Almadale Farms in Collierville, TN
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Those Large Grey Birds At My Feeder

From Vegetable to Butterfly Gardens

Could A Mother Love a Face Like This?

Soft Wood Short Life

Cover-up Candidates for Almadale Farms

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Those Large Grey Birds At My Feeder

I have always had an intense interest in birds-regardless of the species. I likely can trace this interest to my eighth grade school year when I raised 50 white leghorn pullets as part of a 4-H project.

I've continued to be interested in birds, especially the multiple species which visit my back yard bird feeder located approximately six feet from my kitchen window. Regular feeder visitors include finches, jays, juncos, woodpeckers, siskins, mourning doves, titmice, chickadees, cardinals, thrashers, mockers and an occasional Cooper's hawk. One of the newest visitors has become a favorites-the Eurasian collared dove-a relative newcomer to the American aviarian world.

Like other people, I initially assumed I was seeing only one species when I first noticed both the Eurasian collared doves and their cousins-the ringed turtle doves-in Louisiana in approximately 1990. However, it was obvious that some of the birds were a good bit larger. The Eurasian collared dove measures 12-15" long and has an 18-19" wingspan. Its weight is approximately 6.5 ounces compared with our native mourning dove, which is usually 9-1" long, has a 12-13" wingspan and weighs approximately 3-5 ounces. Both species' nests consists of twigs and dry stalks and are built in trees, shrubs and even on balconies or eves of houses 6-7 feet above the ground. The parents take turns incubating two white eggs 14 to 15 days.

Doves of all species-both male and female-are good parents. Typically the female tends the nest from dusk to dawn while the male incubates during he day. Doves have an unusual method for feeding their young. Their primary food is "pidgeon milk," a thick white, nutritious liquid.

Once you've seen one, you'll never forget the Eurasian dove. It has a pale gray-pink head, neck and breast, very pale buff upper parts, a black bill, its trademark black "half-moon" trimmed with white on the nape of its neck and has pink legs and feet. With the exception of the Cooper's hawk, the portly Eurasian will likely be the largest bird to ever visit your feeder.

The Eurasian has a most fascinating history and is the modern day Marco Polo of the bird world. Approximately one century ago, this young pullet sized dove was found primarily on the Indian subcontinent although its range extended slightly into Europe. In the early 1900's the species began expanding its range and by 1950 had reached the British Isles. When the collared dove first bred in Britain, it received the highest legal protection. By the early 1970's the Eurasian had been introduced into the Bahamas and their populations soon expanded throughout the Caribbean.

What happened next is unclear. At some point in the late 1970's, the Eurasian migrated without assistance from the Caribbean to Florida via the Bahamas. It was not until the mid-1980's that ornithologists realized the suddenly prolific and quickly spreading "turtle doves" were actually Eurasian collared doves and could be seen feeding in backyard gardens, towns and parks. By 2000 our newest exotic had spread up the Atlantic Coast to North Carolina, across the Gulf Coast, up the Mississippi River to Shelby Country and Almadale Farms before spreading west. Recently, there have been reports of sightings of this magnificent bird in remote areas above the Arctic Circle. I don't remember the exact date but it must have been approximately 5 years ago when I first saw the Eurasian Dove sitting on my feeder happily ingesting the normal seed fare (safflower) which I make available throughout the year-except when the purple martins make their brief visit from mid March to August. I follow this schedule since the plump Eurasian attracts the Cooper's hawk, which can be a real threat to purple martin sites.

With the thousands of miles of range expansion there has been a remarkable increase in the numbers of the Eurasian. According to some experts, these doves appear to be doubling roughly every 15 months and up to six broods per year are possible.

Considering that the numbers of many songbirds are shrinking, what does the future hold for the Eurasian and other doves? There has been some concern that the Eurasian may be detrimental to our native mourning doves. However, unlike other "introduced" species such as starlings, sparrows and several wild animals-such as the wild boar, this has not been a problem. Both mourning doves and the Eurasian seem to co-exist well and there appears to be a steady increase in their numbers despite the annual "harvesting" of an estimated 50 million doves each year in baited hunts.

