Question: My arugula has bolted and is flowering. Should I go ahead and pull it up?
Answer: As a general rule, when arugula begins flowering it is time to think about replacing it with summer vegetables, herbs or flowers. Don’t pull it up before you are ready to till the ground or plant your summer options; let the bees and the butterflies enjoy the flowers.
Also don’t be afraid to eat the flowers. They are a colorful and spicy addition to salads or can be used as garnish or to add flavor to dips, deviled eggs, sandwiches or hors d’oeuvres. You may find them for sale at farmers markets along with kale and radish flowers.
Q: I purchased a ham when it was on sale and froze it. What is the best and safest way to thaw it?
A: The best, safest and easiest way is to plan ahead for slow thawing in the refrigerator. It will take about four to six hours per pound.
Once the ham has been defrosted, be sure to cook it to safe end-point temperatures. Using a food thermometer, cook a fresh or smoked raw (uncooked) ham to 145 degrees F and allow it to rest for at least three minutes before slicing. For a fully cooked ham, reheat until the end-point temperature reads 140 degrees F.
Q: I want to grow native plants but do not have a yard. What are some plants native to Georgia or the Southeast that I can grow in containers? I have some sunny and some shaded spots on my deck and patio.
Answer: A few suggestions for the sunny spots are butterflyweed, Eastern prickly pear, thrift (Phlox subulata), wild rosemary (Conradina canescens), Cumberland rosemary (Conradina verticillata), blood sage/Texas sage (Salvia coccinea), gaillardia, blue-eyed grass, Adam’s needle yucca (Yucca filamentosa), purple coneflower, atamasco lily, liatris/blazing star, blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), stokesia, button eryngo (Eryngium yuccifolium) and pitcher plants.
A few suggestions for sun to part shade are cardinal flower, copper iris (Iris fulva), river oats, Eastern agave (Manfreda virginica), pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and Eastern columbine.
For containers in the shade, try little pigs/wild ginger, woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), jack-in-the-pulpit, dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), alumroot (Heuchera villosa), spigelia/Indian pink, (Spigelia marilandica), wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) and ferns such ebony spleenwort.
These groupings are general guidelines and are not written in stone. For example, we have seen Eastern columbine, cardinal flower, pussytoes, Eastern agave and river oats thrive in almost full shade and spigelia withstand fairly sunny conditions.
Horticulturists at your nursery or garden center or members of a local native plant society can provide more information about what plants work best with each other as well as suggesting more possible options and the specific growing requirements of each plant. As a general rule, all potted plants will need more supplemental water than their counterparts planted in the ground.
Q: I need to transplant two cactuses to bigger pots. When is a good time to do this, and how can I do it without turning my hands into pincushions?
A: Spring and early summer are good times to repot cactuses. Leather gloves or a towel or newspaper rolled or folded numerous times can be fashioned as a mitt that will protect your skin and also not damage your cactus.
Getting stuck with one of the tiny spines from the base of the larger spines is one of the most painful and irritating aspects of handling a cactus. These small spines are called glochids, and they attach to your skin. You may not see them or even feel them right away, but you will feel them later when you touch them and they penetrate deeper.
If, in spite of your best efforts, you get a fistful of glochids, remove them using a magnifying glass and tweezers. Then, if necessary, apply a thin layer of white glue such as Elmer’s, cover it with gauze, allow it to dry and peel it off. Some pediatricians report this is better than the often-recommended method of using duct tape or another adhesive tape to remove the little spines.
Q: What are half runner beans?
A: There are several varieties of half runner or half-runner beans. Half runners are like pole beans but do not grow as tall. They do not necessarily require trellising like a pole bean, but many gardeners will put up a mini-trellis of string or twine for the beans to run so that they are easier to pick and will not require as much washing due to soil splashing up on the pods. Mountaineer Half Runner is a popular variety.
Q: Is lavender edible?
A: Lavender is an herb best known for its use in sachets, soaps, perfumes and potpourri. However, it does have culinary uses, and has become more popular as a food ingredient over the past few years. We have seen it used to flavor chocolate, ice cream, lemonade, marshmallows, muffins, bread, roasted potatoes, roasted chicken, sugar, syrup, honey and whipped cream. Fresh lavender flowers may be used to garnish fruit salad, chocolate cake, sorbet and ice cream. The leaves and flowers may be used to make herbal tea. An online search or an herbal cookbook will bring more recipes and information about using lavender in the kitchen.
When cooking with lavender, don’t overdo it or your food may be bitter or smell too much like perfume. Mary Rigdon of Decimal Place Farm (www.decimalplacefarm.com
), concurs. “Use a light touch,” she explained, “or it will be overwhelming.” Rigdon makes a fennel-lavender soft chèvre (goat cheese) that pairs well with tomato soup, beets, sweet peppers and various vegetables and meats.
