Q: Is it true that century plants only bloom every one hundred years?
A: Depending on climate and location, the century plant (Agave americana) may take 10 to 30 years to bloom. It is quite a spectacle when it does, with a stalk that rises like a giant asparagus spear before reaching 10 to 40 feet and producing greenish yellow flowers.
Q: I am concerned about monarch butterflies. I hear their numbers are decreasing. Is there anything I can plant to help them?
A: Plant milkweeds. They are a necessary part of the butterfly’s life cycle. Adult butterflies lay their eggs on the plants and caterpillars (baby butterflies, if you will) eat the leaves.
Make your garden into a monarch waystation to help these unique migrating butterflies survive. Plant an entire patch of milkweed or just a few plants at your home, school, business or church. The Xerces Society, an organization devoted to invertebrate conservation, has even started Project Milkweed www.xerces.org/milkweed to help the monarch.
Two suitable species of milkweed that are readily available from nurseries are butterflyweed and swamp milkweed. You can plant them now or in the spring or fall.
Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a native perennial with stunning orange flowers. (Some may approach red or yellow.) It is a durable and beautiful flower that deserves to be more widely planted. Perhaps one reason it is not is because it is later to emerge from dormancy in the spring than some other perennials. Springtime customers at garden centers and nurseries may overlook or ignore it because is not up and blooming yet.
Butterflyweed is tolerant of drought and poor soil. It blends well with daylilies, bearded irises and many other perennials. It is a good choice for a large container planting, so even if you have only a balcony or a deck, you can plant something for monarchs.
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is a native perennial that prefers damp soils but will tolerate drier conditions. Its flowers are rose or white.
There are other milkweed species that are not as easy to find for sale or may be unsuitable for average gardens. The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a perennial that, as its name implies, is common through much of the United States. Common milkweed is usually considered too aggressive for most gardens. However, it does have interesting, attractive flowers. There are numerous species of milkvine (Matelea – a milkweed relative) native to Georgia that also serve as host plants for monarchs. Milkvines aren’t commonly available from nurseries and are not very ornamental although they have interesting starfish flowers and attractive seedpods. They should be preserved in places where they grow naturally and have room to spread.
Some scientists are now advising against planting the commonly available milkweed species known as tropical milkweed or bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica). It is an annual that is not native to Georgia and there are some indications it may actually harm monarchs by delaying or hindering their migration since it keeps growing into the fall and winter. Not everyone agrees with this. However, since there are other options, it is probably best to be on the safe side by choosing another milkweed species.
You should also include nectar plants in your garden for adult butterflies to feed on. A few favorites are hardy ageratum or mistflower, ironweed, joe-pye weed, garden phlox, abelia, liatris, native asters, goldenrod, sunflower, tithonia or Mexican sunflower, purple coneflower and zinnia.
If you are going to have a butterfly garden, refrain from using insecticides or use them carefully. They won’t just kill insect pests; they kill the butterflies you want to attract, too.
Q: My blueberries seem to ripen a few at a time. Is something wrong? Am I supposed to wait until all or most are ripe before I start picking? I want them to be ready all at one time.
A: It would make work easier perhaps if you could pick an entire bush at one time, but that’s not the way it goes. Blueberries ripen over a period of weeks. You pick the ripe ones and leave the rest to ripen later. On the bright side, this means an extended blueberry season for fresh Georgia Grown blueberries. For home growers like yourself, picking may seem tedious and it may take longer to fill your basket, but it also means you can be gone for several days or more and still come home to blueberries ripening on your bushes. Imagine if all your blueberries ripened while you were away on vacation and you didn’t get any!
Q: Do you have any information about the different breeds of farm animals, especially chickens and cows?
A: The Department of Animal Science at Oklahoma State University has created a website (www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds) that is an excellent resource for anyone researching breeds of domestic livestock and poultry. It provides information on cattle, goats, swine, horses, donkeys, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and more. Even camels, water buffaloes and reindeer are included. The Livestock Conservancy website (www.livestockconservancy.org) offers lots of information about heritage and threatened breeds. Cattle Today has information about beef cattle breeds on its website (www.cattle-today.com) and links to breed associations as well.
Q: I cannot get anything to grow under my crepe myrtle. Is the tree releasing a chemical that is killing plants under it?
A: We do not know of any alleopathic chemicals found in crepe myrtle roots or leaves that could poison or inhibit other plants. It is probably the shade blocking both sunlight and rain or the competition from the root system that are keeping things from growing under your crepe myrtle. Consider simply mulching around the tree or sticking in a few durable spring-blooming bulbs like crocus or daffodils that will bloom and complete most of their aboveground growth before the leaves on the tree come out.
