Georgia Department of Agriculture

Consumer Q's January 2014

Question: Can we grow dahlias in Georgia? We had them as a child and I miss them.
Answer: Dahlias thrive where days are warm but nights are cool. That is why they are favorites farther north. However, we can grow many dahlias here in Georgia. Keys to success include selecting heat-tolerant varieties, preparing the soil with plenty of compost and mulching them well.
     Please look at the website of the Dahlia Society of Georgia at www.dahliasocietyofgeorgia.com; it is a wealth of information and includes a Dahlia Growing Guide for Southern Gardens and old newsletters with photographs that will inspire you. If possible, visit the society’s display garden at Stone Mountain State Park to see different varieties in bloom and judge how they perform. Becoming a member of a plant society will bring the benefit being in contact with other members with more experience. For more photos and information, check out Old House Gardens at www.oldhousegardens.com/DahliasForTheSouth.aspx.

Q: Is a slow cooker the same as a Crock-Pot?
A: Slow cooker is the generic term. Crock-Pot is a particular brand of slow cooker. These countertop appliances have experienced a renaissance of popularity in the past few years as cooks have discovered their versatility.
    They cook foods slowly at a low temperature – generally between 170 degrees F and 280 degrees F. The low heat helps leaner, cheaper, cuts of meat become tender and causes less shrinkage. That’s especially good during tough economic times.
     The slow cooker method is also convenient. The food can cook all day and be ready to serve when you walk in the door in the evening. On cold winter days it is a real treat to come home to stew, soup, root vegetables, chili, beans or another hot meal waiting for you.

Q: What exactly is an aril?
A: Technically speaking, an aril is an appendage growing out from the hilum (seed scar) on the seed and covering the seed partially or totally. In layman’s terms it is defined as a fleshy, usually brightly colored, cover of a seed. The word escaped from botany textbooks when produce dealers began selling pomegranate seeds and their accompanying ruby flesh as pomegranate arils.

Q: Do you have a recipe for tea cakes? They are not a cake but a thin cookie that is not too sweet and is plain, not iced.
A: “Tea cake” means different things to different people in different parts of the world. Here is a recipe that meets your description. It comes from Myra Estelle Keever Robinson of Iron Station, North Carolina.  

Tea Cakes
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour (plain)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup softened unsalted butter (Shortening or margarine can be used)
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten

     Mix dry ingredients together. Add egg, milk and softened butter and mix all the ingredients together with your fingers. Roll thin and cut. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 300-350 degrees F. until as brown as you want them.
     Tips: Chilling the dough after it is mixed will help in rolling it out. Also, you can sprinkle a little flour or sugar on it to help stop it from sticking as you roll it out. Some people like their tea cakes thin and some like them thicker; some like them brown and some not so much. Make them several different ways so your family and guests can choose the ones they like. Tea cakes are not as sweet as some desserts. They are excellent with coffee or hot tea.

Q: I know chicken wings are especially popular for Super Bowl parties, and I know we produce a lot of chickens in Georgia. Do you know how many pounds of chicken wings we produce in Georgia?
A: Georgia poultry companies process approximately 3,500,000 pounds of chicken wings every week – and there are 52 weeks in a year! That does not include wings that are attached to the whole birds that are sold.
     Chicken wings have vastly expanded in popularity over the past 30 years. Wings and wing parts became a popular party food because they are tasty, economical, easy to prepare and because their size and shape make them easy to eat while talking with guests or watching the big game. In fact, chicken wings have become almost as popular for a Super Bowl party as turkeys are for Thanksgiving dinner!
    Their small size also entices people to experiment with different flavors. Non-adventurous eaters are more willing to try a piece of a wing flavored with an exotic spice than they would be if they had to eat a large piece of chicken.
     A search in cookbooks and on the internet will bring hundreds of recipes. One website lists 31 different flavors for wings including jerk, Thai, ginger, sticky lime and maple, grilled turmeric and lemongrass, Asian caramel, peanut chili and sweet-n-sour.
     Even though the Super Bowl will not be held in Georgia this year, there will likely be a little bit of Georgia at lots of Super Bowl parties all across America. You can make your Super Bowl party a Georgia Grown one by visiting a local farmers market or looking for Georgia products at your grocery store. A few ideas include radishes, carrots and turnips for dips; pecans roasted in butter; fried peanuts; parched peanuts; apple wedges; sweet potato fries; kale, mustard greens and collards to bake into crispy chips; collard, kale or arugula pesto (you may also find Georgia garlic and can substitute Georgia pecans for pine nuts); and eggs for a colorful and delicious deviled egg platter.
     Whatever football team you root for, remember you can always be a part of the Georgia Grown Team!

Q: I just cut open a tomato and found seeds sprouting inside the tomato. Is this normal? Can I plant them?
A: What you have described is not common, but it does happen. Usually the gel around the tomato seeds inhibits germination, but sometimes it doesn’t, especially after a long period in storage.
     You can scrape out the tomato sprouts or put the tomato on the compost pile if there are too many seeds sprouting. You can plant them if you are curious but we don’t recommend it since it is the middle of winter, and you’d have to keep the plants growing inside until danger of frost is past in the spring. Also, we don’t think growing tomatoes that carry this undesirable trait is a good idea.

Q: Why did my weeping fig lose all its leaves when I moved it to another window on the other side of the room?
A: Weeping figs are very sensitive to changes in their position and changes in the amount of light they receive. They can lose all their leaves after being moved to an area with less light. Be patient; it takes a while for them to recuperate from the shock of moving.

