Question: Whatever happened to Bermuda onions?
Answer: Before it was known for its sandy beaches and distinctive pants, Bermuda was famous for its sweet onions. Seeds of the onions grown on the island were eventually brought to the United States where farmers in Florida, Texas and California began to grow them.
The 1920 spring catalog of the H. G. Hastings Company in Atlanta stated that the firm had introduced the onion as a commercial crop to Florida “some 29 years ago” and that the company’s Bermuda onions were the “earliest, mildest flavored” and “most attractive onions in the world.” The catalog also stated, “They are so mild in flavor that many people eat them raw like an apple.”
For many years, varieties with Bermuda in their name or collectively known as Bermuda onions were popular with consumers and farmers as well as home gardeners. In the produce market of today, however, Bermuda onions have been replaced for the most part by various sweet onions from Texas, Washington, Peru and, of course, the world-famous Vidalia® onions grown only here in Georgia.
The name still survives in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards for grades of “Bermuda-Granex-Grano Type Onions.” It may be hard, if not impossible, to find Bermuda onions in restaurants and supermarkets today, but gardeners can find seeds for Crystal Wax Bermuda and possibly other Bermuda varieties from a few seed companies.
Q: A large and ferocious-looking spider has taken up residence outside my garage. I was told it was a golden silk orbweaver and that it is harmless, but it still scares me, and I don’t want it where it is. Any advice?
Answer: The golden silk orbweaver and other similar spiders can be a little intimidating due to their large size. They are not just harmless; they are also considered beneficial. Since they eat mosquitoes and wasps, it may be good to have one under the eaves of your house or porch or near a window even if the spider does look like it escaped from a Tarzan movie or a remake of “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”
As a general rule, spiders will move to another place when you destroy their web with a broom or stick. That is the best thing to do if the web is in a pathway or in some other place you do not want it. Do not use any kind of pesticide or bug killer due to the expense and also because the spider is harmless and beneficial. It will die with the approach of cold weather and freezing temperatures.
Q. What is teff? I saw a bag of it next to the oatmeal in the grocery store.
A. Teff (Eragrostis tef) is sometimes called the world’s smallest grain and is originally from Ethiopia. The small seeds are boiled and eaten like oatmeal or porridge. It has a rich, nutty flavor and is sometimes eaten with butter, honey and raisins. The small seeds are also ground into flour. Packages of teff and teff flour usually have basic preparation instructions and often have other recipes such as pancakes, muffins, cookies and even teff hushpuppies.
Q: How cold hardy are brugmansias (angel’s trumpets)? Can I leave mine outside in the winter or do I need to dig it up.
A: There is not a definitive answer as to the cold hardiness of brugmansias. We do not know of any authoritative research done on the subject. Some references list them as root hardy (will get killed back to the roots and sprout again in the spring) to USDA Hardiness Zone 7b. That zone has a usual winter extreme temperature of 0 to 5 degrees F. There are exceptions. Some varieties are more cold hardy than others, and if properly sited (a protected and well-drained spot) and heavily mulched, they may be hardy farther north.
To improve the chances for your brugmansia to withstand the winter outdoors, mulch it heavily prior to frost. Some gardeners recommend leaving the stalks and not cutting them back until spring. You may also have better luck getting your brugmansias to overwinter outdoors if you plant then in late spring or early summer so that they have a well-established root system before cold weather arrives.
Those that survive the winter and come back from the roots may be slow to get started when warm weather arrives. For this reason, some gardeners prefer to start each spring with new plants they have purchased or with ones that they carried over indoors. However, even if they have a slow start, brugmansias bloom for a long period into the fall, so be patient; you’ll get plenty of blooms.
One problem with overwintering brugmansias as houseplants is that they are prone to pests such as spider mites and aphids. Some people overcome this by letting them go dormant in a cool, unheated location such as a garage.
Some gardeners take cuttings in the fall, root them and pot them in the winter, and then plant them outdoors in the spring after danger of frost is past. The cuttings root easily in water or in moist sand.
