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March 2014

4-H Extension Corner: Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams

Etowah County 4-Hers help Mona Dominguez investigate a stream critter.

by Mona Dominguez

What lives in your favorite creek, stream or pond? Most of us would be quick to answer this question with minnows, bass, catfish or crawfish. All of these are good answers, and lots of times we go to the creek or pond with intentions of finding just these creatures. How would you feel if I told you there are benthic macroinvertebrates living in your water? For example, there are hellgrammites, dragonfly nymphs and cranefly larvae living on the bottom of creeks, streams and ponds.

4-Hers who were participating in water education sessions last summer were a little troubled when they first heard the news about macroinvertebrates in their water. Hellgrammites don’t exactly sound like good swimming buddies. However, the students quickly changed their minds when they learned the presence of macroinvertebrates can actually tell if a creek, stream or pond is healthy, and that these critters are pretty cool.

A 4-Her gets a magnified view of a macro-invertebrate.

"Benthic" refers to living on the bottom of a water body, "macro" means large enough to see with the naked eye and "invertebrate" refers to animals without backbones. Some macros you may have heard of before include crawfish, clams and snails. Other lesser-known aquatic critters include the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs and caddisflies. Dragonflies and many other insects actually live most of their lives underwater before changing into the adults we see buzzing around.

Aquatic insects have different tolerances for water pollution. Some creatures, like the aquatic worm, can live in fairly polluted water. Others such as the stonefly larvae cannot live in polluted water. Basically, if you find more pollution-intolerant than pollution-tolerant macroinvertebrates, you can assume your water quality is fairly good.

Walker County 4-Hers research and identify their findings.

"I learned that a dragonfly nymph doesn’t look anything like an adult dragonfly," said Hunter Watson, 10, a 4-Her from Etowah County. "I also learned the kinds of bugs in your water can help you tell if your water is clean or not."

Last summer, I was able to share my love for macroinvertebrates and protecting water quality with Alabama youth during several events, including the Walker County 4-H Summer Camp Lake Day and the Etowah County 4-H Nature Funshop.

By using games and fun activities, I taught students about water conservation and water pollution. They discussed different ways water gets polluted and what each of them could do to prevent pollution. They also talked about some of the characteristics making macroinvertebrates so interesting to study. For instance, caddisflies make beautiful casings out of twigs and pebbles found on the bottoms of creeks. Once the young people understood that macroinvertebrates are not scary, and are actually things we want to find in our creeks and ponds, they were anxious to explore. They practiced collection techniques using nets and buckets and then they were off to the races.

Once the 4-Hers collected enough insects, they used identification keys to classify each bug. They sorted the macros into different pollution tolerance groups and, as a result, were able to determine the water’s health.

"Through the stream biomonitoring activities, young people were able to see the diversity existing in Alabama’s streams as well as the impact of water quality on aquatic life. The youth were taught the basic principles of environmental stewardship and had fun learning by doing," said Michael Dillon, regional 4-H agent for Cherokee and Etowah counties.

The Alabama Water Watch Program ( has been teaching both adults and students how to determine water quality using macroinvertebrates as indicators for nearly 20 years. In fact, about 10 years ago, AWW worked with Auburn University faculty to develop a curriculum called "Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams" that is focused on water quality, stream ecology and macroinvertebrates. Most of the activities I used during the summer water activities were taken directly from EALS.

Left to right, a 4-Her discovers a tiny snail. 4-Hers learn to use a kick net to collect aquatic critters.

Time and time again those who take students to the creek to explore for macroinvertebrates see them get excited about nature and science.

"Our day camp evaluations show unanimous top ratings for water day. Mona’s program guided the 4-Hers in a search for tiny creatures lurking in the mud and grasses. Youth then researched and identified what they had found. They were especially excited about the predators," added Rebecca Persons, an Extension agent in Walker County.

Not only do the 4-Hers have fun but evidence shows these creek adventures enhance their academic experience. One study showed Alabama students who were taught with the EALS curriculum, along with the Extension program Classroom in the Forest, over a 4-year period increased their Stanford Achievement Test scores from 50 percent to 70 percent (

In 2014, AWW hopes to offer more 4-Hers an opportunity to get out and explore their living streams. 4-H volunteers can play a big role in helping more youth have this great experience. After experiencing EALS, Extension Agent Dillon has decided to host an EALS workshop on April 11 and 12. It will give interested educators (including volunteers) an opportunity to learn to use the EALS curriculum.

"I want to host this workshop in Etowah County because the opportunity to equip the passionate teachers and volunteers of today to reach the leaders of tomorrow is invaluable. The hands-on activities provided through this training will enable educators to reach young people who otherwise might not have become involved with 4-H. Being blessed with abundant water resources in this region of Alabama, it is imperative local youth are prepared to be good stewards and understand the importance of it," said Dillon.

If you’d like to teach young people about water through macroinvertebrates, this is a great way to get started. You can find more details about this workshop by going to Several additional water education workshops are being planned for the coming months. Contact me for additional information at 334-844-4785 or

Mona Dominguez is a monitor coordinator and Water Education specialist for Alabama Water Watch and for ACES’ Alabama 4-H Water Resources Center.

A Slippery Delivery

by Lisa Hamblen Hood

Calving in cold weather can be perilous. We don’t get much cold weather here in central Texas, so we are not always prepared for all that entails. We don’t have tire chains or snow tires to help facilitate travel. At least most ranchers have trucks equipped with four-wheel drive, so they can get out to their pastures to check their livestock, no matter how much snow and ice are on the ground. Even so, it is sometimes difficult to cover sprawling ranches and find those newborns hidden in the remote rocky parts. In an effort to save them from potential predators, mamas look for the thickest clump of trees, the farthest meadow or the deepest ravine in which to deliver their babies.

My buddy Scott had the misfortune of finding one of those newborn calves early on a frosty morn, but it was too late. The little fellow had gotten chilled after his mom had delivered him on the north side of the cedar brake and was unable to warm it up fast enough. Thankfully, it was the only casualty Scott’s had, so far, although one other one nearly died during a recent ice storm. (It is freaky weather indeed when we have three major winter storms before Christmas. Must be that "global warming" I keep hearing about ….)

The other day Scott and his brother Chris were making the rounds on one of their ranches, putting out feed and hay, and breaking the ice on water troughs. They had split up to make the work go a little faster. When they met back up in an hour, Chris casually commented that he’d seen a cow down in a creek bottom. There was blood and afterbirth all over the ground and she was beginning to clean it up. He remarked that he hadn’t seen a calf anywhere.

Realizing the mercury wasn’t going to rise above the freezing mark for the next few days, Scott said, "Well, we can’t just leave it. We gotta go find it, then."

They eased the truck down the embankment and got out and started to look. In a few moments, Scott found the little calf. It was lying down on the ice in the middle of the frozen creek. Apparently, it had given up on trying to get up. There were scratches in the ice it had made with its hoofs when it had repeatedly tried to scramble to its feet. Scott eased out onto the ice to rescue the exhausted animal. He’s a big burly guy – probably not the most graceful, especially on such a slippery surface. He slipped and fell more than once, landing hard on his ample backside. Luckily, the ice was thick enough not to break on impact. Finally, he reached the shivering calf. It was so worn out that it didn’t move or try to get up when he approached.

"He’d just plum give up on trying to get up, I guess," Scott told me later.

He leaned down and carefully wrapped a big calloused hand around one of the calf’s back legs. The anxious mother was on the other side of the creek, watching the whole episode unfold, pacing up and down and bawling pitifully the whole time. Scott was glad she was wary of crossing the icy creek. Otherwise, she might have charged him and tried to kill him for messing with her baby.

Struggling to get some traction in his work boots, he slowly began to drag it across the surface to the opposite bank. He stepped out onto the land, relieved to be on solid ground again, albeit covered with a thick layer of slick ice. In a moment, the little calf gathered its spindly legs underneath its body and stood up. By that time, its mother had trotted over to where they were, and mama and baby had a happy reunion. Before she could start cleaning her calf off and nudging him toward her full udder, Scott had gingerly walked back across the frozen creek, relieved to have that job done and be back to the welcoming warmth of his truck.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. Email her at

A Tribute to Mike Pollard

Mike Pollard

by Corky Pugh

If heaven has Game Wardens, they just got an incredible Assistant Chief.

Mike Pollard passed away earlier this year at the age of 51. The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and his family and friends buried him in the small cemetery beside the Rocky Branch Baptist Church in rural Randolph County.

The funeral service, held in Opelika, and the graveside service were conducted in their totality by present and former employees of the Division. Whether this was by design or just happened that way, it was a powerful manifestation of the strong, almost familial bond among the employees of the Division.

A very modest, low-key individual, Mike would have blushed at all the attention. He would have wanted to leave the chapel to get back into the outdoors he loved so much.

The sermon by retired Captain Don Herring offered comfort from God’s Word to the family in their bereavement. Each of the classic bluegrass gospel selections performed by Fisheries Biologist Graves Lovell and retired Fisheries Chief Barry Smith captured the earthy, natural feel Mike loved so much.

Eulogies from Sgt. Keith Mann, Sgt. Carter Hendrix, recently retired Officer Jeff Brown and retired Chief Allan Andress were so real that even if you had never known Mike, you came to know his exceptional character. An a cappella rendition of "Amazing Grace" by Sgt.Michael East drove home the extraordinary spirituality characterizing so many of the professionals who spend their lives working outdoors in God’s creation.

Andress served as Mike’s supervisor throughout his career, initially as Captain in the district where Mike first came to work, and then as Chief Conservation Enforcement Officer. He characterized Mike Pollard as having "the heart of a lion and the spirit of a warrior." This strong but gentle persona bespoke the Mike Pollard we all knew well: manly, but mannerly; humble, but self-assured; very principled, but reasonable.

Mike Pollard was a "Game Warden’s Game Warden," slow and patient when he needed to be, but fast as lightning when the occasion arose, tactically aware and skilled, but calm and measured in his approach, always displaying grace under pressure. Having had the treasured opportunity to interact with literally hundreds of these dedicated law enforcement officers, I can unequivocally state there has never been a better man to put on a Game Warden’s uniform than Mike. And there is not a person in the Division who would disagree with me.

This print of Frances Tipton Hunter’s Trouble Brewing was the most prominent feature in the office of Assistant Chief Mike Pollard.

Mike grew up hunting with family and close friends. As a young man, he worked in his father’s family-owned hardware store. Like so many, his early life experiences sparked a burning interest in conservation law enforcement as a career.

When Mike was getting a degree in Criminal Justice at Auburn, he did his internship with the Division – against the advice of his professors at the University who wanted him to work with the police department.

The Game Warden in Lee County at the time was Robert Siedler, who was not at all sure about the "baby-faced boy." The two of them were like the "Odd Couple," as different as night and day – except for the principled part and the hard-working part. The two became very close partners.

Mike worked for a period as a Lee County Deputy Sheriff and, when the opportunity became available, came to work for the then-Game & Fish Division, now Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries. His dream job as a Game Warden became a reality. And he pursued the job with an unexcelled passion.

He possessed the perfect mix of compassion and aggressiveness. The hard-core game law violators’ worst nightmare, Mike worked collaboratively with fellow officers to arrest night hunters, road hunters, baiters and other game hogs. Yet, he always exercised good judgment, common sense, and discretion in dealing with hunters and fishermen.

A rare mix of old-school Game Warden and innovative, new-age officer, Mike was on the cutting edge of new natural-resources law enforcement tactics. Yet he always remained grounded in traditional conservation law enforcement.

Mike pioneered the use of GPS technology in the Division. Today, GPS plays a major role in working serious violations like night hunting and hunting over bait. Working hand-in-glove with the local district attorney, Mike researched and developed the use of checkpoints as an enforcement tool on public roads in high hunting activity areas.

This strategy, carefully following legal guidelines, results in highly effective, focused law enforcement, while minimizing inconvenience to the public.

If character were rated on a scale of 1 to 10, Mike would have gotten a 12. He dedicated his time and effort to two priorities - his family and his work. As Don Herring put it, "Mike honored his father and mother."

As the youngest of his brothers, Mike was still living at home when his father died. On his deathbed, his dad asked Mike to take care of his mom. He spent many years doing just that. In fact, he passed up a promotion or two that would have required moving away from his mother.

Serving a stint as supervisor at the District level, Mike relied not on rank but on the earned respect of fellow officers. Known for his firm but fair approach, he provided a guiding hand for rookies and seasoned officers alike.

Promoted against his will to the Montgomery Office, Mike moved up to the No. 2 position in the law enforcement section. His calm temperament, impeccable character, extensive field experience and natural leadership ability helped shape and mold a model enforcement program. A team player, Mike never put self-interest ahead of the program.

The walls of Assistant Chief Mike Pollard’s office bore no elaborate displays of his extensive personal accomplishments. The most prominent feature was a relatively small, framed print of a Frances Tipton Hunter painting depicting a barefoot young boy catching a very small fish with a pole and line. The boy is right beside a big sign reading "FISHING FORBIDDEN." There is a Game Warden standing in the bushes up the bank behind the boy with his forefinger and thumb on his chin as if he’s contemplating what to do with the young violator.

This little print captures the ever-present challenge that Game Wardens face – sorting out the wide variety of people they encounter in a day’s work and using common sense in how they respond. Mike Pollard was a master at this difficult task. Doing it well is the mark of a real Game Warden.

Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.

The Hunting Heritage Foundation is an Alabama non-profit organization established in 2011. To see what HHF stands for, go to the website at You can write to us at P. O. Box 242064, Montgomery, AL 36124, or email

Cash Your Check and Build a Deck

With two inches of fall, rain quickly runs off this deck without standing. I ran the deck planks at a 45-degree angle just for a variation in looks. Each summer, pressure wash and treat the deck with sealant.

by John Howle

Warm weather is just around the corner. The best way to celebrate the end of hay feeding season is to grill a few steaks on the deck for family and friends. What’s that you say? You don’t have a deck? Well, if you can build a fence, you can probably build a deck.

Visualize and Measure

Once you decide where you want to attach your deck to the house, determine the size of the deck by marking off imaginary corners. Then, place a table, chairs and grill in the proposed area so you can determine the size you need. Mark off the deck area keeping in mind where you will put exit steps and handrails.


Since the deck will be exposed to the elements, use treated lumber. The other hardware needed is galvanized bolts, nuts and washers for attaching the floor joists and end plates to the end posts and floor joist hangers for attaching the floor joists to the house plate. Also, make sure the deck screws used will be guaranteed against rust and corrosion, and use star head screws because the star drive will not strip the head. Bagged cement can be used to set the posts.

Attach your two-by-eight plate to the house with galvanized lag bolts and washers.

Begin Construction

The first step is attaching a treated lumber plate against the house with lag bolts. The floor joists will be attached to this plate with joist hangers. I used two-by-eight lumber for the house plate and floor joists. Use a four-foot level to ensure the plate and all other parallel framing is level.

Next, just past the estimated end corners of the deck, drive stakes and batter boards into the ground so you can string off the deck area making sure measurements and end corners are completely in square. Plan to dig and set corner posts and middle brace posts in cement on the same day you run the strings. This will lower the chances that a running dog or curious child might run into the batter boards and strings getting them out of square.

If you are building a small deck, one set of brace posts set between the house and end posts should be sufficient. Once the postholes are dug and the posts are set in cement, you are ready to run a support across the end posts running parallel to the plate secured to the house. This end plate should be a couple of inches lower than the house plate.

Check the strings to make sure the dimensions will be perfectly square.

This will allow rainwater to flow away from the house once the decking material is attached to the floor joists. If this plate is level with the house plate, the water will stand or run toward the house.

Attach one of the floor joist hangers on the end of the house plate where the first floor joist will rest. Set the two-by-eight floor joist into the hanger on the house end and hold the floor joist up against the end post and mark the level line. Drop down two inches and mark this line. The end plate will rest under this line, and the floor joists will rest on the endplate. This will give your floor joists the necessary two inches of fall.

Repeat the process of placing a two-by-eight floor joist in the hanger on the house side to mark and attach the other end of the endplate to the corner post. Once the floor joist on the other side is attached and the end plate is in place, you can install the remaining floor joist hangers against the house plate. Finally, put the remaining floor joists in place in the hangers and secure them on top of the end plates. Then, you can attach a final two-by-eight end plate at the end of the floor joists for extra strength.

If your deck has two end posts and two middle brace posts, there will be six brace plates in all. One plate is secured against the house for hanging floor joists. Two plates will run parallel to the house plate and secured with bolts on each side of the brace posts that will hold the floor joists at the mid-point. Finally, there will be two plates attached to the end, corner posts to hold the ends of the floor joist. The final plate covers the ends of the floor joists and rests above the end plate on the corner posts.

Left to right, mark the spot on the end post at the level mark; then drop down two inches to attach the floor joist. This creates the necessary fall. the plates attached to the brace post. The plates support the floor joists, and joist hangers are attached to the house plate.

With the posts set in cement and the floor joists secured to the posts with full-length bolts and nuts, the deck won’t sway or rock when filled with people. You can then install your decking with star head screws and a cordless drill. Treated quarter round is cheaper than composite, man-made material, but it will deteriorate over time.

You can delay the deterioration by keeping the deck treated each year with wood preservative. Deck stain is also available allowing you more color selections. The deck will darken over the years, but if you want to remove the darkened mildew and discoloration, a gas-operated pressure washer will remove much of the darkening due to age and weathering.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Corn Time

Counting Seeds Until Spring

What am I?

by Herb T. Farmer

This winter has presented itself with more sustained cold temperatures than I have seen in several years. Some of my hardy plants do not appear to be as hardy as they were in the past.

No matter, I am ready and welcoming the coming growing season. Unlike last year, I am ready! This year’s planting beds are laid out and documented in my journal. Seed catalogs have been carefully studied and my orders are in hand, waiting on the final tiller pass on the terra and then their respective planting days.

This is the beginning of the magical time of year for me. From last month’s big holiday, Groundhog Day, to the first day of spring - Tuesday, March 20, 11:57 a.m., I’m like a kid in a toy store. Needless to say, this time of year really gets me going! Every day is a new adventure in the garden. Why, I can even tolerate a snowflake or two in March.

