Q: Some of my houseplants look like they need more sunlight. Can I set them outside on sunny days provided the weather is not cold? I place them outside for the summer, but I know it is still too early to leave them outside.
A: It is not uncommon in late winter or early spring for some houseplants to start looking wan and weak due to insufficient light. If your houseplants are in need of more light than they are getting inside the house, you may try setting them outside for a few hours on warm, sunny days. Just be sure to bring them back inside. It would be a tragedy to set them outside and have them frozen when the weather turns cold. Also, be aware that plants sheltered inside for several months are susceptible to windburn and sunburn until they are acclimated to their new conditions, so monitor them closely. Do not set them outside and ignore them for the rest of the day, for example.
You should also look for ways to bring more sunlight inside your home for your houseplants. Open curtains and raise blinds on sunny days. Shining supplemental lighting from a lamp will help overcome the lack of natural lighting and may help tide your houseplants over until they can be set outside again for the summer.
Q: How long will water last (be safe to drink) in plastic milk jugs or similar containers?
A: When packages such as milk jugs are reused there is always a possibility you may not get all the original material cleaned out and the inner surface sanitized. Bacteria from the original product these bottles or jugs contained could remain on the packaging and thus result in unsafe reuse. Generally speaking, these plastic containers should be considered one-time-use food packaging.
Q: How and when do I prune my Knock Out® roses? Mine have grown quite large.
A: Late winter and early spring are the best times to do heavy pruning on your Knock Out® rose. Some people severely cut theirs back to 18 to 24 inches. However, you can perform more moderate pruning just in order to maintain the shape of the bush. Gangling, out-of-bound shoots should be cut back throughout the growing season. You should remove dead or damaged stems at any time of year. Don’t hesitate to cut flowers to share with friends, loved ones, co-workers and shut-ins. This will brighten their day and help keep your vigorous rose bush in bounds.
Q: I placed numerous bluebird houses around my pastures and property. I had several pairs of bluebirds to nest in them last year. Do I need to clean out the old nests before spring?
A: Yes. Many bluebirds will not nest in a house that has old nesting material in it. Attend to it soon as bluebirds may begin nesting in March. Make sure you are cleaning out an old nest and not a newly built one.
Q: May I keep a wolf-dog hybrid as a pet?
A: Wolves and wolf-dog hybrids are illegal to keep as pets in Georgia. Laws and regulations involving wildlife fall under the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Here is a link that may be helpful: http://www.georgiawildlife.com/node/1202.
Q: How long will dried beans, left in the original packaging and stored in one-gallon freezer bags, be safe to eat? What about rice? I have two bags at home approaching their “best by” dates.
A: The “best by” date listed on the product packaging for the dried beans or rice applies to best quality, not food safety. Dry, shelf-stable products are safe to eat well beyond their “best by” date. However, the foods should appear visually wholesome and fit for consumption. Otherwise, we say, “When in doubt, throw it out!”
Q: I have been told that many people plant their vegetable gardens on Good Friday. Why? I was also told not to plant on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter.
A: Many people like to plant all or part of their vegetable gardens on Good Friday. The origins of this are murky and the reasons vary according to who is asked about it.
Some people plant and perform garden chores based on astrological signs or phases of the moon. For example, some of these gardeners hold that crops that bear above ground perform best when planted during a full moon while root crops perform best when planted during a waning moon. This could be part of the reason since the date of Easter is based on the lunar cycle. Planting “in the sign” and by the phases of the moon seems to be a dying practice, and we could not find anyone to provide an authoritative answer on whether there is a specific lunar-astrological-horticultural Good Friday connection.
The reasons most people give for Good Friday planting are theological and philosophical. Good Friday is the day Jesus gave his life on the cross. Christians believe his shed blood brings salvation and eternal life. Consequently, Good Friday is considered to be a good day for the nurturing, life-giving activities of planting and sowing.
A less-commonly held belief is that of not planting on the Saturday after Good Friday. It is sometimes called Rotten Saturday, and the tradition is that seeds, tubers and other things planted that day will rot in the ground because that is the day Christ’s body was rotting in the grave prior to his resurrection.
Some gardeners have said they like to plant something on Good Friday even if the weather is not advantageous, because observing the old ways connects them with their parents and grandparents. There is nothing wrong with this; there is certainly room for tradition and respect in the world of gardening.
If you want to share your family folklore and traditions about springtime planting, please write Arty Schronce, 19 MLK Jr. Drive, Room 128, Atlanta GA 30334 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I was served kale chips (kale leaves coated with oil and baked until crispy) at a Super Bowl party. They were delicious. Do you have a recipe? Can any kind of kale be used? Do you think collards would work?
