Question: I wanted to start a butterfly garden but was told not to plant a butterfly bush. Why?
Answer: Buddleia or butterfly bush can be a nectar source for butterflies, but it has become invasive in some areas of the country and people fear it will do so here in Georgia. Invasive species are detrimental to the environment (harming butterfly populations in the long run) and to agriculture and forestry, too. Be on the safe side and plant something else.
Just because it is called "butterfly bush" does not mean it is the best or only choice for a butterfly garden. There are many other plants that are just as good or better and that you don't have to worry about becoming invasive. Here are some favorite nectar plants butterflies like: ironweed, native butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa, also a larval host plant for monarchs), joe-pye weed, summer phlox, thrift (Phlox subulata), buttonbush, abelia, lilac, liatris, native asters, goldenrod, sunflower, tithonia or Mexican sunflower, purple coneflower and single-flowered zinnias. Plant them instead of buddleia.
Also, if you want to have a successful butterfly garden concentrate on larval host plants instead of nectar plants. They are the ones butterflies lay their eggs on and that the caterpillars (larvae) eat. Most butterflies have specific needs and will only lay eggs on one type or family of plants. Monarchs, for example, only lay their eggs on milkweeds and related plants. Although adult butterflies will visit lots of flowers for nectar, they will pass over a garden overflowing with flowers to get to one of their larval host plants. These plants are essential for them to reproduce, and butterflies will travel long distances to get to them. It is a matter of survival. For more information: http://agr.georgia.gov/create-a-garden-to-attract-butterflies.aspx
Q: What exactly is turmeric? I see it in more restaurant dishes and things at the grocery store.
A: Turmeric is a spice valued for its peppery-ginger flavor, golden orange to saffron color and supposed health benefits. Turmeric is widely used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking and comes from the roots of Curcuma longa, a tropical plant related to ginger.
Turmeric seems to be growing in popularity and acceptance. People who know it only as the spice that adds flavor and color to bread-and-butter pickles are seeing it pop up in dishes at restaurants and products at the grocery store. However, there seems to be no agreement among cooks or dictionaries as to whether to pronounce the first r in turmeric.
Q: Are yellow watermelons sweeter than red watermelons?
A: No, but they are just as sweet. Add color and variety to picnics and fruit salads by serving both red and yellow.
Q: Is ‘Autumn Minaret’ a good daylily? I was given one recently.
A: You won’t be disappointed with your new acquisition. ‘Autumn Minaret’ is a tall, late-bloomer that extends the daylily season through July and perhaps into August. (The main daylily month is June.) It is fragrant and has orange-yellow flowers with a darker eye. Despite its name, summer is still in force when ‘Autumn Minaret’ blooms here. Its blooms are not large, but at five and a half feet tall, you won’t overlook them. It was introduced in 1951.
Q: What is the difference between a defoliant and a herbicide?
A: A defoliant is used to make the foliage (leaves) fall off of a plant. Defoliants have a very specialized use in agriculture. A defoliant may be used at the end of the season on cotton or soybeans or other crops to make harvesting easier. Herbicides are used to kill unwanted plants or prevent them from sprouting. Gardeners or farmers may use a herbicide to kill weeds. They would not use a defoliant.
Q: Who licenses and inspects restaurants?
A: County health departments inspect and license restaurants and similar food service establishments.
Q: What is avian influenza? I heard on the news earlier this year that it was killing chickens and turkeys. Is it safe to eat poultry and eggs?
A: Avian influenza is a viral respiratory disease of birds. There are many strains of avian influenza. What you saw on the news affecting poultry growers in other parts of the country is a strain of the virus categorized as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). “Highly pathogenic” means it is characterized as having a high (sometimes 100 percent) sickness and death rate in infected poultry flocks. It has not been found in Georgia.
No human cases of avian influenza have been confirmed in the U.S. The particular strain of the virus, H5N2, that you heard about on the news is not zoonotic, meaning it cannot pass between humans and animals. All commercially produced poultry is tested for avian influenza prior to being allowed to be processed. Poultry products and eggs are safe for human consumption. Avian influenza is an animal health issue, not a food safety or public health issue.
Avian influenza, like all types of influenza, is capable of frequent mutation. When one type of influenza comes into contact with another, changes are likely to occur. Therefore, safety precautions should always be taken. Backyard poultry is not tested prior to processing. Safe handling and cooking techniques should always be followed when handling raw poultry, meat and eggs.
For more information: http://agr.georgia.gov/avian-influenza.aspx
Q: Can I collect the water dripping out of my air conditioner to water my plants?
