Almadale Farms in Collierville, TN
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A Story of the Cowbird
Bermuda Lawn Care
Early Spring Gardening
Where Do Purple Martins Winter?
Some Thoughts About Drought
Reflections
Honey, What's For Dinner?
Is It the Miracle Natural Fertilizer?

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A Story of the Cowbird
 
There are many species of birds which I do not welcome in my backyard. These include blackbirds, common sparrows, starlings and grackles—common sparrows because they can be a real nuisance in a martin colony—blackbirds, starlings and grackles because they can be a nuisance at bird feeders. However, there are practical solutions for this group of problem birds. A much more complicated pest is the cowbird whose habits are instinctive and a part of its nature.

The approximately 7 1/2" brown-headed cow bird is fast becoming a common backyard visitor and is easily recognizable. Males are a glossy black—except for the head and neck which are shiny dark brown like burnt coffee. The female, like most birds, is less impressive than the male and has a polished gray appearance. But why is the cowbird so despicable? Have you ever seen a brown-headed cowbird’s nest? If you haven’t, don’t feel bad because nobody else has either. On the domestic front, the cowbird is a bad parent, a homeless vagabond and is considered an outlaw in birdland. They are reviled and despised by bird lovers for multiple other reasons. Both the males and females lack loyalty to each other and the females are hopelessly inconstant. Cowbirds are normal in at least once sense—like doves, sparrows, juncos and many other birds, they are ground feeders and weed warriors.

What makes cowbirds distinctly unique is that they are parasitic. The cowbird builds no nest of its own and lays its eggs in other birds’ nests. According to The Birds Around Us, how and when a cowbird selects a another bird’s nest in which to lay an egg is a fascinating event. Finding the right host nest is not always easy but the cowbird has shown a special preference for the nests of sparrows although approximately 90 bird species have been duped into becoming surrogate mothers. Only catbirds and robins are known to throw the foreign eggs out of their nests.

After seeking out a nest, the stealthy cowbird will lay its egg at dawn before its hostess returns to lay its own eggs for that day. She will also remove an egg from the target nest the day before or the day after its own egg is laid. According to some reports, the cowbird will even lay her egg in the center of the other eggs—presumably to attract more heat and to be less conspicuous. Interestingly, the cowbird’s egg will hatch quicker and grow faster than its unsuspecting nestmates. The cowbird usually visits and lays eggs in six or more nests—then takes a rest from her deviousness. This procedure is repeated three or four times during the nesting season—producing a total of eleven to twenty eggs. While perhaps a bit baffled, the surrogate mother incubates the cowbird egg until the cowbird hatches—then raises the cowbird as part of her brood. Unfortunately, the single cowbird egg—if undetected by the host bird—will grow faster than its unrelated and usually smaller nest mates, often causing them to die of starvation. I would imagine there are also some frustrated foster parents.

Cowbirds have an interesting history and were once known as buffalo birds since they were originally a bird of the plains and followed the enormous herds of buffalo as they roamed over thousands of square miles. The name buffalo birds was probably given them by the Indians because they originally spent most of their time with buffalo herds.

Cowbirds perched on the backs of their hosts and fearlessly moved among them to feed on the countless numbers of insects and seeds stirred up by the trampling and grazing. Stopping to build nests would have meant losing track of the herds. When the buffalo herds disappeared, the cowbird population likely decreased in direct proportion to the demise of the buffalo, at least temporarily—but adapted and found a new lease on life with an increase in open land for farming and cattle raising. From that point on, it was an easy jump to golf courses, ball parks and the backyards of Almadale Farms.

Bermuda Lawn Care
 
In a recent email, an Almadale Farms neighbor, wrote, “Pat and I have been using a lawn service (actually, various ones over the years) to treat our lawn and are not very satisfied with the results. As a result, we plan to tend to it ourselves. Could you give us some basic pointers about the whats and whens to maintain our bermuda lawn, which is, for the most part, in partial to full sun? I’m not looking for details at this point—I just want to determine if we can do better.” George’s question is a good one and is often asked by others. A short answer to George’s question is yes, you can do just as well or better if you are conscientious and follow a regimen. Following are some suggestions.

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There is nothing mysterious about having an attractive lawn—if you don’t have too much shade. Well maintained lawns involve four elements—fertilization, weed and pest control, proper cutting and edging and watering.

