Q: What exactly are muscadines? I am from up North and am unfamiliar with them.
A: Muscadines are a kind of grape. They are native to the southeastern U.S. from Delaware to Missouri to Texas. You are probably more familiar with bunch grapes such as ‘Concord’ or any of the table grapes you see for sale in large bunches at the grocery story. Muscadines do not grow in large bunches but in small clusters. The individual grapes are usually larger than those of bunch grapes, however. The skin of muscadines is thicker than bunch grapes. It is edible, but most muscadine eaters take one of the grapes and squirt the juicy flesh into their mouth and discard the skin. 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 referred to as “scuppernongs” after the original white variety which was named ‘Scuppernong.’
Muscadines are good for fresh eating. They have a different flavor from the bunch grapes you were familiar with in the North, but give muscadines a try. Their flavor is often richer, muskier and more complex than many bunch grapes. Muscadines also make one of the most flavorful jellies you’ll ever eat. Muscadine wine is a favorite of many as a dessert wine.
Muscadines are popular with home gardeners because they generally require less care in our climate than many of the bunch grape varieties.
Muscadines ripen in the late summer and early fall. If you are interested in muscadines, visit a pick-your-own operation or a farmers market to buy some direct from the source. You’ll enjoy getting to know this Southern grape.Q: Will a pesticide remain viable longer if I pour it in an airtight container?
A: You should never store pesticides in containers that were not intended for that purpose. Keep the pesticide in the container it came in. That includes insecticides, herbicides, fungicides or any other kind of pesticide in any form – liquid, powder or granule. People, pets and livestock may be killed by accidentally consuming a pesticide or drinking or eating from a container that once held a pesticide. Children as well as adults have died from drinking pesticides that were being stored in a soft drink bottle, sports drink bottle, juice bottle or similar container.
Q: Are there any evergreen ferns that are hardy outdoors?
A: Four possible choices are the holly fern, Christmas fern, ebony spleenwort, and autumn fern. Holly fern is better for the coast and Piedmont, but the other three will thrive throughout the state.
Q: My neighbor has perennial zinnias – they come back every year. All I have ever seen are annual zinnias. Are these perennial ones new?
A: Your neighbor does not have perennial zinnias. A perennial is a plant that lives from year to year. Zinnias are annuals; the plants are killed by freezing temperatures. Your neighbor’s zinnias are coming back the following year from seeds that the plants dropped. Perhaps your neighbor is even breaking apart the old flower heads and scattering these seeds around his garden himself. 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, abelmoschus, torenia, impatiens, sunflower, salvia and other annuals often re-seed themselves.
Q: What is the best way to store cheese?
A: Refrigerate cheese in its original wrapping until ready to use. When cheese is removed from its original packaging, wrap it tightly with plastic film wrap or foil. Once cheese is exposed to air, molding and dehydration may occur. To help protect cheese from mold, double-wrap it and place it in a sealed container after each use. You may wish to store cheese in a refrigerator drawer so it does not pick up flavors from other foods. Strong-smelling cheeses, like Limburger, should be wrapped well and kept in a separate container to prevent their odors from transferring to other foods. As a general rule, the harder the cheese, the longer its shelf-life. Hard cheeses such as Parmesan, Cheddar, Swiss, Colby and Monterey Jack, will generally keep for several months, whereas softer cheeses will keep from one to three weeks after opening. Large pieces of cheese tend to keep longer than shredded cheese.
Q: What is creamline milk?
A: Creamline milk is milk that has not been homogenized. A line of cream will form at the top because cream is lighter than the rest of the milk and rises to the surface.
Q. I’m thinking of purchasing a pet – something other than a dog or cat. Do you have any suggestions for something different but that is easy to care for?
A. Please carefully consider your desire for a pet and thoroughly research any option you are considering. Every animal requires care, even ones commonly referred to as “low maintenance.” A pet’s differentness and its supposed ease of care should not be the sole reasons for your selection. Beware of anyone using high-pressure sales tactics or using “easy to care for” as a selling point. Ask yourself, “Do I really want this pet and can I provide a suitable home for it and meet its requirements?” Unusual and exotic animals can make rewarding pets, but many have specialized needs. Also, because it is less common, you may have more trouble finding a veterinarian experienced in treating it or even finding someone to care for it when you are away. Read everything you can on the pet you are considering. Talk to others who have one. Do your homework.
Q: I saw a fern in Savannah that someone called the Huguenot fern. I cannot find it in any of my reference books. Do you know what it could be?
A: The Huguenot fern is also known as the spider-brake fern and is listed that way in most references. Its botanical name is Pteris multifida. The fern is native to Asia. Huguenot fern supposedly got that name from growing in the Huguenot cemetery in Charleston, SC. It may be found growing in scattered locations around Georgia, usually in old rock walls. It is an invasive species and will sprout where it is not wanted. It is best to choose a native fern instead of it.
Q: What is a farmlet?
A: There is not a legal definition for the word. It is usually used to describe a very small operation that grows and sells vegetables and fruits.
Q: My church is celebrating its 100th anniversary in October. We want to plant a tree that will be there when we celebrate our bicentennial. Do you have any suggestions? Is October a good month to plant?
