Q: If I plant a buckeye will it sprout and grow into a tree?
A: Buckeye trees will sprout from buckeye seeds. The familiar buckeye you may carry in your pocket for good luck is the seed of a buckeye tree. A buckeye that you have carried around for a long time is unlikely to sprout, however. You need to plant the seed as soon as possible after it falls from the tree or the husk opens. This is true for all the species of buckeyes.
If you have fresh buckeye seeds, sow them outdoors in the fall to a depth of about equal to their width. You may store them in the refrigerator in a moist medium such as vermiculite or damp paper towels in a sealed plastic bag or container and sow them in the spring.
Q: I have two fig trees that I planted three years ago. These never produce any figs. All they do is grow taller and taller. Do I need to cut them down or what can I do to get some figs out of them?
A: It is possible that your figs are not producing fruit because they are not getting enough sun or because they are getting too much fertilizer. They may also be too young. Most figs have a juvenile period of three to four years in which they do not produce fruit or fruit of edible quality. Cutting the trees down would not correct the problem. You may also wish to read the publication “Home Garden Figs” from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. It is available online or at your local Extension office.
Q: I planted some ‘Rutgers’ tomatoes next to some ‘Better Boy’ tomatoes. I had plenty of tomatoes, but most had very little flavor. Is this because I planted two different varieties next to each other?
A: Planting one variety of tomato (such as ‘Rutgers’) next to another variety (such as ‘Better Boy’) would have no effect on the taste, shape, size or any other characteristics of either variety.
As to why your tomatoes have little flavor, one possibility is that the plants are getting too much water. Another possibility is that they are not getting enough sunshine. Also, you could be picking them a little early. If you are fighting squirrels eating or stealing the tomatoes or birds pecking them, you may be tempted to pick them at the first sign of color change. If you do need to pick them earlier than full ripeness in order to save them from thieving critters, place the picked tomatoes in a sunny window until they are thoroughly red (or yellow or orange depending on the variety.) Both ‘Rutgers’ and ‘Better Boy’ do well in Georgia and get good marks for both performance and flavor. However, next year perhaps you may want to try another variety in addition to them – perhaps a cherry tomato known for concentrated flavor such as ‘Sun Gold’ or ‘Sweet 100.’
Q: Can you tell me about the ghost plant? It is a gray plant that looks a little like hen-and-dibbies. Is it hardy in Atlanta?
A: Ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) is a small succulent with rosettes of gray leaves with a pinkish cast. Because of its coloring it is also known as mother-of-pearl plant. It resembles the hen-and-dibbies (hen-and-chicks) plant but has thicker, larger leaves and is a different color. Leaves are brittle and may fall off when the plant is handled roughly. These easily root to form new plants. It likes full sun to light shade and well-drained soil. Since it is a succulent, it does not need a lot of water. It is easy to grow. It can be grown as a houseplant in very sunny windows. Ghost plant is best outdoors in coastal and south Georgia as it could be killed during a severe cold snap farther north. In Atlanta, sometimes the plants overwinter outside and sometimes they are killed by the cold. To be on the safe side, bring in a plant in the fall and carry it over indoors through the winter.
Q: I would like to put up a bat house for bats to roost in. I hear they eat lots of mosquitoes and I have plenty of those. Do you have any information?
A: Bats can eat a lot of mosquitoes and other insects as well. There are estimates that some species can capture 500 to 1,000 mosquitoes per hour. In many areas bat populations have been decimated by loss of habitat and ignorant destruction. Installing a bat house is a way to help these misunderstood and maligned creatures make a comeback. But installing a bat house probably will not solve your mosquito problem. First of all, there have to be bats in your area looking for a place to roost and your bat house must meet all the requirements as to design and location for the bats to take up long-term residence there. If bats move into your bat house, do not expect them to stay within your property during their nightly forays and feed only on mosquitoes that are trying to feed on you. For further advice, detailed bat house plans, or ready-made houses contact Bat Conservation International at P.O. Box 162603, Austin, Texas 78716 or by phone at 512-327-9721, or visit their website at www.batcon.org.
Q: Is the peanut pumpkin edible? I saw one on display at the Georgia Agriculture Building at the Sunbelt Expo in Moultrie.
A: Yes, the peanut pumpkin is excellent for eating. The pumpkin gets its name from the warty protuberances on the surface that can look, in both color and shape, like peanuts. The peanut pumpkin is an heirloom variety that originated in France. Its actual variety name is ‘Galeux D'Eysines.’ That is the name you will find it under in seed catalogs if you want to try to grow one yourself. You may find peanut pumpkins for sale at Georgia farms and farmers markets. Some people may not think they are as pretty as smooth-skinned pumpkins but they are attractive in their own peanutty way and each one is unique. They can also be used for jack-o-lanterns.
Q: Do witch hazels grow in Georgia?