Cold hardiness is a tricky subject. Each winter is different, and different factors can come into play. If you have brugmansias and live in an area where their hardiness is in question, try several methods to protect them to find out what works best for you and the varieties you have.
Q: I bought a tropical passionflower vine on sale at a local nursery. An orange and silver butterfly keeps landing on it. (It was even landing on it at the nursery.) I thought it might be a monarch butterfly, but I looked up the monarch, and it is different. Any ideas as to what it could be?
A: It sounds like a Gulf fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae). It is a rich, rusty orange on the upper side of the wings. The undersides of the wings are distinguished by panes of iridescent silver. Its front wings are somewhat elongated, giving it a narrower appearance than most of our common butterflies.
Gulf fritillaries lay their eggs exclusively on passionflowers including Georgia’s two native species of passionflowers: mollypop/maypop (Passiflora incarnata) and the green passionflower (Passiflora lutea) as well as the many tropical species of passionflowers. Many people grow passionflowers for the sole reason of attracting these butterflies.
If you don’t want Gulf fritillary caterpillars eating your passionflower vine, they can be picked off by hand. (They’re brownish orange with black spines – a little scary looking, but harmless to you.) Using an insecticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis is another option. However, as stated earlier, many people plant passionflowers in order to attract these butterflies to their garden and ignore the caterpillars. In fact, you may want to go back to the nursery and buy another passionflower – one for you and one for the butterflies. (Hopefully, they will still be on sale!)
Q: What do you do with the Striped Toga variety of eggplant? Is it even edible?
A: This curious and attractive little eggplant may be grilled on skewers, sautéed or fried. Because of its colorful, small fruits, it may be grown strictly as an ornamental or novelty in a flower garden. Its clusters of orange and green-striped fruits may even be used in flower arrangements.
Georgia farmers grow numerous varieties of eggplant including green, orange, purple, slender, fat and white ones. If you only know the giant, dark purple ones you see at the supermarket, give another variety a try.
Q: When do I sow California poppies?
A: September, October and November are good times in Georgia to sow California poppies. That is also the time to sow other hardy annuals such as corn poppy and other true poppies, cornflower and larkspur. These seeds can be found at garden centers and nurseries, which are where you will also find plants of other hardy annuals such as snapdragons, pansies and violas that can be planted in the fall.
Q: Does red okra stay red when cooked?
A: Red okra will turn dark green when cooked.
Q: Can I eat peas and beans that have dried on the vine?
A: Yes. When you shell them, check them for any insects or mold and make sure they are thoroughly dry before you store them in an airtight container for use this fall or winter. Usually, moisture and high humidity keep peas and beans from drying on the vine, so use the heat and dry weather to your advantage; harvest and enjoy.
Q: How long is Georgia’s apple season?
A: The bulk of Georgia’s apple harvest is in the late summer and fall (August–December), but a few varieties ripen in early summer. This long harvest season is due to our state’s geography (north-south orientation and changes in elevation) and due to the fact that we grow almost four dozen varieties commercially and all do not ripen at the same time.
If you are familiar with only one or two apple varieties, make this the year to try something different like an Arkansas Black, Detroit Red, Stayman Winesap, Limbertwig, Ozark Gold, Lady, Cameo, Ginger Gold, Goldrush, Horse, Rome Beauty, Pritchett Golden, Braeburn, Criterion, Splendor, Swiss Gourmet, Yates, Empire, Albemarle Pippin, McIntosh, Mutsu, Gala, Pristine or Honeycrisp.
Buy Georgia Grown apples in grocery stores, at farmers markets or at the orchard. A day trip to a Georgia apple orchard can be a fun and educational adventure for the whole family. If you want more festivity, the 45th Georgia Apple Festival will be held in Ellijay on the weekends of October 8-9 and October 15-16.
Q: What is the best way to preserve pecans that I am not going to eat right away?
A: Freezing is one of the best ways to store pecans. Shell the pecans and put them in an airtight freezer bag or other airtight container. Shelled pecans will take up less space and will be ready to use when you take them out of the freezer. They will keep for up to two years in the freezer.