A: Yes, that will be a good way of recycling the water and giving your plants a free drink on hot days. One caveat: don’t let the bucket or container become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Empty it daily or every other day.
Another option to make most of this water is to plant moisture-loving flowers and plants at or near the drip zone. A few possibilities include canna, swamp hibiscus, cardinal flower, jewelweed, turtlehead, joe-pye weed, ostrich fern, royal fern, cinnamon fern, Japanese iris, Louisiana iris, copper iris and swamp milkweed.
Q: Who determines when something is considered a weed?
A: You do. A weed is a plant growing where you don’t want it. When a plant interferes with human endeavors (usually agricultural or horticultural endeavors), it is classified as a weed. An oak tree growing in the middle of your yard may be welcomed for its shade and beauty. An oak tree sprouting in a crack in the sidewalk is a weed because it will damage the sidewalk and eventually hinder or block pedestrians. A tomato plant in your vegetable garden is welcomed for the juicy tomatoes it produces. A tomato plant in the middle of a cotton field is a weed because it interferes with the growing and harvesting of the cotton.
What most people classify as weeds, however, are not the stray oak or tomato plant that sprouted in the wrong place. The plants we usually think of as weeds are those which sprout, thrive and spread in lots of places where lots of people don’t want them. Besides the ability to reproduce readily and grow in lots of settings, the plants that qualify as the worst weedy offenders are also tenacious and difficult to eradicate.
Q: We’re expecting more children than ever at our church’s vacation Bible school program. I’m looking for information on food safety and preventing food poisoning in kids. Does the Georgia Department of Agriculture offer any simple tips or information that our kitchen volunteers can review?
A: The GDA and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension have developed a simple, straightforward training webinar that is available online for free at https://youtu.be/HEqUvd6WZYU, and covers the topic of “Preventing Foodborne Illness in Young Children: Safe Handling of Foods in Childcare Settings.” In the webinar, you’ll learn how foodborne illnesses can affect young children and the serious complications that can occur when children get sick from foods they eat. You'll find out what simple steps can be taken to prevent these illnesses from occurring, with interactive questions and scenarios to think about. This information is relevant for anyone working in a food service setting and can be scheduled as a live training for continuing education credits. If you would like to schedule a live webinar or in-person training sometime in the future, contact our Food Safety Division Outreach Coordinator at Jessica.Badour@agr.georgia.gov.
Q: The lettuce I grew this spring is flowering now. I usually pull it up and plant something else but did not do that this year. This is the first time I have seen lettuce bloom. The flowers and the seed heads look like those of dandelions. Are they related?
A: Lettuce and dandelions are closely related members of the aster family. Their kinship is most noticeable when they bloom with their bright yellow flowers and when they go to seed and produce puffball seed heads.
Q: What are some herbs to grow for herbal tea?
A: There are numerous herbs to grow for tisanes or herbal teas. The various mints (peppermint, spearmint, orange mint and others) are, by far, the most popular. Other herbs to try include chamomile, rosemary, catnip, lemon grass, lemon balm, lemon basil, lemon verbena, lavender, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), monarda, mountain mints (Pycnanthemum spp.), stevia and pineapple sage.
Some herbs are used by themselves to make herbal tea. Some are combined with other herbs to make a blended herbal tea or brewed with true tea to give it a different flavor. Look for herb plants at nurseries and garden centers. Some can be grown from seed, too.
Q: Birds have built a nest my geranium hanging basket. The birds have a striped breast and one has a cranberry cast to its feathers. What kind of bird are they? Do they commonly do this? Can I still water my geranium?
A: It sounds like a pair of house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus). Some people mistakenly call these “purple finches,” but the purple finch (Haemorhous purpureus) is a different species and does not breed in Georgia. The male house finch is the one that exhibits the colorful plumage.
You can still water your geranium but water it carefully on the side opposite the nest, preferably when you see the adults are away. House finches don’t seem to mind living and feeding close to humans, but don’t harass or disturb them unnecessarily or flood the nest, eggs or nestlings when you water.
Q: When is Georgia’s next auction of rehabilitated horses? How many horses will be offered?
A: The Georgia Department of Agriculture will conduct a live auction on Saturday, August 15, at the Mansfield Impound Barn, 2834 Marben Farm Rd., Mansfield, Georgia 30055.
The exact number of horses to be auctioned will not be known until closer to the sale date, but at this time we estimate that 12 to 15 horses will be available for new and loving homes.