A: Yes. There are several species and numerous hybrids of witch hazels that grow in Georgia. They make interesting large shrubs or small trees and deserve to be used more frequently. Their flowers can have a wonderful, spicy fragrance. Depending on the species or cultivar, they may bloom in fall, winter or spring. Your local nursery or garden center can provide you more information. Fall is an excellent time to plant a witch hazel.
Q: I want to have an all-Georgia breakfast for some out-of-state guests. I would like to be able to serve pancakes. Do you have any suggestions?
A: You have plenty of options. Georgia sweet potatoes are in season and there are numerous recipes for sweet potato pancakes. Sweet potatoes that you cooked yourself will taste fresher and have less sodium than a canned product. Try topping them with butter mixed with ground pecans and warm syrup flavored with cinnamon. Also try cooking and pureeing pumpkin or butternut squash and adding it to the pancake batter.
Georgia apples are also in season. Soften and caramelize the apples by sautéing them with some butter and sugar for a topping. If you froze any Georgia peaches or strawberries when they were in season, you can mix some of them into pancake batter or add a little sugar to them for a fruity pancake topping. Blueberries are excellent to mix into pancake batter.
Don’t be afraid to spread a fruit jelly such as crabapple, blackberry or muscadine on a pancake. Or use Georgia honey instead of syrup. Georgia bees (in collaboration with their beekeepers) produce tupelo, cotton, thistle, clover, alfalfa, sourwood, gallberry, wildflower and other delicious honeys.
And, of course, you will make your pancakes using Georgia buttermilk or sweet milk, eggs and butter.
On the side, perhaps serve some bacon, sausage and cheeses produced in the state. We don’t grow coffee here, but we have numerous coffee roasters, so Georgia-roasted coffee is an option.
Wake up your taste buds by incorporating some Georgia fruits and vegetables and other products into your breakfast and, at the same time, show your guests what a diverse agricultural state we have.
Q: How long can I store pecans?
A: When stored in a cool, dry place, unshelled pecans will keep for about six months. Store shelled pecans under refrigeration unless they will be used within a few weeks. If stored in airtight containers, pecans will stay fresh for about nine months in the refrigerator and for up to two years in the freezer.
Q: Is there a difference between a pesticide, an insecticide and a termiticide?
A: “Pesticide” is the umbrella term for substances used to kill or control insects, fungi, rodents, weeds or other organisms that are considered pests. All insecticides are pesticides but not all pesticides are insecticides. A termiticide is an insecticide that is used to combat termites. Various types of pesticides and what they are used to kill or control include: insecticides (insects), herbicides (weeds), fungicides (mold, mildew and other fungi), miticides (mites), molluscicides (snails and slugs) and rodenticides (rats and mice).
Q: I keep hearing about the importance of avoiding cross-contamination when preparing foods, but I don’t know exactly what that means. Can you explain?
A: When bacteria are spread from one surface to another, it is called cross-contamination. Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can contaminate foods that have been cooked safely or raw foods that won't be cooked, such as salad ingredients. To avoid cross-contamination, wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after handling raw meat and poultry to make sure you don't spread bacteria. Use soap and hot water to wash utensils and surfaces which have come into contact with the raw meat and poultry. Don't put cooked meat and poultry on the same platter that held the raw meat and poultry. For example, use a different platter to carry the cooked chicken in from the grill from the one you took the raw chicken out on, unless you thoroughly wash the platter with soap and hot water. Another example is to not use the same cutting board for cutting lettuce that you just used for cutting raw meat, unless the board has been thoroughly washed with soap and hot water.
Q: I have been told that I need a fastigiate tree for an area in my yard. What is a fastigiate tree?
A: A fastigiate tree is a variety of tree that is much narrower than the typical form of the species. They often have a columnar appearance. They are chosen for tight spaces that would not accommodate a wider tree or they are chosen to create a design effect. For example, the tall, dark spires of a juniper may provide a nice contrast to the obelisks and the other marble or light-colored tombstones in a cemetery. Fastigiate trees may provide a vegetative mirroring of the columns on a government or academic building or the steeple on a church. They can be used like sentries at a gate or along a road or driveway. They can also be used as a screen. European hornbeam, English oak, tulip poplar, Mediterranean or Italian cypress, junipers, black locust, elms and many other trees have fastigiate forms. To achieve the effect of a fastigiate tree, also consider putting in a tall pole and planting a vine such as Carolina jessamine, cow-itch vine (trumpet creeper) or crossvine. Talk with a landscape designer or a horticulturist at your nursery or garden center for more information about your options.
Q. Where should I report problems with the pumps at a gas station?
A. Concerns about gasoline quality or quantity should be reported to the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Fuel & Measures Office at 404-656-3605. Please have the pump number and the name and address of the station as well as the time of your purchase. This will aid our inspectors in checking out the problem. You may also call 1-800-282-5852 and ask to be transferred to the Fuel & Measures Office.