Q: I planted a seedling loquat several years ago. It has not produced fruit yet. Does it need another loquat to pollinate it in order to set fruit?
A: Seedling loquats may take 8-10 years to bear fruit. Yours may simply not be old enough. Most loquats are supposed to be self-fruitful (i.e. don’t require a different variety or another non-identical loquat to pollenize or “pollinate” each other.) However, research is showing that even though considered self-pollenizing, most loquats have increased fruit set with a different loquat nearby. Some named varieties definitely need another variety nearby to act as a pollen source. However, named varieties are hard to find except from specialty nurseries. Two seedlings would suffice to pollenize each other since they are not genetically identical. Also, remember that since the tree blooms in the fall, a cold winter could also destroy developing fruit.
Q: Can peach wood be used on the grill to smoke meat the way you use apple wood? What about crabapple and Bradford pear?
A: Yes to all three. We even had a vendor at the last Georgia Grown Farmers Showcase selling peach wood chips. He said the smoke has a somewhat floral aroma and gives a sweet, mellow flavor. Although the crabapple fruit has a tart or sour taste, crabapple wood performs the same on the grill as regular apple wood. Our sources also tell us that pear wood, even Bradford pear, can also be used. Pear wood is supposed to give a mellow flavor similar to apple.
If any Georgia barbecue kings or queens would like to share their experiences using different woods to smoke meats, especially chicken, Georgia’s number one agricultural commodity, please write Arty Schronce, Georgia Department of Agriculture, 19 MLK Jr. Drive, Room 128, Atlanta, GA 30334 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I have a moon cactus, the cactus with the green triangular stem and red ball on top. Last month, the cat knocked the pot over and broke the top off. Will it grow another red top?
A: No. The moon cactus consists of two different cactuses (the red, yellow, brown or pink ball at the top and the green stem on the bottom) grafted together. You would need to graft another top back on. Fortunately, moon cacti and other grafted cacti are common from numerous garden centers.
Q: My father used to order these things called “beer seed” from advertisers in the Market Bulletin. You could make a good drink out of them. What were they, and does anyone still have them? I haven’t seen them advertised anymore.
A: We cannot fully answer your question as to exactly what they are, but we can shed some light on them and will ask readers if they can provide more information.
One thing we do know is that these are not actual seeds of plants. They appear to be a by-product of making molasses and sorghum. According to one person online they are a yeast that “inhabits the sugar cane or sorghum plant drippings around the mill and would grow and multiply like tiny round white balls.” These yeasty globules are also called California beer seed, California multiplying beer seed, bee wine and bees wine according to some sources. The “bee” names come from the fact that the clumps move up and down in a jar of sweetened water and look like busy bees. The end product is a sweet drink.
We did a spot check of old issues of the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin and found numerous ads in the 1930s for "California multiplying beer seed." We could not find any articles in the Market Bulletin on the subject and have not had any recent ads for them that anyone here can remember.
When Elizabeth Lawrence wrote Gardening for Love, The Market Bulletins, her book about the market bulletins in different states, she came across beer seeds in Mississippi’s Market Bulletin and was curious about them. She never got her questions thoroughly answered and concluded beer seed “is one offering in the market bulletins that still remains quite mysterious to me.”
If anyone knows more information about beer seed, please write Arty Schronce, Georgia Department of Agriculture, 19 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Room 128 Agriculture Bldg., Atlanta, GA 30334 or e-mail email@example.com. Perhaps someone can provide more information to help understand this mysterious product.
Q: Can gardenias be grown as houseplants?
A: Those who live in cold winter areas where gardenias are not hardy outdoors may want to try them as a houseplant. However, they are temperamental houseplants with many special needs as to humidity, light and temperature and are prone to more insect pest problems indoors than out.
In Georgia, it is probably best to plant them outside if you can. In the Georgia mountains you will need a very protected spot as gardenias are not as cold hardy as many other shrubs. However, even in the mountains your chances of success are better outdoors than indoors. ‘Kleim’s Hardy,’ ‘Grif’s Select’ and ‘Chuck Hayes’ are three of the hardiest gardenia varieties.
