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May 2017

4-H Extension Corner: 4-Hinnovators

A creative new curriculum propels curiosity into a world of science, technology and opportunities.

by Katie Nichols

In an ever-changing world, educators and students often struggle to keep up with changing technology and increased demands for skill development in the classroom.

Alabama 4-H Program Director Dr. Molly Gregg and a team of Alabama Cooperative Extension System Creative Specialists saw a need and worked together to develop a program to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM, to youth ages 9-18.

The result – a program called 4-Hinnovators, or 4-Hi – a completely digital four-course curriculum enhanced with multimedia pieces to make program planning and teaching easy for educators and engaging for youth.

Bringing Positive Change to Alabama’s Education System

The need to provide an enhanced STEM program is not a conversation new to Alabama educators.

"For our nation to be economically robust and globally competitive, our young people must be an educated, creative and powerful workforce," Gregg said. "It’s not just important to our nation, it is important to our families and communities – especially to the young people."

Alabama Extension Media Production Specialist David McCormick worked with the seven-person team to develop characters mirroring everyday kids. The 4-Hi heroes come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives.

"The 4-Hi characters represent what heroes might actually look and sound like if they stepped forward," McCormick said. "They’d be the kids who use their brains and skills to make communities a better place for those around them. That’s the cool – and relevant – idea behind the 4-Hi team. They could be someone you already know."

Using inquiry-based learning, 4-Hi provides new ways for youth to discover scientific concepts and expand critical thinking skills in the medical and health care field. 4-Hi also equips educators with the tools to engage young people in STEM-based activities, propelling their curiosity into a world of science, technology and possibilities.

Bruce Dupree, Alabama Extension Creative Services Manager, is the program illustrator. The characters – BiO, Edge, Pi and Willz – all have abilities associated with science, technology, engineering and math.

"I deliberately chose clothing and hairstyles that would connect with the audience," Dupree said. "The characters were designed to be slightly older than middle school students because we wanted the youth to look up to these characters as mentors."

4-Hi CurriculumDevelops STEM Interest

Conecuh County 4-Hinnovators are Movin’ and Groovin’ with 4-Hi Goes Fast!

According to Teach for America, just 1 in 4 fourth-graders from low-income backgrounds is proficient in math, and just 1 in 6 is proficient in science. By 2018, 8 million STEM jobs will be available in the United States, but the vast majority of U.S. students will be unprepared to fill them.

Kim Graham, an Alabama Extension Communications Specialist, said Alabama 4-H is committed to meeting this need.

Graham, a program content specialist and copywriter, said the 4-Hi team knew it needed to go beyond lecture into engaging, rich and hands-on activities – it needed to address real world issues and challenges in order to be meaningful.

"4-Hi is a happy marriage between art and science," Graham said. "The strong, inquiry-based science content provided by Alabama 4-H, in conjunction with the art and design created by Extension Creative Services has launched 4-Hi into national focus. Educators are attracted to the bright colors and diverse characters, and stay engaged because of the strength of the curriculum and what it can provide."

To date, 22 of 67 Alabama counties have participated in 4-Hi with 3,212 participants. Over 1,071 4-Hi engineering design prototypes have been built and tested. Course completion reveals an improvement in many areas of STEM development, including the ability to solve a problem based on an engineering challenge and an ability to envision a career in engineering.

Housed in Instructure’s Canvas Catalogue Learning Management System, the curriculum is divided into four graphic novel issues. Each issue has two chapters: the Common Experience and the Inquiry Experience. The first chapter is teacher led, ensuring the understanding of a concept before moving on. The Inquiry Experience allows teams of youth to build on the previous chapter by planning and imagining a solution to an engineering problem.

"With 4-Hinnovators, we believe we can prepare young people for their futures through the tradition of hands-on learning," Gregg said. "4-Hi helps educators create comfortable, exciting and inclusive learning environments where every kid can discover their own potential to look for answers."

For more information on 4-Hi, visit

Katie Nichols is in Communications and Marketing with Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

A Little (Actually a Lot of) Help From My Friends

The Changing of the Guard at the ACA

by Dr. Tony Frazier

I have been writing this column since April 2004. It has been a tremendously helpful way to get important information out to a large number of readers who are often my target audience. I often think of how fortunate I was when Jim Allen and Grace Smith came to visit me in my office and offered me the opportunity to have a regular column in this publication. I have been able to communicate a lot of what I have considered to be important information to you, the reader. If I ever were to receive a bill from Alabama Farmers’ Cooperative for what it has been worth to get the message out in their publication, well, there is just no way I could pay them back. That brings me to the point of this column. There are a lot of people who help me accomplish the things I need to do in my job. In fact, to be honest, without a lot of help from my friends, I am not sure we would accomplish much.

Since becoming state veterinarian, I have worked closely with Tuskegee and Auburn Veterinary schools, the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association, the Alabama Horse Council, ALFA, USDA Veterinary Services and other groups who have been at the table when we have planned, exercised and put into action so many things dealing with disease surveillance and response to disease threats and outbreaks. I have always been aware that while government could say, "We have the authority and this is how it is going to be," that approach almost never works very well. And as I think back over the years, I don’t think I have made many decisions concerning regulatory situations without going to those groups and seeking input.

A friend of mine, Bill Hawks, former U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture from Mississippi, used to have a philosophy that simply said, "Working together works." That sounds pretty obvious and it is true, but the obstacle I have often observed is people’s reluctance to work together. I am really, really blessed here in Alabama to have this group of people who come to the table with the attitude of, "Dr. Frazier, what do you need to accomplish and how can we help get it done?" As I said, I am fortunate to work with groups who take that position. Believe me, I do not take it for granted. I am well aware of some of my state veterinarian brothers and sisters across the country who do not enjoy that kind of relationship with the worlds of academics and industry. In fact, sometimes other state veterinarians go to those groups and are told, "Dr. State Veterinarian, you let us know what you need to accomplish and we will let you know whether we are going to support or fight it."

Over the past 16 years that I have served as state veterinarian, I have met and made many good friends from those groups I mentioned earlier. I have been around long enough to say I have seen people come and people go.

As I write this column, we are quickly approaching the passing of the torch at the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. Dr. Billy Powell, who has been executive vice president of ACA since 1983, is retiring and Erin Beasley will take that position.

Over the years, Powell has been at the table many times as we have debated, discussed and cussed issues ranging from tractors imported from a country with foot-and-mouth disease to animal disease traceability to a positive BSE cow to rules concerning trichomonas to diagnostic laboratory issues. Powell’s wisdom and experience will be missed as we deal with issues down the road. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the industry. However, I am certainly not worried about the future of ACA.

Beasley has worked for ACA for around six years. Although I have not known Beasley well or really worked closely with her to this point, I have observed what she has done since she has been with ACA. I don’t remember ever hearing my grandpa saying this, but he may have, but I am sure somebody’s grandpa used to always say, "You can learn a lot by just observing how people do their job." I do not think I would get much argument when I say Beasley has been one of the most valuable assets ACA has had since she arrived. She has been hard working, dedicated and extremely knowledgeable about what she does. She communicates extremely well with people and, in a time when being able to communicate facts about agriculture is critical, that quality is invaluable.

If history is any indication of the future, there will be more challenging issues to be faced by the cattle industry. And when those challenges arise, I will call on that group of industry and academic advisors to help me get a pulse on how to best accomplish our task. I cannot say enough about my friends who have had a seat at the table as we have worked through many challenging issues over the years. Any successes over the years that have been credited to the office of the state veterinarian are a reflection of all the different groups that have worked with me to see our goals are accomplished. There is not much I could get accomplished without a lot of help from my friends.

As Erin Beasley takes her seat at the table, I am more than confident that she will do an excellent job. I look forward to working with her as she represents those in the beef cattle industry in our state.

Dr. Tony Frazier is the State Veterinarian for Alabama. You can contact him at 334-240-7253.

A Treasure in the Forest

Marengo County’s Sweet Water High School

by Carolyn Drinkard

The purple and gold bulldog paw unites all SWHS fans. They proudly display this emblem to celebrate their long-standing tradition of winning.

If you drive west along Highway 10 in south Marengo County, you will notice large tracts of pine forests. Even though this is a rural, agricultural area where farmers plant cotton, corn and row crops, they also plant acres of trees to supply the numerous wood product industries in the area.

Drive down the steep Gooley Hills, round the winding curve and there sits the small town of Sweet Water. The first thing you notice is the huge cotton gin on the right. You will also spot a bank, a hardware store, a gas station, a clinic, a family restaurant and City Hall. In Sweet Water, there are no stoplights, no strip malls and no fast-food places.

Nevertheless, the 258 people who live there do have something even more unique, something they call "the treasure in the forest." To find their treasure, you have to turn off Highway 10 onto Main Street and travel a short distance through a quiet neighborhood. There, nestled among the trees, is Sweet Water High School, the town’s pride and joy. In fact, this school is so special to these people that they often use the name Sweet Water to mean both the town and the school!

Sweet Water was settled in the early 1840s. In 1870, city leaders put up a log cabin that was used as both a church and school. In 1920, the state built the first formal school building. From the beginning, Sweet Water High School was the hub of the town, and townspeople saw themselves as a vital part of the school. This symbiotic relationship has improved the school, just as the school has improved the community.

SWHS has 645 students in grades K4-12. These students are 41 percent African-Americans, 58 percent Caucasians and 1 percent other races. Over 69 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches. Most get to and from school on buses, coming from 10 smaller feeder communities surrounding the town. This area was hit hard by the nation’s economic downturn, and recovery has been slow. Unemployment still stands around 11 percent, as compared to a state rate of 6 percent. Those who do have jobs work almost entirely in the timber industry. To some, these numbers are bleak, but to the people at SWHS, they are opportunities.

Ty Glass, right, works with ninth-grader Devontae January. Ty graduated from SWHS and returned after college to help teach the STEM classes.

For someone on the outside looking in, the buildings at SWHS may show some age. But step inside and you will realize that something truly amazing is going on here!

"This is a happy place," explained Mark Davis, the assistant principal. "If teachers feel healthy, happy and fulfilled, then they will relate to students in that way. In turn, if students feel healthy, happy and fulfilled, they will take great pride in their school and feel safe. They will also be excited about learning."

At SWHS, students and teachers work as a family, guided by high expectations, cooperation, trust and respect. A dedicated, diverse administration and faculty set the tone for everyone else. Phyllis Mabowitz, the principal, arrived about 10 years ago to serve first as a teacher and then as the instructional coach. She stayed on to take the helm of the school three years ago.

On the other hand, Davis is a native of Sweet Water. He returned to teach and then assist with the leadership of the school.

The faculty is a mixture of both veteran teachers, who have had 20 or more years of experience, and younger teachers, who have taught less than five years. Some are former SWHS graduates, while others have taught in different states and school systems. About half the teachers live within the city limits or in feeder communities nearby. The other half drive from larger towns around the area and bring their own children with them, resulting in an even higher investment in the school.

The school has a rigorous and challenging curriculum. Dedicated teachers have found creative ways to use available technologies to enrich and individualize daily instruction, even though access to technology has lagged behind in this rural area. Their resourcefulness, as well as their commitment to the success of each child, has resulted in amazing academic achievements for Sweet Water’s students. For example, the Class of 2016 earned over $616,000 in scholarships, and 72 percent moved on to two- or four-year colleges. Currently, out of 87 students in the senior and junior classes, 36 percent have made 30 or above on their ACT tests and one has a score of 35. These are very high numbers for a school this size. On state-mandated testing, students outscore area schools from Tuscaloosa to Mobile. Dual enrollment with Coastal Alabama Community College offers students the chance to earn college credits before graduation. Students arrive on campus at 7 a.m. to take College English, or they travel to Thomasville, 15 miles away, to participate in more specialized classes. Mabowitz proudly pointed out that Sweet Water students rarely have to take remedial classes on the college level.

SWHS believes that academics and extracurricular activities are like a great marriage: Each should motivate and strengthen the other. Sweet Water’s proud tradition of athletic success is well-documented with nine football state championships, five baseball state championships and one indoor track championship. Each year, the Robotic Team has placed in the district meet and gone to Auburn to compete in the state finals. The Drama Team’s performances are major productions showcasing incredibly talented children to sold-out audiences. All of these activities serve to support, reinforce and enrich the academic program.

The Drama Team presented “Alice in Wonderland” in March. Jack Mims, left, and Anna Grace Norris were Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

"It’s a partnership," Mabowitz explained. "Our community, our parents, our children and our teachers work together and support each other. We begin to lay the strong, academic foundation in our K4 classes. Here, it’s not about test scores, but about preparing our students for life."

At Sweet Water, school spirit and school pride go hand in hand. Knowing this, administrators used both in an interesting way. After recommending trendy, inexpensive, purple and gold uniforms and outerwear for students, school leaders noticed these small changes have also boosted self-pride that improved behavior and produced a more positive school culture.

Davis gave an example of this domino effect.

"In many schools, the bathrooms are areas for vandalism," he explained. "Not here! We never have any writing on our restroom walls. We don’t even monitor that, because we don’t have to deal with it."

Mabowitz further illustrated the power of school pride.

"During Homecoming Week, each class decorates a section of the halls," she said. "In many schools, administrators have stopped this activity because of vandalism and destruction. Not here! Our students take great pride in their areas, and we never have any vandalism. Our kids take care of stuff."

Each morning, students repeat both the Pledge of Allegiance and the school’s motto: "I will strive to do my best at Sweet Water High School and to be personally responsible for my success." Personal responsibility is a core value. Children are taught how to handle themselves and how to make good decisions. Teachers model positive behaviors both in the classroom and on the athletic fields. Older students are constantly reminded that younger students are watching them, while younger students are taught to work hard for success like their older role models.

Thea Luker, senior, winds up for a fast pitch. Thea has already won an athletic scholarship to Coastal Alabama Community College.

"We have parents who care, and homes that support the child and the teachers," Mabowitz explained. "Our parents want their kids to work hard and be good citizens. Our teachers teach hard, and they make sure kids are engaged. That’s why we have so few discipline issues, because kids are engaged. We don’t just work with high achievers; we work with all students."

A single school with both 4-year-olds and seniors in the same building poses many challenges. Mabowitz, however, sees this as one of Sweet Water’s greatest strengths.

"Because our students spend their elementary, middle and high school years on the same school campus, our faculty is able to know the academic, social and emotional needs of each student," she stated. "We know their families, we know their stories and we are able to celebrate their successes and support them when they experience struggles. Our faculty and staff understand the importance of building relationships with both our students and our school families. We are able to see students grow from young children into young adults, and that is very rewarding."

Community service and volunteerism are just a way of life at Sweet Water. In the Salvation Army’ s Red Kettle Competition among area schools, Sweet Water has won more times than any other school. In addition, students support Special Olympics and Pennies for Patients.

