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May 2010

4-H & Science: A Happy Combination

by Chuck Hill and Amy Payne Burgess

The 4-H Raptor Trek program teaches the role raptors play in Alabama’s ecosystem as well as their unique adaptations and what we can all do to help our wildlife right here in our own state. Our Raptor Trek program is available as part of the residential program at the Alabama 4-H Center, or can be brought to your classroom or community!

Have you ever seen the light of discovery come on in a young person’s eyes? It’s that "COOL!" moment when a kid really understands something amazing.

Nowhere in 4-H do we see that light shine more brightly than from young people participating in our Science, Engineering and Technology programs. It happens when they see their 4-H rockets blast into the sky, when they understand how a feather’s design allow owls to fly silently or when they see the ultra-sound heart-beat of a bovine fetus.

A century ago, 4-H was developed to help launch "scientific agriculture" on small farms and in rural communities. It must have worked, because, these days, it would be difficult to imagine our modern greenhouses or sod producers "planting by the signs." And no one in our poultry industry still believes the gender of holiday visitors determines the sex of spring chicks. Superstition and "old wives’ tales" were supplanted by logic and scientific experiment.

4-H is helping prepare Alabama’s next generation of engineers, agricultural scientists and technologists like these members in Lauderdale County.

In the last century, 4-H and the Cooperative Extension System successfully transformed American agriculture. Today, university-based research in science, engineering and technology remains the backbone of what we do. You are probably aware of our solid focus on agricultural science, electricity and natural sciences. Today, however, 4-H opportunities also exist in subjects like rocketry, robotics, bio-fuels, renewable energy and computer science.

Nationally, 4-H Science, Engineering and Technology programs reach more than five million youth with hands-on learning experiences which encourage young minds and are helping prepare a cadre of young leaders and future professionals who are proficient in science.

Have you ever created a tornado? These Pine Hill (Wilcox County) 4-H club members have! Their “tornado in a bottle” was a great introduction to scientific terms and concepts. A spiral wave, called a “vortex,” forms in the bottles. That same vortex pattern can even be seen swirling in the Pinwheel Galaxy, 27 million light-years from Earth!

It is often noted the United States is falling dangerously behind other nations in developing its future workforce of scientists, engineers and technology experts. America now faces a future of intense global competition with a startling shortage of scientists. Only 18 percent of U.S. high school seniors are proficient in science and a mere five percent of current U.S. college graduates earn science, engineering or technology degrees compared to 66 percent in Japan and 59 percent in China.

The 4-H Science, Engineering and Technology Program is part of the long-term solution for improving the science literacy and aptitude of American youth. 4-H is addressing one of our critical challenges by preparing young people to excel in fields crucial to our state and our nation.

Students at the Coosa River Science School spend time in the laboratory and in the woods. Catching a “critter” doesn’t mean anything unless you learn what makes it tick.

There may be some things you don’t know about our science programs. For example, did you know 4-H is the leading youth environmental education organization in our state? Through club and regional programs, many young people get their first real "hands-on" introduction to biology, zoology and environmental sciences. Our Coosa River Science School, housed at the Alabama 4-H Center near Columbiana, provides hands-on, scientific experiences for school children (and others) from all across Alabama. What kid doesn’t get a thrill out of meeting a beautiful hawk "up-close and personal"?

With this "hands-on, minds-on learning," young people also develop their critical thinking and communications skills. Tomorrow’s leaders will have to develop and communicate their own ideas on difficult and sometimes contentious topics like global warming, energy use, and water and air pollution. By having a strong scientific understanding, they will be better able to delve into the political and economic consequences of our dilemmas and find the best solutions to those problems.

Chuck Hill is the 4-H Youth Development Specialist.

Amy Payne Burgess is a 4-H Regional Extension Agent in Northeast Alabama. She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

A Moment of Indecision

by Lisa Hamblen Hood

Some visitors, and particularly salesmen, always seem to show up at the worst possible moment. My friend, his wife and some of their ranch hands were working cows one hot summer afternoon and had just penned a wild Brahman cow that, in his words, "would fight a buzz saw." They had to separate her from the other cows and carefully work her into the squeeze chute just to keep her from going on a rampage. She was lying down in the pen off to the side in the shade of a huge live oak tree. Everyone was tired and taking a little break, working up the nerve to deal with her. She was probably plotting their deaths as she dozed in cool shade.

The cow dogs they used to round up the cows were all lying in the dirt just on the outside of the pens. There were about four or five yellow curs and some Catahoula Leopards, all panting in the hot sun waiting for the next chance to work.

During this lull in the action, a feed salesman drove up. On the way to deliver his sales pitch to my rancher friend, he moseyed through the pen where the old Brahman cow lay. Oblivious to the imminent danger he was in, he propped his cowboy boot casually on the bottom rail and began making small talk. The dark shade prevented him from seeing the killer cow as she eyed him warily. No doubt she was thinking the salesman needed to get over the fence and she was more than willing to help him do so.

"Hit the fence! NOW! You’re in the pen with a wild cow!" my friend yelled abruptly to the naïve salesman.

Thankfully, he obeyed quickly and scrambled up the pipe fence. However, he paused momentarily right as he straddled the top rail. He glanced down at the dogs, several of which had those eerie white-blue Catahoula eyes. He looked back into the dark shade at the cow already on her feet, snorting and pawing the ground. He looked back down at the dogs bristling and baring their teeth. Undoubtedly his mind raced as he debated the lesser evil—being gored by a 1,000 pound cow or being torn to bits by a pack of wild dogs.

He made his decision in a panicked split second. In a flash, he hopped off the top rail and took two hurried steps amongst the dogs towards the adjacent pen. Somehow, he managed to clear the lot of them and made it to safety without incident.

My friend and his wife stifled a snicker, but the ranch hands weren’t so polite. They howled with laughter as the trembling salesman wiped his brow with a starched hankie. I guess it was better to have a little human sweat to wipe off his head than a bunch of cow slobber on his backside. Although his dignity had been compromised, his hide was intact.

He wisely decided to reschedule the sales call for a safer, more convenient time. He waved nervously as he stepped in his truck, mumbling something about calling on them later. The salesman slung gravel in the air as his tires spun rapidly, grabbing enough traction to make the quick getaway.

Once the dust cleared and the laughter subsided, everyone turned toward that big surly cow that was still standing and staring toward the driveway. They were sobered instantly at the reminder that they still had to work her. And, by that time, she was in no mood to be disturbed.

No matter how wild that cow was, however, there was no hurry to sell her. Every rancher who has had one like her knows the unwritten law of the range. It states that every unruly cow that is sold has a replacement in training, ready to take her place. That old Brahman cow’s evil understudy was probably penned in the lot that day, watching closely and taking mental notes.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Abandoned Chicken House Becomes Year-Round Training Facility for Young Softball Players

Kailee Taylor, left, and Ellie Barron with trophies they have won over the years. The girls’ trophies are on display at the chicken house training facility.

by Jaine Treadwell

The curtains on the abandoned chicken house flapped wildly.

The winds from the sudden spring rainstorm kicked up red dust and rattled the exhaust fans.

Even though the old chicken house was as familiar to the young girls as their well-broken in leather gloves, it was a scary place to be when thunderclouds brought darkness early and rain pelted the roof.

The girls stood close together hoping to hear the rattle of the pickup truck coming along the road. Until then, they found some measure of security from the lights inside the house just up the hill.

They were relieved when they heard the truck turn into the farm road and the truck lights sent a bright beam into the darkening chicken house.

Most every day, Kailee Taylor and Ellie Barron came with their dads to the chicken house, but, today, they had come early to get things ready and to share a little girl talk.

Kailee Taylor works out in socks.

The sound of the truck doors closing sent them scurrying to their "work." When their dads entered the chicken house, they were tossing a softball around, getting ready for the daily routine they had followed since they were about eight years old.

Both girls had literally grown up on the softball field at the recreation center in Troy. But the face of softball had changed. The lollygagging of slow-pitch softball had given way to the demanding fast-pitch game. To stay abreast of the game, the girls’ dads, David Taylor and Mark Kilpatrick, knew their daughters were going to require more instruction than they were prepared to give them.

Ellie Barron fires a pitch.

"If they were going to be competitive, they needed instructions on the basic mechanics of both hitting and pitching," David said. "And, too, we knew a coach would be able to get their attention a little better than we could."

As eight-year-olds, the girls had played softball in the Dixie Darlings coach pitch league. Their team showed great promise by winning the district tournament and advancing to runner-up in the state tournament. Kailee and Ellie enjoyed the spoils of victory and were anxious to move up to the next level of competition.

"We both loved playing softball and knew it was something we wanted to keep doing," Kailee said. "But our dads told us, if we wanted to keep playing, we were going to have to really be serious about it and be willing to work hard."

But softball is an outdoor sport so Mother Nature would be in control of their practice schedule. On the icy-cold days, rainy days and the winter days when darkness came early, practice would have to give way to indoor endeavors — favorite television programs, a good book, chit-chatting on the phone — and a dozen other things young girls like to do.

So, Mother Nature was on their side. How demanding could practice be?

Their dads had the answer.

Several years earlier, area poultry farmers were required to make upgrades on their commercial chicken houses. Some farmers around Pike County opted to get out of the business rather than invest dollars in the upgrades. So, the countryside was scattered with chicken houses that had been converted to hay barns, livestock stalls and shelters for farming equipment.

Ellie Barron and Kailee Taylor wind up a practice session with their dads. (From left) Mark Kilpatrick, Ellie, Kailee and David Taylor.

A couple of those houses were on family property just down the hill from the Taylor home.

Why not turn one of the houses into a training facility for a couple of aspiring softball players?

"There was not a lot to do," Mark said. "Hay was stored in one end of the chicken house but the other end was open and there was plenty of room for both of the girls to throw at the same time."

The dads hung a tarp across the chicken house as a backstop so any passed balls wouldn’t roll under the hay bales. They flipped on the light switch and the chicken house was immediately an indoor softball training facility for pitchers.

The girls have taken pitching lessons from several coaches, Dee Hughes, Hal Wynn and David Dudley. And they get practice pointers from their dads.

"We practice just about every day when we don’t have a game, rain or shine," Ellie said. "When the weather is hot, it’s stuffy in here and there are mosquitoes and gnats and it’s always dusty. And, in the winter it gets cold and windy, but our dads put in a couple of heaters so we could keep practicing."

And the dads put in as much time as their daughters. They sit on old plastic buckets and are at the receiving end of every pitch. If the pitches can be handled bare-handed, they could be ripped by an opposing bat.

David and Mark have benefited from their daughters’ pitching lessons and developed into rather knowledgeable "farm" league coaches.

There is no doubting the hard work, dedication and nights under the lights at the chicken house have paid off.

David and Mark have coached their daughters’ travel team, the Patriots, to more wins than you can shake a bat at. They have enough "hardware" to open a store and then some. Winning for the Patriots is not just a tradition, it’s an expectation.

Kailee and Ellie, both eighth graders, are starters on the Lady Patriots softball team at Pike Liberal Arts School in Troy. They play the field.

And, they also play 75 or more games of travel ball each season and are starting pitchers.

This year, they will be playing for different travel teams, Kailee with the Patriots and Ellie with the Dixie Diamonds.

They might have an opportunity to face each other on the mound and that will be uncharted ground.

"We like playing together, so we’ll really miss that," Kailee said. "And, when we play each other, well, we don’t know how that will be yet."

But, when the game dust settles, the lights will go on in a chicken house in rural Pike County and the sound of balls hitting the leather will break the stillness of the night. The "chicks" will be in the house.

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.

Ag Continues Steady March Along Technical Sophistication Path

A variety of displays and controls can be found in the cab of many of the new tractors and combines whose owners have opted for the latest technology.

Farmer in the Field Now Resembles
a Tech-Savvy Business Executive

by Jim Erickson

The person behind the wheel of the huge vehicle checks his cell phone for the number of the company he wants to call to order the sale of some commodities. At the same time, he is writing on a notepad reminders of things he needs to do later that day.

In the middle of this activity, the vehicle slows down, shifts gears and makes a sharp left turn, all without the person in the cab lifting a finger.

The scenario may seem like a glimpse of a business executive traveling down a highway of the future in a science-fiction movie, but it’s a scene that can be witnessed in many farm fields today. And it’s why many of today’s farmers have become, or are quickly becoming, experts in programming and operating the kind of sophisticated equipment making agriculture more of a high-tech industry than it already is.

At the core of the hands-off ability to guide the operation of a large tractor or a combine is global positioning system (GPS) technology whose applications have mushroomed in recent years. In addition to the ability of GPS-based equipment to guide and control farm machinery across even irregularly-shaped fields, the technology also facilitates soil sampling, application of chemicals at variable rates and mapping of crop yields.

"The benefits of this technology are numerous," said Brad Nobbe (pronounced NO-bee), a fourth generation principal in the Wm. Nobbe & Co., Inc., John Deere dealership based in southwestern Illinois. "It reduces inputs of fertilizer and crop protection chemicals, which helps the environment and cuts farmers’ costs, while enabling producers to maximize yields. Eliminating overlap in chemical application and seed planting also means less operating time for farmers’ equipment, which saves on fuel, maintenance and labor expenses, as well as vehicle emissions.

"And let’s not forget the equipment operator, whether it be the farmer or an employee," Nobbe added. "He or she can make that important cell phone call knowing the equipment is being guided just as or more precisely than if the operator had both hands on the controls. Plus, our farmers tell us they don’t get nearly as tired after a long day operating this kind of equipment in the field."

Depending on the sophistication of the GPS equipment used, the route of a tractor or combine can be controlled to within a handful of inches (or less) of a desired path.

But GPS-based applications aren’t the only advances in technology now available to farms. Sensors on the end of chemical-application equipment ensure the spraying booms are kept at the desired, specified height above the ground on uneven terrain, thereby minimizing unwanted chemical drift.

Combined with GPS, individual spray nozzles or seed planting equipment automatically shut off when the tractor moves over an area of ground purposefully left unplanted, like a meandering low area in a field where excess water typically drains.

Still another technology advance makes it safer and easier to hook up chemical tanks to a tractor and start the application process. When dealing with anhydrous ammonia and other potentially dangerous chemicals, this comparatively low-tech equipment can be a valuable investment for peace of mind.

GPS technology enables farmers to plant precise rows with no gaps or overlap.

At harvest time, other technology comes into play. In addition to monitoring and plotting crop yields by location in a given field, other equipment automatically adjusts the combine’s speed according to the load being placed on it. Rear cameras provide an extra safety feature while another device minimizes grain loss from spillage on hillsides. On-the-go unloading saves time both for the combine operator and the person delivering the crop to market or back to the farm for storage.

Depending on the amount of technology incorporated, the area around an operator’s seat in today’s advanced tractor or combine might appear to a non-farmer to resemble the cockpit of a jumbo jet or modern fighter aircraft. On-board-computers, monitors and other equipment control, display and record what’s going on as the tractor or combine rolls across the field.

According to Nobbe, younger farmers tend to embrace and master the technological advances more readily, but that generalization definitely doesn’t apply across the board.

"We have older farmers who always are looking for new ways to get the job done better and more efficiently. Younger farmers may have grown up surrounded by more technology in our computer age, but older farmers have seen and lived through a lot of technological change over the years. That experience may make it easier for them to evaluate options and make decisions on what technologies will have the best payback on their particular farm operation.

"There is one thing we see a lot when we have a father-son or other multi-generation farm operation getting new technology," Nobbe observed. "Most of the time it will be the younger member who learns the details first and who then passes the information along to the older member."

Today’s technology doesn’t require top-of-the-line equipment, but the tractor or combine must be advanced enough to accommodate and operate properly with the desired devices.

New farm implements aren’t cheap, however. Depending on what options are added, a large tractor capable of pulling a 16-row planter can cost $277,000. A combine for harvesting corn, soybeans and wheat runs nearly $350,000, with a 12-row corn head adding at least some $119,000 and a 35-foot platform for wheat or soybeans costing around $43,000.