You can also plant a gardenia in a large tub or pot and wheel it into a shed or garage to protect it on the coldest days. Smaller varieties such as ‘Radicans,’ ‘White Gem’ and ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ are among your best choices for containers.
Q: I have a peach tree. The seeds of some of my peaches are split in two. What causes this? Some of the pits have a little black mold in the center. Are the peaches safe to eat?
A: No one is quite sure what causes the condition known as “peach pit split.” It is believed to be caused by events or cultural practices that promote rapid growth. It is more common on early peach varieties than late ones. Early ripening varieties are most susceptible because of the short time between pit hardening and fruit swelling. A late frost that causes a partial crop loss and heavy rains during the critical growth period can also contribute to pit splitting and shattering where the pit is broken in several pieces. The mold did not cause the splitting but occurred afterward.
While there is nothing you can do now, you can take some measures to help prevent it from happening again: Avoid excessive thinning. It’s best to wait until after the pits have hardened to thin the clusters. Don’t take steps to increase the size of the fruit as harvest time approaches. Avoid excessive watering and fertilizing. Consistent soil moisture is best. Irregular periods of drought followed by lots of rain encourage pit split.
The peaches are safe to eat. Remove or cut away any mold on any fruit before you eat it and be careful to remove any of the broken pieces of the pit so you don’t crack a tooth.
Q: I heard a fig can have a regular crop and a breba crop. What is a breba crop?
A: Figs can bear two crops a year. The early crop is called the breba crop. It is borne on the old wood and ripens in early summer. The regular or main crop is borne on new wood ripens later in the summer.
Q: Why are tomato plants called vines? What exactly is a “vine-ripened” tomato?
A: Tomato plants do not twine as morning-glories or pole beans do. They do not cling with rootlets the way Boston or English ivy do. They do not attach themselves with tendrils the way grape or cucumber vines do. However, because of the loose, sprawling habit that requires some varieties to need staking or trellising, tomato plants are sometimes called vines.
A true vine-ripened tomato is a tomato that is allowed to grow and mature on the vine and is not picked until it is actually ripe. A tomato that has been allowed to ripen on the vine is sweeter and juicier than one that is picked while it is still green and ripened off the vine. Some tomatoes you see at the supermarket are picked green or nearly green and gassed with ethylene to ripen them. One note of caution: there are some sellers who will call a tomato “vine-ripened” if it is picked when it is showing any redness or color other than green. A true vine-ripened tomato is less suitable for shipping because of its susceptibility to bruising and shorter shelf-life.
You are most likely to get true vine-ripened tomatoes by growing them yourself or buying directly from a farm or farmers market. After you eat a juicy, vine-ripened Georgia grown tomato from your own garden or from a local farmer, you don’t want to go back to those Styrofoam things they call tomatoes that were picked ages ago and shipped from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Q: A friend gave me a start of what she called “summer poinsettias.” They look a little like Christmas poinsettias but are smaller and have salmon-colored areas on the top leaves near the tiny flowers. The sap is white like a Christmas poinsettia. Is this an actual kind of poinsettia? Will it come back again next year?
A: The plant you are describing sounds like Euphorbia cyathophora. It goes by the common names of “summer poinsettia,” “wild poinsettia,” “fire on the mountain” and “painted leaf.” It is sometimes listed under the botanical name of Euphorbia heterophylla. It is related to the flamboyant poinsettias you see at Christmas.
Summer poinsettia is an annual, but re-seeds and comes back from year to year. In fact, it spreads so much that many gardeners consider it too aggressive and invasive. It is an interesting and modestly attractive plant, but it can become a weed.
Q: Why does the mimosa tree close its leaves at night? The folded, drooped leaves make the tree look like it has gone to sleep.
