Q: Will painting my porch ceiling light blue help keep bugs away?
A: This is a common belief, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest it does. Insects are generally attracted to light-colored surfaces more than dark surfaces. So, they'd probably be more attracted to light blue than dark blue, but you could say that about most colors or plain white. The color blue likely has nothing to do with it. And houseflies are unlikely to choose to stay on the ceiling regardless of its color when there are food or sweet drinks being consumed below or inside the house. Some posit that spiders and wasps will think the ceiling is open sky and not build webs or nests there, but, again, there is no scientific evidence for this.
Painting porch ceilings light blue has been a longstanding custom for some people in parts of the South. Some suggest it started from an African belief that blue helps keep evil spirits away. In the days before air-conditioning, the porch was a busy and welcome part of the house where people went to escape the heat and stuffiness of the indoors. There were even “sleeping porches” with beds where residents could spend hot summer nights and take advantage of evening breezes. A blue ceiling may have had had a psychological cooling effect on people seeking relief from sweltering temperatures.
Whatever the reason -- insects, haints, cooling effect, personal taste, or just tradition – blue ceilings for porches are as popular as ever and are starting to appear in areas outside the South.
Q: What are doughnut peaches?
A: Doughnut peaches are a type of flat peach. They resemble lumpy doughnuts. Most have white flesh. They are also sold under the name “Saturn peaches” – the pit being the planet and the encircling flesh being Saturn’s distinctive rings. They are also called peento peaches, peen-to peaches, saucer peaches, Chinese saucer peaches and Chinese flat peaches. Doughnut peaches are not new but gained popularity in the 1990s because of their novelty and because their shape lends itself to packing and shipping. The name “doughnut peach” probably aided in their marketing as it is familiar and easier to remember than peento and peen-to, the anglicized forms of the Chinese name. (And who doesn’t like doughnuts?) Their size (most are smaller than standard peaches) and shape makes them easy to eat out of hand. A few named varieties of peento or doughnut peaches are ‘Galaxy,’ ‘Stark Saturn’ and ‘UFO.’ ‘Sweet Bagel’ is a yellow-fleshed variety.
Q: I purchased some feed for my cattle and was charged sales tax on it. Why? I thought the feed was tax exempt.
A: You need an “Agricultural Certificate of Exemption.” To get a copy of the form online, visit the Georgia Department of Revenue at https://etax.dor.ga.gov/. Click on “Forms and Publications,” then click on “Sales and Use Tax” and then “ST-A1 Agricultural Certificate of Exemption.” Please contact the Georgia Department of Revenue’s Sales and Use Tax Division at 404-417-3209 if you need more information.
Q: What is a mango nectarine?
A: Mango nectarine is a variety of small nectarine with yellow flesh and yellow skin. Its coloring resembles a mango, hence the name.
Q: After being away on vacation, I returned to find my cherry tomatoes loaded with fruit. Will it hurt the plant to cut off the clusters of tomatoes instead of picking them individually?
A: You may snip these trusses of tomatoes off with a pair of scissors or secateurs. Just be sure not to clip the main vine. Also, you may not wish to clip the entire cluster if most of the tomatoes in it are not ripe or nearly ripe.
Q: I want to start manufacturing gourmet dog food to sell. What do I need to do?
A: Georgia feed laws and rules and regulations require that all feed manufacturers obtain a commercial feed license, and all pet foods or specialty pet foods in packages of 10 pounds or less require registration. These rules and regulations were designed to ensure that feed manufacturers properly label their products. This is done by label review and product sampling. Please contact our Seed, Fertilizer and Feed Section at 404-656-3637 for more information.
Q: Why have I been told not to put tomatoes in the refrigerator?
A: Refrigerating a fresh tomato can give it a canned, processed flavor. Do not refrigerate tomatoes except for food safety reasons i.e. saving sliced tomatoes for later use or marinating the tomatoes overnight.
Q: What are some good herbs to grow for herbal tea?
A: There are numerous herbs to grow for tisanes or herbal teas. The various mints (peppermint, spearmint, orange mint and others) are, by far, the most popular. They are used by themselves or to flavor true tea. Other herbs to try include chamomile, rosemary, catnip, lemon grass, lemon balm, lemon basil, lemon verbena, lavender, anise hyssop and pineapple sage.
