Q: I'm doing a research project on bee pollination in every state. What are the crops in your state that benefit from honeybees or other bees?
A: In Georgia we are able to grow a wide variety of crops. Many depend on (or benefit from) honeybees or other bees for pollination. Here are a few: watermelon, muskmelon/cantaloupe, peach, apple, blueberry, cucumber, squash, strawberry, eggplant, pepper, tomato, cowpea/field pea, soybean, cotton and okra.
Q: I recently came across a recipe in a 1950s cookbook that utilizes terra cotta flowerpots for Baked Alaska. Is it safe to eat out of a regular terra cotta flowerpot from a garden center? I remember a restaurant that baked bread in terra cotta flowerpots. At the time I thought it was clever, but now I wonder if it was safe.
A: At one time, cooking in flowerpots as you describe became so popular that you could actually find food-grade terra cotta flowerpots in kitchen sections of department stores. Thankfully, that fad has passed. Regular terra cotta flowerpots are perfectly safe for growing plants, but you should not cook in them due to food safety concerns. The clay could contain contaminants or heavy metals that could leach into the food. There are many attractive, clever and versatile food-grade terra cotta vessels at kitchen and cooking stores. They are safe and much more useful for cooking than a flowerpot.
Q: Is there such a thing as a purple carrot?
A: Yes. In fact, you can find purple carrots for sale in some grocery stores now. Carrots may also be yellow, red or white, as well as the familiar orange.
Q: How soon do eggs need to be collected after my chickens lay them?
A: Ideally, eggs should be collected the same day they are laid, although waiting a day should not seriously impact the taste or freshness. However, it is better to collect them early so that they do not accidentally get damaged by the chickens or another animal. Freezing temperatures may also damage the eggs if they are not collected immediately. Chickens may also try to hatch their eggs if they are left for too long. During the time that hens “go broody,” they may be out of production for 20 or more days.
Q: Can Meyer lemons be used like regular lemons?
A: Yes. They are used like other lemons. Meyer lemons have a thinner peel and a smoother skin than standard lemons. Their skin is the color of an egg yolk. Their flavor is often described as being a little sweeter, less acidic and more floral than that of a regular lemon. Meyer lemons are believed to be a hybrid between a lemon and an orange. Some people claim they are the perfect lemons for lemonade.
Q: What is potlikker?
A: Potlikker is the broth created when boiling meat or vegetables, especially greens such as collards, turnip greens, mustard greens or kale. It contains the water, juice from the leaves, and the flavor from the ham hock or other meat or seasoning that the cook has added. It may be consumed with the greens if they are served in a bowl, or the greens may be drained and the potlikker served later as a soup. Southern diners often like to dip or crumble cornbread in their potlikker. “Pot liquor” appears to be the spelling preferred by linguists, but “potlikker” has its proponents and wide acceptance among Southern cooks.
Q: Are brown eggs more nutritious than white eggs?
A: No. It is a common misconception that brown eggs have more nutritional value than white ones. In reality, both have the same nutritional value.
Q: Is “Buddy” on the spay/neuter license plate based on a real dog?
A: Yes. Georgia artist Carolyn Ritter painted the popular yellow Labrador retriever based on her observations of a real dog. After seeing Ritter’s depiction, Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin called the dog “Buddy,” and the name stuck.
The artwork for the license plate was chosen partly because of the noble expression Buddy wears. Interestingly, Buddy’s intense stare has a story as well. Ritter’s subject was an assistance dog, and she observed him mainly while he worked. She captured the loving and dedicated gaze of a loyal helper.
Buddy and the other two spay/neuter license plate designs can be issued at any county tag office in Georgia. Proceeds earned from the sale of the license plates directly benefit spay/neuter procedures performed by licensed and accredited veterinarians in all 159 counties. All Georgia residents may participate in the Dog and Cat Sterilization Program and receive spay/neuter subsidies for their pets. Full program information and a list of veterinarians may be found at www.agr.georgia.gov.
