamens and pistils and widely spaced petals that also give the flower an airy quality.
Spider plant is a common name for Chlorophytum comosum, a popular houseplant for hanging baskets because it produces pendulous stems with plantlets on the end like spiderlings attached to a silk thread. It is also known as airplane plant. Its leaves may be solid green or variegated.
There are several plants called spider lilies. Perhaps the most familiar is the red spider lily (Lycoris radiata) that blooms in the fall with curved pistils and stamens that radiate out from the flower clusters like enormous false eyelashes or the legs of an enormous spider. It also goes by numerous other common names.
Numerous species of hymenocallis (Hymenocallis spp.) are also called spider lilies and other names. These amaryllis-like plants have white flowers, some of which could be comically described as looking like a combination of a daffodil and a daddy longlegs.
If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.