Question: Will 2016 be a good year for peaches?
Answer: Sources indicate this is going to be a banner year for Georgia peaches. The weather cooperated in the January and February with enough cold to provide adequate chill hours, and there were no disastrous late spring freezes to kill or damage the blossoms. So get out your favorite recipes and start looking for Georgia peaches at grocery stores, farms and farmers markets.
Q: What is the temperature range in which bacteria in food grow most rapidly?
A: The temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees F. is the danger zone in which bacteria can grow most rapidly. To keep food out of the danger zone, keep cold food cold (at or below 40 degrees F.) and hot food hot (at or above 140 degrees F.) Keep cold food in the refrigerator, in coolers or in containers on ice. Keep hot cooked food in the oven, in heated chafing dishes or in pre-heated steam tables, warming trays and/or slow cookers. Use a food thermometer to verify temperatures. Never leave food in the danger zone more than two hours or one hour if outdoors and the temperature is above 90 degrees F.
Q: Is it possible to grow orchids from seeds?
A: Yes, but it is an involved and exacting process that requires lots of time, patience and special equipment in order to succeed. We suggest you attend a meeting of an orchid society and discuss the process with an orchid fancier who has had experience with this. The group may give demonstrations that would be beneficial, or perhaps some of the members would let you observe while they go through the process. It is certainly not a matter of casting seed to the wind. Visit the website of the American Orchid Society (www.aos.org) to get more information on growing orchids and to find the contact information for affiliated orchid societies in Georgia.
Q: Can we grow catalpa trees in Georgia? I like the flowers but I also want one for the fishing worms (black and white caterpillars) that can sometimes be found on them.
A: Catalpas are longtime favorites with the general public due to their ornamental qualities and with fishermen due to the caterpillars that serve as tasty bait.
The catalpa is also called Catawba tree, cigar tree (after its long seedpods) and fish-bait tree. There are two species of catalpa native to America. Both can be found growing in Georgia and have been widely planted and have spread beyond their original ranges. They both have large leaves and trusses of beautiful white flowers with mustard and maroon markings.
Both species are food sources for the caterpillars of the catalpa sphinx moth. The caterpillars do not seriously harm the tree. Fishermen may gather the caterpillars by hand or by spreading sheets under the limbs and whacking them with a long bamboo pole. Do not collect all the caterpillars as you want some to mature and reproduce.
You may find catalpa trees for sale in some nurseries or in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin in which they are sometimes listed under the Fish & Supplies category (as some advertisers sell the frozen caterpillars in addition to the trees) or under the Flowers for Sale category where other ornamental trees are sold. If you don’t see any, you can place an ad in the Flowers Wanted category.
Catalpa seeds germinate readily. Collect the seeds when the pods are dry and sow them in pots. Cover the seeds lightly and keep them moist. Catalpa trees like full sun or partial shade.
Q: What are pepitas? They are green and are sold next to nuts at the grocery store.
A: Pepitas are pumpkin seeds. However, don’t expect to get the same meaty seeds when you carve your jack-o'-lantern this October. The seeds you describe are usually from special hulless or “naked-seeded” varieties that lack the tough outer hull and are grown expressly for their seeds instead of their flesh.
Q: Are there any special precautions or advice for helping dogs and cats deal with summer heat?
A: Here are a few tips on keeping your dog or cat deal with the heat and some of the other problems that come with summer:
Keep a fresh water supply available. Keep it in the shade so it doesn’t get hot. Keep a fresh water supply available. Some dogs like to lick and chew ice when temperature is hot. There are also frozen treats.
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’s harmful rays. Place doghouses in the shade. (Cats are better kept indoors year-round for their health and safety as well as to protect songbirds and wildlife.)
Limit strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day. Take walks in the morning or evening. Bring your dog inside to the air-conditioning if it seems too hot. Dogs with short snouts such as Pugs, English bulldogs and Pekineses are especially vulnerable to the heat.
Overweight dogs, old 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.
Avoid prolonged contact with asphalt or concrete. These surfaces may burn paw pads.
