Holiday Preparations


One group of plants that I am particularly fond of especially around this time of year are the holiday cacti. There are a couple notable holiday cacti that are often confused with one another and frequently mis-identified. Thanksgiving cactus is recognized by its deep green glossy foliage, its two prominent teeth or claws at the tip, and the distinctive scarlet red bloom. Thanksgiving cactus can usually be depended on to bloom in October or November around Thanksgiving (mine are in bloom right now just in time). Christmas cactus has rounded leaves with a slightly lighter green color foliage. Christmas cactus blooms carmine red with just a hint of a purple tinge to the bloom’s center. Either of these cacti bloom primarily in response to environmental conditions such as temperature and day length, so it is not always possible to tell Thanksgiving cactus from Christmas cactus solely based on when it blooms. I had one in bloom a couple years ago just in time for our 4th of July festivities – go figure.

Both holiday cacti require a well-drained potting media. You can make your own by mixing three parts compost, one part peat moss, and two parts pure sand or you can do what I do and purchase pre-mixed cacti potting media from your local garden center.

They will require warm temperatures (anywhere from 62 degrees to 80 degrees should work fine) and they prefer filtered light areas as opposed to direct sunlight. Do not overwater your holiday cactus as they are prone to root rot. Drain off any excess water and allow the potting media to dry before rewatering them. Overwatering (or underwatering) and drastic changes in temperature can cause them to shed their bloom buds.

After they flower, your holiday cacti will start to put on new growth which will form next year’s bloom buds. Provide them with a little water soluble fertilizer with your watering while they are putting on their new growth. Starting about late nest August begin to diminish the amount of water you give them to allow them to “harden off” prior to moving them inside.

The best thing about the holiday cacti is that they are so easily propagated at most any time of the year. Simply remove the last couple joints from the stem, pot them out in a container of well-drained potting media, and keep them watered. They will very dependably root and you will have a new plant to enjoy or share with a neighbor.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays for many reasons. Apart from the obvious reason that we should all take time and opportunity to be thankful for all the blessings, freedoms, and privileges that we enjoy and often take for granted, it also gives me a great excuse and ample opportunities to overeat. Hey, calories don’t really count during holiday seasons, right?

Like many others, one of our staple Thanksgiving foods is the traditional turkey. I keep thinking about and comparing myself to the father character in the movie “Christmas Story” who was described as a “turkey junkie”. However, before it makes its way to the table, your turkey must be properly thawed and prepared. Depending on the size of the bird, the process could take anywhere from several hours to several days to thaw completely. “Though you do not have to thaw the turkey prior to cooking it, it will take about 50 percent longer to cook from frozen state than when completely defrosted,” said Bridgette Brannon, an Alabama Extension regional food safety agent. The absolute exception to this is if you are deep frying your Thanksgiving turkey. When placed in hot boiling oil, a frozen or partially thawed turkey can AND WILL cause an almost explosive boil over and splattering of hot oil which can lead to both an extreme fire hazard as well as high potential for personal injury. There is no worse way to spend a holiday season than at the UAB hospital burn unit while the volunteer firemen that we should all be thankful for puts out your house fire.

Brannon also reminds us that the safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. A turkey being thawed in the refrigerator should be kept in its packaging. This prevents cross-contamination with other items that it may come into contact with. The bird should be placed on a pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every four to five pounds of turkey. “You can keep the turkey in the refrigerator for up to two days if thawed correctly. If you are refreezing it, this must be done within two days of thawing,” Brannon said.

According to Angela Treadaway, an Alabama Extension regional food safety and quality agent “The single most important thing to know about cooking turkey, no matter the method, is that it must be cooked to the proper internal temperature as measured with a meat thermometer.” Inserting a meat thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and into the thickest part of the breast gives the most accurate reading. Temperatures should reach 165°F or higher in both the breast and the thigh. Within two hours of carving, store leftover turkey in shallow containers and put in the refrigerator or freezer. “If storing in the refrigerator, use cooked leftover turkey and stuffing within three-four days,” Treadaway said. “However, in the freezer, cooked turkey keeps for three to four months.” When using leftover turkey, reheat thoroughly to 165°F or until hot and steaming.