Q: When is the best time to pick tomatoes for the best taste?
A: The best time to pick your tomatoes for best taste is when they are ripe. There is not one specific signal that will tell you this. Some tomatoes will still have green shoulders when fully ripe. Others can have turned completely red or yellow but still need to ripen a day or two more to a somewhat deeper color for maximum flavor. It takes some practice and intuition to recognize when this is. There is not one particular time of day to harvest tomatoes for maximum flavor. Another tip for the best-tasting tomatoes: Do not refrigerate them if you are planning on using them fresh. Refrigerating them destroys that highly-desired fresh flavor.
Q: What is the difference between sultanas and impatiens?
A: They are the same flower. “Sultana” is not as common a name as it used to be. The name “impatiens” is more common in the nursery trade now.
Q: I saw perilla (Perilla frutescens) seeds offered in a seed catalog. It sounded attractive with its purple leaves. I planted it and it is thriving with my flowers. When my neighbor (who raises cattle) saw it, he said the plant is toxic to cattle and asked if I would pull the plants up or at least keep them from going to seed. Is perilla toxic to cattle?
A: Yes, perilla causes a respiratory problem that usually kills cattle. Typically, when cattle have plenty to eat they do not consume it, but when food is scarce they may. Perilla, also called perilla mint, is native to Asia but naturalized throughout the eastern U.S. (including Georgia) and Canada. Perilla is sometimes grown as an ornamental. Perilla can be purple or green depending on the strain. It is not the best ornamental as it sows itself around rather freely, which is why it has naturalized such a large area – and why your neighbor is concerned it will spread to his pastures. The odor of the leaves is unpleasant to many people. There are other more attractive (and more useful) purple plants to grow such as one of the purple-leaved basil varieties.
Q: Are red sunflowers common? I saw one recently and had never seen one before. Are they easy to grow?
A: Most sunflowers are yellow, but red ones are becoming increasingly common in gardens. The brilliant orange-red sunflowers you see for sale from florists are yellow sunflowers that are dyed, however. Natural red varieties are closer to wine, maroon and rusty reds than pure red. Gardeners can purchase seed packets of red sunflowers with names like ‘Strawberry Blonde,’ ‘Chianti,’ ‘Cappuccino’ and ‘Indian Blanket’ directly from seed catalogs or at garden centers. Sometimes these red varieties are included in mixed packets of sunflower seeds. They are easy to grow. Although not a true sunflower, tithonia is sometimes called “Mexican sunflower.” It is an intense color sometimes described as lacquer red, vermillion or Chinese red. It is also easy to grow. Its flowers look more like single dahlias than sunflowers.
Q: Is it too early to plant daffodils? I have just received a bulb catalog and it is not even August.
A: It is too early to plant spring-flowering bulbs in Georgia, but it is not too early to start selecting the ones you want or to place your order. Ordering early will help ensure you get the varieties you desire as some are available only in limited quantities. Bulb companies generally send bulbs at the appropriate planting time for your area. In Georgia, spring-flowering bulbs can be planted from October through late December in most areas. If you cannot plant bulbs right away, store them in a cool, dry area.
Q: My neighbors and I have a surplus of fruits and vegetables we would like to sell. What kind of license or permit do we need to sell our produce?
A: You will need a permit from the Georgia Department of Agriculture only if you process the produce in some way, including cutting up any of the fruits and vegetables. You can sell your produce from your property or at a local farmers market, but check with local city and county governments about what you are allowed to do and what permits or licenses are required to sell in those locations. Some local planning and zoning laws prohibit such activity in some areas. Some farmers markets have requirements and membership fees for selling at their markets.
Q: Can you tell me what is keeping my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants 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: What are some vegetables that can be cooked on the grill outside?
A: Corn-on-the-cob, eggplant, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, Vidalia onions, peppers, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, summer squash, winter squash and tomatoes are the most common vegetables used. Some fruits are suitable for grilling, too. Georgia peaches are a favorite. Check a cookbook or a reputable cooking website to see the different ways vegetables and fruits can be prepared on the grill.
Q: Will cantaloupes (muskmelons) ripen after they have been picked?
A: Once the melon is removed from the vine, the flesh will soften but the sugar content will never be higher than it was at harvest.
Q: It seems as though all my fruits and vegetables are coming in at the same time. My neighbors and I have given away much of our excess harvest to local food banks and to those feeding the needy, but we sure would like to have some of these fruits and vegetables later in the fall and winter. Where could we get information about preserving our produce for later?
