2015-01-01 / News

Consumers get answers from Ga. Department of Agriculture

Georgia Department of Agriculture, Gary W. Black, Commissioner, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. SW, Atlanta, GA 30334, www.agr. georgia.gov. Find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter.

Q: Is wintersweet easy to grow? I smelled one blooming last January and want to plant one. Can you give me some information about it?

A: Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) grows to be a large shrub or small tree approximately 15 or more feet tall with an approximate 12-foot spread. It can be kept smaller by pruning. It prefers full sun but will tolerate part shade and is not particular about soil. It is easy to grow but not commonly available.

Wintersweet’s flowers are attractive but not showy, somewhat bellshaped, with translucent yellow petals and a purple heart. Some forms are solid yellow. The fragrance has hints of vanilla, banana and lemon. Like many fragrant plants, and as its name implies, it blooms in winter.

If you cannot find a local source, check out mail-order nurseries or collect seeds and sow them. Germination rates are supposed to be highest if you collect the seeds as soon as the pods turn brown.

Q: Someone gave me a frozen commercially prepared smoked chicken labeled as “fully cooked and ready to eat.” Some of the meat looked pink. Is it safe? The box gave instructions on how to heat the chicken in the oven if I wanted to, but said it could be served cold after being properly thawed.

A: Commercially prepared smoked poultry can have a pink cast. In particular, the dark meat may have a color that is comparable to smoked pork or ham. Follow the instructions given on thawing and heating the chicken and enjoy it for a big holiday meal or to make workday sandwiches, chicken salad or other recipes calling for cooked chicken. The bones may be used to make soup stocks and gravies.

Q: Is it all right to let my dog eat table scraps? I don’t want to have to lock him away from holiday guests, but they always want to slip him something.

A: Besides getting sick from too much food or from eating something he is not used to, there may be other food dangers during the holidays for your dog. People may think they are doing an act of kindness and are winning the dog’s affection by slipping him something. Children may especially want to do this and not understand why it may be harmful.

Explain to guests that your dog is not to be given table scraps no matter how pitifully he begs. If they have no willpower, you will have to show some by isolating the dog from them.

Here are a few things to consider:

Dogs can choke on small bones, especially from poultry. They can also become lodged in your dog’s digestive tract. Carefully check meat for bones before giving any to your dog.

Don’t give your dog any food containing chocolate or raisins.

Your dog may be craving attention as much as he is craving food. Although the holidays are busy times, don’t ignore him. Take him for a walk; the exercise will probably do you both good.

Have an acceptable treat available that may be given to your dog if someone, especially a child, “must” give him a treat. (You can make this conditional on the good behavior of both child and dog.)

There are usually lots of leftovers from holiday meals, but even if your dog is used to eating food from the table, don’t be tempted to scrape whole plates of food into your dog’s dish. Your dog may act like a garbage disposal, but don’t treat him that way. There may be unsafe items or ones that could cause digestive upset. Also, consumption of large amounts of high-fat foods can cause acute problems such as pancreatitis and contribute to chronic health problems such as obesity.

Precaution can prevent veterinarian and carpet-cleaning bills and keep the holidays happy and healthy for you and your dog.

Q: What are peanut hearts? I see them sold along with sunflower seeds and other seeds for feeding birds.

A: The peanut “ heart” is the embryo found at the center of the individual peanut. It is also called a “plantlet” or “germ.” It consists of the embryonic root and shoot and the first true leaves of the peanut plant. The two large halves of the peanut seed are the cotyledons or “seed leaves.”

The peanut hearts you see sold for birdseed were removed when processing peanuts to make peanut butter. Sometimes broken pieces of the cotyledons are also included in what is sold as peanut hearts.

Peanut hearts are eaten by tufted titmice, nuthatches, Carolina wrens, Carolina chickadees and other songbirds. Unfortunately, some people report they also attract starlings.

If you have questions about services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (arty. schronce@agr.georgia.gov) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.

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