The more specialized rigs for harvesting cotton carry a price tag of approximately $672,000. Little wonder many farms are getting larger as farmers attempt to spread such investments over more acres.

Higher prices for new machines also have had a trickle-down impact, pushing up prices for used equipment.

Although the new technology may seem to be an economic fit only on large farms, smaller operations can benefit as well from less costly and easy-to-use applications. Farmers with virtually any size land can save money and boost yields with better and more efficient use of fertilizers and other soil amendments. In addition, remote sensing provides information for improving land and water use, and when and where to treat for pests and weeds.

While technology poses a number of challenges for farmers, implement dealers face their own set of issues, including:

· Attracting savvy sales personnel who know and understand the needs of complex farm operations and the capabilities of equipment to meet those needs.

· Hiring employees with the expertise to service complex machinery and electronic gear, as well as having the expensive tools for problem diagnosis and repair.

· Finding realistic ways to cover the cost of customer training and other support activities.

· Communicating effectively what’s involved in the pricing of software used in the growing number of computer-based equipment operations.

These and other business factors have led to a decline in the number of implement dealers, with the average size of surviving operations much larger and dealerships commonly including multiple locations.

"With everything that’s happening in agriculture today, I don’t see those trends changing," Nobbe said.

AJLE State Steer Show Ultrasound Winners

Since 2002, Alabama Farmers Co-op in Decatur has sponsored the awards to the exhibitors of the Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion Ultrasound Steers at the Alabama Junior Livestock Expo (AJLE), State Steer Show.

Zach Richter of Cullman County showed the Grand Champion Steer in the Ultrasound Show at the 2010 Alabama Junior Beef Expo. The Expo was held March 12 through 14 at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery.

Cody Cash of Coosa County showed the Reserve Grand Champion Steer in the Ultrasound Show at the 2010 Alabama Junior Beef Expo. The Expo was held March 12 through 14 at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery.

This is an ongoing effort to expose the 4-H and FFA member steer exhibitors to modern cutting-edge science and technology. The use of this modern, non-invasive technological-selection tool, commonly utilized in genetic evaluation of breeding animals for seedstock producers, not only in Alabama but across America, continues to draw spectator and exhibitor interest. This technology is commonly used in the selection of market cattle at harvest-time in many of the mid-Western feedlots.

At the 2010 Alabama Junior Beef Expo held March 12 through 14 at Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, 40 of the 94 eligible steer exhibitors voluntarily entered their steers in this competition, reflecting 43 percent of the exhibitors with a nine-year average of 46 percent. Fifty of the 120 eligible steers (that’s 42 percent of the steers, while the nine-year average is 45 percent) were subjected to ultrasound technology.

By continuing to offer this opportunity at the AJLE, the 4-H and FFA exhibitors can learn about and observe leading-edge technology currently being utilized in the beef industry and to realize the "showring" is only a small part of the total beef industry. In addition, having the opportunity to learn about the carcass aspect of their project animal helps the exhibitor more fully understand that their animal is truly part of the food-chain. Exhibitors extend a hearty THANK YOU to Alabama Farmers Co-op!

Billy Powell & IPRA Bring Renewed Excitement to Garrett Coliseum

by Alvin Benn

It’s been many years since Roy, Dale, Rex, Little Joe, Hoss and Festus galloped around Garrett Coliseum, but fond memories linger for those who saw them in person. They once were the star attractions at the annual Southeastern Livestock Exposition (SLE) Rodeo and helped pack the 8,000-seat arena with fans from around Alabama.

It was a time when television Westerns were hot and the stars spread out across the country during their "off-season" to make some extra money before resuming their shows.

Billy Powell, executive director of the Southeast Livestock Exposition, holds up rodeo programs featuring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Ken Curtis who have all appeared at the event in past years.

There were also rodeos in the coliseum, of course, but many of those who drove to Montgomery also wanted a chance to watch their favorite TV performers and possibly get their autographs.

TV cowboys appeared at the coliseum from the mid-50s through the early 70s when times and television tastes changed, leading rodeo officials to look for other ways of attracting spectators.

"A decision was made to bring back the real cowboys and that’s the way it’s been for the past 40 years," said Billy Powell, executive director of SLE that puts on rodeos every March.

Since that time, the event has had its ups-and-downs as changing times and trends find ways of cutting into the crowds.

Powell, 66, has spent most of his life either watching rodeos as he grew up or planning ways to help them retain their popularity.

The fact the annual event continues to attract thousands of spectators every year is testimony to the hard work by Powell and others who put the clock aside to get the job done.

The 53rd annual Rodeo and Livestock Week event was different from all of those held in the past because SLE officials decided to try something new — a switch from America’s leading rodeo organization to one that may not be as big, but fields some of America’s finest riders and ropers.

With an attendance increase from the previous year’s rodeo, Powell and other officials are confident they will be able to continue their association with the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA).

The Saturday night show that always highlights the week-long rodeo drew more than 6,000 spectators which brought smiles from the sponsors.

"Attendance had been on a decline during the past decade and we’ve tried everything we could to figure out what to do differently," Powell said. "I think we’ve found a way to do just that with the IPRA."

From all appearances, the new rodeo arrangement proved to be a hit and SLE leaders think they’ve found an answer to competition from the bigger Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

In a joint statement contained in the program for this year’s rodeo, Powell and SLE President Nealy Barrett pointed out that Garrett Coliseum was also hosting the IPRA’s National All-Region finals.

The two said the new format provided for appearances by the top 140 cowboys to compete in two performances and then hang around to meet their fans.

"No one will come, win money and leave town without being in a performance," Barrett and Powell said.

The first 30 years of the rodeo coincided with the annual Spring Break by the Alabama Education Association. With many school systems switching dates for their Spring Break period, it created scheduling problems for the SLE. That’s why early March has been the time when spring rodeos are held.

One thing that hasn’t changed is wagon trains slowly moving across the state in route to Montgomery for the big event. It’s been that way as long as anyone can remember.

"I’d say Alabama has the biggest if not one of the biggest wagon train features of any rodeo in the country," said Powell. "Houston and San Antonio have parades through town with wagons, but we have more rodeos."

This rider was tossed at the 53rd annual Southeastern Livestock Exposition Rodeo in Montgomery in March.

The first rodeo was held in 1958, but the genesis really dates back to 1944 with the creation of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association in Demopolis.

Powell, who was born that year, said a discussion was held at the formation meeting to look for a way to allow youngsters to show off their livestock.

A good place to do it was of primary importance and the Cattlemen’s Association lobbied for legislative funding to build a suitable place.

The state approved $1 million for the coliseum which was built in 1951. Hank Williams gave the first concert and a packed house cheered him throughout the show.

Complaints soon surfaced that not enough events were scheduled and that’s how the annual rodeo was born in 1958.

Many other shows are held at the coliseum, including the circus, but the rodeo and a fall fair continue to attract the most attention.

Powell will never forget the long trip from Washington County, but it was something he had dreamed about all year. It was a 320-mile roundtrip and, without an interstate system at the time, the going was slow and traffic congestion was a given.

"When we’d get to town, my daddy would go to the Montgomery Serum Company for animal supplies and boots," he said. "That’s where I got my boots, too, and Wrangler jeans."

Organizers of those first rodeos were aware of the growing popularity of television Westerns and decided to combine that with the annual event. It was a brilliant decision and paid off handsomely at the box office.

The most popular TV star at the time was Fess Parker, who died earlier this year. During the mid to late-1950s and early-60s, Parker portrayed both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone on television.

A relatively-unknown actor was earning his spurs as a Western star in those days. His name was Clint Eastwood who played Rowdy Yates in the popular "Rawhide" series. It was long before Eastwood’s "Dirty Harry" days.

Hollywood’s Western "Royal Family" also came to Montgomery in 1972 as the second decade of the rodeo dawned.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans may have been in the twilight of their long careers, but they still demanded and got a high asking-price for their services.

Powell said they wanted $15,000 for five shows. Back in those days it was more than rodeo organizers had ever paid, but they agreed to "pony up" enough to get them to Montgomery. The two did not disappoint, either.

The most popular Western star by far was Ken Curtis, who portrayed Festus on "Gunsmoke" and was a lead singer for the "Sons of the Pioneers," a popular group appearing in many of Roy Rogers’ films.

Actors who played Miss Kitty, Chester and Doc on "Gunsmoke" also appeared during the annual rodeos along with Lorne Green, Michael Landon and Dan Blocker — the stars of "Bonanza." Cowboy star Rex Allen also was a big hit at the state rodeo.

Parker provided quite a surprise for sponsors the year he appeared, according to Powell, because he declined to ride a horse around the grounds inside the coliseum.

"He said ‘I don’t ride horses,’" Powell said he was told. "He didn’t have much of an act, either, but he did meet his fans because he was Davy Crockett. They put him in a pickup truck to go around inside."

The big question today is the coliseum. It may have been a state-of-the-art facility in 1951, but its age has been showing for years and it’s in dire need of either being replaced or renovated. The barns and other facilities surrounding the coliseum are also in deplorable condition and Powell is leading the charge to do something about it.

When the 2011 rodeo is held, Garrett Coliseum will be 60 years old and light years behind modern facilities in neighboring states.

Fortunately, on April 22, 2010, House Bill 663 was passed by the state legislature. It will provide $800,000 per year through the year 2041 to renovate the coliseum.

Prior to this year’s rodeo, Powell donned his best cowboy clothes, including boots, of course, and went to a Montgomery elementary school to show a group of first graders that cowboys really do exist.

"I told them cattlemen like me are also cowboys who take care of animals," Powell said. "They asked if I had cows and I told them I did. Then they wanted to try on my cowboy hat."

It didn’t take long for Powell to retrieve his hat, "because the way they were handling it, I was afraid it was going to wind up in two pieces."

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

Blount Co. Farm Home Is Being Built to Last

Bill Sievers displays some of the massive 350 lb. blocks used in building his new home. The 12 x 20 x 30-inch blocks, crafted by Dac-Art, are made of architectural concrete to resemble European limestone.

And to be Safe, Energy Efficient, Maintenance-Free and Easy-to-Clean

by Suzy Lowry Geno

"I’m coming back in 500 years and checking on it," Bill Sievers joked about the house he and his wife Wanda are building on 55 acres in Blount County.

While that may sound fanciful, the two-story crowning glory at Hill View Farm IS being built to be not only durable, and as safe and energy efficient as possible, but to be almost completely maintenance free and easy to keep clean as possible!

"I read the book ‘Make Your House do the Housework’ by Don and Laura Aslett and I incorporated many of their ideas here as well," Wanda explained.

Bonnie Plants Partners With P. Allen Smith to Promote 3rd Grade Cabbage Program

by David Kuack

Bonnie Plants has partnered with gardening and lifestyle expert P. Allen Smith to promote the grower’s 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. The nine-year program has introduced 1.2 million children to gardening with a free Bonnie cabbage plant, growing instructions and the chance for one student in each state to win $1,000. The annual program aims to inspire a love of gardening among school children and to help them develop an interest in nature and the outdoors.

Cabbages are delivered to the students whose teachers have signed up to participate. Students in these classrooms each get their own cabbage to plant, take care of and harvest. The cabbages produce oversized heads, weighing 40 lbs. or more, in about 12 weeks.

"I love the idea of adding the joys and educational components of gardening to the classroom experience," Smith said. "The hope is that we can foster future gardeners, help them understand where their food comes from and enjoy the benefits of connecting with nature."

Celebratin’ Cinco De Mayo In Flat Rock…

It’s A Mexican Eatin’ Day For Flat Rock Folk…

by Joe Potter

It was Monday nearin’ high noon ‘bout Flat Rock as I sighted in my pick-up for parkin’ alongside Country Road 129 ’twixt the Flat Rock Community House and The Flat Rock General Store. There was a train load of transportation modes pointin’ in all directions. Several folks was scurryin’ t’ward the old, double-front doors like it was Saturday night live wrestlin’ startin’ time down to the Armory or the last seat offerin’ at the Flat Rock Halloween cake walk. Yep, seems community and area Flat Rock folk knowed it was eatin’ day down to The Store.

As I attempted to enter The Store, there were folk hoverin’ in all corners. There was a quiet hush and I could hear Bro. a prayin’ for such blessin’s as health, protection, peace, love, the food preparers and, finally, the food itself. Here followin’, Ms. Ida took to talkin’ and offerin’ Flat Rock folk were celebratin’ Cinco De Mayo with a Mexican eatin’. She pointed at the back wall of The Store, where on white butcher paper in red marker was so penciled the Mexican eatin’ day menu—

Taco soup
Mexican cornbread
Nachos with white cheese dip
Coffee, Southern sweet tea and cold drinks

Willerdean had also made a Mexican cookie-pastry dessert she called "Bullets."

Ms. Ida continued by passin’ out flyers ’bout a real Mexican Cinco De Mayo celebration at Margarita’s Mexican Grill up at her friend Victor’s place in Scottsboro. Seems she knowed Victor from her years of teachin’ over at the college in Huntsville.

Estelle took the floor as she headed out t’ward her hair factory for one of them Monday two-hour, by-appointment-only, cut and perm. She noted to all folk present that there was a piñata hung on the front porch. Hits and or swings were a dollar each, with all money collections goin’ to the Hatton Cancer Relay for Life.

I had maneuvered to the counter where all the food was stretched out and comminst to helpin’ Willerdean, Essex, the widow Cora, Bro., and Farlow to serve out the vittles. The Music Man himself, Mr. Harley Hood, alone without no friends, was set up down the hall past the old pot-bellied heater and was a playin’ some Mexican musical selections.

Some folks were askin’ for doubles on the white cheese dip and two men wanted take-away plates. There was this one fellar who had a dessert "Bullet" and come back askin’ Willerdean for the recipe. Nextley, he asked Willerdean for six more "Bullets" for loadin’ in his truck pistol. Ha! Ha! She took his additional "Bullets" request as showin’ favoritism t’ward liken her Mexican cookie-pastry dessert, but she did offer he should wait till all eatin’ folks had their first dessert "Bullet" before he was allowed six more for "gun loadin" purposes.

’Bout this time, there was a double clap of thunder and rain comminst to fallin’ on the old tin top of The Store. Followin’ close b’hind, the crowd of gathered eatin’ folk took out in all directions. I finished off my eatin’ with one of Willerdean’s Mexican pastries, offered my goodbyes and headed t’ward my pick-up for some personal, afternoon duties and obligations.

Happy Cinco De Mayo and "Good Eatin’" from Flat Rock…


Joe Potter is a former vocational agriculture teacher, FFA advisor and retired county agent (Colbert County).

Corn Time

Cow Pokes

Decatur’s Jay Chenault is a Championship Hockey Player

Jay Chenault’s aunt, Cheryl Cornman, an AFC employee, noted her nephew’s talent by pointing out that when he was 13 he won the award for the fastest shot in the country, an achievement few “Southern boys” are able to earn.

Nephew of AFC’s Cheryl Corman has excelled on ice with stick and puck.

by Grace Smith

Jay Chenault didn’t grow up playing baseball and he didn’t ever play football. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t find a way to flex his athletic prowess. He chose a more unusual sport for Alabama’s warm climate. Chenault said, "No thank you" to the pigskin and "I’ll pass" to the baseball diamond, and instead embraced the ice, stick and puck.

When he was just a toddler, Jay’s mother and aunt would frequently make the 20-minute trek from Decatur to Huntsville to watch the city’s professional hockey team, the Channel Cats, play. It didn’t take long before Jay developed a love of the sport.

"I’ve been playing for 14 years and I became interested when I went to watch the Channel Cats play in Huntsville when I was little," Chenault said. "My mom, my aunt and myself would pile up in the car and go watch them play a lot. I started playing as soon as I was old enough."

So at the tender age of three years old, Chenault had his first shot at playing the sport he loved, which he confirmed would be just as chaotic as you’d imagine.

