Q: Do you have any gift ideas for Christmas for a friend who is a gardener?
A: A gift certificate from a nursery is appropriate. You do not want to buy a tree or shrub that your friend has no room for or that does not fit into his or her garden design. A membership or a ticket to a botanical garden might be appreciated. As many gardeners are bird lovers, consider a birdbath, nesting box or a bag of birdseed. With skin cancer rates on the rise, help protect your friend with a wide-brimmed garden hat or a havelock-style cap that keeps the sun’s harmful rays off the face and neck.
If you are going to buy a tool, find out what the gardener needs and buy the best one you can afford. Stick with tried-and-true basics; avoid gadgets no matter how cute the name or how clever they sound. A rain gauge or outdoor thermometer will help the gardener compare notes with the weatherman. Since gardening and cooking are kindred arts, does your friend need a cast-iron skillet, colander, cutting board or knife to prepare the vegetables, fruits and herbs he or she grows?
A gift that gives all year is the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. It has something for everyone, including seeds, plants and supplies for those who garden, recipes for those who cook, and articles and notices about horticulture and agriculture. It is a great source for anyone looking for locally-grown farm products with several listings of pick-your-own farms each year. Subscriptions to Georgia residents are $10 per year; out-of-state subscriptions are $20 per year. To subscribe by mail, send payments (check or money order) to: Market Bulletin, Georgia Dep. of Agriculture, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SW, Atlanta, GA 30334-4250. Please send name, mailing address and daytime phone number (in case the office needs to contact you concerning your subscription.) To subscribe online go to http://agr.georgia.gov/market-bulletin.aspx. Please note there is a $1 convenience fee added to credit card transactions.
Q: My wife doesn’t like the idea of cutting down a tree and wants an artificial Christmas tree. I want a real tree. Can you help me convince her?
A: A real Christmas tree is our recommendation. Christmas trees are grown on farms like other crops. To ensure a constant supply, Christmas tree growers plant one to three new seedlings for every tree they harvest. Growing Christmas trees absorb carbon dioxide and other gases and emit oxygen. Christmas tree farms stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide refuge for wildlife. On the other hand, artificial trees are a petroleum-based product manufactured primarily overseas. When discarded, the plastic carcass will remain in a landfill for centuries. After Christmas, a real Christmas tree can be chopped into mulch. You may also simply stand a cut Christmas tree in your garden until the needles fall off. In the meantime it will provide winter shelter for small birds such as chickadees, wrens and song sparrows. You can trim off the branches to use for mulch or use the branches (or the entire tree) in gullies or washed out areas to prevent further soil erosion. Real Christmas trees offer a variety of textures and shades including teal, silvery blue, olive and reddish green. And no artificial tree smells the same as a real pine, spruce, cedar or fir. Consider visiting a Georgia Christmas tree farm so your wife can see how the trees are grown. If you can’t convince your wife to accept a cut tree, perhaps in the spirit of “Peace on Earth,” or at least harmony at home, she will accept a potted or balled-and-burlapped specimen that you can plant in your yard after the holiday.
Q: Are there any shrubs with colorful fall foliage? I don’t have room for a tree.
A: There are numerous choices to brighten your landscape. Some shrubs will vary in color depending on the variety, the weather and where they are sited. Here are a few to consider along with an indication of their possible color range: fothergilla (yellow to orange and scarlet), Virginia sweetspire (crimson to scarlet), oakleaf hydrangea (red to purple and orangey brown), staghorn sumac (yellow to orange and scarlet), shining sumac (crimson to scarlet), blackhaw viburnum (red to deep red and purple), arrowwood viburnum (yellow to reddish purple), aronia (red to crimson), sweet-bubby bush (yellow), pomegranate (yellow), cutleaf Japanese maple (yellow to scarlet and burnt orange) and blueberry (crimson). Crepe myrtle has beautiful fall foliage of yellow to red and is sometimes grown as a large shrub. The sumacs, viburnums and the cutleaf Japanese maple can grow to be considered small trees. The maple takes considerable time to reach full size and the others are not substantial even if allowed to reach full size.
Burning bush (Euonymous alata) has striking red foliage in the fall, but has become so invasive that it is no longer recommended. Plant a blueberry bush instead.
Also, don’t overlook the fall color that comes from berried shrubs such as American beautyberry (mauve) and pyracantha (orange or red), or flowering shrubs such as sasanquas. Perennials such as Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrictii), royal fern, cinnamon fern, bletilla orchid and hostas add yellows and browns as they die down for the winter. Virginia creeper adds crimson to the arbors, fences and trees it climbs on.
Visit a botanical garden or another public garden in the fall to see some of your options. A horticulturist at your local nursery or garden center may be able to help you decide what is best for you. Fall is a wonderful time to appreciate beauty in the garden. It is also the best time of year to plant most trees, shrubs and perennials.
Q: How many kinds of pecans are there?
A: More than 500 named varieties of pecans exist today. Varieties commonly planted in Georgia orchards include ‘Cape Fear,’ ‘Desirable,’ ‘Elliott,’ ‘Schley,’ ‘Stuart’ and ‘Sumner.’
Q: When does the Christmas tree list come out in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin? I want to buy a tree directly from the grower.
