Perennial Pals: Is it Ripe?

Just For Fun, Tastebuds

(Article and photo by Jacob Williams in conjunction with Towns-Union Master Gardener Association and the UGA Extension Office)

One question that people will call me with is how to tell if a fruit or vegetable is ripe or not. Different plants ripen differently. Some will continue to ripen after they’ve been picked, others need to ripen attached to the plant. Let’s talk about what causes plants to ripen and how to tell if some common fruits and vegetables are ripe or not.

Fruits and vegetables are divided into climacteric and non-climacteric. The difference between these groups is their response to the hormone ethylene. Ethylene is a hormone that plants produce to induce ripening. Climacteric fruits and veggies will continue to ripen after they have been picked. Non-climacteric fruits and veggies won’t continue to ripen. Instead, they will soften and rot as they age. Some crops are sensitive to ethylene and so shouldn’t be stored with climacteric crops that produce ethylene.

Apples, pears, peaches, plums, potatoes, and tomatoes are some examples of climacteric plants. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, cucumbers, eggplant, grapes, strawberries, peppers, squash, and watermelon are all examples of non-climacteric crops. Some examples of plants that are sensitive to ethylene and so shouldn’t be stored with climacteric crops are asparagus, broccoli, cucumbers, green beans, kale, onions, peas, peppers, squash, and watermelon.

Now that we know a little more about the ripening process let’s talk about how to tell when the best time to pick some of the most commonly grown crops around here are.

RipeTomatoes are an easy one to tell when they are ripe because they start to turn red. You can pick tomatoes before they are fully ripe on the vine. Because they are climacteric, they will continue to ripen. I’ve put tomatoes up in the kitchen windowsill so that they’ll ripen. Sometimes it is advantageous to pick something before it’s fully ripe so that you make sure critters don’t get it before you.

Apples and pears can be a little more challenging to tell when they are ripe. Different varieties will ripen at different times. In addition, the entire tree may not ripen at the same time. If the apple or pear stem breaks away easily from the tree then it’s ripe. Turn the fruit sideways to see if it pops off. Depending on the variety, you can use color to tell if the fruit is ripe. If you cut an apple open and the seeds are dark brown, it’s ripe.

Blueberries will be plump with a deep blue color. They also have a white powder on the skin that keeps them fresh longer.

Squash and zucchini should be harvested when they’re 4-8 inches long. They’ll both grow longer if left on the vine, and you can still eat them if they’re big, but they get tougher as they age. You should be able to push your fingernail into the skin.
Sweet corn is ripe when you can puncture a kernel with your fingernail and milky fluid comes out. As soon as corn is picked, it starts to lose flavor. Refrigerate it to retain flavor.

Pick peas when the pods have plumped out. If they start to wrinkle, they’re getting overripe. You can always open a pod to see if the seeds are swollen, but still tender. Beans are ready when you can see the seeds bulging through the sides of the pod.

Pick peppers when they are shiny green. If you let them sit on the bush longer and they start to change to orange or red and they’re getting hotter. If that’s what you’re looking for, let them sit.

If you have questions about when plants are ripe contact your County Extension Office or email me at [email protected].



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Fetching Features: a look at Heath Lee

Fetching Featured

How does a man go from 13 years in manufacturing at a company called Valenite to being a manager of Gilmer County’s Library, and now on to a Regional Director over the Mountain Regional Library System?

The answer is deceptively simple. One person.

That is the origin story of Gilmer’s now-former Library Manager. One person that many of you have never met, made an impact on your community and your own life depending on how much you visit and use the library’s resources.

It all happened in Central, South Carolina, at Southern Wesleyan University where Lee was attending at the time. He says it was Southern Wesleyan’s library where he met a lady and interacted with her. Over the years, the name has faded with memory, but the experience is what has stuck with him. The seed was planted to explore the idea of choosing the path of a librarian as a career choice.

Facing a more difficult transition to be advanced at his manufacturing job at the time, along with feelings that the job wasn’t a long term path he wanted to take, Lee said it was this one person and their interactions that first-ever brought the idea to the forefront and made him explore the options with libraries as not just a place to work, but to become fully certified in pursuit of his life. It was the experience he had with that librarian that just set the idea and he never could have known it would lead to his new position as Director of the Mountain Regional Library System.