I seriously doubt that their numbers will ever become a problem. A typical dove hunter uses eight shells for each downed dove; a statistic that indicates that dove hunting is indeed for the sharpshooter. An erratic flight with speeds up to 70 mph makes the dove an elusive target. Many people object to dove hunting. Perhaps it's the sorrowful cooing or their Biblical legacy-a symbol of peace. Perhaps it's their family values. Few creatures-wild or domestic-are so faithful to their mates and attentive to their young. Whatever your feelings, it appears doves are here to stay-in numbers.

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From Vegetable to Butterfly Gardens

I lived in Memphis thirty-two years and started planning my organic garden even before my new Memphis house was finished. My garden was 20' by 30' and was situated in soil that was relatively rich-especially by Almadale Farm standards.

In addition to the garden I initially had an adjoining concrete block compost bin which measured 6' x 6' x 6' and was approximately 4' tall. After a few years I doubled the size of my compost bin. I probably added at least 10 -12 tons of rich compost annually to my year round garden which rewarded me with fresh organic vegetables throughout the year. Then, for multiple reasons, we decided that we needed a change of scenery and decided that Collierville would be an ideal place in which to relocate. In addition to leaving a productive garden, I also left behind a large purple martin colony and a very large number of fruit and trees including pear, apple, nectarine, plum, English walnut, filbert, apples, Chinese chestnut and a grape arbor .I also possibly had the only hedge row planting of Russian olives which I had ordered from South Dakota.

The change of addresses occurred in 1997 when moved to Almadale Farms and fortunately, 1866 Winsley Way was available. We chose this lot because-with the exception of two small, front lawn crimson oaks and foundation plants-there was no other vegetation. This was perfect since a new location would have to be suitable for purple martins and an organic garden. I relocated my martin houses to Collierville and then started planning a new organic garden.

Old habits die slowly and I marked off an area 20' X 30' and began the arduous task of transforming some of the worst gray clay based soil known to mankind into a productive organic garden. I added hundreds of pounds of organic amendments including catfish meal, cottonseed meal, the contents of my Memphis compost bin, crushed leaves, crushed oyster shells, manure from the Almadale Farms stables  as well as 300 pounds of my favorite organic fertilizer-alfalfa pellets.

For approximately 7 years, I followed the same planting routine that I had routinely used in Memphis. That is, I had a 12 month garden-broccoli, spinach, lettuce, cabbage in the early spring followed by squash, beans, peppers, cucumbers, hybrid corn and tomatoes during the late spring and summer followed by carrots, turnips, onions and greens in the fall and winter. This routine worked well for a number of years-until vegetation began to mature in Almadale Farms-and furry friends from our adjoining wetlands discovered my organic garden. Rabbits were the biggest pests and exercised their fondness for my vegetables-especially broccoli, carrots and lettuce. I used red pepper and coyote urine as deterrents but experienced again what I already knew...hungry animals would not be deterred. Realizing that it would be difficult to cope with the varmints, I decided to revise my planting patterns and eliminated some of the vegetables that had a special appeal to my furry visitors. With some encouragement from my wife and after considerable research I decided to convert nearly a fourth of my vegetable garden into a butterfly garden.

Early on I only planted marigolds and zinnias. I then realized that-in order to have the most successful butterfly garden-I needed to revise my thinking. To have the greatest success, it is necessary to think like a butterfly-this is the secret. While I don't profess to be a butterfly authority, I have learned a few things about these beautiful pollinators. Cold- blooded and protective of their fragile wings, butterflies will flock to a sunny, well-sheltered yard having the proper enticements-especially food sources. Nourishment means plenty of nectar flowers.

I quickly discovered that a variety of flowers was more appealing. Last year I bought a mixed 24-ounce seed packet, which included alyssum, marigold, corn flower, cosmos, forget-me-not, poppies, daisies, malope, blue belle and zinnia. I planted in late April. This mixture did the trick. I had blooms from late May until October and the butterflies came in droves-especially in the summer and fall-the peak butterfly season.

