Q: My family and I watched a fascinating episode of “Nature” on Georgia Public Broadcasting about the migration of monarch butterflies. What can we plant to attract these butterflies?
A: Plant milkweeds. Monarchs need them in order to reproduce. The milkweeds serve as “host plants” for the butterfly. The adult butterflies lay their eggs on the plants and the caterpillars eat the leaves.
Two species of milkweed that will aid the monarch that are readily available from nurseries are butterflyweed and swamp milkweed. These are also among the most attractive species of milkweed. Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial and can be planted in the spring or fall. It has stunning orange flowers. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) prefers damp soils but will tolerate drier conditions. Its flowers are rose or sometimes white. It is a perennial that can be planted in the fall or spring.
Some scientists do not recommend planting the commonly available milkweed species known as tropical milkweed or bloodflower (Asclepias curassavica). It is an annual that is not native to Georgia. Some scientists believe this species may actually hurt monarchs by delaying or hindering their migration since it keeps growing into the fall and winter. To be on the safe side, choose another milkweed species.
There are other milkweed species that are not as easy to find for sale or may be unsuitable for average garden conditions. The common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a perennial that, as its name implies, is common through much of the United States. Common milkweed is usually considered too aggressive for most gardens as it forms a large patch. However, it may be suitable for gardens designed expressly to attract butterflies. There are numerous species of milkvine (Matelea – a milkweed relative) that are native to Georgia that also serve as host plants for monarch butterflies. Milkvines aren’t commonly available from nurseries and are not very ornamental. They should be preserved in places where they grow naturally and have room to spread.
Seeing caterpillars, even monarch caterpillars, munching on your plants may be unnerving to those who regard every caterpillar as an enemy. Gardeners who appreciate the beauty of the monarch and their unique migration every year do not mind sharing a few plants with these fascinating creatures. Indeed, your milkweeds will readily recover from the hungry monarch caterpillars. Besides attracting monarchs, milkweeds may also serve as host plants for the less well-known queen butterfly. Plant some milkweeds in your garden. You will be rewarded royally.
Q: Is the Red Delicious apple grown in Washington the same Red Delicious apple grown in Georgia? They do not look the same.
A: Both states grow the same Red Delicious variety. However, when the Red Delicious variety is grown in the South it looks different than it does when grown in the cool Pacific Northwest. Our Red Delicious apples are rounder than and not as elongated as those from Washington. Also, ours are not as red. If you are only familiar with Washington State apples, try some of the ones grown here in Georgia. You will not be disappointed.
Q: Can sweet potatoes be eaten raw?
A: Yes. They can be peeled, sliced and eaten as a snack. You can also bake them like Irish potatoes. Try them as French fries or slice them thin and fry them in hot oil to make sweet potato chips.
Q: When is apple season in Georgia?
A: The bulk of Georgia’s apple harvest is in the late summer and fall (August –December) but a few varieties ripen in early summer. The long season is due to our geography (north-south orientation and changes in elevation) and due to the fact that we grow almost four dozen varieties commercially in the state. If you only know one or two apple varieties, make this the year to try something different like an Arkansas Black, Detroit Red, Stayman Winesap, Limbertwig, Ozark Gold, Lady, Cameo, Ginger Gold, Goldrush, Horse, Rome Beauty, Pritchett Golden, Braeburn, Criterion, Splendor, Swiss Gourmet, Yates, Empire, Albemarle Pippin, McIntosh, Mutsu, Gala, Pristine or Honeycrisp. Buy them in grocery stores, at farmers markets or at the orchard. A day trip to a Georgia apple orchard can be a fun and educational adventure for the whole family. If you want more festivity, the 39th Georgia Apple Festival will be held in Ellijay on the weekends of October 9-10 and October 16-17.
Q: Where can I get information about becoming an auctioneer?
A: Contact the Georgia Auctioneers Commission, 237 Coliseum Drive, Macon, GA 31217-3858. Telephone: 478-207-2440. Or visit the website of the Georgia Secretary of State at http://sos.georgia.gov/plb/auctioneer/. There you will find the commission’s latest newsletter, a link to laws and rules about auctioneering, a list of approved auctioneer schools and other valuable information.
Q: There are orange caterpillars with black spines eating my mollypop. What are they? Do they sting?
A: They are caterpillars of the Gulf fritillary butterfly. They do not sting. The Gulf fritillary is one of our most beautiful butterflies. It is a rich, rusty orange on the upper side of the wings. The undersides of the wings are distinguished by panes of silver. Its front wings are somewhat elongated, giving it a slightly narrower appearance than most of our common butterflies. Gulf fritillaries lay their eggs exclusively on mollypops (also called maypops) and other passionflowers. (The mollypop is a species of passionflower.) Many people grow passionflowers for the sole reason of attracting these butterflies. If you don’t want the caterpillars eating your passionflower vines, they can be picked off by hand. Using an insecticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis is another option. However, as stated earlier, many people plant passionflowers in order to attract these butterflies to their garden and don’t mind the caterpillars. Adult Gulf fritillaries like to collect nectar from zinnia, buddleia, Mexican sunflower, lantana, Joe-pye weed and numerous other flowers, so plant some of these as well to keep the butterflies in your garden.
Q: What is the difference between the Lady apple and the Pink Lady® apple?