A: The list appears in the November 16th issue of the newspaper. Eighty-eight farms from 63 Georgia counties are represented. Among their offerings are white pine, Virginia pine, Leyland cypress including the ‘Murray’ and ‘Silver Dust’ varieties, blue spruce, Arizona cypress including the ‘Carolina Sapphire’ and ‘Blue Ice’ varieties, red cedar, Scotch pine, Norway spruce and Fraser fir. Georgia Christmas tree growers do an excellent job producing beautiful Christmas trees and the beautiful memories that come with them. If you are not a Market Bulletin subscriber, visit the website of the Georgia Department of Agriculture at www.agr.georgia.gov and click on “Market Bulletin” and then click on “Articles of Interest.” Besides the cut-your-own option, some Georgia Christmas tree growers have trees already cut or have trees you can plant in your yard after the holiday. You may also wish to visit the website of the Georgia Christmas Tree Growers Association at www.gacta.com.
Q: Will cows eat pumpkins?
A: Yes. Remember the old riddle “If a cow and a calf ate a pumpkin and a half in a day and a half, how many would they eat in five days?” The pumpkins will need to be cracked open for the cows to get a bite, however, and you would want a nutritionally balanced diet for your cows, not an all-pumpkin one. (By the way, the answer to the riddle is five pumpkins.)
Q: What are some Georgia agricultural products to incorporate into the Thanksgiving meal?
A: Visit a state farmers market or your neighborhood farmers market to see some of the offerings from Georgia farms. Also look for Georgia Grown items on your next trip to the grocery store. Perhaps even plan a pre-Thanksgiving visit to a farm or orchard. Among some items you will be able to find at this time of year are apples, honey, sweet potatoes, pork and ham, beef, chicken, quail, turkey, eggs, milk, blueberry juice, apple cider, collards, turnip greens, leaf lettuce and salad greens, cabbage, pumpkins, winter squash, pecans, cheese, wine, jellies, jams, and a host of other specialty items such as pickles, relishes and salsas. Don’t forget to visit a nursery or garden center for Georgia Grown chrysanthemums, pansies, violas and other fall flowers for planting outdoors or for temporary indoor decorating.
Q: What size turkey should I buy? I always have way too much.
A: Whether you are buying a fresh or frozen turkey, a good rule of thumb is to allow one pound of turkey per person. For a frozen pre-stuffed turkey, allow one and a quarter pounds per person. This will provide generous servings with enough left over for second day dishes. If a turkey is too big for you and your guests, consider one or two chickens, instead. They are easier to cook and you can still have dressing and all the other fixings.
Q: Is Indian corn edible?
A: Yes. Indian corn with its multicolored kernels is edible. However, it is a starchy corn that would really only be suitable for grinding into corn meal, flour or animal feed. As much fun as it would be to have various colors of corn-on-the-cob at Thanksgiving dinner, the dry kernels are almost all starch and would not be very good. Even young ears (before they harden and what sugar is in them has not converted to starch) would not compare with sweet corn varieties for fresh eating. If you are thinking about grinding and eating some of the Indian corn you see sold for fall decorating, make sure it has not been treated with an insecticide or preservative to protect it from insects.
Q: I was planning a party to carve jack-o’-lanterns but had a last-minute change of plans. What can I use pumpkins for besides pies?
A: Pumpkin cheesecake, ice cream, soups, stews, roast pumpkin and feta risotto, cakes, bars, pancakes, cookies and breads are a few of your options. How about a pumpkin dip made by combining pureed pumpkin with softened cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon and ginger? You can serve it with ginger snaps. Pumpkin ice cream can be slightly thawed and spooned into a graham cracker crust and then re-frozen for an ice cream pie. Don’t think of pumpkin dishes as just sweet, however. Many savory dishes such as Thai pumpkin soup or other pumpkin soups containing chicken broth, onions and herbs will warm your autumn days and nights. Ever thought of pumpkin chicken chili? These are just a few ideas. Check your cookbooks and online recipe sources that you trust for detailed instructions. Remember, too, that small pumpkins can be scooped out to make serving dishes for soups, stews and dips.
Q: I always thought gasoline prices at a station went up or down when gas is delivered. This summer I noticed prices changing almost every day. Why? Gas is not delivered every day.
A: Gasoline prices do not necessarily change only when gas is delivered. There are other factors that go into a station’s decision to change the price. Also, there are no rules or regulations that restrict stations from changing prices when they choose.
Q: Will bald cypress trees grow in northwest Georgia near Rome? I have a family pond and I want to plant bald cypress trees on the shoreline.
A: Bald cypress will grow in northwest Georgia and all parts of the state. Bald cypress is very hardy, thriving even into southern Canada. They are also more tolerant of drier soils than their native swampy habitat would indicate. They will be perfect for growing along a pond. You may even have some produce their distinctive "knees" if they are close enough to the water.
Q: What do saddleback caterpillars turn into?
A: The saddleback caterpillar (Sibine stimulea), turns into a small brown moth that is known as the saddleback caterpillar moth. As the name suggests, the moth is boring compared to its larval (caterpillar) stage. The caterpillar looks like a colorful sea slug that washed into your garden from a coral reef. It is short with indistinct legs that make it look and move like a slug, brown at either end, and has a prominent, white-ringed brown oval “saddle” at the center of its back. Its midsection is like a bright, apple green saddle blanket. Lobes on the front and rear of the caterpillar bear stinging spines. There are also clusters of stinging spines along the sides. Stings can be very painful. You should not handle a saddleback if you find one. As with many creatures that contain toxins, their distinctive appearance serves as a warning. Saddlebacks feed on a wide variety of plants. They are not numerous enough nor do enough damage to be considered a garden or agricultural pest.