Q: What are some good tomato varieties to plant for a late crop?
A: Almost any variety will do. Varieties with disease resistance are a good idea if you have had problems in the past. Some people choose varieties that are good for storing through the winter such as ‘Longkeeper’ or one of the plum tomatoes such as ‘Roma’ or ‘Viva Italia.’
Q: Are peaches native to Georgia?
A: Peaches are native to China, where they have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years. Spanish explorers first brought peaches to North America in the 1500s. American Indians began growing them and wild animals, such as black bears, helped disperse the seeds. Later settlers found descendants of those early Spanish peach trees and thought they were native. Confusion about the origins of peaches is not new. Even the famous botanist and taxonomist Carolus Linneaus was mistaken. He gave peaches the botanical name Prunus persica, the persica meaning “from Persia.” Although peaches originated on the other side of the world, Georgia has made them her own.
Q: Is there a scientific way to measure how sweet a peach is?
A: There is a unit of measurement called “degrees Brix” or simply “Brix,” which measures the percentage of dissolved solids in water at a set temperature. In a peach or a grape, the only dissolved solids of any significant mass are sugars, and it’s for this reason that Brix is often used to determine sugar content in products like wine and fruits that are prized for their sweetness. The Brix scale goes from 0 to 100, but a 17-18 Brix reading is said to be about a perfect peach. Brix is measured with a fractometer.
Q: What is the difference between grape tomatoes and cherry tomatoes?
A: Both are descriptive terms used to describe groups of tomatoes based their shape. Cherry tomatoes are small, round tomatoes and grape tomatoes are small tomatoes shaped like table grapes. There are many varieties of cherry tomatoes. They are popular, easy to grow and very productive. There are fewer varieties of grape tomatoes and they are reported to be less productive. Other groups of tomatoes named after fruits include:
- Pear tomatoes are small with a classic pear shape – narrow at the top and larger and rounded at the bottom.
- Currant tomatoes are like small cherry tomatoes. They are among the smallest and sweetest tomatoes. One gardener refers to them as “tomato M&M’s.”
- Plum tomatoes are oblong and smaller than standard tomatoes. They are primarily used for cooking.
- Peach tomatoes have a matte to fuzzy skin instead of a shiny skin. The ‘Garden Peach’ variety could possibly be mistaken for a peach at first glance because it is yellow and sometimes has a pink blush.
Q: Is it true there are square watermelons?
A: In Japan some farmers produce square watermelons by placing the young fruits in containers. The melons grow to assume the shape of the box they have been placed in. Pictures of these melons often appear on the internet. The square melons are supposedly easier to store, but their appeal is probably due more to their novelty rather than their practicality. They command a much higher price than their round counterparts.
Q: What is the greenish-yellow substance I get on my hands when I pick tomatoes?
A: The substance is a combination of chemical compounds that come from glands on the tomato leaves and stems. The glands and the substances they contain probably help protect the tomato plant against attacks from insect pests and diseases and possibly from extremes of heat and light and other environmental challenges. If the substance is irritating to you, think how irritating it may be to a hungry, small insect that has not evolved to deal with it. Do not let it deter you from harvesting your delicious tomatoes. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and wash your hands with soap and water immediately after working with your tomato plants if you find the substance irritating.
Q: Are cicadas dangerous?
A: No. These insects may seem frightening because of their odd looks and because they are large and loud, but they do not bite or sting, and they are not poisonous to you or your pets. After mating, a female cicada will lay her eggs in twigs ¼ to ½ inch in diameter. This will cause the twigs to die. This can damage some small trees, but generally it is not serious or extensive, and there is not an effective preventative if it were. Large trees show no long-term harm from the twig dieback. So sit back and enjoy the dog day chorus of these odd-looking, but fascinating, insects.
Q: What is fenugreek?
A: Fenugreek is a member of the pea family, but it is used more as an herb or spice than as a vegetable. It is a common ingredient in many curries. It is sometimes grown as sprouts for salads.
Consumer Qs is a weekly Q&A column written by Arty Schronce. It appears in newspapers across the state. For more information write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 404-656-3656.