"When you’re that young, you just suit up in your pads and they put you on the ice," he said. "The practices at that age were mostly used to teach the players to skate. The games were really just a bunch of kids falling on each other and trying to hit the puck around while the coaches have to help them."

But it didn’t take Chenault long to catch on, thanks to a little help from one of his Channel Cat friends.

"I picked it up pretty quickly," he said. "Sometimes after the Channel Cats games they would allow you to go out and skate. We knew one of the players pretty well and he taught me to skate a lot better; I picked it up pretty fast after that."

In April, Jay Chenault’s team, the Huntsville Amateur Hockey Association Midget travel hockey team, competed in the 2010 USA National Championship in New York, an honor very few amateur hockey players get to experience. Team members are (from left, laying down) goalies Matthew Clark and Corey Judge, (kneeling) Dillon Dalton, Joseph Bayer, Shane Charnock, Travis Franklin, Austin Brown, Armin Gierow, (standing) Head Coach Tory Tollefson, Asst. Coach Jimmy Karrigan, Mitchell Bryan, Eric Jones, Carter Rivers, Jay Chenault, Jeremy Fisher, Joshua Kestner, Adrian Majerle, Cameron Fulgenzi, Bobby Greenburg and Asst. Coach Clayton Kachele.

Chenault not only picked it up quickly, he took his talent all the way to the top. In April, his team, the Huntsville Amateur Hockey Association Midget travel hockey team, competed in the 2010 USA National Championship in New York, an honor that is but a dream for many amateur hockey players. Chenault said after winning each game in the three-game State Championship tournament, their team advanced to the national contest.

Although Chenault, who typically plays defense, has been playing hockey for a while, he said this year’s team seemed to work together exceptionally well, helping them to achieve the goal of playing in the National Championship.

"I don’t think any of our players had been to Nationals, so we were all really excited about it," he said. "This is what we dreamed about as kids.

"We were all really hyped-up about competing and this year was different because we worked together really well as a team; we bonded real quickly."

Working together well only goes so far before the need for talent comes into play and Chenault said there were areas where his team excelled.

"Our team is really fast; we’ve got a lot of speed," he said. "Most of our team has been playing hockey since we were kids and we’ve all been playing together for a while. Hockey is our lives; we don’t really do much except hanging out with each other and play hockey. We’re all kind of the same in that sense. We feel like we’re brothers."

When asked about the experience of playing in the National Championship, Chenault had two words to describe the experience — excitement and nervousness.

"It was exciting for us, but we were all kind of nervous at first," he said. "Once we got there, we all settled in and realized, ‘This is Nationals,’ we need to get our game plan and play like we usually do. There were so many emotions and thoughts, but we really had to just realize it was just another game."

Chenault said his team played three games and the first game was a bit shaky, but understandably so. After complications with air travel, much of the team arrived either late the night before or early the morning of the game. He said he actually wasn’t even able to arrive until 20 minutes before the start of the game. To make matters worse, one of the team captains broke his collarbone, which prompted a swap from Chenault’s usual defensive position, to offense to cover for his injured teammate.

The second and third games were nail-biters, according to Chenault. He said in both games they were leading going into the third period, but the other team came back to win.

Chenalt said, even with the heart-breaking losses, the experience of playing in the National Championship was one he thoroughly enjoyed. Now that the season is over, he said he doesn’t know what to do with his time since hockey has become such an important part of his life.

"Over the years, I’ve gotten to love it more and more, and it’s just become part of my life," he said. "I’m usually gone playing hockey every weekend now. So during the off-season it feels like I have nothing to do or something is just out of place in the world."

But he’s already got his mind on next year and he said he’s not sure exactly what his plans will be, but he knows they’ll include hockey.

"We’re all trying to figure out what I am going to do next year," he said. "I might go back and play for this team again, but I’ve also had offers to move out-of-state and play for another team. So, I’m just not sure what I am going to do right now."

Playing out-of-state for Chenault means he’ll probably have to move to Salt Lake City, Utah, which would make any parent of a 17-year-old anxious. But he has one family member who’s a fan of the idea.

Cheryl Cornman, an Alabama Farmers Cooperative employee, is Chenault’s aunt and one of his biggest cheerleaders. She commented that this would be an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her nephew.

"Jay will be missed, but he’s still family no matter where he is," she said. "It would be so hard to say ‘no’ to an opportunity that may never come again."

Cornman was the aunt who nostalgically carried Chenault to see the Channel Cats play when he was just a toddler and, since he started playing, she’s made it to almost all of his games, including the National Championship games.

Cornman may be a little biased, but she recognized the talent her nephew possesses for the sport.

"Sometimes I think he’s better than what he even believes he can be," she said. "He has progressed throughout his career and he’s gotten better every year."

Chenault may not have taken the opportunity to "brag" on himself too much, but Cornman was quick to note his talent, pointing out that when he was 13 he won the award for the fastest shot in the country, an honor she said few "Southern boys" are able to earn.

So in the coming months while most other Alabama boys are gearing up for summer ball and, before too long, those dreaded football summer workouts, Chenault just might be packing his bags to go take his love for hockey to the cooler climate of Salt Lake City…we’ll just have to wait and see.

Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.


Elmore County Co-op Holds Spring Grooming Clinic

Youth Participants Learn How to Prepare a “Wintered” Horse for Trail Ride

Ashley Tolar (center) and a group of participants at the grooming clinic prepare Cinnamon for an upcoming trail ride.

by Ashley Smith

Clear the cobwebs, dust off the shelves and scrub the floors – time for annual spring cleaning! Buzz the bridle path and trim the leg feathers – spring is surely here, if it is time to prepare horses for trail rides and groom them for shows.

Elmore County Co-op in Wetumpka recently held a youth grooming clinic on Saturday, March 27, 2010. The clinic was held at the Elmore County Agricultural Center and led by the Co-op’s Animal Health Specialist Ashley Tolar who works between the Elmore County Co-op in Wetumpka and Taleecon Farmers Co-op in Notasulga. An interested group of participants attended the clinic. In addition to the grooming clinic, Elmore County Co-op also offered a "March Madness" sale of 10 percent off all horse-related merchandise.

As the young participants watched with interest, Tolar showed them how to prepare a horse for a trail ride after spending most of its winter at pasture. She carefully trimmed the bridal path, moving next to the ears and finally down to the feathers on the horse’s legs. After she finished the "spring cleaning" on the horse, Tolar talked for a few minutes about the purpose of the clinic.

"When the weather starts getting nice, everyone wants to get ready to ride their horses," she said. "We at the Elmore County Co-op thought it would be helpful to hold a clinic. We offer lots of great supplies at the Co-op so folks can pick up whatever they need."

Co-op stores can order prizes for horse shows and other equestrian events. They also carry or can order blankets, coolers, halters and more in a variety of colors to get everything color-coordinated.

Tolar knows horses – she has been riding before she could even walk! By the time she was in kindergarten, she was showing horses. She participated in the Autauga County 4-H Club and continued riding during her college career at Auburn University where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business and Economics in 2008. Tolar currently shows on the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) circuit around the Southeast. This multiple-state champion and two-time world champion makes for an excellent role model for the group of girls attending the clinic. All of the participants listened and watched intently to Tolar. Ranging from age seven to 15, it is obvious riding horses is popular for local young women. Attendees were inspired to ride as well as to properly prepare their horses after learning from Tolar. She encouraged them to each give the grooming a try as she carefully guided them. She also demonstrated how to groom a horse for the show ring.

Tera Byard prepares an end-cap with horse tack at Elmore County Co-op.

Throughout the day, Tolar and Elmore County Co-op employee Tera Byard gave away great door prizes. From brushes to feed buckets to horse treats and more, an array of items was available for winner selection.

"We have a number of new products at the store," Byard said. "Stop by to see the new line of horse tack and grooming supplies. The items we featured at the clinic are just a sampling of what we have at the store."

The small, round goat-hair face brushes from Tail Tamers proved to be one of the popular door prizes. Other favorite door prizes were feed buckets (in hot pink and lime green!) and Co-op promotional merchandise. Elmore County Co-op and vendors sponsored the door prizes.

Fourteen-year-old participant Jessie Nichols was pleased when her name was drawn as a door prize winner. She loves horses and loves to ride. Locally, she is very active in the Autauga County 4-H Horse Club, which participates in horse judging, quiz bowls and has an equestrian drill team, the Star Spangled Stampede. Nichols was also named 2010 Junior Miss Southeastern Livestock Exposition Rodeo.

"We thought the grooming clinic was a good opportunity to come out and learn more," she said.

Her mom nodded in agreement.

(From left) Susan Swink, Kayley Key and Lizzy Logsdon enjoy spring weather and lunch sponsored by the Co-ops.

With the clear, blue sky overhead, attendees later moved outside the arena and enjoyed a spring day picnic lunch sponsored by the Co-ops. The brightly-colored eight-quart feed buckets made great table-tops for two young attendees, Kayley Key, seven, and Lizzy Logsdon, eight, who won them as door prizes. Susan Swink brought Kayley to the clinic. She got her first horse when she was about 10 years old.

"I have horses," Swink said. "I thought the clinic would be a good way to get Kayley ready to ride."

Kayley smiled – she is looking forward to learning to ride Swink’s Paint horse Fancy. Lizzy is ready to ride her horse Ranger.

The warm, balmy days of spring encourage everyone to go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Outdoor activities are so much more enjoyable in the spring – from gardening to baseball to riding horses. Whether you are doing a little spring cleaning or just enjoying the spring weather, check with your local Quality Co-op for your farm and garden or lawn needs. The friendly employees will be glad to answer any questions you may have and offer help as needed. And, if it is horse supplies you need, you are sure to find lots of new equestrian merchandise available at the store. Stop by the Co-op in Wetumpka or Notasulga or your local Co-op to see all the new supplies they have in stock.

"Give us a call if you need anything for your horses or horse-boarding barn," Tolar said. "If we do not have it in stock, we will be glad to order it for you."

Look for upcoming clinics and educational events offered by your local Quality Co-op. Stores throughout the state hold events to assist customers, premier products offered at the Co-op and spotlight vendors. Such clinics and events are a great way to learn more about a variety of interests.

Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.

Feeding Facts

by Jimmy Hughes

I am asked from time to time about what makes a feed different? On a daily basis, I talk with producers who want to know what goes into formulating a feed and what makes a feed different while the feed tags appear to be very similar. As a nutritionist, I have to consider several things when formulating a quality feed. In what market will the feed sell, what species of animal will the feed be provided to, what are the nutrient specifications to be reached, what are the nutritional requirements of that animal, what stage of production is the animal at, what federal regulations concern this feed, will the feed be medicated, will the formulated feed be of nutrient quality and will all this be done at a competitive cost to the producer?

I want to discuss these issues as a way to inform you of what goes into producing a quality feed at a competitive price that will meet your animal’s performance needs. Let’s look at each of these considerations going into the decision-making process of feed manufacturing.

My first obligation when formulating the feed is to the animal itself. With this in mind, my first consideration is to know what species of animal will consume the feed. While you may think all species of animals have the same nutritional requirements, this is not always true. The protein requirements across species can be different from a quality standpoint. Some animals may have a different requirement for by-pass protein and some may require different levels of soluble protein. Some animals require certain trace minerals and vitamins while others do not. Some species need additional fiber for proper digestion while some need very little fiber due to their inability to utilize fibrous feeds. Some examples are: A goat has a requirement and can utilize copper while a sheep has a much lower requirement for copper and can build up toxic levels of the mineral; cattle can synthesize their own B vitamins in the rumen while pigs cannot; horses cannot utilize urea while cattle can convert urea to microbial protein and rabbits have a need for a high quality fiber in their feed while hogs do a poor job of breaking fiber down. What may be even harder to believe is there is also a difference within species that must be accounted for when formulating feeds. A Jersey cow and a Holstein cow have different requirements for trace minerals. A stressed calf cannot synthesize B vitamins while non-stressed cattle do make their own B vitamins. I tell you all this so you might see a lot more goes into a feed formulation than what you might think.

The next consideration for a nutritionist is to know what the animal’s nutrient requirements are. As the animal grows and matures, the nutrient requirement for protein, energy, minerals and vitamins will change as well. If we offer a feed specifically for a certain type animal, then I want to make sure the feed meets the requirements of that animal. I do not want to produce a feed and call it a creep feed if that feed does not contain the nutrients to meet the needs of a calf eating a creep feed. Know your feed dealer and manufacturer so you can depend on the feed they produce and sell. We want you to know, when you buy a feed from your local Quality Co-op, you are getting a feed meeting the nutrient requirements of the target animal when used according to the feeding directions. I also have to know the stage of production the animal is in. The nutrient requirements for animals change based on the stage of production. A nursing cow has a lot of different requirements than a dry cow. An idle horse has a lot different requirements than a horse being ridden every day. Knowing the animal’s stage of production is a very important consideration when selecting the proper feed.

Another important consideration when creating a complete feed is to understand any federal regulations that might come into play. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have regulations in place as to what medications and at what levels they can be used in a feed. We have to follow these rules when formulating a medicated feed for producers. This also includes the mixing of different drugs into a finished product. We cannot mix certain medications together and be able to tag the feed and it be a legal feed according to these standards. We are asked from time to time to mix feeds containing different levels or types of drugs and we have guidelines to go by before it can be mixed. These measures are in place to not only protect the animal but to also protect humans who might consume product from these animals.

Another consideration is will the feed be of nutrient quality. I am asked from time to time to blend a feed for a certain price. This can be a very simple process for a nutritionist, but a very poor product for the end-consumer. If you have a certain feed in mind, make sure you provide all this information to your feed dealer. A protein percentage does not provide enough information to formulate a quality feed. A feed can meet protein specifications using several different ingredients with some being much higher in quality than others. When purchasing a feed, also ask for certain levels of minerals and vitamins, along with fat and lower fiber levels. If you will be more specific in your request, then I can assure you that you will be pricing a similar-quality feed from the different dealers you are working with and through.

In conclusion, you may be wondering why knowing all of this should be important to you. The reason is that we continue to see more and more groups who either blend commodities together or who try to mix feeds and sell to producers. I want you to be aware a lot goes into feed formulations and it is not as simple as picking out a feed based solely on its name. Please be aware of this when selecting a feed company and know what they are offering you as a producer. The old saying of: "if it sounds too good to be true…" works in this business as well. A similar-quality feed will be similar in price and a feed not similar in quality can be very different in price.

If I can help you in making the very best feed decision for your operation, no matter if it’s deer, cattle, horses, pigs, goats or another domestic animal, please feel free to call me at (256) 947-7886 or e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist. He looks forward to hearing from you or visiting with you in the future.

Fescue Fungus Toxins Are Highest In Spring

by Dr. Don Ball

Most everyone associated with livestock production in the areas where tall fescue is grown knows fescue toxicity is caused by a fungus (endophyte) growing inside fescue plants. When fescue contains a toxin-producing fungus (and most fescue in Alabama does), gains, reproduction, and the appearance and behavior of cattle are often adversely affected. Late spring is the time when the effects of this disorder are most evident and dramatic.

Environmental chamber studies, as well as livestock producer experience, have shown, as the temperature rises, fescue toxicity symptoms become more evident. This is because toxins produced by the fungus interfere with heat regulation within the bodies of livestock. The inability of affected animals to deal with heat accounts for their desire to stay in shade or near water an abnormally-high percentage of the time, their tendency to pant and/or salivate excessively, and the fact they typically have an elevated body temperature.

Why is late spring, rather than summer, the time when fescue toxicity is most evident? Studies where the quantity of toxins produced by endophyte-infected fescue has been monitored over time suggest one reason may be the greatest quantity is present in late spring. Weather conditions promoting rapid plant growth apparently are also conducive to toxin production by the endophyte.

A second reason is associated with fescue seed head production. It is known the fungus and its products tend to be concentrated in the seedheads of fescue plants which, of course, are present in late spring. Despite the fact endophyte-infected fescue seed heads are in essence "loaded with toxins," grazing animals often selectively consume them, thus ensuring they ingest substantial quantities of toxins.