A: Congratulations! Planting a tree is a good way to celebrate such an event. Fall is an ideal time to plant trees. In fact, it is preferred over spring planting. There are numerous long-lived trees that are possibilities. Many oaks will be suitable. A few of the best include the stately white oak (Quercus alba) or, if you live in coastal or south Georgia, the live oak (Quercus virginiana), our state tree. (Live oak will grow farther north, but does not attain the size and longevity it does in our southern and coastal counties.) The willow oak (Quercus phellos) with its narrow, willow-like leaves, is a favorite. Two other excellent oaks are the swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii) – it does not require a swamp to thrive – and the Southern red oak (Quercus falcata), also known as Spanish oak. A tall and unique tree that would be a good choice is the tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). It has leaves that are unlike those of any other American tree, and has attractive green and orange flowers. Some of the oldest trees in Eastern America are bald cypresses (Taxodium distichum). One tree in Florida is estimated to be 3,500 years old. These trees will grow in standing water or in regular soil. The same is true for the closely related pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens.) Although not common, the cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) is a desirable choice. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) grows to be a large and beautiful tree, but some people have a love-hate relationship with it because its leathery leaves take a long time to decompose. If you plant it, consider leaving the lower branches so the dropped leaves can simply fall or be raked around the base and naturally mulch the tree. One of the most quietly beautiful trees in America is the American beech (Fagus grandifolia) with its smooth, light gray bark and its bronze to gold fall foliage.
These are just a few suggestions. Your local garden center or nursery can give you more information and suggest which trees are suitable for your particular needs or location.
A few other tips: Be sure to leave enough room for your tree. Find out what its ultimate height and width are expected to be. Do not plant under power lines or too close to buildings. It would be a shame to have to top or severely prune the tree 30 years from now because it was poorly sited. Don’t be afraid to plant a small tree, even a sapling. Smaller trees can overtake trees that are already large when planted. The small ones are also more economical, are easier to plant and often have fewer problems. Remember, you are planting for 2111; there is no need to rush!
Planting a tree is an excellent way to connect the past and the future. One day children will be able to look at the tree you planted and say, “I remember when we planted that way back in 2011!”
Q: What are some different ways to use zucchini?
A: Zucchini can be battered and fried. Instead of French fries made with Irish potatoes, use zucchini instead. The “fries” can even be baked if you want to cut down on oil. Zucchini can be sautéed. Slice some thinly and put it in a pot with a little olive oil or butter and black pepper. Cover it and turn on the heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Try zucchini in breads, muffins and cakes. Slice zucchini thinly and use it with Vidalia onions, broccoli florets and tomatoes for a vegetable pizza. Use it in vegetable lasagna and in casseroles. Use raw zucchini in salads or cube and slice it for crudités that can be served with a dip or dressing.
Q: Do I need to have a permit to keep peafowl? I want to purchase a peacock and a peahen as well.
A: You do not need a permit from the Georgia Department of Agriculture to keep peafowl, although you should check to make sure you are not violating any local ordinances or homeowner covenants. Birds coming from out of state will require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, however. Before you purchase any animal, make sure you can meet all of that animal’s needs. You should also consider your neighbor’s needs as well. Is that animal going to be too noisy? (Peacocks can really yell.) Will it go over the fence and damage a neighbor’s garden or property? (Peafowl will peck vegetables, scratch in flowerbeds and have been known to attack their reflection in the bumpers of cars.) Peafowl do not endear themselves with neighbors in many cases. Get all the facts before you make a decision on purchasing any animal you are unfamiliar with.
Q: Is rain more beneficial to the garden than watering with a hose?
A: Some people believe it is, although there are no scientific studies we know of to back it up. Possible reasons that it could be include: 1) Rain usually brings lower temperatures and an overcast sky, both of which help invigorate plants by slowing transpiration. 2) Getting the entire plant wet, especially wilting leaves, can give it a perked up appearance. 3) The increased humidity before, during and after the rain can help perk up a plant and keep it looking perked up longer than it would be from just watering it with a hose. 4) You may not be putting down as much water as you think you are when you are watering by hand. A 15-minute shower is a brief period of rain, but holding a garden hose watering for 15 minutes can seem like an eternity. 5) The feeder roots of many plants, especially trees and shrubs, spread out much farther than most people imagine. It could be you are not getting the water where most of the roots can absorb it. Rainfall would reach those areas.
Gardeners have various other speculations about whether rainfall is more beneficial than irrigation or watering by hand and the reason or reasons why. Some claim that nitrogen in the rainwater is a reason. Others cite that fluoride and chlorine in city water are injurious to plants, although the belief that rainfall is better than watering by hand usually applies to both well water and tap water from municipal sources.
Rain at the proper time can certainly be beneficial to farmers and gardeners. Farmers prefer to have adequate rainfall throughout the growing season as it lowers their costs rather than having to irrigate. No farmer wants to spend money on labor and fuel to irrigate if he doesn’t have to. Gardeners do not like having to drag hosepipes around, move sprinklers or pay higher water bills either.
Q: How many companies are roasting coffee in Georgia?
A: There are 40 licensed coffee roasters in Georgia. You can get your French roast, breakfast blend, medium strength – however you like your java – from a company right here in the Peach State.
Q: When are okra pods ready to eat?
A: You can start harvesting them when quite small, practically as soon as the blossom falls off. Small ones are especially sought for pickling. Most people let the pods get a little larger for frying or for adding to vegetable soups. The most important thing to remember about harvesting okra is not letting the pods get too large. When large, they become tough and stringy. Be vigilant; the pods can grow very quickly. Check them daily during the growing season.
Q: Is Chinese privet a good shrub to use as a trimmed, formal hedge?
A: Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense) can be kept as a trimmed hedge. However, it is not the best choice. It grows very rapidly and requires constant work to keep trimmed and looking neat. Also, it can be very invasive if it blooms and sets seed. Sometimes it manages to have flowers even when trimmed. It is overrunning many forested areas. Try yaupon or another small-leaved holly or a type of boxwood to create your hedge. Visit your local nursery and ask a horticulturist there for more suggestions specific to your needs and site.
Q: What do I do if my sorghum crystallizes? Is it still good to eat?
A: Sorghum, like honey, can crystallize. Putting it in a pan of warm water or in a safe microwaveable container in your microwave oven will restore it to a usable form.