Fleas and ticks are more active during the summer months and can cause health problems. Talk to your veterinarian about how to keep these from infesting your pet.
Mosquitoes spread heartworms. Consult with your vet about heartworm preventatives. Change the water in your pet’s dish daily. This helps ensure that it remains clean and prevents mosquitoes from breeding in it.
Spay or neuter your pet. This keeps animals closer to home and helps them avoid potential life-threatening situations, decreases their disease susceptibility and improves their overall health.
Q: I heard that placing a ripe banana under the roots of rose bush when it is planted will help the rose grow. Is this true?
A: A ripe banana under the roots of a rose may have some very minor beneficial effects in that it adds organic matter to the soil and a tiny about of nutrients. However, these small benefits do not warrant burying bananas or banana peels as a generally recommended horticultural practice. Organic matter and nutrients can be more efficiently and effectively added to the soil by using compost or finely ground pine bark mulch.
Q: I saw some strange cucumbers at the farmers market called Suyo Long. How are they used?
A: Suyo Long is a slender, ribbed cucumber with a dark green skin with a bumpy surface that can grow to be 15 to 18 inches long. It can be eaten when young or more mature. It is good for fresh eating or using in bread-and-butter pickles or quick pickles. Those grown on a trellis may be straighter than those grown on the ground. Give one or two a try. Your children may enjoy the novelty of these unusual cukes as well as their mild taste.
Q: I recently heard of a night-blooming daylily. Is there really such a thing?
A: Daylily flowers last only for a day. Most open in the morning and close by the evening. While it may sound like an oxymoron, there are night-blooming daylilies. The American Hemerocallis (Daylily) Society defines a “nocturnal” daylily as one with a flower that opens sometime after late day and remains open during the night and perhaps all or part of the following day (in which case it may also be an “extended” bloomer.) An extended blooming daylily is one with flowers that remain open 16 hours or more. Some extended bloomers open in the morning and last longer into the evening than standard daylilies but they are not classified as nocturnal.
Two species of night-blooming daylilies are the lemon daylily (Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus syn. Hemerocallis flava) and citron daylily (Hemerocallis citrina). There are also numerous nocturnal daylily varieties. They may be harder to find than standard daylilies but they are worth seeking from specialty suppliers and daylily nurseries, especially if you are at the office all day and don’t get to enjoy your garden until the evening.
Q: What can you tell me about lemon cucumbers?
A: Lemon cucumbers are small cucumbers that resemble a lemon when mature. They are used for fresh eating and pickling. Some people harvest them when they are young and white and some wait until they are mature and yellow. Lemon cucumbers are not new. The earliest mention of them we could find in a catalog dates back to 1894.
Q: What is the flower with lavender-blue spikes that I see in patriotic planters along with red and white flowers? Someone said it is a salvia, but its leaves are not shaped like the salvias I know.
A: It sounds like you are describing mealycup salvia (Salvia farinacea). It is often used in red, white and blue color schemes due to its violet-blue or silvery blue to lavender flowers. There are also white-flowered varieties. It is an annual but may be a perennial in warmer areas.
Q: May chicken salad be taken on a picnic?
A: Yes, if you keep it at the proper temperature. Cold perishable food should be kept in the cooler at 40 degrees F or below. To keep the temperature in your cooler down, open the lid as little as possible. That way, warmer air can’t get in and the cold air can’t escape. Foods like chicken salad can be placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice.
Q: Is scaevola good plant in containers?
Answer: Scaevola, also known as Australian fan flower and fairy fan flower, is good in containers and as a bedding plant. Its trailing habit makes it a good choice as a plant to spill over the edge of a container. Because it is a relatively short and spreading plant, scaevola is generally used at the front of flower beds. The most popular color of scaevola is lavender-blue, but there are also white and pink varieties. Because of their confined root systems, plants grown in containers will need more frequent watering than those planted in the ground.
Q: I was thinking about getting a macaw or cockatoo, but I was told that they have a long life span. Is that true? I was told they could outlive me.
