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Gardening Q&A: Bermuda onions famous for their sweet flavor

Posted: September 13, 2017 - 1:38am
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To help your Angel Trumpet live through the winter outdoors, mulch it heavily prior to frost.
To help your Angel Trumpet live through the winter outdoors, mulch it heavily prior to frost.

Question: Whatever happened to Bermuda onions?

Answer: Before it was known for its sandy beaches and distinctive pants, Bermuda was famous for its sweet onions. Seeds of the onions grown on the island were eventually brought to the United States where farmers in Florida, Texas and California began to grow them.

The 1920 spring catalog of the H. G. Hastings Company in Atlanta stated that the firm had introduced the onion as a commercial crop to Florida "some 29 years ago" and that the company's Bermuda onions were the "earliest, mildest flavored" and "most attractive onions in the world." The catalog also stated, "They are so mild in flavor that many people eat them raw like an apple."

For many years, varieties with Bermuda in their name or collectively known as Bermuda onions were popular with consumers and farmers as well as home gardeners. In the produce market of today, however, Bermuda onions have been replaced for the most part by various sweet onions from Texas, Washington, Peru and, of course, the world-famous Vidalia onions grown only in Georgia.

The name still survives in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's standards for grades of "Bermuda-Granex-Grano Type Onions." It may be hard, if not impossible, to find Bermuda onions in restaurants and supermarkets today, but gardeners can find seeds for Crystal Wax Bermuda and possibly other Bermuda varieties from a few seed companies.

Q: A large and ferocious-looking spider has taken up residence outside my garage. I was told it was a golden silk orbweaver and that it is harmless, but it still scares me and I don't want it where it is. Any advice?

Answer: The golden silk orbweaver and other similar spiders can be a little intimidating due to their large size. They are not just harmless; they are also considered beneficial. Since they eat mosquitoes and wasps, it may be good to have one under the eaves of your house or porch or near a window even if the spider does look like it escaped from a Tarzan movie or a remake of The Incredible Shrinking Man.

As a general rule, spiders will move to another place when you destroy their web with a broom or stick. That is the best thing to do if the web is in a pathway or in some other place you do not want it. Do not use any kind of pesticide or bug killer due to the expense and also because the spider is harmless and beneficial. It will die with the approach of cold weather and freezing temperatures.

Q. What is teff? I saw a bag of it next to the oatmeal in the grocery store.

A. Teff (Eragrostis tef) is sometimes called the world's smallest grain and is originally from Ethiopia. The small seeds are boiled and eaten like oatmeal or porridge. It has a rich, nutty flavor and is sometimes eaten with butter, honey and raisins. The small seeds are also ground into flour. Packages of teff and teff flour usually have basic preparation instructions and often have other recipes such as pancakes, muffins, cookies and even teff hushpuppies.

Q: How cold hardy are brugmansias (angel's trumpets)? Can I leave mine outside in the winter or do I need to dig it up?

A: There is no definitive answer as to the cold hardiness of brugmansias. We do not know of any authoritative research done on the subject. Some references list them as root hardy (will get killed back to the roots and sprout again in the spring) to USDA Hardiness Zone 7b. That zone has a usual winter extreme temperature of 0 to 5 degrees F. There are exceptions. Some varieties are more cold hardy than others, and if properly sited and heavily mulched, they may be hardy farther north.

To improve the chances for your brugmansia to withstand the winter outdoors, mulch it heavily prior to frost. Some gardeners recommend leaving the stalks and not cutting them back until spring. You may also have better luck getting your brugmansias to overwinter outdoors if you plant them in late spring or early summer so that they have a well-established root system before cold weather arrives.

Those that survive the winter and come back from the roots may be slow to get started when warm weather arrives. For this reason, some gardeners prefer to start each spring with new plants they have purchased or with ones that they carried over indoors. However, even if they have a slow start, brugmansias bloom for a long period into the fall, so be patient; you'll get plenty of blooms.

One problem with overwintering brugmansias as houseplants is that they are prone to pests such as spider mites and aphids. Some people overcome this by letting them go dormant in a cool, unheated location such as a garage.

Some gardeners take cuttings in the fall, root them and pot them in the winter, and then plant them outdoors in the spring after danger of frost is past. The cuttings root easily in water or in moist sand.

Cold hardiness is a tricky subject. Each winter is different, and different factors can come into play. If you have brugmansias and live in an area where their hardiness is in question, try several methods to protect them to find out what works best for you and the varieties you have.

Q: I bought a tropical passionflower vine on sale at a local nursery. An orange and silver butterfly keeps landing on it. I thought it might be a monarch butterfly, but I looked up the monarch, and it is different. Any ideas as to what it could be?

A: It sounds like a Gulf fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae). It is a rich, rusty orange on the upper side of the wings. The undersides of the wings are distinguished by panes of iridescent silver.

Its front wings are somewhat elongated, giving it a narrower appearance than most of our common butterflies.

Gulf fritillaries lay their eggs exclusively on passionflowers, including Georgia's two native species of passionflowers: mollypop/maypop (Passiflora incarnata) and the green passionflower (Passiflora lutea), as well as the many tropical species of passionflowers. Many people grow passionflowers for the sole reason of attracting these butterflies.

If you don't want Gulf fritillary caterpillars eating your passionflower vine, 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 ignore the caterpillars. In fact, you may want to go back to the nursery and buy another passionflower - one for you and one for the butterflies.

 

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