Third, in spring, fescue is truly the overwhelmingly dominant species in most Alabama fescue pastures and, unless there are legumes present with the fescue, a particularly high percentage of the diets of animals grazing such pastures comes from fescue at this time of year. Later, warm-season species like crabgrass and common Bermudagrass are usually present in substantial quantities thus providing a dilution effect in the diets of grazing animals.

Finally, while summer temperatures are usually higher, it often gets rather warm by late May or June. The combination of a high percentage of fescue forage in the diet, plus high levels of toxin production, plus relatively high temperatures inevitably result in readily-evident fescue toxicity symptoms in cattle grazing many endophyte-infected fescue pastures.


There are two reasons why livestock producers who use infected fescue should be aware of this late-spring toxic fescue situation. First, if one is ever going to recognize the visible symptoms of fescue toxicity, late spring is the time they are most likely to do so. A person who is unaware a rough hair coat and the behavior traits described earlier are indicative of fescue toxicity may not realize there is a problem. (Actually, research has shown that even when no outward symptoms of fescue toxicity are present, animal gains can be significantly lower on infected fescue. Therefore, failure to recognize visible fescue toxicity symptoms is particularly unfortunate.)

A second reason for being alert for fescue toxicity symptoms at this time of year is cattle with severe symptoms need gentle treatment. Causing these animals to become excited, and especially causing them to physically exert themselves, can actually result in death due to overheating! Therefore, this is not a good time to force grazing animals to move around unnecessarily.

Don Ball is an Extension Forage Crop Agronomist with Auburn University.

Happy Hunting Ground

by Ralph Ricks

Dogwoods are blooming, turkeys are gobbling, deer are dropping antlers and pretty soon fawns will start being born and this means one thing: winter is over and spring is here. While this winter’s temperatures may or may not have been records, I think it’s safe to say all of us here in the Deep South are darn glad to see it over. If you spent any time this winter in either a shooting house or a tree stand, global warming was a matter of opinion. I don’t think I need to tell you mine.

When I lived in Wyoming, we were told there were two seasons of the year, July and winter. One of the worst snowstorms I ever saw occurred on Mother’s Day weekend. We knew, if you hadn’t gotten a big one by Mother’s Day, it was going to be a bad one. Even though that experience is nearly 40 years old, I still eye Mother’s Day with a little caution.

But spring is here and I guess its time to hang up the shotguns and break out the fishing rods and filet knives. Yes folks, as my dad used to say, "It’s time to wet a worm."

Fishermen puzzle me. It’s their goal system I can’t quite figure out. When you talk with a deer hunter, you can be assured he wants to kill a buck with the biggest antlers. Body size is ok, but it’s the headgear that counts. This is a system I can understand. Turkey hunters, although we are in pursuit of the longest spurs and longest beard and while we really feel lucky with any gobbler we are able to put in the bag, it still is a system where bigger is better.

Fishermen, and women, are not quite as simple. Take my dad for example, a fishing junkie/guru if there ever was one. All of my life he dreamed of catching "The Big One." But yet, he admitted if he ever caught the big ten pounder he went to sleep thinking about, he wasn’t sure if you could both mount and eat the fish.

At other times, size doesn’t matter, but how many you caught does matter. My first thought is, ok, when we are dealing with a smaller-type of fish like a bream (stump knockers my dad called them), they are only going to get so big, so you have to catch many to make a meal. This means these folks are like our quail and dove-hunting brothers (and sisters) where the game is only going to be so big and the number you harvest is what attests to your skill.

My problem is, you never hear dove hunters talk about the big "mature" dove they killed, just how many. You never hear a squirrel, rabbit or quail hunter talk about the monster that nearly got away or stepped out right at dawn so the hunter could make the perfect shot, you just hear how many they got and, in the case of quail hunters, how many coveys they found.

My blood-brother fishermen however, talk about both. Using my dad as an example, as I said, he dreamed of a monster fish and caught more than a few big trout, catfish and bass, but I never could figure out which was better, one or two big ones or a mess of smaller ones. You don’t hear deer hunters bragging on taking a "mess" of does.

Now don’t think I’m making fun of or picking on fishermen, I’m just trying to figure out how us guys can keep track of who’s winning and who’s losing, because you ladies know us guys are going to compete.

As I think on this, I feel like I may have figured my dilemma out. (Dad used to tell me not to over-think stuff, so sorry Dad.) Fishermen are just a different breed of outdoorsman. They have nothing to prove to anyone, so the size of a particular fish is irrelevant when discussing how many you caught.

By using my dad as a typical angler, I think I can get inside his head and crawl around a little and figure this thing out. My dad and his uncles were all about the same age and therefore grew up together and fished together all their lives and they all loved nothing better than to go fishing, catch a bunch of fish and hold a monster fish fry for all the grandparents, cousins, aunts, other uncles, fathers, brothers and sisters. That I guess is the goal of a fisherman, feed as many people as possible, sit back and watch the fun, and know you had a hand in helping it happen.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.

How's Your Garden?

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

Expand Your Hydrangea Knowledge

If you like hydrangeas, this is a perfect month to add some unusual ones to your garden by shopping at Aldridge Gardens Spring Plant Sale on May 7, 8 and 9. Or, at least learn more about them. The garden, which features 175 species and cultivars of hydrangea planted throughout the property, is a gem of a resource. We’re lucky to have such an excellent place where you can see many different kinds of hydrangeas in one spot. During the sale at least 40 different varieties will be offered, including the well-known Snowflake, which was developed by Eddie Aldridge and his dad. Aldridge Gardens is at 3530 Lorna Road in Hoover. Now and June are especially good times to see hydrangeas in bloom, although you’ll have to visit again in July and August to see the later species in their glory. Many are pictured on the Aldridge gardens website,, under ‘attractions.’

Most hydrangeas do best with a little shade, but will also take sun provided they have enough water. Keep that in mind as you look around for a place to set a few. Every Southern garden should include a hydrangea or two, especially our native oakleaf, which has a feature for each season — showy bark, beautiful spring foliage, elegant blooms and nice fall color. Gardeners around the world are paying attention to this local beauty; it has won horticultural awards in Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York, and from The Garden Club of America and the Royal Horticultural Society in England.

Daylilies on the Move

Now is the time to move all those mixed up daylilies if you want to group them by color. Do it when they are in bloom. Daylilies are tough, they don’t mind. Just get plenty of roots and soil in the shovel and water after transplanting.

There is still time to set out tomato plants.

Plenty of Tomatoes Left

There is still time to set out tomato plants. They are still available in stores, especially the heat-tolerant ones like Solar Fire. The cherry types are really heat tolerant, too. Sweet 100, Tami-G and Juliet are three excellent bite-sized varieties with really sweet fruit. The vigorous vines outgrow many leaf spots and other diseases.

Plant for the Hummers Now

Hummingbirds love bee balm, pictured, as well as other easy-to-grow flowers.

You may have already done so, but if not, set out a few flowers for the hummingbirds. They’ll be buzzing through in large numbers in late summer. Hummingbirds love pineapple sage and almost all salvias, annual cypress and cardinal vines (Ipomea), bee balm, lantana, Turk’s cap and agastache. All of these are really easy to grow. In fact, you’d better watch bee balm or it can spread more than you’d like. Turks cap will reseed so put it where a lawn mower can keep seedlings in check.

My mother-in-law shared a recipe of one part sugar and four parts water to make syrup for hummingbird feeders. Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar. Let it cool before pouring. It will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days, too.

Give goldenrod a haircut this time of year to make them stronger for fall.

Taming Tall, Floppy Flowers

Some great fall-blooming flowers like mums, goldenrod and perennial sunflowers can get so tall and lanky they just flop over by the time they bloom in the fall. You can tame your plants by giving them a haircut this time of year. Cut back half their height. They will branch and get stronger. In July, cut them by about a third. By late summer, the buds begin to form, so don’t cut back too late or you will have a pretty green plant but no flowers this fall.

A Gardening Book Telling It Like It Is

Pamela Crawford’s gardening book will make you want to grow a container garden.

Garden designer and author Pamela Crawford set out to grow vegetables in containers and make them really pretty at the same time. She succeeded. You’ll learn from her straightforward tales of successes and bloopers in a book that will make you want to grow vegetables together with flowers in pretty pots. You can get her book at Home Depot, Lowes, Barnes & Noble, or order it online from Amazon. The Huntsville Botanical Garden has some of Pamela’s "side-planted containers" on display as you enter the garden. She uses these for flowers and herbs. You can learn more about those, too, at They are available via mail order from The Kinsman Company and retailers listed in the dealer locator on the website. There are several in Alabama.

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

It’s All in the Family

by Dr. Tony Frazier

I first met Lana Slaten the summer of 1988. I had just graduated from Auburn and was practicing at East Point Veterinary Hospital in Cullman. Dr. Terry Slaten (now Associate State Veterinarian) and his wife, Lana, had moved back to Cullman from West Point, MS. Dr. Slaten began practicing with Dr. Steve Murphree at Cullman Veterinary Hospital.

Dr. Scott White was a classmate of mine at Auburn and one of my closest friends. He was also a mutual friend of the Slatens and he suggested I might strike up a friendship with them since we had several things in common. One thing we had in common was that Terry and his wife had been part of the East Point Veterinary Hospital family before moving to Mississippi. I can’t say it’s true for every veterinary practice, but Dr. Tom Williamson and Dr. Tommy Little had a way of making everyone who ever worked for them feel like family. And when you moved on to somewhere else and came back, it was always like going to visit family. But that’s another column for another day.

The Slatens and I struck up a close friendship, and in October of 1988, Patti and I were married. After that, many of the weekends Patti and I spent in Cullman were shared with the Slatens. I went on after-hours farm calls with him. We spent a lot of time watching rented movies. Terry and I even went on a binge of eating prunes for a while because someone told me that if you eat prunes every day, when you die, they will have to take your heart out and make it stop beating because it will be so healthy. I guess we’ll never know if that’s true or not because our prune eating days didn’t last very long.

The one thing I remember about Lana is that she always enjoyed helping Terry with the cattle aspect of practice. From helping put on producer meetings to helping deliver calves, she enjoyed spending time away from her real job (the one that actually paid) helping with the cattle stuff. Her real job, by the way, was and continues to be registered nursing. I am thankful, at least some, she is a nurse because she was working in the emergency room the night I had my kidney stone. When you are experiencing the type of pain a kidney stone inflicts, it is a comfort to know the nurse who is taking care of you.

Back in the summer of 1988 and beyond, Terry and I would talk about our careers in veterinary medicine and where we planned to be years down the road. I would have never, in my wildest dreams, figured 22 years down the road he and I would both be working for the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries with offices only a few feet apart.

Anyway, the job situations have kept our families close over the years. And, over those years, I have known Lana to be active in the Cullman County Cattlewomen, the Alabama Cattlewomen and now she is president of the American National Cattlewomen.

I should have seen it coming when, while visiting them a few years ago, they were raising a baby calf in their basement. The mother wouldn’t have anything to do with the calf, so it lived with the Slatens for several weeks — first in the basement, then in the dog pen. When it was finally moved back to the pasture, it didn’t have any idea what a cow was.

At the induction ceremony during the 2010 annual convention of the NCBA in San Antonio, TX, Lana was elected the 59th president of the American National Cattle Women (ANCW). With that, Lana became the first woman from Alabama to ever be elected president of the association. Lana has served the beef industry and promoted cattlewomen in many ways including leading the Alabama Cattle Women as their president. Also, in 1996, Lana was the ANCW Region II Director.

When Lana was President of the Alabama Cattlewomen, she invited me to speak to the membership about issues the State Veterinarian faces. I was made an Honorary Cattlewoman, a distinction I do not take lightly. When Lana was Region II Director for the ANCW, I went to Chattanooga, TN, and presented what it was like to deal with a case of BSE. I also assisted in getting a "Food Safety" section put in the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Alabama Cattlewomen’s Cookbook.

It has been my experience women like Lana Slaten, who make up these organizations on the local, state and national level, are not only passionate about the beef industry, but are also eager to learn the facts about issues the industry faces. It’s just an observation, but when I have made presentations to cattlewomen, they listened closely, asked great questions and were really appreciative of my time. My hat is off to everyone who puts their money and time to work to play some role in feeding the world. And to my long time friend, Lana — Madam President, I know the ANCW is in good hands with you at the helm.

Now, if you will excuse me, I think I will have a glass of cranberry juice and eat a few prunes…..maybe the prunes later.

Make May Productive and Safe

by John Howle

This May when the warm weather brings you outdoors for work and play, use ingenuity to make your days productive and safe.

A piece of treated lumber can be used to make a decorative gate entrance on your place.

Here’s Your Sign

Spruce up your gate entrances this spring with a sign. With a section of treated lumber, all you need is a coffee can, jigsaw, router and gloss black paint to create a personality for your place. First, I use a coffee can to trace out, cut and scallop the corners. Next, I rout the edges and rout out the letters. (You can print out large letters of any font on your home computer to be traced out onto the sign surface.) Finally, I sand the wood, paint the letters black and attach the sign above any gate entrance.

Avoid Cold Taters

Grand Ole Opry Star, Little Jimmy Dickens, sang, "Grab a Cold Tater and Wait." On a camping trip, no one wants a cold potato. To save more time for fishing on your next camping trip, cook your potatoes in advance. I recently prepared 20 potatoes for a group of campers. At 11 a.m., I cooked the foil-wrapped potatoes in the oven. As soon as they were done, I removed the potatoes from the oven and placed them in a Coleman cooler lined with aluminum foil. After placing a piece of foil over the batch of potatoes, I closed the lid and duct taped it so no one would open it until the evening meal. At 8 p.m., the potatoes were removed from the cooler and they were piping hot.

The best kept secret for battling mosquitoes this May is the ThermaCELL.

Mosquito Free

Thermacell ( is a product that has been around for a while, but I feel it’s one of the best-kept secrets in the outdoor industry. This small unit uses a tiny propane canister to heat a metal surface. A chemical impregnated strip slides into the metal surface emitting fumes keeping mosquitoes and other flying scourges away while you enjoy outdoor activities. You can be swarmed by mosquitos, turn the ThermaCELL unit on and they vanish. I’ve used this product on turkey hunts, bank fishing on the pond and sitting around the campfire on summer nights and this unit really does keep the mosquitoes away. The best thing is you don’t have to spray bug repellent all over your body to be safe from mosquitoes, simply turn on the ThermaCELL.

Axe Men

An axe is one of the most versatile outdoor tools. A single-bit axe has the hammer shape on one end and the cutting blade or bit on the other. A double-bit axe has two cutting ends. Picking the right length axe makes chopping work easier and safer. To find out if an axe for all-around outdoor use fits, place the end of the handle under your arm pit. You should be able to comfortably cradle the axe head in the cup of your hand. You may want an axe used predominantly for tree felling to be longer to allow more momentum during the swing. I prefer the shorter, single-bit camp axe because it has more uses. With this axe, I can fell trees, cut off the limbs or split firewood for the campfire all in one tool. The shorter handle makes it easier to pack.

Avoid Tetanus

Tetanus is a serious, sometimes fatal, disease of the central nervous system that is caused by an infection of a wound with spores of the bacterium, Clostridium Tetani. These spores live in the soil, so greater risks of getting the disease while taking part in outdoor activities are apparent. A fish hook in the hand, getting a foot cut on broken glass or any puncture wound appearing contaminated deserves close attention. To avoid the dreaded disease with symptoms like lockjaw and severe muscle spasms, get a tetanus vaccine. For minor injuries, get a tetanus shot if your last one was over 10 years ago. For serious puncture or contaminated wounds, get a tetanus shot if your last one was over five years ago. Your local health department or doctor can administer the shot and give you more information.

A close-up of a copperhead. Notice the cat-like, vertical pupils.

