Q: I saw some purple-leaved plants that resembled cabbage with yellow flowers in a flower bed at a garden center. A worker told me this was flowering kale and that they only carry them in the fall. Where can I find some now?
A: The plants we know as “flowering kale” or “flowering cabbage” are grown for their colorful leaves of cream and varying shades of purple. Some may have ruffled or lacy leaves. The plants can resemble giant roses or some other flower. They are edible but are grown for ornamental rather than culinary purposes. They are called “flowering” kale and cabbage to distinguish them from kales and cabbages grown strictly for eating. They are sometimes called “ornamental” kale or cabbage, a more accurate and less confusing term.
Ornamental cabbage and kale provide interesting shapes and colors in our gardens and planters through our mild winters. When warm weather comes in the spring, they will, like other cabbages and kales, send up a stalk of flowers. These flowers are the plants’ swansong; the plants will die after they bloom and set seed.
Fall is the time to purchase and plant ornamental cabbage and kale. If you like the look of the flowers, just leave them in place until they finish flowering. You will still have plenty of time to plant or sow summer annuals such as marigolds, zinnias and cosmos.
Q: I am constantly getting solicitations via e-mail to help abused dogs and cats. How do I know these charities are legitimate?
A: It is a good idea to investigate any charity before you donate money. There are many scammers on the internet trying to take advantage of big-hearted persons who want to help animals.
Here is a suggestion: contact your local animal shelter and see if they need help. Most struggle on shoestring budgets and would appreciate whatever monetary contribution you can make to help them care for and find homes for abandoned or neglected dogs and cats. They may also need supplies that you were going to throw away such as old blankets or towels, but contact them to find out before you deliver anything as they may not need or have room for what you want to offer. When you do visit your local animal shelter, take along a friend. At the sight of all the homeless cats and dogs and the needs of the shelter your friend may make a contribution, too!
Q: I had several terra cotta pots crack this winter and it wasn’t even that cold. Is this common?
A: Terra cotta is baked clay. It is porous and absorbs water. When temperatures drop, the water the porous clay has absorbed freezes and expands. Also, water in the soil inside the pot does the same thing. Both of these can lead to the deterioration of a terra cotta pot.
Being a natural product, clay is not totally consistent. There may have been a streak of more absorbent clay or a tiny air pocket in the pot that filled with water and caused more internal expansion and subsequent cracking. Some terra cotta pots are fired at a higher temperature and may be more weather resistant than others. None should be considered permanent if left outside, however.
We have had some terra cotta containers outside for more than 17 years with no apparent damage while others crumbled after just a few years. If you have an expensive or ornamented terra cotta pot that you treasure, you should consider moving it indoors for the winter to protect it from the combination of moisture and freezing temperatures.
Q: My peat moss doesn’t readily absorb water. I add water and it floats on the surface for hours. Is there a wetting agent I can buy to help overcome this?
A: When peat moss and some potting mixes get very dry they can become resistant to getting wet again. The simplest and cheapest method is to use hot water to re-wet the materials. It quickly overcomes the repellant properties and you can get on with your garden chores.
Q: Is it true you can eat nasturtiums?
A: You can eat the leaves, flowers and seedpods of nasturtiums. They have a peppery flavor. Use the flowers in salads and sandwiches or to garnish fresh salsa, hummus, tomato juice or deviled eggs. The leaves may be chopped and put into salads or sour cream dips. Make sure no insects are in the flowers before using them. We had a friend who had numerous ants on a birthday cake after decorating it with nasturtium blossoms. Nasturtium seedpods may be pickled and used as a substitute for capers.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow from seed. Sow them where you want them to grow as they don’t like transplanting. They bloom best when they have poor soil, so lay off the fertilizer.
Q: A neighbor has identified a vine growing in the trees at the edge of our woods as a crossvine. It is covered with beautiful deep rusty red and yellow flowers. Is this a correct identification? No one can tell me why it is called crossvine.
A: It sounds like your neighbor got it right. Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) is a native vine that is covered with blooms like you describe in mid spring. There are some varieties that are orange or deeper red. Crossvine has opposite leaves and climbs by attaching itself with tendrils. Some people do not care for the fragrance of the flowers but others have compared it to bitter chocolate.