The title of this article was more or less a tongue-in-cheek reference to something I do every year. But, I really do count seeds and organize them in anticipation of the great growing season.

Back in October, I received a few emails about organizing saved seeds from the garden, and what to do with the unplanted seeds from the previous season.

Some folks just do not get around to planting all of their purchased or saved seeds, for whatever reason, and want to save them until the next planting window. That is fine. I save some seeds for up to 3 years before I use them up.

Left to right, most pepper seeds look alike. However, some are a little darker in color or smaller than these. If you don’t know this one by sight then sniff it. Dill seed is a common seasoning for many culinary delights. Spearmint or peppermint? Neither, but it is a mint … lemon balm.

Left to right, chard seed can easily be confused with beets. Mustard green seeds should be sorted at the time of harvest as most Brassica seeds look alike. These are giant red mustard seeds and look almost identical to pak choi seeds. If you grow different types of basil then be sure to label your seeds when you harvest them.

Seeds such as lettuce seeds are purchased in such a large amount here that it is best to save the leftovers in the refrigerator for the next planting season. Keep in mind there are two planting seasons for salad greens and others; I personally plant about ten different kinds of lettuces alone. There are leftovers.

The best way to save seeds is to be organized with your collection methods and save seed packs with leftover seeds. Make sure they are labeled with the exact type and cultivar of seed.

If you have leftover seeds from your early plantings this season and want to save them for planting until late summer or early fall, place them in a container and save them in a refrigerator - NOT freezer.

It takes so little effort to take cuttings and place them in a window. This Angel Wing Begonia is ready to be potted.

Some folks have emailed me about their unorthodox seed saving methods. I must admit, I have been guilty of the same poor practice in the past.

Instead of ditching the seedpods during the prime seed collection window, I used to put everything into a community collection bag (usually a 33-gallon leaf bag) and leave it untied until the pods had a chance to dry and I had a chance to sort them out. Sometimes, that was four months. Later, I discovered the best containers for storage and drying until the seed could be cleaned and sorted was paper bags. Instead of trapping moisture in, paper allows the moisture to escape, thus reducing the probability of fungus on the seed.

Finally, I began to discipline myself and as soon as the seed began to be ready for harvesting, I had many bags ready to accept the pods for drying. They are sorted according to cultivar and color.

There have also been several emails containing images of seeds the readers could not identify and wanted help with so they could plan their flower gardens. Unfortunately, all of the images were so blurry, they could not be identified. Either they were photographed too close for the lens to focus or so far away, the seed was too small to identify.

I decided to include a few general photographs of common seeds with brief descriptions for those of you who need a reminder of what they look like.

How many of you pinch and share your plants? By "pinch" I don’t mean the English slang euphemism, "steal." I mean to literally pinch off or take cuttings from your favorite plants to share with other folks. I have been doing it for many years. Whenever I’m out and about visiting or shopping and spot a plant I don’t have and would like to, I always ask first for approval and then cut a small piece with my pocket knife to take home and root.

In the fall and winter, my window ledges are filled with repurposed glass jars of water (we don’t have a glass recycling program nearby) with covers made from aluminum foil, holes punched through and plant cuttings taking root.

Begonias, geraniums, African violets, petunias, tomatoes, chili peppers, basils, hardy marigolds, lemon verbena, Stevia and, my biggest reward this season, patchouli are all brightening up my view of the world during the seemingly deadest time of the year. It is also nice to keep cuttings growing all year long like that. You never know when a visitor will ask you for a cutting of a particular begonia and you present them with a rooted cutting or, better yet, a potted version.

Why was the patchouli cutting my biggest reward? There was a malfunction with the cold frame and all of my potted ones froze. I stuck a broken piece in one of my window jars and forgot about it. That’s my little starter for this season.

Let’s talk a bit about pinching and sharing. Never pinch a piece of a plant in a nursery or botanical garden. Do not even ask for permission. It puts everyone involved in an awkward situation. When you are in a situation where it is appropriate to ask permission, don’t be greedy. Take a reasonable portion of a cutting that is as un-noticeable as possible. Better yet, if they offer to cut the piece for you, let them. You might get a bigger portion than you would have taken.

There are two things I will include in this column each month if there is room. 1) A photograph to have you guessing "What am I?" and 2) a recipe I have tried and proven it to be tasty.

So, last month and the month before I asked, "What am I?" There were no correct answers from readers. In January, the answer was the back of a "Little Gem" magnolia leaf. In February, it was the whole same tree silhouetted at sunset.

Now, it’s recipe time! After the issue came out I began to get emails from readers, asking for the recipe for the cranberry casserole I made to go with my broiled salmon. I was overwhelmed by the interest and I enjoyed answering the requests. Thanks for reading!


Gluten-free cranberry casserole baked without the topping.

1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, soaked about an hour to hydrate

3-4 (3 cups) Granny Smith apples, peeled and cubed

1 (20-ounce) large can pineapple tidbits, do not drain

1 cup granulated sugar (option: use equal amounts of brown and white sugar)


½ cup brown sugar

½ cup gluten-free oats

½ cup pecans, chopped

1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray or wipe glass casserole dish with olive oil. Add casserole ingredients and stir. Combine topping ingredients except butter in a bowl and sprinkle on top of cranberry mixture. Slice butter and place the squares all over the top of the casserole.

If you want extra liquid, add a small can of pineapple juice. For less liquid, bake a little longer. Note: It dries some as it cools, so watch your project.

Bake for about an hour.

The topping is optional. It’s just as tasty without it. I don’t usually use a whole stick of butter on top if I don’t add the topping ingredients, so be your own judge.

Anyway you make it, this is quite tasty! It’s good hot, room temperature or cold. Try warming it a bit and adding a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream for a delicious desert.

Until next time; remember to watch your salt and sugar, drink plenty of pure water, and breathe in and out!

Happy Vernal Equinox!

For more information, email me at

Be sure to find me on Facebook at: Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm.

As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.


Discovering...Rock Bridge Canyon

The sign leading into Rock Bridge Canyon

by Susie Sims

In outdoor adventure is waiting to be revealed in the sleepy town of Hodges. Rock Bridge Canyon boasts 27 miles of hiking and equestrian trails that can satisfy leisure seekers and challenge seekers alike.

Located in northwest Alabama in Franklin County, Rock Bridge Canyon is home to some of the most striking vistas in the state. Streams, waterfalls and rock formations are just some of the gorgeous scenery to be enjoyed.

Miles of winding trails offer hours of relaxing serenity for walkers and hikers. The canyon has acres of woodlands with stunning overlooks and other points of interest. The canyon is open to day visitors as well as campers who want to stay for a few days.

Director Mike Franklin

Trails along the canyon are comprised of an old railroad bed, Bear Creek Development property, and property belonging to neighboring landowners, said state Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow.

"We don’t want this to be the best kept secret in Alabama," said Morrow, referring to the park. "We want it broadcast to everyone."

Morrow especially wanted to thank the private landowners who gave easements to the park and the town council of Hodges for its foresight in supporting the park.

One of the highlights of the canyon is the natural rock bridge that is 100 feet high and 82 feet long. In addition, sightseers can take in a breathtaking view from 285 feet above the canyon atop the largest rock in the state.

While the park is accommodating to hikers, in the main it is designed to appeal to equestrians. A quick Google of the park will return high praises for the trails that prove challenging to experienced riders. Activity Director Tina Lawler assures the public that more leisurely trails are located within the canyon as well. She noted that families are particularly fond of the area.

To accommodate those who wish to stay overnight or longer, the park has lodging available. Numerous camp sites exist with eight of them having full power, water and sewage. Sixteen more have power and water, and primitive sites are also on site.

"Our camp sites are designed uniquely for horse riders," said Director Mike Franklin. "Most horse camp sites are in big, open fields. We designed our camp sites so there are trees on each site."

Left to right, the canyon has acres of woodlands with stunning overlooks and other points of interest. This is just one of the beautiful waterfalls.

Horse stalls are located by the camp site that are approximately 60 feet long and feature a pull-through design. Horse stalls are 12 feet square and have access to water. Buckets, muck tools and shavings are offered free of charge; however, water buckets, feed troughs and hay bags are not provided.

A shuttle service is available for riders who desire to be picked up or dropped off at a particular point along the trail, said Franklin. A camp store is on site, as well as a full kitchen and living room with a TV set. Dogs are welcome at the park.

Left to right, covered horse stalls are located directly across from the camp sites. Trail riders enjoy a trip through Rock Bridge Canyon.

Bath houses are located on the premises and have electricity and private stalls.

One cabin is available for rent. Anyone wishing to camp or rent the cabin should make a reservation by calling 205-935-3499.

Franklin, who began as a volunteer, explained that the park was actually a community-wide project and boasted of many volunteers who helped get the venture off the ground. He also noted the park is reclaiming many of the trails that existed during the 1950s when the park was first opened to the public.

Activity Director Tina Lawler

Franklin said the park’s goal is to have 55 miles of horse trails in the near future. In addition to acquiring the land and/or permission to use the land for the additional trails, Franklin and a team of volunteers are responsible for building the trails.

In addition to trail rides and hikes, the park can host benefits and events such as rodeos or weddings. Contact Lawler for more information.

Upcoming events include a Daylight Savings Time Ride on Saturday, March 15, and a Spring Kick-off Ride on Saturday, April 26. Both rides begin at 9 a.m.

Fees for the canyon start at $10 per day, depending on services needed. Regular visitors may wish to purchase an individual or family membership on a yearly basis.

Persons interested in contacting Rock Bridge Canyon may call them at 205-935-3499. You may email them at or visit their website at You can also check them out on Facebook.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.

Don’t Ever Call This Woman a Hobby Farmer

by Darrell Norman, originally published January 24, 2014, reprinted with permission from The Gadsden Times

Suzy Lowry Geno titles her book "Simple Times at Old Field Farm," but the life she leads on that farm sounds far from simple.

The book is at once a tribute to many generations of her family, a history of the land she holds, a memoir of personal loss and faith, a hymn to hard work, an anthem of independence and a textbook on how to live with dirty hands and an open heart.

Geno’s byline is her three names, but since this is not a formal review, I will, with her kind permission, call her Suzy. She also answers to Chicken Lady, Egg Lady and Goat Girl.

Suzy says she is a simple woman trying to lead a simple life. She pursues that goal with zeal and humor and writes about it with skill and grace. Her book is an eloquent testament to old-fashioned ways that still hold the power to nurture body and soul.

When a wooden cheese box that once held her Grandpa Harley Lowry’s "silverware" passed into Suzy’s hands, it contained the deed by which Grandpa had bought cotton land from his father on March 27, 1915. Ninety-nine years later, Old Field Farm, a 15-acre homestead near Oneonta in Blount County, is the beating heart of that ancestral land.

There Suzy tends Muscovy ducks, Angora rabbits, Nubian and pygmy goats and a growing flock of assorted free-range chickens. There are cats and dogs to help and to hinder.

Not one of the creatures on Suzy’s farm winds up in her stewpot. At the end of their productive years, they receive emeritus rank and roam the place in freedom and peace. Until they have earned their retirement, though, all of them must contribute to the farm’s economy: milk, fur, eggs and compost for the garden.

Suzy devotes chapters to the example of honest hard work she drew from her parents and grandparents. But it is in a few pictures of Maud Smith Lowry, the paternal grandmother she never knew, that she sees her likeness and her model. Maud sold eggs, butter and milk from a front room of her house, and she was a writer.

Maud scribbled poetry in the margins of her schoolbooks and gamely wrote to a newspaper columnist, "I am sweet sixteen and haven’t been kissed yet." As a girl she roamed the hills on horseback, and as a farm wife she hitched her own horse and buggy.

Suzy has been called a throwback, a back-to-the-lander and a hippie. She surmises her free-spirited grandma was a hippie of her time. As Maud did, Suzy grows a garden, preserves food for her pantry, heats her house with wood and dries her clothes in the sun.

As heritage and character suit Suzy to live the tough life of a homesteader, education and experience fit her to chronicle that life.

She has a university degree in religion with a concentration in counseling and more than 30 years of experience as a reporter, photographer, editor and freelance writer. For 20 years, she was the Blount County correspondent for The Gadsden Times. Since early 2008, she has written "Simple Times," a monthly column for AFC’s Cooperative Farming News, from which she adapted much of the material for this book.

Suzy was selling extra eggs to friends and neighbors when a regular customer donated an idle refrigerator for her carport so he would not have to ring her bell. That self-serve fridge evolved into Old Field Farm General Store.

There Suzy sells "fresh eggs from happy chickens," her photographs, produce and items she makes, such as aprons and quilts, goat-milk soap and honeysuckle jelly. A piano and an electric keyboard stand in the corner where she gives music lessons between her barnyard chores.

The most touching parts of the book show Suzy running her little farm on grit and faith during the years she was caring for her seriously ill husband Roy. She would feed animals by flashlight, drive to Birmingham, comfort her beloved through a heart surgery, blood transfusion or cancer treatment, and then return to tuck in her animals, again by flashlight.

Roy Geno died at home in August 2012. On the cover of Suzy’s book is a snapshot of Roy in overalls at age 6, barefooted and straw-hatted, standing in a cotton patch.

"Simple Times at Old Field Farm" (Fifth Estate, 2013) is available from Amazon and Old Field Farm General Store. Directions and ordering information are on the website

Darrell Norman is a columnist for The Gadsden Times. He can be reached at


Exploring Silvopasture

Black Belt landowners, participants of the silvopasture demonstration project, received 10 Spanish yearlings and a Kiko buck. Yearlings were bred in the fall for kidding early spring.

Researchers are working with Black Belt farmers to meet the challenges they face in beneficial ways.

by Maria Leite-Browning, D.V.M.

Rural communities predominantly characterized by limited-resource farmers and forest landowners on small- and medium-sized farms play a significant role in supplying safe food and raw materials like fiber, shelter and energy to the nation. However, small farmers are facing many challenges such as maintaining production systems that are environmentally sustainable, resisting global competition and remaining profitable. Another big challenge for rural communities is urbanization threatening the existence and sustainability of forestry and agricultural enterprises. But some researchers are helping farmers to explore other options by using silvopasture.

What is silvopasture? Silvopasture is an agroforestry practice integrating livestock, forage production and forestry management practices in mutually beneficial ways. Silvopasture systems are designed and managed so farmers can combine a long-term forestry product of high value with short-term foraging livestock or an annual crop component to increase farm revenue.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is participating in an integrated silvopasture research project aimed to promote sustainable loblolly pine trees and meat goat production benefiting limited-resource farmers in Alabama’s Black Belt region. The project is being led by Research Scientist and Professor Dr. Ermson Z. Nyakatawa in Alabama A&M University’s Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Andy Scott, David Mays, Eddie Davis, James Bukenya and Kozma Naka, along with Extension Animal Scientist Dr. Maria Lenira Leite-Browning.

The first phase of the project has been completed. Last summer, landowners planted loblolly pine trees and received 10 Spanish yearlings and a New Zealand Kiko buck. The breeding season began in early October with expectations that the kidding season will occur in early spring 2014.

The researchers plan to hold a field day in the summer of 2014 to give the farmers an opportunity to share their experiences of using the silvopasture system. The goal is to motivate other farmers to adopt meat goat and timber production. If you have questions about the silvopasture field day, you may contact me at or 256-372-4954.

Maria Leite-Browning, D.V.M., is an animal scientist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Fescue Toxicity

by Jimmy Hughes

As we start thinking about the spring, thoughts of green grass are on everyone’s mind. After a long winter of putting out hay, thinking of cows grazing green grass always catches our attention. As we go into the spring, we should expect early spring grasses ready to produce quality forages for cattle consumption. Fescue continues to be a predominate pasture grass in Alabama and I expect it to be in good supply in North Alabama this spring. Fescue is easily established, persistent, tolerant of poor soil conditions, drought resistant, and its productivity under a wide range of temperatures allows cattle producers to provide abundant amounts of forage almost year-round. There are, however, drawbacks when utilizing fescue grazing and hay.

One is forage quality. While fescue will out-produce other grasses, it will not provide the overall nutrient quality other grasses will provide.

The real drawback to fescue is toxicity. Often referred to as "summer slump," fescue toxicity is one of the most frustrating aspects of beef production. The primary cause of the toxicity is a fungus (Neotyphodium coenophialum) that is the same as the fungus causing ergot in cereal grains.

In cattle, death loss is rare, but there are physiological problems that typically translate into impaired performance. Animals grazing endophyte-infected grass usually show a combination of the following signs: reduced weight gains, reduced feed intake, intolerance to high temperatures leading to more time spent in the shade or in the water, rough hair coats, elevated body temperatures, faster respiration rates, reduced reproductive performance and hormonal imbalances. During winter months, restricted blood flow to extremities causing gangrene to occur in the foot, ears and/or tail switch is often referred to as fescue foot. The primary cause of these symptoms is constricting blood vessels preventing cattle from properly regulating temperature and hormonal centers in the brain.

The endophyte is totally contained in the plant, and can be transmitted only through the seed. The endophytic fungus overwinters within the plant, and fungus growth occurs in the spring as tiller growth resumes on the plant. Since the primary means of transmission is the seed source itself, this explains why a large percentage of fescue pastures are infected.

Research conducted at Kentucky, Georgia and Auburn proves that grazing poorly managed high endophyte fescue will adversely affect overall performance of cattle. Research has proven that cattle consuming infected fescue will have lower average daily gains and higher body temperatures. Research in feedlots also implies that calves coming into the yard off of fescue-based forages will eat less, gain less and have more sickness throughout the feeding program. The same types of results were also proven in studies utilizing fescue hay cut after seed heads were present.

While fescue toxicity has been a real concern, new products along with other management practices have been implemented over the past several years to help reduce the problems of grazing fescue.

While early improved varieties lacked insect resistance and disease resistance along with stand persistency, new varieties are being introduced showing much more favorable results. Just remember, when an infected crop is to be replaced, it must be destroyed by tillage and/or herbicides.