A: The Lady apple is a small apple with a smooth skin of green and red. Its flesh is white and very juicy. Its flavor has been described as “tart to sweet,” having a “sunny sweetness with a hint of citrus” and “effervescent.” Peeling is not recommended as much of its flavor is in the skin. Because of its small size (some even call it petite), attractive appearance and somewhat flattened shape, the Lady apple is sometimes used to decorate Christmas wreaths. The Lady apple is a very old variety of apple, perhaps even going back to the days of ancient Rome. Pink Lady® is a brand name for apples of the Cripps Pink variety that meet certain quality standards. Cripps Pink is a modern variety from Australia. It is a cross between the Lady Williams and Golden Delicious varieties of apple. It has a crisp texture and sweet taste.
Q: What flowers can be sown in the fall?
A: September, October and November are good times in Georgia to sow seeds of hardy annuals such as California poppy, cornflower and larkspur. These seeds can be found at garden centers and nurseries, which are where you will also find plants of other hardy annuals such as snapdragons, pansies and violas that can be planted in the fall.
Q: When are field peas in season? What is the difference between field peas, crowder peas and cream peas?
A: The main harvest season for field peas in Georgia runs from June through October. Crowder peas are a category of field pea. They get their name because they are crowded together in their pods, causing them to have flattened ends. Cream peas are another category of field pea. Cream peas either get their name from their cream color or their creamy texture. Field peas are also known as cowpeas and Southern peas. Visit a farmers market now to get your Pinkeye Purple Hull, Zipper Cream, Lady, Colossus, Whippoorwill, Mississippi Cream, White Acre, Red Ripper and other varieties of field peas. They are all delicious.
Q: I was told to buy green peanuts for boiling. I have never seen peanuts that are green. What are they?
A: The green does not refer to their color. Green peanuts are ones that have just been harvested and haven't been dried.
Q: What are nopales? I regularly see these for sale at the Atlanta Farmers Market and also recently saw them at a grocery store.
A: Nopales are prickly pear cactus stems. Farmed nopales are most often of the prickly pear species Opuntia ficus-indica. The stems are flat and some people erroneously refer to them as leaves. They are also sometimes called pads or paddles. They are edible. The spines are removed before eating. They are a common ingredient in Mexican dishes. They may be grilled and served with steak, grilled with Portobello mushrooms or sautéed and mixed with scrambled eggs. They may be sautéed with onions and mixed with tomatoes, cheese and herbs as a salad. They may be pickled. They are also added to soups or used as a filling in a taco or tortilla. Check a Mexican cookbook or reliable recipe website for more ideas and for specific instructions.
Q: Can baobab trees be grown in Georgia?
A: These most unusual African trees are not winter hardy in Georgia. They may be grown from seed as a houseplant, however. They can be tricky plants as they are prone to rot if they get too much water especially in winter. During winter dormancy, the tree must be warm (minimum temperature of 50-55 degrees F.) and dry. Do not water your baobab at all in the winter.
Q: Does goldenrod cause hayfever?
A: No. Because this beautiful yellow wildflower is often in bloom at the same time as ragweed (a plant with inconspicuous green flowers which do cause hayfever), the showy goldenrod unfairly gets the blame. Many species of goldenrod are superb garden perennials because of their beauty and durability. Goldenrods are also attractive to butterflies and are excellent cut flowers. There are numerous species of goldenrod native to Georgia. Some of these species or varieties of them may be found for sale at garden centers, nurseries and from mail-order catalogs.
Q: How do I know when my figs are ripe? Are the skins edible?
A: As the fig fruit ripens it begins to soften. Its skin will become thinner and its color will change from green to bronze, greenish yellow, purple, light brown or violet depending on the fig variety. Ripe figs may also droop slightly from their previous position. A ripe fig will separate easily from the branch. Seeing birds eating your figs is good indicator that the figs are getting ripe. Experience is the best teacher. You may have to try a few to determine the level of ripeness you like best. Some people like their figs riper than other people do. The skins are edible. Those who have tasted only dried figs are in for a treat when they eat their first fresh fig. Fresh figs have a short shelf life and do not ship well which is why they are not more common in grocery stores. You may find locally grown figs at neighborhood farmers markets. One of the best ways to ensure that you have a fresh supply is to plant a fig bush in your yard or garden. They are very easy to grow.
Q: Can pecans be eaten raw, or do they need to be toasted or roasted first?
A: Raw pecans are delicious! Eating them in their natural raw state without any added salt, oil or butter is the healthiest way to eat them. Nibble on a few to curb your appetite between meals or chop some and sprinkle them on salads or cereal.
Q: What are some ways of using fresh figs? I could eat them all day, but my husband has grown tired of them and says they are too sweet.
A: Because they are sweet, figs are often combined with salty or savory foods. Here are some suggestions:
- There are many salad recipes that utilize fresh figs including ones with orange slices and vinaigrette to complement the figs. Try them with spinach or arugula with chèvre or blue cheese and a balsamic vinegar dressing. The peppery arugula is a good contrast to the sweet figs.
- Stuff fig halves with goat cheese; wrap them with half a slice of bacon held in place with a toothpick; broil until the bacon is evenly brown.
- Wrap them with prosciutto; put a skewer through them and grill.
- Eat them at breakfast as a side dish to bacon or country ham.
- Use them with chicken salad.
- Stuff them with toasted pecans, almonds or walnuts and soft cheese.
Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Arty Schronce writes this weekly question-and-answer column to address questions about agriculture and questions about the services and products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. If you have a question, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 404-656-3656.