Almadale Farms in Collierville, TN
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Will's Archives 20072006, 2005 ,2004, 2003

Black Gold
Don't Scare The Crows
Let's Talk Turkey
The Noble Blue Heron
Some Things I've Learned About Tomatoes
Spring Time is Snake Time
Keep Your Tomato Plants Off the Ground
Here They Come!
A Few Words About Trees
The Peskiest of the Lawn Critters
 
 

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www.epa.gov/compost/

 Black Gold

Over the years I have had conversations with several of you regarding ways to improve the soil in your small garden plots and containers where you grow vegetables, flowers and ornamentals. I was surprised recently when a neighbor ask me what about composting—a subject close to the heart of all organic gardeners. Unfortunately, there has often been an air of cultish mysticism surrounding the art of composting. I’m not surprised since it is easy to get confused by gardening magazines and books that describe the “science” of composting within such narrowly defined terms—often indicating there is one, and only one, method of composting.

What is compost? Simply stated, compost is partially decayed organic material. It is a dark, easily crumbled collection of plant products with many of the characteristics of humus, the major organic component of soil and is considered by many gardeners to be the top all around soil amendment.

How is compost made? The modern practice of composting is little more than speeding up and intensifying the natural process of decaying and decomposition. Making compost is not difficult and can be done easily at home. Essentially, the basic methods call for layering ingredients—usually organic refuse—in piles in mixed proportions. Some purists turn the heaps in order to accelerate bacterial action within the pile. Your compost heap will be built of organic refuse. The most readily available ingredients include lawn clippings (nitrogen), leaves( carbon), hair (protein), good soil, manure—excluding dog and cat manures—shredded newspaper, ashes, pine needles, hay, plant clippings and kitchen wastes—especially banana peels, coffee grounds, tea grounds and egg shells. The two basic ingredients are carbon and nitrogen. Almost any organic matter may be used. I also like to use an activator substance such as cotton seed meal or alfalfa pellets as an added nitrogen boost. However, this is not critical. Be attentive to having a good mix. Once you have started mixing materials, the fun begins. Inside a compost pile millions of decay organisms, insects, microbes and bacteria—aided by self generated heat—feed, grow, reproduce, and die while transforming household and garden wastes into compost. Begin your search now for compost ingredients in your own backyard, kitchen and neighborhood. You probably won't have to travel far to find a wealth of nutrient rich materials.

 Why make and use compost? You have likely discovered that our Almadale Farms soil is an acidic, hard, clay based composition and not very fertile. Compost increases organic matter in the soil—while building sound root structures and healthier plants. It also makes the soil airy so it can drain well. Compost attracts and feeds earthworms, nature’s aerator—while reducing plant stress resulting from droughts and freezes.

 What about composting systems? Compost can be made with or without enclosures. There are multiple composting systems. The easiest is a simple pile which can be made in a secluded spot in your back yard or you may prefer a concrete block bin, a garbage can, plastic bags, wire mesh fence collectors or tumblers. There are other arrangements. I have used both the concrete block bin and the tumbler (which I don’t recommend) and am currently using the trench method of simply burying material directly in my working vegetable garden. Match your compost style to your space, garden style or neighbors’ ideas of neatness.

When will your compost be useable? Your compost is ready when the materials placed in your pile or other enclosure have been transformed into a dark, rich humus-like substance which will have a woodsy, clean aroma. Dig it into planting areas, spread it around shrubs, flowers and trees or use it in potting mixes for indoor and outdoor plants. Your plants will thank you

 

Don't Scare the Crows
 
At a length of 18 to 21 inches, the American crow is a large bird. It has a glossy sheen and is completely black—black eyes, black feet, black legs, black tongue and black talons. Crows are solitary and usually build their nests 50 to 70 feet above ground in a tree crotch or on a heavy limb near the trunk. The crow’s nest is a cup of twigs and sticks lined with grass, bark, pine needles and moss. Females lay 3 to 7 eggs which hatch in approximately 17 days. Young crows are usually able to fly in roughly three weeks and have a life span life span of approximately 15 years. Their favorite food is waste corn.

