Q: I read about interesting plants but often have a difficult time finding them. Why write about things that are so hard to purchase?
A: It can be discouraging to be excited about the possibility of adding a certain flower, vegetable, shrub or tree to your garden and then not finding it for sale from any sources you are familiar with. However, here are a few points to remember:
Without education, no one may ever know about, let alone purchase, a worthy but uncommon plant. People who write or inform us about uncommon plants do not do so in order to frustrate us. They are trying to broaden our palette and increase our choices. How boring it would be if all our gardens contained the same plants.
Every plant is not profitable for a nursery or garden center to produce or to carry as part of its stock. Most growers/sellers make their decisions based on the profitability of each plant or based on what can be sold to the largest number of people. Some uncommon plants may not have a broad appeal or may be difficult to reproduce or maintain. They may also be difficult for the average gardener to grow, and the seller does not want to deal with complaints or hundreds of questions.
There are many specialty nurseries that do not cater to the general public but that produce plants for people who are looking for something different, the garden connoisseurs, if you will. Familiarize yourself with these sellers. They are your best bets when you read or hear about a plant that is rare or unusual. Subscribing to a garden magazine like Horticulture is a way to learn of some of these specialty nurseries. The internet can be helpful in connecting gardeners with these nurseries, too. The Georgia Agriculture Department’s Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin has an advertisement category of “Flowers and Ornamentals Wanted” as well as advertisements from Georgians offering seeds and plants for sale.
We suggest you become a member of a public garden or a horticultural group that interests you. These may have sales or seed exchanges where you find rare and unusual plants long before they enter the nursery trade.
It’s worth remembering that seeking can be an adventure that leads us to new friends. After the search, we may find much greater joy when we finally receive that long-sought after plant than we would have if it had fallen into our lap.
Q: I heard there were crocuses that bloom in the fall instead of the spring. Will they grow here?
A: Fall-blooming crocuses are not well-known, but some of them perform better in Georgia than their spring-blooming counterparts. Two you may want to consider are the straw-colored crocus (Crocus ochroleucus) and saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). The straw-colored crocus is better known by its botanical names than its common one. Saffron crocus, sometimes called just saffron, is the source of the spice saffron.
Q: Where and when can I enter the next Flavor of Georgia contest?
A: Registration for the 2017 Flavor of Georgia contest, which is conducted each year by the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, is now open. For more information or to register, visit www.flavorofga.com
or call 706-583-0347.
The contest is in its second decade and serves as a springboard for food entrepreneurs, assisting them in testing new products and reaching a larger audience and helps new craft brands break into new markets and expand sales.
Finalists and winners participate in a number of high-profile industry showcases throughout the year following each annual contest, including the Georgia Grown Symposium, the Georgia National Fair and showcase days at the Buford Highway Farmers Market. They also receive industry feedback and use of the Flavor of Georgia logo for their products’ packaging and promotional materials.
Product categories for the 2017 contest include barbecue sauces, beverages, condiments and salsas, confections, dairy products, dairy-alternative products, honey, jams and jellies, meats and seafood, meat-alternative products, sauces and seasonings, snack foods and miscellaneous products. There is no limit to the number of products an individual business can submit.
Judges evaluate each product based on flavor, texture and market innovation. Consumer appeal and product representation of Georgia are also considered.
Registration closes Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017, but contestants can enter at an early discounted rate before Thursday, Jan. 15, 2017. Contest finalists will participate in the final round of judging and a public tasting Tuesday, March 21, 2017, as part of the governor's statewide Agricultural Awareness Week.
Q: Someone gave me an amaryllis kit. How soon will the amaryllis begin blooming?
A: It should bloom six to eight weeks after you pot it and begin watering it. Keep the potted bulb in a bright, sunny spot.
Q: I hadn’t had chicken livers in some time and got a hankering for some when I saw them in the grocery store. I did not want to deep fry them so I tried pan-frying them and they splattered like crazy. Is there a way to bake them?
A: Sautéing or pan-frying them can lead to serious popping with the oil and the moisture in the livers. A splash screen and a large apron (as well as goggles) may be required.
Splattering can be avoided by baking them. Preheat the oven to 325-350 degrees F. Coat the livers with some cooking oil. Dredge them in flour or cracker crumbs if you want a crust. Space the livers on a flat pan or baking dish. Smaller ones cook quicker than larger ones. Bake until your desired doneness. You may want to flip them midway. Experiment with different seasonings and coatings.
Q: I was told the apple tree I am ordering needs a pollinizer. Is that the same thing as a pollinator?
A: Some apple varieties (and some other fruits and nuts) may be self-sterile or partially so. That is, their own pollen is incompatible or inadequate in quantity or quality to fertilize its own flowers in order to produce fruit or what growers consider an adequate amount of fruit. These varieties need a pollinizer, a pollen provider, planted nearby to provide pollen to effectively fertilize the flowers.
A pollinizer is sometimes called a pollinator, although pollinator also refers to the creatures (usually insects such as bees) that carry pollen from one flower to another. (And apple trees definitely need those pollinators.)