Q: While watching the Tournament of Roses, the announcer pointed out some silver material on a float he said was “lunaria petals.”  What is lunaria? Can we grow it here?
A: Lunaria (Lunaria annua, sometimes listed as Lunaria biennis) is an annual or biennial flower also known as “honesty” and “money plant.” What the announcer described as petals were actually membranes from inside lunaria’s oval seed pods. This silvery membrane resembles a coin, hence “money plant” or a full moon, hence “lunaria.” “Honesty” probably is due to the fact that you can count exactly how many seeds are in the thin seed pods; the plant cannot deceive you or hide them from you.
     Stalks of lunaria’s silvery membranes are popular in dried floral arrangements, left standing in the garden or used on a florally fabulous float in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
     Lunaria is attractive with purple, rosy purple or white flowers and useful because it blooms in dappled shade. It is a good companion with azaleas and, like them, is a favorite of the Eastern tiger swallowtail.
     Lunaria is easy to grow from seed, which is the main way to get a start as they are not often carried as plants at garden centers.

Q: It is five degrees outside. Some of my evergreens and other plants look so terrible I could cry. Has the cold killed them?

A: Many evergreens, especially broad-leaved evergreens such as camellia, English ivy, Algerian ivy, cast iron plant and rohdea will turn a much darker color during extremely low temperatures and can look like they have been dipped in boiling water. The leaves on rhododendrons will even roll up like tubes. They will go back to their normal appearance when temperatures rise, probably with no damage.
     That being said, plants that are marginally hardy in much of the state such as sago palm, spike dracaena and creeping fig may have done well during recent mild winters but can be damaged or killed by temperatures in the single digits. However, don’t start cutting them down or digging them up. Wait until spring to see if they sprout back. Even an evergreen plant that lost all its leaves may sprout back from the stem or base.
     Milk-and-wine lilies and other crinums and amarcrinums usually keep a few green leaves at the top until a severe freeze. Now those leaves will look dead and mushy. Leave them alone. They will probably be fine and re-sprout in late spring.

Q:  What are microgreens?
A:  Microgreens are the young leaves and stems of lettuces and other vegetables, salad greens and salad herbs that are harvested when only an inch or two high and, depending on the species of plant and the growing conditions, a few weeks old. They are larger than what is usually sold as “sprouts” and smaller than what is usually sold as “baby greens.”
     There is not an official definition or standard, however. What some people call “microgreens” others may call “sprouts” or “baby greens.” Among the plants that can be grown as microgreens are lettuce, beet, carrot, cabbage, collards, kale, orach, purslane, scallions, mustard greens, turnip greens, radish, arugula, endive, basil, celery, chard, sorrel and amaranth.  Seed companies and garden supply companies sometimes offer kits and mixes for gardeners to grow their own microgreens.

Q: How tall does our native flowering dogwood grow?
A: Size will vary with location and conditions, but generally our native flowering dogwood grows 20 to 30 feet tall with an equal or greater spread.

Q: I want to grow sprouts for salads. Can you offer advice?

A: Perhaps the easiest and most reliable method for raising edible sprouts is with a wide-mouth jar and screen of some type. Screw-on screen lids are readily available at health food stores and other companies. (You can make your own screen with cheesecloth and a rubber band, but it is messier and ultimately more expensive.) A wide-mouth quart canning jar is a good choice. A quart mayonnaise jar also works well.
     To start the sprouting process, place two to three tablespoons of small seeds (such as alfalfa) or one-fourth to one-half cup of large seeds (such beans) per quart into a glass jar. (It is best to start with a smaller amount of seeds to see how the process goes.) Fill the jar two-thirds full of lukewarm water, place the screen over the mouth of the jar and soak seeds for eight to 12 hours or overnight.
     After soaking, drain the seeds and lay the jar on its side. During the next three to five days, rinse the seeds with lukewarm water once every morning and evening. Drain off all excess water after each rinsing. Keep the jar at temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees F. Some people like blanched sprouts that develop in darkness or indirect light and are not exposed to any sunlight. Placing the seed-sprouting jar on top of the kitchen counter and covering it with a small towel will provide an excellent environment during the sprouting process. To create green sprouts place the jar of sprouted seeds in a sunny window for a few hours. If in the sun too long, they can become tough and bitter.
     The eating size of the sprouts will vary with the type of seed and with your individual preferences, generally one-quarter inch to two inches long. Once the sprouts have reached the desired size, place them in a bowl of water. The seed sprouts will sink to the bottom and the loose seed hulls will float to the top. Skim the hulls off. Remove the sprouts and allow them to drain. You can use them immediately or store them in closed glass or plastic containers in the refrigerator for later use.
     Some of the seeds you can use for sprouting are alfalfa, broccoli, buckwheat, cabbage, clover, fenugreek, mustard, radish, sesame, sunflower, millet, chickpeas, lentils, green pea, wheat, rye, triticale, onion and various beans including adzuki bean, soybean, kidney bean and mung bean. Seeds for sprouting may be purchased from mail-order seed companies, health food stores and some garden centers. Do not use seeds that have been treated with fungicides or other pesticides.
     Because seeds have different sizes and growing habits, experiment to find the best way to handle each kind and to suit your tastes and needs. If you become really involved in sprouting, there are devices for quantity production.
     Sprouts need not be limited to salads but can be used in sandwiches, soups, stews, omelets, bread (mixed into dough) and stir-fry dishes.

Consumer Q's is written by Arty Schronce. For more information, write arty.schronce@agr.georgia.gov or call 404-656-3656.

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