"I am humbled at their generosity of hearts," Mabowitz stated. "Our students and their parents jump in to help. It reflects the work ethic of this community."

Chad Broussard, mayor of Sweet Water, expressed the pride the citizens of Sweet Water feel.

"The first thing any economic developer looks at is how your people are educated," Broussard stated. "The school we have here is top-notch. We look at our school as being a flagship, and we’re right there with them."

To people in this area, Sweet Water High School means much more than just a building for learning. This school means family and caring and helping one another and doing the right thing. This community may be small and it may be rural, but all who live here know they have something very special here, a priceless treasure in the forest.

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville. She can be reached at

AFC Wins Big at NCFC Information Fair

Every year, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives has a Cooperative Information Fair. The purpose of the NCFC Cooperative Information Fair is to encourage cooperatives to improve the techniques by which they promote their businesses, inform their members and disseminate information to the general public.

Upon request, fair judges provide entrants with a numerical evaluation of their communication efforts.

Winning entries in each class of the 2016 Information Fair were displayed at the NCFC Annual Meeting.

Alabama Farmers Cooperative placed in the following classes:

Class #1 – Membership Magazine

3rd place – AFC Cooperative Farming News

Class #10 – Feature Article

1st place – Al Benn for "A Special Time Capsule – Rogers Country Store"

3rd place – Robert Patterson for "The Weapons of War"

Honorable Mention – Al Benn for "Just Call Him Bubba"

Class #11 – News Story

1st place – Michelle Bufkin for "So, where does milk come from?"

2nd place – Tony Glover and Becky Barlow for "Woodland Ecology and Management Basics"

3rd place – Pam Carraway for "Not the Usual Bull"

Honorable Mention – Cindy Boyd for "Montevallo FFA Invites You to Farm Day"

Class #12 – Column

1st place – Suzy Lowry Geno for "High Tech or Low Tech"

2nd place – Christy Kirk for "Back to the ‘Olden Days’"

3rd place – Suzy Lowry Geno for "Work With Your Hands"

Honorable Mention – Herb Farmer for "Stuff I Like to Find"

Honorable Mention – Tony Frazier for "The Precautionary Principle"

Class #24 – Advertising Leaflet/Brochure (< 108 square inches)

1st place – Horizon Premium Equine Feed

2nd place – STIMU-LYX Low-Moisture Tub

3rd place – Formax Beef Feed

Class #26 – Poster

1st place – Black Powder Rifle Giveaway

Class #34 – Social Media Page

2nd place – Alabama Farmers Cooperative’s Facebook

Class #35 – Social Media Campaign

Honorable Mention – Breast Cancer

Congratulations to all the winners!

And "Thank You" to our readers for your support.

Ag Insight

by Jim Erickson

Retail food prices declined in 2016

Retail food prices decreased by 1.3 percent last year, the first time since 1967 that grocery store (food-at-home) prices were lower than those the year before.

Over the last 50 years, food-at-home prices have, on average, risen 4 percent annually. However, year-to-year price changes have varied during that period. High food price inflation in the 1970s – increases as large as 16.4 and 14.9 percent in 1973 and 1974 – was precipitated by food commodity and energy price shocks.

In contrast, increases were minimal in 2009 and 2010, as the 2007-09 recession put downward pressure on prices for many goods, including food.

U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service attributes the unusual decline in retail food prices in 2016 to a combination of factors. Declining prices for retail meats, eggs and dairy are largely a story about rising commodity production. Lower transportation costs due to low oil prices and the strength of the U.S. dollar also placed downward pressure on food prices in the first half of last year.

India is world’s largest milk producer

India is the largest milk-producing country in the world and leads the United States, the world’s second largest, by a substantial margin.

In 2016, India’s total production reached 154 billion tons compared to 96 billion produced in the United States.

India is unique among the major milk producers because over half its production comes from water buffalo, rather than cattle. Its dairy herd, also the largest in the world, has the biggest herds of both dairy cattle and water buffalo.

Since 1980, India’s milk output has grown consistently at an average of 4.5 percent per year. The rate of growth between water buffalo and cow’s milk has also been quite similar at 4.6 and 4.5 percent, respectively.

India surpassed the United States as the largest dairy producer in 1997, when both countries produced roughly 70 billion tons, each.

Income sources affected by farm size

In 2015, farm households had a median total income of $76,735 per household, a third greater than that of all U.S. households ($56,516).

Median total household income increased with farm size, with the median income of households operating small family farms approximating the U.S. median household and those operating larger family farms far exceeding it.

The source of household income also varied with farm size. As farm size decreased, off-farm income represented a larger share of total household income. Households operating midsize and large farms (gross cash farm income, or GCFI, greater than $350,000) earned the majority of their total household income from their farm operations.

By comparison, over half of households operating small farms (GCFI less than $350,000) incurred small losses from farming, so the majority of their total household income came from off-farm sources.

Wages from off-farm jobs accounted for over half of off-farm income across all farm households. Farm households also receive significant income from transfers (such as Social Security or private pensions), interest and dividends, and non-farm business income.

Bone-in chicken exports to South Africa resume

After a 15-year absence, the United States resumed exports of bone-in chicken to South Africa in 2016 and quickly gained an 11-percent share of that market.

Until 2001, the United States was the largest supplier of bone-in chicken to the South African market. But that year saw South Africa impose antidumping duties on U.S. chicken leg quarters, after which U.S. exports dropped nearly to zero.

In 2015, under pressure from the U.S. poultry industry, Congress threatened to exclude South Africa from the upcoming renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, unless the country provided greater market access to U.S. poultry. South Africa agreed in June 2015 to allow a quota of 65,000 metric tons of U.S. bone-in chicken at the most favored nation tariff rate of 37 percent.

The first U.S. chicken entered the South African market in March 2016 and total U.S. exports of bone-in chicken to that nation during the year reached 21,291 metric tons.

The U.S. share came at the expense of Brazil and Argentina, both of which saw a drop in their exports to South Africa.

The largest supplier was the European Union that maintained its 74-percent share of South African imports of bone-in chicken.

Fruits, veggies top organic food sales

Although organic food sales account for a small share of total U.S. food sales, they have exhibited double-digit growth during most years since 2000, when USDA set national organic standards.

In 2015, the Nutrition Business Journal estimated U.S. organic retail sales at $37.1 billion, or about 5 percent of total U.S. at-home food expenditures, over double the share in 2005.

Organic sales in all food categories have grown over the last decade, but fresh fruits and vegetables remained the top selling organic category in 2015, accounting for 40 percent of total organic sales. Dairy, the second top-selling organic category, accounted for 15 percent of total sales.

Farm share of food dollar declines

U.S. farmers received an average of 15.6 cents for farm commodity sales from each dollar spent on domestically produced food in 2015, down from 17.2 cents in 2014.

Known as the farm share, this amount is at its lowest level since 2006, and coincides with a steep drop in 2015 average prices received by U.S. farmers as measured by the producer price index for farm products.

USDA’s ERS uses input-output analysis to calculate the farm and marketing shares from a typical food dollar, including food purchased at grocery stores and at restaurants, coffee shops and other eating-out places. 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that the farm share has declined, but the 2015 decline was substantially more than in the three previous years.

The drop in farm share also coincides with four consecutive years of increases in the share of food dollars paying for services provided by the foodservice industry. Since farmers receive a smaller share from eating-out dollars due to the added costs for preparing and serving meals, more spending on food away from home will also drive down the farm share.

Strong demand for soybean oil, meal projected

The recently released USDA agricultural baseline projects strong demand for soybean meal and oil over the next decade.

These gains reflect low expected feed prices, increasing livestock production and steady demand by foreign importers. Strong global demand for soybeans – particularly in China – boosts U.S. soybean trade over the projection period.

While soybean exports are projected to rise, competition from South America – primarily Brazil – will lead to a reduced U.S. share of global soybean trade. U.S. soybean meal use is projected to increase about 1 percent per year over the baseline period.

Domestic soybean meal consumption that accounts for roughly 75 percent of total disappearance is projected to increase at just over 1 percent per year. U.S. soybean oil use is also projected to rise about 1 percent per year over the projection period.

Soybean oil exports are projected to rise only modestly due to increased competition.

Former ag secretary Clayton Yeutter dies

Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter, 86, died at home in Potomac, Maryland, March 4, 2017, after a four-year battle with metastatic colon cancer.

Yeutter, who was born and raised in Nebraska, held a number of high-level positions in both the public and private sectors during his career and was known as someone well-respected by both friends and political foes.

He served as U.S. trade representative under President Reagan and then as Secretary of Agriculture under President George H.W. Bush. In 1991, he was named Chairman of the Republican National Committee before finishing his tenure in government as counselor to the president, a cabinet-level White House post, also under Bush.

Alabama Grown is Just the Wright Thing to Do

by Herb T. Farmer

Back at the end of March, I decided to take a road trip over to Dallas and Chilton counties. It was about time I stepped off the Herb Farm to find out how the rest of Alabama was growing their spring crops.

I made two stops on my adventure. The first stop was at an established farm and CSA in Chilton County, and I’ll tell you more about that exciting place in another installment.

The second stop was in Dallas County to a community called Plantersville. I must say, they don’t call it that for nothing. Good stuff from Alabama grows there. Plants!

The town was first known as Corinth; for what reason, I do not know. Plantersville was named for the cotton planters and plantations in the area – according to the wisdomers of Wikipedia anyway.

That day, I popped in to see my friends at Wright’s Nursery & Greenhouse because it had been too long since the last visit.

It is the middle of their production time and I knew they would be busy, so careful respect to the ongoing production process was honored. Of course, as usual, they welcomed me and gave me the grand tour to show off the cool new plants they were growing.

Wright’s Greenhouse & Nursery has a story I enjoy telling.

According to David Wright, my friend that I first met with the company nearly 20 years ago, the business started in 1966. That was the year he lost his right arm in a farming accident.

David was 14 years old. His father asked him what he wanted to do. David suggested, "Why don’t we build a greenhouse?" That idea was realized and then the family business was launched.

Clockwise from top left, after the seed flats are removed from the germination chamber, they are placed on movable tables until the plants are ready for the next size pot. Davy Wright explains how large some of the sun coleus leaves will get. Automated mister or mister automation? Either way, this device provides water and fertilizer in a timely fashion. Davy Wright explains how hanging baskets are suspended above moveable tables to maximize space.

I asked David what kind of growing medium (dirt) they started with. He said they went out to the woods and just dug dirt.

Times have certainly changed for the Wrights and certainly for the greenhouse industry. Nowadays, growing medium is purchased according to the type of plants you are growing, as well as the type of watering and nutrition injection system you have.

David is the second generation nurseryman at the business. He attributes the success of Wright’s Nursery (as it’s called commonly among business associates and friends) to the fact that he lost his arm.

In fact, he told me, if he hadn’t had that accident when he was just a teenager, the business would most likely not exist.

David graduated from Auburn University with a degree in agriculture, as did his lovely wife Martha.

David said, if he hadn’t lost his arm, he never would have attended Auburn, never would have met Martha, never would have had the business ….

David and Martha met at Auburn, graduated with the same degree and are the same age with the same birthday!

Their son Davy holds the reins at the nursery now. He and his lovely wife Heather graduated from Auburn. Davy has a degree in agriculture and Heather is degreed in business administration.

Sounds like a perfect match to me.

Davy and Heather have two children, Abby and Noah, who, after school, take an active part in the day-to-day operations and will hopefully continue operating this valuable asset to our state when the baton is passed.

Wright’s Greenhouse & Nursery produces some of the finest plants you can buy. But you have to shop for them at independent retail outlets, because you’ll never find them at the bigger stores.

I asked Davy the other day what his nursery is best known for growing. He said they are mostly known for producing the best quality plants of any cultivar they grow.

They grow mostly bedding plants in cell packs, but they also grow selected varieties in 3-4 inch pots for folks who may not want to wait for a cell-pack plant to grow up.

Wright’s grows everything from small bedding-plant annuals to gallon-size perennial flowers and vegetables.

If you find a plant with the label "Alabama Grown," then it is produced by the folks at Wright’s Nursery.

Although Wright’s Greenhouse & Nursery is a completely wholesale operation, the regular consumer can purchase the same quality plants directly from them.

Go to and browse the fine selection of plants available today.

Life’s good! Enjoy it. Gardening’s good! Do it.

Eat your yard! I eat mine.

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

Thanks for reading!

For more information, email me at I’ll answer your questions and I enjoy the emails!

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

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

Anaplasmosis Is on the Rise

What You Can Do to Protect Your Herd

by Jackie Nix

Anaplasmosis is spread through biting insects like flies and ticks.

Given how mobile our national cattle herd is now, it should be of no surprise that cases of anaplasmosis are on the rise. Anaplasmosis is most commonly found in the United States in the southeastern, Gulf Coast, lower plains and western regions; however, cases have been reported in all states except Hawaii and Alaska. Here’s why you should be concerned:

What is Anaplasmosis?

Anaplasmosis is a contagious, bloodborne disease most commonly caused by the parasite Anaplasma marginale. The disease is spread through the transfer of blood from animal to animal. This may occur mechanically through insect bites (ticks, flies and mosquitoes) or through use of contaminated instruments (needles, dehorners, castration equipment, etc.). It can even transfer from dam to fetus across the placenta.

Symptoms are Worse in Older Cattle

Clinical symptoms exhibited depend upon the age of infected cattle. Calves undergo mild infections and rarely show symptoms, but become carriers for life. Cattle 1-2 years in age exhibit severe symptoms, but rarely die. Cattle over 2 years become severely ill and up to 60 percent are likely to die unless treated. Cattle that survive severe anaplasmosis infection without treatment are often culled due to lowered production and are carriers for life. A carrier animal’s blood is infective for susceptible cattle.

Anaplasmosis symptoms result from red blood cell destruction. Disease symptoms include fever of 104-107 degrees, anemia, depression, decreased feed intake, yellow mucous membranes, rapid breathing, increased belligerence, dehydration, constipation and sudden death. Diagnosis is confirmed through a blood test. Other diseases that can be confused with anaplasmosis are leptospirosis, bacillary hemoglobinuria and pasteurella. Always consult with a veterinarian to confirm diagnosis if you suspect anaplasmosis.


A diagram of the lifecycle of Anaplasma marginale.

Outbreaks occur when carriers and susceptible cattle are pastured together with no control program in place. Prevention methods include measures to control biting flies and ticks. Also, care must be taken to sanitize surgical equipment (dehorners, castration instruments, etc.) between animals and to change needles often when administering vaccines and medications to reduce the risk of transmission. Other prevention methods include segregation of cattle into carrier and clean herds, and managing them separately. There are vaccines available, but reported side effects make vaccinations unpopular.