Another area gaining more attention is in nutritional management. Several products are now available to help reduce the overall problems associated with infected fescue. Research has again proven cattle consuming high levels of the trace minerals zinc, copper, manganese and cobalt provided in a form that is easily absorbed show significant performance improvement over cattle consuming lower levels of these minerals. Certain products that have the ability to bind to the toxin also show great potential in reducing the amount of toxin entering the blood stream. Incorporation of products supporting proper rumen function, improved fiber digestion and nutrient utilization will also help overall performance of the cow even when she is stressed.

A final area in nutritional management showing favorable results is the incorporation of antioxidants such as selenium and vitamin E into the diet of cattle.

Also, research has shown the incorporation of Tasco, a seaweed derivative, has been very beneficial in the reduction of the effects of fescue toxicity.

While these will not totally end problems with fescue toxicity, they will greatly reduce problems associated with fescue grazing. Your local Quality Co-op has several products available to improve the nutritional program of your cattle. Your store will carry a variety of minerals containing elevated trace minerals as well as chelated minerals for better absorption that can be provided to your cattle on a daily basis. STIMU-LYX Supplement Tubs, with the addition of Tasco designed to reduce the adverse affects of fescue toxicity, are also available through your local Co-op.

As new research continues to provide further information on ways to deal with this problem, I can assure you, we will continue to offer new product lines to help in reducing the loss from this toxicity.

In conclusion, with the current as well as the future calf market being at record levels, it’s more important now that you implement a program to give you excellent reproductive performance and growth. While fescue has many favorable characteristics making it excellent forage, a pasture and a nutritional management plan should be implemented to help curb the effects of feeding infected fescue. Your local Co-op has the products and knowledge to assist you in implementing such a plan.

I can be reached at and I will also be happy to assist you in any way to implement such a management plan.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.

Fly Control

Unless you want to see horn flies like THIS, you need to place SWEETLIX or VMS self-fed fly control supplements in front of your cattle NOW.

Because of excessively cold weather this winter, NOW is the time to start introducing fly control products to your herd.

by Jackie Nix

Excessive fly populations literally suck the profits out of your cattle through reduced weaning weights, lowered milk production and increased spread of disease. The cold snap this winter was actually cold enough to kill off flies and parasites in Alabama giving us a rare opportunity to get ahead of the game in fly control. The key for success, however, will be in getting fly control products in front of cattle or horses before temperatures warm up enough for flies to become active again.

Feed-through fly control products such as Rabon Oral Larvicide or Altosid IGR in self-fed supplement blocks or mineral are by far the easiest way to keep fly populations in check. RabonandAltosid pass harmlessly through the gut of the animal into the manure. The fecal flies targeted* lay their eggs and go through their larval stages in the manure pat. RabonandAltosid, each in their own unique way,interrupt the fly’s life cycle by preventing the larvae present in the manure from maturing into an adult flies. Rabonkills fly larvae on contact while Altosidmimics the juvenile hormone, essentially never allowing them to mature into adults. Either method effectively and significantly reduces the number of adult flies when used as directed. Neither Rabon nor Altosidhave slaughter withdrawal times and can be fed to all classes of cattle including lactating brood cows and calves. Additionally, Rabon is labeled for fly control in horses.

Feed-through fly control products such as Rabon or Altosid in self-fed supplement blocks or minerals are by far the easiest way to keep fly populations in check.

SWEETLIX and VMS self-fed blocks and minerals containing Rabonand Altosid require no additional labor and no cattle handling, unlike sprays, pour-ons and backrubs. Blocks and tubs provide the additional advantage of not needing a special feeder and being able to monitor supplement levels from the comfort of your truck. An added bonus is that cattle (or horses*) receive complete mineral and vitamin supplementation in addition to fly control. No need to buy separate salt or minerals.

For best results, start feeding SWEETLIX or VMS fly control products at least 30 days before the projected last frost (NOW) and continue feeding until 30 days after the first killing frost in the winter. In some areas, these dates will overlap. Horn flies emerge when average daily temperatures reach 65 degrees for a period of at least two weeks. Be sure to provide at least one mineral feeder or block per 10-20 head. Locate mineral feeders or blocks where cattle or horses congregate (near watering, loafing or shade areas, etc.). Increase or decrease the number of mineral feeders or change locations if necessary to adjust for proper consumption. Remember that neither Rabon nor Altosidwill kill adult flies so you need to place supplements out BEFORE you see flies for best control. If adult flies are already present when introducing SWEETLIX or VMS fly control products, use an approved adulticide for at least one month to eliminate adult fly populations.

There are many SWEETLIX or VMS self-fed fly control supplements designed to meet a variety of nutritional needs and price needs are available through your local Quality Co-op. These include:

SWEETLIX Pest-A-Side Block
SWEETLIX Rabon Molasses Pressed Block
SWEETLIX EnProAl Rabon Supplement
VMS EnProAl Fly Control Block with Rabon
SWEETLIX 6% CopperHead ROL
SWEETLIX 6% CopperHead IGR
SWEETLIX 4% CopperHead IGR
VMSOne to One M14 with RabonOral Larvicide
VMSPasture Aid Fly Control Mineral with Rabon
VMSPasture Aid Fly Control with Altosid IGR

These represent just a few of the many SWEETLIXand VMS supplement products available through your local Quality Co-op. Visit or call 1-87SWEETLIX to learn more.

For the latest information on promotions and updates, "Like" SWEETLIX Livestock Supplements on Facebook!

In summary, now is the time to offer feed-through fly control supplements for maximum effectiveness. A wide variety of self-fed SWEETLIX or VMS fly control blocks and minerals are available through your local Quality Co-op. Ask for them by name!

* Please see specific product labels for a complete list of flies targeted for control and the species of livestock the product is designed to supplement.

Rabon® is a registered trademark of Bayer Animal Health

Altosid® is a registered trademark of Welmark International

Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations. You can contact her at jackie.nix@ridleyinc.comor 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about the SWEETLIX® line of mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep, poultry and wildlife.

Food Safety After a Power Outage

by Angela Treadaway

When the power goes out, whether from an ice storm, brown-out or just by accident, it’s important to know which foods are safe to eat and which are not. Here are some tips on how to safely handle food after an outage.

Once the electricity goes off, a full freezer will hold temperatures for 48 hours. A half-full freezer will hold a freezing temperature for 24 hours. You can extend this time by filling the freezer with newspaper or blankets. A refrigerator can only maintain a safe temperature for around four hours. A refrigerator freezer will only keep things frozen about six hours; after that you may want to think about cooking the meats to either eat or keep in coolers of ice if you can get ice. It is important to only open the freezer or refrigerators doors when absolutely necessary.


When the freezer has been off, the basic guide to determining a food’s safety is whether or not it still contains ice crystals. If it does, the food (except seafood) should be refrozen as quickly as possible. It is a good idea to mark each package with an "X" or label as "Refrozen" to indicate these items should be eaten first and as soon as possible.

If any food has thawed and there are no ice crystals on it, it should be thrown away. If you notice blood from once-frozen meat on neighboring packages or in the bottom of the freezer, advanced thawing has certainly occurred and those foods should also be thrown out.

It is also all right to re-freeze foods if the thermometer in the freezer reads 40 degrees or less. Once food has been above 40 degrees for more than two hours, it should be discarded. This is also true if the power comes back on without realizing power was restored.


Refrigerator temperature should be kept at 40 degrees or lower.

If the power is out for two hours or more, perishable foods in the fridge should be discarded. These foods include:

- Meats of any sort, including fresh meats, lunch meats, open containers/cans of meat or leftovers with meat
- Eggs, whether raw, hard-cooked or in a casserole or other dishes
- Dairy products, specifically liquid and creamy dairy products like milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt
- Soft cheeses including Brie, Colby, Monterey Jack, ricotta, mozzarella and Muenster
- Shredded cheese should also be discarded
- Opened creamy salad dressings
- Stews, casseroles, soups and other leftover cooked foods like vegetables, tomato sauce and cookie dough

Toss condiments such as opened jars of mayonnaise, tartar sauce and horseradish, if they were above 50 degrees for more than 8 hours.

The following items can be kept at room temperature for a few days:

- Peanut butter
- Butter or margarine
- Fresh or dried fruits
- Open/canned fruit and fruit juices
- Jelly
- Relish
- Catsup
- Taco sauce
- Barbecue sauce
- Pickles
- Opened vinegar-based dressing
- Raw vegetables
- Baked goods
- Hard cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, parmesan, Romano and provolone
- Processed cheeses

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website has a chart on specific foods and recommendations on salvaging or discarding after a power outage. View it at

Keep this in mind when it comes to determining whether or not food is safe – you cannot smell or taste harmful bacteria. If you are not sure how long a food has been above 40 degrees or if you are feeling uncertain about the item, remember the rule: When in doubt, throw it out!

Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.

Granting Help

Cassidy Catrett is the daughter of Perry and Ashley Catrett. Perry is manager of Luverne Cooperative Services.

Brantley FFA member receives $1,000 grant from National FFA Foundation

Press Release from the National FFA Organization

$1,000 grant has been awarded to FFA member Cassidy Catrett of Brantley by the National FFA Foundation.

The SAE Grant is designed to help FFA members create and enhance their supervised agricultural experience, a requirement all FFA members must complete. An SAE requires FFA members to create and operate an agriculture-related business, work at an agriculture-related business or conduct an agricultural research experience. Upon completion, FFA members must submit a comprehensive report regarding their career development experience.

Catrett is a member of the Brantley FFA Chapter and was selected from hundreds of applicants nationwide. She was the only one in Alabama to receive this honor.

The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education to 579,678 student members in grades 7-12 who belong to one of 7,570 local FFA chapters throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The National FFA Foundation is the fundraising arm of the National FFA Organization.

For more, visit the National FFA Organization online at, on Facebook, Twitter and the official National FFA Organization blog.

For more information, contact Rebecca Carter, National FFA Organization,, 888-332-2589.

Growing Shiitake Mushrooms

by Tony Glover

Growing shiitake (she-TAHkee) mushrooms can be a rewarding and tasty hobby. These mushrooms can be grown seasonally outdoors or idoors with a more intensive effort year-around. They can be grown on several hardwood species or even in blocks of sawdust. You will never get mushrooms this fresh or tasty from the grocery store.

Shiitake mushrooms are good to eat, an excellent source of protein, trace minerals, B and D vitamins, and low in both fat and calories. Shiitake mushrooms have also been proven to reduce cholesterol. Shiitake mushrooms do not bruise easily and can be stored for up to a month if harvested at the right time and refrigerated in vegetable or "green" bags. They can also be dried and stored in sealed plastic bags for up to 2 years.

Growing your own shiitake mushrooms on logs can be a rewarding and tasty experience, but it does require a little patience. Spring is a good time to start this project.

Growing these mushrooms on logs does require a little patience. You can establish a shiitake garden by purchasing or cutting your own logs in the dormant season and inoculating them yourself with the mushroom spores available commercially. It will take 6 to 12 months for these logs to produce mushrooms.

Spring is a great time to start this project and the Cullman County Extension office has partnered with the North Alabama Agriplex Heritage Center in Cullman to teach a beginning class suitable for hobby or small scale commercial production. The class will take place March 11 in Cullman 6-8:30 p.m. To attend, pre-register by calling 256-297-1044 or email There is a small charge to cover materials and instructor expenses.

Our instructor for the evening will be Rhonda Britton, a specialist with Alabama A&M. This class will be of interest to children (minimum age 13) and adults. Participants will inoculate small pieces of logs to take home to grow their own shiitake mushrooms.

If you cannot attend the class but you still want to try your hand at this fascinating hobby, order your spawn from a reputable dealer one to two months before you plan to cut your trees. Spawn producers may not have the most desirable strains available if you wait too late to order. It takes several months to grow spawn from frozen mycelium.

Be sure to read the strain descriptions. The most important characteristics are fruiting temperature requirements, cap appearance, spawn run time (time it takes to fruit) and productivity on logs or in sawdust. It is best to provide the spawn dealer with your desired shipping date so your spawn will be as fresh as possible.

You can learn a great deal about production of shiitake mushrooms by reading a free Extension publication called "Shiitake Mushroom Production on Logs" available online at

Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.

Have you tried Vicks salve?

by Nadine Johnson

My telephone rang.

When I answered, my friend said, "Thank you."

I asked, "Thank me for what?"

She answered, "For prompting my memory about Vicks salve."

A few days earlier this friend had called to tell me she had "crud."

She said, "I’m coughing, rattling, spitting, blowing my nose … you name it."

She added that she had seen her doctor and taken his prescriptions, but she was far from recovered.

I asked simply, "Have you tried Vicks salve?"

I explained I put a little dab of Vick salve up my nose every night so I can breathe better. It keeps my nostrils moist while I inhale wonderful vapors.

This conversation brought on an interesting tale about her father which I shall share.

"Papa had his gallbladder removed when he was in his late 80s," she told me. "He was unable to talk due to tubes in his nose and mouth (you know the drill). He was alert though and kept holding up his fingers to form a V. Finally, it was determined he wanted his Vicks salve. He recovered from his surgery for more good days - with his Vicks always at hand."

When my friend called to say "Thank you," she was much improved. She had taken full advantage of a jar of Vicks salve. She rubbed it under her feet, on her chest, up her nose … you name it. She also swallowed a bit. In a few days, her congestion had completely cleared. Most likely, the doctor’s medications had killed her "bug." Vicks had added the finishing touches.

Vicks VapoRub Ointment, or its ancestor, has been on the market for a long, long time. My Mother daubed me with it, her Mother daubed her with it and probably my Grandmother was daubed with it.

This product contains camphor, eucalyptus, menthol and turpentine. That’s definitely an herbal remedy.

For those of you who have access to the Internet - I suggest you Google "Vicks." You will find a good number of related products listed. You will also find the very interesting story from its beginnings.

While our laboratories are constantly working hard to create new medications, let’s not forget those old tried-and-true remedies. Especially "VapoRub" (the product I simply refer to as Vicks salve).

This is one herbal remedy you will not need your doctor’s okay to use.

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 866-570-7302, or by email at

How's Your Garden?

Unlikely pots made of polypropylene fabric house fruit trees, strawberries and other plants at the Parliament garden in Quebec, Canada, last summer.

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

Alabama Master Gardener Conference

Master Gardeners from around the state will be attending their annual meeting in Mobile April 28-30. Although attended primarily by folks who have gone through Master Gardener training and volunteered for the program, the conference is open to any gardener. The weekend event is full of learning opportunities for gardeners to learn from speakers, attend workshops and also browse the trade show. You can view the meeting agenda, speaker bio and learn more about the conference at

Pots That Fold for Storage

Landscape fabrics have found a new life stitched into containers for growing plants. This summer while attending a conference in Quebec, Canada, I toured a display vegetable garden on the front lawn of the Parliament building in this beautiful historic city. This was the first time edibles had been on display there, and the designers had done a fabulous job of creating a walk-though garden for tourists. While the entire spot was quite popular, the containers stitched from fabric piqued a lot of curiosity. The containers were up to 30 gallons in size, big enough for small fruit trees. The fabric is a non-woven polypropylene that stands up to the weather, allows good air exchange for the roots to breathe and drains well. Originally designed for trees to prevent circling of the roots, the concept has been adopted by gardeners for growing all kinds of plants from flowers and herbs to woody trees and shrubs. It’s a great way to have containers in the garden that are relatively inexpensive and are easy to store. You can Google "fabric pots" and learn more about the types of pots available.

The thickened, knotty growth caused by root knot nematodes makes it impossible for roots to do their job of taking up water and nutrients from the soil.

Nematodes Ruin Roots

This past summer when we returned from vacation, two of our eggplants were wilting even though they had enough water. When that happens, it’s a pretty good sign there is a problem within the vascular system of a plant – it’s not able to move water. Upon removing the plants, I found a very unhealthy, knotted, scabby-looking root system made that way by root knot nematodes. These microscopic nematodes live in the soil and love the roots of tomatoes and related crops. Since tomato planting time is upon us, I thought this would be a good time to share this experience and remind gardeners, if this has happened to you, there are varieties of vegetables resistant to the pests. These include Bonnie’s Atkinson, Better Boy, Big Beef, Celebrity, Lemon Boy, Parks Whopper and any variety grafted onto a nematode-resistant rootstock. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any eggplant resistant to the critters, so I am moving the two eggplants we count on for a summer supply to a container this year and will try parsley in the same spot from last year. It looks like we will be eating lots of tabouli this summer!

Left to right, Loran strawberry is a new everbearing type. Tristan strawberry will wow you with its colorful blooms ... and you get strawberries!

New Strawberries from Bonnie Plants

Succulents are a great choice for a topiary because they are not thirsty plants.

It’s planting time for strawberries and this year AFC’s own Bonnie Plants is offering two interesting new varieties, Loran and Tristan. Loran does not produce many runners but instead forms a large, neat plant perfect for containers. It is an everbearing type producing heavily in the spring and early summer, and then lightly in the fall if the plants are kept healthy and robust. Tristan has a similar growth habit, but will surprise you with deep-pink flowers instead of the typical white one to make it as ornamental as it is edible! Like other strawberries, they are winter hardy and will actually produce more fruit the second year. When planting any strawberry, it is absolutely critical to make sure the crown (the center where the leaves originate) of the plant is not covered in soil. This may be the trickiest part of growing a strawberry! Take time to plant carefully so the crown is not buried to avoid rot. Some gardeners also mulch their plants growing in the ground with landscape fabric to keep the soil moist and the berries clean. This works better than black plastic because it allows water and air to pass through.

How’s This for a Topiary?

It is said that gardening is a mix of art and science. This beautiful topiary from a botanical garden in Encinitas, Calif., is certainly that. Made from a sphagnum-stuffed wire frame and planted with drought-tolerant succulents, it is a beautiful mix of horticulture, craft and garden art. With careful selection, the succulents provide the medium of various colors and textures for a dramatic effect. Use it as inspiration to create your own topiary, either large or small in your own garden this spring.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.