Q: I have trouble peeling boiled eggs. I have been told not to use fresh eggs. Is it true that fresh eggs are difficult to peel?
A: Extremely fresh eggs can be difficult to peel, so it's best to hard cook eggs that have been in the refrigerator for several weeks. Hard cooked eggs will be safe in the refrigerator for seven days. For more information, contact the American Egg Board (847-296-7043) or the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline (1-888-MPHotline or 1-888-674-6854).
Q: What is the forsythia I see blooming now (February 1)? It has dark green stems and is more of a mounding shrub than other forsythias.
A: It is not forsythia; it is winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). Winter jasmine is a popular plant for the winter landscape because it brings bright yellow blooms on even some of the coldest days. It does look like forsythia, but its green stems and mounding, almost weeping habit are distinguishing features. It is a good shrub to choose for cascading over a wall or down a bank.
Q: Someone left the refrigerator door open overnight. Is the food safe to eat?
A: If you can't tell what the temperature is in the refrigerator and the food feels warm, discard perishable items as you would in a power outage. If the refrigerator door was slightly open for a few hours or overnight, the unit was operating and the temperature stayed at 40 °F., all the food should be safe to use. If the door was ajar for less than four hours, the food is probably safe to use. When in doubt, throw it out. A grocery bill is cheaper than a hospital bill.
Q: When should I seed my lawn?
A: It depends on what kind of grass you are trying to grow. The best time to sow tall fescue is from mid-September to the end of October. The second best time is February and March (the earlier the better). Bermuda and centipede can be sown from early April to mid-August. Centipede seed has a hard seed coat and may not germinate for several weeks. Apply water daily to centipede until germination is complete.
Q: How is passion fruit used? I want to serve it on Valentine’s Day.
A: The sweet and tangy flavor of passion fruit is showing up in many products now. You may have also seen the leathery, often wrinkled, maroon fruits in the produce section of grocery stores. The fruits are cut open and the juicy pulp around the seeds is used in juice blends, iced tea, alcoholic drinks, sorbets, yogurts, baked desserts and even salsas and vinaigrettes.
The “passion” in passion fruit has its origins in theology, not romance. It refers to the passion of Christ. Structures of the flowers and plants reminded 15th and 16th Century Spanish missionaries of elements from the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Even though passion fruit wasn’t named for the passion you hope to ignite on February 14th, your valentine will think you are creative and clever if you serve a passion fruit daiquiri, a refreshing passion fruit sorbet or vanilla ice cream with passion fruit topping – at least she or he will know you are trying. For maximum effect, be sure to do the dishes yourself.
Q: Moss is killing my grass. What can I do?
A: Moss is not killing your grass. Moss is growing because conditions are right for it and not right for your grass.
Moss likes damp, acidic soil. Liming will help make the soil less acidic. Aerating will allow more oxygen into the damp soil and encourage grass roots to grow. Moss thrives in shady conditions, but grass needs sun. Shady areas stay moist longer than sunny areas. Allowing more sunshine and air circulation by pruning trees and hedges will help by providing the sunnier, drier areas grass needs. If your moss is in a sunny area, perhaps you are watering too much.
If you are having a constant battle with moss, consider letting it take over and having a lawn of just moss. The Japanese have cultivated moss gardens for hundreds of years. Moss looks and feels like a carpet of green velvet – and it doesn’t need mowing.
Q: I saw a sign at a grocery store that the salad bar containers were made out of bulrushes. What are bulrushes?
A: Several marshland plants such as reeds, sedges and cattails are sometimes referred to as bulrushes. The most famous plant referred to as a bulrush is papyrus. The containers you saw were made from cattails.
Arty Schronce writes this weekly question-and-answer column to address questions about agriculture and questions about the services and products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. If you have a question, please email him at email@example.com or call him at 404-656-3656.