Fertilization: There are two basic approaches—Chemical and Organic or Natural. Most of you likely will choose to use chemicals. The ideal fertilizer should have a balanced nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium formula. The Scotts Company is a leader in providing balanced chemical lawn fertilizers which eliminate much of the guess work. Scotts recommends the following fertilization schedule—the Scotts product in bold print. Spring (Turfbuilder), Summer (Turfbuilder) and Fall (Winterizer). While Scotts products are more expensive, they provide you with a systematic, balanced program.

If you want to go the common chemical route for lesser cost, you might consider the following regimen, Spring (a balanced fertilizer such as 13-13-13, 10-10-10 or 15-15-15), Summer (Urea or ammonium nitrate), Fall (0-20-20). For you organic purists, I recommend the following, Spring and Summer (Alfalfa pellets and Cottonseed Meal) and fall (Alfalfa Pellets). Since most Almadale Farms lawn soils are acidic, a good fall liming will also be helpful. Acidic soil is unhealthy for grass and reduces the effectiveness of fertilizer. Lime  promotes nutrient availability by adding  calcium and magnesium which strengthens the  root system. Lime also helps lawns resist insects, fungus and drought damage. Unlike some chemical products, lime is safe to use.

Weed and Pest Control:. As you have likely observed, unless treated, lawn weeds can become a nuisance. Scotts recommends that preemergence herbicides be used in late February or early March to control crabgrass. Scotts also recommends that postemergence herbicides be used to control summer—and possibly winter—annual and perennial broadleaf weeds. Organic proponents recommend corn gluten meal to control a broad range of weed seeds, not just crabgrass and other annual weeds. If used, it is normally applied in August or early September followed with another application next spring in late April or early May at the rate of approximately 20 lbs per thousand feet. Corn gluten meal won’t help as much with existing broad-leaf perennial weeds such as dandelions, plantain or ground ivy. However, it will help to prevent their seed from sprouting.

Mowing Leaves: Grass clipping decompose rapidly and can provide up to 25% of your lawn’s fertilizer needs—according to many experts—if you have a fertilization regimen. Preferred cutting heights for bermuda is ½" (early) with a gradual raising of the blades until fall. I like to leave my grass high just before the first killing frost. There is no need to cut your grass after it dies. A rain softened lawn should never be cut—the end result may be ruts and hardened soil. Although it is good exercise, I am amazed that some continue to push lawn mowers over dead grass during the late fall and winter months.

Watering. Ideally, bermuda lawns need approximately 1" of water weekly. Ours is a clay based soil and accepts water slowly. A daily 15 minute accomplishes little other than encouraging a highly susceptible surface root system.

Aeration. I strongly recommend having your lawn aerated at least every 2-3 years. As lawns age or sustain heavy use from play, sports activities and vehicle traffic, compaction can result. Compaction greatly reduces the soil's pore spaces which normally hold air and negatively impacts nutrient uptake and water infiltration—resulting in poor top growth and lawn deterioration. Roots require oxygen to grow and absorb nutrients and water. April is my favorite month for this procedure. Hollow mechanical aeration devices remove cores of soil, providing space for roots and soil to expand. Before aerating, I usually sprinkle alfalfa pellets over my lawn.

Core aeration can benefit your lawn by

  • Increasing the activity of soil microorganisms that decompose thatch.
  • Increasing water, nutrient and oxygen movement into the soil.
  •  Improving rooting--depth and spread.
  • Enhances infiltration of rainfall or irrigation.
  • Helping prevent fertilizer and pesticide run-off from compacted areas.

Aids: If you plan to be your own lawn service, whatever products or methodology you use—chemical or organic—the Scotts Company (www.scottscompany.com) will provide you with timely reminders  regarding your lawn needs. I’ve been using this free reminder service for years. Organic gardeners may wish to use www.organicgardening.com. If you don't have a computer, buy a copy of the Mid-South Gardening Guide for timely information regarding all types of gardening and lawn maintenance. There are multiple local contributors offering good advice for our area.

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Early Spring Gardening
 
There’s nothing better than harvesting fresh garden produce right out of your backyard garden. Over the past several years I’ve noticed that some of my neighbors have late spring- early summer gardens in which they have grown tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra and other warm weather vegetables which are usually planted in late April or early May. I assume there are other Almadale Farms residents who also have small gardens. While none of the above can survive the cool weather which we normally experience in February and March, there are other types of vegetables which do well. What are the vegetables which you can grow in these early days when the days and nights are relatively cool?

