Question: Feral hogs destroyed some of my crops this year. Someone mentioned a new program that helps farmers with this problem. Where can I get more information?
Answer: “Hunters Helping Farmers” seeks to match hog hunters with farmers in the same county who need assistance with hog removal. The initiative is a partnership between the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. For more information visit our website (www.agr.georgia.gov) and click on “Hunters Helping Farmers” or dial 404-586-1484 or 1-844-464-5455 (1-844-HOG-5455).
Q: A friend gave me some oriental persimmons he grew. Do you have suggestions on how to use them besides in cakes and sweets?
A: Oriental persimmons are delicious raw. Astringent varieties like Hachiya and Sheng have to be allowed to fully ripen until they are almost jelly soft. Non-astringent varieties like Fuyugaki can be eaten while they are still firm like an apple. (Do not confuse oriental persimmons with our American persimmon which has small, astringent fruit that is not as versatile as that of the oriental species.)
Here are a few ideas:
Breakfast: Try an oriental persimmon instead of a grapefruit. Top your oatmeal with diced pieces. Slice one and sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese and pecans or English walnuts. Try one as a refreshing dessert following country ham and red-eye gravy.
Fruit salads: Cube a Fuyugaki or another non-astringent oriental persimmon and mix with mango, blueberries, pomegranate arils, apple, pear, banana and pineapple.
Persimmon-Pineapple/Pear Salad: Arrange leaves of iceberg lettuce on a plate. Top with chunks of pineapple and persimmon (either astringent or non-astringent), add a dollop of mayonnaise and sprinkle with grated sharp cheddar cheese. Substitute canned or fresh pears if you don’t like pineapple.
Spinach-Persimmon Salad: Top a plate of fresh spinach with cubes or wedges of a Fuyugaki or another non-astringent persimmon. Sprinkle with blue cheese crumbles and raw or roasted pecans.
Other green salads: Toss spinach, arugula, endive or watercress with an oil-vinegar dressing, add persimmons and top with Parmesan croutons and crumbled bacon. The sweetness of the persimmon complements the bitterness of some of the greens and saltiness of the toppings.
Fruit Salsa: Combine persimmons with Vidalia onions, chiles, herbs, spices, avocado and mangoes to serve with grilled chicken or fish.
Hors d'oeuvres: Cut a firm Fuyugaki or another non-astringent persimmon into wedges and wrap with thin strips of prosciutto.
Georgia Cheese Platter: Serve oriental persimmons and apples with cheeses produced in Georgia such as Thomasville Tomme, Cool Creek Cheddar, Fortsonia and various chevres.
Sandwich: Spread some of the soft pulp of an astringent oriental persimmon on toasted bread with peanut butter.
Snacks: Spread peanut butter on a soda cracker and top with a persimmon slice. Dry persimmon slices in a food dehydrator and mix with pecans, peanuts and raisins to make trail mix.
Gazpacho: Combine persimmon pulp with tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, onions, olive oil and garlic.
Smoothies: Add a cup or more of yogurt along with cubed frozen persimmon and pieces of frozen banana in a blender and mix until smooth. Add milk or fruit juice to enhance blending, if necessary, or to add flavor. Experiment with blueberries and other frozen fruits.
Q: I want to plant some pawpaw trees but am having trouble finding any for sale. Can you help me?
A: Although native, pawpaws can be difficult to find for sale. To raise awareness of this native fruit tree and raise funds for future projects, the Bartow County Master Gardeners Association has grown pawpaws from locally collected seed and is offering the young trees to appropriate organizations such as plant societies, 4-H clubs and groups doing landscape restoration projects. For more information, contact Vicki Jones firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Bartow Master Gardeners visit: https://www.facebook.com/BartowMasterGardenersAssociation
A couple commercial sources of pawpaws are Edible Landscaping (http://ediblelandscaping.com/products/trees/Pawpaws/) and Stark Brothers (http://www.starkbros.com/). You may want to check the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. If you are a subscriber, you can place a free ad in the “Ag Seed/Plants Wanted” section. Also contact nurseries specializing in native plants. Gardens and plant societies that specialize in native plants may also offer pawpaws during their plant sales.
A couple tips: Avoid purchasing bare-root pawpaw trees; it has been our experience that they are less likely to live than potted specimens. Don’t worry about buying small pawpaws; they will grow. Unlike apples and pears, pawpaws grown from seed are similar to their parents. If you find a fruiting pawpaw and you like the flavor, collect and sow the seeds. Note, however, that the seeds should not dry out, can be slow to germinate and require a period of moist chilling before they will sprout.