Combining lavender with another strong flavor such as fennel or lemon is sometimes recommended. Rigdon uses dried herbs to allow the cheese to last longer, but a cook can mix fresh herbs with chèvre, cream cheese or other soft cheeses if they are to be used right away.
If you do not grow lavender yourself but want to use it in cooking, be sure to purchase culinary lavender, not lavender prepared for crafts, potpourri or non-edible uses as that may have been treated with chemicals, pesticides or preservatives not meant for food or food crops.
Look for lavender plants at your garden center or local nursery. They prefer well-drained, alkaline soil, good air circulation and a sunny location.
Q: Do you have some suggestions for green foods for St. Patrick’s Day? I know I can use food coloring but I am looking for some things without the coloring, and preferably using locally grown products.
A: On March 17, most Georgians (especially those in Savannah and Dublin) are a little Irish. Grits and scrambled eggs at breakfast to desserts at suppertime may take on a green hue thanks to a few drops of food coloring. Traditional meals of corned beef and cabbage and Irish potatoes also abound.
For some Georgia greenery to brighten St. Patrick’s Day, visit a local farmers market. Spinach and arugula can be made into kelly green salads or put in a food processor and incorporated into your favorite dips. Blend some with ranch or buttermilk salad dressing. Arugula has a stronger flavor and can change the flavor of the dip or salad dressing, but spinach is mild and you may not even taste it. Kale, also still in season, is dark bluish green but becomes a more moderate green when processed with creamy, white foods. The leaves can be baked to make kale chips. Kale, collards or parsley can be combined with Georgia pecans to make a spring pesto to hold you over until summertime basil arrives. You’ll probably also find cabbage and Irish potatoes at farmers markets, and perhaps corned beef there as well.
Consider green egg salad. Combine mustard, mayonnaise and several handfuls of spinach in a food processor until smooth or a pesto-like consistency and mix with chopped hard-boiled eggs. It is a good way to get children to eat more spinach. The flavor of the eggs and other ingredients overpower the mild flavor of the spinach. You don’t have to tell your children there is a vegetable involved.
Last year we made green cornbread with pumpkin seed flour milled by Oliver Farm (www.oliverfarm.com
) in Wilcox County. The nut of a pumpkin seed has a green coating and the flour imparts its green coloration to baked goods. We used a standard cornbread recipe that called for two cups of cornmeal and no flour. We substituted one cup of the cornmeal with the pumpkin seed flour. It took a little longer to bake than cornbread made with all cornmeal. We were very pleased with the taste and texture. We drizzled the final product pumpkin seed oil instead of butter. The oil can be green but may also look like sorghum syrup on some plates. We’re experimenting with the pumpkin flour in cookies but haven’t perfected the recipes yet.
Q: I heard on the radio about a peanut that was thought to be extinct but was rediscovered. Can you tell me about it?
A: You are probably referring to the Carolina African runner peanut. It was brought to America in the 1600s by slaves and was thought to be extinct. A few were discovered in the seed archives of North Carolina State University by Dr. David Shields, food historian and author of Southern Provisions. The seed may have been saved as part of a breeding survey in the 1930s. Perhaps you heard about the peanut on NPR’s “The Salt.” The peanut is described as smaller, denser and oilier than other peanuts.
The Carolina African runner peanut is now available for gardeners to try. Growing it could be an interesting history project for schools. These two seed catalogs carry it in limited quantities:
Q: Have you ever seen a ripe tomato that has been on the counter for more than a month and a half, has no dark spots, is firm but has sprouts coming to and through the skin? No one seems to have ever seen this before. Can I plant it whole or what? Friends call it weird and alien. Help!
A: The tomato you describe may look like something out of the movie “Alien,” but you can put your friends’ minds at ease! What you are seeing looks strange and is unusual, but it does happen. Usually the gel around the tomato seeds inhibits germination, but sometimes it doesn’t, especially after a long period in storage.
If you see a few seeds sprouting inside a tomato, you can scrape them out and eat the rest of the tomato. Your tomato sounds too far gone to salvage for eating and should be discarded or added to compost pile. You can gently tease the seedlings apart and plant them if you are curious, but we don’t recommend it. This internal sprouting is looked at as an undesirable trait, and it is one that is more likely to appear in a tomato that has been bred for increased shelf-life and for the ability to withstand shipping. These are also probably not traits you really want in a tomato you grow yourself. If you did grow a long-storing tomato variety in your garden, you’d want to collect the seeds at the height of the tomato’s ripeness before there was any internal sprouting and sow them in a seed-starting mixture. You would probably have a better survival rate doing it that way.
