Q: Will the television show about Georgia families that have been on their farms for more than 100 years be shown again?
A: Georgia Public Broadcasting devoted one entire show of its Georgia Outdoors series to some of the farmers whose families have been operating their farms for at least 100 continuous years. The Centennial Farms show originally aired in May and is being rebroadcast. Check your local GPB listings. The show may be watched online at http://www.gpb.org/georgia-outdoors# anytime. It is beautiful and informative. Watch it if you can.
Q: Is it too early to stake tomatoes?
A: Stake tomatoes and make trellises for runner beans as soon as possible after planting.
Q: What kind of tree paint is best for painting over where branches have been pruned?
A: The use of tree paint and wound dressing is no longer recommended. Research has proven that they do not prevent decay or help the tree in any way.
Q: What could cause my cucumbers to be small and crooked?
A: Lack of moisture, poor pollination due to lack of bees, a low percentage of male flowers or low temperatures at the time of flowering.
Q: What is the difference between determinate tomato plants and indeterminate tomato plants? I see these words on labels at nurseries.
A: Determinate varieties of tomatoes are more compact than indeterminate varieties. They “top out” (stop growing taller) when fruit sets on the terminal or top bud. They ripen all their tomatoes at or near the same time, usually over a few weeks. Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are also called "vining" tomatoes. They will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although six feet is more common. They will bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit throughout the growing season.
Q: Can pickling cucumbers be eaten fresh?
A: Yes. Pickling cucumbers hold up better during the canning and pickling process than those sold as “salad” or “slicing” cucumbers. However, that does not mean they must be used exclusively to make pickles. In fact, some people prefer them for fresh eating to the salad/slicing types.
Q: What brand of meat thermometer is best?
A: We do not test kitchen equipment or make brand recommendations. Consider subscribing to Consumer Reports, Cook’s Illustrated or Cook’s Country magazines. Their staffs test all manner of equipment.
Q: What is flatiron steak?
A: Flatiron steak is a shoulder top blade steak cut from the chuck section of the carcass. The flatiron lends itself to grilling, broiling and pan frying. For maximum tenderness, cook it slowly, as in stewing or braising.
Q: I want to teach my Boy Scouts about edible plants found in the wild. Do you have any information or suggestions?
A: Here are some points to remember about eating plants you find in the wild:
NEVER eat or even taste anything unless you are absolutely certain you know what it is. Some poisonous plants resemble edible ones. Technically mushrooms are not plants, but we will mention them. There are many edible mushrooms growing wild in Georgia. However, there are also poisonous, even deadly, ones that look similar to edible species.
Many plants are technically edible. That is, they can be eaten without making you sick or killing you. However, that doesn’t mean that they are especially tasty, provide good nutrition or that you will find them in the produce section at your grocery store anytime soon.
Make sure you are not gathering anything from a contaminated site. For example, watercress and other edible water plants can grow along a stream contaminated with sewage. Plants along a railroad or highway may have been sprayed with herbicides to inhibit growth.
Never decimate a population to feed yourself or your troop. If you find edible plants, leave some of them to set seed and to reproduce. If you wipe them out, other people will not be able to see, enjoy or use them. Also, birds and other wildlife depend on the plants. Leave some for them. At the end of the day, you can go to the grocery store or farmers market and buy all the food you want; the animals cannot.
You may consider landscaping with some native edible plants at the place where your troop meets. Some are available at nurseries and garden centers.
Following are a few edible native and naturalized plants that you may want to look up and discuss with your Scouts. Some such as hickories, blackberries, blueberries have more than one species. And some such as strawberries, blueberries and muscadines have domesticated forms and varieties.
Fruits: American persimmon, wild strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, dewberry, mayhaw, muscadine, fox grape, Eastern prickly pear, wild cherry, mollypop or maypop, serviceberry or sarvisberry, elderberry.
Nuts: Hickory, pecan, black walnut, beech.
Tubers: Jerusalem artichoke, chufa or nutsedge, groundnut (Apios americana).
Young shoots and leaves: watercress, peppergrass, shepherd’s purse, chickweed, lamb’s quarters, purslane, stinging nettle, ostrich fern fiddleheads, dandelion.
Flowers: yucca, redbud or Judas tree, elderberry and cattail. (The rhizome, young shoots, young flower spike and pollen of cattails may be eaten. The pollen may be shaken into pancake batter.)
Because common names vary from place to place, make sure you and your audience have the same plant in mind when you say something is edible.
Here are a few books that will be helpful: Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons; The Forager's Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants by Samuel Thayer; Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide by Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman; A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America (A Peterson Field Guide) by Lee Allen Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson. Your local library or bookstore may have others.