I have noticed a few things about butterflies. Plant purple. Butterflies attracted to any shade of purple and using this guideline alone will likely guarantee success. Though they will examine flowers of any color, a garden filled with purple will get more action much faster. Gold's and yellows are also favorites. A butterfly purist related to me that she preferred daisies, which not only have an attractive color but also face the sky and provide easy landing pads. Load up on tiny blossoms. Look for plants with clusters of small flowers. Water. Like every other creature, butterflies require some moisture and are attracted to a thin film of water on paving or the edge of a puddle. Mud. Butterflies gather at mud puddles, which I occasionally create in my garden. The mud also serves as an adhesive for my purple martins when they build their nests.

With the right plants, butterfly gardening is as easy as sowing a few seed. However, to assure success, plant a number of flowers, which will provide ongoing nectar sources. Butterflies have a very short life span. By planting a variety of flowers-and thereby providing a variety of nectar sources and places to lay their eggs, butterflies will be encouraged to visit your garden on a regular basis. Considering that the beautiful Monarch butterfly annually travels up to 1200 miles from Mexico to Almadale Farms and other North American sites, a butterfly garden is a small investment for helping to increase the numbers and longevity of these delicate creatures.

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Could a Mother Love a Face Like This?

 

Several of our neighbors have commented to me about a group of strange new fowl on our north lake. There are likely many others who have been intrigued by our gnarly, new residents—the Muscovy duck.

 

I first saw the Muscovy in Mexico. At the time I lived in Tucson and visited Mexico regularly to watch the bullfights and enjoy the culture. The Muscovy duck intrigued me just as much then as it does now.

 

The Muscovy is not really a duck but a type of goose however there is no universal agreement on this subject. The male may weigh 10–15 pounds, while the female weighs 5–7 pounds. It has dark brown or black features with white in a mottled pattern decorating its head and wings. With a body like a duck, a breast like a turkey, habits like a goose including nesting, attacking predators, and hissing, long, strong, webbed claws like a chicken and having the ability to roost, there is no other fowl with such a variation of characteristics like those found in the odd and unforgettable Muscovy duck.

 

This remarkable creature is easily recognizable with its bare, often bumpy-looking red face covered with unattractive irregular growths called carnucles. These carnucles cover an area above the beak and around the eye—creating an appearance that looks as though it has guts all over its face. To accentuate its uniqueness the Muscovy has an ugly wart on top of its beak. Added together, this makes for one ugly bird.

 

A Little History. There are mixed opinions about the origin of the Muscovy. While many believe it is a native of Mexico, some believe that it was introduced to the western hemisphere by the Moscow Trading Company early in the 15th century. Distribution claims notwithstanding, there are heavy populations in South and Central America with an especially heavy concentration in Mexico. Its natural habitat extends into Texas and the southwest. Upon their return to Spain, England, France and other countries, explorers and traders accelerated the rapid spread of the Muscovy by introducing it throughout western Europe. From there they were exported and introduced to colonial areas throughout the world. The Muscovy can now be found almost everywhere and is value for its meat and its uniqueness.

 

The thing that intrigues me most about the Muscovy is its eating and breeding habits. It has an insatiable appetite and unlike most species of ducks and geese whose diets consist primarily of grass and weeds, the Muscovy will eat almost anything—much like a goat. Their diet is extremely varied and includes bugs of all kinds, roots, stems, leaves, algae, small fish, lizards, snakes and vermin—ncluding mice, voles and young rats.

 

In many third world countries the Muscovy is used to control pest populations such as mosquitoes, spiders and roaches. They particularly love adult mosquitoes and mosquito larvae as well as spiders, flies and maggots. Unlike its duck cousins and other species of the bird world, the Muscovy doesn’t create a breeding pair. Instead some believe they will breed with almost any fowl—duck or goose—wild or tame. Female will lay 8-21 eggs at a time and can have up to three groups of babies in a single year and have no problem breeding in the winter.

