Q: I could not believe my eyes during a trip to France: sautéed cucumbers. Is this a new trend?
A: While we are more familiar with eating cucumbers fresh or making them into pickles, they can also be served as a cooked side dish. Try this method: Peel them if the skin is tough and remove the seeds if they are large, then sauté the slices in olive oil or butter and season with fresh herbs such as tarragon or basil. One recipe even recommends seasoning with nutmeg.
Cooked cucumbers are neither particularly new nor European. Consider this advice from Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1872 edition, by Annabella P. Hill (b. 1810, d. 1878) of LaGrange, Georgia: “Cucumbers may also be stewed as squashes, and seasoned with butter, or sliced lengthwise, rolled in corn meal, salted and fried.”
Q: Do you have some different watermelon recipes?
A: Watermelon’s natural sweetness and ability to refresh make it a perfect choice for a hot, summer day. It’s hard to improve on the basic watermelon recipe: Slice and eat. Add salt (optional).
Watermelon blends well with honeydew, cantaloupe, blueberries and other fruits in fruit salads. For a colorful and super-healthy dessert, combine a yellow or orange-fleshed watermelon variety with a red one. Cube the flesh or use a melon-baller and serve it in a small bowl or large parfait glass.
Watermelon also naturally lends itself to drinks such as agua fresca, watermelon-raspberry lemonade, punch, mimosas and watermelon mocktails/cocktails. The National Watermelon Promotional Board has recipes for these and more including grilled watermelon, sorbets, salsas, salads and frozen treats at www.watermelon.org/recipes/.
Q: Is it too late (June 27) to plant zinnias?
A: You can still sow zinnia seeds for late summer and fall blooms. Depending on the variety and growing conditions, zinnias may bloom 50-60 days after sowing. Georgia garden centers also probably have pots of zinnias to fill places in your landscape that need immediate color.
Q: Are bulldogs are more susceptible to heat strokes than other dogs?
A: All dogs can suffer from heat strokes and die. During periods of high temperatures, dog owners need to be cautious when taking their pets out in the heat. Humans can cool off by perspiration over their entire bodies, but dogs only have sweat glands on their paw pads - not a very large surface area and very inefficient in getting rid of excessive heat. Dogs primarily get rid of excessive heat by panting. Breeds with short snouts suffer from an anatomical disadvantage when it comes to panting and their ability to move air. They are not as well-equipped as long-nosed breeds. Owners of short-snouted or flat-nosed breeds such as the bulldog, French bulldog, pug, Pekingese, Boston terrier, boxer, Lhasa apso, Shih Tzu, Japanese Chin, Chinese Imperial, affenpinscher and Brussels griffon need to be aware of the limitations of these breeds and their vulnerability during hot weather.
Overweight dogs and dogs with current or chronic pulmonary conditions are especially susceptible to heat stroke. Dog breeds with thick, heavy coats are also more susceptible to heat than similar breeds with short hair. Consider giving them a summer haircut.
Here are some tips for protecting dogs during the hottest days:
Keep susceptible dogs in air conditioning or cool basement during the summer.
Do not leave your pet in a parked car – even with the windows cracked. The temperature can become dangerously high within minutes.
If your dogs are outdoors, make sure that they have a shaded, well-ventilated place to get out of the sun. Place doghouses in the shade.
Keep a fresh water supply available. Keep it in the shade so it doesn’t get hot. Some dogs like to lick and chew ice when temperature is hot. There are also frozen treats.
Avoid prolonged contact with asphalt or concrete. These surfaces may burn paw pads.
Q: My cat and my house have become infested with fleas. What can I do to get rid of them?
A: Vacuum thoroughly (including furniture) every day until you get the infestation under control. Vacuuming removes up to 30 percent of the larvae and up to 60 percent of flea eggs from carpet, as well as the larvae’s food supply of dried blood found in the fecal material of adult fleas. Discard vacuum cleaner bags at least once a week. Fleas can continue to develop inside vacuum cleaner bags and re-infest the house, so change the bags outside.
Change your pet’s bedding. Wash all throw rugs, slipcovers and other similar washable items.
Your pet’s first line of defense is a flea comb and a good bath. Flea combs have fine teeth that remove adult fleas from fur. Pay special attention to the face, neck and the area in front of the tail. Dip the comb frequently in soapy water or an alcohol solution to kill fleas removed from the pet. The infestation you describe may require more than a bath and combing, however.
