Q: When are Georgia blueberries in season? May they be eaten raw?
A: You will start seeing Georgia blueberries in stores in May. If you are only familiar with cooked blueberries in pancakes, muffins or pies, you owe yourself a favor to try them raw. Raw blueberries are excellent as a topping for cereal (stir in as many as you like) or mixed into yogurt. Blend a handful (or two) of blueberries, a frozen banana and a cup of plain or vanilla yogurt for a cool and colorful breakfast smoothie or for an afternoon pick-me-up. Blueberries can be added to salads; consider a salad of mixed greens perhaps with vinaigrette and topped with blueberries, toasted pecans and blue cheese crumbles. For a patriotic dessert for Memorial Day, try blueberries and strawberries as a topping for vanilla ice cream or served with whipped cream. For the Fourth of July, combine Georgia watermelons and blueberries in a refreshing and healthy fruit salad. Blueberries are so nutritious and delicious that chefs and nutritionists are looking at many ways to get them onto America’s menu.
Q: I heard that bats help farmers by eating insect pests. Is this true?
A: Yes. Besides eating tons of mosquitoes, bats are voracious predators of other nocturnal insects, including many crop and forest pests. Research indicates that the loss of bats in North America could lead to agricultural losses estimated at more than $3.7 billion per year. To learn more about bats and how you can help them, contact Bat Conservation International, P.O. Box 162603, Austin, TX 78716. Phone 512-327-9721 or visit www.batcon.org.
Q: How long should a newly planted tree be staked?
A: You should NEVER stake a tree unless it is in danger of falling over. If you must stake a tree, the stakes and supports should be removed as soon as possible – within one year. If the tree is not stable by then, you need to plant another tree. Long-term staking will lead to a very weak tree. Also, you are likely to forget the tree is staked, and five years later you will find wires cutting into the trunk, severely damaging the tree.
Q: It looks like there is an abundance of Vidalia® onions this year and the prices are good. I eat them on salads, hamburgers, sandwiches and as onion rings. Any other suggestions?
A: Try adding Vidalias to breakfast or brunch. They are a good match with eggs. Put them in omelets, frittatas, breakfast quiches and breakfast casseroles. An internet search brings up numerous recipes. Church and community cookbooks are other good sources of information. Breakfast casseroles are especially effective if you are serving a large crowd. A breakfast burrito (a flour tortilla stuffed with sausage, eggs, cheese and sautéed diced onions and bell pepper) is a savory way to start the day. From the website of the Vidalia® Onion Committee (www.vidaliaonion.org) come recipes for “Sweet Potato Hash Browns with Vidalia Onions and Georgia Pecans,” “Sweet Vidalia Onion Latkes,” “Grits with Corn and Vidalia Onion” and “Vidalia Onion Custard Bread.” For even more variety, try LEO (lox, eggs and onions). It may not be a typical Georgia dish, but it packs a lot of flavor and is excellent served with a bagel or toast.
Breakfast is sometimes devoid of vegetables or fruits. Your children and your entire family are more likely to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables if they are given an opportunity to do so at every meal. We invite everyone to wake up their taste buds with Georgia fruits and vegetables by making them part of their morning menu.
Q: I am having a Fourth of July cookout at my house, and I want to plant a patriotic garden of only red, white and blue flowers. Do you have some suggestions?
A: If you try for the red, white and blue color scheme, please note that there really aren’t any flowers that actually match the blue in Old Glory. Some people are disappointed when their final creation appears more like red, white and purple, with a healthy dose of green.
The most common flowers used to achieve the patriotic effect are petunias. There are petunia varieties that are clear red, pure white and a violet that substitutes for blue. Combining petunias with dusty miller with its bright silver leaves increases the contrast between the flower colors and makes them more effective. Mealycup salvia is sometimes used for its lavender-blue or silvery blue flowers. It can be combined with the petunias as well. Scarlet sage has varieties with flowers of red or scarlet, white or cream and deep purple. These are sometimes used together or with other flowers to achieve a red-white-blue effect.
You may want to reconsider planting your entire garden in this restrained color scheme and instead plant only a couple containers of red, white and blue by the entry way or in another prominent location to serve as focal points. You may also think about planting red, white and blue flowers along with other colors of flowers throughout your garden and then cutting them to create a patriotic flower arrangement for the main table. If you choose to do this, plant some anise-scented salvia (Salvia gauranitica). It is a tall perennial with violet-blue flowers. Other good choices for cut flowers are tall red and white zinnias.
