Question: I have seen a purple triangular box hanging from a tree near where I live. I understand it is a trap for the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). I am curious. Why is it purple, and is there something inside the box that attracts the borers?
Answer: You have asked an interesting question. You may have noticed that certain flowers attract more insects than others. While nectar and flower structure play a role in attracting them, color also serves as a lure. The EAB is a member of the Buprestidae family, commonly called metallic wood borers. While attempting to develop monitoring tools for the EAB, researchers found that members of this family are more attracted to red and purple hues. In follow-up tests it was determined that purple traps had the best results in luring these insects. The traps are baited with chemicals that mimic those emitted by ash trees. If you would like to read additional information on EAB trapping, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/publications/plant_health/2013/faq_eab_survey.pdf.
Q: Can I place beef and poultry together on the grill for cooking?
A: Yes, but don’t expect different items to be done at the same time. Use a food thermometer to be sure all of the food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria. All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F. as measured with a food thermometer. For whole poultry, check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. Beef, veal and lamb steaks, roasts and chops can be cooked to 145 degrees F. with a three-minute rest time. Hamburgers made of ground beef should reach 160 degrees F.
Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later. And, of course, don't use the same platter and utensils for raw meat as you do for cooked meats. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and its juices can contaminate safely cooked food.
Q: Will feeding thistle seed to goldfinches cause my garden to be overrun with thistles?
A: No. The “thistle” seed you buy from garden centers or nature stores is not really a thistle at all. It is a yellow African daisy, and the seeds have been heat treated to prevent them from germinating. The seeds are properly called niger seed, sometimes sold under the trademark name of Nyjer® seed. It looks like thistle seed, and since goldfinches love thistle seed, niger began to be called “thistle.” You can continue feeding “thistle” or niger seed to your goldfinches without worrying. Goldfinches are also fond of the small “black oil” sunflower seed, too. It is less expensive than the niger seed.
You may also consider planting flowers for your goldfinches. Sunflowers are a great choice. Select varieties with lots of flowers instead of a variety that produces only one giant flower per plant. Mexican sunflowers or tithonia are another good choice. Goldfinches also eat the seeds of purple coneflowers. Purple coneflowers are perennials and though they may be grown from seed, they are more commonly acquired by purchasing the plants from your local nursery or garden center. To a lesser extent, goldfinches will eat the seeds of zinnias and black-eyed Susans.
If you have dandelions in your lawn, goldfinches will gobble those seeds up as well. And if there are any true thistle plants nearby, goldfinches will devour those seeds and will use the thistle down to construct their nests.
Q: Is it true that beet greens are edible?
A: Yes. Healthy and tasty, too! When you buy a bunch of beets at a Georgia farmers market or grocery store you are buying two vegetables in one!
Here are a few ideas: Rinse them thoroughly to remove any grit. Remove the petiole (leaf stem). Heat a little olive oil in a skillet along with any seasoning you wish. Put the greens in and sauté them until tender. You can add a little butter or bacon grease if you like. Try sautéing them with olive oil and garlic and then serve them with a fried egg and some hot sauce. Roast beet roots in the oven and mix sautéed beet greens with them before serving.
Fresh beet greens, especially young and tender ones, can be put into a salad with feta cheese, tomatoes and baby Vidalia onions. Throw a few of them into a blueberry or strawberry smoothie for extra vitamins. Put some on a toasted sandwich with slices of hard-boiled egg and smoked salmon or bacon. Experiment and enjoy!
Q: I heard that adding salt to the water when boiling eggs will make them easier to peel. Is this true?
A: We do not know of any definitive tests regarding this, but it has been our experience that adding a tablespoon of salt to the water before you boil your eggs will make them easier to peel. Also, older eggs will peel easier so buy them at least a week in advance of when you plan to cook them.
Q: What is rooster spur pepper? I saw the seed advertised in the Market Bulletin.
A: It is a hot pepper with two-inch long pods that ripen to a bright red and that are shaped like the spur on a rooster. Use them fresh or dried to add flavor and heat to chili, sausage, beans or other dishes.
Q. I used to see forsythia everywhere. Have people stopped planting it?
A. No, although it doesn’t seem to be planted as much as it once was. Like many other fields, gardening is susceptible to the whims of fashion. A plant can be popular for years and then people abandon it and choose newer or less common options because they want something different or because the new plant is being widely promoted and produced by major growers. Then those new things become overused and passé, and gardeners, growers and landscape designers become infatuated with another new plant or re-discover plants from their childhood or that their grandparents grew.
Forsythia is a wonderful and durable shrub that deserves a spot in the landscape. It looks its best when it is allowed to have a loose and natural form and is not mercilessly pruned into a yellow beach ball or floral version of SpongeBob SquarePants. Combine forsythia in an informal border with winter hazel, witch hazel, flowering quince, bridalwreath spiraea, Thunberg’s spiraea, Koreanspice viburnum, pussy willow, cornelian cherry, American beautyberry, weigela, Scotch broom, deutzia, dwarf flowering almond or other shrubs. Forsythia also looks perfect with the soft yellows of the spring-blooming yellow magnolias that are now commonly available.