Having received his Masters in Library and Information Studies in 2007 from Florida State University, Lee was well in pursuit of his dream before he started looking at places to apply that degree.

He found Eastman, Georgia, in Dodge County and the position of Public Services Librarian. He worked there nearly seven years working through IT, courier services, cataloging, and general library work. Learning through experience the many facets of library work, he eventually hit another point where advancement wasn’t readily available.

And so he set out again, searching for the next opportunity, an opportunity to grow, to build something, to branch out and take on the next steps. That next opportunity was discovered here, in Gilmer.

As he recalled his first impressions of looking into the job, Lee smiled as he said, “It was exactly what I was looking for. When I first got into the community, I had in mind that it was smaller than what it was. When I drove up here, I was pleasantly surprised.”

Lee said he found a community that was growing and a “phenomenal” facility. He saw the potential and further uses the facility had, he saw a chance to take himself and the library to the next step up.

LeeIt was not a long deliberation according to Lee as he said he was anxious to move here and when the job was offered. It felt like coming home. Lee said the county is very similar to his own hometown Walhalla in South Carolina, also in the foothills of the mountains.

Stepping into the role for Gilmer County in late 2014 had challenges of his own. Libraries have changed over the years. Maintaining a modern philosophy in the social environment that massive increases in technology have changed the face of libraries that are trying to maintain a pace with it. Lee holds that philosophy as he took Gilmer along that option of maintaining the pace.

But managing is more than just budgets and boards. Taking on projects, adding experiences and events, coordinating with groups and organizations, working alongside both the local Board of Commissioners and State Representatives like House Speaker David Ralston, all of these “moving parts’ as Lee calls them, coalesce into a community that has supported the library. Yet, that community needed a nexus, a guiding hand and a driving force.

“You have to be patient…” says Lee. Projects and new ventures don’t always progress at the speed you want. Understanding that while maintaining a vision of the end goal translates through everything from day to day operations to large multi-year projects like the new expansion.

The basement expansion has been a five-year project for the library encompassing everything he has learned and gained over his career.  Coordinating multiple entities through the library, Lee said, “Everyone understood that, yes, it’s a long process. There are some bumps in the road. But ultimately, when it was done, it was going to be worth the effort.”

The project had its own issues and trials, but maintaining the motivation to achieve something great for the community to take advantage of was the part that was worth it. Even now, as he leaves, Lee says there is still more that the library can do with the expansion, more to add, more to give.

LeeIn essence, Lee’s entire time at the Gilmer Library has been one big project. A project to upgrade, update, and, ultimately, upload this facility into a culture that is not bound by physical locations anymore.

Lee said that most libraries saw a spike in visitation during the recession. But when you saw a change in the economic climate, you saw changes in how communities use the space and the resources the library has available.

One of the changes needed, and one that Lee said Gilmer has answered, is ramping up in programming and utilization of a communal space.

Computer access is only a part of addressing the community’s needs. Space is another part. Programing another. Under the umbrella of services, libraries embracing this “modern philosophy” and adapting to the changes have had a lot of work to mold themselves into something new.

The greatest example of libraries changing that Lee has noticed has been a move away from the “hush society.”

Lee said, “Everything was always kept quiet. Everybody would “Shh! Shh…” We don’t really embrace that culture anymore. Libraries are not only a place that contain content, but we are also a place where we create content. That has become a very modern theme in libraries. We embrace a ‘maker’s society.”

Utilizing tools like 3-d printers and tablets, creation and content have exploded into new areas. Gilmer has even utilized virtual reality in events over the years as they don’t just teach, but show new worlds. New experiences. New horizons.

You can still find the introspective areas, places where you silence your cell phones and keep conversations low, but Lee says that the new age of Gilmer’s library is about growing meaningful conversations about topics through their events, classes, and showcases.

“We want to be a place of community, and community requires people socializing, people talking,” says Lee.