Planting a wide variety of colors and flowers may make a more successful design than limiting yourself to only a few plants in three colors. Think of your garden as a patriotic show of floral fireworks and display the American flag itself in a place of honor over them all.
Q: Should fresh blueberries be washed prior to freezing? What containers are best for freezing them?
A: Some claim that washing the blueberries before freezing causes the skins to toughen, while others claim the opposite. Whether you wash them or don’t wash them before freezing, they should be dry when put into the freezer so they don’t stick together and freeze into a solid mass. Some people say that even when the washed blueberries are dried they are still more likely to stick together because the washing removes some of the coaating that keeps the berries from sticking together. Georgia’s blueberry season begins in May and runs into August. Freezing is a good way to preserve Georgia blueberries for use throughout the entire year. Blueberries can be frozen in zip-lock bags or freezer containers.
Q: You once described a yellow-flowered shrub called kerria that some people call “Easter rose.” I know another plant called “Easter rose,” but it has white flowers and looks more like a rose than kerria does. My Easter rose has prickles and is like a climbing rose. Its flowers are double and resemble a carnation or some of the old-fashioned roses. Do you know what it might be and where I could find it?
A: It sounds like your Easter rose is Rubus coronarius (also sometimes listed as Rubus rosifolius ‘Coronarius’). It is sometimes called “carnation rose” and “blackberry rose.” Your Easter rose is not as common in the nursery trade as kerria, but is worth searching out, and we should have mentioned it in our earlier answer about the term “Easter rose.” You may find it through an ad in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. The only commercial source we could find was Woodlanders, Inc., a mail-order nursery in Aiken, SC. Elizabeth Lawrence wrote a good description of this plant in Gardening for Love. She wrote that in New Orleans it is sometimes called “nun’s rose.”
Q: Can I treat bedbugs with regular household insecticides?
A: If you suspect a problem with bedbugs, contact a licensed professional. The professionals are trained to properly apply pesticides and use pest management practices to effectively eliminate infestations. Multiple treatments and other measures may be necessary to eradicate an infestation. Georgians may contact our Structural Pest Control Division with any questions or concerns they may have.
Q: I want to fertilize my azaleas. Can I use the same fertilizer I use on my vegetable garden?
A: If you are not seeing signs of nutrient deficiencies such as excessively yellow leaves and stunted growth, your azaleas may not need any fertilizer at all. In general, azaleas in the landscape require little or no fertilizer. More azaleas die from over-fertilizing than from lack of nutrients. Theoretically, you may be able to use the same fertilizer on your azaleas you fertilize your tomatoes with, but you are likely to burn the azalea roots with it if you are not careful. Instead, use a slow-release fertilizer especially formulated for acid-loving plants such as azaleas, camellias and hollies, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. It is always better to under-fertilize or not fertilize at all than to overdo it.
Q: What are some fruits and vegetables that can be grilled?
A: Asparagus, corn-on-the-cob, eggplant, green beans, carrots, mushrooms, Vidalia onions, garlic, peppers, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, summer squash, winter squash and tomatoes are the most common vegetables used, and they go well with commonly grilled meats such as steaks and chicken. The same is true for fruits. Georgia peaches are a favorite for grilling. Apples, pears, pineapples and plums are also possibilities. Softer fruits will become mushy if overcooked. You will need to be more attentive to these while they are grilling. Check a cookbook or a reputable cooking website to see the different ways vegetables and fruits can be prepared on the grill. Your grill should not be used only for meats; put some Georgia Grown fruits and vegetables on it.
Q: I am planning a full day’s menu that has Georgia products as part of every course. Do you have any ideas for using pecans for breakfast?
A: Consider pecans for any meal and for almost any menu item – entrée, appetizer, bread, dessert, side dish, salad, soup or snack – that could use a little more protein, vitamins, minerals, crunch or flavor. For breakfast, try pecan pancakes or French toast. Chop a few raw or toasted pecans and sprinkle them on your cold cereal or oatmeal. Instead of butter on your toast, try a fruit spread mixed with pecans. Spread cream cheese on a bagel and top it with some pecans. For a quick breakfast that packs a lot of nutrition, smear a banana with peanut butter, then sprinkle on pecans and raisins. One of the best sources for recipes for using pecans is the Georgia Pecan Commission www.georgiapecansfit.org. Whether you are planning an elaborate “sit-down” breakfast or you need a quick bite as you rush for the door, pecans are a tasty and nutritious way to start the day.
--- Arty G. Schronce