Q: Do yellow jacket/wasp catchers work? They look like a glass bottle with a cork in the top hole and an opening on the bottom with a reservoir that holds sugar water, apple juice or some sweet liquid lure to attract the insects. They fly in for the sweet concoction but can’t find their way out and drown in the liquid. There are yellow jackets flying on my porch and I don’t want to spray insecticide there.
A: We do not know of any scientific studies testing the effectiveness of these traps or studies about what lure is best to use in them. There are numerous traps on the market, some of which make attractive ornaments for hanging on the porch whether they catch any insects or not. There are also manufactured plastic traps that are widely available, and there are numerous videos and instructions available on the internet for constructing your own from plastic soft drink bottles.
Those who want to share their experiences with or tips for using wasp catchers are encouraged to write Arty Schronce, Georgia Department of Agriculture, Room 128, 19 Martin Luther King Drive, Atlanta, GA 30334 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Can I sow zinnia seeds in the fall? My neighbor’s zinnias re-seed themselves every year from seeds they drop in the fall.
A: Numerous annuals will “self-sow” when they are allowed to set seed and the garden soil and conditions are adequate for the seeds to sprout and grow. These are sometimes referred to as “re-seeding annuals.” Petunia, cosmos, marigold, hibiscus manihot (Abelmoschus manihot), torenia, impatiens, sunflower, salvia, zinnia and other annuals may re-seed themselves. Gardeners may lend a helping hand by breaking apart the old flower heads and scattering the seeds around in the fall. The success of this depends on whether or not the seeds get eaten by mice, birds or other animals and that they are not washed away by winter rains. Also, if you sow zinnia seeds in the fall while the weather is warm, they could go ahead and sprout and the seedlings will be killed by frost. If you have leftover or extra zinnia seeds, you can sow them in the fall, but be aware you may need to sow again in the spring.
Q: Are muscadines grapes?
A: Yes, muscadines are a species of grape. However, they are so different in appearance and taste from the more familiar bunch grapes that many people don’t refer to them as grapes.
Muscadines do not grow in large bunches but in small clusters. The individual grapes are usually larger than those of bunch grapes and the skin is thicker. Their flavor is often described as richer, muskier and more complex than that of bunch grapes. They are good for fresh eating and prized for making flavorful jellies. They are also used to make juice and wine.
Most muscadines are purple (sometimes called black) or bronze or gold (sometimes called white). A few are classified as red. The light-colored muscadines are sometimes called “scuppernongs” after the original white variety which was named Scuppernong.
Muscadines ripen in the late summer and early fall. If you have never tried them, visit a pick-your-own operation or a farmers market to buy some direct from the source.
Q: A nursery catalog described some muscadine varieties as female and some as self-fertile. What does this mean?
A: Muscadine flowers can be male, female or self-fertile. Self-fertile flowers are sometimes referred to as “perfect” flowers because they contain both male parts (stamens) and female parts (pistils). Generally, in nature, muscadine vines are either female or male and only the female vines set fruit. The male vines provide the pollen that allows fertilization to take place and fruit to be produced. Before self-fertile varieties were widely available, vineyards were planted with female varieties with male plants interspersed to pollinize them. The male vines served the purpose of drones in a honeybee hive.
Self-fertile vines discovered in the wild have been used to breed more varieties that can produce their own pollen to fertilize their own flowers and those of other vines. This has allowed vineyards to be more productive. Vineyards today often consist of a mix of female and self-fertile vines. New muscadine varieties are being bred and selected all the time, so who knows what traits (such as productivity, disease resistance, color and flavor) future varieties may possess.
Q: I heard that placing houseplants in cachepots is not good for them. Is this true?
A: Cachepots, the ornamental pots that are used to hold or conceal a less attractive container in which plants are growing, can cause problems and even lead to the death of your plants if not properly used.
The cachepot usually has no hole at the bottom to allow water to drain away. This can help protect floors and furniture surfaces but can lead to rotting roots because the plant is left sitting in water for extended periods. To avoid this it is best to remove your plant before watering and allow the water to drain completely out of the pot before placing it back into the cachepot.
If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (email@example.com) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.