Use of one of the tetracycline class of drugs in the disease’s early stages usually ensures cattle survival. Depending on the drug, administration methods include injection or daily intake of medicated feed or medicated feed supplements. Because infected cattle are more susceptible to handling stress due to their lowered red blood cell counts, many prefer to treat via medicated feeds or supplements.

Oral delivery of chlortetracycline via a medicated feed or medicated feed supplement now falls under the Veterinary Feed Directive rules implemented by the Food and Drug Administration started Jan. 1, 2017. You probably already know this but to review. This new rule means you can only feed CTC to cattle under the direction of a licensed veterinarian with whom you have a valid veterinary-client-patient-relationship. You must have valid VFD paperwork in order to purchase CTC-medicated feeds, premixes or supplements. Producers must use these medicated products exactly as indicated on the FDA-approved label. There is absolutely no extra-label usage allowed, even by veterinarians. If a label states that it is to be mixed with feed, it must be mixed with feed. Use contrary to the label directions is a violation of the VFD.

How Can SWEETLIX Help?

SWEETLIX offers a wide variety of supplements to help cattle producers combat anaplasmosis, from free-choice fly control options to CTC-medicated premixes (with and without fly control) to two FDA-approved free-choice CTC supplements. In this article, I’m going to focus on our two free-choice supplements.

Remember, VFD rules require labels be followed exactly. If an inspector finds a producer is feeding a CTC-medicated mixing mineral in a free-choice manner, the producer and subsequently the veterinarian giving oversight would be in violation and subject to enforcement. For this reason, if you want to deliver CTC on a free-choice basis, you absolutely need to purchase an FDA-approved free-choice supplement.

SWEETLIX Aureo Anaplaz Block 700 Pressed Block

This highly palatable block consistently draws in grazing cattle to deliver Aureomycin daily at recommended levels when label directions are followed. Start by providing one SWEETLIX Aureo Anaplaz Block 700 per five head of cattle and then adjust block numbers and placement for optimum intake. Provide SWEETLIX Aureo Anaplaz Block 700 when carrier vectors are active (from last frost in the spring to first killing frost in the fall). Be sure to remove all other free-choice sources of salt or protein to ensure proper intake of Aureo Anaplaz Block 700.

SWEETLIX Aureo FC C6000 Mineral

For those who already have mineral feeders throughout their pastures, this option is for you! This highly palatable mineral is designed to consistently draw in cattle under grazing conditions so as to deliver recommended levels of Aureomycin. SWEETLIX Aureo FC C6000 Mineral contains weather protection, so it will form an edible, pliable film on top of minerals when exposed to rain or humidity to protect the mineral underneath. Just place SWEETLIX Aureo FC C6000 Mineral in mineral feeders near loafing and watering areas. To make sure cattle do not overeat SWEETLIX Aureo FC C6000 Mineral, provide a nonmedicated mineral supplement at least 14 days before feeding the medicated SWEETLIX Aureo FC C6000 Mineral.


In summary, anaplasmosis is on the rise in cattle in the contiguous United States. Cattle owners should be concerned because anaplasmosis has the potential to be economically devastating to a herd. Control of anaplasmosis includes management to prevent or reduce blood transmission between animals and judicious use of tetracycline drugs when warranted. Because anaplasmosis-infected cattle are more susceptible to stress, self-fed administration of CTC is a preferred method of treatment. SWEETLIX offers two FDA-approved, free-choice supplements containing Aureomycin. Both products require VFDs. SWEETLIX conveniently offers premade VFD forms for each product that can be downloaded from by you or your veterinarian. Visit to learn more or to find a dealer near you.

Jackie Nix is an animal nutritionist with Ridley Block Operations ( You can contact her at or 1-800-325-1486 for questions or to learn more about SWEETLIX mineral and protein supplements for cattle, goats, horses, sheep and wildlife. References available upon request.


by Nadine Johnson

When the rambunctious, young Peter Rabbit escaped from the irate Mr. McGregor’s garden, he was one very shook-up little bunny. That’s the way the story goes. He was very glad to be safely in his mother’s arms. Also, according to the story, Mother Rabbit quickly served the little fellow a strong cup of soothing chamomile tea and gave him a loving hug. I suspect she also spanked his little, fat fanny.

Because chamomile (sometimes spelled camomile) has been declared the 2017 Herb of the Year, this seems to be a good time to write about it.

My herb library lists two chamomiles: German chamomile (Matricaria) and Roman or English chamomile (Anthemis). (Publications differ. This holds true with all herbs.)

Here is what one source has to say about chamomile. "Chamomile is an annual plant that grows to approximately 16 inches high. It will grow in most soils. The white, daisy-like flowers are the beneficial part of the plant."

Another source has this to say about this delightful herb. "Chamomile has been used very successfully as a cleanser for those who have used drugs over a long period of time. The tea is good for digestive disorders and tones the complete digestive tract. It is used for expelling worms in children and also as a hair rinse to add luster to the hair. Large doses act as an emetic without depressing the system. When used externally as a poultice, it has a drawing and soothing affect. It is often used for preventing migraine headaches."

Yes, this is a favorite herb for blonds. It makes gorgeous blond hair more beautiful. Here is one blonde’s simple method for its use. "Put a tea bag in a container (not metallic). Pour boiling water over it. Let it steep for at least 10 minutes. Pour over your hair as a final rinse after shampooing."

You’ll find many shampoos and rinses on the market for the use of blonds containing chamomile.

I have a personal story to share about chamomile. I was a teenager in the 1940s. In those years (in my part of the world), a girl who dyed her hair was considered BAD, or maybe BAD-BAD-BAD.

My hair was almost black. Not a blond hair could be seen. If I had no shampoo, I washed it with Octagon soap that was always available in our country home. The rolling store came by once a week. I met it to purchase whatever Mother needed. Eggs were the most common currency. Sometimes there were enough eggs so I could purchase a bottle of shampoo. There were two choices: Halo and Drene. Sometimes I bought one and sometimes I bought the other. Some of my readers will remember a little advertising ditty on the radio, "Halo. Halo, Halo. Halo is the shampoo that glorifies you hair. So Halo Shampoo, Halo." Even Frank Sinatra sang it. It’s my understanding that both of these shampoos contained chamomile. At the time, I had no idea that chamomile existed.

After washing my hair with one of these shampoos and getting into the sun (I practically lived in the sun in those days), my hair was much lighter than usual. Soon I walked across the field and through the woods to visit my Aunt Rochell. As soon as she saw me she exclaimed, "Nadie, you have dyed your hair!" She was about to label me BAD. I quickly explained to her the shampoo had caused it and thankfully she forgave me. It was definitely a situation to remember.

I keep chamomile tea bags on hand all the time and often enjoy a cup at bedtime.

Consult with your physician before using herbs medicinally.

Nadine Johnson can be reached at PO Box 7425, Spanish Fort, AL 36577, by calling 251-644-5473, or by email at

Co-op Sheep and Goat Feed

by John Sims

Co-op Sheep and Goat Feed is a 15-percent protein, high-energy feed. It is formulated to provide the nutrients required for growth and reproduction in both sheep and goats. We have added Deccox to help prevent coccidiosis in your animals. This feed contains supplemental vitamins and minerals, but has no added copper so it is safe to feed to sheep.

Feeding Rate: 1 to 4 pounds per head per day

Feed according to animal’s weight and stage of production. For example, a lactating ewe or doe has a higher nutritional requirement and needs more feed than gestating animals. Likewise, if you want to accelerate growth, you will need to feed at a higher rate.

Other considerations: Good quality hay or pasture as well as fresh clean water should be available at all times. Provide a free-choice vitamin/mineral supplement to optimize feed and forage intake.

For a good, high-quality feed for your sheep or goats, trust Co-op Sheep and Goat Feed to give your animals what they need. Stop by your local Quality Co-op and pick some up today.

John Sims is a products specialist for AFC’s Feed, Farm & Home department. He can be contacted at 256-260-3433 or

Corn Time



Family Farm Day

Education - Outreach - Fun

by Maureen Drost

What began as a small group of farmer friends has led to a large farm day for families. The spring event draws hundreds of children and their parents each year.

The goal of the Tennessee Valley Women in Agriculture today is educating others on small farming and how to get their products into farmers markets, said Margaret Mazikowski, one of the farmers. The group is a 501c3 corporation.

"We hope to eventually give out grants to youth to start farms and gardens," she said.

When she got started in farming, she didn’t know who to talk with to sell eggs at farmers markets. Her farm also features blueberries and grass-fed beef cattle.

This year, the Tennessee Valley Women in Agriculture hosted the 5th annual Family Farm Day in April. In the center of the arena at the Alabama A&M Agribition Center in Huntsville was a petting zoo featuring a few alpacas, several horses, a cow and her calf, a number of ponies, a few donkeys, five goats, some rabbits and a pot-bellied pig.

Almost 40 craftspeople and other vendors lined the sides of the arena. They included Plunder Jewelry, Damsel in Defense, Steeped Tea, Fused Glass, Boutique Clothing, Aunt Polly’s Cheese Straws, Amy’s Healing Hands, Piper & Leaf Tea, and Dirt Road Blessings. A number of agriculture-related children’s games were available, including barrel racing on stick horses and a toy duck pond.

A small group of children and adults take a look at the horses in the petting zoo.

Happy Trails Therapeutic Riding Center introduced passers-by to their work. The New Market business uses horses and horseback riding to help those who are disabled.

According to staff members, "Folks with all sorts of challenges … can benefit from horseback riding and other activities with our gentle equines. The student interacts with the animal by grooming and playing communication games with it. The activities foster physical health, independence and self-confidence."

The curriculum used at Happy Trails was first developed for riders with autism and has been modified for use with people who have other disabilities.

A silent auction featuring items from all the craftspeople and vendors benefited Merrimack Hall in Huntsville and the population it serves − children and adults with special needs. Arts education is a central focus for this population.

Also on display were the Master Gardeners of North Alabama; the Huntsville Search Dog Unit with a bloodhound, a German shepherd and a black Labrador Retriever; a HEMSI ambulance for youngsters to explore; and a John Deere tractor and Huntsville Police Department cruiser to inspect.

Program Specialist E’licia Chaverest greeted the public with information on Alabama A&M University’s New and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program. Through the university’s Small Farmers Outreach Training and Technical Assistance Program, the school serves a 21-county target area including Blount, Walker, Madison, Cullman, DeKalb, Jackson, Marshall, Morgan, Limestone and Calhoun, among others.

Mazikowski said the TVWiA members live in Gurley, New Market or Huntsville, and own one to 10 acres. TVWiA includes Screaming Goats Dairy Farm, 3 Girls Farm, Alchemy Farms, Margaret’s Lotions, TV Youth in Agriculture and Z Farms.

Mazikowski is especially proud of Leigh Caroline Breyer, who represents Screaming Goats Dairy Farm. She said she’s watched Breyer "come out of her shell" and seen her grow into a confident, industrious young businesswoman in just five years.

The operation today has 50 LaMancha goats including 21 kids. Breyer, who is only 15 and is homeschooled, sells the soap at farmers markets, including one on Thursdays in Madison County at Grace Point Baptist Church. While one variety comes unscented, customer favorites are Lavender and Rosemary, and Lemongrass and Peppermint Eucalyptus. She also markets the soap at University Pickers in Huntsville.

"My mom mentioned the idea of having a business. I bought a few goats. Ms. Mary taught me how to make soap," Breyer said.

She didn’t foresee her tremendous success until she discovered her love of goats. It shot off from there.

In the future, she said, "I would love to continue with goats. I’d also like to be a goat judge."

For more on the Tennessee Valley Women in Agriculture, go to their website at or visit their posts on Facebook at

Maureen Drost is a Huntsville-based freelance writer and retired newspaper journalist. She can be reached at

FFA Sentinel: H.O.P.E.

A collaborative program between Shelby County High School and a local restaurant brings delicious herbs and special opportunities for students to the table.

by Bradi Masters and Dana Horton

Students at Shelby County High School prepare herb and vegetable gardens where they will plant the produce to be used in Tazikis Café.

Do you ever wonder where your food comes from or why more restaurants don’t serve local products? For the Shelby County High School FFA that question is already answered when taking a seat at Tazikis Mediterranean Café, a popular restaurant. The FFA and the Shelby County High School Special Education program grow a variety of herbs such as basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary and cilantro that are sold to Tazikis. The partnership between Shelby County High School and Tazikis is called HOPE, Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment. The program began two years ago, and now it is an integral part of our program that continues to expand.

Through our collaboration with our special education students, we plant, harvest, weigh, bag and deliver the herbs to Tazikis. We also handle the invoicing and billing for all herbs sold. All of the money earned is used to improve the classroom and curriculum for both programs. Any leftover herbs are sold to local businesses and sometimes used in our very own lunchroom!

We have learned many valuable skills through the HOPE project; life skills that will continue to help us. Through HOPE, some students are employed during the summer months to keep the educational business running.

Our FFA is grateful for the opportunity to work with the special education students, teaching them skills we have learned through agricultural class such as propagating, transplanting and harvesting herbs. This project has been a great experience for everyone involved and has helped many students decide on a career path.

Keith Richards is the owner of Tazikis Mediterranean Café and founder of HOPE, Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment.

This past November, we hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for our greenhouse! Our students and advisor built the greenhouse, located on campus. Keith Richards, owner of Tazikis and upcoming keynote speaker at this year’s FFA State Convention, came to the event to help us celebrate our new greenhouse.

"HOPE may have started in Shelby County, but HOPE gardens are quickly growing across the nation," Richards stated. "The program recently expanded to Nashville and partnered with Fairview High School."

This project would never have been possible without the donations from the Shelby County Farmers Federation, Shelby County Cattlemen’s Association, CAWACO RC&D, Novalla Club, Shelby County Juvenile Court and the City of Columbiana. Shelby County Career and Technical Education is also a major contributor to this collaboration. It is what keeps our agriscience program supported through funding and community outreach.

Since the completion of our greenhouse, we have been able to expand our program. We are now growing some of the herbs through aquaponics, a system where fish waste is used as nutrients by the plants, and, in return, the plants clean the water for the fish. We will be harvesting the tilapia fish as well.

HOPE at Shelby County High School would never have come to fruition without the help of our teachers and mentors: Dustin Cleckler, agriscience teacher/FFA advisor; Soli Lilly; Randall Reeves, special education teacher; and Cindy Vincent, Shelby County schools career coach.

The growth of our program has attracted visitors from various schools around the Southeast. Many of them hear about the project, visit our school and return to their campus to start their own program. Every time we meet with other school leaders, we are inspired to grow our program and are anxious to see it spread nationwide. HOPE already has an impact on the Birmingham metropolitan area, and we are HOPEful it will continue for years to come.

There are seven high schools in our county system and only three of those have an agriculture program. Therefore, HOPE is another reason why everyone involved is so grateful for this program and experience.

Bradi Masters is president and Dana Horton is reporter of Shelby County High School FFA Chapter.