A: The mimosa isn’t telling us directly so we can only make assumptions why the tree does this. We can assume that this behavior is beneficial in some way or did benefit the tree at one time or place in its evolutionary history. And we can assume that this still benefits the tree or at least doesn’t hurt the tree here and now which is why it continues to pass this trait along to its offspring.
Here are a few reasons the tree may do this: The folded, drooped leaves probably lose less water from transpiration during the night, therefore cutting the tree’s need for absorbing water from the soil and making it a more efficient user of water. The trait could help protect the leaves from chilling and freezing in the spring and fall. The diminished leaves could present a less-appealing display to a nocturnal grazing animal which may move on to eat another plant. The reduced leaf surface could allow more water from nighttime rains to pass through the canopy and reach the roots. (The leaves will also close during rain in the day.)
Mimosas are not the only plants to fold their leaves at night. It is a common characteristic in the bean family to which the mimosa belongs.
Q: I pruned my rosemary earlier this summer. I removed the leaves, let them dry and put them in airtight containers to give for Christmas gifts. I have about 25 rosemary stems. Can they be used for anything?
A: Try them as skewers when grilling chicken, vegetables, shrimp, beef or lamb. If the stem end is not sharp enough to spear the food, sharpen it with a knife or shears. Submerge the stems in cold water for 30 minutes. Skewer your raw ingredients and grill them as you normally would. You can also throw some rosemary stems on the coals to add a little more smoky rosemary flavor.
Q: What kind of tomato does the commercial grower plant?
A: There isn’t one specific variety that commercial growers plant. It depends on whether the tomatoes are being produced for the fresh market or for processing, what type tomato (cherry, Roma, large, yellow, red, late-season, early-season, etc.) is desired and whether the tomatoes will be grown inside a greenhouse or in the field. Growers will also make selections based on disease resistance and avoid varieties that may be susceptible to pathogens that have been a problem in the past. They will also select varieties that are known to perform best in the soil and climate where they are to be grown. Commercial growers may plant some varieties that are familiar to home gardeners. They may also grow varieties developed for commercial growers and with less-than-catchy names such as ‘BHN 444,’ ‘Florida 47 R’ and ‘BHN 410.’
The University of Georgia has a publication that may be helpful to you. “Commercial Tomato Production Handbook” may be found online at http://www.caes.uga.edu/Publications/pubDetail.cfm?pk_id=7470# or at your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Another good publication is “Commercial Production of Staked Tomatoes in the Southeast.” It is the combined efforts of horticulturists and plant scientists from North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi and is available online at http://ipm.ncsu.edu/Production_Guides/Tomatoes/AG-405Web.pdf.
Q: Can I put some of my ‘Black Russian’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes along with my red tomatoes when I am cooking tomato soup? I like the flavor and juiciness of these dark tomatoes. Will they change the color of the soup? I don’t know if my family will accept a soup that is not the traditional red.
A: Most of the ‘Black Russian’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomatoes we grow end up sliced on sandwiches or are eaten fresh with sweet corn, cucumbers, cantaloupes and other summer vegetables. However, we have added up to about 10 percent of these darker varieties with the more common standard red varieties when cooking soup and have not noticed any difference in the soup’s color. We have not tried a higher percentage because we didn’t have enough to use more.
Also, one caveat about using a large percentage of very juicy tomatoes such as ‘Black Russian’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’ in soups and especially in sauces is the increased cooking time to achieve the thickness you desire. The end color being a little darker or not as bright may be minor compared to extra time in the kitchen and a higher utility bill for cooking the soup and cooling the house.
If you have plenty of the darker varieties, or yellow or orange varieties for that matter, you may want to experiment using only them to make soup. It may be different than the standard red, and it may look a little unusual at first, but it will probably taste just as good as what you had with your standard red ones. Your family may love it.
Let us know how your soup turns out.
Arty Schronce writes this weekly question-and-answer column that is sent to newspapers and media outlets on Thursdays throughout the state. The column addresses questions about agriculture and questions about the services and products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. If you have a question, please email Arty at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 404-656-3656.