Snakes Alive

The four species of poisonous snakes in the U.S. are the coral snake, copperhead, cottonmouth and rattlesnake. If you are close enough, you can look at the pupils of a snake and poisonous snakes will have cat-like, vertical pupils while non-poisonous snakes will have round pupils. However, many folks don’t like to get close enough to examine the pupils of live snakes. While the cottonmouth and rattlesnake carry deadly levels of toxins, the copperhead is a poisonous snake with some of the least toxic venom.

This 12-year-old girl shows the after effects of a copperhead bite on her right foot.

I photographed the foot of a 12-year-old girl who had been bitten by a copperhead. The foot swelled and had a darkened, bruised appearance, but the bite was minor, and she didn’t have to receive any anti-venom. The doctor simply cleansed the bite marks with iodine and gave her a tetanus shot since the mouth of most snakes can contain contaminants. The young lady told me that when she received the bite, it burned like fire. In addition to the burning, she said it felt like getting stung by a hornet.

On the Campout

On camping trips, bread can become dry and stale. To restore freshness of your bread products, place the bread inside a skillet with a top over the fire. When the skillet gets hot, add a splash of water, then, recover the bread. In a short while, you’ll have fresh bread.

A corroded battery can be a real headache when the boat or truck won’t crank. Baking soda and water works well to remove and prevent corrosion. Mix the solution strong with baking soda. Rubbing petroleum jelly on the terminals also prevents corrosion.

Take the time to get youth involved in your outdoor activities this May, and you will be doing your share to reduce childhood obesity and addiction to gaming electronics.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Make Your Azaleas Happy ... And Beautiful!

by Jerry A. Chenault

Ever been at a birthday party and get asked about tomato diseases? I have. Ever been at a funeral and get asked about azalea malfunctions? I have. And I couldn’t count the questions I’ve been asked at church in the past 20 years about trees, shrubs, insects, gardens, soil, rabbits, and on and on. I’m not complaining; but I would like to address a couple of things here and now that might help squelch a few of these questions and help you guys have better shrubs at the same time.

Azaleas. Azaleas are our most popular flowering shrub and they are noted for having two main problems. The first one is chlorosis. This is a symptom of iron deficiency and it shows itself as leaves of yellow or very light green rather than the normal deep-green color. The leaf veins are still green, but the leaf tissue between the veins turns yellow.

If your azaleas are showing symptoms of iron chlorosis (a lack of iron), know your soil pH is likely too high for azaleas. Another example of the old Extension slogan "Don’t guess, soil test!" Feeding your azaleas yearly with an acid-forming azalea fertilizer will help solve this problem. You can also use iron sulfate or aluminum sulfate to lower the soil pH around your acid-loving azaleas and other rhododendrons. Never lime the soil around your azaleas!

Another quick-fix remedy for iron chlorosis on azaleas is to spray a chelated-iron fertilizer on the foliage, but lowering the soil pH will be a more long-term solution to the problem.

The other problem most common to azaleas is lace bug damage. I wish I had a quarter for every time I’ve seen this problem. (Nah, best make that a dollar. If I’m going to wish, I might as well make it a good one!) Lace bugs (Stephanitis species) love azaleas growing in sunny places...and they attack as another lesson to the homeowner about planting azaleas in the shade in acidic soils. These insects are small (1/8 inch), but effective enough to stunt your plants. Mature lace bugs are brownish in color and have clear lacy wings (hence the name).

Lace bug damage is most severe in spring and summer. This damage will appear as speckled (mottled) leaves that are yellow and green. On the underside of the leaves are dark-brown spots, the excrement (poop) of the lace bugs. They don’t care if you don’t like it. Their wingless, immature offspring (and the adults) suck the sap right out of your azaleas (from underneath the leaves). That’s where you can find them; under the leaves...on the back side, reducing the food-making capabilities (photosynthesis) of your azaleas.

What to do to stop lace bugs? Use an insecticidal soap in early May before they lay eggs. Thoroughly coat the leaf undersides. If insect numbers continue to build in June, apply an insecticide labeled for shrubs and lace bug damage like liquid Sevin, acephate (Orthene) or dimethoate (Cygon). Follow label directions carefully.

May I also remind you to prune your azaleas after they finish flowering?

It is my hope this information will help you in your pursuit of healthy, happy, beautiful azaleas! Remember – Extension is "the place to go when you need to know!"

Jerry A. Chenault is an Urban Regional Extension Agent with The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, New & Nontraditional Programs division.

Memorial Day 2010

by Baxter Black, DVM

This Memorial Day my thoughts go back to a friend from college, Clovis May. He was a mild-mannered, hard-working, good cowboy from a ranching family in Deming, New Mexico. I don’t recall exactly what his major was, but probably Range Management or Ag Business. He was big enough to play football, but he rodeoed. A solid man in character, physicality and reliability. Due to problems at home, he quit school to go back and help at the ranch. Four months later, he received his draft notice but was granted a deferment. In December of ’67, he was called up by the Army. The rest is history, so they say, written on the Wall…the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Sergeant Clovis Lee May, B CO, 1ST BN, 46ST INFANTRY, 198TH INFANTRY BDE, AMERICAL DIV, USARV, ARMY OF THE UNITED STATES. Dec 14, 1944 to May 22, 1969. Killed in Action.

In May 1969, I was making plans to graduate from veterinary school in Colorado. I had been out of touch with Clovis since he dropped out of college. Like most of us who managed to avoid the draft, we kept our heads low, our nose to the books and watched the war go by out of the corner of our eye, on television.

Now, as I watch the War on Terror unfold and see our volunteer soldiers picking up the flag, our American flag, and charging into battle, I am relieved to see the treatment our returning troops are receiving. But somewhere, deep inside, it brings back the shame we, who did nothing, allowed to be heaped upon our soldiers. We watched and remained mute as every news broadcast followed the mortality report with footage of protesters screaming and carrying signs, calling our soldiers "Baby Killers"! Returning soldiers were advised to not wear their uniforms in public. In the vile spillover of anti-war protest, brave men and women were smeared, cursed and publicly reviled by singers, politicians, pundits, professors, activists, Hollywood and peace-loving hate-mongers. It hurt those who served, those who hated and those of us who did nothing. It was not a proud moment to be an American.

It seems in the last few years, we as a country have been on a national pilgrimage to apologize for previous policies, actions or inactions. Beyond individual politicians, CEOs, movie stars and athletes humbly laying out their mea culpas for everything from hiring illegal nannies to dog fighting, we have broadened our scope. We have taken it upon ourselves to apologize for slavery, Japanese internment camps, dropping the atomic bomb, torturing enemy combatants, mismanagement of national disasters, taking advantage of developing countries, global warming and using too many natural resources. We are trying to compensate for real or imagined wrongs. It is usually justified.

But if America owes anyone an apology, Vietnam vets are at the top of the list. Sooner or later, I expect, or hope, some brave politician or recovering war protestor will stand in front of the Wall, take their hat off and apologize to those veterans who carried our flag into harm’s way in Southeast Asia.

Clovis May did not have to suffer the malicious-invective cast upon returning soldiers by the anti-war activists. His silent arrival in a flag-draped coffin spoke volumes about his character and that of his detractors, and it still does.

Speaking for myself, Clovis, I’m sorry I didn’t stand up to them. It’s about time I did.

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,

Mint All Over the Place (Part 1)

by H. T. Farmer

Some farmers say to grow it in a container or it will take over your yard. Personally, I like to see it all over the place. I’m talking about mint (Mentha). Actually, if I may correct myself, I am talking about mints, because there are literally hundreds of varieties within about 25 species in that genus alone. When you take into account it is in the LamiaceaeFamily, couple it with sage, thyme, rosemary, lemon balm, savory, marjoram, catnip and other mints; consider all of the varieties of those, then we’re talking about thousands of mints!

Spider on spearmint

Alas, I have only but a few here on the farm. However, I do let them run wild if they want to. I have been collecting mints for years. Some of them liked living here, some decided to move out in less than a year.

In this column, I will list a few of the mints from the Mentha genus I grow here. I’ll then challenge you to get out to your local Co-op or independent retail nursery and track down some of the more unusual varieties of mints for your garden. Then e-mail me with a list of the ones you found.

Some of the names will fool you. For example: peppermint doesn’t smell like pepper, but the sensation in some noses is described as peppery. (Some folks sneeze when they eat peppermint candy.) Orange mint sometimes smells like oranges and peppermint, while horse mint smells nothing like horses.

Here’s the short list of mints on the farm: peppermint, spearmint, lemon mint, orange mint, apple mint, pennyroyal, horse mint, Kentucky Colonel mint, banana mint and chocolate mint.

Orange mint or bergamot mint blooms more robustly than the others; making it the first choice for my bees. Pennyroyal is a good groundcover mint and truly helps to keep fleas and ticks away. Kentucky Colonel mint is the one I use most often in warm-weather refreshing drinks. And then there’s chocolate mint, which when you pinch a leaf from it and add a leaf of Stevia, it tastes like an Andes chocolate.

Most of these mints are blooming right now and the pollinators love them!

Next month we’ll talk about some of the other mints and their cousins.

For more information on mint, e-mail me at:

Thanks for reading!

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

If you have any questions about other uses for mint, e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."> and I’ll tell you all I know. As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using this or any other herbal remedy.

Mobile Co. Jr. Gardeners Learn Healthy Eating Habits While Getting Hands in the Soil

This year at the Festival of Flowers, you can find a quilt on display, with each quilt square depicting a fruit, vegetable or flower, designed and constructed by 4-Hers, (From left) Jack, Elizabeth, Dylan, Katherine, Victoria, Christina, Max, Caleb, Grant, Victor and Michael with adults volunteers (not pictured), Ms. Penny Smith and Ms. Marsha.

by Luci Davis and Jane Hartselle

Gardening is one of America’s favorite pastimes. Way down south in Mobile County, 4-Hers with the Mobile County Jr. Master Gardener 4-H Club are getting their hands in the soil, getting involved, using their imaginations constructively and beginning to form improved healthful eating habits. Penny Smith is the volunteer leader with Mobile County JMG 4-H Club and is full of ideas and passionate about teaching children to sow the seeds of knowledge through gardening. This year at the Festival of Flowers, you can find a quilt on display, with each quilt square depicting a fruit, vegetable or flower, designed and constructed by 4-Hers. In addition, look for the seed mosaic designed by the 4-Hers reading "Sowing the Seeds of Knowledge."

On the grounds of the Mobile County Extension office you can find wonderful blooming plants as well as the most succulent fruit of the season. Vegetables are a year-round commodity here. All of this is managed and maintained by the Mobile County Master Gardeners.

There is no better place for grandparents, mothers, fathers and 4-Hers than the Mobile County Extension Office to play, experiment and enjoy the "fruits of their labors." Upon arriving at the Mobile County Extension, you might find children and adults shoulder-to-shoulder pruning grape vines and roses in the Demonstration Gardens managed and maintained by the Mobile County Master Gardeners.

Mobile Co. JMG 4-H club members are getting involved in various projects.

Another day, you might find James Miles, Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System; Marshall Colburn, NRCS; Alex Crawford, Farm Service Agency; Penny Smith, Master Gardener; and April Griffin, Mobile County Soil and Water Conservation District, handling the details along with various other interested adults with drills, rebar, landscaping timbers, etc., all working to build a unique Jr. Master Gardener Garden. With a grant for $5,800 from Gulf Coast RC&D Council, a Junior Master Gardener Garden is growing from the ground up.

This JMG garden is an example of a crop rotation garden for home or community gardens. Crop rotation is a vital part of pest management in the vegetable garden. To establish an effective rotation, the garden is divided into units and the children will learn to avoid planting crops from the same family in the same location three years in a row. This JMG garden is an example of seasonal planting using this principle. The garden is divided into eight beds. Each year the crop families are rotated clockwise from bed to bed to ensure a continual rotation of crop families every three years. This garden will be planted, maintained and harvested by 4-Hers and volunteers.

Nutrition begins in the garden. Because children have grown the produce themselves, they are more likely to eat new and different fruits and vegetables. Growing fruits and vegetables in our JMG garden will provide an environment where health, nutrition, food safety and wise decision-making skills will be taught. At harvest time, Amelia McGrew, Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, will take this opportunity to demonstrate fun and exciting ways to prepare and present fresh-grown fruits and vegetables. 4-Hers will then be given the opportunity to try out their culinary skills through demonstration projects using the vegetables and fruits they have planted, maintained and harvested.

The Mobile County Jr. Master Gardener 4-H Club is a great experience and will help children learn about the many benefits and possibilities available through gardening. Children influence their parents. If parents are educated by their youngsters about gardening and growing healthful, nutritious fruits and vegetables, they and their families are more likely to spend more quality time with their children and improve the daily intake of healthful, nutritious foods.

Thanks to the generosity of Gulf Coast RC&D Council with grant money, dedication of caring adults, cooperation with the different agencies and the support of Jim Todd, CEC with the Mobile County Extension Office, the Mobile County Jr. Master Gardener 4-H Club is off to a very successful start, with many good years to come. Through garden projects, children learn to take great pride in their efforts and learn to give back to their community and act as mentors to younger gardeners. It is my privilege to work with such a successful team.

Jane Hartselle is a Regional Extension Agent with 4-H and Youth Development in Mobile and Washington Counties.

Luci Davis is the State Junior Master Gardener Coordinator. For more information on the program, phone (334) 703-7509.

Morris and Morris Farms Named 2010 AL Farm of Distinction

Rite and Shep Morris of Macon County’s Morris and Morris Farms were named the Alabama Farm-City Committee’s 2010 Farm of Distinction winner during the annual Farm-City Awards luncheon at Birmingham’s Wynfrey Hotel. The Morrises are shown in a new John Deere Gator which was presented to them by sponsoring SunSouth, Snead Ag and TriGreen Equipment dealers. Alabama Farmers Cooperative presented them a $1,250 gift certificate. From left, are: Marty Howard, Sunsouth; Rite Morris; Jim Allen, Alabama Farmers Cooperative; Shep Morris; Tom Tribble, John Deere; Mike Underwood, TriGreen; Jerry A. Newby, president of the Alabama Farmers Federation; Brian Ayers, Snead Ag; and Tim Gibbs, Snead Ag.

by Melissa Martin

Shep and Rite Morris of Shorter were named the Alabama Farm-City Committee’s 2010 Farm of Distinction winner during a luncheon Monday, April 12, in Birmingham. As this year’s winner, the Morrises received prizes valued at more than $10,000 and will represent Alabama in the Southeastern Farmer of the Year competition during the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie, GA, Oct. 19-21.

As owners of Morris and Morris Farms, Shep and Rite’s operation includes 3,000 acres of row crops in Macon and Montgomery Counties. About half the land is in cotton, with the remainder split between corn and soybeans. By growing conventional cotton and harvesting it with a stripper rather than with cotton pickers, preferred by most Southeastern farmers, Morris and Morris Farms has reduced its nitrogen fertilizer use by 50 percent with no yield loss. The corn-cotton rotation also allows Shep to use the same planter and same labor to harvest both crops. As a result, he is better able to control plant diseases and pests, and reduce repair costs by following a strict maintenance plan.

Despite these efforts, the one aspect of farming Shep said he has no control over is the weather and, this year, cold, wet conditions have been challenging.

"It’s made harvest tough. We finished shelling corn on Aug. 31 this past year, and that was a Friday. It rained on Saturday, Sept. 1, and it basically never stopped all fall," Shep said.

To make matters worse, soggy conditions have prevented Shep from spreading fertilizer and delayed corn planting by at least three weeks.

Meanwhile, Shep stays busy as a county, state and national farm leader. He serves as president of the Macon County Farmers Federation and Milstead Gin, and is on the boards of directors of Autauga Quality Cotton Association, First South Farm Credit, Alabama Cotton Commission, and Macon County Soil and Water Conservation District. He said the work of these groups helps ensure future generations have the opportunity to farm.

"This is a tough business and we need to have the potential to make some profits to draw the young people in. You can have all kind of programs, but nothing will draw a young person like the potential to make some profit," he said.

Shep and Rite have three children, Shep Jr., Beverly and J.W.