Q: In June I saw a hummingbird at my feeder that had a black neck. Is this a rare species? I know there are ruby-throated hummingbirds; I have seen some of them at my feeder in the past.
A: What you saw was probably an adult male ruby-throated hummingbird. The feathers on a hummingbird are iridescent and if the light doesn’t land on the throat feathers just so, the throat will be jet black instead of gleaming like a jewel. Having said that, black-chinned hummingbirds have been sighted in Georgia. However, they are rare here and considered one of the winter species that sometimes show up at feeders later in the year. For more information visit the Georgia Hummer Study Group website at www.gahummer.org.
Q: Should I shuck sweet corn before putting it in the refrigerator? How long can I keep it in the fridge?
A: Keep the shuck attached to the sweet corn during storage; it will help protect the kernels and retain the corn’s moisture content. If the shuck is already removed, refrigerate fresh corn in a plastic bag. For best quality, use the sweet corn in your refrigerator within three days.
Q: There is a hornet’s nest in an oak tree in my back yard. It is gray and looks like a large, lopsided football. The hornets are black with some white on their faces and bodies. (They’re so far up I can’t get a good look.) What should I do?
A: It sounds like baldfaced hornets. If the nest is far enough up in the tree (and it sounds like it is) and the hornets are not bothering anyone, leave it and them alone. Baldfaced hornets are beneficial insects that reduce populations of unwanted insects (including yellowjackets and various flies) and will help pollinate flowers. They should not be controlled unless their nest and activities are creating a hazard.
If the nest is in a bush by a door or in an area where the hornets are stinging people, you will probably want to take action. Your local garden center or hardware store will have one or more aerosol insecticides to kill hornets. Some aerosols produce a jet stream of up to 20 feet to help ensure the safety of the user. Wait until after dark when the insects are at rest in the nest. Aim the insecticide at the nest opening, usually at the bottom of the nest. Be sure to spray inside the opening. Do not merely spray the exterior of the nest. Re-treat if necessary the next night. Always read and follow directions and safety precautions on labels. If you have questions, contact your county Cooperative Extension office.
Q: I have tomatoes coming out my ears. What can I do with them? I’m not much of a cook, and it’s too hot to cook anyway. I’m not going to can them. Any suggestions besides sandwiches?
A: Share with friends and neighbors or people at your workplace, church, gym or social clubs. Some people have never had the pleasure of eating a true homegrown tomato. Also check with your local food bank. The people there may be thrilled to get something fresh rather than canned or processed items.
Crispy pre-cooked bacon strips make the BLT easier to prepare than ever before – and don’t require heating up the kitchen on a hot summer day. If you are tired of the traditional sandwich of tomato and mayonnaise or of the BLT, try a TVO (tomato-Vidalia onion) or slip slices of tomato into pimento cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Why should only hamburgers be honored with tomatoes? Sprinkle diced tomatoes on your hot dog, too. Freshen a store-bought or delivery pizza with thin slices of tomatoes.
Tomatoes go well with eggs at breakfast, and halved cherry tomatoes or chopped tomatoes can be used as a topping for grits. Try a slice of tomato on buttered toast.
Drizzle sliced tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and serve with hunks of mozzarella. Stuff cherry tomatoes with pesto.
For extra tomato flavor throughout your salads, blend finely chopped or pureed tomato into your oil & vinegar dressing. You don’t need leafy greens to have a salad; consider a simple salad of tomatoes and cucumbers with vinaigrette. Combine chopped tomatoes and cubed avocado and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Mix tomato wedges or halved cherry tomatoes with slices of peaches and mangoes and slivers of onion. Add a little goat cheese and drizzle with a extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar or vinaigrette and some salt and pepper.
Gazpacho – this summer soup requires no cooking and is a cool and savory combination of tomatoes, tomato juice, garlic, onion and bell peppers.
You can also puree some tomatoes and freeze them for making soup in the winter when hot soups (and the heat from cooking them) will be welcomed.
And don’t forget bruschetta and fresh salsa.
We’re too hungry to make any more suggestions…
Q: Do you have a recipe for cantaloupe cobbler?
A: Gerrie Fort, Circulation Manager of the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin came through with this recipe from her mother, Eva Mae Chappell of Macon, Georgia. Says Mrs. Fort, “My mother made this during our childhood days, and it is yummy good!”
Mrs. Fort uses a 9 X 9 inch square baking dish.
Ingredients for filling:
1 ripe cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cut into medium-sized pieces (Let cantaloupe stand for about 2 hours covered with ½ cup sugar to help draw out the juice.)
½ cup sugar (in addition to the ½ cup mentioned above)
1 ½ cups hot water
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. cinnamon
½ stick butter
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. flour
Pie crust – Your favorite crust recipe or use store-bought. “Nothing like homemade,” says Mrs. Fort.