 

Behavior. The Muscovy has a distinct personality. It is known for its unusual behavior including wagging its tail, greeting people, responding by raising its crest when addressed, chasing cats and dogs, intelligent behavior and natural curiosity. They also spend a good portion of their time on land and aren’t fond of just lolling about in the water.

 

Muscovy are odd ducks, may be ugly and will likely win no beauty contests, but they are fun to watch and I have enjoyed sharing their company at our north lake. Their intriguing personalities make them great to be around and even greater to raise—if you live on a farm. Enjoy them while you can—with their itinerant, nomadic and semi-feral characteristics, they may elope to Halle Plantation or some other neighborhood before you have introduced yourself.

 

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Soft Wood - Short Life

In July, 2003, Almadale Farms experienced what was referred to as a straight line wind with a velocity approaching approximately 100 miles per hour. One of my neighbors was certain that it was a tornado but I was never sure. I do know that it was nerve shattering and approximately 60% of my shingles were lost. A few of you experienced structural damage to your homes and almost all of us had damage to our trees and shrubbery.

Particularly hard hit was the Bradford Pear. Our median Bradford Pears were not spared and approximately one third were either destroyed or severely damaged. Even today the gapped and misshapen Bradfords bear witness to the storm of '03. If you lived in Almadale Farms then, you will never forget the events of July, 2003. Fast forward to June 12 and 13 of this year. Almadale Farms again experienced another series of milder but still severe thunderstorms. Unlike the storm of 2003, there was very little roof damage but again-there was some serious damage to trees and shrubs.

There are many trees which I would never consider planting-and I have had experience with most of them. These include-n the order of my dislike-Bradford Pears, Silver Maple, Leland Cypress, Pine Lombardy Poplar and other softwood trees. However, in the interest of brevity, I will only reference the first two in this article since these trees have been so widely planted in Almadale Farms. First, let's explore some Bradford history.

The Bradford Pear was brought to this country from Nanking in 1919 but it wasn't until 1963 that the USDA introduced this variety commercially. I planted two Bradfords in approximately 1967. At that time Bradford Pears were grafted on to quince root stock. Things were going well-or approximately three years-and then we had an ice storm. At approximately 3 AM after the storm and a hard freeze, I heard what sounded like a loud rifle shot. Startled, I rushed to my front door, looked outside-and to my amazement noticed that one of my Bradford Pears had split in half.

When healthy, the Bradford Pear is a beautiful tree. In the spring, they are abloom with a proliferation of pretty white flowers similar to those of a real pear tree. In the fall the leaves alternately adopt amazing colors of orange, red and maroon. Birds-mainly grackles and starlings-use them as nesting sites in spring because of their dense foliar coverage. If only the wood were as dense as the foliage, they might have some redeeming quality. At its coming out party in the 60's,the Bradford was supposed to be the perfect street tree. However reality set in after a few years. It's now rare to see a Bradford Pear that isn't missing a substantial chunk of its limbs or trunks. This is the result of the Bradford's branches which are generally too narrow, and, as the tightly-crowded branches grow in diameter, the tree begins to push itself apart. A homeowner is indeed fortunate if his or her Bradford does not have at least one or more flaws. The Bradford also has problems with suckers and its surface root system.

After our most recent series of storms, I fully expected to see major damage to the Bradfords on our median strip. I was pleasantly surprise to find relatively little damage. I can only attribute this to the new and improved variety-the Cleveland and Chanticleer-which were replacement plantings in 2003. However, many with the older quince stock weren't so fortunate. Regardless of its pedigree, the Bradford is not a desirable tree.

When I drove around our neighborhood after our most recent storms, I witnessed some of the usual Bradford carnage. However of the approximately 30 homes with broken limbs and trunks waiting for collection, I found that the silver maple had suffered the worst damage. Silver maples have a very undesirable characteristic-weak branches that may break in every ice or wind storm that occurs. This variety of maple is also highly susceptible to many insects and diseases including verticillium. Its brittle wood and poor branch development are also problem areas. If you have planted a silver maple too closely to a sewer line or sidewalk, watch out. On a positive note, silver maples have a few but not many merits. They will grow well in almost any kind of soil and will tolerate short spells of standing in shallow water. They also withstand drought and heat and grow very fast.