As Alabama’s Farm of Distinction winner, the Morrises received a John Deere Gator donated by SunSouth, Snead Ag and TriGreen Equipment dealers in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. They also received a $1,250 gift certificate from Alabama Farmers Cooperative, redeemable at any of its member Quality Co-op stores. The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Health presented the Morrises with an engraved, mahogany farm sign. Also, as the state winner, Shep and Rite will receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense-paid trip to the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo. The Sunbelt winner will receive $14,000, plus several other prizes.

Five other finalists also were honored during the program, held in conjunction with the Alabama Farmers Federation State Women’s Leadership Conference. They were Bryan and Beverly Hughes of Tuscaloosa County, Larry and Bonita LouAllen of Lawrence County, Chase and Noelle Bradley of Monroe County, Garry and Denise Staples of St. Clair County, and John and Katie Wesson of Talladega County. Each finalist received a $250 gift certificate from Alabama Farmers Cooperative.

The Farm-City Committee of Alabama presents the Farm of Distinction Award annually. Farm-City Week is observed nationally each year the week before Thanksgiving as a way to help bridge the gap between rural and urban residents.

Peanut People

Preserving History at Blount County’s Palisades Park

With old wooden desks lining one wall and church pews near the front, Palisades Park Park Manager Jeff Todd is all smiles when he talks about the possible restoration of the old Compton School.

By Suzy Lowry Geno

At first glance you wouldn’t suspect 38-year-old Jeff Todd to be much of a history buff.

But sit Jeff at one of the creaking wooden desks in the old Compton School now located in Blount County’s Palisades Park historic grouping and you will learn really quickly where Jeff’s priorities lie.

Sitting in front of the now-rusty pot bellied coal-burning stove, Jeff noted that if the old school is not maintained, once those with memories of that era are all gone, there will be no glimpses of school life before the Internet, indoor bathrooms and even rural electricity!

The old Compton School awaits restoration at Palisades Park.

As Park Manager at Palisades Park for the past four years and having worked at the Park for more than 15 years, Jeff explained, "I talked with D.S. Loyd one last time before he passed away and we talked about his goals and dreams for this park. And as he lay there, he had tears in his eyes. These memories, this history are THAT important.

"I feel a big responsibility to carry on that work in any way that we can."

While a grant was obtained to assess the Compton School about three years, Jeff recently completed a grant application that would help pay for much-needed renovations to the building if it is approved.

Just a little of the school’s history is enough to make most folks thirst for more (and it’s only one of the park’s historic buildings!).

Thomas Stephen Edwards and his wife, Bernice, didn’t want their seven children raised "in the city," so they bought 250 acres of fertile Blount County land around 1921.

Since Edwards was "a big proponent of education," the fact the old Compton School was located either on that land or adjacent to it was a big plus.

Above, the Daniel Murphree Log Cabin at Palisades Park, built in 1820, is possibly the oldest building in Blount County. The cabins are open for special occasions and by asking one of the park staff. Top right, a working spinning wheel and other items on display in the Daniel Murphree cabin. At right, Daniel Murphree’s great-granddaughter, Docia Hyatt, was born in the Murphree Log Cabin in 1886 and she died in 1984.

Records from the Retired Teachers School Records Book at the Blount County Museum show the Compton School was built in the Red Valley/Sand Valley near present day Remlap around 1904.

The school was built by George and Will Wesson with the land purchased from or donated by a "Mr. Higginbotham" for the grand total of $1.

Top Left, Moss Lodge is one of three enclosed shelters, with it and the Porter Center sitting directly on the bluffs. Above, just one of the views from Palisades Park atop Ebell Mountain. Left, the top of one of the bluffs often used for rappelling.

Bernice Richardson Coleman, the Edwards’ granddaughter, remembered tales of him driving an old school bus to houses in the valley, "and even as far away as Oneonta, to pick up children who wouldn’t have had a way to get an education otherwise. Grandpa drove this bus until the 1940s. He was the Post Master in Remlap and even preached once a month at the old school house building."

This small covered bridge at Palisades was built by Blount County’s Master Gardeners and is the site of many weddings.

For a while a Methodist Church, then-pastored by Rev. Gus Burtram (father of TV and movie star Pat Burtram) met in the 20 x 30 feet building and it was also later used as a voting precinct headquarters and a community center.

School records list Edwards as the last teacher in the school.

Years later, Oneonta resident and antique dealer Floyd Smith bought the building and had it moved to his home’s backyard. He donated the school to Palisades Park in 1989.

But the old school building is not even the crown jewel of the Park!

That lofty position goes to the restored Daniel Murphree cabin. That cabin was originally located in aptly named Murphrees Valley and was donated to the park and the Blount Historical Society by John Roderick and Marjoe Sanders.

Inspiration or Meditation Point.

That cabin was built by Murphree in 1820 after he had come to Blount County in 1817, making it likely the oldest remaining building within the county. After his wife Pheraby (Bynum) died in 1873, he sold the cabin to Asa Murphree, who then sold it to David Hyatt.

David gave it to his son and daughter-in-law, James and Rebecca, as a wedding gift.

Their daughter, Docia Hyatt, sold it to the Sanders in 1966. (Docia, who was born in the small cabin, lived next door to this writer’s grandmother when I was in my 20s!)

The cabin features a small photo of Docia, Daniel Murphree’s great-granddaughter, along with her first and only doll. Also on display are many period pieces like the original rope bed, three walking spinning wheels, a corner cabinet and more.

Directly behind Murphree Log Cabin was moved the Blackwood-Hudson Pioneer Cabin which has been retro-fitted with a dry sink, pie safe and other historic items donated to the Historical Society or Palisades to make that cabin as a "kitchen" to the Murphree home.

Also nearby is the 1874 Bill Camp Barn, an old syrup mill and more, was donated by Ann and James Tolbert.

But the historic portion of the park is only the beginning.

The area of the 80 acres of the eastern bluff of Ebell Mountain was long a favorite of county residents because of its views from the old fire tower and the sheer sandstone bluff which averages 70-80 feet in height and extends across the property for more than a quarter mile.

Bobbie Jean Dunn (left) and Ann Franks are just two of Palisades seven employees (four fulltime and three part-time) who keep the grounds meticulous.

But it was four Blount residents in the early 1970s who wanted to develop the area into a park, with Amilea Porter, retired educator, historian and nature lover, who birthed the park into reality.

In 1972, Porter; Loyd, a vocational agriculture teacher and county agent; Dalton Moss, school teacher, principal and U.S. Probation Officer; and Mrs. W. R. Sutton, educator, homemaker and civic leader, formed the original Blount County Park and Recreation Board.

According to information provided by Jeff, "The goal of the board was to establish a rustic, outdoor facility for picnicking, hiking and sightseeing."

Construction started in 1973 and the park was dedicated in November of that year with the main features being a pavilion, barbecue grills, the Murphree Log Cabin, a short trail and a playground area.

The first all–purpose, all-weather building was built in 1981 and named after Porter, who died the year before. Mrs. C.Y. (Emma) Linder, local historian, was appointed to take Porter’s place on the board.

In addition to the Porter building, the park now includes Moss Lodge and D.S. Loyd Building, all fully-enclosed with fire places, restrooms and full kitchens; several outdoor roofed-pavilions and gazeboes; a Girl Scout Amphitheater (built primarily by the late Girl Scout leader Willard "Unkie" Arnold; and picnic tables. There’s a TINY chapel at "Inspiration Point" right at the edge of the main bluff!

Another of Jeff, the current park board and the county commission’s projects this year is the relocating and building of a new playground, with equipment already bought through grants. That project will likely not be completed until fall.

Rappellers can get permits to rappel or climb on the craggy rocks.

There’s an average of one wedding each week at some place within the park!

Current board members include Chairman Bob Turley, vice-chair Judi McGuire, Secretary Ramey Peters and members Linda Marsh, Kenneth Johnson, Kenneth Wright, Eldredge Bynum and Marsha Beam. A grant has been received for a new Trail of Trees being overseen by Juanita Turley and to be landscaped through the Blount County Farmers Co-op.

Quilters meet three times each week in the Quilter’s Cottage and it is the site of an annual quilt show.

A day park that does not allow camping (except for special events like the last day-night of the annual Girl Scout Camp), Palisades is believed to be the only such county-owned park within the state and has numerous awards.

More than 20,000 people visit the park during December for the annual lights, where residents decorate spaces in honor or in memory of family members and friends. At least one million lights were featured this year, but Jeff explained he lost count a few years ago!

"This is just such a special place to be run solely by the Blount County Commission and the Park Board," Jeff explained.

Probate Judge David Standridge is now Commissioner Chair and Commissioners include Tom Ryan, David Cochran, Waymon Pitts and Robert Bullard.

"One woman came and told me she’d been all over the country and had traveled extensively, staying at just about every federal and state park throughout the United States," Jeff explained. "She turned to me and made all our work worthwhile when she said this was ‘one of the best’ parks she’d ever visited."

Palisades Park can be reached by traveling U.S. Hwy 231 about three miles north of Oneonta (and look for the signs) and is open January-March, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and April-December, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Admission is FREE. Use of the three lodges is $20 an hour and the outdoor pavilions is $30 a day, by reservation.

Contact the park at (205) 274-0017, on Facebook at "Palisades Park" or

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County and can be reached at

The Basic Rules for Clotheslines

(If You Don’t Know What Clotheslines Are, Better Skip This)

1. You had to wash the clothesline before hanging any clothes – walk the entire length of each line with a damp cloth around the lines.

2. You had to hang the clothes in a certain order, and always hang "whites" with "whites," and hang them first.

3. You never hung a shirt by the shoulders - always by the tail! What would the neighbors think?

4. Wash day on a Monday!... Never hang clothes on the weekend, especially Sunday, for Heaven’s sake!

5. Hang the sheets and towels on the outside lines so you could hide your "unmentionables" in the middle (perverts & busybodies, y’know!).

6. It didn’t matter if it was sub-zero weather...clothes would "freeze-dry."

7. Always gather the clothespins when taking down dry clothes! Pins left on the lines were "tacky!"

8. If you were efficient, you would line the clothes up so each item did not need two clothespins, but shared one of the clothespins with the next washed item.

9. Clothes off of the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket and ready to be ironed.

10. IRONED?! Well, that’s a whole other subject!

The Co-op Pantry

Ed Whatley has been cooking beef across Alabama for decades and has perhaps cooked more steaks than most people will see in a lifetime.

"I love to experiment with beef. A lot of times for demonstration cooking, I’ll go to the grocery store and buy whatever ingredients look good that day, then cook it and get people’s reactions when they taste a sample. I have a really good time with that," said Whatley, Director of Beef Promotions and Producer Communications for the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association.

This fall, Whatley will have a total of 40 years with the Cattlemen’s Association, and he’s worked in the beef business, in some fashion, his entire adult life.

"I went to work at the A&P supermarket on Highland Avenue in Montgomery right out of high school, and I worked in the meat department there until Ham Wilson and Bubba Trotman asked me to come to work for the Cattlemen’s Association in 1965," he said.

At that time, Whatley said he began driving the association’s promotions van "up and down the highway promoting beef."

"In five years, I drove three different vans, traveling 60 to 70 thousand miles a year to various events across the state," he stated.

In 1970, Whatley, along with other family members, ran a meat processing facility in Montgomery before he opened a Mr. Steak restaurant franchise in Tuscaloosa, and later returned to the Cattlemen’s Association in 1976.

"I didn’t plan it that way, but in other jobs, I attended various meat cutting seminars, excellent cooking schools and correspondence courses that all helped me learn more about beef and how to prepare it," he remarked.

In addition to his cooking exhibits for the Cattlemen’s Association, Whatley has appeared on countless radio and television shows to give live cooking demonstrations and competed in various grilling, barbeque and cooking competitions, including Alabama First Lady Patsy Riley’s 2009 Governor’s Chili Cook-Off, in which Whatley’s Cowboy Chili took first prize.

In spite of the fact that Whatley is a well-known master of the grill, he always looks forward to one day a year when someone else mans the coals.

"It is a tradition at the Whatley house for the grandchildren (11 total) to grill steak for Paw Paw on Father’s Day, and I love every minute of it. I hope moms and kids will get out in the backyard with the family and grill Dad some steaks and burgers for Father’s Day," he said.

In addition to some of his favorite recipes, Whatley also offers a list of tips for grilling New York Strip Steaks and Burgers. One ingredient listed in several of his recipes is his own seasoning blend, Cattlemen’s Steak Shake, which is available at some Quality Co-op locations, but he said cooks can substitute their favorite rub or seasoning also for delicious results.

Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.


(New York Strip) Steak
As with most-all grilling steaks, you need a ¾ to 1 inch thick steak for a really good, juicy and flavorful eating experience.

Always grill steaks on medium heat. If the grill is too hot, the steak will char or burn on the outside before it reaches the desired doneness.

When grilling with charcoal, the coals should burn to a gray outside color (no black showing) before putting steaks on the grill.

When grilling on a gas grill, set temperature for medium heat and grill with lid down (covered) until the last five minutes, turning occasionally.

Apply seasoning and rubs just before grilling. A ¾ inch Top Loin (New York Strip) will require approximately 10–12 minutes grilling time to reach medium-rare doneness, when grilled on a charcoal grill and 7–10 minutes on a gas grill.

Turn steaks with tongs or spatula so as not to pierce the steak and let the wonderful juices escape.


America’s favorite and most popular meat on the backyard grill!
People often ask: What percentage lean ground beef should I use for grilling? My answer: 75 to 85% lean ground beef will make a delicious, grilled burger. You may also use ground chuck (usually around 80% lean), ground round or sirloin (usually around 90% lean).

When portioning the burgers, do not pack tightly. Form them firm but loose to retain the juice and flavor.

Never press down on the burgers with the spatula as this will force the wonderful juice and flavor to escape.

Use an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally in the beef patty to determine doneness (60 degree internal temperature is the correct read).

Hamburgers are the most versatile grilling experience. You can prepare them 1,001 different ways with many different toppings. Just let your taste buds go wild!


2 T-Bone steaks, cut 1 inch thick (about 16 ounces each)
½ pound small carrots with tops,trimmed
2 Tablespoons water
2 medium zucchini and/or yellow squash, cut into ½ inch slices
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons black pepper, coarsely ground

Sweet and Savory Sauce:

1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1/3 cup pitted dates, chopped
¼ cup onion, chopped
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon molasses
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt

Combine sauce ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered, 10 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally. Place sauce in blender or food processor container. Cover; pulse on and off for a slightly chunky texture. For a thinner sauce, stir in an additional 1 or 2 Tablespoons water. Return sauce to pan and keep warm until ready to serve.

Place carrots and 2 Tablespoons water in a large non-stick skillet. Cover and cook 8 to 10 minutes or until water has evaporated. Add squash; drizzle with oil and toss to coat evenly. Continue to cook uncovered 6 to 8 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally. Season with salt as desired.

Meanwhile, press pepper evenly onto beef steaks. Place steaks on grid over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill steaks, uncovered, 14 to 16 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas-grill, covered, 15 to 19 minutes) for medium doneness, turning occasionally.

Remove bones; carve steaks crosswise into slices. Season steak with salt as desired. Serve with sauce and vegetables.


1 pound beef top round steak, cut into thin strips
1 cup broccoli florets
2 medium carrots, sliced
½ cup snow peas, trimmed
1 stalk celery, sliced
½ cup frozen, shelled edamame, defrosted
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
¼ cup water
1/3 cup sesame-ginger stir-fry sauce
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 cups hot cooked brown or white rice, prepared without butter or salt

Combine vegetables, half of garlic and water in a large non-stick skillet; cover and cook over medium heat 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender, adding additional water if pan becomes dry. Remove vegetables and keep warm.

Meanwhile, cut beef steak lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick strips. Combine with remaining ½ of garlic.

Heat same skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add ½ of beef mixture; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until outside surface of beef is no longer pink. (Do not overcook.) Remove from skillet; season with salt as desired. Keep warm. Repeat with remaining beef mixture.

