Ga Dept of Agriculture


Consumer Q's March 2014

Question: I want to dye Easter eggs using vegetables and natural dyes. Do you have any suggestions?
Answer: Almost any fruit, juice or vegetable that has stained your clothes, tablecloth or countertops can be used to dye an egg. Remember a “dye” is just a planned and controlled form of a “stain.”
     A visit to a local farmers market, grocery store or your own garden will provide numerous substances to dye eggs. Here are a few: blueberries (bluish purple), turmeric (yellow); beets, cranberry juice or pomegranate juice (pink to red); spinach (green); red cabbage (bright blue) and paprika (brick red).
    Here are some general instructions: Hard boil your eggs. Set them aside to dry. Combine about two cups or more of the chopped vegetables or fruits and two cups water, bring them to a boil and allow them to simmer for five to 10 minutes. For the turmeric and paprika use about one teaspoon per cup. More will result in darker colors. Strain into cups. Add one tablespoon of white vinegar to each cup. (Some people use less, some more – we haven’t tested all the variations.) Place the egg in the cup. If it is not submerged, turn and baste it for even coloration. The longer the egg is in the dye, the darker the color will be. You may leave some soaking overnight in the refrigerator. For more colors, dye eggs first in one color, let them dry and dye in a second color. After your eggs have reached a satisfactory color, remove them from the dye and let them dry. A light coat of vegetable oil will give them a glossy finish.
     White eggs will provide clearer, brighter colors, but using brown eggs will bring some attractive and interesting results as well. Try both.
     When you visit your local farmers market, see if any farmers have eggs with colors provided by the chickens themselves. Hens of the Araucana and Ameraucana breeds lay eggs with pale blue-bluish green shells. The chickens known as “Easter Eggers” can lay blue, green, olive and even pink eggs. An Easter Egger is any chicken that possesses the “blue egg" gene, but doesn't fully meet any breed description as defined in the American Poultry Association and/or the American Bantam Association standards. Marans such as the Black Copper Maran lay beautiful dark brown eggs.
Surprisingly, red cabbage (actually, it is purple) delivers a bright blue color. Brown eggs dyed with cabbage leaves will be gray. (Gray doesn’t sound festive but is rather sophisticated and attractive.)
     Try kale, mustard greens, collards and carrot tops. Some people report good results using red onions. Georgia blueberries are not in season at the moment, but you can use ones you froze last year. Blueberries with red cabbage may produce an interesting blue. Brown eggs dyed with coffee grounds can look chocolaty.
    Don’t be afraid to experiment. Have fun and have a happy Easter.

Q: Why is there so much fruit from Chile in grocery stores?
A: Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, its seasons are the opposite of ours. Its geographic orientation also provides for staggered production with a relatively broad export season. These factors along with trade agreements help make it a major supplier of fruit to North America during winter.
Even though Georgia fruits are not in season (although strawberries will be before long!), there are Georgia vegetables available such as various greens, baby Vidalia onions, radishes and carrots. And consider freezing, drying or canning Georgia fruits when they are in season so you can enjoy them all year.  

Q: The hose at the gas pump where I filled up my car looked like it was about to fall apart and was starting to leak. Should I report this to someone?
A: Please notify the station manager immediately so the company can take action to shut down the pump and call a repair person. Then call the Fuel and Measures Division at the Georgia Department of Agriculture at 404-656-3605 or toll-free at 1-800-282-5852. (The telephone number is posted on the red inspection sticker on the pump.) Please have the station name, address and the pump number to help our inspector investigate the problem.

Q: Why do peach growers sometimes turn on sprinklers to protect blossoms when there is a threat of frost or freezing temperatures? How can this work?
A: Turning on irrigation sprinklers to coat the trees with water during cold periods is one tool peach growers and other fruit growers may use in some circumstances to help protect vulnerable blossoms from damage.  
      Blossoming fruit trees are in danger during brief, overnight periods when the mercury is expected to take a short plunge below freezing or during long periods of freezing temperatures that may last for a day or more. The water can help with the first situation but is not as useful in the second.
    Here is short explanation of what is going on:
     The temperature of the water being sprayed is more than 32 degrees F. Therefore, a layer of water can provide an initial level of protection as air temperatures approach the freezing mark. If the water freezes, it provides some protection due to the physical nature of water. When water moves from a liquid state to a solid state (ice), it gives off heat. This heat goes into the air and into whatever the water is clinging to such as a peach blossom. However, the irrigation must be continued through the night and into the morning until temperatures rise and the ice on the trees melts. Ice must be forming continuously to maintain the heat supply. If you stop, any benefit gained can be lost and damage can be done as the water evaporates and takes heat away from the blossoms.
     This is why in the news you sometimes see fruit trees covered in icicles with orchardists speculating whether they saved that year’s crop.
     It seems counterintuitive because if someone sprayed us with water during freezing temperatures, we would be more likely to die of exposure than if we were dry. But remember, we are warm-blooded mammals, not peach trees, strawberry plants or blueberry bushes.
     When faced with the possibility of damage due to freezing temperatures, farmers must weigh their options carefully by looking at weather forecasts, noting not only temperatures but cloud cover, wind and humidity. They then decide a plan of action. For example, if the forecast is for an extended period of sub-freezing temperatures farmers may not do anything rather than waste water and energy on a hopeless cause. They also wouldn’t want to have so much ice develop on the trees that limbs break.
     Please also note that this method will only work on hardy plants and blossoms that can withstand some cold. Don’t expect to spray tender plants like basil, peppers and tomatoes and have them live after being covered in ice.

