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Georgia Department of Agriculture

Consumer Q's December 2014

Question: I used to love to read almanacs. My grandmother always had one. Are any still printed?
Answer: Yes. We even have one published here in Georgia. Almanacs may be purchased at numerous retail outlets such as bookstores and newsstands, independent drug stores, feed & seed stores, hardware stores and grocery stores. If you don’t find a local source, contact the publishers directly and subscribe.
    Almanacs have been dispensing information for a long time. Consider the initial publishing dates of these almanacs still around today: Grier’s Almanac (1807), Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac (1828), John Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack (1797), The Old Farmer’s Almanac (1792) and Farmers’ Almanac (1818). With their weather forecasts, planting and farming information, recipes, general information, advice and folksy humor, we hope almanacs will continue to be part of our agricultural heritage for many more years.
    Here is a list of almanacs with their contact information:
Grier’s Almanac
814 Lake Arrowhead Drive
Waleska, GA 30183
Phone: 678-880-2554

Blum’s Farmer’s and Planter’s Almanac
3301 Healy Drive
Winston-Salem, NC 27103
Phone: 336-765-5811 or 1-800-776-2586

The Old Farmer’s Almanac
P.O. Box 520
Dublin, NH 03444
Phone: 603-563-8111 or 1-877-717-8924

Farmers’ Almanac
P.O. Box 1609
Lewiston, Maine 04240
Phone: 1-888-222-4276

John Gruber’s Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack
747 West Orchard Road
Mercersburg, PA 17236.

The Almanac for Farmers & City Folk

Box 319, 840 S. Rancho Drive, Ste. 4
Las Vegas, NV 89106

Q: Do you have a recipe for peanut brittle?
A: Here is a recipe from Dot Schronce that produces a light, crispy brittle that is a favorite at the Georgia Department of Agriculture:
Peanut Brittle
Butter (to grease the cookie sheet you’ll pour the brittle on)
1¾ cups raw peanuts
1 cup sugar
2/3 cups white Karo syrup
2 tsps. baking soda
Basic instructions: Lightly butter a cookie sheet and set aside. Mix peanuts, sugar and syrup together over medium heat until peanuts make small popping noises and syrup is honey colored (about 25 minutes). Take off heat and quickly stir in baking soda. Pour onto buttered cookie sheet. Allow to cool and break into pieces.
Further explanation and tips for success: The baking soda must be fresh or you will not get good results! Open a new box; don’t use an old one. The baking soda reacts with the hot syrup and creates carbon dioxide bubbles that will make the final product light and airy. If the baking soda is not fresh, the chemical reaction will be reduced.
    When the baking soda is stirred into the heated syrup mixture, it foams up and looks like the lava in a sixth-grader’s science project on volcanoes. If you have children, they will probably enjoy watching this step.
     When you pour the “lava” onto the buttered cookie sheet it will look like a loaf of pizza dough. Do not spread it out; it will spread and flatten out enough on its own. If you spread it out, you will break apart the bubbles that make the brittle light and airy.
     When the brittle has cooled and hardened, break it into pieces by hitting the flat side of it with the back side of a heavy spoon.
     The recipe is best made in winter. During warm, hot or humid weather the brittle can be sticky and lack the desired texture.

Q: Where can I learn some basics of designing a landscape? I have purchased a home and the landscape is barren. I don’t know where to begin. Should I hire someone?
A: You may want to hire a professional landscape designer. The money you spend on a professional design may be money (and time) you save because the designer will steer you to the plants that will be best for the conditions you have and will help you make the most efficient and enjoyable use of your outdoor space.
     Garden centers, community colleges and the Cooperative Extension Service may offer seminars, classes or presentations on the basics of landscape design for those who want to do it themselves. These are helpful even if you hire a professional because they will provide ideas and help you understand more about what is involved and know what questions to ask of the person you hire.
     For example, the Carroll County Extension office is offering “Landscape Design for Homeowners,” a series of six classes on Wednesday evenings in February and March 2015. Fee is $25 for and the deadline for signing up is January 30. For more information call 770-836-8546.
     A class or professional advice will start you on your way to a beautiful landscape.

Q: The early freeze killed the leaves on my crape myrtle. They were still green and did not have time to turn colors and drop off the way they normally do. Will the tree be all right?
A: This happened to many crape myrtles. It should not result in any serious damage.