If you plan to live in our subdivision for an extended period and want to avoid having to replant your trees-especially your front lawn's foundational trees, then I strongly recommend hardwoods as your primary plantings. Hardwoods may increase your property's value and will likely eliminate the repetitive plantings which accompany softwood trees.There are approximately 100 varieties of hardwood but the best of the best are varieties of the oak tree. My favorite is the willow oak. If you would like to see two beautiful specimens, check the front lawn of 1876 Winsley Way. These beautiful trees were replacements for Bradford Pears which were shredded in 2003.

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Cover-up Candidates for Almadale Farms

 

Many of us have a serious shade problem that has increased as our trees and large shrubs have matured. In those areas where there is at least 2–4 hours of daily sunshine, zoysia grass has been used by many—including myself. If cared for properly, this is a workable solution—even though the establishment of a zoysia lawn requires serious watering and maintenance. Now, what does one do if there is no sunshine and the shade has become so dense that zoysia is not an option or else you just don’t care for zoysia or any other kind of grass? There are multiple solutions.

 

More and more, savvy gardeners and landscapers are replanting or replacing heavily shaded unsuccessful grassy areas with a variety of mulches or ground covers, preferably a combination of the two. There are many readily available ground covers that are ideally suited for use in the shady areas. These include liriope, mondo grass, vinca minor, ajuga, creeping jenny, Japanese sweetflag, spotted nettle, yellow archangel, mazus, sedums, creepers and many others.

 

The Big Four: There are four that are particularly suited for our soil and warm, humid climate. While all will thrive in our area, some can be pervasive and a nuisance.  No other ground cover is used more often than the Periwinkle (Vinca minor). This is a prostrate, creeping vine that does not twine, twist or climb but merely creeps along the ground, rooting at many places along its stems. The periwinkle is an evergreen and thrives well in both sun and shade. Their flowers are funnel-shaped, approximately 1–2 " across and are colored white, blue pink or red, depending on the variety. This groundcover dates back to colonial times and is readily available. Even the deepest shade does not bother the periwinkle and it will cover large areas in short order. Once established, these low-maintenance hardy perennials will provide years of enjoyment and beauty.

 

Pachysandra: This just happens to be my favorite and can arguably be considered the best groundcover in North America. It grows in a rounded clump and is native to our area although it traces its ancestry to Japan. Pachysandra requires shade. The dark evergreen leaves are lustrous and the small, white upright spikes bloom in early May. Pachysandra spreads rapidly and is easily reproduced by division or by rooting cuttings in early summer.

 

Bugleweed (Ajuga): Interestingly, ajuga is a member of the mint family and is available in multiple varieties. It is low growing and sends out creeping stolons in or on top of the soil. It bears low spikes of blue, white or varied-colored flowers in May or June. It grows well in almost any soil, in sun or in light shade. Ajuga is one of the most vigorous of the ground covers but if not controlled, it sometimes invades a lawn.

 

English Ivy: This is an evergreen, clinging groundcover that should be given a wide berth. I would avoid planting any variety of ivy near a window or anything else that you value. As many have discovered, it is a serious clinger and can be damaging to windows and other structures. However ivy is very hardy and is good for unsightly areas or poor soil. Supposedly ivy originated in the Canary Islands and northern Africa.

 

Hostas: While I wouldn’t consider hostas a ground cover, it is very shade tolerant, has  beautiful flowers and is very prolific, Many gardeners are turning to the scores of hostas on the market and new varieties seem to appear annually. While some remain small and compact, others can quickly fill or dominate a shady area with colors ranging from blue to gold, a range or textures and often towering, fragrant flowers. 

As is the situation with most plants, the best time to plant groundcover is in the fall or early spring. This allows the plants time to develop an extensive root system before the hot summer weather arrives.