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In my younger days in rural west Tennessee, I was an enthusiastic crow hunter. Back then the farmers were very tolerant if a hunter respected their fences and livestock. I became fairly adept at calling crows from a distance and “talking” to them with the aid of small wooden crow call. Occasionally, a young, unskilled crow would come close enough to fall within range of my shotgun pellets. The clever and alert crow was a fine bird to hunt—at least I thought so. It wasn’t exactly a game bird in the true sense—since very few people “ate crow”—but to my way of thinking, the crow was a better bird to hunt than the quail, dove or some other game bird. In addition crows were unprotected and available all year long—often in large numbers. There was no moral question since farmers considered crows to be a pest known to feed on the eggs of game birds and the young of other helpless wild life. They also ate newly planted seeds, tender seedlings, transplants, fruits and berries.

After several years of hunting crows, I realized that they were among the craftiest of all wild creatures. For example, crows would shy away immediately if I had a gun but if I went out unarmed, they would allow me to come well within range without becoming scared. An appreciation of the language and communication skills of crows made a real impression on me and improved my hunting skills. Crows use low key talk to advise others where there is food or say hello to a friend but will become boisterously loud when danger lurks. I particularly enjoyed their frenzied cawing when they cornered a great horned owl or owl somewhere—inviting all to the badgering of their worst natural enemies. Especially impressive was watching them stand in a silent sentinel over a fallen companion.

Then it happened. I lost interest in hunting crows and started spending more time walking in the woods and fields just admiring and attempting to mimic the crow caws. It seemed that I could look directly into their black eyes and hear them talking to me. My interest in crows was further aroused after reading several articles about this magnificent bird.

Attitudes have changed about crows and they have adjusted well to living in our suburban society. They perform many valuable services—especially in the summer—keeping busy eating grubs, bugs and dead animals but they are also amnesiacs and are notorious for storing acorns, walnuts and the seeds of wild shrubs and trees. Have you ever wondered how an abandoned field reverts to a forest? Crows likely planted many of those trees with their forgotten nuts.

Crows are considered the most intelligent of all birds and are highly adaptable. Their antics are legendary and have even been referenced in National Geographic Magazine. Conservationists concerned about endangered species have no reason to worry about the American crow which has survived organized shootings, bombings and poisoning. It is now protected. Unlike the effect on some wildlife, human alteration of the landscape has favored the crow. It has lost much of its fear of man and can be seen in parks and playgrounds. I have also seen them on the roofs of many of our Almadale Farms homes.  The crow is a survivor and is a sign that we have not gone too far in turning our farms and landscapes into technological wastelands.

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Let's Talk Turkey 
 
When I moved to a new Memphis subdivision in 1965, I chose the largest lot available—approximately 3/4 acre. At the time I felt that it was my calling to grow every type of fruit and nut tree regardless of the tree's suitability for my soil and the mid south climate. I had pear, pecan, filbert, Chinese chestnut, English walnut, apple, plum, nectarine and crab apple trees in addition to pomegranate bushes and a grape arbor. To top it off, I transformed a 20' by 30' plot into a 12 month organic garden. I also had on my 150' back lot line what may have been the only Shelby County planting of Russian olives—thorny and virtually impenetrable

I soon learned that all of these fruit and nut trees were very susceptible to multiple diseases and insects and required constant attention. There was one exception—the fig tree or bush—depending upon its training. While there are over 200 varieties of fig cultivars, my favorites were the Celeste, Kadota, Mission and the Brown Turkey.
 
When we moved to Collierville, I took a cutting from my Brown Turkey and it is now thriving in our Almadale Farms back yard. Although the fig is generally thought of as a subtropical fruit suited only to mild climates, it does well here. If a freeze—such as the one we had in April—kills the leaves, it will usually spring back quickly.

Figs are outstanding for gardeners who don’t want to fuss with spraying and pruning but like having a big crop of fresh, delicious figs. Brown Turkeys bear big, juicy fruit in early summer, and then set a heavier crop of smaller fruit in the fall. Clusters of figs grow close to the stem of the bush and are surrounded by deeply lobed leaves.