Return all beef and vegetables to skillet. Add stir-fry sauce and crushed red pepper, as desired; cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until heated through. Serve with rice.


2 Tablespoons Cattleman’s Steak Shake
1 pound 90% lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
¾ cup Mozzarella cheese, grated
¼ cup Parmesan, grated
2 English muffins, cut in half

Mix ground beef, Cattleman’s Steak Shake and onions. Brown ground beef mixture in skillet over medium heat. Preheat oven to 400o, brush muffins with olive oil and bake in oven for three minutes. Spoon beef mixture on the muffin halves and top with cheeses and tomato. Return to oven and bake 10 minutes more.


1 pound boneless top sirloin steak
2 Tablespoons Cattleman’s Steak Shake
12 (8-inch) bamboo or wooden skewers
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh lime juice

Cut the steak into ¼ -inch thick strips, 2-inch wide by 3-inches long. Stir together lime juice and olive oil. Dip beef strips in oil and lime juice mixture and weave on to skewers in a ribbon style. Spread Cattleman’s Steak Shake generously over steak. Grill over medium heat for four minutes; turning once.


4 Rib Eye Steaks, cut 1-inch thick
4 Tablespoons Cattleman’s Steak Shake
¾ cup prepared salsa
2 Tablespoons brown sugar, packed
½ cup ketchup

Combine salsa, brown sugar and ketchup in small bowl. Mix well. Place steaks on grill at medium-high heat and apply one half of Steak Shake seasoning to uncooked side of steaks. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes or until steaks are seared on the bottom. Turn steaks and apply remaining seasoning to cooked side. Grill for 3 to 4 minutes, turn steaks again and adjust heat to medium-low temperature and cook to desired doneness (about 5 minutes more to reach medium doneness). Top steaks with remaining salsa mixture and serve.


3 pounds lean ground beef
4 cups onion, chopped
12 cloves garlic
1 green pepper, chopped
4 Tablespoons chili powder
1½ Tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon coriander
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
2 Tablespoons red pepper
32 ounces whole tomatoes
32 ounces tomato sauce
6 ounces tomato paste
48 ounces kidney beans

Cook ground beef in large pot, stirring occasionally until brown. Add onion, garlic and green pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender. Add remaining ingredients - except beans. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook 1 hour stirring occasionally. Stir in beans and simmer 30 minutes more, stirring every 5 minutes. Stir again just before serving.


2 boneless beef top loin (strip) steaks, cut 1-inch thick (about 10 ounces each)
1 pound baby red-skinned potatoes, cut in half
3-1/2 ounces fresh pearl onions, unpeeled, cut in half
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil


3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground mixed peppercorns (black, white, green and pink)

Place potatoes in microwave-safe dish. Cover and microwave on HIGH 2-1/2 to 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Let stand 5 minutes to cool slightly. Thread potato halves onto 10 to 12-inch metal skewers. Thread onion halves onto separate metal skewers.

Combine Rub ingredients; reserve 2 teaspoons for garnish. Press remaining herb mixture evenly onto beef steaks.

Place steaks in center of grid over medium, ash-covered coals; arrange potatoes, onions and asparagus around steaks. Grill steaks, uncovered, 15 to 18 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, covered, 11 to 15 minutes) for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning occasionally. Grill potatoes and onions 5 to 10 minutes (gas grill times remain the same) or until golden brown and tender; grill asparagus 6 to 10 minutes (covered, 8 to 12 minutes on gas grill) or until crisp-tender, turning occasionally.

Remove potatoes and onions from skewers; peel onions. Combine potatoes, onions, lemon juice, oil and lemon peel in large bowl. Toss to coat. Season with salt, as desired.

Carve steaks into slices. Season with salt, as desired; sprinkle with reserved herb mixture. Serve steaks with grilled vegetables.

Cook’s Tip: To make asparagus spears easier to turn on the grill, thread them ladder-style onto two 10 to 12-inch metal skewers. Insert a skewer about 1 inch from each end of spear, leaving small space between spears. Use tongs to turn entire asparagus “ladder” for even cooking.


1 pound ground beef
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tablespoons green onions, minced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
4 slices rustic crusty bread, cut ½-inch thick
Olive oil

Bruschetta topping:
¾ cup red tomatoes, chopped
½ cup yellow tomatoes, chopped
1 Tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
¼ teaspoon garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt

Combine bruschetta topping ingredients in a medium bowl; set aside.

Combine ground beef, cheese, green onions and garlic in a medium bowl, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Lightly shape into 4½ -inch thick patties.

Place patties in center of grill over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, uncovered 11 to 13 minutes (over medium heat over covered gas grill, covered 7 to 8 minutes) until instant-read thermometer, inserted horizontally into center registers 160o, turning occasionally.

Meanwhile, brush both sides of bread slices with oil. About 3 minutes before burgers are done, place bread on grill. Grill until lightly toasted, turning once.

Season burgers with salt and pepper as desired. Place one burger on each bread slice; top each with ¼ cup bruschetta topping. Serve open-faced.

They Teach “Old” Farmers “New Tricks”

Marion County farmers Gary Weatherly and Edward Sartin practice with their GPS following a demonstration at Weatherly’s farm in Marion County.

GPS Workshop Aids Farmers

by Susie Sims

The old adage about old dogs and new tricks has recently been turned on its ear, at least in Marion County.

Four "old" farmers are working hard to learn some "new tricks" in the form of GPS systems.

Now "old" is a relative term in that these guys are not new to farming. The farmers include Gary Weatherly, Chip Enlow, Danny McCreless and Robert McCarley.

Of course, the farmers did not jump headlong into the world of GPS on their own. Truth be told they were pushed by Wade Hill, who serves as the NRCS district conservationist for Winston and Marion Counties.

Maybe "pushed" is too harsh a about nudged?

Hill knew of an Equip Program called Precision Ag that would pay for the row crop producers to purchase GPS systems for use in their fields. The only problem was it did not cover his district.

Wade Hill diagrams a field on the ground while discussing GPS operation with Marion County farmer Chip Enlow.

So Hill went to work to find a way to bring the program to his farmers.

"I saw a need and thought we could get some out here," Hill said. "Extension stepped in with some grant money, so they added a few counties to the program, including Marion and Winston Counties."

Hill’s district was added because it had shown interest and a need for the program.

He encouraged anyone interested in the program to contact their local NRCS office. Even if the program isn’t available yet in your area, Hill said expressing your interest may help expand the program.

Precision Ag for Beginners

There are different levels, so to speak, of the program. Hill said his farmers are participating in the lowest level, which covers pest management — insects or weeds.

Prior to this year, Hill said very few farmers in his area were using any form of guidance system other than a foam marker. Hill noted a foam marker system works great, but lacks the accuracy of a GPS.

Wade Hill and Marion County farmer Gary Weatherly discuss the day’s events in the shade of Weatherly’s equipment shed.

"It just reduces the amount of pesticide put out because you don’t do near as much overlapping," Hill said. "It should prevent the skips that sometimes happen when you’re counting rows."

In order to qualify for the program, farmers have to use the GPS on 200 acres of row crop land for two years. After two years of the program, Hill said the farmers should recoup their initial investments of about $1,800.

Once approved for the program, farmers can use the GPS on any of their land, like pastures or hayfields.

Hill said, at this time, only row crop land could be used to qualify for the program, but he hopes pasture or hay land will be included in the future.

Hill personally uses a GPS on his hay land in Lawrence County. He said it has helped eliminate the skips during spraying, which in turn eliminates the overlaps as well.

"I thought I could drive a tractor pretty straight before I got my GPS," Hill said. "You think you’re headed straight for that tree at the end of the field, but you’re not."

At least one of the Marion County farmers has used his GPS to spread chicken litter, according to Hill.

Hill said the particular systems purchased by the Marion County farmers would allow them to increase their level of use as they become more familiar with the system.

"The Trimble System they bought will allow them to transfer information from the GPS to their computers," Hill explained. "They can print maps of their fields or other information when they need to."

This information could be interfaced with certain computer programs. This would be a basic level of precision agriculture.

The farmers are operating off a WAAS signal which is accurate to within one to two feet.

Hill noted the Trimble Systems could easily be removed from one tractor and placed in another, or in a spreader truck or other vehicle.

Field Day for Farmers

Of course, there was quite a learning curve for the farmers to overcome. Most of them do not consider themselves knowledgeable concerning high-tech devices.

After working with the GPS devices for several weeks, the farmers told Hill they were having difficulty getting it to function properly. It probably didn’t help that the only operator’s manual that came with the systems was on a CD.

NRCS District Conservationist Wade Hill and Regional Extension Agent Amy Thompson Winstead discuss the particulars of GPS systems during a recent demonstration.

Hill arranged for a demonstration at the farm of Gary Weatherly in Marion County. He enlisted the help of Amy Thompson Winstead, a regional Extension agent who specializes in precision agriculture.

Winstead was particularly helpful to the farmers because she is very familiar with the model of GPS they are using. Winstead and her husband use the same model on their sod farm.

On Wednesday, March 31, Winstead met with several farmers from the area to show them how to set up their GPS systems and make the changes needed according to each farmer’s need.

She upgraded the firmware on the systems, a process allowing manufacturers to offer new programming to systems that have already been produced.

Even though the farmers had purchased their GPS systems about six months ago, two upgrades were already available for their units.

Hill said the only way to become proficient in the use of GPS is to use the system often. Winstead’s demonstration gave the local farmers the confidence they needed to experiment with the systems and become more familiar with them.

Contact Information

Persons interested in participating in the Equip Precision Ag Program may call Hill at (205) 921-3103 or contact their local NRCS office.

Winstead may be reached by calling (256) 353-8702 or e-mailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.

Try a Straw Bale to Avoid Back-Breaking Gardening This Season

by Angela Treadaway

Want to grow your own vegetables this year, but don’t have a lot of time, space or strength in your back? Why not consider trying a straw bale garden this year. Many people have been doing it for years and grow enough vegetables for their families without all the back-breaking work and the aggravation of pesky weeds.

Wheat or oat straw is best as it’s the stalks left from harvesting grain with very few seed left. Hay bales are less popular as they are made of whole plants with much seeds and often other weeds in. Use what you can get locally. Put the bales in the exact place, because it’s too hard to even nudge these monsters once you’ve got your little straw bale garden factory in full swing. You’ll get one good season out of a bale and usually two, albeit with a bit of sag. It makes for great compost or mulch when finished.

Lay them lengthwise to make planting easy by just parting the straw. Make sure the string is running around each bale and not on the side touching the ground in case it’s degradable twine. Keep the twine there to hold it all in place and if it does rot, bang some stakes in at both ends, or chock up the ends with something heavy like rocks, bricks, boxes or plant containers.

It takes 10 days to prepare your bales before you transplant your plants into them:

• Days 1–3: Water the bales thoroughly and keep them wet.

• Days 4–6: Sprinkle the bales with a half cup of ammonium nitrate (32-0-0) per bale per day, and water it well into the bales. You can find ammonium nitrate at your local Quality Co-op.

• Days 7–9: Cut back to a quarter cup of ammonium nitrate per bale per day and continue to water it in well.

• Day 10: No more ammonium nitrate, but do add one cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per bale and water it in well.

• Day 11: Transplant your plants into the bales. A spatula is handy to make a crack in the bale for each plant. Place the plant down to its first leaf and close the crack back together as best you can.

How many plants per bale? Try per bale: two tomato plants, three peppers, two squash or two sets of cucumbers.

Be prepared to stake the tomatoes and peppers just like you would if they were growing in the ground. You will want to water them in the morning and after sunset for best results. You can’t over-water because any excess will just run out of the bales. Soaker hoses will work. The main thing is not to let the bales get dried out between watering. If transplanting plants, start out using some Miracle Gro once a week for a couple of weeks, then sprinkle in some 10-10-10. You don’t want to over-fertilize.

The bales will start to sprout wheat or oat straw, but that is no problem. If the grass gets too much for you, just whack it off.

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.

T’s Riding Camp Features Trails on 200 Acres of the Scenic Appalachian Foothills

T’s Riding Camp, located off Hwy. 231 just outside of Oneonta, consists of over 200 acres of trails for hiking, biking or horseback riding.

by Mary-Glenn Smith

From the moment one turns onto the winding driveway leading down the mountainside to Tammi Manley’s farm, it is evident why many people often refer to it as "The Little Smokies." The breathtaking scenery surrounding the farm is similar to what can be found in the mountains of Tennessee or even Colorado.

Manley’s farm, known as T’s Riding Camp, is located off Hwy. 231 just outside of Oneonta. The farm consists of over 200 acres of trails for hiking, biking or horseback riding. Rock bluffs, cascading creeks and elegant waterfalls throughout the property add to the charm of the farm tucked away in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Since 2002, Manley has been teaching horseback riding lessons to students of all ages at the farm. T’s Riding Camp provides students with demonstrations and instructions about proper riding skills, balance and communication with their horse.

"I actually grew up on a working cattle farm in North Alabama with two older brothers and we were all riding at a very early age," Manley said. "We actually had the old-fashioned round-ups, ropings and brandings. The experience was priceless.

The Loft at T’s Riding Camp is the converted space above the 4-stall horse cedar barn as a retreat for guest. It is one bedroom with a full-size bed, twin bed and sleeper sofa in the living area with one bathroom, kitchenette and a balcony just off the living room area.

"After graduating and moving from my home town, I lived in Birmingham, Florida and North Carolina, but not on a farm again for a few years. When I returned to a farm atmosphere, I realized what meant the most to me. That’s when T’s Riding Camp came to be my future."

Manley teaches both Western and English-style horse riding lessons.

The Loft is appropriately decorated with rustic furnishings. The kitchenette features handmade hickory cabinets with a sink, microwave and refrigerator.

"I realized my experience of riding and working with horses, and the team work with my family in the business had instilled in me the self-confidence and leadership skills that got me where I am today," Manley explained. "Teaching lessons not only gives my students greater riding skills, but also the confidence they need for reaching their goals.

"Horses are strong and intimidating when you do not understand them. But once you acquire this knowledge and the know-how to apply it in good horsemanship skills, it’s powerful."

Manley has lived in a cabin and operated a successful horse business on the farm since 1993. But it was just recently she made the decision to open her place to others who want to share in the beauty of the farm.

T’s Riding Camp has a 90 x 70 arena used for horseback riding lessons.

Manley converted the space over her 4-stall horse cedar barn into a retreat for guests who want to come and enjoy a relaxing weekend on the farm. Manley simply refers to this cozy area of the barn as "The Loft."

"The Loft came about from student’s parents wanting us to provide a unique get-away weekend for adults and that is just what we have done," Manley said.

The Loft is appropriately decorated with rustic furnishings. The kitchenette features handmade hickory cabinets with a sink, microwave and refrigerator.

"You may bring your own food or request a catered meal," Manley explained. "Often we are known to cook at the main house and sit around the large deck listening to the creek and sharing our stories."

At T’s Riding Camp you can experience the beautiful riding trails with your own horse, enjoy day hikes along numerous trails or just relax around the flowing creek.

The Loft is approximately 600 square-feet and can comfortably sleep up to four guests. The one bedroom loft includes two full-size beds as well a twin bed and a full bath.

"We feel the economy is keeping many of us closer to home," Manley said. "We hope The Loft will provide that special escape for many to just get away and enjoy nature again."

The Loft features a screened in porch overlooking the 90 x 70 arena used for horseback riding and also provides an exquisite view of the entire farm.

"We offer riding lessons or training with your horses, hiking for those who don’t ride, or you can just bring a book and sit by the creek and relax," Manley described a weekend at The Loft.

"There are too many to mention for credit in helping to make this place run but, the local Co-op has been a huge part in making my job easier with their various products and easy access," Manley stated.

"I have been very blessed and wish to share my experience with horses and life in this valley with others so they may walk away with a wonderful experience to remember," Manley concluded.

