Question: Are purple top turnips going out of style? I only saw white ones at the grocery store last week. Can white turnips be used the same way?
Answer: They are not out of style. Indeed, the most well-known turnip in America is a very old (probably pre-1880) variety with the long but perfectly descriptive name of ‘Purple Top White Globe.’ Perhaps the store was dealing with suppliers who could only provide white ones last week.
There are differences in texture and flavor between turnip varieties, but you can use them all in basically the same way. Smaller and younger turnips of all varieties are more tender and sweeter than the larger, older ones.
Don’t hesitate to try a different kind if you can’t find what you are familiar with. There are also turnips with green tops and some with red skin that look like giant radishes. Georgia farmers grow all types. You may find the less common ones at farmers markets in the fall, winter and early spring.
Q: Someone told me about a “fruit cocktail” tree that bears several kinds of fruits. How is this possible?
A: It is possible to create such a tree using the ancient art of grafting. This is done with similar trees, usually within the same genus. The orchardist or gardener will take buds from one or more trees and graft them onto a similar tree. Ideally, the buds will grow into branches, each branch bearing a different fruit. For example, plums, nectarines, peaches and apricots are all members of the genus Prunus and are compatible. This is also done with citrus, allowing a homeowner in southern California to have one tree that produces lemons, limes, tangelos, grapefruits and oranges.
These are sometimes marketed as “fruit cocktail” or “fruit salad” trees. They are mainly novelties.
Grafting may also be used to put different varieties of one fruit onto one tree. That way you could have one apple tree with separate limbs bearing ‘Winesap,’ ‘Golden Delicious,’ ‘Arkansas Black’ or other varieties. This is also primarily done as a novelty, but may have a more practical purpose if one apple variety needs pollen from a different variety in order to set a good crop. Someone with a lot of room may plant two different apples, but someone with room for only one may graft a good pollen source onto the main tree.
Q: Seed catalogs label some tomato varieties as determinate. What does that mean?
A: Determinate varieties of tomatoes are more compact than indeterminate varieties. They “top out” (stop growing taller) when fruit sets on the terminal or top bud. They ripen all their tomatoes at or near the same time, usually over a few weeks.
Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes are also called "vining" tomatoes. They will grow and produce fruit until killed by frost in the fall and can reach heights of up to 10 feet although six feet is more common. They will bloom and set fruit throughout the growing season.
Q: Why are there so many different kinds of honey?
A: The color, flavor and aroma of a particular honey depend on the flowers the honeybee collects nectar from. The colors may range from nearly clear to dark brown and the flavor from mild to bold. The aroma may be reminiscent of the flower that provided most of the nectar.
There are many varieties of honey, as many as 300 in the United States according to the National Honey Board. They are sometimes referred to as varietals. Varietal honeys may be compared to wines in terms of weather, soil, environment or what foodies call “terroir.” Even the same flower blooming in the same location may produce slightly different nectar from year-to-year depending upon temperature and rainfall.
Some dark honeys like tulip poplar are high in minerals and have a strong, heavy flavor. Lighter-colored honeys usually are milder and more delicate in flavor. If you know only clover honey from the Midwest, try a honey produced here in Georgia. Georgia honeybees and beekeepers produce numerous varietals including cotton, thistle, locust, gallberry, sourwood, tupelo and wildflower. (Wildflower honey is the end product of the honeybees collecting nectar from many different kinds of flowers growing wild and in gardens.)
You can find more information on varietals from the National Honey Board at www.honey.com.
The short answer to your question: Because life is sweet.
Q: I bought two almond trees and cut them down before realizing that the seed inside the peach-like fruit was the almond. Are they worth replanting? I don’t know of anyone else growing any.
A: If you love almonds, love to experiment and have the space, give an almond a try. But don’t count your nuts before they’re shelled. Almonds are not the best nut tree to grow in Georgia. Our climate (especially our humidity, cold temperatures and late freezes) is not ideal for almond production.
As you probably guessed by looking at the flowers and fruits, almonds are related to peaches. Almonds are attractive bloomers in the spring like peaches are, but they can be prone to some of the same insect pests and diseases, too. Many people find spraying too costly and too much trouble, especially considering the quantity and quality of the almonds.
‘Hall’s Hardy’ is a cold-hardy variety that is commonly sold and recommended for our area. However, it has some issues. All the almonds sold under this name are probably not the true variety. Some are quite bitter. Some people report the seeds are difficult to crack. Even the true ‘Hall’s Hardy’ is not supposed to be as sweet as the varieties grown in California and Jordan. Other cold-hardy varieties being sold that may be worth investigating are ‘All-in-One,’ ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ and ‘Non Pariel.’
If you want a lot of nuts, consider eating readily available Georgia pecans and planting an almond tree for beauty or novelty. If it produces any nuts worth eating, they are the almond icing on the cake. Or you could plant another nut tree that performs well in our area such as a hickory, butternut or black walnut.
Q: When will my asparagus sprout? I planted it in the fall. Is asparagus related to Brussels sprouts?
A: Your asparagus will sprout in the spring. The plants will produce spindly shoots their first year and normally do not produce spears large enough to eat until the third year. Please be patient.