A: Contact the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, either at a local office near you, which can be found in your telephone directory either under U.S. or local government listings, or you can retrieve publications on canning and freezing fruits and vegetables from the Cooperative Extension website. The web address is www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/food/ where you can find information on food, including canning, freezing, and preserving. Most of the information and publications can be downloaded.
Q: Are all tomatoes red?
A: No. There are tomatoes that are orange, yellow, yellowish green, white (ivory) and pink (pinkish red) when ripe. Some like ‘Black Russian’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’ get their names because they are so much darker than standard red tomatoes. Some varieties are yellow or orange and marbled with red. Check seed catalogs, especially those specializing in tomatoes and heirloom varieties of vegetables, to see many tomatoes that are quite different from the ubiquitous red ones. You may also see them at farmers markets, as some small farmers are growing these specialty and heirloom varieties. It is possible to get a mental picture of the color possibilities by looking at the names of some of these less familiar varieties: ‘Big Rainbow,’ ‘Georgia Streak,’ ‘Black Cherry,’ ‘Green Grape,’ ‘Chocolate Stripe,’ ‘Emerald Apple,’ ‘Green Zebra,’ ‘White Wonder,’ ‘Sungold,’ ‘Violet Jasper,’ ‘Persimmon,’ ‘Black Prince,’ ‘Carbon’ and ‘Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge.’ If you want something different, try some of these in your garden or on your dinner plate.
Q: Why are tomato plants called vines? What is a “vine-ripened” tomato?
A: Tomato plants do not twine as morning-glory or bean vines do. They do not cling to walls or posts with rootlets the way English ivy does. They do not attach themselves with tendrils the way grape vines do. However, because of the loose, sprawling habit that requires some varieties to need staking or trellising, tomato plants are sometimes called vines. A vine-ripened tomato is a tomato that is allowed to ripen while still on the vine. It is picked when it is ripe. It is not as suitable for shipping as those picked green or nearly green and gassed with ethylene to ripen them. One note of caution: there are some sellers who will call a tomato “vine-ripened” if it is picked when it is showing any redness or color other than green. You are most likely to get truly vine-ripened tomatoes by growing them yourself or buying directly from the grower at the farm or at a farmers market.
Q: Are there any green-fleshed cantaloupes (muskmelons)?
A: There are some that have green or green with orange flesh. Two well-known varieties are ‘Rocky Ford’ and ‘Jenny Lind.’
Q: What is the difference between sassafras, red sassafras and white sassafras? Which one often grows along fences?
A: Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is native to Georgia and grows throughout the state. Most people just call it “sassafras,” but a few people call it “red sassafras” or “white sassafras.” It is the same tree, however. It often grows along fences because birds eat the small fruit and deposit the seed in their droppings when they are resting on the fence wire or fence post.
Q: Does the cow-itch vine make cows itch?
A: As far as we know, the cow-itch vine (Campsis radicans), also known as “trumpet creeper” or “trumpet vine,” does not cause cattle any dermal discomfort. The name “cow-itch” is a corruption of “cowhage,” the name of a tropical vine in the bean family that has pods that do indeed cause itching of people and perhaps cows as well. The bean-like seed pods of our native cow-itch vine must have reminded some early settler or explorer of the cowhage vine. The fact that cow-itch vine often grows on pasture fence posts where cows rub or scratch may have contributed to the etymological evolution of “cowhage” into “cow-itch.” Some people have claimed allergic reactions when sawing or cutting the stems of our cow-itch vine, but this is not universal or well documented. Cow-itch vine is sold at garden centers and nurseries, but usually under the more marketable names of trumpet creeper or trumpet vine. The vine’s tubular, orange-red flowers attract hummingbirds. The variety ‘Flava’ has orange-yellow flowers and can sometimes be found for sale. ‘Madame Galen’ is a hybrid between our native species and the Chinese species Campsis grandiflora and is commonly available for sale. Cow-itch vine/trumpet creeper/trumpet vine is a durable, vigorous vine. One drawback in the garden is that it may be too vigorous as it suckers and spreads readily.
Q: What is the difference between a defoliant and a herbicide?
A: A defoliant is used to make leaves (foliage) 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. A herbicide is used to kill unwanted plants (weeds) or prevent them from sprouting. Home gardeners may feel the need to use a herbicide to kill weeds. They would not use a defoliant.
Q: What section of the Georgia Department of Agriculture issues permits for restaurants and inspects them?
A: Please contact your county health department. They inspect and license food service establishments such as restaurants.
-- Arty G. Schronce