Question: Where can I find out more information about food recalls in Georgia?
Answer: The Georgia Department of Agriculture has a number of ways to learn about food and feed recalls impacting the state. Consumers can “follow” the department on Twitter for recall announcements at both of these Twitter handles: @GDAFoodSafety and @GaMktBulletin. There is also a dedicated page (http://agr.georgia.gov/recalls.aspx) on the department’s website where recalls are updated as they are announced. The department’s Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin now features an online Bulletin Blog where pathogen recalls are blogged about the day they happen, and a weekly “Recall Roundup” blog posts every Friday, encompassing all the recalls from the week. That can be accessed online here: http://gamktbulletinblog.blogspot.com/. The department press office may additionally send information to Georgia media about recalls that have impacted Georgia when they are pathogen-related and could pose a health risk to all consumers.
For more information, we encourage all consumers to become familiar with these online tools. The department’s recall outreach specialist, Jessica Badour, may be contacted at Jessica.Badour@agr.georgia.gov or 404-656-3627.
Q: I was given a basket of products grown or produced in Georgia. It contained feta cheese. I have never used feta before. Do you have some suggestions?
A: Feta is a tangy, salty cheese that originated in Greece and is used in many Greek dishes such as spanakopita. Perhaps its most familiar use is in a Greek salad (lettuce, onion, tomato, black olives, cucumber, pepperoncini and vinaigrette), but there are many non-Greek ways to use feta.
Since feta has a bold flavor your family may be unfamiliar with, you may want to start with a light hand. Here are a few ideas:
Sprinkle some on a pizza. Feta pairs well with tomatoes, onions, artichokes and basil. Add some to artichoke or spinach dip. Sprinkle some on baked or mashed potatoes or a beet salad. Try a little with cheddar cheese in grilled cheese sandwich.
The saltiness of feta cheese can complement the sweetness of fruits. Combine feta with fresh or dried figs. Serve feta with Georgia apples in the fall and Georgia strawberries in the spring. Some people pair watermelon with feta along with mint or basil.
Salads are some of the easiest ways to use feta. A spinach-strawberry-pecan-feta salad is a good way to blend Georgia products. A mixed green salad with dried cranberries, pecans, feta and Dijon vinaigrette is worth a try. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Q: I would like to plant an evergreen tree on my property that I can string lights on at Christmas. I have plenty of room. At some point I may want to cut it and donate it to a town or civic group. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Momi fir (Abies firma), deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara), Leyland cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii), Japanese cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica), Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica), red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and China fir (Cunninghamia lanceloata) are possibilities that should work throughout most of the state. China fir was quite popular in the South at one time, but less so today. We know of one that has been strung with lights every Christmas for half a century. White pine (Pinus strobus) and Norway spruce (Picea abies) will work in the Georgia mountains and maybe in the northern third of the state.
Don’t limit yourself to needle-leaved trees in your Christmas landscape. Also consider hollies such as ‘Nellie R. Stevens’, Foster’s holly, Savannah holly and American holly.
Talk with your county Cooperative Extension agent or a horticulturist at a local nursery to describe your site and discover what is available. You may want to try several and experiment with other options. Perhaps you will grow a tree that will make it to Rockefeller Center, your town square or the rotunda of the Georgia state capitol.
Q: Do you have any suggestions on what to give a gardener for Christmas?
A: A beginner with an empty garden may desire almost any plant and accept it eagerly, but do not give a plant to a longtime gardener unless it was expressly asked for. Although you may think it unimaginative, a gift certificate from a nursery is more appropriate for both. It’s beneficial to go to the nursery with the beginner to answer questions and then to help plant what is chosen.
If you want to give a tool, find out what the gardener needs and buy the best you can afford. Go for quality and stick with the classics. A rain gauge or outdoor thermometer can be useful. Choose durability, not decorativeness.
Consider a membership or a visit to a public garden. A few in Georgia are Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Oakland Cemetery (not just a historic burial ground but a beautiful garden) in Atlanta, Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens.
Help protect your friend from sun damage with a wide-brimmed hat or a havelock-style cap. Throw in a tube of sunscreen with the highest SPF possible.
If your gardener has a bird feeder, consider a bag of birdseed. Check beforehand to find out what kind is used.
Books are an idea. Marietta-born Elizabeth Lawrence has been called the “Jane Austen of Garden Writing.” Other excellent writers include William Lanier Hunt, Henry Mitchell, Allen Lacy and Nancy Goodwin. There is also a wide array of how-to reference books, and a subscription to a garden magazine is like a flower that blooms all year.
Q: Does anyone in Georgia raise Colorado blue spruce Christmas trees? I like their color.
A: As a general rule, Colorado blue spruce doesn’t hold up well enough in our climate to be raised as Christmas trees. However, we produce some other blue options. Visit a Christmas tree farm and take a look at ‘Carolina Sapphire’ and ‘Blue Ice’ varieties of Arizona cypress. Their color is similar to that of Colorado blue spruce. You may also want to look at deodar cedar and white pine. Georgia Christmas tree farmers will do their best to help you have a blue and a merry Christmas.
Q: What is the Virginia pine? I just received my Market Bulletin and see that numerous Christmas tree farms grow it.
