Q. Will using a higher octane gasoline improve my car’s performance?
A. Although some drivers prefer high octane gasoline, most automobiles today are made to burn low octane fuel. All levels of gasoline contain cleaning agents that keep a car running smooth and cut down on harmful pollutants. Some high-performance vehicles do require high octane, so drivers should check their owner’s manual to see what is best for their car.
Q: I’d like to preserve the remaining basil in my garden. Can I freeze it? I don’t care for dried basil.
A: Basil leaves can be finely chopped and frozen in water or olive oil. (Most cooks prefer the oil to the water.) Some cooks like to use a food processor to chop the basil into a paste with the oil or water. Freeze the basil paste in small ice cube trays, pop the basil cubes out and put them in a freezer bag or another freezer container. You can then use one or more of the cubes when you are making a soup, salad dressing, spaghetti sauce or pasta topping. Some people brush clean basil leaves with olive oil, freeze them on a cookie sheet and then transfer them to a freezer bag or other container. Experiment to find out what method is best for your cooking needs.
Q: I bought some tasty and interesting apples from an orchard. Can I start some apple trees by sowing the seed?
A: Apple trees do not “come true” from seeds. That means the apple trees grown from seed will be different from the tree they came from – and it is usually different in an inferior way both in the quality of the fruit and the characteristics of the tree. Besides not being the same variety as the tree it came from, the apple tree grown from seed will take many years to produce fruit. You will be better off purchasing named varieties from a reputable nursery if you want good, productive apple trees.
However, if you have a lot of space and just want to experiment with growing apple trees from seeds, you must expose the seeds to a period of low temperatures and high moisture to overcome dormancy in the seeds. This process is called cold stratification or moist-chilling. Layer the seeds in moist sand or vermiculite or between moist paper towels in a plastic bag or another container and place them in the refrigerator for two to three months. The seeds can be planted in a seed-starting mix after this time. You will come to appreciate the patience and work of apple growers over the centuries in collecting, preserving and developing the varieties of apples we have today.
Q: What is meant by “naturalizing” bulbs? One garden show talked about planting them this way.
“Naturalizing” bulbs means planting them in an informal way to give the impression that the bulbs have been planted there by nature. Lightly wooded gardens or meadows are appropriate areas for this style of planting. Jonquils and daffodils are favorites for naturalizing because they are durable and will multiply, which helps give the illusion that they are wild. Crocus, muscari (grape hyacinth), snowdrops, ipheion and scilla are also used for naturalizing.
Q: Is it too late to register for the Georgia Grown Symposium?
A: No, and registration is open to anyone – Georgia Grown member or otherwise – with a vested interest in the state’s No. 1 industry. Registration is required; the deadline for signing up to attend is Friday, Oct. 26. Visit http://georgiagrownsymposium.eventbrite.com to register and to get more info about the two-day symposium, happening Nov. 8-9 in Macon with a focus on the production, distribution and consumer side of food products as part of the state’s Georgia Grown marketing program, which links producers and consumers. Participants can choose workshops on topics including finance, food safety, contracts and licensing, regulations, economic development and agritourism. For questions, please call 404-656-3680.
Q: Now that frost is approaching I have harvested all my peppers. How can I store them for future use?
A: One of the easiest and most useful methods is to freeze them. Rinse the peppers and let them dry. Then slice them into strips, cubes or halves (depending on the size and type of pepper and how you plan to use them) and place them in a freezer bag. Some people freeze them on a cookie sheet before bagging them to keep them from freezing into a block. Small peppers such as cayenne or jalapeno can be frozen whole.
If you have a food dehydrator, consider drying them. The dried peppers can be ground into powder or used whole in stews and soups.
Another good way to use surplus end-of-season hot peppers is to make hot pepper vinegar or pepper sauce. Place one or more clean hot peppers into a sterilized bottle, pour heated vinegar over them and then put a cork or cap on the bottle. You can personalize your pepper sauce by adding more peppers or mixing different varieties of peppers to make your own unique blend. You can use dried peppers as well as, or instead of, fresh. The bottles make a nice gift for anyone who enjoys a little heat on their collards or other greens.
For those who don’t have gardens of their own, fall is a good time to visit a local farmers market to get some end-of-the-season peppers, green tomatoes, basil and other herbs and vegetables grown by a Georgia farmer and to purchase the fall crops that are coming into season. To find out what’s happening near you, visit www.GeorgiaGrown.com.
Q: I love tulips and want to plant some but have heard they do not perform well in Georgia. Is this true?
A: Plant tulips. While tulips are not the reliable perennials in the South that daffodils and some other bulbs are, gardeners here can get several years of bloom from them if they improve soil drainage, select the right varieties and fertilize properly.
Clay soil is one of the biggest detriments to getting tulips to live and provide several years worth of blooms. It holds too much water and not enough air. Mix in organic matter such as compost, and prepare the planting area to a depth of 12 to 14 inches. Coarse sand can also be added to help lighten clay soil. Planting in a raised bed is also an option.
Plant the bulbs at least six inches deep to help protect them from wide temperature shifts in winter and premature warming in the spring; early spring warming can lead to poor performance next year. Feeding with a bulb fertilizer such as Bulb Booster is beneficial at planting and when the leaves emerge in spring.
A few of the best tulips for blooming more than one year are ‘Come-Back,’ yellow lady tulip (Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha), ‘Mrs. John T. Scheepers,’ ‘Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Demeter,’ ‘Golden Oxford,’ ‘Appeldoorn,’ ‘Striped Appeldoorn,’ ‘Beauty of Appeldoorn’ and ‘Parade.’ Members of the Emperor and Triumph classes of tulips are recommended. However, if you see a variety of tulip you like, give it a try. There are hundreds of varieties, and you will never know how successful you will be with one of them until you try.