For more information about pawpaws, visit the website of the Kentucky State University Pawpaw Program (http://www.pawpaw.kysu.edu/) or read “Put a Pawpaw in your Pocket” found at the Georgia Department of Agriculture website (http://agr.georgia.gov/artys-garden.aspx).
Q: I think something is wrong with at least one of the pumps at the gas station where I normally fill up. Can someone come check it?
A: Concerns about gasoline quality or quantity should be reported to the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Fuel & Measures Office at 404-656-3605. It will help our inspectors in checking the problem if you have the pump number and the name and address of the station as well as the date and time of your purchase. This information will be on your receipt if you still have it. You may also call 1-800-282-5852 and someone will transfer you to the Fuel & Measures Office. For your convenience, this telephone number is posted on the Georgia Department of Agriculture sticker located on the pump.
Q: The strangest thing happened; I have a sunflower without any petals. They haven’t been eaten or plucked off. The plant hasn’t produced any on any of its flower heads. The other sunflowers growing with it are normal. What happened to this one?
A: A petal-less sunflower is unusual but not unheard of. (Botanically the “petals” on sunflowers, daisies, marigolds and other composite flowers are called “ray flowers.” Since they look like petals and function as petals, that is how we are going to refer to them here.)
What you are seeing is a genetic mutation. It is a mutation that is not advantageous to the plant since you are unlikely to save the seeds of this unadorned sunflower (unless your sense of aesthetics is akin to that of Morticia Addams), and the plant may not produce many seeds to begin with because the plain flower heads are less likely to attract the bees and butterflies needed for pollination.
Q: I may be just imagining this, but are the colors of my flowers and rose blooms brighter and richer in the fall? They seem to be.
A: It is quite possible that you are not imagining it. Cool night temperatures and warm sunny days can actually intensify colors on roses and many flowers. Hot nights and hot days can decrease color intensity on some flowers by inhibiting pigment production. This is why you may see more vivid flower colors in gardens in upstate New York or Montreal than in south Georgia during the height of summer. Glare from intense summer sun can also “wash out” colors as well as affect our ability to see them or a camera’s ability to capture them.
Q: Do nurseries in Georgia carry our native beautyberry? I do not want the Chinese or Japanese one.
A: If your local garden center does not have it in stock, they may be able to order it for you. The American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is certainly worth seeking and asking for if you do not see it at your local plant retailer. Its magenta-purple berries clustered up and down its stems in fall and winter are an unforgettable sight.
If you do not find it for sale, American beautyberry is easy to grow from softwood cuttings in summer or fall and from seeds. Gather seeds after the first frost and go ahead and sow them outdoors or save them to sow in the spring. It is a fairly rapid grower.
In the landscape American beautyberry can be massed (several planted together in a group) or used with perennials (especially effective with native asters, goldenrods, swamp sunflower, willow-leaf sunflower, wax mallow and ornamental grasses) or other shrubs including pomegranate, titi, buttonbush, groundsel bush, Confederate rose, waxmyrtle, Virginia sweetspire and butterfly rose.
Q. Can I eat mushrooms that sprout in my yard? They look like button mushrooms.
A. If you are not sure a mushroom is safe, do not eat it. Some common mushrooms are poisonous or even deadly. Some of the most dangerous ones can look like edible ones, especially at certain stages of growth.
Until you are absolutely sure, stick to the mushroom selections available in grocery stores. You may also find some Georgia grown mushrooms at local farmers markets. You may want to grow your own. There are kits available for growing portabella, oyster, shiitake and other mushrooms.
If you are truly interested in foraging for mushrooms, study, take classes and go on field trips with mycologists or mushroom experts. Consider becoming a member of the Mushroom Club of Georgia http://www.gamushroomclub.org/.
Mushrooms are fascinating. Foraging for them and cultivating them can be rewarding. However, until you are sure of the identity of a mushroom, you should not eat it. Safety first!
Q: I have heard of tomato varieties from Russia that are cold tolerant. Is this true? Where can I find some? I would love to grow tomatoes in my garden in the winter.
A: “Cold tolerant” means that a tomato variety tolerates colder temperatures than the average tomato variety. It does not mean that it will grow outdoors in winter. Selecting cold-tolerant varieties may allow you to plant a little earlier in the spring than you would with standard varieties. They are also good for cooler areas like the Pacific Northwest.
In the past few years, tomato varieties originating in Siberia and other parts of Russia and the former Soviet republics have come on the market. They are available from various seed catalogs such as Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Burpee, TomatoFest, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. However, having “Russian” in its name does not automatically indicate that a variety will be cold tolerant or less tolerant of heat, and there are plenty of non-Russian varieties that are cold tolerant.
Q: How many varieties of apples are grown in Georgia?
A: It is estimated that about four dozen varieties are grown commercially in the state. This number would be much higher if you include the many varieties grown non-commercially in home gardens.