While it likely will come as a surprise to many of you, there are many vegetables which may be planted before the frost free date in our area--normally April  15. Some vegetables which can be planted 4-6 weeks before the frost free date include, broccoli, herbs, cabbage, lettuce, arugula, onions, potatoes, spinach and turnips. Vegetables which can be planted 2-4 weeks before the frost free date are beets, carrots, chard, mustard and radishes. There are others but I have had success with all of those listed. Of these two groups, the easiest to grow are leaf lettuce, onions, potatoes, spinach and radishes. If you’re craving beets, let the seed soak two days before planting.

Lettuce, especially, is a great cool weather crop and prefers it when the days and nights are cooler than 70 degrees. Of the many lettuce varieties, leaf lettuce is far more reliable and it matures faster. Arugula is especially easy to grow from seed. I usually use seed but you can give mother nature a jump start the process by buying established small plants from Russell’s Farm Supply Company located across from the main post office in Collierville.

The location of your garden is important. Vegetables need sun and lots of it--the more direct sun, the better the yield. The quality of the soil in your garden is critical. The best garden soils are rich and highly organic. Unless you have been working a spot for years, constantly adding compost, leaves, grass, and other organic matter, your soil will need some amendments. As far as synthetic fertilizers go, osmocote is a good, slow, time release fertilizer. If you have neglected your garden site, just prior to planting, add manure, finished compost or leaf mold. If you’re a gardening purist, take a soil sample to the Shelby County Extension Center and they will determine your soil’s pH which is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. Most vegetables grow best with a slightly acidic pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Since the soil is Almadale Farms is clay based, the soil is naturally acidic.

Cool weather vegetables enjoy some important advantages over those planted in warmer weather. The taste is better and the vegetables are crisper. In addition, there are far fewer insects. Most have been hibernating during the winter. Insects have natural cycles just like plants and animals. It is also probable that the numbers of insects have been greatly reduced by the by the unpredictable warm -cold-warm-cold weather cycles which we have experienced this winter. Even if you don’t want to grow vegetables for consumption, some, such as lettuce and red cabbage, are highly decorative and can be grown in pots.

Where Do Purple Martins Winter?
 
Over the years I have written many articles and spoken to many groups about the culture of purple martins and the maintenance of their sites. While the care, culture and maintenance of purple martins and their sites in Almadale Farms and other areas is critical to their survival, what happens before and after their arrival in their North American sites? Where do they go and how do they sustain themselves? I believe all bird lovers--but especially purple martin patrons--will find the following  interesting.

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On approximately August 1, shortly after young martins learn to fly, their attentive parents take them on ever-lengthening flights in preparation for their exodus to South America. Those of you with houses have likely noticed a flurry of activity before their departure.and then suddenly, most of the martins were gone. Groups of 40 or more began to fly south and then congregated in assembly areas, usually near large bodies of water in swampy areas rich with flying insects. Such locations are critical considering the perils of the long, treacherous flight awaiting the martins.

After a two week rest and a “fattening up” period, the martins are almost ready for their long trek south. During its southern migration, a martin averages consuming two ounces of flying insects daily in order to sustain itself. That means that a normal migration flock of 10,000 martins consumes nearly a ton of insects daily. Many flocks may have as many as 100,000 members. A possible jump off roost for purple martins from Almadale Farms and other southern and midwestern areas is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway just north of New Orleans. Up to 250,000 martins may use this resting stop. It is the longest over-water structure in the world, is 24 miles long and spans the width of Lake Pontchartrain.

Now the really serious parts of their migrations begin. Having added the necessary flight fuel fat at protein rich Lake Pontchartrain and other staging areas, the martins are ready for their long and perilous flights to their winter roosts in South America. Nature has arranged for martins to fly in several groups since they will be subjected to storms, sudden temperature changes and other hazards. It is believed that martins take several routes but the most probable are direct flights over central America as well as island hopping over the Caribbean. Not so amazingly, their flights will coincide with the availability of large amounts of flying insects. Finally the martins will arrive at various sites in Brazil and other South American countries, including Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. According to Stokes Purple Martin Book, there are only three South American countries in which purple martins have never been seen--Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Sao Paulo in southeastern Brazil seems to be a favorite site.