Figs live for many years, love our clay based soil if the drainage is good and need relatively little attention. Like all fast-growing semitropical plants, the fig responds quickly to a balanced fertilizer, but the amounts should be limited. I also like to pamper my Brown Turkey by giving it a little lime in February. Heavy mulch in the summer to retain moisture, and in the winter to protect against the weather, plus a spring application of good compost, will usually guarantee healthy, even growth if allowed to grow naturally.

If preferred, figs can be grown as trees and will reach heights of 15' to 30' feet. Figs are not really fruits in the botanical sense. They are actually a collection of closed-up flowers. While requiring no attention except for removing dead wood, the best news of all is that figs are normally pest and disease free. Don’t you need a turkey in your back yard?

The Noble Blue Heron
 
Last March, my wife and I vacationed eight days in the Guanacaste Province which is located on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. During this period, we treated ourselves to several nature tours—including a 100-150 ft. high wire canopy slide above a beautiful rain forest and a day long tropical river trip on the wild Bebedero River in the Palo Verde National Park. During the cruise we were privileged to see sloths, giant anteaters, iguanas, Congo and white face monkeys, crocodiles, snakes and a vast array of birds—including one of my favorites—the majestic blue heron.

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Almadale Farms is privileged to have a beautiful, fully mature blue heron which can often be seen in one of our lakes—usually the clubhouse lake. I’m not certain, but I think he is a male—based on the pictures I have seen. His choice of Almadale Farms is not surprising since his favorite habitats include wetland areas, small inland lakes and ponds—all ready sources of food.

The blue heron is the largest and most widespread heron in North America and is a curious blend of awkwardness and grace. When startled or disturbed, it jumps into flight with a harsh guttural croak and a tangle of legs, wings and neck. However, several slow, deep wing strokes will straighten him out as he disappears over the tree tops and those stilt-like legs are directly behind him while his large head seems to rest on his shoulders. The blue heron has long legs, a long not so skinny neck and a long bill. It has beautiful colors—a mosaic of bluish gray back, wings and belly, a white crown stripe and a reddish or gray neck.

Our resident blue heron stands approximately four feet tall and has a wing span which must be close to six feet. I recently observed him for approximately thirty minutes while sitting on one of our lake benches. It was absolutely fascinating to watch him slowly and carefully wade along the edge of the lake. His patience seemed endless as he stood motionless, methodically waiting for his next meal to swim beneath his bill. Suddenly he stood statue-still as if frozen and then his head plunged into the water. In a nanosecond he held a fish or frog in his sharp bill.

In addition to frogs and fish, blue herons also like voles, snakes, crawfish, worms and other creatures. Herons prefer to build their large bulky nests high in the top of tall trees—preferably trees which are made inaccessible by swamps or wetlands. Raccoons and humans are their worst enemies. Old nests are used year after year—and much like purple martins—older blue herons have strong attachments to their old nesting sites. They will return and remain year after year if they do not feel threatened. We in Almadale Farms are truly blessed by the presence of one of nature’s most beautiful creatures.

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Some Things I've Learned About Tomatoes
 
Most of us who grow tomatoes set out transplants. How you treat these transplants will have a major effect on your harvest. For more and better tomatoes, here are some of my best planting tips.
 
Plant location is important. Rotate the location of your tomato plants each year in order to minimize soil-borne diseases such as blights, wilts and viruses and nematodes. These diseases often have a 1-3 year life span, so avoid planting tomatoes in last year’s location if possible. Also, don’t plant them where you grew peppers, eggplants or potatoes, either as these vegetables are prone to many of the same diseases. Tomatoes need at least 6-8 hours of sun a day in order to produce well--and full sun is best. Tomato roots will not do well in soggy soil—a sunny well-drained location is essential.

Plant location is important. Rotate the location of your tomato plants each year in order to minimize soil-borne diseases such as blights, wilts and viruses and nematodes. These diseases often have a 1-3 year life span, so avoid planting tomatoes in last year’s location if possible. Also, don’t plant them where you grew peppers, eggplants or potatoes, either as these vegetables are prone to many of the same diseases. Tomatoes need at least 6-8 hours of sun a day in order to produce well--and full sun is best. Tomato roots will not do well in soggy soil—a sunny well-drained location is essential.
 