Finding Peace

by John Howle

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau probably had the most popular fishing quote of all time, but the deeper you look, you realize that fishing was the not the ends but the means. Whether you are on the bank of a farm pond, in a small boat just off the lakeshore or in the middle of the ocean, there’s something about fishing that just clears the mind and makes us realize life is more than the work we do or the accomplishments we have. It’s more about having peace in life. I’m convinced a man truly can’t experience this peace unless he walks with Jesus.

I also think it is no coincidence that Jesus chose fishermen to help spread the gospel. These were tough guys used to working long hours, but they realized their life was more than how many fish they caught or how much money they could acquire. This is evident because they were willing to leave their jobs behind to spread the Gospel to others. One important thing Jesus left with his disciples when they were overworked and worn-out was his peace. In John 14:27 (NIV), "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

Check the wind and moisture conditions before your burn, even with the green grass of summer.Gather a few friends over at night to help you watch the fire.

Brush Pile Party

Do you have a large brush pile to burn after all the tree cutting and pruning from winter? If so, turn it into a nighttime gathering. Who doesn’t want to sit around a fire at night? At night, a brush pile burns much safer because of the dew settling in the surrounding woods and the humidity being higher. Before burning a brush pile, make sure you create a wide firebreak around the burn pile with a scrape blade. Next, let your neighbors know you will be burning. Finally, invite a couple of friends over to help watch the fire. This is a great way to get some peace at the end of a long day of work.

Use special caution when setting fire to your brush pile, even if it’s in the middle of your pasture. Look at the forecast for relative humidity, wind direction and wind speed. The best time to set fire to the brush is a day after it has rained. Sparks and floating debris can set the surrounding woods or pastures on fire if the forest floor is dry and there is dry grass.

If you keep your produce picked regularly, it will produce more over the season.

Get the Most Production from Your Produce

May is the ideal growing season for your backyard garden. Corn, green beans, okra and tomatoes can be stored for up to five years once they have been canned in glass jars. Crops such as green beans and okra will continue to produce well into the season. If you keep the beans and okra picked, they will produce long term. If you forget to pick them, they become mature and little fruit is produced.

Your local Co-op is a great place to get your glass jars, rings and lids for a successful summer of canning.

With green beans, once you have packed your jars full, leave about 1 inch of head space, add one teaspoon of canning salt and cook the beans in a pressurized cooker for the appropriate time. If you are canning corn, cut the corn off the cob in full kernels, add the salt, seal the lids and rings, and put them in the canner for the appropriate time.

Here are a couple of tips to help with the canning process. Make sure you wash and clean the rubber seal in the lid. Apply a thin coating of cooking oil to the ring so it is not likely to stick to the metal of the lid.

Saving the Soil

May is a great time to give a lot of thought to the soil on your farm. Even though the grass is growing now, without proper planning, the soil quality can deteriorate quickly. Fields continuously grazed low will result in poorer root structure. In addition, when the ground cover or grazing is removed, the soil is heated up due to exposure to sun, and, therefore, drought conditions can worsen.

This results in poor soil quality and keeps the soil from retaining rainfall and moisture. If possible, try to avoid grazing pastures below 4 inches. This keeps a moist cover over the soil and results in more organic growth in the soil for organisms such as earthworms and dung beetles. Finally, keeping forage no lower than 4 inches helps in parasite control because many parasites cattle ingest are located in the 3-inch and below height of forbs.

This May, even in the midst of all the work that needs to be done, maintain your sense of peace. If you have to, take a day off and go fishing so you can find it. I’m sure Jesus would be glad to join you in that boat.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.

Fish to Feed the World

An Auburn student’s research targets increased catfish production to address growing demands in developing countries.

by Rebecca Oliver

Nermeen Youseff’s research could result in more efficient production for Alabama’s catfish industry.

To Auburn University Ph.D. student Nermeen Yousseff, finding ways to feed the world’s growing population has the potential to positively impact the lives of others. Youseff traveled across the globe from Alexandria, Egypt, to find a place where her research could have an impact such as on Alabama’s $100 million catfish industry.

Youseff’s research focuses on the growth performance of male and female transgenic channel catfish at various stages of development in earthen ponds. The research project was honored with the Soy Aquaculture Alliance’s Student Award during the World Aquaculture Society’s annual meeting in February.

The findings of this research, titled "Effect of combined transgenic channel catfish Ictalurus punctatus growth hormone and their siblings on growth rate of channel catfish in earthen ponds," found the transgenic catfish utilizing the growth hormone were capable of maturing faster than nontransgenic catfish lacking the growth hormone.

"The faster catfish mature the faster they can be used for food and make profits for farmers," Youseff said. "In today’s world where you have people living in countries with deficiencies in available protein sources, producing catfish this way could change that."

Alabama’s catfish sales saw an increase in sales in 2016 to $120 million, marking three consecutive years of growth for the industry. Alabama is the second-highest producing state for catfish.

Dr. Rex Dunham, left, and Nermeen Youseff are working together to help Alabama’s farmers.

Dr. Rex Dunham, a professor in Auburn’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences, said he believes Youseff’s work could help profits expand for Alabama’s farmers even more.

Youseff was a visiting scholar at Auburn when Dunham first saw her work.

"I was so impressed I agreed to mentor Youseff, making her an official Auburn student," Dunham said.

"The work is high quality and it’s rare to find someone whose work is so interesting," Dunham said. "Her research is practical and can be directly applied in the industry."

In addition to finding a way to produce fish more efficiently, Youseff’s research led to a new discovery in production patterns of male versus female catfish.

"Even though typically male channel catfish grow at a faster rate, Youseff found that with these transgenic catfish the females matured more quickly," he said.

Dunham’s personal research achievements include the first release of genetically improved fish. His work led to the formation of the first four commercial genetics and breeding companies in the catfish industry.

According to Dunham, who was the first researcher to produce a transgenic fish in the United States, Youseff’s research would have a greater impact if federal regulations allowed.

"There’s a lot of distrust of growth hormones and anything that’s been modified," Dunham said. "These fish are safe to eat and, given the chance, could have a significant impact on production speed to feed more people."

Industry leaders are already impressed with Youseff’s contributions.

Vice President of the U.S. Aquaculture Society Angela Caporelli said Youseff’s presentation impressed a panel of 50 judges at the organization’s annual meeting. USAS is a 3,000-member organization consisting of professors, students and industry leaders.

"The students are judged for professionalism and how in-depth their research is," Caporelli said. "She did really well in the spotlight presentation. The judges look for students whose research follows trends in the industry."

Caporelli said the World Aquaculture Society’s annual meeting provides students with networking opportunities where they can discuss their projects with others in the industry to keep track of trends in catfish production.

"The students who do win awards are judged by those experts in the industry," Caporelli said.

According to Caporelli, the Soy Aquaculture Alliance’s Student Award is given to students whose research can be applied in a wide scope and remain practical.

Dunham, who has been researching genetic improvement since he was a graduate student at Auburn in 1978, said he hopes Youseff will continue to research genetic improvements in catfish after she graduates with her doctoral degree from Auburn in May.

Youseff said her mission is to continue researching ways to increase the productivity in fisheries in Alexandria, Egypt, where she has accepted a position as a professor at Alexandria University.

Rebecca Oliver is a freelance writer from Auburn.

Growing Older on the Homestead or Farm

by Suzy Lowry Geno

My phones ring at least six times a day. I’ll no more than lay my cellphone down than the home phone rings:

  • "We want to talk to you about choosing your Medicare Plan."
  • "You may qualify for a fully equipped electric scooter!"
  • "We’re calling about that back brace (or knee brace) that you inquired about." (No, I didn’t ....)
  • "Do you know Medicare does not include dental coverage? Let us help!"
  • And the brochures in my mailbox are even worse!
  • "We will be in your area next week providing free hearing tests!"
  • "Join our group for seniors and you’ll get discounts nationwide!"
  • "Buy gold coins – they will be a safe investment for your retirement future!"
  • "We can provide bladder control products discretely right to your home ..."
  • "Buy this great easy-to-use computer that will let you talk and SEE your grandkids no matter how far away they live."
  • "Come and visit these great lakeside homes. Assisted living now and more intensive care when needed."

To quote Charlie Brown, "Aaughhhhhhhhh!"

Happy birthday to me. Yes, I turn 65 in the month of May. But how in the world does every pharmaceutical giant, insurance provider and senior-care specialist know that?

I know that every one of these products and companies are probably wonderful and I may even need some of them in the not-too-distant future, but I have this URGE to phone the assisted living place and ask them how many goats I can bring with me and if there is space in the arboretum for a chicken coop. ...

The new little greenhouse I built back in February will soon be enclosed by protective fencing from the chickens!

I was able to keep my Mama here on the farm until about six weeks before her death. My husband Roy spent his last days in a hospital bed directly in the center of our living room, happily and peacefully watching old Westerns while I popped in and out from doing farm chores.

I hope and pray I can spend my last days right here on this little 15-acre homestead, doing what I like to do best. My Mama lived to be 86 and I have aunts living into their late 90s ... so there’s a possibility I could be around for quite some time. And even if I drop dead tomorrow, I hope I’m doing what I can on this little farm to make our lives and the lives of others in our community better.

I have looked up to Jackie Clay-Atkinson ever since I started reading articles by her in the 1990s. The last couple of decades, she has written extremely popular articles and books for Backwoods Home Magazine.

She’s probably about six to eight years older than me. She raised a passel of kids (part of that time as a single mother), and eventually found the love of her life and had one more child.

She always had a can-do attitude, growing a huge garden and then canning year-round when she found other things such as hams on sale. And a lot of time, she lived in cabins in what many of us would consider wilderness.

She now lives completely off the grid in a two-story log cabin she helped finish building AFTER her beloved husband died suddenly, leaving her with a teenage son to finish raising.

She milks goats and cows, drives tractors and backhoes, hunts moose and other wild game. She then pressure cans the meat, and still finds time to write her popular columns. Oh, and did I mention right after her husband died she also had her own battle with cancer?

But Jackie is not a wonder woman. But she KNOWS what is important.

In a November/December 2013 Backwoods Home article entitled "Tips for Older Homesteaders," she simply wrote, "I’ll tell you right here that the one biggest asset for anyone considering a later-in-life homesteading lifestyle is ATTITUDE!"

Then there’s J.D. Belanger, the founder of Countryside magazine, who now, I believe, is himself retired. He also wrote an article back in 2013 about growing old being the new normal as all of us baby boomers hang around.

One of his pieces of advice also sticks with me: "Use your head and not your back."

If I could afford a fulltime (or even a part-time) homestead-helper or farmhand, I could get a lot accomplished. But so far finances don’t permit that ... so ....

When it got time to put together that new greenhouse to replace the one I lost in January 2016 to a microburst, it was me, a set of instructions and some simple tools.

Hueytown’s Wayne Phillips enjoys these spacious raised beds in the backyard of the home he shares with his wife Yvette. Mine won’t be as nice, but the concept is still the same!

But it needed to be placed in the fenced-in garden area where plants can securely grow away from all the chickens, turkeys, ducks and guineas. The trouble was that fenced-in garden area complete with chicken wire overhead was falling apart since it was built over two decades ago. Some of the 4-by-4s had rotted in place. Some of the wire was rusty and sagging.

It is amazing how much work one short, chubby, gray-haired homesteader can accomplish if she just works a little while every day. I keep thinking about one of my favorite quotes, "You can eat an elephant ... one bite at a time!"

I couldn’t dig all six post holes with the post hole digger in one day like I once could. But I can dig two a day and concrete them in the ground after they are leveled!

My ancient rototiller died an untimely death and I’m not sure I could crank that cord now no matter how hard I pulled, so raised beds are in my future this spring! And I figure, if I make them one or two boards higher each year, by the time I am 70, they will be waist high and I won’t have to bend at all!

Before he died, Roy and I bartered with a local plumber, trading use of our then bucket-truck for his help in digging a line for a frost-free hydrant at my barn areas. I still have to drag a hose around some to water my animals, but that barnyard hydrant has sure made my life easier!

Anything that has to be replaced, whether it’s fencing or whatever, I’m trying to replace with metal or pressure-treated wood; so, hopefully, it will be sturdy for the rest of my life.

Things like replacing the shingled roof on my home with a metal one was one way of planning that I hope really helps in my future.

I think projects through a little longer, plan a little more and figure out ways to do things with the least resistance ... and there are now comfy lawn chairs near the goat pens, near the bunny barn and near the little greenhouse! It’s surprising what a short rest (often with a pet chicken or bunny in my lap) can do to refuel your energy level!

I have some health problems that have taken me kind of by surprise, BUT a big helping of God’s Grace plus eating locally grown food, drinking pure well water, staying away from manmade medication as much as possible, and having to get up and tend those animals every day are enabling me to keep putting one foot in front of the other!

One of my specialists, as he told me he didn’t want to see me in his medical office for at least a year, stopped at the door leaving my little examination room and simply said, "I don’t know what you do on that little farm of yours, but keep doing it."

So if you need me any time soon, I’ll be out here somewhere on my simple little homestead, following my doctor’s orders!

Suzy Lowry Geno lives on a small homestead in Blount County and can be reached through Facebook or by emailing

How's Your Garden?

Gomphrena is a tough plant with papery blossoms that withstand dry weather well.

by Lois Trigg Chaplin

Tough Plants for Summer Color

If the summer turns out to be as dry as last year, you will be glad you planted some summer color that will look good without much water. Plants with colorful, waxy foliage such as succulents are an excellent choice and nurseries are carrying more and more of them. Also, look to flax and dracaenas for their spiky burgundy or green leaves, or purple queen (also called purple heart) for a beautiful, spreading mass of purple foliage that carpets the ground or hangs over the edge of a planter. Wormwood is a drought-tolerant perennial that offers a fine texture and pretty, silver or gray-green leaves, depending on the variety. It’s a great companion for other colors. Great flowering plants include lantana, oleander, gaura, Mexican sage and gomphrena.

Greasy Spot Fungus on Citrus

Last year, I saw a number of citrus trees in gardens and for sale with a leaf problem called greasy spot that causes brown spotting of the underside of a leaf. It eventually shows up as yellowing on the topside and coalesces, so the entire leaf turns yellow and falls from the tree. Lemons, grapefruit and tangelos are the most severely affected, while mandarin oranges and kumquats are less so. After having the problem properly identified by the Alabama Extension office in my county, I am ready to spray the trees this month and next with a copper spray to prevent the problem this year. I also removed all dead leaves that had dropped into the pot or its surroundings. Now is the time to begin spraying for greasy spot, and you should repeat the spray in June.

Dwarf sunflowers are perfect for the edge of a garden bed.