After arriving in South America, purple martins spend most of their time molting, feeding, preening, bathing and putting on a new suit of feathers. The places they inhabit vary between sites similar to their breeding grounds in North America and sites deep within the tropical rain forests. Some martins also spend their nights in urban parks and reserves. Purple martins do not nest in South America. During their entire stay of approximately four months, they spend their nights in huge communal flocks and their days feeding over the surrounding countryside. They provide a valuable service to the coffee, sugar cane, corn and soybean plantations, orchards and cattle ranches, as the numbers of damaging insects they consume are astronomical. Their sole goal is to regain weight and body fat for their trip back to their northern homes in Almadale Farms and other places. Their first northern migrations to Florida and other deep south areas normally start in late January. The Louisiana and south Texas arrivals are seen by February 1.

Our purple martins will start arriving in early March and what a happy day it will be for the approximately 25 Almadale Farm residents who have been adopted by martins. Just ask one of them! While the main benefit to having purple martins is the sheer enjoyment of having them around, they also consume vast quantities of insects. Their five month stay and the care they receive here and other places in the U.S. is critical to their survival. The purple martin is the only bird species completely dependent upon humans for its supply of nesting sites. If you are interested in martins, call me and I will be happy to visit with you to determine if you have a suitable martin site. I also have available copies of A Purple Martin Primer, a frequently used martin care and maintenance guide which I wrote in 2004 for Nature Society News.

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 Some Thoughts About Drought
 
The drought which we have just experienced did not begin this year. We have had at least three years of drought-like conditions with below average rainfall amounts. This is a very serious condition and not just for gardeners in Almadale Farms. According to data included in December 1st issue of The Commercial Appeal, Shelby County area is approximately 19" below the normal rainfall amount for 2007. I keep daily rainfall records and our area of Collierville is approximately 20" below the normal annual rainfall level. And that’s not all of the bad news—our lawns and gardens have suffered through other abnormalities. First, an unseasonably warm March plunged into several nights of freezing temperatures in April, nipping many an early bud and thwarting entire blooming seasons in some cases. Ten days of lingering triple-digit heat and weeks without any substantial moisture have left many trees and shrubs in a very stressed state—some of which did not survive. Trees should be monitored closely.

What will be the effects of the drought and the weather abnormalities which we have experienced? Prolonged drought and weather stress is unhealthy and predisposes plants to pest problems. Under such a weakened state, the defenses of many plants are diminished allowing insects and diseases to take advantage of the situation and add to the plants’ stress. Results of these attacks are often not observed until the following spring—especially with pest damage which may seem to appear overnight when it actually started the previous season during or following the drought. Many pests, such as wood borers and beetles, are especially destructive when trees and shrubs and trees are in a vulnerable state. Other insect pests such as spider mites, lacebugs and aphids can also be more detrimental to their hosts during extended hot and dry periods. Healthy plants almost always fare much better than plants in a weakened state with insufficient amounts of water being a major detriment to the health of a plant.

Some of you are concerned about premature leaf drop, scorching, wilting and defoliation caused by the drought and high temperatures. Deciduous trees such as oaks, birches and maples are especially vulnerable. Trees that have had their roots disturbed are even more vulnerable.  That’s why I advise against planting and cultivating shrubs under trees. Fortunately, most trees can tolerate the drought and other problems and come back next year—as long as the rains come. Others may not make it but don't decide to replace any trees until you see the results next spring. Unfortunately many plants and especially trees may take up to three years after a drought to display negative long-term effects.

What can you do to promote the general health of your trees and shrubs? Healthy plants and trees can usually survive dry spells. However, in order to reduce drought stress and prevent the deaths of less vigorous trees, homeowners should supplement natural moisture with deep soakings. Early morning is the best time. This helps provide moisture to plants that would otherwise be starving during the heat of the day. While sprinkler system watering may be adequate for lawns and shrubs, such watering can be harmful to trees—lulling some into thinking that frequent daily 15-20 minute waterings are adequate. Deep watering is essential for strong root growth .The roots of most trees lie in the top 6 to 12 inches of soil beneath the grass. Reaching these roots over a wide area would require several hours with a sprinkler system. A more efficient tree watering technique involves turning the hose down to a slow trickle for an hour or two—allowing water to penetrate into your trees’ root zones. For severely stressed trees, you may wish to consider Treegator bags which hold 15-20 gallons of water. And don’t forget your evergreen trees since they keep their needles and leaves all winter. Trees and shrubs that lose their leaves go into dormancy and don't require as much water as evergreens.