Q: Will this winter’s cold weather mean fewer mosquitoes and other insect pests this summer?
A: A cold winter does not necessarily mean fewer insect pests. Not all insects are susceptible to winter-kill. Insects have been around for millions of years and have evolved to deal with vagaries and extremes in nature.
     It is worth noting that very cold temperatures in the middle of winter are going to have less of an effect on insects than a cold snap in early fall or late spring. In the middle of winter the insects are more likely to be fully acclimated physiologically to the cold weather. Even if this winter’s cold weather did kill more mosquitoes than last winter’s, mosquitoes can reproduce rapidly to fill the void when warm weather arrives.
     Also remember that harsh conditions are a two-edged sword. If cold weather killed lots of insect pests, it could also kill beneficial insects or the insects or other animals that feed on insect pests. In some cases, a mild or moderate winter can negatively affect some insect populations as much as a cold winter by keeping insects in a state of semi-hibernation in which they use more of their energy reserves.

Q: I see solitary daffodils blooming in the middle of vacant lots. How did they get there? They are not growing in spots where they look like they were planted. Don’t they have to be planted as a bulb? Also, is it just me or are the daffodils this spring prettier than ever?
A: We usually only think of daffodils as bulbs because that is how they are sold and how we plant them. However, daffodils can be grown from seed. It takes about five years from the time a daffodil seedling germinates until it blooms.
     It is possible that the solitary daffodils you see in unlikely places sprouted from seeds that blew into those spots from nearby clumps of daffodils. It is also possible that the daffodils came from small bulbs planted or even tossed out years ago that have just now reached blooming size. It is also possible that an animal could have dug up a clump of daffodils and kicked or scattered one or more of the bulbs now blooming.
     Yes, the daffodils are prettier than ever this year, but I think that is true every year. After the cold winter, we may appreciate them more this year.

Q: When are crabapples in season? I like sour fruits.
A: You probably won’t find crabapples for sale until late summer or fall and then only at local farmers markets or upscale grocery stores. Crabapples are good for making jelly, pickles or to use as a garnish or for decorative purposes, but you don’t frequently see them for sale. You may consider visiting a nursery or garden center this spring and planting your own crabapple tree.

Q: What is the “goya melon” I see on television infomercials that people in Okinawa eat? Can we grow it in Georgia? If so, where can I find seeds?

A: The “goya melon” you see on infomercials is Momordica charantia, more commonly known in this country as “balsam pear.”  It also goes by the names “bitter melon” and “bitter gourd.”
     Balsam pear/goya melon is a tropical vine that likes full sun and fertile soil. It is easy to grow. If you can grow cucumbers or gourds, you can grow it. It has long been grown in America as an ornamental novelty. Thomas Jefferson grew it at Monticello.
     The fruit is a bumpy curiosity that turns golden orange when ripe and splits open to reveal seeds covered with bright red pulp like a screaming Technicolor cucumber. The fruits are edible when green but supposedly toxic when ripe. The red pulp is edible, but the seeds are also supposed to be toxic. There is a similar species, Momordica balsamina, known as “balsam apple” that is less frequently grown and generally considered less ornamental.
     Ask the people at your local garden center if they will be carrying balsam pear on their seed racks this spring. If you are a Market Bulletin subscriber, you can place an ad saying you are looking for the seeds. A reader may have some to sell or share with you. A few mail-order sources include:

Monticello Shop
P.O. Box 318
Charlottesville, VA 22902
Phone: 1-800-243-1743
(Purchases help support Monticello)

Horizon Herbs
P.O. Box 69
Williams, OR  97544
Phone: 541-846-6704

Kitazawa Seed Company
201 4th Street, #206
Oakland, CA  94607
Phone: 510-595-1188
(Offers nine varieties under the name “bitter gourd”)

Q: How much sunlight should a vegetable garden receive?
A: All vegetables need sunlight, generally the more, the better. The garden site should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. A minimum of eight to 10 hours each day is even better.
      Therefore, vegetables should be planted away from buildings, trees and shrubs shading the area. The roots of trees and shrubs will also compete for nutrients and water.

Q: Where did chickens originally come from?
A: No one is 100 percent sure of the lineage of the modern domesticated chicken. The main progenitor of our chicken is the Southeast Asian red jungle fowl. However, scientists have identified three closely related species that might have bred with the red jungle fowl, each contributing something to the genetic makeup of today’s chicken. For example, research suggests that chickens inherited their yellow skin from the gray jungle fowl of southern India.
     Perhaps one day, using the latest DNA and archeological evidence, scientists can determine which came first, the chicken or the egg.

                                                                                                                                                    --  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.