Q: I found a container of old walnuts in my pantry. They have an odd taste. Is there anything I can do to revive them or hide the “off” flavor?
A: Although many nuts may have a long shelf life, they can also go rancid. We do not recommend trying to mask or hide the flavor. Buy fresh ones. If you are not going to use all the nuts right away, store the unused ones in an airtight container in the freezer.

Q: I was given a rosemary plant that was clipped into a spiral. Can I grow it indoors?
A: Although upright forms of rosemary can be trimmed into spirals and other shapes including miniature conical Christmas “trees” that you may want to make part of your holiday décor, they really do not belong indoors for long periods.
     Rosemary plants need lots of sunlight, and that is difficult to provide in most homes, especially if you are trying to maintain the perfectly shaped form of a plant that was grown under ideal conditions. Spider mites are also more of a problem indoors than outdoors.
     If you want to use your rosemary plant as part of your holiday decorating, bring it inside for short periods. If you are keeping it inside longer, keep it in a cool area and give it as much sunlight as possible. Rotate the plant to make sure all leaves get sunlight exposure.
     Also, make sure the plant is not sitting in water. Some plants are sold with wrapping that keeps the water at the bottom of the pot. This will rot your rosemary’s roots.

Q: Is wintersweet easy to grow? I smelled one blooming last January and want to plant one. Can you give me some information about it?  
A: Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) grows to be a large shrub or small tree approximately 15 or more feet tall with an approximate 12-foot spread. It can be kept smaller by pruning. It prefers full sun but will tolerate part shade and is not particular about soil. It is easy to grow but not commonly available.  
     Wintersweet’s flowers are attractive but not showy, somewhat bell-shaped, with translucent yellow petals and a heart tinged with purple. Some forms are solid yellow. The fragrance has hints of vanilla, banana and lemon. Like many fragrant plants, and as its name implies, it blooms in winter.
If you cannot find a local source, check out mail-order nurseries or collect seeds and sow them. Germination rates are supposed to be highest if you collect the seeds as soon as the pods turn brown.

Q: Someone gave me a frozen commercially prepared smoked chicken labeled as “fully cooked and ready to eat.” Some of the meat looked pink. Is it safe? The box gave instructions on how to heat the chicken in the oven if I wanted to, but said it could be served cold after being properly thawed.
A: Commercially prepared smoked poultry can have a pink cast. In particular, the dark meat may have a color that is comparable to smoked pork or ham.
     Follow the instructions given on thawing and heating the chicken and enjoy it for a big holiday meal or to make workday sandwiches, chicken salad or other recipes calling for cooked chicken. The bones may be used to make soup stocks and gravies.  

Q: Is it all right to let my dog eat table scraps? I don’t want to have to lock him away from holiday guests, but they always want to slip him something.
A: Besides getting sick from too much food or from eating something he is not used to, there may be other food dangers during the holidays for your dog. People may think they are doing an act of kindness and are winning the dog’s affection by slipping him something. Children may especially want to do this and not understand why it may be harmful. Explain to guests that your dog is not to be given table scraps no matter how pitifully he begs. If they have no willpower, you will have to show some by isolating the dog from them.
     Here are a few things to consider:
     Dogs can choke on small bones, especially from poultry. They can also become lodged in your dog’s digestive tract. Carefully check meat for bones before giving any to your dog.
     Don’t give your dog any food containing chocolate or raisins.  
     Your dog may be craving attention as much as he is craving food. Although the holidays are busy times, don’t ignore him. Take him for a walk; the exercise will probably do you both good.
     Have an acceptable treat available that may be given to your dog if someone, especially a child, “must” give him a treat. (You can make this conditional on the good behavior of both child and dog.)
     There are usually lots of leftovers from holiday meals, but even if your dog is used to eating food from the table, don’t be tempted to scrape whole plates of food into your dog’s dish. Your dog may act like a garbage disposal, but don’t treat him that way. There may be unsafe items or ones that could cause digestive upset. Also, consumption of large amounts of high-fat foods can cause acute problems such as pancreatitis and contribute to chronic health problems such as obesity.  
     Precaution can prevent veterinarian and carpet-cleaning bills and keep the holidays happy and healthy for you and your dog.