If you must replace trees or shrubs, November and December are the best planting months for most plants. Most older plants should recover from the drought since the winter months—especially January—are normally the wettest months of the year. But with our rainfall history, don’t bet the farm on it.

Reflections
 
Since moving here in 1997, I have found life in Almadale Farms to be a remarkably pleasant experience. I have hospitable, caring neighbors with varied interests. Their spirit of cooperation and willingness to assist others after the 2004 storm was particularly gratifying. In addition my life has been greatly enriched by the presence of a variety of wildlife. Natural values are important to me, particularly the reassuring cycles of plant growth and the antics of wild life. Following are a few of the fond memories spanning the ten year period during which my wife and I have lived here.

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  • Pesky young rabbits munching and eating the hearts out of my broccoli plant.
  • A red fox getting a drink of water at the clubhouse lake.
  • A lobo coyote with a mouthful of cat or squirrel crossing Wolf River Blvd.Turkey
  • Vultures eating carrion at the south end of the clubhouse lake while mesmerized geese watched in awe.
  • Purple martins flying high overhead and chasing away a red-tail hawk looking to make a meal of baby martins in the martin houses in my back yard.
  • An aggressive male hummer chasing a mocking bird.
  • Two ducks routinely swimming in my neighbor’s swimming pool.
  • Two geese sitting on the roof of a neighbor's house.
  • A red-tail hawk gorging himself with a fat dove in my back yard.
  • A great horned owl clutching a mouse while slowing flying over our front lake.
  • A fat beaver swimming in our front lake while clutching in his mouth part of a newly planted pine tree.
  • A great blue heron stalking and gulping down a minnow in our clubhouse lake.
  • Formations of fat geese routinely flying low over my roof top.
  • Four whitetail deer galloping north on the Houston Levee shoulder.
  • Raucous crows sitting on the roof of a neighbor's house while warily watching a redtail hawk flying high overhead.
  • The unbelievable aeronautical acrobatics of purple martins from March until August.
  • My first sighting of a live armadillo, a mammal once thought to be restricted to warmer areas.
  • The ubiquitous presence of pesky chipmunks and squirrels in my back yard.
  • The multitudes of backyard wild birds, including titmice, jays, cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, mockers, wrens, thrashers, finches, robins, doves, siskins and even a red-tail hawk.
  • The telltale signs of visits by raccoons skunks and possums seeking grubs, worms and other treats.
  • The spring and summer chorus of hundreds of tree frogs singing in unison.
  • The resonating baying of my neighbor's oversized bull frog.
  • The transformation of my backyard 20' by 30' plot of concrete like soil into an organic 1' deep oasis which produces chemical free tomatoes, peppers, squash, broccoli, lettuce, greens, turnips, beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, radishes, spinach  and other vegetables.

Many of us have worked hard to create backyard habitats which are more natural and appealing to animals and ourselves. I believe we have been successful.

 

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For the brave only, check this on You Tube:
Honey, What's For Dinner?
 
I’m sure most of us have won a door prize at some point in our lives. One of my most memorable door prize winnings occurred one winner evening in 2003 at a Master Gardeners’ meeting. Our guest speaker was affiliated with Planet Natural, an organization which specializes in non chemical, organic products for home, lawn and garden. Then it happened. The most exciting part of the evening. After approximately 10 drawings my name was called and it was announced that I had won a tube-shaped papier-mâché-like case of praying mantises. I was so excited I bought two more cases.

For you naturalists, a mantis case looks like a dirt dauber’s adobe. It is the size of approximately two thimbles and includes enough eggs to yield approximately 100-300 young mantises also—known as mantids. I was the envy of all in attendance. Since it was winter,  I was careful to keep the egg case in a cool place. The mantis is a warm weather creature but is able to stand subfreezing temperature. More than one unknowing mantis neophyte has learned the hard way that a dormant egg case can fill a warm room full of tiny mantises, so keep them in the refrigerator or some other cool place until spring.

Praying mantis are big, slender odd-looking relatives of the grasshopper family. Female mantises lay their eggs in masses—gluing the egg-like cases to trees and shrubs with a sticky body substance. When fully grown, they are normally 2-4 inches long. Ranging from green to brown in color, they blend in well among grasses and shrubs. Their name originates from the way they hold up their stout front legs as if in prayer. However, this stance is hardly one of pious reverence; preying would be a more accurate description.