The library has its own bookstore, game nights, and other programming now. And just as the library provides space and support for these new ventures, the community provides volunteers and support through organizations like Friends of the Library.

Taking the time to create and foster those connections has been just another facet of the nexus position that Lee has taken hold of. Lee gives all credit to his staff through their efforts and over the years through positions of Youth Services Coordinator and Adult Services Coordinator. Lee said that he wants to be responsive to the community and its wants, building a great staff has been another part of that project to not just find the right person for the job but to “take a step back and put your faith into your staff.”

Lee said it is all about knowing that they know their trade and their job, and the results that Gilmer has gotten, the response it has seen speaks for itself.

Now, translating all this experience, Lee is about to take another step back. Moving from a single library to multiple branches across three counties. Moving from a single community to a region.

Leaving the Library has become a little bittersweet, as is to be expected after so many years. But Lee says it’s not the building, or the projects, or the tasks he is leaving behind that makes it so. It is the “totality” of the region and the organization. Having a lot of great relationships and having built a great staff are the two major factors. And changing from a single library manager to Regional Director requires a much different view of things.

LeeOnce again, a crossroads has come. “It’s time for me to take the next logical step in my career,” he says. While he wasn’t actively looking for something, the opening of this new position was not something to be passed on. He goes on to the Mountain Regional Library System covering Fannin, Union, and Towns.

“It requires a whole other level of trust,” says Lee as he explains much of the time, he won’t even be in the same building as his people.

He still wants to focus on those experiences for people and “making the pieces fit together,” but said one of the big challenges in that goal is understanding how every decision can both benefit and complicate different branches in different ways.

Taking on a whole system, creating commonality and familiarity across multiple branches while maintaining each community’s own personality is the next challenge. Meeting the people and supporting the branches to cater to them and the experiences they want is simply a step along the way.

Ultimately, its about people. Lee said that a successful library becomes a molded image by the community it serves. Creating that opportunity is simply how another librarian gets the chance to create that interaction that young man receives. That interaction is the spark that makes him think about taking a career as a librarian. That career choice is what creates the man that Heath Lee has become as he steps into a new position as a Regional Director.

Local nursing home requests letters from children

Brasstown Manor

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Many of Towns County’s most vulnerable residents, its senior citizens, are facing an added burden from the COVID-19 outbreak; loneliness. Brasstown Manor Retirement Community in Hiawassee closed its doors to visitors March 16, and the facility is requesting mail from the community to brighten its residents’ days during this difficult time. With students on leave from on-campus school, the gesture could provide a creative and meaningful exchange for children as well.

Brasstown Manor

Residents of Brasstown Manor are sending messages to family members on Facebook with the help of staff.

“Why not write letters/draw cards for the elderly communities that are not able to see their loved ones during this difficult time,” Marketing Director of Brasstown Manor asked. “With that being said, the staff of Brasstown Manor will be accepting any letters/cards that children (or adults) would like to send! Feel free to drop them by the front door or you can mail them to the following address:

Attention Hannah Allen
108 Church Street
Hiawassee, GA 30546

“We would absolutely love to see the smiles that cross their faces and we will even post pictures of their reactions,” Allen said. “Let’s spread some joy and love during this extremely trying time.”

Do you know of good things happening in Towns County? Email [email protected]

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Artist captures the heartbreaking history of Lake Chatuge

Arts & Entertainment

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Marty Hayden relocated to Towns County from Pennsylvania a decade ago, and the gifted artist discovered a way to honor the history of a community that he has grown to love. Hiawassee is coined a “lake and mountain paradise” but the construction of Lake Chatuge – a manmade reservoir commissioned by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1941 – left heartache and hardship in its wake. Approximately 3,500 acres of rich farmland and generational homesteads were eradicated by the lake’s arrival. Schools, churches, and businesses stood in the way of the project, and 532 gravesites were transferred to area cemeteries.