Soil. The soil in Almadale Farms is heavy clay and acidic which tomatoes like. However, drainage in clay soil is bad. The best way to improve your soil is to add good potting soil with organic matter such as leaves, compost, grass clippings and kitchen residues. Banana peels and coffee grounds are excellent kitchen residue additives—peels for phosphorus and coffee grounds for nitrogenous acidity. Although I don’t use the stuff myself, if you are starting from scratch and your soil is poor, you may want to use a chemical fertilizer such as Osmocote—a slow release fertilizer. In my organic garden I have used cotton seed meal, soy meal, alfalfa pellets, blood meal, fish meal and many other natural additives. I also add a cupful of Epsom salts for each of my plants. If you don’t have a good spot in your lawn, consider container gardening.
 
Planting Dates. Don’t waste your money and plant too early. Many garden centers and other outlets have been selling tomato plants since early March. I never plant until the latter part of April or early May. Tomatoes grow best when temperatures range between 75-90F. Temperatures below 50 can cause chilling injury. There is nothing sadder looking than cold tomato plants.
 
Varieties. There are numerous varieties and over the last 40 years I think I have tried most of them—heirloom and regular. However, a few have clearly emerged as my favorites primarily because of their resistance to disease as well as having outstanding taste. For a delicious regular sized tomato, nothing beats the Better Boy. For size, and if you have the space, try one of the Beef Steak varieties. A prolific cherry tomato is the Tiny Tim—although most cherry tomatoes seem to possess hardiness and resistance to disease. I usually plant one of the cherry tomato varieties for the benefit of my resident Cardinals—the bird of the year when it comes to tomato aficionados. Roma is a good hearty tomato for sauces and paste.
 
Whichever variety you choose, be certain that it is a disease resistant variety and has codes such as VFNT which reference the most serious types of diseases and viruses. The best plants are fairly young, 6-8 weeks old and about 8 inches tall. They should have plenty of dark green leaves and, most importantly, a solid, thick stem. Avoid leggy, yellow, blooming plants. I always buy the Bonnie brand tomato plants which are worth the slightly higher cost.
 
Planting Methods. There are two basic methods—horizontal and vertical. I prefer the vertical. Simply pinch off all the lower leaves of the plant and plant up to the top leaves. This method provides a good rooting system and is especially beneficial during hot weather.
 
Watering. I water my plants deeply approximately once every 5-6 days. I also use soaker hoses. Keep water off your plant’s foliage as wet leaves are a magnet for air borne diseases.
 
Mulching. Wait until your plants bloom before mulching. If you mulch too early, you insulate the ground and keep it from warming up.
 
Supports. Stakes or cages are preferred by most tomato growers. I prefer cages.
Since we likely have new Alamadale Farms residents whose prior tomato growing experiences differ from those in our area, please call me if you have questions.

Spring Time
is Snake Time

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Corn Snakes

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Cottonmouth

The warm temperatures and longer daylight hours that stimulate us to get out and enjoy nature also trigger the same response in snakes. Unfortunately, snakes lead the list of the most misunderstood and feared of all animals and a surprise encounter can end in death for the snake. In Almadale Farms and the adjoining wetlands area, copperheads and water moccasins are the only species of snakes that are dangerous to humans—I've also heard of rattlesnake sightings but I've never seen one in our area.
 
The least dangerous of our poisonous resident snakes is the copperhead which is normally found around water, in the woods and other places that offer it a cool shady place to stay. It is temperamental, gives no warning and blends in well with its surroundings. The copperhead has keeled scales, a triangular head and color patterns formed from bands of buff, pink or tan alternating with bands of red, or brown. More than any other snake with which I am familiar, copperheads are colored to blend in with leaf covered forest floors. It’s possible to stare right at a copperhead without seeing it.