I Can’t Believe It!

by Baxter Black, DVM

There continues to be a "mind-separation" from reality regarding the high price of cattle. We cattlemen ease around each other, secretly not believing we just sold 13 heifers weighing 480 lbs. for $840 each. Or sold a cull bull weighing 1,605 for 74 cents a pound. He brought $1,200. Or sold 600-weight steers for over $1,000 apiece, or bought 20 bred first-calf heifers for $1,680 each.

It is the happiest coffee shop table talk I’ve heard since Osama went down! The most common comment, said with a sideways grin and the shake of the head, I hear is, "Man … I can’t believe it!"

Most of the analysts discuss the drop in cow numbers as the reason for high prices. But the coffee shop economist is always ready to caution his cronies that it can’t last. People won’t continue to buy it if it gets too high. But, how high is too high?

A Quarter Pounder costs $3. The cost of the meat patty, I’m guessing, is less than 50 cents. Even if you doubled the price of the meat, making the burger cost $3.50, it would not affect sales much. Especially if the buyer often upgrades to a Big Mac extra value meal for $4.95 or a McChicken for $4.34, not to mention a 16 oz. Coke for $1, a small latte for $1.60 or a medium shake for $1.80 in addition. Where else are you going to get a full meal for less than $5 … Starbucks? I don’t see protesters picketing fast food places. The USDA (2012) says Americans spend 10 percent of their income on food. Another 50 cents on a burger doesn’t affect us near as much as a $1.50 per gallon increase in gasoline. And in the steakhouses from Outback to Ruth’s Chris, the cost of the meat is even a smaller percentage of the cost of the meal.

But the statistics on how beef (and food) prices for cattlemen have lagged far behind the cost-of-living increases for other necessary commodities show we have plenty of room to move up. All the beef being produced is being eaten. As price increases, it will still be eaten.

My favorite gauge is to compare the number of fed cattle it takes to buy a new pickup. I use 1,000-lb. steers and half-ton pickups to compare. In the 1970s, it took 12. In the ‘80s, it took 16. In the ‘90s, it took 22. In the 2000s, it took 26. In 2013, it still takes 26. For a moment in time, beef is keeping up with the cost of living expenses.

So, for those who can’t accept the justification of increased beef prices as a long-overdue inflation correction, or see the changing buying habits of the modern eat-out/microwave 2014 pop-up consumer … then sell every critter on your place and wait for the price to go down.

Me, I think I can take a positive outlook and buy some more bred heifers … ’cause, "Man, I just can’t believe it!"

Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website,

I Was in Love ...

A mixed breed “meat” rabbit

Rabbits on the Homestead

by Suzy Lowry Geno

I was instantly in love.

It was the mid-1990s. There on the cover of my Country Woman magazine was a woman holding what appeared to be a giant cotton ball with upright ears and two beautiful eyes.

I quickly tore open the magazine to the short article inside to learn the amazing looking creature was an Angora rabbit - and my life was changed forever.

Here was some livestock I could get serious about.

I couldn’t imagine shearing a full-size sheep by myself. But these small bundles of wool could be sheared with simple scissors while they sat docilely in your lap.

Half lop-half Angora

I began asking around. (This was shortly before everyone was hooked to the Internet where just about everything imaginable is available at the click of a button!)

There weren’t that many in north central Alabama, but I soon located EIGHT for sale at a petting zoo which had decided the small beasts were just too labor intensive for their farm. I bought the rabbits complete with cages with special nesting boxes that hung lower than the actual cage and I was in Angora rabbit heaven!

My son Nathan came in shortly afterwards and asked why there were cages full of Ewoks in the backyard.

They did look a bit unusual!

But whether you share my love for fiber or just want a general all-purpose animal for your farm or even your city lot, rabbits might be your answer!

There are approximately 50 breeds of rabbits recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association.

If you want a general-purpose rabbit to provide meat for your family and wonderful manure that can be placed directly on your garden or flower beds WITHOUT having to compost it, then you’ll likely want what is called a "meat" breed. (I’ll quickly add that I wouldn’t ever be able to eat any of my rabbits. So they have to "earn their keep" with their manure and fiber!)

Granddaughter Cali and Tadpole the rabbit (Cali is now grown with a 4-year-old of her own!)

If what you want is mainly pets (or are just experimenting to see how you or your children will do in caring for small livestock), just about any rabbit breed will do.

If you do want to consider a "fiber" animal, you can check out the four main types of Angora rabbits.

A wealth of information is available on the Internet. Just type in "rabbits" in any search engine and you’re on your way.

My bibles to begin with were Bob Bennett’s "Raising Rabbits the Modern Way" and the Northern California Angora Guild’s "Angora Handbook."

There are even forums on several homesteading sites on the Internet now where you can ask questions and glean all kinds of rabbit know-how.

Just about everything you will need to safely house your rabbits is available at your local Quality Co-op store! Every current cage, water bottle, metal feeder and the feed for all my rabbits was, is and continues to be purchased at Blount County Farmers Co-op. If your local Co-op doesn’t keep a full line of cages in stock, they have catalogs and you can pick out exactly what you want and get it within a couple of days!

But my actual "rabbit raising" began long before my life with Angoras.

One of my rabbits with my Ashford traditional spinning wheel which was made in New Zealand.

When my children were little, my parents kept a couple of huge white rabbits as pets for the grandchildren. They would actually put tiny harnesses on them and my kids would walk them around the farm on long leashes!

When Nathan was about 10, he threw a ring around a small bottle at the Blount County Fair and won a tiny brown rabbit!

Now I don’t condone rabbits being given as prizes and PLEASE don’t buy rabbits and baby chicks as Easter presents because they are usually doomed to a quick and certain death, BUT that little brown rabbit lived a long and productive life!

Nathan named the rabbit Jack and, to begin with, he had the free run of our large screened-in back porch. He quickly learned to use a litter box (house rabbits can be trained easily!). And he lived happily there for several weeks.

Then one day Nathan was near hysterics. Jack had climbed the long pipe into my then-clothes dryer (this was in the early 1990s when I still HAD a clothes dryer!) and had cut off his nose!

Thinking Jack was doomed, we rushed him to the local vet. After some repairs, Jack came home to live many more happy years, although he never again had a proper rabbit nose.

Rabbits are bad at cribbing. They will chew on just about anything wood. If you try letting a rabbit have the run of your house, they will also chew on electric cords which can have disastrous results.

Baby Angora bunnies

If you’re going to have a house rabbit, it’s best to keep it contained in a cage except when you can be with it to watch it roam and run.

Jack moved to a metal cage outside. He later sired several generations of offspring and lived to be a healthy old age, dying in Nathan’s arms many years later.

So I had some rabbit experience before getting my original Angoras.

Whatever kind of rabbit you decide on, a metal cage is best. Wood can harbor disease and is a haven for ear mites! Chicken wire can be easily chewed through by rabbits and rabbits running free don’t last long thanks to coyotes, hawks and speeding cars.

Jack and our brown lop Tadpole lived for a time under our back porch in their wire cages sitting on bricks so their cages were off the ground.

An Angora rabbit that posed for one of our Christmas cards years ago.

Eventually, my husband Roy helped me build an addition on to the back of another barn building which we now refer to as the bunny barn.

I hung cages from the back wall and from the front.

Hanging them from the back wall was not a good idea because the wood did harbor dampness and other things. The rabbits hung near the front that were just hanging from the ceiling on small chains did better.

At one time, I had as many as 35 Angoras housed that way.

I do not like watering systems where the water goes to each cage in small tubes. I prefer individual water bottles (available at your local Co-op) so I can see if a rabbit is not drinking enough, and, if a rabbit has to be medicated, I can easily place the medicine in the rabbit’s individual bottle.

I usually have at least a couple of "rescue" rabbits in the barn as well. Rabbits someone got their kids or grandchildren as pets and then realized they were messy or just not good fits for their family.

Tadpole was a brown lop I bought at a local flea market just because I thought she was cute. The seller "guaranteed" she was a buck ... Tadpole proved him wrong when she built a nest of hair and fur and had seven half-Angora, half-lop babies about five weeks later!

Since I do not show my rabbits and do not generally sell the babies, I didn’t worry about them not having babies and not being pure bred. I was excited to see the results of the breeding between the white buck and the brown lop. I wound up with two brown, two black, two gray and one kind of spotted!

Some of the kits (that’s what baby rabbits are technically called) had upright ears like the English Angoras and some had the lop ears. A couple had one ear that stood straight up and another that hung low like the lop!

Since I was mainly interested in their wool or fiber, I began breeding to get different colors.

As for breeding, there are a few simple things to remember. ALWAYS take the doe (the female rabbit) to the buck’s cage because females are very territorial and love can’t happen if the doe is beating the buck up!

Watching a doe build her nest is amazing and is a fantastic learning experience for youngsters. The doe will take hay and hair she pulls from under her chin area, and build a warm, soft, cozy nest to have her babies.

My rabbits always did better having kits in the winter, even on the coldest days, than they do in the summer.

Rabbits do not do well in the heat, especially long-haired bunnies. But any bunny must be kept in the shade in the summer. I also freeze two liter drink bottles and alternate them each day of the summer and the rabbits lounge around on the cool treats.

I keep two box fans blowing on low, but NOT blowing toward the rabbits.

In the winter, I make sure the rabbits are kept out of the wind and make sure they have hay in their cages to burrow down in.

Rabbits are generally inexpensive to keep, and to me are fun and rewarding.

If you have children, especially young children, teach them to never ever pull a rabbit’s ears or pick them up by the ears. Also, some rabbits like to be held, others don’t. But most all enjoy petting and you feeding them an occasional treat.

In all my years of rabbit raising, I’ve only had two biters. And both of these came from other places where they didn’t have the best of care and so I believe the biting was developed as self-defense measures. Wearing big gloves helps me when I have to handle them.

If you are trying to develop a more self-sufficient homestead or farm, there are lots of tutorials and information on butchering rabbits on the Internet.

If the thought of butchering and eating such a cuddly critter is not to your liking, rabbits can still pay their way with their great manure! I have grown some of the biggest cabbages and juiciest tomatoes using rabbit "fertilizer"!

So I guess you might add another title to this simple, gray-haired homesteader’s names: in addition to being called the "Chicken Lady" and the "Goat Woman," I guess you can call me the "Rabbit Woman" as well!

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at

It's a DarLin Dairy

Darrell Rankins is enjoying his new occupation as a dairy farmer. “It is something I look forward to every day,” he explains.

Not many retire from work . . . to a dairy farm!

by Anna Leigh Peek

When most people think of retirement, they think of travel, golfing, etc. Starting a dairy operation is not on the top of most people’s list, but for Cusseta’s Darrell Rankins that is what he has done since he entered retirement in April 2013.

An Illinois native, Rankins received his bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University, then a master’s and doctorate from New Mexico State University. Rankins came to Auburn University in 1989 and served livestock producers of Alabama for 25 years with his expertise in nutrition for beef cattle through research, teaching and Extension. Rankins retired after his 25-year tenure with Auburn University.

DarLin Dairy opened for business on November 15, 2013. It is a USDA Grade A dairy operation.

"After 25 years, I was ready for something different," Rankins said. "I began to think about things I would enjoy doing and would look forward to every day."

He wanted to farm.

"During my time working at Auburn, I had livestock on the side including cattle, chickens and goats, but I needed to add something," he recalled.

Rankins decided he either wanted to get into the stocker cattle business or the dairy business. After weighing the two options, he decided to go with a grass-based dairy endeavor.

Darrell Rankins and his sons Seth and Ethan help with the evening milking. The Rankins children take turns assisting with milking. Everyone has a job to do.

"When it came down to it, there was a potential for profit and it would be something I enjoyed," Rankins said.

Next, it was time to do a little research. Rankins visited dairy farms from Troy all the way up into the Carolinas. He went searching for people who were doing what he wanted to do.

"People thought I was crazy for wanting to go into the dairy business because so many people are getting out of it," Rankins explained. "When people asked me why I was going to get in to the dairy business, I would ask them, ‘Why not?’"

In December 2012, Rankins officially decided to retire and worked until April 1, 2013.

"From the day I retired, I spent every day from dusk to dawn working on building my milking parlor," Rankins reflected. "I did it all on my own from the ground work to the electrical work."

On November 15, 2013, DarLin Dairy received their herd of cows and was open for business.

For the last 4.5 months, Rankins and his family have been adjusting to dairy life as they milk their cows twice a day. Depending upon the calving and lactation of the cows, they typically milk between 55-60 cows.

Left to right, Darrell Rankins built his milking parlor on his own in Cusseta from April until November of 2013. The milking parlor can milk up to 12 cows at a time and while one group of 12 is being milked another group of 12 can be prepped on the other side.

"The natural tendency is to get bigger," Rankins said. "But I don’t want to do that, I want to stay small enough so it is a one man show. I don’t want to have this large dairy and have people doing what I want to be doing. The only downside is that means I have to do everything."

Milk at DarLin Dairy is stored in this 1,000-gallon cooling tank until picked up by a truck which runs every other day.

Like with any new endeavor Rankins has learned a lot through trial and error in the last few months.

"Coming in to this I had goals, but I haven’t really been in it long enough to see if things will go exactly as I have planned; I have already had to re-evaluate and change some things," Rankins added. "Sometimes things look good on a chalkboard, but do not work out so well in practice."

It has been said it is impossible, but Rankins would eventually be interested in having a seasonal dairy farm and would have a two-month dry period. This isn’t a commonly seen practice in the dairy industry. Being seasonal would provide a short break in the year and would allow times for any major repairs that need to be made.

"I’ve been told it can’t be done, but some are doing it especially in Missouri, but I would be interested in trying it when I get things more settled," Rankins continued.

So far Rankins is enjoying his life as a dairyman.

"I enjoy it.At the end of the day it is mine, it is something I am proud of, but I still have a lot of things to work out," Rankins expressed. "I am going to take it a little at a time, my goal is to have 50-75 head in my herd and be able to obtain moderate production from moderate inputs."

Rankins isn’t the only one who is getting used to the routine of dairy life. His cattle have also gotten in the swing of things.

"They know when it’s time for milking and they usually come without much problem," Rankins said. "It takes us a little over an hour to milk and at least an hour to clean up."

Left to right, the cows on Rankins’ farm have had an easy transition from living in Georgia to life in Lee County where they have resided since November. Approximately 18 calves have been born since November.

Currently Rankins’ cows are averaging 38.5 pounds of milk per cow, per day. Their milk is picked up from their farm every other day and is sent to Georgia, Florida and even Louisiana at times.

DarLin Dairy has only been in business for four months now, but they are settling in to a routine. Rankins, his wife Linda and their four children Ellen, Seth, Gavin and Ethan all take turns assisting in the day-to-day operations. Dairy farmers have a 365-day-a-year job, and you see more farmers getting out of the dairy business, but Rankins is loving it and looks forward to getting up every morning to work in his new dairy.

Anna Leigh Peek is a freelance writer from Auburn.

Livestock Fencing

For Forage Production and Rotational Grazing

by Robert Spencer

Drive anywhere livestock production takes place and you will notice various types of fencing are used for varying situations from simple to elaborate, affordable to expensive. Fencing utilized to confine cattle and horses can be as simple as a few strands of barbwire, woven wire or strands of electric wire. Fencing used to confine sheep or goats tends to require more densely woven wire, sometimes in conjunction with electrified wire. While it is commonly assumed fencing is used to confine animals within specific areas, it can be used to keep neighboring animals out, protect animals from predators and to facilitate multiple grazing paddocks for livestock. Last fall, I attended a fencing clinic hosted by NRCS in Tennessee; it was very enlightening. I learned about fencing features and options, the new fixed-knot fencing offering rigidity and quality, and some affordable practices for establishing fencing. I readily became intrigued with options and reasonable costs. Some considerations for fencing choices are cost, the type of animals to be confined, contour of land, and the ability to facilitate forage production and rotational grazing.

Livestock fencing tends to be the most expensive component for grazing management. The type of fencing chosen and terrain greatly impact the cost per foot and total cost of the fence project. The shape of the paddocks also affects the amount of materials needed and labor required for construction. Cost of labor likely matches or exceeds cost of materials when it comes to costs of fence projects.

As mentioned earlier, the type of fencing selected depends on personal preference, budget constraints and the species of livestock to be confined. Most types of fencing can be used with cattle including woven wire, high-tensile electrified fencing and one or two strands of electrified wire. When it comes to goats and sheep, exterior, woven wire in combination with electrified wire works best. Woven wire for perimeter fencing in conjunction with electric wire is ideal for containing most mischievous or problematic animals and accommodating grazing management. Electrified woven wire and gates for inner perimeter fencing facilitates rotational grazing and helps maintain costs at a reasonable price. When it comes to problematic animals, fencing may not be the first consideration.

Fencing can be configured in many different ways using various types of fencing materials, whether it is woven wire, barbed wire, high-tensile non-electric wire, high-tensile electrified wire, electrified polywire, rope style polywire and single or multiple strands of electric wire. More and more people are utilizing portable electric fencing of some type to implement rotational grazing. When it comes to posts, I have seen people useall types of materials for posts including trees, cedar posts, treated or creosote posts, recycled power poles (that can be delivered and free), PVC posts, metal posts, etc. There is a new type of t-post out there made of recycled plastic; the posts have predrilled holes for running electric wire or attaching clips.

No matter what livestock species you intend to confine, if you are struggling with making decisions about fencing or fencing supplies, take time to determine the purpose of the fence, the terrain of the land and what your budget will accommodate. Talk with other farmers to see what works best for their situation and what does not work. And, before you pound the first post or string out a mile of fence line, get several copies of a topographical map showing your property, walk the property several times, and begin sketching on the map to get some ideas of what layout will work best. Then begin shopping around for features, quality and price.