Marty Hayden

Marty Hayden

“The more that I dug into the history, I locked into this thing about Lake Chatuge,” Hayden said, explaining how conversations with the local community inspired the emotive, in-the-works art piece. “Working at the college, there was a lot of people that started coming up and telling me about their family history, and how they were just uprooted, and they had to move, and they only had so many months to get out…,” Hayden said. “So that really touched me. I said that must have been something.”

Hayden was employed as a night supervisor at Chic-fil-A on the Young Harris College campus for five years, prior to retiring last week. The artist explained that he conducted ample research for the sketch and that retirement will afford him the time to complete the re-creation.

“Luckily, online, I stumbled across several photographs. Some of them had to do with the Chatuge water tower, the intake tower. I got pictures of that. I got some of the pictures of the equipment, and then I started getting this vision that the best person to translate this to me was somebody’s mamaw,” Hayden said. “So if you can just imagine back in 1941, you’ve got about a 90-sum-year lady and she’s sitting in her cabin that she grew up with generations, and she’s staring out her window, and she’s watching everything disappear. Sitting in her lap she has the exact paper.”

While the nation was immersed in the news of World War II, the local population focused on the inevitable change that Lake Chatuge would surely bring.

Towns County Historical Society

The painting’s sketch.

“This is just a sketch, and I did this over the weekend because I knew the (Towns County Historical Society) meeting was coming up,” Hayden explained. “But that’s going to be the size of the painting. The painting is going to be all the way in color, it’s going to be framed, and I’m going to donate it to the historical society.”

Hayden estimated the completion of the painting in late March. The gracious artist said that he plans to frame the original sketch and auction the artwork to benefit the Towns County Historical Society.

Local philanthropists honored for generous contributions

Featured Stories, Fetching Featured
Betty Phillips -Historical Society

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Historical Society honored Betty Phillips and her late husband, Dr. Richard Allen Schmidtke, at its March meeting for their generous financial contributions toward the preservation of local history.

“This is a resolution in honor of Betty Phillips and in memory of Dr. Richard Allen Schmidtke by the Towns County Historical Society Executive Board, and Betty had another meeting she’s gone to, and (nephew) Kris is accepting this on her behalf,” Towns County Historical Society Vice-President Jerry Taylor said.

Towns County Historical society

Kris Phillips accepted the recognition on Betty Phillips’ behalf from historical society officers.

“And the resolution is; whereas Betty Phillips is a lifetime member of the Towns County Historical Society who has provided immeasurable support to our organization; and whereas Dr. Schmidtke held advanced degrees in mechanical engineering; and whereas he served his county with distinction in World War II, mainly as staff sergeant in the U.S. Army and the Manhatten Project as a 19-year-old who helped with the design of the ‘Fat Man’ Nagasaki bomb and other notable projects; and whereas he retired to the north Georgia mountains and adopted Towns County as his home; and whereas he married Towns County native Betty Phillips and became a life member of the Towns County Historical Society; and whereas by their anonymous generosity they supported the historical society and the Old rock jail Museum; and whereas Dr. Schmidtke passed away March the 27th, 2017. Therefore, we, the Executive Board of the Towns County Historical Society, honor Betty Phillips and the memory of Dr. Schmidtke on the anniversary of his passing by acknowledging the identity of our anonymous benefactors this 9th day of March 2020. Signed, Sandra Green, President; Jerry Taylor, Vice-President; Tyler Osborn, Secretary; Francis Shook, Treasurer; and Mary Ann Miller, Membership Secretary.”

Betty Philiips

Plaque presented in honor of Betty Phillips and Dr. Richard Allen Schmidtke.

In addition to a framed resolution, a plaque was presented in honor of the benevolent couple.

“This plaque is in recognition of Betty’s many years as a member of the historical society and all the contributions, financial contributions, that she and Dr. Schmidtke have given over the years,” President Green said. “And as everyone knows, that knows Betty Phillips, they know how devoted she is to the cause of veterans. And so the plaque will be at the Old Rock Jail Museum in front of the veterans’ display room in honor of Dr. Schmidtke and Betty in honor of her love for the veterans.”

Phillips has graciously hosted an annual program for Towns County veterans each summer since 2014.

“I know she’ll appreciate that very much,” Kris Phillips said.

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