Sunflowers from Seed

A little pack of sunflower seeds offers a big show in the garden. Sunflower types include giant, single-stalked mammoths; smaller-flowered, branching ones for cutting; and dwarf for bedding. With the exception of pollen-less types bred to not shed indoors, sunflowers are much appreciated by bees and, of course, later by birds. Branching-types are just right for cutting because they grow more branches and flowers if you cut the blooms regularly. Toward the end of the season, leave some flowers to make seed for birds to feed on in the fall.

Grafted Tomatoes? Yep!

One of the latest trends in tomatoes for the garden is grafting where a choice scion (often an heirloom) is grafted onto a rootstock that is nematode- and disease-resistant. The combination is more productive than if the variety is grown on its own roots. Grafted tomato plants are widely used in commercial greenhouse production, but occasionally plants are sold in garden centers or from mail-order companies for home gardens. Some are sold under a brand called Mighty Mato, but others are simple listed as "grafted tomatoes." If you should try one, it is important to plant it so the graft is well above the ground. If the graft is buried, the top will grow its own roots and the benefits of the superior, grafted rootstock will be lost.

New Mini Watermelon

Melon planting time is here, and Mini Love, a new All-America Selection winner, offers a personal-sized fruit that grows on short 3- to 4-foot vines. Each vine produces up to six fruits per plant, making it perfect for a small space. This is a deep-red fleshed, Asian watermelon with a thin, but strong, rind that lends itself to carving for culinary presentation. Like all good watermelons, it is has a high sugar content.

Cilantro’s Dark Side

I’ve heard folks say they can’t grow cilantro. It’s not them – it’s the plant. Cilantro goes to seed very quickly in warm weather. Did you plant some a month or two ago that is now a tall plant with blooms and wispy, thin leaves not suited for chopping? The best way around this natural growth cycle is to plant cilantro in the fall when it can start in cooler weather that favors its growth. In fact, plants can withstand frost and remain in the garden until they bolt in spring. You may also try growing it now by sowing seeds in a shady bed and keeping a light layer of pine straw over the ground to keep it cool and moist. Choose a spot within the shade on the north side of the house, if possible, because seeds germinate best in cool soil. Bury seeds lightly, but firmly because they need darkness to germinate. Harvest the leaves while still young because the plant will quickly stretch tall. If you have cilantro blooming in the garden now, leave it for syrphid flies and other beneficial insects that love the flowers. The plant may also reseed itself from seeds dropping to the ground.

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

Lake Guntersville: Perception vs. Reality

Many believe Lake Guntersville is on the decline, but is it?

Growth rates of Guntersville’s largemouth bass are exceptional.

by Chuck Sykes

For the first time in my tenure as director, the Conservation Advisory Board meeting March 4 was not dominated by dog hunting issues. Instead, crabbers from the coast and concerned fishermen from the Lake Guntersville area took center stage. I’ll let Chris Blankenship and the Marine Resources Division deal with the crabbers, and I’ll discuss the Lake Guntersville fishery. Apparently, several groups are concerned that the lake is on the decline and steps like supplemental stocking, reductions in creel limit, and other items should be addressed to save the lake. I’ve asked my fisheries staff to examine the fishery at Guntersville and prepare a statement addressing the concerns. The following was written by Damon Abernethy, assistant chief of Fisheries.

A Little Bass Biology …

A bass’s total length at age 3 is a good indicator of growth potential. Largemouth bass in most Alabama reservoirs attain lengths of 12-14 inches by this age. Growth rates of Guntersville’s largemouth bass are exceptional, reaching a mean total length of 15.5 inches by age 3.

Recruitment is the abundance of fish surviving to reach 1 year of age. It can differ vastly from one year to the next depending on environmental and biological variables that can have a significant impact on recruitment potential. Despite the fact that Guntersville tends toward lower recruitment, environmental conditions in 2008 yielded an all-time-high young-of-year bass. Unfortunately, weak year-classes followed in 2010 and 2011 creating a noticeable void behind the 2008 year-class. Good year-classes were produced in 2012 and 2013 that have fully entered the fishery and will sustain it moving forward.

At approximately 40 percent, the annual mortality rate of Guntersville’s largemouth bass is considered moderate. However, to make fishery management decisions, fishing mortality must be separated from natural mortality because only the fishing component can be controlled through management regulations. At the present time, research indicates that combined fishing mortality (harvest, hooking and delayed tournament mortality) is approximately 10 percent, while natural mortality accounts for the other 30 percent.

Will Reducing the Creel Limit Help?

Recent creel surveys show Lake Guntersville is dominated by bass anglers who practice catch and release. Nearly 90 percent of the fishing effort was directed at bass. Bass tournaments are very popular on Lake Guntersville and almost universally self-impose a five-fish limit and require mandatory fish release. The Bass Angler Information Team Program has monitored and recorded the statistics from bass tournaments for the past 30 years and indicates Guntersville is currently producing a quality of fishing almost identical to the 30-year average for the lake.

Angling effort has been relatively constant over the period in question with no discernable changes in bass harvest rates. Recent creel surveys indicate only 5 percent of anglers harvested any bass. They also documented an average catch rate of 0.5 bass per hour, meaning less than half of Guntersville’s anglers catch five or more legal bass per day. Given these estimates, reducing the creel limit – even to five per day – would only change the behavior of about 2 percent of Guntersville’s anglers.

There are only four types of bass mortality occurring at Lake Guntersville: natural mortality, hooking mortality, delayed tournament mortality and consumptive harvest. Reducing the creel limit would impact only one of those four. The other three combined account for the demise of seven times more bass than does consumptive harvest.

Expectations that harvest restrictions will improve fishing are only realistic if the primary sources of mortality are limited, or curtailed, by the regulation. Clearly, this would not be the case. The recent decline in fishing quality must be attributed to something else that can be explained by examining the historical bass year-class production over time.

The most abundant year-class on record was the one produced in 2008, resulting in a number of fish 2.5 times greater than what is produced in a typical year. This phenomenon was documented to a lesser extent in many other Alabama reservoirs and was correlated with the severe drought of 2007-2008. Given the rapid growth-rates of Guntersville’s bass, the 2008 year-class began to reach legal size in 2011. Since then, catches have mirrored the evolution of this year-class over time. Record densities of 15- to 18-inch fish were documented during 2011 and 2012, and the abundance of bass over 20 inches began peaking in 2014. Given a reasonable life expectancy of about 10 years, most of these fish are now disappearing from the population. However, we expect to see some very large fish caught from the remnants of the 2008 year-class. Casey Martin’s 40 pounds 11 ounces limit caught in the Bass Fishing League tournament on March 4, 2017, is a testament to this.

The Flaw Behind Supplemental Stocking

Anglers often believe restocking is an easy way to boost the quality of fishing in reservoirs; however, the math simply doesn’t add up. Few anglers have a grasp on just how many juvenile bass are produced in a typical reservoir. Assuming a conservative estimate of 3,000 fingerlings per acre, a 70,000-acre reservoir such as Guntersville naturally produces 210 million fingerlings every year. The Alabama Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries Division has three fish hatcheries capable of producing approximately 500,000 fingerlings, annually. If the Division’s entire production of largemouth bass fingerlings was stocked into Guntersville, it would increase total abundance by only 1 percent.

There has never been a documented spawning failure in any of Alabama’s reservoirs. Bass are prolific spawners producing a tremendous number of eggs. A single 3-pound largemouth bass can lay over 20,000 eggs every spring.

So why is it that a typical spring electrofishing sample on Guntersville yields less than 10 age 1 bass/hour? The answer is natural mortality. Angling pressure does not affect 2- to 5-inch bass. These fish are dying from natural causes such as predation, disease and competition among themselves and with other species. Stocked fish must survive the same environmental conditions as naturally spawned fish. Adding more fish will not address the factors that cause their mortality. The abundance of age 1 bass in a reservoir is determined solely by the environment in which they must live.

Previous reservoir stockings have been done with the goal of introducing certain desirable genetic traits such as those of Florida bass alleles. This was done successfully at Guntersville over 20 years ago, but is not feasible to do again. Stocking a large reservoir like Guntersville with the goal of increasing abundance would be futile and cost-prohibitive, and shift hatchery production away from areas where success is being realized.

As you can see from Abernathy’s data, Lake Guntersville is still an extremely productive fishery. It may be down a bit by Guntersville standards since the unusually high recruitment of 2008 first matured, but it’s still better than 90 percent of the fisheries in Alabama. Whether you are discussing deer, turkey or bass, wildlife populations experience fluctuations in numbers over time. That is why we must base our decisions on scientific data rather than emotions.

Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.


by Baxter Black, DVM

Genie noticed the bottle of Jack Daniels on the kitchen table when she got home late that night. Like most lettuce farmers, if whiskey was kept in the house, it was not usually kept on the kitchen table.

She marched in the bedroom to find her husband Don sprawled out on the bed with one pant leg off and one sock on. He looked like a body that had been dragged off the bottom of a lake.

He began shakily, "I was watchin’ TV in my shorts when I heard a ruckus on the lawn ... and mooing."

Don went to the window and peeked out to discover his front yard covered with cows! They were obviously from neighbor Willie’s farm across the road. It was a surreal picture under the yard light: black and tan and red clouds on a sky of green grass.

Don ran out on the porch waving and shouting at the curious beasts. Although the cows paid him little mind, Willie’s bull developed an immediate urge to mash him to a pulp! Don did a wheelie on the cement walk and ran back into the house! The bull mounted the porch steps and charged the door! After ramming it several times, he clattered through the lawn furniture and mowed down a good-sized decorative evergreen!

Don waited a few minutes, put on his jeans and nervously eased out intending to shoosh the cows off the lawn that was now covered with deep tracks and cow pattys. It was just as he stepped on the leaking sprinkler head with his socks on that the bull charged from behind the arborvitae!

He raced to the front door, clearing the jamb and slamming it in the bull’s face! He could see the paint cracking as the bull pounded on the other side! The bull then crashed off the porch and rammed the passenger side of his daughter’s red Monte Carlo! Then he clammered back on the porch to resume his lusty bawling and door demolition!

Don was hyperventilating as he tried to dial the sheriff.

"He’s not here, but I can call him on the radio," offered the receptionist. "What’s the complaint?"

"Ma’am, yer not gonna believe this, but a cow’s tryin’ to break into my house!"

The sheriff had come and gone, and the sirens had all died away by the time Genie got home. The front lawn looked like Katrina had struck! As she listened to her pitiful, exhausted husband unfold his bizarre tale, she was torn between the need to comfort and hold him, and the uncontrollable desire to snort and fall over backwards in gales of hysterical laughter! She simply wiped her eyes and went to the kitchen and poured herself a shot.

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,

May Lawn and Garden Checklist


  • Plant more warm-season vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, okra and corn. Plant successive crops of veggies every few weeks to extend harvest.
  • Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant are members of the nightshade family. They like similar growing conditions, but should not be planted adjacent to or in succession from year to year because they all are susceptible to the same diseases.
  • Plant sweet potato slips.
  • Plant container-grown trees and shrubs, and keep them well watered.
  • Plant tender summer bulbs including gladiolas, cannas, dahlias, caladiums and flowering gingers.
  • Divide most perennials as long as they’re not spring bloomers and as long as the foliage isn’t over 5-6 inches high. Divide them if they are getting crowded (reduced blooms, a dead spot in the middle) or you simply want more plants.
  • Except for daffodils, it is best not to dig or move spring-flowering bulbs until their foliage has ripened and died back.
  • You and your children or grandchildren can plant gourds this month. Consider the many fascinating shapes, sizes and textures available. You can even grow luffa sponges!


  • Fertilizer’s three main ingredients are N-P-K with N for nitrogen, P for phosphorus and K for potassium. 8-8-8, 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 means there is an equal proportion of each. A general rule of thumb to remember what the numbers mean is to start with the first number and apply from the top of the plant to the bottom. As such, N is for the green; P is for the bloom; and K is for the root or up and down and all around.
  • To refresh your understanding of pH, pH refers to the acidity of the soil and is measured by the number of hydrogen ions present in the soil. pH is a logarithmic scale based on the power of 10. For example, a pH of 6.0 is 10 times more acidic than pH of 7.0. Therefore, even a little change in pH can make a big difference. A pH of 7 is neutral, less than 7 is acid and greater than 7 is alkaline. Most plants like a pH between 6.5 and 7.
  • Have soil tested to make sure all the nutrients are there and pH levels are adequate for the produce you’re trying to grow. Your county Extension or Co-op store staff will be able to help with this.
  • Remember, more is not always better with fertilizer. Overuse can cause root and foliage burn, as well as the death of the plant.
  • Keep an eye out for yellow or pale leaves with green ribs – a sign of iron chlorosis. Apply chelated iron according to package directions.
  • As the growth rate of houseplants changes with the seasons, adjust feeding schedules to provide additional food. Feed plants a good all-purpose houseplant food at half the manufacturer’s recommended rates, increasing the proportion slightly to accommodate growth spurts. Always water plants first to avoid shock to dry roots before fertilizing.
  • Work lime in the soil around lacecap and mophead hydrangeas to produce pink flowers or aluminum sulphate for blue blooms.
  • Stop fertilizing fescue to prevent heat damage.
  • Fertilize azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias soon after they bloom with a fertilizer made for acid-loving plants. As with any plant, avoid getting fertilizer on the foliage.
  • Annuals planted recently should be fed on a monthly basis throughout the spring and summer.
  • Many summer-blooming tropical plants such as hibiscus and mandevilla bloom on new growth. Fertilize to encourage more growth and flowers.


  • Deadhead! It consumes the plant’s energy to produce seed. In many species of plants, especially annual plants, removing the dead flowers will promote further blooms.
  • Prune spring-blooming trees and shrubs once they’ve finished blooming.
  • Pines and other conifers can be kept to a compact size by pinching off the new growth candles.
  • Remove any sucker growths from fruit trees as soon as they appear!
  • Remove the wilting seed heads from rhododendrons and azaleas so the plant’s energy can go to foliage growth and next year’s flowers, rather than seeds.
  • Prune back any damage from winter.
  • Trim hedges (check for nesting birds first).
  • Pinch back leggy bedding plants to encourage side shoots. Pinching stops the terminal growth, thus resulting in bushier plants and more flower buds.
  • From now until the beginning of July, you can make chrysanthemums bushier and more productive by pinching ½ inch off each stem after each 6 inches of growth.
  • Prune climbing roses after first flush of flowering.


  • Make sure lawns and gardens receive an inch of water per week. Hand water new transplants until they become established.
  • Water the lawn in the early morning to discourage fungus diseases.
  • Use a soaker hose where possible to avoid getting vegetable foliage wet.
  • Mulching around the base of plants will help them retain moisture around the roots.
  • Collect rainwater for irrigation; keep pots and hanging baskets well-watered using this free water wherever possible.