A: Kale chips are all the rage, and are now even available for sale at some grocery stores. They are tasty and are a healthier option than many other snacks. Kale is the leafy green vegetable most commonly used to make chips. Any variety of kale will work. Collards may also be used. Some adventurous cooks have used mustard greens and turnip greens.
The goal is to coat the leaves with olive oil, salt and bake until crispy. One of our cooking correspondents cautions “You need to watch them closely; there is a fine line between not crispy enough and cinders.”
Here is a basic recipe: Take several cups of washed kale (collards, etc.), remove the stems and cut or tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Make sure the kale is thoroughly dried. It is very important that it be dry. You do not want any water on it or it will not turn out crispy. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. (Some recipes suggest lower than this – you may have to experiment to find what is best for your oven and the thickness of the leafy greens you are working with.) Toss the kale with a little olive oil and kosher salt. Make sure the leaves are coated and glistening, but not drowning in oil. Spread the kale out in one layer on a flat pan. Bake until the leaves look crisp, about 12 minutes. If they are not ready, bake for another two to four minutes. Sprinkle with flaky salt, chili powder, lime zest or other desired seasonings. There are numerous recipe variations. Here is a link to a video that shows one cook making kale chips:http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/crunchy-salty-kale-chips/.
Georgia Grown kale, collards, turnip greens and mustard greens are in season now. Look for them at farmers markets and grocery stores.
Q: What is the difference between daffodils and jonquils?
A: Both daffodils and jonquils are flowering bulbs of the genus Narcissus. The words “daffodil” and “narcissus” are sometimes used interchangeably. The name “jonquil” should only be applied to one kind of narcissus: Narcissus jonquilla. This species of narcissus and its hybrids are characterized by having rush-like, rounded foliage and small flowers (usually several to a stalk) with a strong fragrance. Daffodils have larger, flatter foliage than jonquils and are generally larger overall. There are many more varieties of daffodils than jonquils.
Late winter and spring are good times to visit gardens to see the wide assortment of narcissuses available and to learn more about them. For example, Gibbs Gardens (http://gibbsgardens.com/) in Ball Ground, Georgia, has the largest daffodil display in the country. Its Daffodil Festival is March 1. Whether it is a huge garden with 16 million daffodil blooms like Gibbs or a small, courtyard garden in Savannah, every landscape can be brightened with daffodils, jonquils and all their relations.
Q: I love quince marmalade but my quince bush doesn’t bear much fruit. What is wrong?
A: It sounds like you are growing flowering quince (Chaenomoles japonica, Chaenomeles speciosa or a hybrid of the two.) True quince (Cydonia oblongata) is a small tree grown for its fruits that are famously made into jellies and marmalades. Consider getting a true quince if you want more fruit.
Flowering quinces will sometimes bear fruit, and it can also be used similarly to true quince. Having two or more varieties may encourage fruiting, but we have no concrete evidence of this. We know of no definitive studies about which varieties of flowering quince will bear the most fruits. ‘Toyo Nishiki’ is supposedly a good bearer. ‘Cameo,’ ‘Texas Scarlet’ and ‘Jet Trail’ are listed as fruit bearers. However, the new Double Take™ series of flowering quinces was developed to not have fruits.
Q: What is freezer burn? Is it dangerous?
A: Freezer burn is the dehydration or drying that occurs on the surface of a frozen food that is improperly wrapped or packaged. The food is safe to eat but is of poorer quality. Prevent freezer burn by properly wrapping the products you freeze or freezing them in air-tight containers.
Q: A woodpecker is using my gutter as a set of drums. He pecks on it in the morning and has awakened me every day this week. Why is he doing it and how can I discourage him?
A: In late winter and spring, male woodpeckers will “sound out” their territories. While cardinals and mockingbirds are singing to claim territories and attract mates, the woodpecker, which doesn’t have much of a singing voice, goes the percussive route. His drumming will let the available females know he is there and inform other males that this area is already occupied.
This drumming is primarily a springtime behavior and usually only lasts for a few weeks. Once, woodpeckers used dead trees and dead branches. With many of these removed from the landscape, woodpeckers looked to other options and discovered the resonating qualities of gutters, downspouts, chimney caps and metal streetlamp covers.
Please try to be patient. Remember he is just looking for love and that woodpeckers help forests by eating insect pests. However, if you don’t think you can outlast the courting season, try to discourage the woodpecker by taping some heavy black plastic on the portion of the gutter he is using. This will make it harder for him to grip onto. It may be effective to hang shiny and or threatening-looking objects that move, such as flash tape, bird control balloons, pie plates or compact discs. Your goal is to get the woodpecker to peck in a place where it won’t disturb you.
As part of a long-range plan, you may want to think twice before cutting down dead trees on your property. These supply woodpeckers with nesting, drumming and food sites. However, if a dead tree or dead limb poses a safety hazard, it should be removed.
-- Arty G. Schronce
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 email@example.com.