The primary roles of fencing should be: (1) Confine livestock to specific areas and facilitate easy movement; (2) Temporarily exclude animals from certain areas to allow time for forage growth and stockpiling; (3) Bio-security – to protect your livestock from other livestock and humans (carrying diseases or parasites, and discourage bioterrorism) and set aside areas to confine sick or new animals; and (4) To maintain good relations with neighbors by confining your animals to your property and excluding their animals.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Making a Difference with PALS

Students at F. E. Burleson Elementary Junior Master Gardeners are partnering with PALS to make a difference in their school, community and environment.

by Mary Stanford

F.E. Burleson Elementary School in Hartselle invited PALS to speak with their students. Debra Queen cares about her school and her environment. The school has an outdoor classroom and a Master Gardener who helps with the projects. The school incorporates many learning experiences. Their Junior Gardeners Club is involved in the different learning stations, and this has instilled in the students the meaning of giving through community outreach. The Alabama PALS Clean Campus Program supports schools with bags for cleanups and has a Poster and Essay Contest for students.

Clockwise from top left, F.E. Burleson Elementary School was happy to become involved in the Alabama PALS Clean Campus Program. Students of F.E. Burleson Elementary School with recycled scarecrow. Students playing outdoor musical instruments in their Outdoor Classroom. The Junior Gardeners Club is involved in different learning stations.


Plastic bags are a primary source of litter because they are light and easily transported by wind into the watershed. Once littered, plastic bags essentially never biodegrade. Instead, the sun breaks them into small pieces that choke and kill sensitive marine species such as turtles and birds.

The Clean Campus Program promotes a healthier and cleaner environment for all schools, and gives the schools opportunities for students, teachers, faculty and community to be recognized for their involvement with the environment. PALS is a great way to motivate everyone about the importance of being good stewards of their environment. The PALS Clean Campus Program is proud to partner with F.E. Burleson and be part of their ongoing efforts in making Alabama a cleaner and safer environment. Schools can nominate themselves for the State Awards, and the school can receive scholarships for first place, $1,000, second place, $750, and third place, $500.

F.E. Burleson is an example of a school that wants to make a difference in their school, community and environment.

For more information about PALS and their Clean Campus Program, contact me at

March Lawn and Garden Checklist


  • Sow seeds outdoors when soil temperatures are at or above appropriate minimum temperatures: lettuce (40°), peas (40°), beets (40°), carrots (40°), onion (45°), spinach (45°), turnips (50°), radishes (50°) and Asian greens (50°). Test soil temperatures with a soil thermometer.
  • Plant cool-season Bonnie vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, greens, lettuce, etc.
  • Begin planting dahlia and iris as well as other summer-flowering corms, bulbs and tubers. You can continue planting additional bulbs every two weeks until mid-June to ensure a continuous source of blooms. Don’t plant caladiums, gladiolus, canna or coleus yet … wait until the soil temperature reaches at least 70°.
  • Divide and transplant summer-blooming perennials.
  • Plant sweet peas from the middle to the end of the month. Soak seeds overnight in lukewarm water to promote germination. Provide a trellis or other support for the plants to grow up.
  • Establish or renovate the lawn as needed. Re-sod or replant with turf grasses adapted to your part of the state and suited to the planting location (shade or sun).
  • It’s too early to plant Bermudagrass. You would be better off waiting until April.
  • Plant container-grown trees and shrubs as soon as possible. Be sure to make a 6-foot circle around the tree for mulch which will keep the grass at bay. Do not add organic material to the planting hole. The tree needs to root in the soil in which it will live the rest of its life.
  • In areas which receive shade where grass is difficult to grow, consider planting a dependable groundcover such as English ivy, Asian jasmine, vinca, hostas or ferns.


  • It is best to get a soil test before fertilizing to determine needs. Your local Co-op store has the testing material needed.
  • FYI: Sulphur, sawdust, composted oak leaves, wood chips, peat moss, cottonseed meal and leaf mold lower soil pH while lime, ashes of hardwoods, bone meal, crushed marble and crushed oyster shells raise the pH.
  • Fertilize pansies.
  • Early March is the ideal time to fertilize landscape plants to give them food just before the spring growing season starts.
  • Fertilize shrubs and trees if this wasn’t done in February. Use an acid-type rhododendron fertilizer to feed evergreens, conifers, broad leaf evergreens, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. Use an all-purpose fertilizer to feed roses and other deciduous trees and shrubs. If you use a granular-type fertilizer, be sure to water it in thoroughly. Follow the recommendations on the fertilizer bag.
  • Fertilize pecan trees with one pound of 10-10-10 for every inch of trunk thickness.
  • Divide and fertilize water lilies.
  • Don’t jump the gun and feed your summer lawn too early. In most areas, it’s best to wait another month or two when the grass starts actively growing.
  • Fertilize any bulbs that have finished blooming with bone meal or bulb booster.
  • Fertilize established perennials as soon as new growth appears.


  • As soon as the first leaves surface on your butterfly bush you can pinch them back to spur new growth and bountiful blooms. This may be an April task depending upon how early or late spring is this year.
  • Clean up perennials and cut back ornamental grasses to a few inches above the ground to make way for new growth. Compost the old foliage.
  • Cut back the old leaves on Lenten rose (Hellebores).
  • Cut English ivy back hard. When new growth emerges in spring, it will be strong and healthy.
  • Early in the month is the last chance for dormant pruning of fruit trees. You still have some time to prune back diseased wood, water sprouts (suckers) and crossing limbs. Don’t prune back fruiting spurs unless you are intentionally thinning them out.
  • Finish pruning summer-flowering plants forming blooms on new growth such as butterfly bush or rose of Sharon.
  • Leggy houseplants can be cut back. Cut above a leaf node far down on the stem so the plant can regain a bushier form.
  • If overgrown shrubs are in need of renovation, this would be the time to cut them back. Although most broadleaf shrubs will eventually recover from severe pruning, needled evergreens will not.
  • Pinch off tips of sweet pea seedlings and chrysanthemums when they are 4 inches tall.
  • Prune away any cold injury to canes on your roses. Prune back to a healthy outward facing bud. Complete all your pruning activities before the buds break.
  • Prune summer- and fall-flowering clematis. These clematis produce flowering buds on new wood and can be pruned now to the strongest canes. Spring-flowering clematis should be pruned right after they flower.
  • Prune winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) after it blooms or it could get out of control.
  • Wait to prune spring-blooming shrubs and trees until after flowering.
  • Cut seed pods from spent bulbs.
  • You can cut tulip foliage down as soon as it is unattractive because they probably won’t come back. On daffodils, Dutch iris and other low-chill bulbs, leave the foliage until it turns brown. The green leaves are replenishing the bulbs for next year’s blooms.
  • A severe pruning now of overgrown beds of groundcovers will remove woody stems and induce new, compact growth from the base whereas later pruning will retard growth.
  • When peaches are the size of your thumb, thin them to one fruit every 4-6 inches of stem. If you don’t thin, you will have a tree full of small fruit and broken branches.


  • Check the plants under the eaves of the house and under tall evergreens to make sure they have sufficient moisture.
  • Start watering trees and shrubs planted in the fall as soon as new leaves appear. Newly planted trees and shrubs need supplemental watering for a FULL YEAR to stay healthy.
  • Check out the automatic lawn sprinkler system for leaks, broken pipes or heads, or wasteful misting.
  • Water all bulbs during times of growth and especially during foliage and bloom development.
  • March watering may not be necessary for established lawns. However, lawns started within the last year are especially susceptible to winter desiccation injury and need supplemental cool-weather irrigation.


  • Follow instructions on pesticide labels carefully.
  • Gather and dispose of fallen camellia blooms to prevent blight from developing and spreading.
  • If you had a lot of crabgrass last year, you may want to consider applying a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent crabgrass seeds from germinating. This is most effective when done before the end of March.
  • The most dreaded task of all is weeding, but it is one that really needs to be accomplished before the weeds have a chance to flower and go to seed. Remember, once the weeds go to seed, you can be fighting that weed’s progeny for decades!
  • Apply pre-emergent broadleaf herbicides if you didn’t apply them last month. Read the labels carefully and be sure your weeds are listed.
  • Dandelions will begin to make themselves known in your lawn this month so get them now before they make seed heads.
  • Be careful not to get lawn herbicides too close to trees. Weed-and-feed type fertilizers are notorious for killing young shade trees.
  • You can spray fungicides while the trees are in bloom, but not insecticides. The bees are still pollinating your fruit trees and are susceptible to the sprays.
  • Last chance for dormant oil sprays of fruit trees. Fruit trees like apples and pears benefit from dormant oil sprays which help to control (by smothering) sucking insects like aphids, scale, spider mites and thrips to name a few. Don’t apply after any buds have broken because dormant oil spays (unless they are an all-season oil spray) are more concentrated than summer oil sprays and can burn new growth.
  • Grubs become active this month and feast on grass before molting. Check with your local Co-op store to learn which treatments work best in your area this time of year.
  • You will start to see more slugs this month as they become more active. Set out bait.
  • Examine the backside of euonymus and camellia leaves for scale insects. Thoroughly spray with horticultural oil if the pests are found.
  • A wide variety of caterpillars may soon begin appearing throughout the landscape and garden. Check tender foliage on such plants as petunias, broccoli, kale, lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower.
  • Aphids can become a major early-spring insect problem on tender spring foliage. Use an insecticidal soap, Neem Oil Spray or an insecticide such as Malathion or Orthene.
  • Keep up the spray regimen with roses. Orthene and Funginex are the favorites.


  • Start a garden journal. Simply buy a ruled notebook and use it to keep an account of your daily activities.
  • Remember to rotate the vegetables in the garden to reduce insect and disease problems.
  • Pick a permanent spot for Bonnie herbs in the garden. You’ll be amazed at the variety offered and many of them will come back year after year.
  • Turn the compost pile.
  • When your vegetable garden is dry enough (feels crumbly like chocolate cake, not squishy like Play-Doh), it’s time to till and prepare it for planting. Add organic matter before tilling.
  • Mulch tree and shrub plantings up to 4 inches deep, keeping mulch away from trunks.
  • Wildflowers will begin blooming this month. Remember, they must be allowed to mature their seeds if you want new plants next year.
  • Clean debris and muck from the water garden and add it to your compost pile.
  • The single best thing you can do to save time and energy in the garden is spread mulch. A 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch will stop many weeds from growing. It also helps your soil stay moist during hot, dry periods this summer.
  • Feed your pond fish when the water temperature hits 50°.
  • Check garden tools and equipment. Clean, sharpen and repair everything before you need it.
  • Have you had the mower tuned up and the blade sharpened? Tarry much longer and you’ll have to wait two weeks to get your machine back.
  • If you don’t have tulips or daffodils blooming because you didn’t plant any last fall, put it in your garden journal to buy some bulbs this fall.
  • If you have a greenhouse, it is time to take cuttings of "wintered-over" plants.
  • Love your soil and protect it by not walking on sodden lawns and in wet gardens.
  • Make maintaining your garden easier with raised beds. You can add high-quality soil to solve any problems with clay or sand. And you don’t have to bend down so far to weed, plant or tend your plants.
  • March is a good time to note areas of poor drainage. Fill in the low spot or scoop out a channel for the water to drain away.
  • Repair any fencing, arbors or trellis work that is weak or has broken over the winter ... before you get too busy tending plants!
  • Repair damaged areas of the lawn ... dethatch, rake or aerate.
  • Repot root-bound houseplants. If plant lacks vigor, roots are coming out of drainage holes or water drains through the plant before it can absorb the water, it is more than likely time to transplant. Move up two inches in pot size.
  • There is often a strong temptation to start removing winter mulches from your flower beds. Pull the mulch off gradually as the plants show signs of new growth. The purpose of winter mulch is to act as a protector from sudden changes of temperature and chilling winds, so keep in mind that it is still winter. Acclimatize your plants by removing the mulch over a period of days, allowing the light and air to reach the new growth slowly. It is much better to remove the mulch a little later than to remove it too early.
  • They’re on their way …. Clean out all of your birdhouses NOW before it’s too late.

Meet Rivers Myers, AFC’s New CEO

AFC President and CEO Rivers Myres

Rivers Myres assumes top job at Alabama Farmers Cooperative headquarters.

by Alvin Benn

The new president of Alabama Farmers Cooperative was raised on cotton, switched to insurance and eventually found a home in the burgeoning catfish industry.

Put it all together and it’s evident Rivers Myres was no stranger to agriculture, big business or managerial responsibilities – assets that paved the way for the biggest promotion of his career.

His appointment on Jan. 13 to fill the vacancy left by the untimely death of AFC President Roger Pangle last December followed an intensive search for a presidential successor.

Several candidates were interviewed for the top AFC leadership position, but Myres’ credentials proved to be the deciding factor in his selection.

"Rivers’ character and integrity are impeccable and his experience in running his own division was very important when it came to picking a new president," said AFC Board Chairman Sam Givhan, referring to Myres’ tenure at Southfresh Aquaculture LLC that’s headquartered in Tuscaloosa.

Those familiar with his corporate accomplishments and popularity among employees are convinced he will be a major asset as AFC moves toward its 80th anniversary in 2 years.

AFC President Rivers Myres, right, meets with members of the SouthFresh Feed Mill crew (from left): Jonathan Bonilla, Tonia Osbourn, Debra Womack, Rhonda Haynes and Mark Lamb who has been named president of Southfresh Aquaculture.

Myres, 53, has hit the ground running, learning the ropes during conferences with department heads, suppliers and AFC officials who enthusiastically endorsed his selection.

"Rivers is a working man’s boss, a leader with an open door policy who will listen to you," said Wayne Gilliam, manager of Tuscaloosa Farmers Co-op. "He expects you to do your job. It’s as simple as that."

Tim Wood, general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Cooperative, echoed Gilliam’s sentiments, calling Myres "an astute businessman who asks for opinions from his employees and gives them careful consideration."

"Well-rounded" and "well-grounded" are terms frequently used to describe Myres, a conscientious, hard-working illustration of their meaning.

Although he grew up on a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenville, Myres learned early that he would be expected to spread his wings one day and become acquainted with life far removed from agriculture.

His father wasn’t kidding when he told his son to become familiar with opportunities around him, especially one that did not focus on farming.

"He wouldn’t let me come home unless I worked somewhere else for 10 years," said Myres, who spent more than a decade working with independent insurance agents.

AFC President Rivers Myres, right, meets with SouthFresh Aquaculture President Mark Lamb at the facility’s Demopolis headquarters. Lamb succeeded Myres as president of SouthFresh.

He would find the insurance business quite a departure from farming, but he enjoyed it because it often enabled him to help those in distress as a result of difficult times due to weather calamities.

"The insurance industry is not the villain as it’s often portrayed," he said. "If you covered everything, you’d never be able to afford the premiums. There’s always times something happens that’s not covered and it’s hard to deal with."

When Rivers and his wife Mary Tucker Myres moved to Indianola, he not only sold insurance, he also began to learn about catfish and how it has helped transform a depressed area of Mississippi.

In a way, it helped clear away any cobwebs that might have been attached to his formative years working on the sprawling family farm where he began driving a tractor at the age of 13.

He has a daily reminder about farm life – a scarred left arm resulting from an errant hoe wielded by a young worker on the other side of high cotton and grass. He didn’t see Rivers, but he left a lasting mark on Myres’ arm.

"I’m proud to have it," Rivers said of the scar. "It reminds me of where I come from and how important farming has been to me and my family."

Corporate managers, member store officials, division heads and directors of AFC subsidiaries were all involved in the selection process and Myres’ farming background helped make a final decision.

His agriculture experience may have been an important factor, but he also had management intangibles that made him the leading contender for AFC’s top job.

From left: (standing) Rivers Myres, son Rivers IV, daughter Mary Bryant, (sitting in chair) wife Mary Tucker and (sitting) daughter Tucker

The turning point in Myres’ working career was 1995 when he joined SouthFresh Aquaculture and began to learn about catfish and what it took to raise them.

"I had a farming background and didn’t know anything about catfish," he said. "As a result, I learned all about the business from the ground floor up and it meant a lot of hours on the job."

His first days were difficult, especially when domestic bliss took a bit of a hit as he replaced his coat, dress shirt and tie with a hairnet and rubber boots and squished his way through smelly, soaking-wet rooms at a processing plant in Indianola.

"Mary Tucker told me the first night that I couldn’t come into our house until I took off my clothes," he said with a laugh as he thought about those early days on the job. "She also wondered why I’d give up my insurance career after 11 years and start all over again."

It was a good question, but Myres soon provided the answer as he advanced in his new career, impressing supervisors along the way.

"I had gotten pretty comfortable in the insurance business and took a pay cut to become involved with catfish," he said. "But, I could see the long-range potential and benefits. I’ve never regretted what I did. I’ve never looked back."

Myres’ determination to get to the top of his new career would not be at the expense of others and he made that point clear to anyone who might have had doubts.

"I wanted to do it the right way and that meant taking care of our employees," he said. "I knew that if I took care of them, everything would take care of itself in the long run."

When he became manager of the catfish processing plant, overseeing 200 workers, his ceaseless energy and concern for his workers was clear to AFC officials who visited.

"When I first met Rivers, I noticed how happy the people who worked for him seemed to be," said former AFC President Tommy Paulk. "It was a cold, wet place, but the people had a sense of urgency about them as they did their jobs."

What impressed Paulk the most was the demeanor of the workers at Indianola and he credited it all to the man in charge.

"The people there were smiling and happy," he said. "It spoke volumes to me about good management."

Myres spent 8 years as manager of SouthFresh Aquaculture before being tabbed to take over as AFC president. He wouldn’t have gotten the job without impressing Paulk and other AFC officials.

His tenure at SouthFresh occurred during a difficult period in the domestic fish industry and Paulk said Myres "did a magnificent job of running it since 2006.

"Rivers is a man of high character and is someone above reproach," said Paulk. "When he says something, you can believe him. He can determine the heart of an issue and find simple solutions to complex problems."

Myres isn’t the only AFC official receiving promotions in recent weeks and veteran observers of the organization can see "new look" leadership playing important roles immediately.

Givhan calls it "the most dramatic management change in recent history and I’m excited by what’s been done. These are good people in good places."

Gilliam used "changing of the guard" to describe the management moves and said it reflects his entry into a leadership position within AFC years ago.