Q: What are peanut hearts? I see them sold along with sunflower seeds and other seeds for feeding birds.
A: The peanut “heart” is the embryo found at the center of the individual peanut. It is also called a “plantlet” or “germ.” It consists of the embryonic root and shoot and the first true leaves of the peanut plant. The two large halves of the peanut seed are the cotyledons or “seed leaves.”  
     The peanut hearts you see sold for birdseed were removed when processing peanuts to make peanut butter. Sometimes broken pieces of the cotyledons are also included in what is sold as peanut hearts.
     Peanut hearts are eaten by tufted titmice, nuthatches, Carolina wrens, Carolina chickadees and other songbirds. Unfortunately, some people report they also attract starlings.

Q: What are giblets?
A: Giblets are the heart, liver and gizzard of a chicken, turkey or other fowl. The “giblet pack” found inside whole birds you purchase often includes the neck as well. Many cooks use giblets and the neck in making the ever-popular giblet gravy.

Q: I was instructed to work a cup of crushed oyster shell into the soil when I plant my peonies. Where can I find this for sale?
A: A well-stocked garden center may sell crushed oyster shell in the soil supplements and fertilizers section of the store. It is sometimes recommended for adding to the soil when planting peonies, bulbs, lavender, sage and rosemary. You may also find crushed oyster shell at hardware stores or farm supply stores as it is also sometimes used as a calcium supplement to mix with chicken feed.
     If you cannot find crushed oyster shell locally, it is also available from mail-order sources. Or the next time you go to the beach, collect shells (they don’t have to be oysters), rinse and crush them yourself. (Wear eye protection.)

Q: Do I need to refrigerate honey?
A: No. Although it will not hurt honey, refrigeration will make it harder to spread. Storing honey at room temperature will keep it ready to use at all times – those hot biscuits won’t wait!  

Q: My friend has a green aucuba instead of the normal speckled yellow type you usually see.  Is this a mutation or something rare?
A: Actually the solid green one is the “normal” form of aucuba. The speckled ones or ones with yellow at the center or edge of the leaves are natural mutations. However, they are more common than the green one because so many people value the brightness and color the variegated leaves bring to shady areas. In fact, the speckled ones are so common that some people only know aucuba by the name “gold dust plant.”

Q: Is it too early to order roses? Also, a catalog I just received said the roses would be shipped “bare-root.” What does that mean?
A: A bare-root plant is one that is sold with the soil removed from its roots. It is a common way of selling rose bushes, fruit and nut trees, strawberry plants and some perennial flowers. The plants are dug and shipped while they are dormant in the winter or early spring. The roots are packed in damp sphagnum moss or similar material and placed in a plastic bag or wrap to keep the moisture in.
     Plant bare-root trees, shrubs and perennials as soon as you receive them. If you cannot plant them right away, keep them in a cool place and keep the roots moist.
     We recommend ordering early since supplies may be limited on some offerings. You may also find bare-root roses sold at garden centers and nurseries in late winter and early spring. The ones you see sold there are usually packaged in boxes or plastic bags with a picture of the rose on the front. You may also find potted roses for sale there throughout the year.

Q: I want to make my poinsettia bloom again next Christmas. How should I do it? The ones I have had in the past stayed lush and green all summer and continued to thrive when I brought them indoors, but they did not turn red.
A: It is possible to make a poinsettia flower again for next Christmas, but unless a schedule of specific conditions is maintained, the results may be disappointing.
     One of the most difficult requirements is providing the proper photoperiod. In order to induce flowering, poinsettias need to be kept in complete darkness for 14 continuous hours every day starting October 1 and continuing until the bracts are fully colored (around Thanksgiving). Complete darkness is necessary and must not be interrupted by turning on lights for even a moment. Any interruption will delay the bracts from changing color. Street lights, utility pole lights and even car headlights can disrupt them. Cover your plant with a large cardboard box if you have to. During the non-dark hours during this time, poinsettias needs bright to high light intensities. At night during this time they like a temperature between 60° and 70° F.
     For complete list of instructions on caring for your poinsettia through the year check out “Care of Poinsettias” from the University of Georgia:
     If all this sounds like too much trouble, consider putting your old poinsettia on the compost pile and buying a new one next year.

                                                                                                                                                                   --  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.



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