Almadale Farms in Collierville, TN
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A Few Late Winter-Early Spring Thoughts
It's Almost Purple Martin Time
Wintering In Almadale Farms
Our Newest Resident
Attracting Wild Birds
Planting Fall Bulbs
Dead Spots On Lawns
Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits...
Black Vultures

A Few Late Winter—Early Spring Thoughts

Spring officially arrives on March 20. Following are a few things to consider doing during the next two months. Dormant Oil Spray. Some of you know how I feel about poisonous chemical sprays—I rarely use them. However, a dormant oil spray—a less pervasive treatment—when used in late winter or early spring will be very effective against a host of chewing and sucking insects which can become serious pests when we have some warm weather. A dormant spray is also less injurious to helpful insects. I try to spray during the first two week of February—and may include an additive or two. Aphids, red spiders, thrips, mealybugs, whiteflies, mites and especially scale eggs and larvae will likely bite the dust after being exposed to a dormant spray. The eggs of the codling moth, leaf rollers, canker worms and many other harmful insects are also destroyed. Pick a calm day when the temperature is above 40 and spray plants before the leaf buds open to avoid burning them. I haven’t seen any in Almadale Farms, but do not use a dormant spray on walnut trees. Practically everything else in your garden will benefit by such a dormant spray which is available in most garden and feed stores.


Crape Myrtles: If you must prune your crapes, February or early March is the time. Lawn Equipment: Beat the rush and get needed repairs now—it gets hectic when we have warmer weather. Finally, resist the urge to plant tomatoes outdoors until the temperature reaches and remains at approximately 70—higher temperatures are better. Early plantings are good for the merchants but not for the gardener. There’s nothing sadder looking than a cold blue tomato plant. I always wait until the latter part of April before planting. I'll have a special article about tomato planting, diseases and soil preparation in the next Newsletter. Happy gardening!


Millions of small animals are victimized by motorists each year. However none suffers the losses experienced by the opossum. It seems that I see a dead possum—as we say in rural West Tennessee—almost daily on Houston Levee Road. Some of you might think that possum numbers are in short supply...but not so. Nature has been very kind to this furry little animal that looks something like a big rat. The possum has rough, grayish-white hair, a long snout, dark beady eyes and big hairless ears and is approximately the size of a large cat. They have approximately 50 teeth—more than any other North American mammal. We’ve all heard the expression, “grinning like a possum” which should not necessarily be considered a compliment. Possums have two litters a year and may have as many as 20 young possums in a litter. At birth baby possums are about as large as a kidney bean. Possums hunt at night and...when in danger...lie motionless and appear to be dead. This instinctive habit has resulted in the deaths of many possums on streets and highways. The favorite diet of possums includes insects, rats, mice and carrion...and like some humans...possums consider snails and slug a delicacy.


The possum has always been one of my many favorites in the animal world. As a boy of 12, I trapped possums, fattened them up and sold them to a waiting clientele. Possums are excellent pets. This will shock you dog owners, but pet authorities claim that learning and discrimination tests rank the possum above dogs and more on the level of pigs and present a far lower health risk than dogs or cats. What should you do if you encounter a possum? Nothing—the possum is harmless. Just watch and enjoy one of nature's most beneficial species—and give it a brake if possible. There is actually a large number of possum fanciers in this country. If you would like to join The National Opossum Society, give me a call.

It’s Almost Purple Martin Time

For many of us spring seems to be a long way off—especially for the purple martin fancier. I often relate to the purple martins’ endless quest for longer days and warmer nights. How could I resist being devoted to this beautiful and acrobatic bird that winters in South America and spends parts of its summers in the USA, Canada and especially Almadale Farms? As I write, martins are making their way into the fringe areas of south Florida and Texas. By the middle of February they will have made their way to Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina and—if they are as dependable as they usually are—martins will arrive at 1866 Winsley Way and the homes of approximately eleven other martin Almadale Farms residents who have been adopted by the martins.


I have been tracking the arrival and departure of martins for over 20 year and their arrival and departure dates don't vary much. Late February is the earliest I have seen a few “scouts” but March 15 is the target date. The first arrivals are older birds who will then corral and entice younger birds—usually females—into the fold. Departures...a very sad day—normally occurs on approximately August 1. These dates vary somewhat—but not much. I will be speaking and answering martin questions at few garden shows and meetings this year—but I am always available for housing and location consultation to residents of Almadale Farms who would like to establish a martin site.
  • It is absolutely essential that you get the proper location—ideally one that provides clear flightways in as many directions as possible.
  • Don’t erect your houses  too close to trees and—if possible—locate your martin  housing approximately 30–40 feet from buildings.
  • Don’t buy cheap housing—my houses are aluminum—can be plugged and cleaned after the martins leave in the summer—and can be lowered and raised for monitoring and elimination of pests...especially sparrows.
  • Martins love normal human activity—I have one house approximately 8 ft. from my garden. Martins usually eat while “on the wing”. Almadale Farms is a perfect location for martins as there is plenty of flying insects—especially the dragonfly—the martins’ favorite source of protein. If you are interested, your houses should be erected by mid March. Give me a call and I will advise you regarding the best location in your yard.

Happy martining!