Crossvine gets its name because the pith at the center of its stem is shaped like a cross. While this is not the first thing you notice about the plant when it is in bloom, it might have been a memorable characteristic if you were an early settler or explorer hacking your way through a patch of it.
Q: What are some Georgia native plants that will attract hummingbirds?
A: Here are some plants native to Georgia whose flowers attract hummingbirds: cowich/cow-itch vine or trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), bee balm (Monarda didyma), coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) Eastern columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Texas sage (Salvia coccinea), Canada lily (Lilium canadense), Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), Georgia feverbark tree (Pinckneya pubens), tuliptree or tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), redbud (Cercis canadensis), red savory (Clinopodium coccineum), rose-mallow (Hibiscus coccineus), fire pink (Silene virginica), plumleaf azalea (Rhododendron prunifolium), pinxterbloom azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides), flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum), Florida flame azalea (Rhododendron austrinum), Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens), Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense), coralbean (Erythrina herbacea), fall or garden phlox (Phlox paniculata), crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) and false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa).
Some of these are easier to find and fit into garden settings than others. For example, our native coral bean has a short period of bloom and doesn’t perform well in north Georgia. However, Erythrina xbidwillii, the hybrid between our native species and Erthyrina crista-galli from South America, is loaded with flowers all summer. Georgia feverbark tree is beautiful but doesn’t like clay soil and can be difficult to find for sale. Trumpet creeper can send up dozens of suckers that cause havoc in a perennial garden. It is best in a place where these can be kept under control. It is good on a fence bordering a lawn or pasture or at the edge of the woods where it can climb up a pine tree and its large tubular flowers can act like lighthouse beacons to lure hummers as they pass through our state.
Phlox paniculata is a native wildflower but has been cultivated so long that one of its common names is “garden phlox.” It also has many cultivars that are quite different from its wild form. Salvia coccinea is native from coastal South Carolina to Florida and west to Texas and farther south but is more common here in gardens than in the wild. There are several varieties available, including a white one. Stick with the original red, as red is a hummingbird’s favorite color.
To increase your chances of attracting hummingbirds, have a wide assortment of their favorites blooming for a long period of time. Visit a Georgia nursery or garden center to discover many options to help attract these fascinating birds.
Q: Which cuts of meat are best for chicken shish kabobs?
A: Although breast meat is more popular in shish kabobs, thigh meat may be used as well. If you are looking for convenience, both skinless and boneless breasts and thighs are available in most grocery stores.
Q: Is all pollen yellow?
A: When clouds of pine pollen and other airborne pollens coat Georgia in the spring, it is easy to think all pollen is yellow. Shades of yellow and yellow green are common, but you will also find flowers with orange, brown, red, gray and even blue pollen. The deep brown pollen of the familiar tiger lily may come to mind, but have you noticed that the pollen in a corn poppy is gray or the attractive bright blue pollen of Langsdorff’s green flowering tobacco (Nicotiana langsdorffii)? Look closely at the flowers in your garden; you may find some colorful surprises.
Q: What exactly is a drumette?
A: The drumette is the upper part of a chicken’s wing. The wing consists of three parts: upper section, mid-section (sometimes referred to as the “flat”) and tip or “flapper.” Drumettes get their name because they resemble a small drumstick and are handily eaten that way. Drumettes and wings in general became a popular party food because they are tasty and their size and shape make them easy to eat while talking with guests or watching the big game.
Q: How much sunlight should a vegetable garden receive?
A: All vegetables need sunlight. The garden site should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Eight to 10 hours or more of sunlight each day is better. Therefore, vegetables should be planted away from overshadowing buildings, trees and shrubs. The roots of trees and shrubs will also compete for nutrients and water.
It is especially important that fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, watermelons, pumpkins, squash and cucumbers get plenty of sunlight. Leafy vegetables can get by with less.
Q: Where can I find out more about the horses to be auctioned in the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s upcoming horse sale?
A: Please visit our website at www.agr.georgia.gov/equine-health.aspx and click on the link to view the sale catalog. Perhaps you can give one of these rehabilitated animals a home. The auction will be Saturday, April 27 at the Lee Arrendale Equine Center at Mt. Zion Road, Alto, Georgia.