A: Perhaps you know Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana) by another name. Because its wood was not as desirable for lumber as that of the longleaf pine or loblolly pine, Virginia pine was sometimes called disparaging names including “scrub pine.” It is also known as “poverty pine” perhaps because it can grow on poor soils and was common on marginal agricultural land where poor people lived or farmed. Farther north you may hear it called “Jersey pine” because of its prevalence in New Jersey.
Virginia pine is native from Long Island south to Georgia and Alabama and west into Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and scattered areas of the Midwest. It is a pioneer tree – one of the first to sprout after a forest is cleared or in a pasture or agricultural field that has been abandoned.
If you lived in rural areas of the southern Piedmont in the days before Christmas tree farms, Virginia pine and the Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) were probably the two most common naturally occurring trees cut for Christmas decorating.
Georgia Christmas tree growers recognized the beauty and durability of Virginia pines and started growing them on their farms. The limbs are strong and the needles are bright green. The tree has a good piney smell and holds a wide range of ornaments. The care with which growers prune them makes finding a perfectly shaped tree easier than wandering through field and forest and dragging one home like Buddy and his cousin in Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” (Although that can be fun, too.)
If you visit a Christmas tree farm, consider choosing a Virginia pine or one of the other options like white pine, Fraser fir, deodar cedar, Leyland cypress and Arizona cypress.
For a list of Georgia Christmas tree growers visit the Market Bulletin blog at http://bit.ly/1pVi7HO or websites of the Georgia Forestry Commission (http://www.gfc.state.ga.us/resources/directories/christmas-tree-vendors/) or the Georgia Christmas Tree Association (http://www.gacta.com/pdf/choose_cut_big.php).
Unfortunately, Virginia pine has often been overlooked for landscaping in favor of other pines. Its durability and beauty deserve consideration, however. It may be used as a screen or kept sheared as a hedge. It can even be grown as a bonsai. It also bears long-lasting cones used in decorating and is a host plant for the Eastern brown elfin butterfly.
Q: Can I put peanut hulls in my compost pile or use them as mulch?
A: As long as they are not salted, you can use them in the garden or add them to the compost pile.
Q: How much firewood is in a cord?
A: A cord is defined as: "The amount of wood which is contained in a space of 128 cubic feet when the wood is ranked and well stowed." Typically a cord will be stacked 4 feet high, by 8 feet wide, by 4 feet deep (4' x 8' x 4'= 128 cu. ft.).
Q: When is the next auction of rehabilitated horses?
A: The Georgia Department of Agriculture will conduct a live auction on Saturday, December 6, 2014, 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 approximately 11 a.m. For more information contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Equine Health office (http://agr.georgia.gov/equine-health.aspx) at 404-656-3713. (Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
Q: When should I plant paperwhite narcissus bulbs? I would like some to bloom at Christmas.
A: As a general rule, “paperwhites” bloom three to five weeks after planting indoors. Some people plant them in pots of soil or in special vases or other containers with water and pebbles or marbles to hold the bulbs steady. Keep them in a cool spot while roots and shoots develop. When the shoots appear, place the plants in a sunny spot to keep the stalks and leaves from getting too leggy. High temperatures can also lead to plants getting too tall and blooming too quickly.
For continuous blooms all winter (and to increase your chances of having perfect blooms for Christmas gifts or for a holiday party), stagger your planting times. Plant a new crop every one to two weeks from late fall onward.
“Forcing” pots or vases of paperwhites can be a fun and educational activity for children. If the flowers are to be gifts, having the children take part in the selection and planting also lets them feel they helped.
Paperwhites may also be planted outdoors, but their blooming time will vary according to the weather. Try forcing some into bloom indoors with various methods and also plant some outdoors. Paperwhites are inexpensive and easy to grow. Store the bulbs in the refrigerator away from fruits until you plant them.
Q: I am looking for peach seeds for crafting and cannot find them on the internet. Where can they be purchased?
A: Try a commercial peach grower (http://gapeaches.org/) or a company that cans or pickles peaches. If you are a subscriber to the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin (http://agr.georgia.gov/market-bulletin.aspx), you can place a free advertisement under the “Miscellaneous Wanted” section. Your county Cooperative Extension office may also have some suggestions.
If you cannot find a supplier, you may have to save your own or enlist the assistance of peach-loving friends and family. Georgia peach season can start as early as May so don’t delay in asking for help.
Peach seeds are like snowflakes; we have never seen two that looked exactly alike. Freestone varieties will be easier to clean for crafting projects, but cling varieties may also be used.
Q: I want to package and sell herb seasoning blends for chicken and beef from my home. Where can I find more information?
A: Please contact the Cottage Food Section of the Food Safety Division at the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) website at http://agr.georgia.gov/cottage-foods.aspx or via telephone at 404-656-3627.
A cottage food license allows licensees to produce non-potentially hazardous foods in their home kitchens for sale to consumers. These foods include: loaf breads, rolls and biscuits; cakes; pastries and cookies; candies and confections; fruit pies; jams, jellies and preserves; dried fruits; dry herbs, seasonings and mixtures; cereals, trail mixes and granola; coated or uncoated nuts; vinegar and flavored vinegar; popcorn, popcorn balls and cotton candy.
The GDA website provides a wealth of information including the actual cottage food regulations, frequently asked questions and a podcast explaining issues and requirements.
-- 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.