Q: Can I go ahead and plant summer flowers and vegetables now (February 27 - Atlanta)? I don’t think we are going to have any more cold. I have the week off, and I am ready and itching to go ahead.
A: It is easier to predict your schedule and your moods than it is to predict the schedule and moods of Mother Nature. It’s still early but if you want to chance it, go ahead. If what you plant gets killed, there will be more you can buy to replace them with.
Q: When will Vidalia® onions be available?
A: Consumers will be able to get the sweet taste of Vidalia® onions a little earlier this year as a result of Georgia’s mild winter. The official pack date is April 12. They will be available in grocery stores and farmers markets after that date.
Q: What is the silver-leaved plant I see planted with pansies? The leaves are velvety.
A: You are probably seeing dusty miller. While we are not likely to encounter a flour-coated miller today the way our ancestors did, you can understand how the plant got its name if you ever tried to bake a cake with the assistance of your three-year-old.
Dusty miller is an annual that shows a good deal of cold hardiness and may sometimes be planted with violas, pansies and other winter annuals. It may live several years if winters are mild.
It is also planted in the spring. Its silver leaves can make the colors of the flowers near it stand out even more. Dusty miller’s own flowers are gold and are attractive, but the plant is grown for its foliage which shines brighter than its flowers. Branches and leaves of dusty miller are even used in flower arrangements and wedding bouquets.
There are several kinds of dusty miller. They vary in leaf shape with some having lacy leaves and others having leaves like silver kale. All prefer full sun.
Q. Why are foods recalled just because an ingredient is not listed on the label?
A. Food manufacturers must list the ingredients on the product label. People need to know what is in the foods they consume. Some ingredients such as shellfish, nuts, peanuts, eggs, milk, soy and wheat can cause allergic reactions in some people. These reactions can be severe and even fatal.
Q: What is the difference between a tree that is labeled a flowering peach and what is just labeled as a peach?
A: A flowering peach is one grown just for the beauty of its flowers. The same is true for cherries and flowering cherries. A flowering peach is still a peach and a flowering cherry is still a cherry, but when you see “flowering” in front of the name you know that they are grown for ornamental reasons, not for fruit production. These trees may produce fruit on occasion, but that is not their purpose. The same general rule applies for any fruit tree or shrub that is labeled “flowering.” Other examples are flowering crabapples and flowering plums. You may sometimes see them labelled “ornamental.”
Another example is flowering quince. These species and hybrids of the genus Chaenomeles may produce fruits that can be used in marmalades and such the same way the fruits of true quince (Cydonia oblongata) are used. However, flowering quinces are mainly ornamental shrubs grown for their floral displays in winter and early spring. True quince is a small tree and is nowhere near as common in Georgia as flowering quinces are.
“Flowering” may also mean that a plant is the showiest or produces the most flowers in its genus. An example is flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). We often call flowering dogwood simply “dogwood” because it is the most common and most popular dogwood in our area. There are other dogwoods, however. Our flowering dogwood is generally considered the showiest of all species of dogwoods.
Q: Does anyone in Georgia raise the chickens that lay colored eggs? I want to buy some of the eggs for Easter.
A: Hens of the Araucana and Ameraucana breeds lay eggs with pale blue to bluish green shells. The chickens known as “Easter Eggers” can lay blue, green, olive or even pink eggs. An Easter Egger is any chicken that possesses the “blue egg” gene, but doesn't fully meet any breed description as defined in the American Poultry Association and/or the American Bantam Association standards. Marans such as the Black Copper Maran lay beautiful dark brown eggs.
These breeds are raised in Georgia but not on a large scale. You may find some by visiting farmers markets or looking in the advertisements for poultry in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. Your county Cooperative Extension office may be able to point you to local people who raise these extraordinary birds.
Having an Easter basket filled with some of their colorful eggs combined with familiar white and brown eggs will be a thing of natural beauty. Also consider that while white eggs are usually dyed for Easter eggs because they provide clearer, brighter colors, dying brown eggs will bring some attractive and interesting results as well. Try all kinds.
Q: Is a zucchini a squash?
A: Yes, a zucchini is a type of summer squash. Zucchini squash were introduced to American gardeners and cooks from Italy long after other summer squashes such as yellow crookneck were well established. Perhaps that is why many people simply called them zucchini; they seemed exotic and were different from the squashes they were familiar with. Or perhaps zucchini is just fun to say.
Consumer Qs is a weekly column that appears in numerous newspapers in Georgia. If you have questions about agriculture or about the services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write to Arty Schronce at firstname.lastname@example.org.