The horses may be inspected at the facility beginning at 10 a.m. The sale will start at 11 a.m. For more information, contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Equine Health Office at 404-656-3713. (M-F 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
Q: How can I get information about recalls of food (including pet food) here in Georgia? Do you send out announcements?
A: The Georgia Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division posts all recall information on our department website at http://agr.georgia.gov/recalls.aspx when the information indicates the recalled products may be in Georgia.
On this same website, people will find an “Email Alerts” option on the top right-hand side of the page where they can sign up to receive automatic email updates about recalls as they occur. Our recall outreach specialist sends the emails with a brief summary of the recall and a link to more information. She also posts the information on our Twitter account @GDAFoodSafety.
Q: Do you have a recipe for watermelon lemonade?
A: Here’s a refreshing recipe from the Georgia Grown Test Kitchen:
8 cups watermelon chunks, seeds removed
½ cup sugar
1 cup water
½ cup fresh lemon juice
Dissolve sugar in water over low heat. Set aside to cool. In a blender, combine watermelon and lemon juice. Puree until smooth. Add cooled sugar mixture and pulse to combine. Serve chilled. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint or rosemary from your garden. Watermelon lemonade can also be frozen in ice cube trays and added to regular lemonade or other drinks. Try freezing it in molds to make ice pop treats.
Q: What are the black nodules at the base of the leaves of my tiger lily? Are they seeds?
A: They are not seeds; they are mini-bulbs known as bulbils. The common tiger lily found in many gardens does not produce seeds. It reproduces by means of these bulbils.
If you want to increase your stock of tiger lilies, collect these bulbils and sow them in vermiculite, a seed-starting mix or directly in prepared ground. Leave the bulbils on the plant to allow them to get as large as possible before collecting and sowing. When they begin to fall off, you know it is time to harvest. Sow them immediately; do not wait until spring.
Q: Will cantaloupes ripen after they have been picked?
A: Once the melon is removed from the plant, the flesh will soften but the sugar content will never be higher than it was at harvest. For the best flavor, melons should be picked when fully ripe; that is when their sugar levels are at their peak.
Q: Can you tell me what is keeping my tomatoes from setting fruit? They were fine until recently.
A: Temperatures above 90 degrees or below 60 degrees will keep tomatoes, eggplants and peppers from setting fruit.
Q: Why have I been told never to put fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator?
A: Refrigerating a fresh tomato can give it a canned, processed flavor. Do not refrigerate fresh tomatoes except for food safety reasons such as saving sliced tomatoes for later use or marinating tomatoes overnight.
Q: I am concerned about my elderly parents working in the garden during this extreme heat. What can I do to make sure they don’t have a heatstroke?
A: Talk with them and their doctor to make sure they are taking necessary precautions to protect themselves. Express your concerns and offer to help in the garden and with other outside chores, too!
Here are ways to help you and your family stay safe when temperatures climb:
Stay hydrated with water or other cool liquids. Hydration needs can vary based on health conditions and medications. Don’t wait until your mouth feels dry before you drink. Keep in mind that alcohol and caffeine can contribute to dehydration and heat illness.
Save outdoor activities for the cooler morning or evening hours. If you must be out in the peak heat of the day, don't push yourself — especially if you're not used to it. If you feel overly hot or light-headed, get out of the heat to cool off and rest.
Choose lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that lets air circulate.
Sunburn affects the body's ability to cool itself. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
If you don't have air conditioning, try a cool shower or bath. Head to a mall, library, cinema or other spot that does and stay there for a few hours.
Check on each other in person and over the phone. Take a cell phone to the garden to call for help if you need it.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. It occurs when our natural cooling system gets completely overloaded. Normally, sweating helps protect us from overheating. But with heatstroke, a person's temperature can soar rapidly — above 103° F. And sweat doesn't evaporate fast enough to cool the body.
Heatstroke can be deadly. It can happen to anyone. Young children and older adults are especially vulnerable. Those with a chronic health condition or taking certain medications may be more heat sensitive.
Signs of heatstroke vary but may include: skin that is red, hot and dry - but not sweaty; rapid pulse; dizziness; labored breathing; confusion, hallucination or seizures; and unconsciousness.
If you think someone has heatstroke, call 911. While waiting for help to arrive, move the person to shade. Remove unneeded or tight clothing. Place cold compresses or cool, wet towels against the skin. Start with these hot spots: the head, neck, groin and armpits. Or fan while lightly spraying or sponging the person with water.
-- Arty Schronce
If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.