The cottonmouth water moccasin is another of our poisonous snakes and likes to spend its time near standing water and brushy wetland areas. It is a stubby, muscular snake which can grow to nearly six feet. This is one mean snake that takes no prisoners—it is very aggressive and—if provoked—has been known to chase after people—including myself. The water moccasin is a dark colored snake with cross bands of brown, gray or black and is white around its mouth—thus the name cottonmouth.
 
There are also approximately 28 species of non-poisonous snakes in the west Tennessee area. These include black racers, king snakes, green snakes, corn snakes, rat snakes and many others. Sadly, many people mistake non poisonous snakes for their poisonous relatives—especially corn snake which are often mistaken for copperheads and water snakes for water moccasins.
 
While I don’t recommend a close inspection, there are numerous differences between poisonous snakes (pit vipers) and all other snakes. All pit vipers have deep pits on each side of their heads, a little below an imaginary line between the eye and the nostril—and about midway between. Harmless snakes do not have these pits.
 
 
Snakes are awakening from winter hibernation and are feeling a bit sluggish and hungry after a winter of being mostly dormant. They will seek food wherever it is most accessible. Also, spring is breeding season and males are actively seeking out females—usually from late April through early May. A cold winter without food means that snakes are in an ornery mood. Snakes will enter yards, outbuildings and a few of you have told me that snakes have entered your houses and garages. Even the smallest of openings can be an entry point for a snake.
 
The main reason for their presence is that they are searching for food and water. After a few good meals and mating, snake activity drops off because of the heat. Their primary interest will then turn to finding a cool spot to hide during the day. These cooler areas can be any number of places, such as under concrete slabs, in wood piles or even in buildings. In the evening snakes become active again as they come out to look for more food. When fall comes around, and the days cool off, snakes are once more seen during the day—bulking themselves up to survive their inactivity during the winter.
 
Snakes perform valuable services—the most important of which is their consumption of rats and mice. Even though snakes are feared, more people die from bee stings each year than from snake bites. In the last 40 years there have been only seven recorded deaths from snake bites in Tennessee. If you have an unwanted encounter with a snake, just leave it alone and walk away—it will try to escape if possible. Remember—the  killing of snakes is almost always unnecessary and illegal under Tennessee state law

Keep Your Tomato Plants Off The Ground
 
Spring is on its way and some of you are already thinking of ways you can have better tomatoes this year. One very important way is to keep your tomato plants off the ground in order to:
• Avoid Diseases
• Make It Easier to Harvest
• Make It Easier to Fertilize and Monitor Problems
• Protect Your Plants from Animals and Children

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There are multiple ways to train and support tomato plants. As a boy I grew up in the tomato growing center of Tennessee in Gibson County. The primary tomato support system used back then was the simple single-stake method which consisted of driving an 8 foot 2 X 2 stake into the ground and then tying the tomato plant to the stake.
 
Since the 50’s a multitude of new tying or staking methods have emerged. These include wire cages, ladder trellises, tomato towers, tepees and a few other methods. However, after lots of experimentation, my favorite is a cage made of concrete reinforcement wire. I especially like its 6 inch mesh which allows for easy picking of the tomatoes. The same welded steel mesh that gives reinforced concrete its strength is the just the thing for making tomato cages that will last a lifetime.
 
You can buy concrete reinforcement wire at just about any building supply center or if you’re lucky—find an abandoned remnant of wire at a new building site. Figure on buying approximately 14 feet of wire—enough for two cages. The only tools you will need are a small pair of bolt cutters to cut the heavy wire and a good pair of pliers. Be sure to wear work gloves to avoid cuts and blisters.
 
The ideal cage size is approximately 24 inches in diameter and 60 inches high. This size supports the vine very well, helps in preventing sun scald and allows enough leaf surface for maximum fruiting. For each cage cut a 6 1/2 foot length of wire and coil it to make a circular cage approximately 24 inches in diameter. Cut off the bottom two levels of horizontal wire to create “legs” which you can push into the ground to hold the cage in place. Later when you are ready for tomato planting, place the cage over your plant and—as your plant matures—use a stake or T-bar (my choice) on both sides to secure the cage and protect your tomato plant in the event of a high wind. I failed to do this one year and lost eight tomato plants during a strong wind. It is very important to secure the cage. At the end of the season, clear off old vines and store the cages for winter—or leave the cages standing and have them double as compost bins.
 