  • Always follow label instructions when using any pesticide.
  • It is always easier to fight an insect infestation or disease in its early stages than to wait.
  • Keep a vigilant eye on the roses. Keep them sprayed for aphids and other pests and diseases such as black spot.
  • Slugs and snails are out in full force now … and they are ravenous! Be sure to take steps to control them now, before they have a chance to reproduce and devastate the garden. Go to your local Co-op store for advice.
  • The first flowers you’ll see will be on weeds. Work to eliminate weeds, roots and all, before they have a chance to go to seed, or you will be fighting them for years to come!
  • Hoe regularly between rows on hot days to make sure the weeds dry up and die.
  • Continue your spraying and dusting program on fruit trees.
  • Spray weeds in lawns with proper herbicide.
  • St. Augustine lawns will likely begin to show chinch bug damage during late May.
  • Is nutgrass driving you nuts? There are herbicides available that help control nutgrass (nutsedge) in lawns. Check with your local Co-op store for more details.
  • Examine conifers for the egg sacs of bagworms and remove them before the eggs hatch.
  • Don’t apply sprays to blooming or fruiting fruit trees.
  • Be sure to use fresh potting mix in containers – old soil has fewer nutrients and may contain harmful bacteria and fungi.


  • Go to for answers to your vegetable and herb questions.
  • If you want to learn more about plants and growing things and enjoy sharing your time and gardening knowledge with the people of your community, please consider becoming a Master Gardener. More information can be found by calling your county or regional Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
  • Apartment dwellers with a patio that gets at least six hours of sun a day can easily grow many varieties of vegetables in containers.
  • There are many injuries and ailments associated with strenuous work … And, this time of year, gardening can be very strenuous! You might consider maladies mentioned in this very magazine such as dehydration, back trouble, falls, cuts, carpal tunnel, eye and ear damage, sunburn, ticks, chiggers, mosquitoes, etc. But did you know that one-third of the reported cases of tetanus in the United States stem from yardwork? Simple things like getting pierced by a thorn, getting cut by a fence or getting punctured by a splinter … and I bet you can think of many other ways you’ve drawn blood in the garden! Tetanus is a bacterial infection that can cause muscle spasms, seizures and has an 18 percent death rate. A simple tetanus booster shot will practically eliminate the risk. If you’re an avid gardener, get one every five years. And wear gloves!
  • Soon the tomato plants will start to sprawl all over the garden. Stake or cage them now while they are still a manageable size.
  • For maximum flavor, don’t let zucchini get over 6-8 inches long.
  • Add water lilies to your pond when the water temperature reaches 70 degrees.
  • The use of a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch once a year will prevent soil compacting, eliminate the need for cultivation, greatly reduce weed growth and cut down on watering.
  • If the weather is dry, you can treat decks, fences, sheds, etc. with wood preservative/stain.
  • Check to see if houseplants are root bound. Water them thoroughly and carefully remove them from their pots. If the roots have compacted around the outside of the root ball, it is time to repot.
  • Harvest vegetables while they’re young and tender.
  • If you haven’t already, move houseplants outdoors to a shady spot. It’s a good time to repot and fertilize them to ready them for a summer growth spurt.
  • If your gardening stuff is scattered here and there, consider building a storage shed to get everything out of the weather and within reach.
  • If the gardening tools need reworking, now’s the time to do it. Sand and refinish wooden handles, and tighten and oil metal parts.
  • Plant the seeds of corn, green beans, squash, cucumbers, okra, sweet potato slips and other heat-lovers when the soil has warmed to 60 degrees. That’s usually about two weeks after the last average frost date.
  • Stake tall plants that will need it now while they’re small.
  • The compost pile should be getting a lot of use these days, both in utilizing this free fertilizer and adding fresh garden refuse to it. The compost pile should be kept damp. Frequent turning will decompose the garden waste into flower food much faster. As you turn, sprinkle in high nitrogen fertilizer and/or blood meal and some granular molasses. This will feed the microbes that cause decomposition and speed up the process.
  • Remember, birds are still nesting. Keep the feeder full!

Mulberry Picking Time

by Tony Glover

Sam Glover eating mulberries off the tree in his grandfather’s yard.

I bought a small, old home and surrounding property last year. I spent the year planting some trees and shrubs and trying to figure out what was already there that was worth saving. Directly in front of this old home is a large, very productive red mulberry tree. This is both good and bad.

Mulberries are sweet, slender, blackberry-like fruit that are good to eat and good bird food. Every fruit-eating bird species in the area will visit your yard if you have a red mulberry. Again, this is both good and bad because they are quite messy, but it is nice to see the birds that visit.

On the plus side my grandson Sam enjoyed his first taste of them to the full. He was cramming them into his mouth as fast as he could to the point I was worried he would have a bellyache. So I stopped his consumption before he was ready to stop. That did not win me any brownie points with him.

Although there are invasive species of mulberries, the red mulberry is a native species called Moras rubra. This species has been used in many ways by Native Americans for centuries. De Soto observed Muskogee Indians eating the dried fruit during his expeditions. The Cherokees made sweet dumplings by mixing cornbread and sugar with mulberries.

The white mulberry, Moras alba, was brought from China a couple of hundred years ago as a host plant for silkworms. The silkworm venture was not successful, but the white mulberry did exceedingly well and is now considered an invasive pest. The fruit from white mulberry can be pink, black, purple or white, but the flower buds are white which gives them their name. Their taste is bland and not nearly as desirable as the red mulberry.

If you enjoy watching birds or other wildlife, you may want to plant some mulberry trees in your landscape. They fruit very young, and birds and other small wildlife love the fruit.

Mulberries are often, but not always, dioecious (male and female trees separate). If you have a male-only, the flowering tree will not produce any fruit. If you have a female-only or a monecious (both male and female blooms on the same tree) tree, you may get fruit without a male tree being nearby. But the fruit coming from a female tree will not produce viable seed.

If you want to plant a mulberry, I would plant the native red mulberry or the black mulberry, Moras nigra. Although the latter species is not native, it produces a desirable fruit on a much smaller tree and it is not considered invasive. It may be hard to find trees, but they are easy to grow from seed or cuttings. Plants produced from cuttings will produce fruit much quicker than those produced from seed. Visit for some tips on rooting a mulberry plant.

However, before you go wild planting an orchard, be forewarned of the negative attributes of this large fruit tree. I have mentioned the messy characteristics, but I should also mention they are wind pollinated, generally meaning they can be an allergen and some folks may have allergic reactions during their bloom time. They are, therefore, best suited for farmsteads with plenty of room to locate them away from the home and downwind from the prevailing spring winds.

Even with all the negatives, you may still have just the right spot for a tree or two. If you enjoy watching birds or other wildlife, you may want some trees just for this purposes. They fruit very young and grow very fast; birds and small wildlife love the fruit; and the birds will also benefit from the many insects that feed on the foliage. You will need to protect the tree from deer until it is several feet tall because they love the leaves. On the plus side, they will eat up any seedlings that sprout where you don’t want them to grow. Mulberries are one of the first things to provide fruit to wildlife in the spring; often fruiting by mid to late April, possibly before turkey season is over (hint hint).

Mulberries are fairly adaptable to all soil types and are drought tolerant once established.

So whether you decide to plant several trees for wildlife or just one or two trees out behind the house, you will enjoy the fruits of your labor very quickly and for a long time.

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

Offshore Saltwater Fishing – Family Fun and a Fantastic Feast

A charter boat trip makes for a great vacation excursion and can fill your cooler for a delicious seafood dinner.

(From left) Cason, Rolley Len and Jason Kirk with the lady fish, rock fish and white snapper they caught in the Gulf off Panama City Beach.

by Christy Kirk

Jason packed a cooler with sandwiches made of peanut butter and wild turkey salad. Below the sandwiches were oranges and drinks. Ice was crammed in every open crevice of the cooler. All four of us had on sunglasses and sunscreen, and had taken our motion-sickness pills. It was spring break and Jason and I were taking Rolley Len and Cason on a charter fishing boat into the Gulf off Panama City Beach.

Taking your family on a charter boat can be a great experience because there is a crew whose job it is to make sure everything goes as well as it can. When you get to the first spot, your equipment and bait are set and ready to go. On our trip, as soon as a person yelled, "Fish onboard!" deckhands sprang into action to help get the fish. They also supply the equipment and help keep up with what you catch.

Deckhands also know all the fishing laws and regulations. They can tell you what is legal to keep based on the season and the size of the fish. Having them available to assist you means you can focus on having fun with your family instead.

This excursion was the kids’ first time deep-sea fishing and mine, too. Going miles out from shore is very different from being on a pier. For one, most trips on a charter boat last anywhere from four to 12 hours; so you really have to be ready to commit. If you or your children get seasick, tired or even bored, the boat doesn’t turn around and head back to the marina.

No matter what happens at sea, the end result is worth the time and commitment. After almost five hours, we returned to the marina. Once we unloaded, we saw we had brought home enough ladyfish, rockfish and white snapper to feed the four of us and my parents with plenty left over. Not only did we take home memories of the trip but we also brought home our next meal straight from the Gulf of Mexico. Jason usually fries fish for us, but here are a few recipes that include fresh seasonal options such as lemons, zucchini and herbs that are perfect to try this summer.

For information about Florida saltwater fishing laws and regulations, visit Saltwater Fishing Regulations.


4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
12 ounces snapper fillets
2 Tablespoons dry white wine
1 cup zucchini, diced
1½ Tablespoons shallots, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Tablespoon basil (chopped if fresh)
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of oil to pan. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper over fish. Add fish to pan and cook 3 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove fish from pan and keep warm. Add white wine to skillet and cook until liquid almost evaporates. Add zucchini, shallots, oregano, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Sauté 3 minutes or until zucchini is tender.

Combine zucchini mixture, tomato, remaining salt, remaining oil, basil and juice. Toss gently and serve with fish.


2 lady fish, cleaned and cut into 2-4 pieces
1 radish
½ cup grated coconut
4 teaspoons tamarind (used in Indian and Mexican dishes)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
4 dry red chilies
3 whole black peppercorns
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
1 cup water, divided
1 teaspoon cooking oil
½ cup onion, choppe

1 Tablespoon Turmeric powder
½ Tablespoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon salt

Mix marinade ingredients and spread over the fish. Let it marinade for at least 30 minutes.

For fish and gravy
Cut radish into 2-inch-long pieces and boil in a small saucepan. In a grinder, combine coconut, tamarind, turmeric powder, red chilies, peppercorns, coriander and ½ cup water. Grind until it makes a thin gravy. In a large pan, add oil and sauté onions until they brown. Add fish to skillet and cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes. Pour gravy into the skillet and stir. Add ½ cup of water to skillet. Stir and add radish. Keep covered and allow it to boil for 10 minutes more.


5 cups fresh spinach
2 (6-ounce) fillets rockfish
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup vegetable broth
2 Tablespoons fresh dill, minced
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon lemon pepper
¼ teaspoon onion powder
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 lemon slices
2 onion slices
1 teaspoon butter

Preheat oven to 400°. In bottom of a 2-quart baking dish, layer spinach. Lay rockfish on top of spinach. Place halved tomatoes around fish. Add broth. Season fish with dill, garlic powder, lemon pepper, onion powder, salt and pepper. Place lemon, onion and butter on rockfish. Cover dish with aluminum foil. Bake until fish flakes easily, about 20 to 25 minutes.

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

PALS: Making a Difference in Madison County

Moore’s Mill Intermediate School learns about the dangers of litter.

by Jamie Mitchell

Moore’s Mill Intermediate School in Madison County is the latest addition to the Clean Campus Program. At the direction of teacher Kayla Miller, the fourth-graders at Moore’s Mill will be heading up the Clean Campus efforts.

I recently went to speak to the students of Moore’s Mill to teach them about the ills of littering in our state. We discussed that litter not only looks terrible but it can have an impact on our furry and feathered friends, too! Sea animals can get caught up in litter and plastic dumped into our waterways. Both land and sea animals can get very sick from eating litter, too. We discussed that it is not a good idea to throw food out on the side of the road because it makes animals come too close to fast-moving traffic. The bottom line is that our behaviors have an impact on everyone and everything around us.

I challenged the students to look and notice litter in their everyday lives. I encouraged them to promote litter prevention with their friends and families. We also talked about organizing cleanup days in areas such as parks that might need a little extra help.

PALS is so excited to have Moore’s Mill on board with the Clean Campus Program.

Could a school near you benefit from hearing the antilitter message? If so, please have them call me at 334-263-7737 or email me at to set up a presentation. The Clean Campus Program is FREE to all Alabama public, private and county schools. Schools may sign up for the Clean Campus Program online at

Jamie Mitchell is the PALS State Clean Campus Coordinator.

Southern Translation

SENTENCE USAGE: "Heavens to Betsy, boy! You’ve been in your room two hours and haven’t even started your homework!"

Who is Betsy?

This American phrase is a mild exclamation of surprise. It has been in circulation since, primarily restricted to America, the latter part of the 19th century, although its use faded throughout the 20th century. It is now something of an anachronism. The first example of it can be found in the U.S. journal, Ballou’s Dollar Monthly Magazine, Volume 5, January 1857:

"‘Heavens to Betsy!’ he exclaims."

Of course, what we would like to know is if Betsy was a real person and, if so, who? Various theories have been put forward. The most common of these is that she was Betsy Ross, who stitched the first American flag. Another is that the Betsy referred to is the slang name early U.S. settlers used for their favorite pistol or rifle. Neither of these theories comes accompanied by any evidence and, as always, speculation must be put into etymological limbo. It is unlikely she will be identified.

For phrases containing names that are genuinely eponymous, that is, named after a known person or fictional character, it isn’t difficult to trace the person concerned, as in sweet Fanny Adams, kiss me Hardy, etc. When we come to phrases such as "Mickey Finn" and "happy as Larry," where there is doubt as to the named person, a strong case can be made to suggest the names were invented. That seems to be the case with Betsy.

The etymologist Charles Earle Funk published "Heavens to Betsy! and Other Curious Sayings" in 1955. In that, he ventured the opinion that the origins of heavens to Betsy were "completely unsolvable."

Spring Means Planting Time

And Time to Think About Preserving Your Harvest

by Angela Treadaway

Angela Treadaway with some of the vegetables she grew last year in her raised bed gardens.

It’s almost gardening time. Many horticulturist grandmothers and grandfathers used to or still plant a thriving garden. The safest time to start your summer garden is in April after the fear of the last frost, usually on Good Friday. I don’t know when the exact time to plant would be but I know I can’t wait to get my raised beds ready. I have already started preparing the ground, amending the soil from my winter veggies such as cabbage, kale and spinach that are hardier to cold weather. I have had raised beds for about five years now and have been really happy with the results. As you can see from my picture, last year we had plenty.