For an appointment to see T’s Riding Camp and The Loft, contact Tammi Manley at (205) 739-1241 or visit their website which includes The Loft and pricing.

Mary-Glenn Smith is a freelance writer from Snead.

Use Care When Choosing a Home Canning Method

Here are Home Food Preservation Techniques that are Not Recommended for Consumers

by Angela Treadaway

Steam Canners: The steam canner was designed as a means to process foods using steam without the aid of pressure. The manufacturer claims this process uses less water, saves time and energy, and recommends identical processing times as those required for boiling-water bath treatments.

Studies have concluded:

1. Atmospheric steam canners result in significantly lower product temperatures at the beginning and end of the scheduled process when compared to water-bath canning.

2. Use of steam canners as instructed by the manufacturer would result in under-processing and considerable economic spoilage.

Micro-Dome Food Preserver: Micro-Dome Food Preserver Recalled (Washington, DC) —The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in cooperation with Micro-Dome of San Ramon, CA, has warned consumers of certain safety hazards associated with the use of the "Micro-Dome Food Preserver" manufactured by Micro-Dome and sold and distributed to consumers after August 1987. The CPSC has also urged consumers to destroy all food preserved using a Micro-Dome Food Preserver.

Solar-Canning: The heat generated from captured sunlight is not a reliable method to process acid foods and should never be used to can low-acid foods.

Oven-Canning: Oven-canning is extremely hazardous. This method involves placing jars in an oven and heating. In oven-canning, product temperatures never exceed the boiling point because the jars are not covered. It is, therefore, not safe to use for low-acid products (e.g. meats, most vegetables) which require temperatures higher than 212o F.

Because this process fails to destroy the spores of Clostridium botulinum, it can cause the food to become toxic during storage. Also, canning jars are not designed for intense dry heat and may explode resulting in serious cuts or burns.

Open-Kettle Canning: The open-kettle method involves placing hot food in jars and sealing with no further heat treatment. This method is NOT recommended for home canning because the amount of heat applied may not be sufficient to destroy bacteria and the product may spoil quickly or cause illness when consumed.

Microwave Processing: Microwave ovens cannot be used for home canning. Microwaved food reaches 212o F, but heating is not uniform. There is also a danger of explosion of the jars within the microwave oven or as food is being removed from the oven.

Dishwashing Processing: Processing canned foods in a dishwater cycle is dangerous. The temperature of the water during the cleaning and rinsing cycle is far below that required to kill harmful microorganisms. Thus the product will be underprocessed and unsafe to eat.

Be sure to contact your local Regional Extension Agent Angela Treadaway at (205) 410-3696 for the most up-to-date information on the correct type of equipment to use for canning those fruits and vegetables. Also if you would like to have your pressure-canner gauge (which should be checked every year before canning season) checked, please call Angela Treadaway to make an appointment.

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.

With Solid Planning Your Cattle Can Graze without Fighting Flies

Doug Gibbs vaccinating a cow to prevent pinkeye.

by John Howle

Flies can wreak havoc on herd health and profit margins. With a solid, fly management plan, your cows can be grazing forage instead of fighting flies.

On the Fly

According to Lee Townsend, extension entomologist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, horn and face flies are the top two enemies of cattle.

"The horn fly will spend virtually all its life on cattle while feeding 20 to 30 times a day taking a small amount of blood each time with its sucking mouthparts," Townsend said. "Horn fly control can mean an additional 12 to 20 pounds of weight per calf over the summer months in some cases and can result in less weight loss per nursing cow.

"The face fly uses sponging mouthparts to feed on protein-rich fluids from the eyes especially, but will visit wounds. Face flies have also been implicated as a vector of the causative organism of pinkeye, but, while face flies are not the sole means of transfer, intensive face fly control is part of an overall management approach."

The rule of thumb is at least 100 flies per side means productivity may suffer.

Townsend said both these flies breed only in fresh cow manure in pastures.

In addition to cattle health and economic loss, Ken Kelley, regional extension agent with animal sciences and forages of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System said flies cause cattle to spend more time walking, lying, resting and standing instead of grazing.

"Physiological responses to increased fly numbers for cattle include higher heart and respiration rates, higher body temperatures, greater urine output and reduced nitrogen retention," Kelley said.

Prepare the Plan

Once you’ve targeted the problem flies, a few options for control include insecticide impregnated ear tags, back rubs with face flaps, dust bags, bullets, sprays, pour-ons and minerals with an insect growth-regulator. Since flies can develop resistance to chemicals over the years, Kelley recommended rotating chemicals.

Your local Co-op can provide you with advice and plenty of fly control products.

"Insecticide-impregnated ear tags probably do the best job of delivering insecticide on a consistent basis without having to work the animals on a repeated basis," Kelley said. "Of the insecticides used, it’s important to rotate the pyrethroids and organophosphates and, for ear tags, the recommendation is usually two years of organophosphates and one year of pyrethroids."

The objective for a fly-management plan is to save labor, cost, cattle health and profits while being diligent with maintenance like removing the ear tags at the end of fly season to prevent fly resistance. If you include cattle-operated controls like back rubs, bullets and dust bags, recharge and refill these regularly.

"If you are going to use an insect growth-regulator which is designed to break the fly hatching cycle, it would be best to use back rubs or spray the cattle first since the insect growth regulators (IGR) won’t kill adult flies," said Cindy Sanders, Director of Livestock at the University of Florida and IFAS Alachua County Extension in Gainesville, FL.

Time Flies When It’s Not Managed

Doug Gibbs and his father, Wendell, time their cattle confinement time so they can combine fly control with other animal health care needs. With their 500 brood cow operation consisting of Simmental, Angus and Sim-Angus breeds in Ranburne, the Gibbses gather the cattle in spring for a comprehensive animal health program including fly control.

Doug Gibbs applying a wormer to a confined cow.

"During mid-May to the end of May, we vaccinate, worm and pregnancy check our cows," said Doug, operations manager of Gibbs Farm. "During this time, when fly populations are beginning to get higher, we put ear tags in."

Each May, Gibbs alternates permethrins and organophosphates in the ear tags to keep the flies from building a resistance to the chemicals.

"In the following fall, when we round up the cattle for breeding, we make sure to remove all the ear tags and this prevents the flies from becoming resistant," Doug explained.

During the May round-up, the Gibbses also get early fly control through their cattle wormings.

"The pour-on back wormer we use keeps flies down for around 30 days," Doug said. "Also during May, we vaccinate the cattle with a broad spectrum pinkeye inoculation."

On the Move

The Gibbs’ frequent, rotational grazing has been a successful, natural way to fight the flies.

"The cows have often been moved to another paddock before the flies have had a chance to come out of the larvae stage in the cattle manure," Doug said. "We clean our holding area regularly and spread the manure across pastures to reduce fly numbers around the barn."

Sanders said rotational grazing helps break the cycle for horn flies.

"Since the horn flies prefer fresher manure for laying their eggs, this breaks the pattern somewhat of the fly hatching," Sanders explained.

The Gibbs use back rubs and bullets around their feeding structures in their bull pens with success, but they don’t use them in the general cattle population.

"It’s not efficient for us to keep back rubs fully-charged in each paddock since we change the cattle to a new paddock each week," Doug said.

Need a Back Rub?

In addition to fresh ear tags, pinkeye vaccinations and regular worming, you can use the cattle’s natural movement to help in the fly fight. Fully-charged back rubs placed in areas where cattle are naturally confined or funneled add an additional layer of fly protection. P.H. White ( carries a line of back rubs and face flaps that effectively transfer fly control chemicals to the cattle.

The simplest method of installing a back rub is between two posts in a gap or gate opening where the cattle are forced to enter. Areas like the hall of a barn offer additional protection against the elements that can wash the solution from the rub. Even if the back rub is placed between two posts out in the elements, a simple structure can help shed the rain.

Once the 10-foot rub has been attached to the posts with rope through the loops at each end of the rub, attach a two-by-six plank across the top of the posts. Next, attach a piece of long, plastic like the liner on a salt feeder to the plank. Even in a downpour, this simple structure will shed rain.

To charge the backrub, White recommended spraying a mixture of insecticide and diesel fuel with a three-gallon sprayer with the nozzle tip removed for a free flowing stream.

"Two gallons of mixture will saturate the back rub for cattle use," White said. "About every two weeks, recharge the rub because you want the base of the back rub to feel greasy."

Recharging of the back rub usually only takes about a gallon of solution. If face flyps are attached to the back rub, gravity draws insecticide into the fabric strips. This gives extra protection against face flies. Dust bags and bullets placed strategically around feeding troughs or confined entrances can give added fly protection.

Doug said he knows the fly tags work well because, when they wear out at the end of the summer, he sees cattle seeking relief by running under low hanging limbs and heading for shade.

"Fly control is absolutely essential," Gibbs stated. "You loose important weight gain and reproductive strength when the cows are stressed with flies."

When the weather gets warm and the flies start to swarm, you’ll be ready with proven fly control techniques.

Visit your local Co-op for all your fly control needs.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Yard Farmers

by Kenn Alan

After 20 years, Pepper says, “So long.”

Many years ago, I owned a home only four blocks from City Hall. It was an old craftsman built in the early ’40 along the "steel industry row" which runs from Walker County through Tuscaloosa County in Alabama.

Since the house was in an area being swallowed up by the city, the front and back yards had shrunk in order to accommodate easement access. More than 40 years of changing times and homeowners, with only a sense of immediate need and poor planning, had left the yard with assorted small permanent storage buildings and various pads of old broken concrete and a crushed gravel parking area big enough for four cars. On the upside of this was that I could mow all of the grass patches in less than twenty minutes. Nevertheless, I wanted a garden.

There were only three trees in the yard; a Japanese magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana), Southern red maple (Acer rubrum) and a Chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach) which was as much of a representation of early Americana as any plant in the yard. The shrubs consisted of overgrown nandinas (Nandina domestica) and a couple of scraggly mahonia bushes (Mahonia aquafolia).

I spent a week watching the sun at various times of the day, carried my compass around to the different possible locations in the yard. After carefully surveying what little dirt was available for planting, I decided to make several raised bed gardens around the house, taking advantage of the sunlight wherever possible. Several? I made 11!

I built my bed walls out of 2 x 12 redwood planks and connected them in the corners with galvanized screws. Some of the raised beds were only one foot wide by three feet long. Some were twelve feet long. Some of the floors of the raised beds were concrete pads which provided good weed control and better water retention in the hot Alabama sun.

In the beds built directly onto the soil, I laid a thick layer of newspapers as a weed deterrent directly onto the ground before I added soil. In those beds, deeper-rooted vegetables were planted. Tomatoes, peppers, okra and corn were among those. In the beds on the concrete pads, I planted squash, cucumbers, radishes, bush peas and bush beans.

At the end of each season, I simply removed the screws, hosed off the boards, dried them in the autumn sun and stacked them in the storage barn.

All of the soil was piled in a large heap and I added kitchen scraps to it all winter long. See? I was composting long before I knew what to call it.

I was a yard farmer!


• Pre-drill the holes before you screw the bed planks together.

• Be sure to make a design map and assembly instruction reference for next year.

• Always remove the soil and dry the bed planks before storage.

I’m still setting out my mid-season tomato plants! It’s not too late to start your garden. You can be a yard farmer too!

E-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it."> if you would like to know more about "yard farming."

Become a fan of Home Grown Tomatoes on Facebook and keep up with the latest news! Sign up for our newsletter by e-mailing Home Grown Tomatoes at Put "newsletter" in the subject line.

I hope you will all tune in each Saturday from 8 until 8:30 a.m. CDT for Home Grown Tomatoes. If you are not in the local coverage area, then tune in on the Internet by going to and follow the links to listen live!

BSE Testing in Alabama Takes a Break

by Dr. Tony Frazier

In my column last month I discussed risk management. If any of you need to, you can go dig last month’s AFC Cooperative Farming News from the garbage and review the article. For the rest of you, I will give a brief review. Managing risk simply involves identifying hazards, evaluating the seriousness of the risk and then implementing steps to reduce risks to acceptable levels. It turns out the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) surveillance program is at a point where we are evaluating exactly where we are and what is the exact role that testing serves in the complexity of dealing with a disease that has almost become extinct. The risks have certainly been reduced.

BSE has affected the beef industry sort of like falling off a cliff. It was kind of gradual on the way down; then all at once hit the ground. BSE barely made a ripple in the water in 1986 when the disease was first recognized in England. However, by 1993, the number of cases peaked in the United Kingdom at about 1,000 new cases a week. Eventually, there were around 184,000 cases from 35,000 farms in the U.K. By that time, the United States had implemented some regulations that kept the disease from becoming an issue here. Mainly, the United States banned live cattle from any country that had BSE in their cattle. The disease was on the radar screen, but was not much of an issue here.

In 1996, the England Ministry of Health made the statement that there was a casual link between the human disease variant CJD (vCJD) and BSE. Along with that announcement, there was speculation there would be tens of thousands of cases of vCJD in the next decade or two. We are about a decade and a half down the road from that announcement and the number of human vCJD cases was less than 200 a couple of years ago. I can’t find any extremely recent data on the numbers, but I doubt it is over 200. Nonetheless, BSE became a media disease taking on a life of its own.

The United States also began testing for the disease: 5,000 samples in 2001, 12,500 in 2002 and 20,000 in 2003. As we entered the last quarter of 2003, we planned to increase testing to 40,000 samples from what were considered to be true target animals in 2004. Target animals were considered to be those showing signs that could be consistent with BSE. In Alabama, we planned to participate in the surveillance program by encouraging producers to call us if they had a target animal (those down, disabled, with incoordination, staggering, wasting or dead of an unknown cause) that died on the farm. A Harvard University study showed, if we tested 40,000 target animals, we could have a 95 percent confidence level, if the disease was out there, we would find it.

On December 23, 2003, a Holstein from a dairy in the state of Washington tested positive. Even though the cow originated from Canada, many countries closed their borders to our cattle and beef. Never mind the cow was Canadian born, we suffered the effects of her residing here at the time of her demise. In my mind December 23, was a pivotal date in the history of the beef industry. Much like the cyanide in the Tylenol capsules in 1982 forever impacted the way over-the-counter drugs are packaged, after December 23, BSE will always be addressed in the way beef cattle are raised and beef is processed.

First, firewalls were put into place to reduce to near zero the possibility the infective agent could be passed on to consumers or to other cattle. Specified risk material (SRM) like brain, spinal cord, eyes and other bovine parts where the infective agent may be found are completely removed from the food chain. In cattle over 30 months, the entire spinal column including the vertebrae is removed. Think you can get a T-bone steak from a bovine over 30 months old? You can’t. There was also the discontinuation of using any ruminant by-products in ruminant feed.

The second move that followed shortly was to begin the Intensified BSE Testing Program in the early spring of 2004. In that program, we were to test 268,000 target animals for BSE. And, according to the folks at Harvard, we could have a 99 percent level of confidence that if there were BSE positive cows out there, we would find them. Sure enough, we did find two cows that were native United States residents. There was the one in Texas that hit the news about June of 2004 and the anonymous red cow from Alabama in March of 2006. Now, after more than three quarters of a million have been tested, there have only been those two.

So we have come to a point where we are taking a pause to evaluate what we need out of the surveillance program. How many target animals do we really need to test? The removal of SRMs has served to keep the food supply safe. The sampling will be continued for the purpose of making sure that if the disease is still out there, we will find it. Since about mid-February, we have taken a time-out and are not presently collecting brain samples. The program will probably start back in the future, but may have a smaller goal. We will likely need to continue to sample target animals to assure our own consumers and our trade partners we are making sure our beef products are safe. It is because of the participation and cooperation of the Alabama beef producers and the practicing veterinarians this program has been a success. I want to thank you for helping the program succeed to this point. As soon as we get word from the folks at USDA as to how the BSE testing will go forward, we will let you know.

As always we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian or our office if you have cattle showing any central nervous signs. Presently there is no funding to help with carcass disposal, but you need to rule out diseases like rabies or preventable diseases.

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