Although both are green vegetables, asparagus and Brussels sprouts are not related. Brussels sprouts are in the Cabbage Family along with cabbage, kale, radish, turnip, broccoli, cauliflower, watercress, cress, mustard and the other crucifers. Asparagus is, odd as it may seem from its overall appearance, is more closely related to lilies, tulips and hostas than to other garden vegetables. For many years it was classified as a member of the Lily Family, but has now been split off into a separate Asparagus Family along with butcher’s broom and poet’s laurel.
Q: I saw a neighborhood farmers market open last weekend. I drove by because I didn’t have time to stop. What crops could it possibly offer in the winter?
A: Many neighborhood and other farmers markets in Georgia operate only in spring, summer and fall when most of our crops are being grown and harvested. However, they may stay open in the winter if they have farmers and vendors who can provide winter or cool-season crops or other products.
Among fresh Georgia crops that may be available during the winter are turnips, collards, mustard greens, kale, lettuce, mixed salad greens, Asian greens, bok choy, spinach, carrots, radishes, cabbage, arugula, cilantro and beets. Fall and summer crops such as apples, sweet potatoes and winter squashes (butternut, Hubbard, acorn, etc.) that store well and last into the winter may also be sold. A winter market may also have vendors selling honey, jellies and jams, cheese, breads and other processed foods.
We hope you’ll have time this weekend to brake for farmers markets!
Q: I grow plants to attract butterflies and want to connect with others who are interested. Is there an organized group or club in Georgia for butterfly lovers?
A: Butterfly enthusiasts are starting a Georgia chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA). An organizational meeting will be Sunday, Feb. 8 at 1:00 p.m. at Vaughters Farm (http://arabiaalliance.org/historic-sites/new-chapter-for-historic-farm/), 3350 Klondike Road, Lithonia. The farm is part of the Arabia Mountain Natural Heritage Area. Parking is at the trailhead (3366 Klondike Road) with a short path to the farm. The meeting is open to the public.
Organizers say the goal of the chapter is to educate and increase the public’s awareness, enjoyment and conservation of butterflies. For more information about NABA, visit http://www.naba.org/.
Q: How long can you keep gravy in the refrigerator?
A: As a general guideline, gravy can be stored safely in the refrigerator for three to four days. If not used within that time, you can freeze it for four to six months.
Q: Are brown eggs more nutritious than white eggs?
A: Shell color does not reflect the nutritional value of the eggs. Both brown and white eggs have the same nutritional value.
Q: What is the difference between a sasanqua and a camellia?
A: There are many species of camellias. The most popular camellia cultivated in Georgia is Camellia japonica. It is usually just called “camellia” or sometimes “Japanese camellia.” You may even hear a few people calling this species a “japonica” although others may call flowering quince by that name. You may also see it listed in some reference books as “common camellia” because it is the one most commonly cultivated, although there is nothing common about its beauty.
The second most popular species in our state is Camellia sasanqua. It goes by the common names “sasanqua camellia” or simply “sasanqua.”
Both of these species are technically camellias and may be referred to as such, but when people talk about a camellia without any qualifiers they usually mean Camellia japonica.
Sasanquas generally have smaller leaves and flowers than their japonica cousins. They are also generally smaller in stature. They begin blooming in the fall and into the winter while main period of blooming for most Japanese camellias is winter into spring. There are many more varieties of Japanese camellias than sasanqua camellias or any other species of camellia.
Other, less common, camellias you may consider growing are the tea-oil camellia (Camellia oleifera), a very cold-hardy species, the source of a high-quality cooking oil and a possible crop in Georgia’s future; tea plant (Camellia sinensis), the source of the tea we drink; reticulated camellia (Camellia reticulata), which has large blooms and is usually called by its botanical name; and other rarer species such as Camellia octopetala, Camellia obtusifolia, Camellia grijsii, Camellia handelii and Camellia fraterna.
To add to the confusion, there are hybrids between different species of camellias. When it comes to determining lineage, sometimes you have to step back and enjoy the beauty without worrying about origins or pedigree.
To learn more about camellias of all kinds, consider visiting Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley, home of the American Camellia Society (www.americancamellias.com) Phone 478-967-2358 or 1-877- 422-6355.
You may also want to go to the North Georgia Camellia Society’s annual show at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org), February 21-22 (1-5 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). The show features regional growers displaying their finest specimens in a juried competition.
Q: Where can I find plans for a bluebird house? I know it needs to be certain dimensions to discourage starlings and house sparrows from invading. Is it true that bluebirds eat a lot of insects?
A: For plans to construct and information about how to mount and where to place your bluebird house (also referred to as a nest box or nesting box), visit the website of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources at http://georgiawildlife.com/node/269. You may also want to visit the website of the North American Bluebird Society (www.nabluebirdsociety.org) and click on “Fact Sheets” for more plans and information.
Insects and spiders, including caterpillars, crickets, beetles and grasshoppers, comprise much of the bluebird’s diet, especially in summer. When these are not available, they eat small fruits such as those of dogwood, red cedar, holly, mistletoe, tupelo and sumac.
Arty Schronce writes this weekly question-and-answer column to address questions about agriculture and questions about the services and products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. If you have a question, please email him at email@example.com or call him at 404-656-3656.