There are numerous treatments for cats and dogs including insect growth regulators that interrupt the flea’s life cycle and topical insecticidal treatments that have low toxicity to mammals and pose little risk to pets or people. Consult your veterinarian or visit a pet store for over-the-counter options.
Several low-toxicity insecticides are available for indoor use. Some of these kill fleas on contact but evaporate quickly and leave little residual protection against emerging fleas. Be sure to treat areas where pets spend a lot of time.
When you find fleas in your house, begin a control program early for best results. Don’t wait until they get out of hand. Always follow all label directions carefully for safety and for best results when using any pesticide or chemical. If you cannot control this problem yourself, pest control companies may be able to help you.
Q: I have heard it is best to have a pot of water ready and boiling for your sweet corn when you harvest it. Why is this?
A: This advice is to help ensure maximum sweetness, or at least to stress the importance of using the corn as quickly as possible to ensure maximum sweetness. When sweet corn is harvested, the sugars in the kernels begin converting to starch. The quicker you get sweet corn to the plate, the sweeter it will be. However, with today’s improved varieties, including supersweet varieties and sugar-enhanced varieties which are sweeter to begin with and retain sweetness longer, the race to the pot is not as big an issue as it used to be.
Other tips for maintaining utmost sweetness include: 1) Refrigerate ears of corn until you are ready to use them. 2) Place the ears in boiling water rather than bringing the water to a boil with the ears in it. 3) Don’t overcook the corn. Depending on the size of the kernels and your personal taste preferences, a few minutes after the water has returned to a boil after adding the ears will be fine. (Some people even opt for shorter cook times. It is a matter of preference; there is not a food safety issue – you can eat it raw if you like.) Some cooks go as far as adding a little sugar or honey to the water. One thing you should never add to the water is salt – it will toughen the kernels.
You can find Georgia Grown sweet corn now at farmers markets, grocery stores or directly from the farm.
Q: I have been told I can start new tomato plants for my fall garden from suckers. How do I do this?
A: To start new plants, pinch off the suckers (the shoots that grow in the junctions between the stems on the tomato plant) when they are three to four inches long and stick them in moist sand in a shady spot. Roots will form in about 10 days.
Q: There are insects in my magnolia blossoms that look like lightning bugs but are a dull orange-gold with two black spots on the wings. Are they harmful?
A: They sound like one of the species of soldier beetles, probably the Pennsylvania soldier beetle (also known as the Pennsylvania leatherwing or goldenrod leatherwing.) They are not harmful; they are beneficial. Soldier beetles pollinate magnolias, waterlilies, goldenrods, butterflyweed and other flowers. Soldier beetles are also beneficial to farmers and gardeners because they eat aphids, grasshopper eggs, mites and other pests. They have been reported to attack cucumber beetles, a serious pest of cucumbers.
Q: Which tastes better – white peaches or yellow peaches?
A: It is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer the white-fleshed varieties and some the yellow. And many people can’t get enough Georgia peaches of either type.
Yellow varieties are more common and more familiar to most people. White peaches are usually described as being less acidic and having a more delicate, floral flavor than the yellow varieties. White and yellow varieties may be used interchangeably in recipes.
Visit a peach grower or a farmers market selling Georgia Grown peaches and conduct taste tests over the summer to find the varieties you like best. Yellow or white, the best peaches are those produced right here in Georgia and picked close to the time of ripeness – not those picked green and shipped from thousands of miles away.
Q: Do scarecrows actually work?
A: If scarecrows could sing and dance like Ray Bolger in The Wizard of Oz, the crows “be scared to pieces” just as Dorothy predicted. However, the actual effectiveness of stuffed stick figures on this side of the rainbow is far more limited. It turns out the birds are not the birdbrains we thought, and crows are among the most intelligent of all. Crows, research has proven, can even recognize the faces of individual people.
Traditional scarecrows may scare a few birds away for a brief period, especially while you are in the garden constructing or installing them. Birds become suspicious of humanlike figures that don’t move or really look or act human. They overcome whatever fear they initially had and proceed to pull up your sprouting corn or eat your ripening strawberries.
Some people report better results with non-traditional scarecrows such as plastic owls and rubber or inflatable snakes. These have to be repositioned at least once a day to keep the birds from wising up.
Balloons with “owl eyes,” shiny pie pans, used compact discs and metallic ribbon that reflects light as it blows in the wind and gives the appearance of something constantly moving may scare birds away temporarily, but the birds eventually become immune to them.
Motion-activated sprinklers that surprise animals with a stream of water are one relatively new scare device that holds promise in some circumstances.