"I had just gotten home from Vietnam and we were different from those in charge back then," he said. "I’m sure these new leaders taking over will do a good job just as we did back then."

One of Myres’ first appointments was to promote Al Cheatham from his chief financial officer position to chief operating officer. Cheatham, who has been with AFC for 13 years, will be responsible for overseeing organizational goals and day-to-day operations.

"Al’s leadership and vision are valuable attributes and will prove to be important assets when it comes to growing AFC," said Myres.

In addition to Cheatham’s appointment, Myres also named Tricia Arnold AFC’s new chief financial officer and Jo Ann Fuller as AFC’s new corporate controller.

Arnold has been with AFC for 12 years and has served in a variety of roles. She most recently served as AFC’s corporate controller.

Fuller has been with AFC for the past 7 years in corporate accounting and, most recently, was assistant corporate controller.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

Moldy Sweet Potatoes

And Other Things That Go Bump in the Night

by Dr. Tony Frazier

For a long time in the early part of my married life and when the kids were small, we lived in my grandparents’ old house. If you know how an old house has its own personality and tends to settle and make noises, you will understand I do not get too excited at things that go bump in the night. However, if you have followed my columns over the past few years (actually this column ends my 10th year with the Cooperative Farming News for which I am very grateful for having the opportunity to get our messages out through their venue), you may have got the idea I stay right on the edge of being paranoid about agro-terrorism or an outbreak of a foreign animal disease.

I don’t like to think of myself as paranoid, but simply hyper-vigilant. That is, I believe, what you pay me for. It is not that I believe there is a terrorist hiding behind every clump of Johnson grass or every time a farmer loses multiple animals that we are at the beginning of a foreign animal disease outbreak. It is my philosophy, though, to encourage producers to report multiple losses of livestock or poultry. The commercial poultry losses are generally reported up through the company to me. I also encourage producers to report other conditions that could indicate the introduction, accidentally or intentionally, of a foreign animal disease. These include large numbers of animals becoming sick, neurological diseases, multiple abortions (Even a single abortion could be something to be concerned about, although it is often difficult to get a diagnosis on the cause of a single abortion. It is important, however, to rule out certain diseases.), hemorrhagic disease (that’s where the animals have hemorrhagic diarrhea or are hemorrhaging from various orifices), sores and blisters around the mouth and feet, and, as I mentioned before, multiple deaths.

There are various ways these disease syndromes can be reported and I am comfortable with any way the information gets to me. First, you can report to your local veterinarian. They will get the information to me and we will make a decision about what type of response the problem requires. You can report the problem to one of our field veterinary medical officers or animal health technicians. You can report these losses to one of our diagnostic laboratories at Auburn, Boaz, Elba or Hanceville. Or, you can report directly to me. I would hope that over the years most of you have entered my phone number into your cell phones or have it committed to memory. If you have not done either of those, here is my office phone number: 334-240-7253.

I suppose I should get back to the point of this article and the discussion of multiple deaths in livestock. For those of you who do not have first-hand knowledge of some of the causes of multiple deaths, hopefully you will be able to learn from the misfortunes of others. And while I believe first-hand experience is a great educator, sometimes it comes with a huge price tag.

Recently, one of our field veterinary medical officers called to make me aware of a farmer who had found all of his small herd of cows dead. When I say small herd, I am talking about eight cows. But, when you consider the price even cull cows are bringing now, losing a single cow is a cause for concern. Anyway, it turned out, when our veterinarian looked into the situation, moldy sweet potato poisoning was the cause of death in these cattle. Notice, it is not the sweet potatoes that caused the problem. (I will say I love sweet potatoes. But, I am not a cow and I am not going to eat moldy sweet potatoes.) It is actually a toxin produced by certain molds that like to set up housekeeping on stored sweet potatoes and can be lethal to cattle. Ingestion of the toxin causes pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and severe damage to the bronchial passages. Death can occur in a matter of hours. Usually this will not cause the whole herd to get sick and die, but when you are dealing with a small herd of cattle and the concentration of the toxin is relatively high, it can, and in this case did, wipe out the whole herd.

Several years ago, I was notified that a farmer in south Alabama had lost 51 cows suddenly. That was the case. They were okay and then they were dead. And did I mention this occurred at the beginning of a weekend. We had everybody scrambling … me, the investigators, folks at the Auburn lab. It turned out the pasture where the cows resided was in close proximity to a field where phorate, a potent organophosphate insecticide, had been used. A combination of factors such as heavy rain, sandy soil and the fact that phorate is relatively stable in water had contributed to this event. An unusual situation that I am not aware of happening before or since in the state of Alabama; it certainly had us scrambling to make sure we were not dealing with a malicious act or a foreign animal disease event.

We have had a producer lose cattle from nitrate toxicity from water puddling up on an old chicken house pad after the house was destroyed in a tornado. We have had producers lose cattle that find their way into an old storage building, often an old abandoned house where cotton poison was once stored. For some reason cattle are attracted to old poison that has crystallized and become kind of like a salt block. Pastures with old garbage sites from 40-50 years ago have been the cause of people to lose cattle to lead poisoning resulting from old batteries. I have never understood why cows may have been on a pasture for decades and they tend to just eat grass and hang out. Then one day they decide to go see what it would be like to try to eat the lead in an old battery.

I say all of this to make you aware there are things out there that will kill cows and those deaths can be prevented. I would urge you to occasionally walk or drive over your pastures. Sometimes people may dump garbage on the back side of your farm that you may not be aware of unless you make it a point to look. If you decide to feed sweet potatoes, which many people have done successfully over the years, learn the hazards and educate yourself about possible warnings. Discuss these things with your veterinarian or someone with the Extension system. I would rather you learn that way. Otherwise, I could be using your unfortunate experience as the subject of an article somewhere down the road. And, like I said, experience is often a fairly expensive education.

Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama.

On “The Trail of Painted Ponies”

Leslie Gates always loved to draw horses. As a young child, her drawings were of stick horses. Now, she is painting beautiful works of art.

Leslie Gates’ love of horses and deep appreciation of her Native American heritage combine to inspire her widely recognized art

by Jaine Treadwell

As a young girl in Ponca City, Okla., Leslie Gates drew stick horses. Today, she is a widely recognized artist and is galloping along on "The Trail of Painted Ponies."

Gates, laughingly, admitted she was "a little horse-crazy girl" back in Oklahoma.

"I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil," she said. "Of course, probably all children like to draw, but most of them draw and put it down. I never got done. I would draw the same thing over and over, trying to make it better."

Gates’ favorite thing to draw was horses.

This is a sketch of Leslie Gates’ horses around a bale of hay.

"I loved horses," she said. "I read books about horses and had posters of horses in my room. I dreamed about horses and drew horses and more horses."

Gates’ stick-figure horses soon began to take rectangular shapes. Then, they developed curves and actually began to look like horses.

"Growing up, I didn’t have a horse, but my grandfather had horses," she said. "I would brush them and groom them and, in doing so, I felt their bulges and their muscles. That helped me to better draw what a horse really looked like."

As a young adult, Gates moved to Alabama to work for her aunt and uncle at the Louisville Pecan Shelling Plant in Barbour County.

She continued to draw, but her artwork reflected her new passion for flowers and gardening.

Clockwise from top left, three of Leslie Gates’ pony designs are in The Trail of Painted Ponies Christmas collection. “Faith” is one of the seasonal selections. “Morning Star-n-Stripes” was chosen as a finalist in The Trail of Painted Ponies America the Beautiful collection. “Harvest Hoodwinks” is Leslie Gates’ selection to the Halloween or Harvest holiday Trail collection. Leslie Gates of Louisville has entered several pony designs in The Trail of Painted Ponies public art project. The Appaloosa is one of several designs submitted to the competition.

She was busy with her work at the pecan shelling plant and had no thoughts of making art anything more than a hobby. However, she did realize her childhood dream of owning a horse, rather two of them.

"I was commissioned to do a pencil drawing of a horse, the first commission I had ever received," Gates said, adding with a laugh, "except the five dollars my schoolmates would pay me to draw things for them."

That commission spurred renewed interest in horses as the primary subject for Gates’ artwork.

Her horses were the models for her drawings.

Clockwise from top left, Leslie Gates carves and paints gourds. Many of the gourds are canvases for small paintings of horses. The turtle is a recurring symbol honoring her Native American heritage. The Indian Woman is a gourd piece in which typical Native American items are used including animal fur. “Retrieving the Fire” depicts a water spider crossing water to collect a coal in her spun “bowl” to bring fire back to the Cherokee people. By Leslie Gates’ hand, a gourd becomes the body of a “corn” doll balancing a basket of grain on her head.

"When drawing horses, I would have questions as to exactly how the horses would look from different angles and grouped together," she said. "I would sketch my horses from all angles, in the pasture and around the hay bale. I was enjoying drawing horses once again. That was my passion."

With horses as her subject, Gates expanded her artwork from paper to canvas. She also worked on a dimensional medium - gourds.

Gates had begun to research her Cherokee and Delaware ancestry and her artwork reflected that influence.

Above and below, Leslie Gates draws in pencil as well as painting on canvas. She becomes more in touch with her Cherokee ancestry through her paintings. This painting of a Native American mother incorporates several symbols of the Cherokee nation. She often uses the Cherokee syllabary invented by Sequoyah in her artwork. The syllabary is sometimes incorporated into masks which cover half or a third of a face.

An ad in Southwest Art magazine caught Gates’ attention and started her in yet another direction with her artwork.

"It was a Call-for-Designs and, through it, I discovered The Trail of Painted Ponies," Gates said.

The Trail of Painted Ponies is a public art project in which talented artists create original designs, with exquisite attention to detail, into miniature, collectible works of art.

"The first horse design I entered was in the Native Art of Horse Painting competition, but my entry was not chosen," Gates said.

However, she was so intrigued by the challenge of the competitions and the many and varied possibilities for each that she submitted an entry in the America the Beautiful competition.

"My design, ‘Morning Star-n-Stripes,’ was chosen as one of the 10 finalists," Gates said. "That was very exciting and very rewarding. I put some of my other ideas on the Paint Your Own Pony blank forms. ‘Tip Toe Through the Tulips’ combined my love of horses and my love of flowers. It was chosen for the Spring in the Four Seasons collection. It was my first figurine with The Trail of Painted Ponies."

Gates now has five "ponies" on The Trail. Three of them are Christmas designs.

Gates was invited to participate in a Trail event at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., with "Tulips."

"I was so excited and so honored that three of the miniatures sold to collectors from Australia and one from The Netherlands," Gates said.

Although Gates continues to be interested in The Trail competitions, she is concentrating more on canvas paintings and gourd art reflecting her Native American heritage.

Horses continue to be a recurring theme. She uses colors, materials and symbols representative of the Native American culture – turtles, lizards, birds, beads, furs, feathers, leather, masks and the Cherokee written language.

"I use crushed eggshells to give my artwork texture, to cover imperfections and to give some pieces weight," Gates said. "I try different things. I do carvings and I do clay and I still do pencil. That’s where I started."

Gates participates in several annual art shows including three in her native Oklahoma.

"The Trail of Tears Art Show in April is limited to members of federally recognized tribes of the Cherokee Nation," she said. "The Cherokee National Holiday Show and the Cherokee Homecoming Art Show are both held around Labor Day. I’ve entered those for several years. My artwork for those shows is not related to horses as much because the Cherokees were an agricultural nation."

The name Leslie Gates is out there in the world of art. Her love of horses and her deep appreciation for her Native American heritage motives and inspires her. They are the heart and soul of her artwork whether it’s a pencil drawing, a feathered mask, a painting on canvas or a carving in a gourd.

Gates has been drawing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. She has no plans to put the pencil down. She’s not done.

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

Peanut People

Record Cold Can’t Stop ’em

Stephen Ayhens of Ozark, who was wounded in Afghanistan, received his new-to-him “tank” chair at Buckmasters. The all-terrain chair gives Ayhens much more access to the hunting woods.

Buckmasters Life Classic hunters are used to dealing with adversity.

by David Rainer

With the coldest temperatures in decades forecast for the three-day hunt, participants in the Buckmasters Life Classic Hunt never wavered. They had all faced much tougher situations than the 9 degree temperatures.

The 11 hunters who came to Sedgefields Plantation in west central Alabama were dealing with obstacles ranging from traumatic brain injury to lymphoma to improvised explosive device injuries, so a little cold weather wasn’t going to hamper this opportunity to hunt whitetail deer on some of the best hunting land in the Southeast.

Four of those participants were from Alabama and only one did not bag a deer during the outing, although he had a fleeting chance on the first afternoon.

Charles Kilgore of Opelika, who suffered a traumatic brain injury when a dropped firearm discharged and struck him, saw a couple of shooters that first afternoon, but the deer didn’t present a good shot and so Kilgore passed.

Kilgore, who was sponsored for the hunt by the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association, lost most function in his left arm and some of the function in his left leg after a stroke occurred after the injury. But that didn’t stop his education or hunting. When sufficiently recovered, he went back to Auburn University to finish his doctorate in biology.

"It took me two years to get back into the woods," Kilgore said. "When Chris Jaworowski [Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries wildlife biologist] asked me if I wanted to come to Buckmasters, I said, ‘Let’s go.’ I use a Caldwell Deadshot Fieldpod to hold the rifle, but I have to use my right arm for everything, so it’s kind of hard to make a quick shot. On the first hunt, we saw about 20 deer, mostly does and three pretty nice bucks. We just couldn’t get a shot."

Ozark native Stephen Ayhens, a disabled Marine who participated in a fishing event with A HERO Foundation near Montgomery in 2011, managed to get into a friendly contest with fellow disabled soldier Bobby Dove of Florida, who served in the U.S. Army.

David Sullivan of Buckmasters’ American Deer Foundation developed a new trailer, the Quincey Assault Vehicle, to help transport those with disabilities to hunting locations.

"It’s the Marines versus the Army," Ayhens said. "I think the Marines are winning. I got a nine-point and Bobby got an eight-point, so I think I win."

Ayhens has been able to hunt deer around Brundidge and Quantico, Va., and duck hunt in Maryland since an IED took both his legs in Afghanistan.

"This is outstanding," Ayhens said of the Buckmasters hunt. "This is a great way to get outdoors again."

Ayhens showed up for the hunt with his new-to-him "tank" chair, a wheelchair equipped with tracks that help those who are wheelchair-bound or have other disabilities to get through certain terrain and into the hunting woods.

"Another Marine Jeremiah Arbogast had this and couldn’t use it because of his spinal injury," said Ayhens, who has maintained a mischievous sense of humor through his recovery. "It would jar him around too much. They found this one in pretty bad condition, so Hope for the Warriors and a couple of other groups came together to fix it up and make it bigger. And it’s a lot more powerful. This is the first time I’ve been able to use it. I’m still getting used to it, but I like running over people’s toes."

On Ayhens’ hunt, it didn’t take long for the action to start that first afternoon. No more than 10 minutes after getting settled in the shooting house, deer started showing up.

"We had a doe, fawn and small buck come in right away," he said. "They ate around and then left. Then the nine-point came in with a small party, two does and a small buck. The nine-point came in the field at about 300 meters. He came a little closer to 216 meters, and that’s where I shot him."

Ayhens didn’t need any adaptive equipment to shoot other than his prosthetic legs, shorter versions called "stubbies." He made the shot with a Ruger .280.

"I just stood up, rested the gun on the shooting house ledge and fired," he said. "I hit it a little far back, but we got him anyway. I felt good when I squeezed the trigger. He ran about 25 yards behind some foliage. Then we saw him stagger and fall."

Ayhens wasn’t the only Alabama hunter to bag a deer. Rhett Bailey, who was invited by Atlanta Braves star reliever Craig Kimbrell, shot an eight-point, while Taylor Lee Robinson of Thorsby took a nine-point during the event, which also featured a return visit from New York Yankees’ reliever David Robertson.

David Sullivan, Director of Life Hunts and Disabled Services for Buckmasters’ American Deer Foundation, said many of the hunters at the Life Hunts require significant adaptive devices to be able to participate.

"We were able to purchase two mechanical rigs where the hunters can totally control the firearm with a joystick and a sip and puff tube," Sullivan said. "Plus, those rigs have video devices on the scopes, so they don’t have to get down and get the right eye relief on the scope. That’s one of the things the American Deer Foundation does is provide this equipment through our sponsors like Wildgame Innovations. Travis Peercy [Island, Ky.] used a tripod with a military-type mount we get from a guy in Texas. Travis is unsteady and used that to take his 11-point on the first afternoon. He was all smiles.

"We’ve had people who are paralyzed on respirators that we’ve taken hunting. If they put their mind to it, we can make it happen."

Sullivan said the largest hurdle for those with disabilities and illnesses remains access to hunting property. He even designed a trailer to help with that access problem. He named it the Quincey Assault Vehicle after his late stepson David Christopher Quincey, who was killed in a training accident in the U.S. Army as he was preparing to be deployed to Pakistan.

"I designed a trailer that took me a couple of years to build," Sullivan said. "I started out with one thing, but we ended up tearing it apart and starting again. It’s now got ATV tires with torsion axles. It’s a real smooth ride and we can roll a wheelchair into it and tie it down. We’ve got toolboxes to hold the equipment. There’s room for people to sit back there with them to keep them safe. This really helps with access, especially in muddy areas. We had another volunteer who built another one for us."

Sullivan said the Hinton family, who has hosted the Life Hunt Classic for more than a decade, makes it a lot easier to hold a hunt for those with disabilities.

"Getting out and hunting is the main goal, period," Sullivan said. "Having a place like this to come is icing on the cake. It’s the experience, camaraderie and some of the best hunting in Alabama and the Southeast. We couldn’t do it without the Hintons and all the volunteers."

Jackie Bushman, Buckmasters CEO and founder, said the Buckmasters Classic has been in existence for 23 years in one form or another.