A: Some pet birds can live for a very long time. While the age range varies, a healthy and well-cared for macaw can reach 60 years and a cockatoo can reach 65. Some will be more, some less. Such long life spans mean that these birds can outlive their owners. Potential owners need to be aware of the age their bird might reach and be prepared to provide proper care for the bird over its entire life span.
Do your research before your purchase or adopt any animal. This is especially true when considering a long-lived animal and one with special needs. (Many people know how to care for dogs and cats, but you may have a much more difficult time finding someone to care for a bird if something happens and you can no longer care for it.) Before you bring a bird home, ask yourself:
• Am I considering a bird on an impulse?
• Can I find a veterinarian to care for it? In rural areas an avian veterinarian may be many miles away. Can I afford to pay veterinary bills? What about the proper food and equipment needed?
• Am I willing to spend time every day interacting with my bird to meet its psychological/emotional needs? Members of the parrot family like cockatoos and macaws definitely have emotional needs, are very intelligent and need attention and stimulation.
• How will my neighbors and my family live and cope with normal bird vocalizations? Some birds can be quite loud.
• Am I prepared to clean a cage daily?
• Do I have enough space in my home to house a bird?
• Who will care for a bird when I’m out of town?
• Do I understand that I’m committing to this pet for its entire life?
Q: My rosemary died. I purchased it this spring and put it in a pot in my kitchen window. Did I do something wrong?
A: It can be tricky to grow rosemary indoors. Perhaps you gave too much water, not enough water or the plant didn’t get enough sunlight. You will have better luck with rosemary by planting it outdoors in a sunny spot in well-drained soil. Not only will it be easier to care for, it can grow to be a shrub that will provide your more rosemary for cooking than you will ever need.
Q: What is the name of the green and brown lizards that I see in my garden on ferns and on my porch? Some of them stick out a flap of throat skin that is that is rosy pink.
A: It sounds like you are describing the Carolina anole (Anolis carolinensis). These native, slender lizards are sometimes referred to as “American chameleons” because they can change color from brown to green. They are not chameleons, however. Their color changes are due to body temperature, stress and activity rather than a desire to blend into the background. You may see Carolina anoles in their green phase side by side with ones in their brown phase.
The rosy throat flap you have seen is the male lizard’s dewlap. He will pause, extend his dewlap, bob his head and do some push-up movements as a display tactic to woo females and to warn other males.
Carolina anoles eat insects and are harmless, interesting creatures. If you wish to protect them, avoid pesticides, especially insecticides, in your garden and provide vegetation for cover and loose soil in which they can lay their eggs. You may also want to provide shallow dishes of water that they can take a sip from.
In parts of Florida and south Georgia, the brown anole (Anolis sagrei), an introduced and aggressive species, is outcompeting our native anole or forcing it to a more arboreal habitat. We should never introduce non-native animals into the environment as they can wreak havoc and threaten our native species.
Q: Will there be an auction of rehabilitated horses this summer?
A: There is one coming up in July. The Georgia Department of Agriculture will conduct a live auction on Saturday, July 30, at the Mansfield Impound Barn, 2834 Marben Farm Rd., Mansfield, Georgia 30055.
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.) Currently, there are 13 geldings and mares of various ages, types and riding abilities scheduled to be offered.
Q: Do you have any advice on decorating wedding cakes with flowers?
A: Exercise caution in eating flowers or using them as decorations on food as some may be toxic or poisonous. Also, if you don’t grow them yourself or know how they were grown, they may have been treated with an insecticide, fungicide or some other chemical.
It is generally a bad idea to decorate food with inedible flowers because someone will eat them or try to eat them. Don’t assume that someone will consider the flower only as a decoration, pick it off and lay it aside.
Carefully research your options and make sure you have accurately identified what you plan to use and that you know how it was grown. If you are going to do this, it may be best to grow the flowers yourself. There are numerous edible flowers that you may want to try.
Also, make sure there are no ants hiding in the flowers; you do not want these uninvited guests crawling over the cake. We know of a case of this happening with a birthday cake decorated with nasturtium blooms. Those involved can laugh about it -- now.
If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty G. Schronce (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.