If all of the above sounds too confusing, I will be happy to show you finished tomato cages—just give me a call. I have some concrete reinforcement wire cages which I made up to 25 years ago and they remain very functional. Tomato cages can also be found at garden centers. However, I dislike these since they are too short and usually not very sturdy.

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Photo Taken by Joe Dillenger

Here They Come!
After vacationing for six months while molting and putting on a new suit of feathers in the Amazon River basin and other parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, my favorite swallow—the purple martin—is winging its way north. Martins reached Florida in January and other deep south states in February. I have tracked the arrivals and departures of purple martins in our area for approximately twenty five years. Using the Mississippi River as a navigational guide, they normally arrive during the first two weeks of March and return home in late July or early August. This will be uplifting news to the approximately twenty Almadale Farm families who have been adopted by this most acrobatic of birds.
 
The martins’ arrival signals the return of warm and pleasant spring days. Older martins—often referred to as scouts will arrive first to claim nest sites they have previously used and will fiercely defend these preferred sites. New, younger martins usually arrive a few weeks later. Their return coincides with the availability of the larger protein providing insects such as dragonflies, midges, mayflies, grasshoppers, June bugs, moths, cicadas and other insects. In our area the dragonfly is a favorite dish. Purple martins usually eat “on the wing”, catching their prey as they swoop through the air—typically feeding 100–200 feet in the air. For drinking, they use their lower bills to scoop water from lakes, rivers and other water sources. Your best opportunity to see a martin taking a drink is in the early morning or late afternoon over one of our beautiful lakes. Martins are a unique species east of the Rocky Mountains.

This is the situation since they are almost totally dependent on human supplied housing. If you are interesting in establishing a martin site I will be happy to visit with you to determine the suitability of your lawn for a martin housing site. Location is a critical. Without it you will find it very difficult to attract martins—and a waste of money since good martin housing is not inexpensive. For those of you who are already martin landlords, check your site(s) and make sure trees and shrubbery haven’t grown too tall and too close to your house(s)—this could discourage the martins’ continued use of your house(s).
 
Regardless of your level of interest, I strongly recommend that you visit at least once the annual Martinfest held at the Victor Stoll Farm in Finger, Tennessee. This year’s Martinfest will be held on June 15 & 16. For approximately $10 the Stolls will provide BBQ, a drink and other Amish treats in addition to one of the largest martin sites in the country. According to Victor, in 2006 he had approximately 726 nesting pairs in 800 rooms. By June the young will have fledged and there will be a total of approximately 3500 martins. There will also be large tents with martin displays, several knowledgeable speakers, vendors and drawings. Finger is a relaxing, beautifully rural two hour drive from Collierville just south of Jackson, Tennessee. Directions: Take Hwy 57 E—turn L on Hwy 18—R on Hwy 100—L on Hwy 45 then R on Hwy 199 to Finger. A word of caution if you decide to make the drive—watch for serious speed traps in Piperton, Rossville and Moscow.

A Few Words About Trees
 
Almadale Farms traces its history back to 1994 when land was acquired for its development. In 1996 our subdivision was host for the Vesta Home Show. While our covenants have always required the planting of two hardwoods in our front lawns, many of you were not so fortunate. Instead of hardwoods, many builders planted Bradford pear trees, a variety of tree native to Korea and China. It was introduced commercially in this country in 1963 and was supposed to be the perfect street tree. However, a multitude of weaknesses became apparent over time. For starters, it is a grafted, soft-wooded, ornamental tree with a short life span of approximately 12–15 years, approximately the age of Almadale Farms.

Click for a larger view
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Almadale Farms Damage to Trees During the Wind Storm of 2003

A combination of plant physiology and other factors make the Bradford very susceptible to wind and ice damage—in fact, it’s rare to see an old Bradford that doesn’t have at least one damaged limb or is missing a chunk from its trunk. The Bradford does not take well to pruning. The angle of the Bradford’s branches is often too narrow, and as the tightly-crowded branches grow in girth, the tree begins to push itself apart. At the first strong wind or heavy ice storm, the tree may self destruct. The great ice storm of 1994 and our 1993 straight line wind storm demonstrated this fact.
 