Q: What is the tree with the seeds that spin like helicopter blades when they fall? The seeds have a papery wing shaped like a rudder or feather.
A: You are probably thinking of a maple. There are numerous species of maples. Among the most common ones are our native red maple, silver maple, sugar maple, Southern sugar maple and box elder. (The box elder is a maple that has divided leaves unlike a typical maple.) There are also introduced species such as the popular Japanese maple.
The winged seeds of maples are a joy to watch as they spin down from the tree. These aerial maneuvers are not just for our enjoyment, however, but help distribute the seeds over a broader area.
Many adults have happy memories as children of watching falling maple seeds, gathering them and throwing them back into the air. We know of one creative bride who collected maple seeds and had a flower girl throw them instead of flower petals as she walked down the aisle – a way of connecting childhood and adulthood and creating another happy memory.
Q: Will adding sugar to the planting hole make my tomatoes sweeter? What about adding eggshells to the soil when planting tomatoes? I have heard this helps the plants.
A: Adding sugar to the soil will not make your tomatoes sweeter. Some people claim adding sugar, syrup or molasses to the planting hole will lessen the problems caused by nematodes. We have not seen any scientific evidence about the effectiveness of this, however, and recommend nematode-resistant varieties, rotation with non-susceptible crops, solarization and adding organic matter to the soil to help combat nematode problems if you have them. And it is better to pour molasses on hot biscuits than into the ground.
Very finely crushed eggshells added to the soil at planting can provide some of the calcium tomatoes need to help prevent blossom-end rot. The eggshells could be beneficial for peppers and eggplants as well for the same reason. Proper soil pH, nutrients and adequate moisture are required for preventing blossom-end rot. Just adding a few eggshells will not necessarily solve this problem if you have had it in the past.
Q: I want a fragrant garden. What flowers are the most fragrant?
A: There are many fragrant flowers. Here are a few shrubs, trees, vines, annuals and perennials to consider: banana shrub, gardenia, wintersweet, witch-hazel, winter daphne, winter honeysuckle/sweet-breath-of-spring, Carolina jessamine, sweet-bubby bush/sweetshrub, Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii), fragrant snowball (Viburnum x carlcephalum), Southern magnolia, sweet bay magnolia, Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume), Alabama azalea (Rhododendron alabamense), sweet azalea, (Rhododendron arborescens), pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), tea olive, narcissus, snapdragon, night-blooming jasmine, mock orange, tuberose, hardy ginger/butterfly ginger, cottage pinks/perennial dianthus, bearded iris, phlox, peony, four-o’clock, stock, old-fashioned petunia and flowering tobacco/nicotiana. Japanese honeysuckle has a delightfully sweet fragrance, but is so prone to take over and become a serious weed that we don’t recommend planting it. Also, it is widespread enough that you will probably come upon it without growing it yourself.
Many roses are fragrant, especially old varieties like ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’ and ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison,’ but many newer varieties such as ‘Double Delight,’ ‘Mr. Lincoln,’ ‘Scentimental,’ ‘Memorial Day,’ ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and ‘Fragrant Cloud’ are also known for their fragrances.
Fragrance can be subjective. What delights one person’s nose you may find heavy and cloying, and you may like a fragrance outdoors but be overpowered by it after several hours in a closed room.
Also, fragrance varies with the time of day. Banana shrub blooms have little fragrance in the morning but smell like banana Popsicles in the afternoon. Sweet-bubby bush also may seem scentless in the morning, but in the warmth of an April afternoon it releases an enigmatic fragrance that may be a mix of apples, cantaloupes, strawberries and spices. Four-o’clocks, night-blooming jasmine, hardy ginger, nicotiana and petunias are flowers that don’t release much or, in some cases, any fragrance until evening. Don’t decide against one just because you are shopping in the morning!
A horticulturist at your nursery or garden center can help you with your choices so you will have fragrance through the year. And don’t forget to consider plants with fragrant leaves such as scented geraniums and herbs.
Q: Deer are ravaging my garden. I can’t fence in my whole property. Are there any plants deer won’t eat? Almost all my hostas have been eaten.
A: We don’t know of any plant that is totally deer resistant. If they are hungry enough, deer will eat almost anything. It makes gardeners wonder if deer herds have hidden woodland pharmacies full of antacids and antidotes enabling them to eat whatever they want.
In the language of the white-tailed deer, the word “hosta” means “salad.” We suggest spraying your favorite specimens with deer-repellent or replacing them with shade-loving plants that are less tasty to deer such as hellebores, mayapples, jack-in-the-pulpit, pulmonaria, wild ginger/little pigs (Asarum sometimes listed as Hexastylis) and certain ferns.
