Question: How often do I need to pick cucumbers?
Answer: Cucumbers on the vine can grow quickly. You should pick them at least once a day and possibly twice a day. If you do not keep an eye on them, they will become too large and seedy for most purposes.
Q: I don’t see as many lightning bugs in my neighborhood as I once did. What is wrong and is there anything I can do?
A: Lightning bugs, also known as fireflies, are disappearing from many areas. Scientists generally agree there are at least several factors threatening lightning bugs including an overabundance of artificial light at night, drought, pollution and pesticides. Here are a few suggestions how you can help:
Lightning bugs flash to signal each other and attract mates. Strong, bright lights can disrupt their flashes, making it harder for them to find mates and breed. Make your property a lightning bug haven by turning off exterior and garden lights and drawing your blinds at night so that interior light doesn't illuminate the landscape too much during the time of lightning bug activity.
Cut down or eliminate the use of insecticides. They can kill many non-target and beneficial insects. For example, it is better to put on a mosquito repellent than to spray your entire yard with an insecticide that will kill many insects other than mosquitoes.
Some species of lightning bug larvae grow up in rotten logs and the organic matter that accumulates under trees. If you have trees in your yard, leave leaf litter around them. Don’t remove every rotting log and branch from your property.
Don’t over-mow your lawn. Lightning bugs mainly stay on the ground during the day and prefer long grass. A putting-green lawn is not beneficial to them. Consider incorporating some meadows or areas of long grasses into your landscape.
Talk with your neighbors. Explain what you are trying to do and enlist their support. Together, you can make more of an impact than you can by yourself.
For more information visit the Vanishing Firefly Project at Clemson University at www.clemson.edu/public/rec/baruch/firefly_project or visit www.firefly.org, an educational website devoted to firefly conservation.
Q: I love daylilies. Can I grow them in a pot on my deck?
A: Yes. Plant them in large pots, at least 16 inches across and equally deep, filled with potting soil. You will have to water the daylilies more than those planted in the ground because containers dry out more quickly. If you have large containers such as half-barrel planters you may be able to grow tall varieties, but if you have smaller containers you may want to select shorter, more diminutive varieties.
Q: What is the difference between catnip and catmint? I have seen both for sale at nurseries.
A: Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an herb, usually with white flowers, that is sometimes used to make tea. It can also be very attractive to cats, causing many of them to become playful and exhibit what appears to be a state of euphoria. It is commonly used in cat toys and scratching posts.
Catmint generally refers to other species and hybrids of the genus Nepeta that are grown for ornamental purposes. These usually have smaller leaves and more abundant and prettier flowers than catnip. Catmint flowers are lavender, lavender-blue or purple, but there are some white varieties. Catmint is sometimes sold with herbs and planted in herb gardens, but it is mainly an ornamental plant.
Cats do not respond to catmint the way they do to catnip. However, not all cats respond to catnip. It appears to be an inherited trait and an estimated 50 percent of cats do not react to it. Also, the trait doesn't emerge until a cat is between three and six months old. Until then, a kitten will not have a response.
Catnip and catmint prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Good combinations with catmint and catnip in the garden include purple coneflower, sundrops, Indian primrose, Shasta daisy, santolina, thyme, oregano rosemary, lavender, liatris, lamb’s ear, sedum, germander, gaillardia, autumn sage, New England aster, New York aster, butterflyweed, coreopsis, gaura, anise hyssop, veronica, verbena and Jerusalem sage. Catmint is also a good perennial to plant with hybrid tea roses.
Q: My fig tree previously had a single, straight trunk. It was killed to the ground this winter. Three curved sprouts came out of the base this spring. I would like to have a single trunk again. What should I do?
A: Although figs can be trained to grow as either single or multi-trunk specimens, the single-trunk form is more difficult to maintain in north and middle Georgia due to periodic dieback from freezing. The multi-trunk form (also referred to as the bush form) is best in these areas.
If your heart is set on having one trunk and a more tree-like fig, you can cut off the smaller two of the three shoots, stake and protect the remaining shoot and train your fig to have more of a tree form. Keep in mind it may never be as straight as the original. However, we recommend embracing the multi-stem approach.
Q: Can I add watermelon to Jell-O? I know some fruits will not allow the gelatin to set.
A: Yes, you can add watermelon to Jell-O and other gelatin recipes. You will even find some recipes that call for using watermelon juice instead of water for extra flavor.