The Bradford is also highly susceptible to fire blight and lacks tolerance to climatic changes. If all of this has discouraged you from planting an ornamental pear, there are a few other spring-flowering trees that you might consider. These include the Cleveland Select or flowering crabs. I particularly like the Hopa crab.
 
More About Hardwood and Especially Oak Trees. There are approximately 400+ species of hardwoods. Among the non oak trees, local nurseries may recommend maple, ash, linden, black gum or the slower growing gingko. My favorite tree family is the oak—of which there are over 200 species. When choosing an oak for your yard, it is essential to consider our soil. While some oaks adapt to many soils, others require specific conditions. Almadale Farms has an acidic, clay based soil. Willow, pin or scarlet oaks require an acid based soil and are ideally suited for Almadale Farms. The willow oak is my favorite. If you'd like to see the willow, there are two beautiful relatively young willow oaks at 1876 Winsley Way. I have two pampered scarlet oaks in my yard at 1866 Winsley Way. There are numerous red and scarlet oaks throughout our subdivision.
 
A Few Other Suggestions. December is the best month of the year to plant trees in our area. According to Organic Gardening Magazine, a tree planted in November or December will grow 50 percent better next year than a spring-planted tree. Dig a wide hole and plant your new tree at the same depth it grew in the nursery. Don’t be mislead into thinking that you need a very large tree. A small tree will generally outgrow a large tree because it takes the larger tree longer to recover from the transplanting shock. A smaller tree also has a proportionally greater root system which will encourage faster growth. Finally, even though you may only plan to be a short term resident, consider an oak or other hardwood which will add greater value to your home.

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 The Peskiest of the Lawn Critters

The economic boom that transformed Almadale Farms into one of the fastest growing areas in the state has come at a price—the loss of woods and fields to suburban development. The rampant destruction of wildlife habitat means that birds, rodents, reptiles, deer, and other animals that formerly lived in the wild now almost live side by side with us. As a result, when they get hungry, our lawns and gardens are often one of the first places they come looking for a meal.

 Several of us have been visited by animals including skunks, armadillos, coons, deer, foxes and coyotes. However, the biggest pest in my lawn these days is not the larger animals but the ubiquitous chipmunk. While these little critters can be cute and entertaining, they can also be quite destructive—especially with their appetites for newly planted bulbs and garden beds. They can also be a nuisance in rock garden as well, where they may disturb both your rocks and plants.

Chipmunks are approximately 8-9” long and bear from 2-8 young twice a year. In case you’ve never seen a chipmunk, it is a small, striped rodent that lives in burrows (tunnels) that are dug vertically into the ground. Chipmunks have light-colored stripes on their faces, backs and sides bordered by black. The rest of the back, legs and tail are reddish-brown and light gray or white underside. Unless it becomes a meal for one of our resident red tail hawks or other predator, the chipmunk may live 2-3 years.

The chipmunk begins its underground nest by digging a hole and may make another small opening for quick escapes. I once attempted to flood a chipmunk cavity—and after approximately 45 minutes—one left through a secondary hole. I don't recommend this procedure since—in my situation—the chipmunk’s tunnel was dug underneath my patio—and I feared that I might erode the patio foundation. I have used moth balls, red pepper, “seasoned” peanuts, dried blood and baited traps with limited success. However, I think I have found a solution—pure coyote urine which I bought though E-bay. This is the foulest, most pungent, pervasive, reasty, rancid, frowzy substance I’ve ever smelled...but I believe it could solve my chipmunk problem.

It works like this. Coyotes, bobcats, foxes and other predator animals leave their scents in order to mark their territories. Chipmunks, rabbits, squirrels and other rodent types are very fearful of these carnivorous predators and will usually avoid the predators’ marked areas. Simply spray those areas where chipmunks have been seen. Post rain sprayings will likely be necessary. Happily, I can report that—recently—there has been a conspicuous absence of chipmunks in my lawn. Of course, they may be just taking a long winter snooze.