The mantis has several distinguishing features. It has a triangular head with sharp mouthparts, can swivel 180º and has large compound eyes which allow it to see incredibly well. Its arm—like forelegs have sharp hooks that allow it to hold its victims in a viselike grip. It has long spiny legs—giving it an outer space look. Their ability to cock their heads from side to side is unique in the insect world. While mantises have an intimidating look, they are harmless to humans.

Praying mantis are intrepid, lean, mean, eating machines with insatiable appetites and possibly the most fearsome predator in the insect world. Say your prayers if you are an unfortunate insect in the clutches of a mantis which likes to eat its victims head-first and alive. Mantises are lightning fast. When an insect comes within its reach, the mantis strikes, impales and holds its prey with it spiny, front legs. Gardeners like mantises since they eat many harmful insects—including caterpillars, worms, flies, bugs, spiders, wasps, slugs, moths and almost any other insect within their considerable reach. I’ve read that they have been known to eat small mice, lizards and frogs.

Cannibalism is normal among mantises. After hatching, the young will eat one another if they don’t find prey. Their parents have taught them well. It’s a sad, macabre fact of mantis reproduction but after a male mates with the much larger female, she often repays his efforts by biting off his head and eating him. I suppose she can be excused since the male likely has the same intention.

Fortunately, I have several mantises in my back yard, especially in the garden where I grow tomatoes, squash, peppers, onions, greens and other vegetables. Some of my vegetables fall on the ground and, along with the vegetation, this attracts insects. This is just fine with the mantises. There is one grocery problem with the mantises—their voracious appetites. Mantises require a lot of protein and will move on if there is an inadequate insect population to meet their needs. The best way to keep your mantises happy and well fed is to use poisonous insecticides sparingly—better yet don't use them at all.

Is It the Miracle Natural Fertilizer?
 
Over the years I have used and experimented with many natural fertilizers as well as a wide range of manures and mixtures of other natural materials. My favorites are alfalfa pellets and cottonseed meal. If I were limited to one natural fertilizer, it would probably be alfalfa pellets or meal—preferably pellets since meal can be difficult to use on windy days.

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The origin of alfalfa fertilizer is the pod of the alfalfa plant which is amazingly hardy, has multiple nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, coenzymes, sugars, starches, protein and other trace nutrients. I first heard of using alfalfa products in the garden when I heard a farmer talking about its miraculous qualities approximately 40 years ago. It was only logical that I started using alfalfa pellets when I decided to become an organic gardener. From the beginning I noticed some immediate improvements with my vegetables.

The alfalfa plant is a legume that is easily identified by its purplish or blue flowers which develop into cloves of seed pods and sends up strong, bright green shoots that grow 12 to 40 inches high. The roots probably go deeper than any other farm animal feed crop—having long roots that spread and penetrate down to 25 feet into the soil in search of water and minerals—penetrating soils inaccessible to most plants and weeds. It is also one of nature’s miracle plants that can take nitrogen from the air and fix it into its roots. These characteristics are two of the reasons for the boost it gave to plants and soil but there had to be more to the story.

Finally, in the mid 1970’s, scientists at Michigan State University isolated a primary growth stimulant called triacontanol. Since then, there have been multiple experiments indicating this is the growth stimulant which has such positive effects on plants. Hopefully, someday we home gardeners will have this substance in an isolated, marketable form and it will become available to us at a reasonable cost.

I do not limit the use of alfalfa pellets to my vegetable garden. When I moved to Almadale Farms, my back yard and other areas of my lawn were almost bare and reminded me of low grade concrete. Before landscaping with bird friendly shrubs and trees, I had several 50 pound bags of alfalfa pellets and other organic fertilizers spread over the area to be tilled. I now routinely use alfalfa pellets for all of my plants—as a surface fertilizer for old plants or mixed with the soil used for new plants. I also recommend its use when a lawn is aerated.

We in Collierville are very fortunate. Many natural fertilizers are available though local farm and garden centers—notably Russells Farm Supply and Hall’s Feed and Seed where 50 pound bags of alfalfa pellets and other organic fertilizers/additives are available at reasonable prices. Morgreen Nursery and Landscape also stocks several organic mixtures—all of which are good for your soil and whatever you are trying to grow.