"It’s hard to believe it’s been that long," Bushman said. "To have so many different kids here and our soldiers here and to watch their dreams come true, I never get tired of this. This is my favorite three days of the year. We couldn’t do it without the Buckmasters members nationwide. And we’re trying to take more. Thanks to our sponsors such as big Bill Busbice, his wife and family; Nationwide Insurance this year and the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association, we can put on another great event. We’ve got a lot of nice folks and great volunteers that make this happen, as well as the Hinton family.

"Fortunately, we got ahead of the game on the first day and got seven deer. That way we didn’t have to try to get seven deer on the last day like we did last year. It’s always fun to be here and see the smiles on the hunters’ and their families’ faces. It’s just priceless."

David Rainer is with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Sounding the Alarm: This is Not a Test!

by Glenn Crumpler

I remember the symbol, the distinctive tone and the message of the Emergency Broadcasting System that would break in on the programming on our black and white television set: "This is a test. This station is conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. This is only a test." The unmistakable alarm signal would sound for 20-25 seconds followed by: "This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area in voluntary cooperation with the FCC and other federal, state and local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would have been followed by official information, news or instructions. This concludes the test of the Emergency Broadcast System."

The Emergency Broadcast System was established to provide the President of the United States with an expeditious method of communicating with the American public in the event of war, threat of war or grave national crisis. Through the EBS, the President would have access to thousands of broadcast stations, cable systems and participating satellite programmers to transmit an emergency message to the public.

Today, the EBS is mostly used to warn of severe weather or other natural disasters, but it is still in place in case of a national threat. The system has expanded to local siren alarms that sound if tornadoes or other severe weather systems are detected. There is no telling how many lives have been saved in recent years because these emergency alarms sounded just in time to provide sufficient opportunity for people in the path of tornadoes to hear the alarm and take the necessary actions to save their lives. I have friends and family whose lives were saved because the alarms sounded, and they heeded the warnings and followed the instructions to protect themselves from the destruction following the warning.

I also remember a time when other alarms were being sounded warning of matters much more important than severe weather or even nuclear attacks on our country - yet, for the most part, those who are supposed to be sounding these alarms are either absent or silent; perhaps out of fear, or maybe because they have been deceived into believing the coming disaster will not be as bad as has been promised. It could be they are either ignorant of or indifferent to the Word of God and the consequences for the people who are not prepared for the coming disaster. At best, the warnings of the few who are still sounding the alarms are going unheeded and the faithful few are being criticized and rejected because people do not want to believe the truth. Hearers do not want to accept or believe they are sinners deserving of death and eternal punishment. They want to live life by their rules, doing what they want to do without any fear of consequences or guilt.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, it caught everyone by surprise. No one thought it would really happen. While the bombers were in the air, everyone on the ground was going about life as usual feeling secure in their ignorance of the coming attack. When the Twin Towers fell in 2001, nobody thought it could ever happen again – but it did. If anyone had sounded an alarm warning of the coming attacks, we would have at least had the opportunity to be prepared and take protective measures. What comfort did we get, how many lives were saved, how was the devastation lessened by our ignorance?

When Jesus comes back, and He will, most people will not be ready, the Bible tells us so. It is not our responsibility or even within our power as Christians to save people from the coming judgment. It is, however, our responsibility and within our power to love them enough that we would sound the alarm, warning them of the coming judgment and showing them how they can be ready to meet Him and face the judgment with their sins forgiven. It is our responsibility to prepare them for the coming judgment by leading them to the One who gave His life as a ransom for theirs so He could intercede for them at the judgment. It is our responsibility both to know and to teach the standards and conditions contained in God’s Word.

Sin is the reason for the coming judgment and we are all guilty. God, the Creator of all that is, is a holy and righteous God who cannot and will not let sin go unpunished. John 3:16 tells us that we are all sinners, but because of God’s great love for us, He sent His only son Jesus to die in our place for our sin, making it possible for us to be forgiven. Jesus then conquered death when He was resurrected, giving the opportunity for everyone to have eternal life. However, He does not force His salvation on anyone, nor is it unconditional.

People reject Jesus and His teachings because they see their lives do not line up with His teachings or His character. They see His standards as too strict and offensive because it conflicts with how they want to live. They blame Jesus and those who follow them for their guilt, but John 3:17 tells us Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save the world; the world is condemned already because we are all sinners. We do not have to change anything to go to hell. Jesus, out of love, came to save us and deliver us from our sin and God’s wrath toward sin.

Jesus will one day judge the world. Every one of us will stand before Him and give an account for where we stand in our relationship with Him and what we did in this life. What we do with Jesus will determine where we spend eternity. He gives us the freedom to chose to turn from our sin, follow Him and inherit eternal life or to reject/neglect Him, live in our sin and be condemned.

This is not a test! Judgment is coming. Your sin will not go unpunished if it is unforgiven. It cannot be forgiven unless it is forsaken and your faith is placed in Jesus. He is the only One who can forgive and deliver you. This is an actual emergency warning! You are instructed to call out to Jesus to save you, to turn from your sin and follow Him. Read His written Word, accept and obey it. It is offensive to the sinner, but it is unchanging truth. It is comfort to those who accept it and are saved by the One it points to.

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21) How can you do God’s will unless you know God’s will? How can you know God’s will without reading the directions?

Glenn Crumpler is is president of Cattle for Christ International, Inc. He can be contacted at 334-393-4700 (home), 333-4400 (mobile) or

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "You know Miss Ella Montgomery’s granddaddy owned half the county at one time. Then when the old man died and her daddy got his hands on the checkbook he drank and gambled a chunk of it away. She has managed to hold on to her dignity and some of the glory of by-gone days with her charities and polished, strait-laced ways."

What does lace have to do with a woman’s station in life?

Strait laced means excessively strict in manners, morals or opinion.

"Strait," which is often confused with its homonym "straight," is a word rarely used alone, but has stayed with us in expressions like "strait and narrow," "dire straits," "strait-jacket" and "straitened circumstances." The meaning of those phrases becomes clear when we know that "strait" means, not "free from curvature" but "tight." That usage goes back to the 13th century and an early example of the "tight" meaning is found in John Trevisa’s translation of Bartholomew de Glanville’s De Proprietatibus Rerum, 1398:

"A rynge that is streyghte on a fyngre and may not be take of afore mete, maye easely be take of after mete."

[De Glanville was clearly a messy eater.]

The confusion between "straight" and "strait" is understandable as some of the phrases above, for example "strait and narrow," seem to make sense with the "straight" meaning. It may be a help with spelling to remember the "tight" meaning and, for example, "strait-jackets" aren’t straight jackets, they are tight jackets. The "straight/strait" spelling muddle has also affected the understanding of "strait-laced." It might have been thought (and I have to admit I used to think this) that the adjective referred to the straightness of the tautly stretched lacing of women’s dresses. The phrase does indeed derive from the lacing of dresses and corsets, but as a result of the clothing being tight not because the lacing was straight.

Geoffrey Chaucer made a reference to "streyte" clothing in The Canterbury Tales Prologue, circa 1405:

"Hir hosen weeren of fyn Scarlet reed Ful streyte yteyd."

[She was wearing fine, close gartered scarlet hose.]

The expression "strait-laced" is found first in print, also in a Middle English text - John Lydgate’s My Fayr Lady, circa 1430. In the poem, for comic effect, Lydgate describes his beloved variously as "lyke as an olivaunt" [elephant] and with "greet square shulderys brood" [great broad, square shoulders]. Whether his "fayr lady" enjoyed the joke isn’t made clear:

"Hire crowpe doth the semys shrede, Whan they so streyght lasyd been."

[Her buttocks rip the seams of her clothes, which previously had been strait-laced.]

In the 16th century, "strait-laced" began to be used figuratively to refer to people who were rigid in their beliefs and thinking. Thomas Martin’s religious tract The Marriage of Priestes, 1554, displays that usage:

"He had to doe with certaine holy and straite lased heretikes, whiche denied it to be lawful for a Christian man after his baptisme to retourne to his wife."

In the 18th and 19th centuries, fashion dictated women of quality wore exceptionally tightly laced corsets to emphasize their hourglass figures. The impression that we now have of ladies of the prim and formal Victorian upper classes is that they were strait-laced in more ways than one.

The Phrase Finder,

Stimu-lyx Fescue Relief with Tasco

by Jimmy Hughes

STIMU-LYX Fescue Relief with Tasco is the perfect product for cattle grazing fescue pastures in the spring and early summer. STIMU-LYX Low Moisture Tubs will increase forage digestibility providing your cattle with more nutrients and greater performance from the fescue.

This product contains adequate levels of magnesium for the prevention of grass tetney. Cattle are most susceptible to grass tetney while grazing lush green forages during the late fall and early spring of each year.

It also contains Tasco. Tasco is a seaweed derivative shown in university research to reduce the detrimental effects of cattle grazing endophyte-infected fescue along with improving reproductive performance.

Fescue toxicity restricts blood flow to the extremities causing rough hair coats, increased body temperature, poor growth and reproductive performance. Tasco is considered a thermo-regulator and will regulate body temperature and improve blood flow to the extremities of the animal offsetting the issues related to grazing infected fescue.

STIMU-LYX tubs are very palatable and simple to feed in a 200-pound, non-returnable, durable plastic barrel and will provide needed nutrients at an overall cost of less than 0.35 cents per head per day. Your local Quality Co-op can provide the quality products and excellent service you seek for your operation to be successful.

If you need additional information on this product or you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 256-947-7886 or email me at

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.

Supplemental Springtime Issues

To get a chance at a gobbler who won’t leave his harem, spook the birds before they go to roost so the gobbler will be on the move the next morning hunting for his harem.

“When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.” Billy Graham

by John Howle

One of the quickest ways for a person to lose their character is by being dishonest. Billy Graham was accurate as a laser level when he discussed character. You can recover lost wealth and recuperate from lost health, but character is hard to reclaim.

If you lack character in business, you lose repeat customers. If you lack character as a high school student, you may spend time doing in-school suspension. If you lack character as a Washington politician, you’ll probably get re-elected.

I think it would be time well spent if more time was spent focusing on character education in the home, at school and in the workplace. If we show a younger generation that we place a premium on their character development, we can start to cultivate a more honest society. Period.

Let the Flock Fly

If you have a gobbler or two on the farm or the hunting lease that you can’t seem to separate from the hens when you are calling, try this trick for calling in a wary, morning tom. If you know where the flock is going to roost, go into the area and scatter the flock just before fly up time. The next morning, the gobbler will leave the seclusion of his harem to attempt to call up the rest of his hens. This will give you an opportunity to set up your calling and increase your chances of calling in the gobbler.

Spring Supplements

In the spring of the year, the grass, native forages and food plots will begin active growth. Minerals and salt are important for livestock all year, but, if you are concerned about supplemental minerals for deer, this is truly an important time to provide minerals in the form of blocks or loose minerals.

Young bucks like this one need minerals for healthy antler development. Your local Quality Co-op is the best source for wildlife minerals. After the hay is fed, use your hand-held spreader to put out seeds on barren land where feeding has taken place.

Since the forage is growing quickly as a result of spring rains, the plants grow faster without absorbing the full minerals from the soil. This time of year, deer, especially, will crave salt. If you purchase a quality mineral mix from your local Quality Co-op, you can help make sure your deer herd is getting the necessary minerals needed for antler growth and animal health.

Blocks are certainly the easiest to place in remote, wooded areas, but, if you are buying bags of loose minerals, dig a hole large enough to hold the contents of the bag. Pour the minerals, except for a hatful, into the hole and cover with dirt. With the remaining hatful of minerals, mix it with soil and pour it over the top of the mound. This will get the deer started licking the ground for the salt and minerals.

Stay in the comfort of your tractor seat as you put up round bale rings for the year by using the spear on the front end loader.

Spring Green-up

When you are feeding those last few round bales of the year, don’t leave a muddy mess behind where the cattle have stomped around and hung out at the round bale rings. Instead, use your broadcast spreader to seed ryegrass, oats and/or clover in these barren, muddy areas. The final hoof traffic of the cattle will have these seeds nestled into the mud, and, since hay feeding season is over, the seeds will have a chance to germinate and cover the barren areas with forage. If good forage is started early, weed competition will be reduced, and, hopefully, you’ll see less pigweed and other scourges to be sprayed during the growing season.

Garden Growth

Was last year’s garden a flop? Did your plants sprout, then just turn yellow and seem stunted? Is it a relatively new garden spot? If the answer to these questions are yes, chances are your garden lacks lime.

It doesn’t matter how much fertilizer you put in the garden or around the plants, if the soil is too acidic, the nutrients will remain locked up in the soil particles and unavailable to the plants. It’s an easy proposition to send off soil samples to your nearest Extension agent or bring them to your Co-op to be sent to a lab for analyzing. Even without a soil test, you might decide to add lime to your garden.

Having adequate lime will help your garden grow. Pick up a few bags from your local Quality Co-op.

Don’t worry if you apply too much lime. The only real problem that would exist is paying money for lime you don’t need. The only sure way to know exactly how much you need is with a soil test; then you can be sure your garden will grow.

Hay Ring Removal

Once hay feeding season is over, you may find it necessary to move the rings out of the pasture. It can be a dirty job pulling the ring out of the muck and rolling it by hand. This is also dangerous if your pastures are on hills. Instead, use the hay spear on the front end loader to lift and remove the hay ring from the pasture. You can do all this from the comfort of your tractor seat.

This March, you can recover lost wealth, recuperate from lost health, and, if you like having character, you can keep it. Period.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Surviving the Polar Vortex

Planning ahead means you can build an appetite having fun.

by Christy Kirk

At our house, we have weathered many tornado warnings, a county water pipe leak and power outages. Most families are prepared for a few hours without power or a day without water, but in January many of us in South Alabama and Georgia had three snowbound days we were not prepared to experience. When I heard "polar vortex," it was hard to imagine it would actually happen in Macon County. We had a good snow on the day my son was born in 2010 and we had one prior to that in 2009. Neither of those was crippling. In the 2010 snow, we even made it from Little Texas to the hospital in Montgomery without incident or accident.

We have all heard the joke that when it snows in the South, we are all making French Toast because the most common items purchased during a weather threat seem to be milk, bread and eggs. During the January winter advisory, my husband and I knew it was coming for several days. Jason and I had both already been to the grocery store earlier in the week, but sometimes your instinct tells you to go back one last time before the snow and ice hits.

You might even catch dinner while playing in the snow.

When we go to town, we drive 10 miles to reach the nearest grocery store in either direction. Ten miles is not that far to drive, but, if it iced over, we definitely wouldn’t be running out to the store on foot. The icy sleet did come, and it came early. I thought I would have time to take Rolley Len and Cason by the library and make a quick stop at the store. With two bridges to cross, I was not about to chance taking the kids into town. Whatever food was already at home was what we would be eating. Luckily, we had plenty - whether fresh or frozen.

I started thinking about what we would have done if we only had a few staples instead of a pantry full of food. How can you eat well with limited resources? When your children’s appetites are humongous because they have been tromping, running and playing in the snow for hours, what can you fill them up with to sustain that kind of energy? Of course, you can always make peanut butter sandwiches, but, if you are holed up for three days, peanut butter might lose its appeal.

I wanted to share some hearty recipes to keep you energized and warm while also adding some variety to your snowbound menu. Except for the Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce, they all are made from ingredients many families already have in their pantry.

The Potato Soup is so easy and versatile. You can add ingredients like bacon or leave out the ones you don’t like and it will still be the same thick delicious soup. The Cheesy Wild Rice Soup is one my sister shared with me. It has been kitchen-tested and approved by her husband and three children so I had to try it at my house, too.

Rolley Len Kirk learns how to measure ground deer meat and prepare it for freezing.

I first tried Irish Soda Bread when I was in Ballymena, north of Belfast in Northern Ireland. I had it toasted with German butterkäse, butter cheese, melted on top. It was delicious; so when I got home, I found a recipe to try making it on my own. It takes some practice to make bread, but it is worth it. If you find yourself snowed in, try making your own version of the recipe below.

The Thai Meatballs have been popular at our house for years. Rolley Len and Cason love noodles and Oriental food, even some of the spicier dishes. We always keep deer meat in the freezer, so, even if we can’t get to the grocery store, making these meatballs is an easy choice. We put ours on top of ramen noodles, add a little more chili sauce and devour them. If you have deer meat in your freezer, but are tired of eating chili or tacos with it, try these meatballs at your next meal. They are guaranteed to warm you up, so be careful!

Taking care of your family during a weather crisis like the polar vortex can be stressful. Plan ahead so you can try to enjoy your time together and eat well, too. Take advantage of the challenges you may face by trying new recipes and cooking with your spouse or children. Your next meal might be a great bonding experience you might not have if not for being homebound.

Potato Soup

4 Tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic (I use minced)

1 carrot, chopped

1 onion, chopped

¼ cup all-purpose flour

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 cups chicken broth

1 cup milk

1 (12-ounce) can beer

2 potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 cups cheddar cheese

Worcestershire sauce, to taste

Hot sauce, to taste

In a pot, sauté garlic, carrot and onion in butter for about 4 minutes. Add flour and stir to toast. Add salt and pepper. Whisk in broth, milk and beer. Add potatoes and simmer for 20-30 minutes. (Smash the potatoes to the consistency you prefer.) Add 1 cup of cheese at a time and stir until melted and blended. Add Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce to taste.

Cheesy Wild Rice Soup

1 box (6-7 ounces) quick cooking long grain and wild rice mix

4 cups milk

1 can condensed cream of potato soup, undiluted

8 ounces Velveeta, cubed

In a large saucepan, prepare rice according to package directions. Stir in milk, soup and cheese. As cheese melts, mix well. Cook and stir until cheese is melted and soup is heated through.

Soda Bread

(Sugar and/or butter can be added for taste, but this is the basic recipe)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1½ teaspoons salt

1½ cups buttermilk, divided

Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl, stir dry ingredients together with a whisk. Make a well in the center and add 1 cup of the buttermilk. Combine dry ingredients and buttermilk with a fork. Add more buttermilk gradually until a soft dough is formed. Gently knead the dough on a floured surface for 1 minute. Form into a flattened circle. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Make a large ½-inch deep X with a sharp knife. Bake for 40-45 minutes until it is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Excellent with butter, cheeses or dipped in soups.