Trust me – forsythia will rise again, and the tidal wave of purple loropetalums that has flooded the marketplace and Georgia landscapes will recede.
Q: I am looking for a “yamper.” It was a small (about 5 pounds, I think) pumpkin we used to grow in Colquitt County. It was brownish orange to pinkish tan - not a harsh color. It had a mild flavor and made pies that were not strong like a sweet potato or regular pumpkin pie. It was a flatter pumpkin than many I see today. Someone suggested it may be the ‘Tan Cheese’ variety of pumpkin. I am going to grow it to see if it may be the one, but does anyone there know anything as to the identity of this mystery pumpkin?
A: We looked through seed catalogs and reference books and made calls to seed companies specializing in heirloom varieties but could not find any variety known as ‘Yamper.’
One plant may be known by many different names, and one variety of plant may be known by different names as well. Someone may misspell the name, add a word to it or never know the name in the first place and make up a name. It can sometimes turn a simple gardening question into an episode of “The History Detectives” on PBS.
We did find a reference from the 1800s to natives of Honduras growing “yampers” and numerous other crops including pumpkins. The text described yamper cultivation along with yams, eddoes and sweet potatoes which makes us think the yamper the author was mentioning was also a root vegetable. Perhaps a similarity in taste or color between your mystery pumpkin and this root vegetable is how the pumpkin came to be called by that name. We found a reference in Doniphan's Expedition; Containing an Account of the Conquest of New Mexico to a flower known as a “prairie pink or yamper” with an edible bulb that probably also took its name from the tropical vegetable. We also found a community called Yamper Town in Alabama whose name is not connected to pumpkins or other vegetables.
‘Tan Cheese’ is a possible candidate for being your mystery pumpkin. It meets some of your descriptions and is a very old variety dating back before 1824.
If someone has information about the ‘Yamper’ pumpkin or any other vegetable known as a yamper, please contact Arty Schronce, Room 128, Georgia Department of Agriculture, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30334 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Will there be a springtime auction of horses the Georgia Department of Agriculture has nursed back to health?
A: The next auction will be Saturday, May 17, 2014, at the Mansfield Impound Barn, 2834 Marben Farm Road, Mansfield, Georgia 30055.
The horses may be inspected at the facility beginning at 10:00 a.m., and the sale will start at approximately 11:00 a.m. A list with brief descriptions of the horses is on the department’s website at http://agr.georgia.gov/equine-health.aspx. Further information about the department’s impound program and auction process is available there as well.
If you have any questions, contact the department’s Equine Health Office at 404-656-3713. Office hours are Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The auction is pursuant to Section 4-13-7 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (Humane Care for Equines Act).
Q: Why are health and agriculture officials always harping about used tires and mosquitoes?
A: Because a scientist or an inventor would have to think hard and spend a lot of money to come up with a better mosquito incubator than a used tire. The tire holds enough water to hatch mosquito eggs and offers protection from predators and insecticide treatments. The dark color absorbs and retains heat allowing for earlier hatching and breeding in the spring and later breeding and hatching in the fall. A single tire can host thousands of mosquitoes over the course of a summer. Besides being a painful aggravation with their biting, mosquitoes can also carry diseases that affect humans, horses, dogs and other animals.
Take your used tires to a recycler or another place that can properly handle them. Fill them with soil and make them into planters for vegetables, herbs and flowers. Drill holes in tire swings and other tires used for playground equipment to allow them to drain. Do not allow old tires filled with water anywhere on your property.
Q: What is vermiculite?
A: Vermiculite is a mica-like mineral that is commonly used as a medium in which to sow seeds or root cuttings. It is also used in potting soil mixes or used as a medium in which to store bulbs and tubers over the winter. It absorbs and holds moisture readily but also allows good air penetration to help prevent seeds, cuttings or the roots of plants from becoming waterlogged.
Vermiculite is heated before it is packaged and sold at garden centers and nurseries. This heating process is changes the natural mineral and gives it its desirable horticultural qualities.
Oddly, the word “vermiculite” comes from the Latin vermiculare, “to breed worms,” for the way it expands into wormlike pieces when heated. Think of vermiculture – worm farming or vermicelli – wormlike pasta.
Q. Can I grow French tarragon in Georgia?
A. French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) has a difficult time thriving in Georgia’s heat and humidity. Instead of struggling to grow French tarragon, try Texas tarragon (Tagetes lucida). It can substitute for French tarragon in recipes, is prettier and is much easier to grow. Crush one of the leaves and compare it with French tarragon. Texas tarragon is also known as Mexican tarragon and Mexican mint marigold.
Texas tarragon is a perennial although it is generally not winter hardy in north Georgia. It bears gold flowers in the fall. If the flowers remind you of marigolds, it is because it is a close relative of the popular flower. Texas tarragon will be one of the prettier herbs in your herb garden. In fact, it is pretty enough to be planted among other flowers and included in bouquets.
Use Texas tarragon leaves on fish, chicken, to make flavored vinegars, in slaw or however you would use French tarragon.
-- 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.