Scarecrows of tomorrow may incorporate advances in technology and knowledge of bird behavior along with traditional scare tactics in the ongoing battle to protect gardens and crops.
Q: Is it safe to leave a dog in a parked car with the window cracked during the summer?
A: Studies have shown that car temperatures can become dangerously high within minutes even with the windows cracked. And those trips to “run inside the store to pick up one item” always take longer than you think they will. The combination of summer sun and carelessness can have devastating consequences for dogs, cats, birds and children. Don’t leave them in the car.
Q: Are over-the-counter indoor foggers a good way to treat for bedbugs?
A: No. Scientific research shows that these total release foggers (aka bug bombs) are ineffective in the control of bedbugs and most other indoor insect pests as well. There are no quick and easy fixes for eradicating bedbugs. In a 2011 study conducted by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky, 76 percent of pest professionals cited bedbugs as the most difficult pest to treat. The industry, however, has become adept at treating bedbugs using a host of effective control solutions. If you have bedbugs, consult a professional.
The best (and cheapest) control is prevention. Here are five tips to keep bedbugs out of your home: 1) When checking into a hotel room, examine mattresses, headboards, box springs and other upholstered furniture for spotted stains that could be dried blood or bug excrement. Any hotel can have bedbugs. If you suspect a problem, immediately ask to change rooms. 2) Unpack/check luggage outside after a trip before bringing it into the house. 3) Do not keep luggage stored underneath a bed. 4) Use mattress covers designed to protect against bedbugs. 5) Avoid bringing used furniture, particularly mattresses, into your home.
Q: My daughter found a large beetle in the woods. It is greenish gray with brown spots and is more than two inches long. It has two horns. Is it harmful?
A: It sounds like she found an Eastern Hercules beetle. It is the largest beetle in the United States. Those horns make the beetle look ferocious, but they are not dangerous. However, if you pick one up, it may scratch you with its strong, spiny legs. It will also secrete a foul odor which it uses to discourage predators such as crows and owls. The females do not have horns. The beetles need dead wood such as old stumps and logs to reproduce. They are not an agricultural or forestry pest. Eastern Hercules beetles are an interesting part of our state’s fauna and a favorite of insect collectors due to their large size, attractive coloration and overall impressive appearance.
Q: Is it all right to decorate with seashells in the garden? I have some that a neighbor brought from Florida. I am concerned about the salt.
A: Seashells are Mother Nature’s sculptures and have long been used to decorate gardens and gravesites because of their beauty and because they are symbols of the Resurrection. Rinsing them to remove any salt residue or salty beach sand will be adequate to protect your plants.
Large shells such as conch, whelk, cockle and clam are favorite choices for garden ornamentation. It is a good idea to position them concave side down so they do not collect water and become little breeding reservoirs for mosquitoes. All the shells will eventually fade and be eaten away by the elements and by snails that may visit them to recycle some of the calcium from their maritime cousins.
You can mix a cup of crushed shells with the soil when planting peonies and other long-lived plants that like additional slow-release calcium. Because of sharp edges, use caution with shell pieces that may give you a nasty cut when working in the soil.
Q: When is the Georgia Grown Farmer Showcase?
A: The Georgia Grown Farmer Showcase will be held at the Atlanta State Farmers Market, Saturday, June 16, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is a family-friendly event with entertainment and more than 30 vendors from around the state. In addition to fruits and vegetables, you can shop for meats, cheeses, plants and flowers, jams, jellies, honey, bread and more. For more information contact Paul Thompson at 404-675-1782. The Atlanta State Farmers Market is located at 16 Forest Parkway, Forest Park. UPDATE: The first Georgia Grown Farmer Showcase was a great success with 47 vendors participating. The next Georgia Grown Farmer Showcase will be July 28 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Atlanta State Farmers Market.
Q: Will there be another Georgia Grown Farmer Showcase at the Atlanta State Farmers Market?
A: Yes. The second Georgia Grown Farmer Showcase will be July 28 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Atlanta State Farmers Market. The first one was a great success with 47 vendors selling vegetables, fruits, meats, multicolored eggs, meats, beef and pork jerky, apple juice and apple products, alpaca yarn and products, soaps, cheeses, plants and flowers, jams, jellies, honey, bread, Georgia Grown T-shirts and more. For more information contact Paul Thompson at 404-675-1782. The Atlanta State Farmers Market is located at 16 Forest Parkway, Forest Park.