Thai Meatballs (spicy!)

1 pound ground deer meat

1 Tablespoon garlic, minced

Green onion, chopped fine

Bread crumbs, as needed

2 Tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce (we use Huy Fong Rooster Sauce)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Jalapeño, fresh or jarred, chopped fine (if available)

Preheat oven to 400°. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Use about one tablespoon of meat mixture to form each meatball. Coat a cookie sheet with cooking spray and place meatballs evenly on sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked thoroughly. Serve over ramen noodles or rice, or in lettuce cups.

Sweet Chili Sauce for dipping

3 Tablespoons chili paste

3 Tablespoons soy sauce

¼ cup lime juice

2 Tablespoons sugar

3 Tablespoons fish sauce

Mix all ingredients well.

Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.

The Co-op Pantry

Regular readers already know her as "The Herb Lady," but after this month you are going to know her as a woman who has led an extraordinary life and is an excellent cook as well. Mrs. Nadine Johnson has written her delightful and informative column for the AFC Cooperative Farming News now for almost 20 years!

Nadine was born in Pike County, and grew up in the Henderson Community.

In speaking of her early life, she stated, "I was a farm girl; you name it, I did it."

She added that plowing was the only job she didn’t have to do. She worked in the garden, picked cotton, tended to the animals and learned to cook.

Nadine learned to cook by watching and assisting her mom, the late Olgie Schofield Johnson McVay. She can’t remember a time when she actually had cooking lessons – she learned by observing and doing.

Nadine attended Goshen High School and began her nursing career while still in her teens at the old Beard Hospital in Troy. It was the norm for practical nurses to be trained on the job at that time. She passed the licensing exam and worked as a cardiac nurse for 37 years. She went on to work for Dr. Jane Day in Montgomery and worked for her from 1954-1969. Day encouraged Nadine and advised her that she could do anything she set her mind to. Nadine took that advice to heart and still embraces Day’s wisdom to this day.

Nadine married her husband Richard Johnson after World War II. Richard was from the nearby community of Little Oak in Pike County and in 1948 they married. Nadine and Richard went on to have three sons. Richard Jr (Lynn) has two sons. Richard, who worked with the Mobile County Probate office and married almost 40,000 couples during his tenure there. Charles Brown (Nadine added he is named after an uncle not the comic strip character), like his father, retired from CSX, has a wife Tammy and three daughters. Bill is a contractor who lives in Fairhope. Bill suffered a terrible loss last year when his only son Michael Dallaspassed away.

At the time they married, Richard was a farmer, but went on to become Road Foreman of Engines with CSX – he taught the train engineers how to drive the trains. His work moved them to Baldwin County and it was during this time that she developed her interest in herbs and writing.

"When I first began writing, I wrote human interest stories – about my life then to now, the good parts," Nadine related.

She also informed me that her latest book, her life story, entitled "Life Revisited," will be available soon. It was going to the publisher the week this column was written. Nadine wanted me to tell the Pantry readers that it will contain recipes! We will supply you with more information about the book later. This will be Nadine’s third book. In 1979, she published a cookbook, "Camp Stew, Etc." that came out during the devastation of Hurricane Frederick. The book was a sell-out and unfortunately there are not that many copies available except in libraries. Her other book, a collection of her first 20 columns for the Montgomery Advertiser entitled "The Alabama Herb Gardener," was published in 1992. I believe that some copies of this are available through Old Alabama Town and there are a few copies available at as well.

Grape Salad

Before she and Richard moved back to Pike County, Nadine had a greenhouse. Her herbs made the move with her and her garden was known far and wide. After Richard became ill, she had to let the herbs go to care for him. Richard passed away in 2006 and she took a break from writing for a while. We are thrilled she came back in 2010 and is going full force.

At the present time, Nadine, aged 83, lives in Spanish Fort so she can be near her children. She also told me she is seriously considering writing another cookbook. I think if we give her enough encouragement she will. Nadine tells me she loves to collect recipes from her friends.

Thank you, Nadine, for sharing your fascinating life and delicious recipes.

Mary Delph is an associate editor with AFC Cooperative Farming News. You may email her at


1 cup plain cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon soda
1/3 cup salad oil
1 beaten egg
½ pound red rind cheese (hoop), grated
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup milk
1 (20-ounce) package frozen cream style corn

Combine all ingredients. Place mixture in an oiled iron skillet. Bake at 350° for 45-60 minutes, depending on your oven. Cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving.

Note from Mary: If you are new to baking cornbread, there are a couple of ways to determine doneness. One, stick a toothpick in the middle and see if any uncooked batter comes out on it. Two, use a thermometer. When it reaches 190°, it should be done.


1 pound dried red beans
½ bunch celery, chopped
3 large onions, chopped
3 pounds ground chuck
1 clove garlic, minced
6 Tablespoons chili powder
3 Tablespoons flour
3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons cumin
½ teaspoon sugar
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste

Soak beans overnight. Cook according to package directions. Cook celery and onions in a small amount of water until tender. Place meat in an iron skillet with a small amount of water. Cook and stir until water evaporates and beef is browned. Add tenderized onions and celery to meat. Add garlic, chili powder, flour, salt, cumin and sugar. Mix the beans with the meat mixture. Add in tomato sauce and tomato paste. Simmer for a least one hour to allow flavors to blend. Stir frequently.

Note from Mary: This is absolutely delicious! I would recommend cooking it in a Dutch oven or a heavy, disc-bottomed aluminum pan. As Nadine noted in her recipe, STIR - it is too good to risk scorching.


2 pounds carrots, shredded
½ cup coconut, shredded
½ cup raisins
1 (15.5-ounce) can crushed pineapple, reserve juice
½ cup miniature marshmallows, optional
1 heaping Tablespoon sour cream
Dash of salt
1 Tablespoon sugar (or more), to taste
Mayonnaise, to proper consistency

Mix well all except reserved juice and mayonnaise. Alternate adding reserved juice and mayonnaise until desired taste and consistency is reached. Enjoy!


3 pounds seedless grapes
8 ounces sour cream
8 ounces cream cheese
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup pecans, chopped

Wash and dry grapes. Combine sour cream, cream cheese, granulated sugar and vanilla. Fold grapes into mixture. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Shortly before serving, sprinkle brown sugar and pecans on top.

Note from Mary: YUMMY!!!


Peppers of your choice, usually cayenne
1 clove garlic
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon canola oil
Vinegar, to cover

Put clean, dry peppers into pint jars. Add remaining ingredients. Wipe top of jars with a clean cloth. Place lids on top of jars. Put into a kettle or canner and cover with water. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat. Allow to cool before removing from the kettle or canner. This is a Southern “must” as an addition to collard greens, turnip greens and sardines.


½ pound red rind cheese (hoop)
2 ounces pimento, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon sour cream
Mayonnaise, to desired consistency

Blend all ingredients well. Spread on toasted bread for a quick, easy and tasty lunch. Refrigerate any remaining pimento cheese


1 large eggplant, peeled, cooked, drained and mashed
1 can cream soup (mushroom, chicken or celery)
1 cup Pepperidge Farm herb stuffing mix, reserve 2 Tablespoons
1 cup mild Mexican Velveeta cheese, cut into small cubes
1 egg
¼ cup dry onion flakes
Red rind cheese (hoop), shredded for garnish

Mix well all except hoop cheese. Pour into oiled or sprayed casserole dish. Bake at 350° for 45-60 minutes. Top with reserved stuffing mix and cheese. Cover and let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.


2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon lemon extract
½ teaspoon dried lemon peel
½ teaspoon dried orange peel
3 cups bread, crumbled

Mix all except bread. Combine with bread. Place in Pam-sprayed baking dish and cook at 350° until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-60 minutes.

Note: I save bread ends to use for this recipe. If homemade biscuits are available, I use them.


1 chicken
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups chicken broth
4 eggs, hard-boiled
1 stick butter or margarine
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup milk

Boil chicken and debone it. Mix soup with broth. Slice eggs. Mix butter, flour and milk. Layer the ingredients in the casserole dish in the order listed. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.

Note: I sometimes use a fresh roasted chicken from a grocery deli to make this delicious recipe.


1 pound margarine, softened to room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup canola oil

Blend all well.

Note: Use as regular butter. It keeps well in the refrigerator.


2 pounds sirloin tips, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 (10.5-ounce) can beef broth
½ cup red burgundy or cranberry juice
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup dry onion flakes
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup cold water
4 cups hot cooked rice

Brown meat in large iron skillet. Add next five ingredients. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Blend cornstarch and water. Stir gradually into meat until gravy thickens and boils. Cook one minute more. Serve over rice. Make 8 servings.


5 medium squash
½ cup onion, chopped
½ cup bell pepper, chopped (optional)
½ cup mayonnaise
1 egg
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup cheese, grated
½ cup bread crumbs

Boil first three ingredients until tender. Drain. Mix next five ingredients and combine with vegetables. Place in a sprayed baking dish. Cover with cheese and crumbs. Bake at 350° or 375° for 30 minutes.

I am looking for cooks of all ages, cooking traditions and skill levels to feature in this column. I want to hear from those in Alabama as well as our out-of-state readers. The simple requirements for being a featured cook are to love to cook (and eat) and to share your story with us. Get those recipes coming! Email me at --Mary

The Essence of the Rhythm

Just as we make mistakes while talking, if you listen to real turkeys, you’ll hear they do not annunciate everything as crisp and clean as many contestants in a calling contest. The most important part of calling is getting the rhythm or cadence to sound like a hen turkey. (Credit: Maslowski, NWTF)

Make Calling Turkeys Simple

by Todd Amenrud

Have you ever been to a turkey calling contest before? Some of these callers are so good they actually sound better than a hen turkey. OK, now … have you ever listened to live hens for a period of time? Honestly, the hens actually make mistakes! Their voices might crack and they don’t annunciate the proper utterance all the time. It’s a good thing for me that you don’t have to be an expert caller to consistently harvest gobblers. Even hunters who think they’re lousy callers can successfully seduce a gobbler if they use the right calls, do a little homework and concentrate on the rhythm of calling.

I don’t consider myself to be a great turkey caller, but I harvest my fair share of toms. I’m good enough to be in demand for turkey hunting seminars, to answer questions and to demonstrate calls, but, if I get a chance to listen to someone who’s really good, they blow me away. So I can attest - you don’t have to be a great caller to get long-beards to come-a-runnin’.

To me, the epitome of turkey hunting is actually the "calling." So, obviously you need to resemble turkey sounds well enough to fool a turkey. However, in my opinion, rhythm is the most important part of calling turkeys. You need to make the sound somewhat technically correct, but getting the cadence or pulse to resemble a hen turkey is more important than being able to yelp pristine and crisp.

Regardless of your calling ability, decoys can help to bring the birds closer, they draw the attention off of you and can be used as a yardage marker if need be.

With all of the calls on the market where do you begin? It’s agreed upon by most that friction calls are the easiest to learn on. A "friction call" is any call where two things are rubbed together to make the sound. The most popular types are box calls and slate calls.

A box is probably the easiest to learn on, but a box call is by no means a call only used by a novice. A savvy tom-taker will often have up to three or four different-sounding box calls in their turkey vest. Box calls are usually made of wood, but can also be made out of graphite or other materials.

There are spin-offs of a box calls where basically two pieces of wood are rubbed together to make turkey sounds. The easiest to use is undoubtedly the push button. These were originally designed to be mounted on a gun and operated by pulling the button with a string. This way a hunter can operate a friction call but still have their gun up and ready for an approaching tom. Most of these calls will work by either pushing or pulling on the piece attached to the striker.

A slate call takes a bit more practice, but is still very easy to use. Slates come in a variety of sounding surfaces like glass, aluminum, titanium and actual slate. Each produces a unique sound. Along with the different slate surfaces there are a number of different types of slate strikers - among them being glass, plastic, carbon and, the most popular, wood. Here again, each produces an original tone. Some knowledge of how to hold the slate and striker is required, but most calls come with ample instruction to get you on your way.

Mouth calls or diaphragms scare some callers away. They’ve heard that they’re difficult to use. If you plan to hunt turkey with your bow, I suggest mastering a diaphragm, simply because it leaves both your hands free to draw your bow. They really aren’t that difficult to learn. And, with a mouth call you have more control over the sounds produced than with any other type of call and they are the least expensive. The best place to practice is in your vehicle when you’re alone. Most other types of calls require two hands to operate, so driving in your car is probably a bad place to practice those.

Undoubtedly, scouting and set up are more important than calling. Here, the author poses with a big Eastern tom.

There are a number of other types of calls producing their own distinctive sounds. Tubes and wing-bones are two fairly popular examples. With all of the various calls, no matter which you choose, "practice" is important. Once you master one type of call, I suggest learning another. You can sometimes work a box call until your arm feels like it’s going to fall off without a response; then you change to a slate or diaphragm and it drives them wild (or visa-versa). Sometimes changing the tone is all it takes. A simple hen "yelp" is all you need to know to call in gobblers. But once you learn that, I also suggest you become versed in a wide variety of other turkey sounds such as a cackle, cutting, a cluck, putt, purr, fly-down cackle, kee-kee and more. In some situations, you really will have a better chance if you know a number of different turkey vocalizations.

In my opinion, scouting and set up are much more important than calling. Knowing roost locations, travel corridors, preferred strutting zones and favored food sources is much more valuable than being able to yelp cleaner than the other hunters. Find out where they are, where they like to travel and where they like to spend their time.

Set up is along these same lines. If you’ve done your scouting, it’s much easier to pick an ambush site. You need to set up in a spot that’s easy for the birds to access. If you set up across a creek, fence or bunch of blow-downs, you can be the best caller in the world and you’ll probably come back with an unused tag.

It needs to be easy for the birds to get to you, but it also helps to set up in a spot where the birds have been before. Reading the sign or seeing birds while out scouting pays off big. If turkeys have been there before, in all likelihood they’ll be less apprehensive about going back to the same spot again. If they spend time in an area, they become much more comfortable with the surroundings. If you see fresh sign, there’s apparently something about that spot drawing turkeys to it. It’s much easier to call birds to a spot like this than one where they’ve never been before.

My best advice is to listen to an audio recording of an actual turkey making the sounds, and then practice them back with your call of choice. Even better than that is being able to spend as much time as possible around live turkeys. Listening close and mimicking the sounds back is your best teacher.

Todd Amenrud is the Director of Public Relations for Mossy Oak BioLogic, Editor-in-Chief of Gamekeepers, Farming for Wildlife magazine and a habitat consultant.

The FFA Sentinel: And the Champion Is ....

Alabama State Youth Market Hog Show does its part to improve animal agriculture.

Livestock shows and exhibitions have been around since at least the early 1800s, and, while the body type of animal may have changed, their purposes remain very similar - to improve animal agriculture, and enhance the character and development of the youth involved in livestock programs. That’s exactly what happened in Dothan at the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds January 18, 2014, at the Alabama State Youth Market Hog Show.

Left to right, the competition was stiff in the intermediate showmanship division. Young exhibitors participate in games during Youth Pork Quality Assurance training.

The day began with a Youth Pork Quality Assurance Plus training where exhibitors expanded their knowledge of the swine industry and the importance of properly caring for their animals in order to provide consumers with a healthy and high quality pork product. Youth ages 8-19 received a 1-year industry recognized certification as a result of the program.

The youth swine program in Alabama is unique in that no 4-H or FFA membership is required. As a result, all young people ages 4-19 were able to exhibit their hogs in this event. This show represented the "grand finale," giving youth one last opportunity to show off their months of hard work and preparation with their market hog projects.

Brett Wheeler, agriscience teacher at Hardee High School in Wauchula, Fla., was the judge for the day. Wheeler was a member of the 2007 National Champion Livestock Judging Team at Texas Tech. One of the highlights of the day was listening as Wheeler described the animals in rich and vibrant terms.

Showmanship is the art and skill of preparing the animal ahead of time so it has the training and stamina to work synergistically with its exhibitor. Pigs are typically cleaned and have their hair trimmed or clipped before the show, so they and their owners enter the show ring looking their best.

Four showmanship division winners competed for the title of Champion Showman. Colten Farley of the White Plains FFA Chapter came out on top.

Left to right, Colten Farley was named Supreme Showman by judge Brett Wheeler. Wheeler presented the trophy to Justin Grace and his Grand Champion Market Hog.

When asked what he thinks it takes to win Champion Showman, Colten responded, "It takes a lot of practice and work at home. You have to know your hog and how it works for you. You should have worked him or her enough at home so that by the time you enter the show ring you and your animal are prepared for whatever the judge asks you to do. As you enter the show ring, you need to have a look of confidence in yourself and a look on your face that shows you know what you’re there for and you are in the ring to win."

Savannah Goodson and her Champion Prospect pig with judge Brett Wheeler.

Swine entered in the show were weighed ahead of time and separated into two divisions. Pigs weighing less than 200 pounds showed as prospects while those 200 pounds and over were shown as market hogs. In weight classes, hogs are judged and placed based on what the judge perceives to be important qualities. This includes leanness and amount of muscle as well as soundness, length of body and structural correctness.

The Goodson family from Calhoun County dominated the Prospect division. Savannah Goodson and her pig "Pebbles" were named Champion Prospect while her sister Jasmine and "Barbie" took Reserve Champion honors.

Justin Grace exhibited the Grand Champion Market Hog in his final year of eligibility. Grace is a 2013 graduate of Alexandria High School where he was an active FFA member. He has been showing since he was in the seventh grade and had much success throughout the years.

"It felt really good to finally win Grand Champion at State, and it made it that much better being my last show," Grace said.

The day concluded as Colten Farley was named Reserve Champion Market Hog. Overall, 52 children and youth and 90 hogs competed in the Alabama State Youth Market Hog Show.

This annual event would not have been possible without the support of numerous county farmers’ federations, Alabama Pork Producers and America’s First Federal Credit Union.

Brittany Hill is an Agriscience Teacher from Pell City.

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