Other Georgia Grown fruits that can be used in gelatin desserts and salads are peaches, strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupes and apples. Here’s an idea since cantaloupes are in season: Halve a cantaloupe, scrape out the seeds and dry the cavity with a paper towel. Then fill the cavity with your favorite Jell-O Jiggler recipe. Refrigerate and slice carefully when the gelatin is set. Experiment with different flavors and with adding fruit to the Jell-O. A cantaloupe slice with a watermelon center might be a fun as well as a light and refreshing dessert.
A few fresh fruits contain enzymes that disrupt the congealing process. Most noted among them is fresh pineapple. Canned pineapple has been heated and can be used. Other fresh fruits to avoid using with gelatin are kiwifruit, figs, papaya, mango and guava.
Q: How did the monkey-face flower (achimenes) get its name? Mine is solid purple. I have had it for three years and haven’t seen a monkey yet.
A: If illuminated from behind, the fused petals overlap to reveal two eyes, the protruding lip of the flower becomes a protruding simian jaw and the center of the flower turns into a monkey’s snub nose. You may not see it at first, but once you do there is no mistaking it – at least if you have an imagination.
Q: Can you use onions with black mold?
A: Black mold on onions is caused by Aspergillus niger, a common fungus in soil. Rinse off small amounts of black mold on the outer scales of the onion under running tap water or cut off or peel away the affected layers. The unaffected part can be used. Persons allergic to Aspergillus niger should not use onions with black mold.
Q: Why are red bell peppers more expensive than green ones?
A: All bell peppers start out green. Depending on the variety, the bell pepper will turn red, orange, yellow, chocolate brown, purple or ivory as it ripens.
Ripe peppers are more expensive than green ones because the farmer has to invest more time, work, water and materials in growing them.
Q: I purchased an ‘Athena’ cantaloupe at the supermarket in May. It was sweet and quite good. Do we grow this variety in Georgia? Is it one that can be grown in a home vegetable garden?
A: ‘Athena’ is one of the most popular cantaloupes varieties grown in the Eastern United States. It gained popularity with growers, shippers and consumers because of its strong field performance, outstanding flavor and shelf life.
Georgia cantaloupe season usually starts in June so you will soon be seeing ‘Athena’ and other Georgia Grown cantaloupe varieties at farmers markets and grocery stores.
‘Athena’ can be grown in home vegetable gardens. It is a hybrid, however. If you plant the seeds out of the ‘Athena’ cantaloupes you eat, they will not grow to be like the melon they came out of.
Q: I attended a Kentucky Derby party at which I was served Benedictine sandwiches. The spread had a delicious cucumber flavor. Do you have a recipe?
A: Benedictine was invented by Jennie Benedict, a famous Louisville caterer in the early 20th Century. The refreshing and light mix of cream cheese, cucumber and onion has been a Kentucky favorite ever since. Although this is a Kentucky recipe, we recommend Georgia Grown cucumbers (now in season.)
There are many variations of Benedictine. Here is a recipe we received from a native Kentuckian working here at the Georgia Department of Agriculture:
Combine the following ingredients and mix well with a fork:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 to 4 tablespoons grated cucumber, drained
1 tablespoon grated onion, drained well (optional)
1 to 2 drops green food coloring (optional)
Here are a few tips for success: The cucumber needs to be the star; don’t add too much onion. We used tender, small cucumbers and left the skin on for extra flavor and color. If you have older cucumbers with tougher skins, peel them. If you use young cucumbers, draining may not be necessary. In fact, we added some of the cucumber juice back into the mix for more cucumber flavor. Draining will keep the Benedictine from being too runny if all you have are large cucumbers with bigger seeds and their accompanying gel. If you are stuck with a large cucumber, you may want to de-seed it and use only the flesh. Many Benedictine recipes do not use mayonnaise, and the amount in this recipe can be reduced or omitted. You may want to add a little salt if you do not use the mayo.
The original Benedictine recipe used cucumber and onion juice and discarded the pulp. This made it a more refined delicacy, and some purists consider only it the true Benedictine. The original also called for green food coloring. Not everyone adheres to that, but some people say “If it’s not green, it’s not Benedictine.”
Crustless white bread Benedictine sandwiches are popular at wedding and baby showers, teas, garden parties and Derby parties. Benedictine can be used as a dip for celery, carrots and other crudités or spread on Melba toast or bagels. It is also good with salmon.
For more Benedictine information and recipes visit http://esatchel.hubpages.com/hub/Benedictine.
-- 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.