Q: Will green tomatoes ripen indoors if I pick them before frost?
A: The arrival of the first frost may catch gardeners with a large number of unripe tomatoes still on the vine. Unripe tomatoes that may finish ripening indoors will show various shades of their ripe color (usually red, but there are varieties that are yellow, orange and other colors) to a “mature green.” A “mature green” tomato will have a glossy appearance, but no red or ripe coloration. Tomatoes that do not fall into one of these categories probably will not ripen.
The tomato vines with the fruit attached can be removed from the garden and hung in a warm shelter or in a basement to complete the ripening process. Many gardeners simply prefer to place the fruit in a single layer on a shelf or windowsill to allow ripening to occur. Only insect-free and disease-free tomatoes should be saved. A temperature range between 60 and 70 degrees F. is best for ripening tomatoes.
If you don’t have space or want to try ripening green tomatoes indoors, make them into pickles or relishes, or batter and fry them. If you don’t have a garden of your own, visit a local farmers market to get some end-of-the-season green tomatoes grown by a Georgia farmer.
Q: I purchased an “I am Georgia Grown” T-shirt at the Georgia National Fair in Perry. Now my friends want one. Are they for sale online?
A: Yes. Visit the Georgia Grown online store at www.georgiagrownstore.com. It is accepting orders from anyone who wants to show how proud they are of Georgia and agriculture, our state’s No. 1 industry. The T-shirts come in a variety of colors and sizes, including children’s sizes. They are produced by Platinum Sportswear, which makes more than one million T-shirts annually at its plant in Wilkes County. The online store also has Georgia Grown caps made by National Cap and Sportswear, a company based in Waycross specializing in custom sewing and embroidery. The Georgia Grown store is running concurrently with Georgia-based companies including Langston Communications, EPM3 and All Points Fulfillment. The store opens in conjunction with the rollout of the new Georgia Grown program, which serves as a marketing and branding tool to promote Georgia’s multifaceted agriculture industry and its products.
Q: Are any apple varieties better for making pomanders? I want to make some for Christmas gifts.
A: Any variety will work, but cooking apples such as Jonathon, Empire, Winesap and Jonagold are often recommended. Also, small to medium-sized apples work best because they dry faster.
Gardeners with a trifoliate orange growing in their yard can use its fruits as well. This thorny shrub is hardy throughout Georgia and has round, lemon-like, yellow fruits with a velveteen surface. Gardeners in our warmest counties where they are able to grow kumquats outdoors can use them. Large crabapples may also be used.
To make a pomander, take whole cloves and stick them, narrow end first, all over the surface of the fruit. If necessary, use a nail or darning needle to pierce the skin to facilitate sticking the clove in. The clove-studded fruit is allowed to dry and may be sprinkled with cinnamon. Pomanders are then placed in a cloth bag and are used to perfume drawers and closets or are placed in bowls as potpourri. They are yet another interesting way to use Georgia Grown apples.
Q: Do lichens harm trees or shrubs? Should I remove the lichens?
A: No. Lichens often grow on the trunk and branches of old or weak shrubs and trees, but lichens do not harm the plants. Instead of trying to remove the lichens, appreciate them for their own beauty. Some can be interesting and attractive.
Q: Where can I find a corn maze in my area?
A: A good source of information is the Pumpkin Patches and More (www.pumpkinpatchesandmore.org/) website. It divides the state into sections to aid in finding the maze nearest you. The site also provides a connection to pick-your-own (PYO) farms. Another good website is that of the Georgia Farm Bureau (www.gfb.org/). Click on “Georgia Certified Farm Markets” and then click to on the link to find the market closest to your area. You can search for corn mazes or various crops, or you can click on a map to find all the certified markets in your area. And, of course, a great source of information about agritourism opportunities, PYO farms and farmers markets is the Activities section of the Georgia Grown website at www.georgiagrown.com/.
Many websites for individual corn mazes offer coupons. Most are geared toward families with children, but some have "haunted" nights that might be scary for a young child.
Georgia farms are also expanding from corn mazes to mazes of hay (with bales) and sugar cane. Also check with your county Cooperative Extension office, local chamber of commerce or county office of the Georgia Farm Bureau.
Q: There is something that looks like spit on one of my flowers. Is it a disease? Do I need to spray them?
A: It sounds like spittlebugs. They are more “alarming than harming.” Spittlebugs produce the spit-like froth to protect themselves from predators and drying out. Generally, most spittlebugs do not cause enough harm to justify spraying with an insecticide. If you find the appearance of the froth unbearable, hose down the plant to wash it away.
Q: When should houseplants be brought indoors for the winter?
A: As a general rule, bring them inside when nighttime low temperatures consistently dip into the 50s.
Q: Some pumpkins are bright orange and others are a more peachy orange. Are these different varieties?
A: There are many varieties of pumpkins. Some miniature ones will fit in your hand and others look like orange Volkswagen beetles. Pumpkin varieties differ in size, shape, texture of surface, color and what they are used for. Besides various shades of orange, you will find white or green pumpkins. Some are better for pies and cooking; some are best for jack-o’-lanterns and some are mainly ornamental. A few are even grown for their tasty seeds. Visit a Georgia farm or farmers market to discover the many kinds of pumpkins, winter squash, gourds, fall vegetables, apples and other Georgia Grown goodies.