Growing your own vegetables in a raised bed or a container garden is the way to go if you have limited space. In a raised bed or container, you can control many things such as the soil type, moisture, weeds, bending over and breaking your back, pests and so many other things. You can produce enough to feed your family. If you have enough room to have a couple of raised beds, you could grow enough to preserve for later in the year when fruits and veggies are not at their peak.

Whether you grow your own or possibly buy from the many farmers markets, you need to preserve it in some manner as soon as possible because soon after it is harvested it will begin to spoil or ripen. The main methods of food preservation are canning, freezing and drying. Preserving food at home means having:

  • An abundant supply of a variety of foods when the fresh products aren’t readily available.
  • Specialties such as strawberry-fig preserves or green tomato relish that can’t always be purchased.
  • The satisfaction of actually preserving foods yourself.


Canning is the process in which foods are placed in jars and heated to a temperature to destroy microorganisms and inactivate enzymes. This heating and later cooling forms a vacuum seal. The vacuum seal prevents other microorganisms from recontaminating the food within the jar. High-acid foods such as fruits and tomatoes can be processed or canned in boiling water; low-acid foods such as vegetables and meats must be processed in a pressure canner at 240 degrees (10 pounds pressure for a certain amount of time).

Pickling is another form of canning. Pickled products have an increased acidity that makes it difficult for most bacteria to grow. Pickled products are also heated in jars at boiling temperatures to destroy any other microorganisms present and to form a vacuum in the jar.

Jams and Jellies have very high sugar contents. The sugar binds with the liquid, making it difficult for microorganisms to grow. To prevent surface contamination after the product is made and possible yeast or mold growth, jams and jellies are canned, frozen or refrigerated.


Freezing reduces the temperature of the food so microorganisms cannot grow, yet some may still live. Enzyme activity is slowed down but not stopped during freezing.

Enzymes in Vegetables must be inactivated by blanching in order to prevent loss of color, flavor and nutrients. The vegetable is exposed to boiling water or steam for a specified time and then quickly cooled in ice water to prevent cooking. Blanching also helps to destroy microorganisms on the surface of the vegetable.

Enzymes in Fruits can cause browning and loss of vitamin C, and are controlled by the addition of ascorbic acid. While peeling, place the fruit in a solution of water and ascorbic acid.


Drying removes most of the moisture from foods. Thus microorganisms cannot grow and enzyme action is slowed down. Dried foods should be stored in airtight containers to prevent moisture from rehydrating the products and allowing microbial growth.

If you are interested in learning more about how to make your own raised bed and food preservation basics, contact your local county Extension office or go to our website at and check out our publications.

Happy Planting and Preserving!!!

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.

The Co-op Pantry

"Our mother was a simple lady who raised her children with love and the Bible. As you will see in the recipes, we did not have many material things but we did have our mother’s love and prayers. She could make something out of nothing. As I look back over the years when I envied what my friends had, I now realize we were the richest children in the neighborhood."

What a great tribute to a wonderful lady! Rebecca Blount has provided us with a wonderful story and great recipes, and what better time to use them than when we celebrate Mother’s Day.

This is Rebecca’s story:

"I write this in loving memory of our mother Fannie Merle Coody Dixon. Our mother did not have material things to give to her children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, but what she gave to us no money or credit card could buy.

"To us she was the best cook in the world and she taught four daughters how to cook. None of us will ever come close to being the cook she was, using a pinch of this, a handful of that or a dab of something. Sometimes, in our modern kitchen with all the luxuries of measuring utensils, our minds go back to the days in our mother’s kitchen watching her make biscuits while listening to her tell of her childhood when her mother taught her to cook, dipping her hand into the lard bucket and the salt bowl where she scooped out the perfect amount to use. The meals were perfect.

"Let me tell you about ‘Our Mother’s Biscuits.’ This is from memory. Mother kept flour in a large lard can. She used a large, white dishpan that she would sift flour into, using a large, round sifter. When she thought she had enough flour in the pan, she would take her fist and make a hole in the mound. She would then dip her hand into the lard for a handful and place it in the hole. Then she would mix dry milk and water (probably a cup), and add it to the flour; squeezing it in through her fingers and mixing until just the right consistency. Then, she would pinch off just enough of the mixture, roll it between her hands and gently lay it on a greased flat pan. When that pan was full, she would flatten the biscuits out perfectly and cook them until they were golden brown."

This lady was indeed a special Mom. Her granddaughter, Marcia Mazingo, shared this wonderful story about Mrs. Dixon’s fried chicken. I will paraphrase so I can include this in the column.

Marcia was a new bride and wanted to learn to fry chicken like her grandmother. Mrs. Dixon began the lesson early one morning after having a houseful of family over for the holidays. Yet, the house was spotless when Marcia arrived for her cooking lesson. Mrs. Dixon talked while she worked with a bowl of chicken and a bowl of flour. She picked up the chicken, floured it and put it on a clean plate. Marcia asked her grandmother exactly how much flour went on the chicken.

The reply was, "Just enough."

Marcia’s next question was, "How long do you fry the chicken?"

"Oh, just until it’s done."

"Well, how do you know it is done?"

"When it looks cooked through."

Marcia wrote this wonderful story after 16 wonderful years of marriage and two children of her own. After the cooking lesson from Mrs. Dixon, she states that now she understands what her grandmother was trying to teach her about life as well as wonderful fried chicken.

You cook it slow, it takes time. You can’t rush chicken or love or wisdom.

It would be so wonderful for everyone to have such a splendid example of love in their lives! Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, whether you got to raise your children to adulthood or only had them for a short time. For all the moms (like me) who adopted, or those special moms who gave their child up for adoption because they could not raise them but loved them enough to do the best for the child. Let’s not forget all those "other Mothers" who played a part in our lives, be they aunts, cousins, neighbors or your school or Sunday school teacher. Thank you for what you did for us.

The national foods we will be using for June are dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables, and papaya. For July, they are baked beans, ice cream and pickles. Or contact us about being our featured cook.

Plain Layer Cake or Jelly Cake

1-7/8 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening (solid type)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, unbeaten
¾ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pecan or hickory nuts, chopped, optional
Apple jelly

Onto waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. In mixing bowl, combine shortening and sugar; cream until well-blended. Stir in unbeaten eggs, once at a time, beating after each until light and fluffy. Stir in sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk to make a batter. Add nuts. Stir until batter is well-blended. Stir in vanilla. Into 3 well-greased layer cake pans, pour batter evenly. Bake at 375° until done, about 30 minutes. Spread apple jelly between layers.

Coconut Pudding

2 large cans PET Milk
2 can water (use milk can)
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated (reserve whites for meringue)
¼ cup flour
1 box Ritz crackers, crushed

In bowl, mix milk and water. Mix in sugar and egg yolks. Add flour in small amounts to thicken and cook until thick. Remove from heat and add coconut. Cover bottom of a 9x13 baking dish with crackers, saving some to sprinkle around edge of pudding. Pour coconut mixture over crackers. Cover with meringue. Bake at 375° until meringue is brown. Chill before serving.

Ice Box Fruitcake

1 (10-ounce) bag vanilla wafers
2 boxes dark raisins
2 packages coconut
2 cans condensed milk
1 quart pecans, chopped

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into loaf pan. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Enjoy.

Super Easy Meringue

3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¾ cup white sugar

In large bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar with electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture forms stiff peaks.

Sardines, Eggs & Biscuits

1 can Eatwell sardines
12 eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons solid shortening

Remove bones from sardines. In bowl, mix eggs, sardines, salt and pepper. In a frying pan, put shortening. Add mixture and cook until done. You must stir often to prevent burning.

Note: Must use Eatwell Sardines if you can find them.

Smothered Fried Chicken

1 fryer, cut into pieces
Prepared rice

In skillet, fry chicken until done. Pour off grease. Put chicken back into skillet. Cover with water and cover with lid. Simmer 20-30 minutes. Serve over cooked rice.

Jell-O Pie

1 small can Pet Milk, chilled
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 box Jell-O, any flavor
1 cup hot water
1 bag vanilla wafers, crushed

In a bowl, whip milk until it forms stiff peaks, adding sugar as whipping. In another bowl, mix Jell-O with water. Add to milk mixture. Place enough vanilla wafers to cover bottom of pie plate. Pour mixture over wafer crust. Refrigerate until pie is firm.

Fruit Cake

1 cup lard
2 cups sugar
6 eggs
1½ cups fig preserves
1½ cups watermelon preserves
3 cups pecans, chopped
1 teaspoon cloves
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 (15-ounce) box dark raisins
2 heaping teaspoons cocoa
1-2 cups milk
8 cups flour, to make batter stiff

Mix all together. Pour into a tube cake pan. Bake at 375° until done, about 1½ hours. Use your own judgement on when done.


Strawberry Spinach Salad with Strawberry Balsalmic Vinagrette Dressing

3 cups baby spinach
3 cups mixed baby greens
2 chicken breasts, grilled and sliced, optional
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
½ cup blueberries, optional
¼ cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled

In a large bowl, mix greens, grilled chicken, strawberries and blueberries. Top with pecans and feta cheese. Toss with strawberry balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Serve immediately.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
4 Tablespoons olive oil
4 large strawberries, hulled and sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor or blender, mix honey, vinegars, olive oil and strawberries. Blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper.

Note from Jena: This is a fantastic spring salad. Fresh and crisp with a dressing that looks and tastes delicious! You can fix this one to suit your taste! We used a spring green mix in place of the mixed greens for a bit more color, skipped the blueberries and used blue cheese instead of feta. I added a little more honey to the dressing because I like it sweeter. Enjoy!

(Recipe from Marie Cook, AFC safety director)

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

The Knotty Truth About Net Wrap

Consider the total cost when choosing a baling product.

by Robert Hardy and Tim Lucier

When it comes to profitability in farm animals, controlling loss is the name of the game, whether you are maximizing your calf crop to sell or not losing any of your hay supply to spill and spoilage. In the March issue, we shared with you the manufacturing process of poly twine. This month, we would like to try and inform you of the process and benefits of the poly net wrap we have to offer at your local Quality Co-ops.

There is no doubt when it comes to least-cost production that baling twine typically comes in first place. However, once you examine all the costs and losses, are you really saving money? Net wrap has many benefits, but its greatest asset to a farmer is how tight and uniform the bales stay, especially when being stored for long periods of time. This prevents moisture penetration, spoilage and loss of product; and helps maintain strength when being stacked. Net wrap will typically outperform twine in most all outdoor storing applications.

Tytan Net Wrap is made of 100-percent polyethylene. Most of the net wraps being sold to consumers carry similar lengths and widths. Tytan brand is one of the strongest because of its proven production processes and quality-control standards.

The net wrap journey from polyethylene pellets to the final product is fascinating to watch and vastly different from poly twine. The process begins by melting the polyethylene beads into a liquid state and then by blowing them into a bubble in the extruder. The bubble is approximately 25 inches in diameter. As this bubble rises from the base, it travels about 40 feet, allowing it to cool and solidify, and becomes more rigid to handle. It is then run through a set of rollers that fold it in half and wound onto large cores. The secret to making the polyethylene strong is all in the bubble! One mistake and the entire run of yarn will be below specifications and rejected. The parameters, by which the bubble is made, are a trade secret and held closely.

Once the cores have time to dry and cure, they are placed on the slitting machine where they will be cut into individual threads and run directly onto the loom. The strength of the net wrap yarn comes from the bi-directional strength of the polyethylene. The individual yarns are sent to the knitting machine where they are knitted into the end product. The warp yarns (vertical running) give strength to the wrap; weft yarns (horizontal) give the net wrap its spacing and hold the warp in place.

The net wrap procedure is a unique process and we were not allowed to get much information about it due to the technology of the patented process.

When baling with net wrap, there are a few things you need to do to make sure it goes smoothly. Before baling, inspect the net wrap to make sure the ends are cut evenly. One long strand can lead to tearing. Also, make sure the core isn’t wet. If it is, it will need to be replaced before getting started.

Alabama Farmers Cooperative Inc. has a strong vendor relationship with Tytan International that has manufacturing facilities in the United States and abroad.

The majority of Tytan Net Wrap is manufactured in Clearfield, Utah. The primary color is white with a blue tracer on one side. Tytan Net Wrap has a red end-of-roll warning marker at 164 feet. Tytan Plus is the product of choice because the weight of fabric is heavier and thus has more UV protection for Southeast baling.

AFC’s Decatur warehouse is stocking 45- and 64-inch rolls that are edge-to-edge, and 51- and 67-inch rolls that are beyond-the-edge products.

Visit for a Co-op near you.

We hope everyone has a prosperous spring hay harvest and remember to reach for the Tytan label when purchasing your twine and net wrap needs.

Tim Lucier and Robert Hardy are sales reps for AFC Farm & Home division.

The Nearness of Nature

The NaturePlex at Alabama Nature Center provides easy access to a spectacular outdoor experience.

by Alvin Benn

There are 300 acres and 5 miles of boardwalks and trails at the Alabama Nature Center.

It’s called the NaturePlex and is the crown jewel of the Alabama Wildlife Federation – a $6 million, 23,000-square-foot facility out in the boondocks.

What makes it extra special is the fact that it’s only a few miles from upscale shopping centers, restaurants, movies and even professional baseball games.

How that happened is testimony to skilled planners who were able to design it in such a way as to benefit urban and rural residents throughout the year.

The NaturePlex is the official welcome facility of the Alabama Nature Center, fulfilling the final structural element of the foundation’s vision for a world-class, outdoor education center in the state.

Those who tour the site for the first time are amazed at how close it is to Cobbs Ford Road in Prattville, just a stone’s throw from easily accessible Interstate 65 and a few miles north of Montgomery.

The Alabama Nature Center has it all, from a comfortable theater that shows environmental films to nature-based displays, classrooms, a stuffed bear accidentally killed by a driver and even the sounds of chirping birds to greet visitors as they near the front door of the facility.

The NaturePlex is a popular destination for school field trips.

When people hear robins, cardinals and finches serenading them as they arrive, the first thing they usually do is look around; only to be told later that it’s just part of a sophisticated computer program.

"It was planned as part of our mission to have a significant introduction to the Nature Center," said AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard, who has helped create the unique facility during his 19 years at the helm.

City dwellers unfamiliar with birds and their calls soon learn those chirps are part of canopy sounds generated by a motion-based audio system that sets the stage for what is to come later at the facility.

Gothard credits Dr. David Thrasher with coming up with the sound-system idea. Thrasher is a former president of AWF and enjoys getting into the woods whenever he has an opportunity.

"A lot of people think what they are hearing is real and that birds are everywhere, and that’s part of what we’re trying to do to prepare them for what country living is all about," Gothard said.

Tim Gothard, executive director of Alabama Wildlife Federation, has a great view of The Nature Center’s $6 million headquarters facility in rural Elmore County.

State Sen. Clyde Chambliss’ district encompasses the AWF facility and he is a regular visitor to the Nature Center, describing it as "an amazing asset in the middle of the Millbrook area."