The animals up for sale (nine horses and one donkey) may be inspected at the facility beginning at 10:00 a.m. the day of the sale. The auction will start at approximately 11:00 a.m. Contact our Equine Health Section with any questions at 404-656-3713. Office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Equine Health Section is charged with ensuring that Georgia’s horses, donkeys, mules and ponies receive humane care, including receiving adequate food and water. If owners do not comply with the state’s laws concerning the health and welfare of their equine animals, the state has the authority and obligation to impound the animals. Since there are no state-appropriated funds for the impound program, the department relies on the proceeds from the sale of rehabilitated animals and donations from the public to continue caring for these abused and neglected creatures.
Q: My grandmother had a shrub that was covered in pale pink pom-poms every spring. She called it a dwarf flowering almond. I asked for one at a garden center and was told it is not recommended because there are better shrubs. I don’t want a “better” shrub; I want the one my grandmother had. Can you help me?
A: The shrub you are describing is the pink double-flowered form of the dwarf flowering almond (Prunus glandulosa ‘Rosea Plena’). It does have a relatively short period of bloom and is rather inconspicuous for the rest of the year. However, we disagree with the assessment by the person you spoke with. Many of our greatest pleasures are fleeting ones but they can create memories that last a lifetime. Why dismiss a shrub whose ephemeral beauty can carry you back to the happy days of childhood at your grandmother’s house? A shrub that can do that is worth seeking out and finding. Keep looking and asking. Dwarf flowering almond is still available. If you can’t find it at another nursery or garden center, consider placing a “Flowers Wanted” ad in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin.
Q: Do you have a recipe for vinegar pie? It is a custard pie similar to a chess or lemon pie. I have not seen one in years.
A: Vinegar pie has been around a long time, and its origins are unclear. Some speculate that cooks started using vinegar when lemons were not commonly available and before the advent of lemon extract. Indeed, it is sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s lemon pie.” Others speculate that creative cooks turned to apple cider vinegar to make a tangy dessert when the fruit supply was low at the end of winter. However weird it sounds and whatever its origins, a vinegar pie can be a tasty change. There are many variations. Here is a recipe we like:
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup cold water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Line a 9-inch pie pan with standard pie crust or use a pre-made pie crust. Bake it in a 375-degree oven until it is light brown.
Make filling while crust bakes: Whisk together eggs and 1/4 cup sugar in a bowl until blended well. Mix flour and remaining 3/4 cup sugar in a heavy saucepan, then whisk in water and vinegar. Bring to a boil, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat on the burner and add the egg mixture in a thin, slow stream, whisking constantly to keep the egg from curdling. (Do not allow the filling to come to a boil after adding the eggs or you can ruin the custard.) Cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until filling thickens and coats back of spoon, about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Pour hot filling into baked pie shell and place in middle of oven. If necessary, cover rim of crust with foil to prevent over-browning. Bake pie until filling is set. Cool. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon if desired. We found the pie best when served with fresh Georgia strawberries. The flavors complement each other, and the yellow pie and red strawberries are attractive together.
Some of our tasters preferred a tarragon vinegar variation over the standard vinegar pie. Follow the recipe above but use tarragon vinegar instead and add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg to the flour-sugar mixture.
Q: I am looking for unusual irises. Can you help me?
A: Visit some of our Georgia nurseries and garden centers, especially ones that specialize in perennials. You are likely to find Louisiana, Siberian, Japanese, Japanese roof, copper, bearded and other iris options. Check out the Georgia Iris Society iris sale on Sunday, April 21, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. (or until sold out) at the Bolton Garden at 1916 Idlewood Road, Tucker, GA 30084. Their annual iris show is Saturday, April 20 from 11 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church, 1790 LaVista Road, NE, Atlanta, GA 30329. You may want to become a member of this group. Your fellow iris lovers will introduce you to sources and perhaps share some of the surplus from their own gardens with a fellow member.
Q: I saw ‘Star of David’ okra advertised in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. I have never heard of this variety before. What can you tell me about it?
A: ‘Star of David’ has short, thick, deeply ribbed pods with good okra flavor. Cutting one of its pods in half will reveal what may resemble the shape of the Star of David. It is an heirloom variety that matures in 75-80 days. The plants can get quite tall, so don’t plant them where they will shade your other vegetables.
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.