Make this the year you try an apple variety you have never eaten before. Note, too, that due to differences in climate, the same apple variety grown in Washington State may be quite different to the same variety grown in Georgia. You haven’t tried a Red Delicious or a Golden Delicious until you’ve tried a Georgia Grown Red Delicious or Golden Delicious!
Q: I am looking for a recipe I have misplaced. It was a combination of pecans and popcorn flavored with herbs. It sounded tasty. Can you help me?
A: Try this recipe from the Georgia Pecan Commission. It is an interesting change from straight popcorn and, with Georgia pecans added, it is more nutritious. The recipe is simple and basic enough for you to try variations with other herbs and spices.
Georgia Pecan Popcorn with Rosemary and Thyme
Makes about 8 cups
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1-1/2 cups Georgia pecan halves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (such as canola oil)
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine the olive oil, rosemary, thyme and crushed red pepper (optional) in a heavy small skillet over medium-low heat. Cook until the mixture is fragrant, about five minutes. Remove from the heat. Place the pecans in a small baking pan and roast until toasted, about seven minutes. Set aside.
Combine the vegetable oil and three popcorn kernels in a heavy four-quart saucepan or large pot. Cover and cook over medium heat until two or three kernels pop, about five minutes. Add the remaining corn kernels. Cover and cook until the popping stops, shaking the pan frequently, about five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the pecans and olive oil mixture and stir until the popcorn and pecans are coated with the oil mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and serve right away as a snack. For more information visit http://www.georgiapecans.org/.
Question: Can you identify and tell me about the shrub I saw blooming Memorial Day weekend at High Falls Lake State Park? It was growing at the edge (almost in the water) of the lake. It had white, globular blooms. The blooms looked like they consisted of lots of little flowers covering a round center. They were pretty as well as interesting.
Answer: It sounds like our native buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). It doesn’t mind wet feet and is an ideal choice for rain gardens, flood plains, ditches, freshwater shorelines and other places where water stands periodically or that are constantly moist or wet. The spots where it grows in standing water in lakes and ponds are reported to be good breeding areas for crappies.
The attractive spherical flower heads have a pincushion-like appearance. They are a favorite of butterflies and other pollinating insects. Honeybees love them so much that buttonbush is considered a “honey plant.”
The round seed heads resemble those of a sycamore, although smaller, and will change from green to rose or brown before maturing to black. They are a distinguishing feature for the shrub in winter.
Buttonbush grows to be a large shrub 6-12 feet tall with an equal spread. A smaller cultivar named ‘Sugar Shack’ is starting to appear on the market.
A few other shrubs that like similar conditions and combine well with buttonbush are swamp rose (Rosa palustris), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), waxmyrtle (Myrica cerifera), titi (Cyrilla racemiflora), American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), sweet-bubby bush (Calycanthus floridus), inkberry/gallberry (Ilex glabra), pussy willows (Salix spp.) and summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia).
Although buttonbush is not as commonly available as some shrubs, it is worth seeking.
Q: Do you have any tips for freezing peppers?
A: Rinse the peppers and let them dry. Slice them into strips, rings, cubes or halves depending on the size and type of pepper and how you plan to use them. Remove seeds and the pale ribs. Place the peppers in a single layer on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer until completely frozen. Pack the frozen peppers into a freezer bag and return them to the freezer. (The step with the cookie sheet will keep the pieces from freezing into a solid block, especially if you are packing them tight into a freezer bag. If you are only loosely packing a few pieces of peppers, the step is not as important.) Small peppers such as cayenne, habanero or jalapeno can be frozen whole and sliced when you get ready to use them. They can also be used whole when cooking pots of dried peas, beans and such.
Q: I have only gotten a couple ripe muscadines this year because some varmit is eating them. Do you have any idea what could be eating them? It is not birds; I know what bird damage looks like. The vines are on a trellis in my yard.
A: There are numerous possibilities, and you may never know for sure unless you catch the culprit or culprits in the act or see more evidence such as tracks or scat. Rats, mice and opossums are prime suspects. Raccoons, squirrels, foxes and coyotes are possibilities. Muscadine grapes are a favorite food for white-tailed deer. Even if your yard is fenced, deer can jump most fences and walk along your trellis as if it is a buffet. Skunks will eat muscadines but are poor climbers. Black bears will also eat the grapes, but with larger animals you are more likely to see the vines damaged or dislodged. Once you have determined who the thieves are you can look into methods to exclude, deter, trap or eliminate them or mitigate the damage they are causing.
-- Arty Schronce
For more information, please write Arty Schronce, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., Agriculture Building, Room 128, Atlanta, GA, 30334 or call 404-656-3656.