A good fruit supplier will advise you as to what varieties need pollinizers and what pollinizers are best for those varieties. Your county Cooperative Extension agent will be able to assist you as well.
Q: Are dibbers useful? I saw some for sale at the hardware store.
A: A dibber is a garden tool used for planting seeds, seedlings and small bulbs. The many dibbers (also known as dibblers and dibbles) on the market are modern variations of the primitive pointed stick. Of course, the dibbers of today are vastly improved from that and may be capped with metal, made of steel or aluminum, or have ergonomic handles for easier use. Some are marked with inches to show how deep to make the planting hole.
Dibbers are most beneficial when sowing or planting in loose soil or planting bulbs under a tree or in a wooded area. The narrow hole is less likely to sever a root. Dibbers are difficult to use in hard clay and may be too specialized for some gardener’s needs.
Q: I saw what I thought was a black beet, but it was a radish. Is this new? How is it used?
A: Black radishes are not new, but are less familiar than the well-known red varieties. Black radishes have a rough, black skin with crisp, pungent, white flesh. Give them a try. Grate them or slice them thin and mix them with olive oil and ground black pepper. Try them in a salad with cucumbers, carrots and scallions. Slice them and eat them on toasted bread with mayonnaise.
They are one of the radishes we grow in Georgia. You may see them at the grocery store or farmers market. If you see them at the farmers market, the farmer selling them will probably have more ideas on how to use them.
Q: I saw a bush with baby pomegranates on it and bright orange flowers. Was it an actual pomegranate? Are the fruit edible?
A: There is a dwarf pomegranate. It is like regular pomegranates but is smaller in all aspects. In fact, it is a popular subject for bonsai. The shrub is grown more for its ornamental qualities such as the attractive small fruits, bright flowers and waxy buds. Unlike the larger pomegranates, it blooms all summer, increasing its ornamental value. Technically, the fruits are edible but are generally quite sour and too small to be worth the effort. They are beautiful in decorative fall and winter fruit bowls.
Q: I encountered radishes that were almost too hot to eat. Is there any way to take away the heat and use them so they don’t go to waste?
A: When they become large or when grown under hot and/or dry conditions, the sweetest radishes can sometimes become hot and strong, but all is not lost. Here are a few options to try:
Cutting them in two and soaking them in ice water may remove some of the bite.
Slice them thinly and marinade them with lemon juice, salt and perhaps some olive oil. Use the slices with mild lettuce and tomatoes.
Although most people think only of eating radishes raw, consider slicing them thinly and sautéing them in butter for a few minutes. These can be served as a side dish or used on a green salad.
Boil them. Pare them if large, and slice them. Cook them in boiling water until tender and serve with melted butter.
Roast them by themselves or with other root vegetables such as parsnips and sweet potatoes.
Radishes are healthy, versatile and inexpensive. We also grow a lot of different ones here in Georgia. Make the most of this bounty by experimenting with different ways of preparing them.
Q: I recently saw a display of the most colorful begonias – types I never knew existed. Are all these varieties available for sale?
A: There are thousands of species and hybrids of different types of begonias. You may find some at your local garden center and more from specialty growers and mail-order suppliers.
The diversity among begonias is amazing. You will find different leaf shapes including some that are spiraled, round, palmate or wing-shaped. Some have ruffled edges. Begonia leaves provide a wide array of colors including reds, purples and silver. Begonia flowers also vary in shape, size and color.
If you see an unusual begonia that you really like, it may be a good idea to go ahead and purchase it as garden centers don’t generally keep an ongoing supply of houseplant begonias, and that particular begonia may not be offered for sale every year.
For more information about begonias and to get a taste for the numerous kinds, visit the website of the American Begonia Society at www.begonias.org
or contact them at P.O. Box 471651, San Francisco, CA, 94147-1651
Q: Can daylilies and other perennials be planted in the fall?
A: Fall is the ideal time to plant most trees, shrubs and perennials in Georgia because root growth on hardy plants continues in the fall and into early winter. With the soil still warm enough to allow root growth and the cool air temperatures discouraging top growth, a fall-planted tree, shrub or perennial can put its energies into laying down a foundation of roots that will supply water and nutrients during the rapid period of spring top growth and during hot, dry summer weather. It will be better prepared to deal with these challenges than its spring-planted counterparts which will be putting out leaves and growing on top while they are also trying to establish roots. This is why spring-planted specimens always require more watering their first spring and summer than those planted in the fall.
Although trees, shrubs and perennials can be planted any time the ground is not frozen, do yourself and your plants a favor by planting in the fall. With reduced water usage, you may even save some money by having a lower water bill.
Q: Does talking to your plants help them grow?
A: There isn't a lot of research on this, but we know of no long-term or substantive evidence that it helps in any major way. However, talk is cheap and (when directed at plants) doesn’t hurt anything, so if it works for you, chatter away. Generally, with both people and plants, we have found a greater benefit from listening than from speaking.
If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.