A little sugar, cinnamon and butter to sprinkle and drizzle on at the end
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine the filling ingredients in a sauce pan except the vanilla, salt and flour. Bring mixture to a rapid boil, but don’t let the cantaloupe pieces get soggy. Set aside and add vanilla and salt. Take some of the juice (about ½ cup) from pan, add the flour and mix until well blended. Pour the flour mixture back into the cantaloupe mixture and stir until well blended. Taste to see if it’s to your liking. Adjust the spices or flavoring at this point to suit your taste. Slice crust into thin strips. Spread a small amount of butter on bottom of baking dish. Place a layer of crust over bottom of dish, place in oven and bake until golden brown. Remove from oven. (If you are using a glass baking dish, allow the dish to cool a little before adding the cantaloupe mixture, especially if you made the mixture earlier and it is cold.) Add cantaloupe mixture. Place a second crust over the top in a crisscross pattern. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and drizzle with melted butter. Bake until bubbly and crust is golden brown.
“My mom never measured anything,” says Mrs. Fort. “I’m pretty much the same way. I basically make this like I make my peach cobbler. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!”
Mrs. Fort volunteered to make this cobbler for us to taste. We agree with her assessment that it is “Yummy good.”
You can find other cantaloupe pie and cobbler recipes in cookbooks and on the internet. When cantaloupes are in season a pie is one way to make use of the bounty. It is also a good way to use a cantaloupe that is a little bland and not as sweet as you’d like, a situation that may occur with end-of-the-season melons from your garden.
Q: Is there a particular time to pick tomatoes for the best taste?
A: There is not a particular time of day to harvest tomatoes for maximum flavor. The best time to pick your tomatoes 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 and a sweeter, better taste. It takes some practice and intuition to recognize when this is.
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: I’m looking for some new ideas for boiled corn-on-the-cob. Do you have any suggestions?
A: We don’t know how new they are, but here are some ideas:
Give the ears a squirt of lime juice or a pinch of chili powder after they have cooked. Try olive oil or another oil instead of butter. Try a sauce of mayonnaise with a little lime juice and chili powder. Sprinkle parmesan cheese or crumbled mild cheese on the ears.
How about flavored butter? In a food processor, purée a softened stick of butter with some chopped garlic, a few tablespoons of lime juice, a teaspoon or two of chili powder, salt and pepper. Another idea is a mix of butter with fresh basil leaves, lemon zest and lemon juice. You may want to purée a roasted or canned pepper with butter and use it as a spread.
Softened butter mixed with mild-flavored honey is good, especially if you have an ear that is older and starchier than one that is freshly picked. The sweet-hot combination of honey and chili powder or a hot pepper may be an exciting change.
If you have never had fresh Georgia Grown sweet corn, give it a try. It is available now at farmers markets, grocery stores or directly from the farm. Fresh sweet corn is good enough to eat plain, but since it is readily available don’t be afraid to experiment to add a little variety to your menu.
Q: I purchase white ears of corn at the market while my husband always picks up yellow. Is one color corn sweeter than another?
A: While different varieties of sweet corn may differ in flavor, sweetness and color, the color itself does not have any correlation to the corn’s sugar content. People's preferences for corn color are based largely on where they're from and what they ate as a child. If you always eat white sweet corn, make this the summer you try yellow or vice versa. In the spirit of compromise you may want to select a bi-color variety with both white and yellow kernels on the same ear.
Q: What tips can you give me on planting and tending to a Knock Out rose so that I will have beautiful blooms?
A: The main advice is to plant it in a sunny location – the sunnier the better. This is true for practically all roses. If you can’t provide a full day’s worth, then make sure it gets lots of morning sunlight. Morning sunlight dries the dew off the leaves. Wet leaves enhance the spread of fungal diseases. Knock Out roses are more disease resistant than many roses, but it is better to provide the best conditions in order to prevent possible problems.
If you have red clay, improve the drainage by mixing finely ground pine bark mulch with the clay when you are planting. You should work in some compost as well. If you have sandy soil, add compost. Mulch with pine bark, pine needles or another organic material.
Choose a fertilizer formulated for roses or a general one for woody shrubs and trees. Knock Out roses in the home landscape do not really need much or any fertilizing in most cases. Too many people over-fertilize and cause more problems.
Prune it in early spring to keep it the size you want, and you can prune it throughout the growing season by cutting off blooms to share with your friends and loved ones.
-- Arty Schronce
For more information, please write Arty Schronce, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., Agriculture Building, Room 128, Atlanta, GA, 30334 or call 404-656-3656.