Instead of driving long distances to savor the outdoors, it’s basically a hop, skip and jump for visitors to reach the I-65 connection to Cobbs Ford Road that leads directly to the Nature Center.

Chambliss is one of many area residents who can’t say enough laudatory things about Gothard, who leads a relatively small group of dedicated employees who don’t mind long hours if necessary.

"Tim’s leadership is part of the tremendous job he’s done since becoming executive director of Alabama Wildlife Federation," Chambliss said.

Gothard’s long tenure as director of the organization has enabled him and his staff to build a wide following across the state.

"We’re trying to show people what country living is all about," Gothard said. "It’s all part of preparing people to connect with the outdoors."

He’s particularly proud of the progress made in the decade since the Nature Center opened in 2007. The first phase was constructing five miles of boardwalks, trails and an outdoor pavilion.

The Nature Center was opened in 2015 and has become the permanent welcome and education center for the site.

"We represent what a group of people can do when they are on the same page," Gothard said. "Our capital campaign helped to raise the funds we needed at the start and we are continuing to seek financial support to help keep this going."

Tim Wood, general manager of Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma and a member of the AWF board of directors, calls him a "great administrator who is knowledgeable of just about everything associated with his job."

"He loves the outdoors, but is just as much at home handling administrative duties," Wood said. "Ask him a question and he knows the answers."

Kids learning about the eastern indigo snake, one of ANC’s resident, educational animals.

Gothard learned the value of a dollar at a young age when, at the age of 8, he earned a penny a plate that covered electrical wall sockets. His electrician dad paid him that huge sum more as a lesson in responsibility as anything else.

He might make a grand sum of 50 cents a day, but that amount skyrocketed at the age of 11 when he learned how to actually put the plugs into the wall. He eventually assisted his father in wiring houses.

At Auburn University, he majored in forestry. It would be handy as he gained experience in the nuts and bolts of administrative management.

"I took a lot of course work at Auburn on wildlife and hardwood forests, and it certainly paid off for me in the long run," he said. "I guess all that time I spent in the woods as a kid was a big help as far as my future was concerned."

Gothard’s fundraising abilities caught Wood’s eyes from the start because most of the $2.3 million annual budget to keep AWF going comes from private funding from corporate supporters and donations.

"What Tim has been able to do is help create a first-class facility, one that has been successful in just about everything he does," Wood said. "I can’t thank him enough for how he’s been able to raise private dollars to make it all happen."

Although Gothard grew up in Millbrook, much of his summer months and weekends were spent at the Baker Hill community in Barbour County where endless woods constituted his playground.

While other boys his age were practicing their football spirals, curve balls or playing video games, he was in the woods and streams, looking for minnows and crawfish.

"I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning so I could head into the woods," he said. "I’ve never been a couch potato. I’m a hunter and a gatherer."

He was also adept at digging his own worms for bait. On a good day, he used to come up with 40-50 worms, meaning the fishing was bound to be good.

As Gothard talks about the huge operation he manages, he is prone to sprinkle "passion" throughout his comments because that word has been a driving force that keeps him going.

"I am passionate when it comes to getting people into the woods to experience the great outdoors," he said. "Much of what we do involves field trips for schoolchildren and thousands have been here over the years."

Gothard enjoys reading emails and letters from children who have been to the popular wildlife site and can’t wait to do it again as soon as possible.

"They’ve written us to say it was the best field trip they were ever on," he said. "Some have even said it’s a better experience than going to the zoo. What we have is a different kind of zoo and do our best to acquaint young people with what we have out here."

Gothard manages a facility that includes 16 fulltime and about 20 part timers as well as seasonal employees. It takes that many because of the facility’s continued growth through the years.

Among those employees are three biologists who are kept busy throughout the year. One of their many duties is assisting private landowners across the state, because most of the land in Alabama is privately owned.

Before he took over as director at AWF, Gothard was forest management chief of the state Department of Forestry.

"I wasn’t looking for another job when this opportunity came along, but it was just too good to turn down," said Gothard, who is as happy to be where he is as those who hired him.

For details about the NaturePlex, the Alabama Nature Center and the Alabama Wildlife Federation call 334-285-4550.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.

The Right Place at the Right Time

Jamie Griffin, manager at Mid-State Farmers Cooperative, saves three children from drowning.

by Graham Brooks; reprinted with permission from Shelby County Reporter, originally printed March 23, 2017

Jamie Griffin with his wife Amy and their two daughters, Sawyer (right) and Cricket.

What was supposed to be a relaxing weekend getaway at the beach for husband and wife Jamie and Amy Griffin turned out to be a trip both will not soon forget.

The Griffins are residents of Helena and own a successful business on the family farm where they regularly host parties, weddings, baby showers and more on the property. Jamie is also the manager at the Mid-State Farmers Cooperative in Columbiana and the couple planned a trip to the beach the first week in March before the busy season approached.

"Me and my wife just planned to get away for a few days before spring and before things got busy," Jamie said. "We went to Panama City Beach at first and our room wasn’t how it was supposed to be so we decided to drive to Ft. Walton to find a place there and spend the day."

When the couple got to Ft. Walton, they decided to take a walk down the beach even though the weather conditions weren’t ideal.

"The temperature was decent. It was around 70 degrees, but the wind was like 30 mph; so it was pretty cold," Jamie said. "Out in the water there were double red flags, no swimming was allowed and the water was cold."

While walking down the beach, Jamie said he and his wife decided to turn around and walk back because the weather made things miserable.

Once they turned around, Amy looked out in the ocean and, despite the red flag warnings, saw three kids swimming offshore. Two boys and one girl between the ages of 8 and 11 were caught in a severe undertow.

"Amy looked out there and said the boy was in trouble," Jamie said. "They were about 30 yards off shore and at first I didn’t think they were in trouble. Then I saw a lady take off running down the beach toward them and I knew something was wrong. I threw my phone to Amy and went in where the waves were probably 6-8 feet. The boy was bobbing up and down asking for help and the undertow was really bad. It would take you out and it was about chest deep."

While helping one boy, Jamie said the boy’s brother began to go under the water also and he ended up pulling both boys to shore and then went back out to help the daughter and mom.

One boy was in bad shape, throwing up water when he got onto shore, but Jamie believes all three children ended up being OK.

"It was good to be there at the right time," Jamie, who had lifeguarding experience in college, said. "It was a scary situation. The one boy could hardly scream out for help anymore and we were taught that if someone is actually drowning, they aren’t able to speak."

Jamie said the weekend getaway didn’t get off on the right foot, but he believes he and his wife were there for a reason.

"From our room to the weather, nothing went right," Jamie said. "It’s like we were down there for that reason. That’s the only good thing to come out of the trip was saving those kids, but me and my wife are people of faith and we believe we were placed there in the right place at the right time."

Graham Brooks is a staff writer for Shelby County Reporter.

Time to Make Hay

by Stephen Donaldson

We are now well into spring and so far so good. Rains have all but eliminated the drought conditions here in Alabama. If you were able to fertilize timely, your hay fields should be boasting tremendous yields. Cool-season grasses have had terrific weather to maximize production.

One of the newer trends in harvesting hay is to ensile it. The technology to bale and wrap high-moisture forage gets more impressive every year. The ability to wrap and ensile these cool-season forages has allowed producers to harvest them in time to maximize forage quality. If producers are able, for instance, to harvest ryegrass in a preboot stage, they could see protein levels in the mid-20-percent range. If this forage is allowed to mature to the dough stage, protein levels will drop to the midteens. Finally, if harvested at maturity, protein levels will be in the 7-9-percent area.

In addition to protein levels falling as the plant goes through maturity, fiber levels dramatically increase. Both acid detergent fiber, ADF, and neutral detergent fiber, NDF, increase as the plant matures. The increases in fiber decrease the level digestibility of the forage. This decrease in digestibility makes the forage less valuable as a feedstuff. Many believe that just because forage is harvested at higher moisture and ensiled that it is higher in quality. Understand, this isn’t always the case. Maturity at harvest is the deciding factor where quality is concerned. I recently had some high-moisture wheat and ryegrass hay analyzed and the protein was a disappointing 7.9 percent. I asked what date had it been harvested on and was informed it had been baled in early May.

May is also a time when warm-season grasses should be thriving. The fields should have already been fertilized and sprayed for weeds. Generally, the warm-season grasses are of lower quality when compared to cool-season grasses. Because of this inherent difference, special care should be given to the time of harvest of warm-season grasses. Generally, warm-season grasses should be harvested every 28-30 days to maximize quality and yield. After 30 days, protein decreases and indigestible fiber increases at rapid rates. Additionally, these forages tend to need more frequent fertilization to maintain their growth and quality.

Regardless of the plant species, forage quality decreases as the plant matures. Producers should be careful to harvest forage at a time that allows for maximum quantity at an acceptable quality. If forage is harvested too early, production will be sacrificed. Likewise, harvesting forage too late could result in great yields, but at a quality requiring more supplementation for the animals to reach your production goals.

The guidelines I have described are just that, guidelines. The only sure way to know where your forage stands is to analyze it. If you analyze your hay crop for several years under varying growing conditions, over time you can have a general idea of the quality of your hay crop without performing an analysis. The advantage to knowing the nutritional value of your hay crop is that you will know how to supplement the animals for desired production goals.

Without analyzing your hay, there is no sure way to know what you are using for feed. The term "buying a pig in a poke" comes to mind. As costs increase, it is imperative we watch all our costs to help increase profits. By analyzing forage quality, we can more precisely provide our animals with proper nutrition.

With complete information, we can help provide the products you need in your operation. There are complete lines of quality feeds and supplements available to complement your forage program at your local Quality Co-op store. In the words of Tommy Wilcox, "Come getcha some."

Stephen Donaldson is AFC’s animal nutritionist. If I can help any of you, please get in touch with me and let’s succeed together. You can reach me at 256-476-5272 or

Why Do You Farm?

by Steve Crumpler

Last Sunday night at church, a couple of senior farmer friends were sitting on the pews near me and I asked them to tell me why they farm.

Almost simultaneously both of them said with a smile, "It’s sure not because you hope to make a lot of money!"

My brother-in-law said, "You don’t make any money at it, but it’s worth it just to be in the business."

I asked the two fellows to be thinking about the question and give me their answer after the service because I planned to write this month’s devotional on this topic for my brother Glenn.

When church was over, I followed them outside after picking on the preacher some, and reminded them of the question.

"I do it because I enjoy it," Don said.

Doug said pretty much the same thing. Then he went on to tell how he had been riding his four-wheeler across the field that afternoon to check on some cows and he just pulled over and stopped and looked over the fields under the setting sun. He sat there and enjoyed the beauty for a while. As he started for his car, he turned around and came back to me. This time he was animated and profound.

"It’s love of the land. I love the land. When I started farming my daddy, who was a much better farmer than I will ever be, told me, ‘It’s not your land. It is God’s land. You have a stewardship of the land and you are answerable to God for what you do with it. A good farmer has a responsibility to leave the land better than he found it. If he doesn’t do that, he isn’t much of a farmer.’ And my daddy went on to say, ‘You have inherited my name. (Doug is John D. Day, Jr.) It is also your responsibility to leave my name as good or better than when you received it.’"

You just never know what you are going to learn at church. And it is not just the preachers and the Sunday school teachers you learn from.

Why do you farm? Why do you do what you do? "Why?" is an important question. We don’t understand all the whys in life and we do not need to at this point. We do believe God knows all the whys and, if we need to know, He will help us understand it better by and by at the appropriate time. But there are some whys we can know and need to know, especially when it relates to our motivation or reason for doing what we do. Often we have many reasons for doing what we do, but usually there is one reason that surpasses all others.

I work as a substance-abuse counselor in a residential treatment program for men.

Most of the time, when I meet a new client, I ask him, "Why are you here?"

Many of the answers I get are predictable: "I want to get off drugs or alcohol"; "I want to stay out of jail"; "I want to get my life straightened out"; "I want to get my family back"; "I want to stop hurting the people who love me"; "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired"; "I don’t want to lose my job"; "The doctor said I was going to die if I don’t stop drinking now"; and "I want to do it for me."

All these reasons are valid and good if they are true and not just lip service and represent a sincere desire and willingness to change. For some people, the honest answer to this question would be more like, "I don’t want to be here and I’m not ready to change." Until these people become willing and motivated to live a different life, it is very difficult to help them. I have learned I can only help people do what they want to do. I cannot make them do anything they are not willing to do. I have not had many men say, "I am here because I want and need God’s help to live a sober and righteous life that pleases Him and blesses others. That is what will make me happy."

Most Sundays, I preach to a small congregation and I want them to think about, "Why are we here?" and "Why do we follow Jesus?" I am reminded of how I would have answered that question at different times in my life:

  • "I don’t want to go to Hell. I want to go to Heaven." That was where I started. I knew I was a sinner. I knew God, Heaven and Hell were real. I was afraid of going to Hell. I wanted to go to Heaven. Jesus is the only way. That was a valid answer then and still is.
  • "I want to have a good life and the only way to have a good life is to follow Jesus by faith." My way doesn’t work. His way does. He guides me, provides for me and protects me.
  • "I have done bad things and I have been a sinful person. I live with guilt and shame. I want forgiveness. I want my sin washed away. I want to be pure, holy, clean, good and righteous."
  • "I want to be a better man." I want to be pleasing to God and helpful to others. I want my life to mean something and to be useful to Him.
  • "I love God because He loves me."

Love is the greatest motive of all. God is love and He wants me to love Him with all my heart and love my neighbor as myself. To love Him is to give yourself totally to him. He gave himself totally to us when he sent Jesus to die on the cross. He offers to give himself totally to us every moment of every day. He knocks at the door of our heart and wants to come in and fill us with Himself, but He doesn’t force the door open! He invites us to receive Him. It is just the right thing to do. It’s the only right thing to do. And when we do, it is pure joy. When we love Him and allow Him to love us, God enjoys it and so do we. The happiest people in the world are the people who find their joy in Him.

So why do you farm? Why do you teach, drive a school bus, run a business, patrol the highways, provide health care or show up at work every day? Why do you cook, clean house, mow the yard or take care of the children or the elderly? Why do you do whatever you do?

  • "I want to make a living for my family and myself."
  • "It is a good, honest, honorable work and I enjoy it."
  • "It makes life better for others. It helps people."
  • "It is a spiritual stewardship and a responsibility."
  • "It gives me an opportunity to demonstrate faith, hope, love and integrity in my profession or business, to demonstrate the reality of following Jesus to the people I encounter every day."
  • "This is what God has provided and directed for me to do. This is the door He has opened. This is where He has put me to serve."
  • "I do it because I love Him and this is for His glory and praise. And I really enjoy that!"

The Bible tells us, "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." (Colossians 3:17 NASB)

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

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