Here are a few plants for Georgia gardens generally considered to be deer resistant or deer tolerant since deer prefer not to browse on them:
Trees and shrubs: barberry, bottlebrush buckeye, boxwood, fig, anise shrub, nandina, banana shrub, Scotch broom, kerria, oleander, pittosporum, Eastern red cedar, pomegranate, gardenia, glossy abelia, viburnum, rosemary, crepe myrtle, witch-hazel, Carolina silverbell, gordonia, wax myrtle, American holly, feijoa, winter daphne, persimmon, pawpaw, most pines, Carolina cherrylaurel, tuliptree/tulip poplar, Southern magnolia, bald cypress, dawn redwood, cryptomeria, sweetgum, river birch and palms.
Perennials, sub-shrubs and annuals: caryopteris, ajuga, aspidistra, holly fern, royal fern, Christmas fern, cinnamon fern, hay-scented fern, ebony spleenwort, yucca, agave, columbine, larkspur, foxglove, Lenten rose and other hellebores, lavender, daffodils and jonquils, prickly pear, meadow rue, purple coneflower, cardinal flower, perovskia, santolina, iris, dianthus, society garlic, mayapple, baptisia, ageratum, angel’s trumpet, epimedium, snowdrops (Galanthus), wild ginger/little pigs (Asarum, sometimes listed as Hexastylis), colchicum, allium, monarda, native asters, boltonia, butterflyweed, crinum, toad lily, liatris, lunaria, agastache, artemesia, dusty miller, rose campion, nicotiana, pulmonaria, Jerusalem sage, basil, salvia, cleome, Madagascar periwinkle/annual periwinkle, California poppy and peony.
Here is a recipe for deer repellent that will help in your vegetable garden and to keep them away from some of your most valuable or vulnerable landscape plants: Beat two raw eggs in a bucket. Add one gallon of water and place one cake of very fragrant soap such as Irish Spring in the mixture. Leave the soap whole. Set the bucket aside for several days. Stir the mixture and strain it into a spray canister. Spray the mixture on the foliage of the plants the deer are eating. Re-apply after rains. After a time, you may only need to spray the plants at the perimeter of the area. (When the deer encounter it, they may back away and go elsewhere to feed.) If you need more than one gallon, add two extra eggs but no more soap. The same bar of soap can be used to make subsequent batches until it dissolves.
Q: Will there be any Georgia Grown farmers market events this year?
A: Yes. There will be several. The Macon Farmer Showcase is coming up on Saturday, May 18, at the Macon State Farmers Market from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This is the first such event for the Macon Market. There will be farmers and vendors selling honey, produce, jelly, soaps, meats and other Georgia products. There will also be an “Ask a Master Gardener” booth, different chicken breeds on display and more. For questions, please call Happy Wyatt, Macon State Farmers Market Manager, at 478-752-1097.
Other Georgia Grown farmers market Events this year are:
Georgia Grown Farmers Showcase -- June 1
Atlanta State Farmers Market
16 Forest Parkway, Forest Park, GA 30297.
Summerfest Savannah -- June 29
Savannah State Farmers Market
701 US Highway 80 West
Savannah, GA 31408
June 8 & 22, July 13 & 27, August 10 & 24, September 14 & 18
Centennial Olympic Park
Telephone: 404-223-4412 www.centennialpark.com
Check our website and the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin for announcements about upcoming Georgia Grown events.
Q: Is there a special type of purslane grown as a vegetable? I saw it listed in a salad recipe. The only purslane I know grows wild and is a weed.
A: Just as there are cultivated forms of dandelion greens with larger leaves than their weedy relations, there are also forms of purslane that are larger and more succulent than the purslane you know as a garden weed. However, you can eat the ones that pop up as weeds, too.
Purslane is eaten primarily in salads. We found some delicious recipes using it with tomatoes, cucumbers and avocadoes. It is also used on sandwiches and with boiled eggs and deviled eggs. It can be sautéed, boiled or even fried. Because it can become mucilaginous when boiled too long, it can be used as a thickener like okra in soups.
Lest you think eating purslane is a new trend, consider this observation from Henry David Thoreau in Walden published in 1854: “I have made a satisfactory dinner, satisfactory on several accounts, simply off a dish of purslane (Portulaca oleracea) which I gathered in my cornfield, boiled and salted.”
-- Arty Schronce
If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, visit our website at www.agr.georgia.gov, write us at 19 MLK Jr. Drive, Room 128, Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about agricultural issues, get garden tips and find sources for flowers, livestock and other products, consider a subscription to The Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. Subscriptions for Georgia residents are $5 per year for the online version and $10 for the print version. To start or renew a subscription, send a check or money order payable to Market Bulletin at the address above or subscribe online at our website.