Wintering In Almadale Farms

For plants and lawns, November marked the season of change and transition—not the beginning of the end. While plants may appear to fade and die, most are taking a rest for a few months and undergoing a dormancy period. If the plants didn't take a vacation then the tender tissues would be frozen and destroyed. Come late March and April, seeds will germinate, buds will swell and we will again have a sea of green.


Beneath the surfaces of Almadale Farms’ beautiful lakes, turtles and frogs are beginning to start their periods of dormancy underneath a few inches of mud and muck while breathing through their skin. Snakes will hibernate in old logs and holes. Fish slow down, eat less and stay closer to underwater vegetation. Raccoons, skunks, opossums, armadillos and beavers will soon start retreating into their dens and holes—only occasionally sallying forth to find survival food. Their metabolic rates slow to allow lower food intake.

Most insects also take a rest after gorging themselves. Our resident redtail hawks and owls will continue to feast on a seemingly endless population of voles, mice and cottontails. Geese and ducks will remain in our area for the most part and feast on rye and other winter grasses.


The winter season may seem like a lifeless period to some but the struggle for life continues for our furry and feathered friends. They will survive and bless us with their presence.


Our Newest Resident

The nine-banded armadillo—one of approximately 20 species and the only specie in this country—has become one of newest residents of Almadale Farms. Unfortunately, armadillos often fall victim to automobiles and are frequently found dead on roadsides—I recently saw an armadillo carcass at the corner of Wolf River Blvd. and Houston Levee. The armadillo is about the size of my 15 lb. Manx cat. It is brownish, is covered by bony shields on the shoulders and rump and has nine bony bands in between. It has five toes with strong claws, a long bony ringed tail with yellowish white coarse hair around the neck and underneath its stomach.

The armadillo is the state mammal of Texas. While native to South America armadillos now range throughout the Southeast and have been found as far north as Nebraska. I first became interested in armadillos when I lived in southern Arizona. I actually saw a few Mexican armadillo recipes and was told that armadillo meat was an acceptable substitute for pork, beef or chicken in many dishes. If eaten alone it is supposed to taste like pork—or possum—according to Southerners. If you are tempted to catch and eat an armadillo, I would advise extreme caution. Armadillos are known to carry leprosy and there is a risk of transmission if undercooked.


In our area the armadillo’s diet consists of frogs, snakes, carrion, beetles, lizards, grubs and many other insects. In an emergency it will cannibalize its young. The wetlands area adjacent to Almadale Farms is ideal for the armadillo since this nocturnal mammal prefers areas with loose soil such as forest floors and water’s edge. If you should see one of these little animals while driving, be thoughtful and watch it closely. The armadillo has a deadly habit of jumping straight up when blinded by an oncoming vehicle.

Attracting Wild Birds

Over the last several years I have experimented with various mixtures and varieties of bird feed throughout the year. The major problem which has always plagued me and many other bird lovers has been an overwhelming presence of trash birds—grackles, starlings, blackbirds and to a lesser extent the common house sparrow—a member of the finch family. Safflower seed—the most expensive—has been promoted as a repellent to starlings and other types of undesirable birds. This has not been my experience.


I have finally settled on general seed mixtures and chicken scratch feed—a mixture of oats, wheat, milo and cracked corn. Both mixtures are available at local Collierville feed stores and cost approximately $10 for 50 lb. bags. To date these mixtures have attracted goldfinches, jays, cowbirds, chickadees, juncos, several varieties of finches, doves, thrashers, titmice, cardinals and of course—the problem birds. I also have suet cakes, a favorite of woodpeckers, and tube feeders filled with thistle seed which attract pine siskins, one of my favorites. I like to experiment with various seed-feed blends—including millet—a white seed which is on my list.


While feeders are very helpful in attracting a variety of birds, an area enhanced by a landscape rich in trees and shrubs—both deciduous and evergreen—should experience success with a variety of wild birds. Holly berries and crape myrtle seed are popular with several varieties of wild birds and a welcome addition to their cuisine. My main feeder is approximately 6 feet from a 20' Natchez crepe myrtle which works well as a feeding and rest area. Occasionally, my feeder receives a visit from one of our resident hawks looking for a fat dove and they are usually successful. This is nature's way. While wild birds are beautiful to observe, I have a more selfish reason for wanting a large wild bird presence in my back yard—my organic garden. According to Robert Rodale, author of several organic gardening books, approximately sixty varieties of birds are insect eaters.

Happy wildbirding!

Planting Fall Bulbs
There are approximately 30 varieties of bulbs and new ones are constantly being developed. The most popular ones are planted in the fall when the temperature is in the 50's. If you looking for a good target date for planting, consider mid November. Daffodils may be planted a bit earlier. The selection of bulbs is critical. Look for the largest possible bulbs. Just remember—if you buy smaller bulbs you may well have to wait much longer before they produce. My wife and I have always purchased our bulbs from local garden centers rather than buying through catalogues—although there are some outstanding catalogue sources.

When planting, select a sunny to partially sunny planting location. Since our falls are normally very dry, I would water the planting area well approximately two days earlier—if needed. Soil preparation is critical—especially since ours is clay based. Some dig and prepare just the holes for the bulbs. That is the lazy way out and a sure formula for later disappointment. I prefer to dig up an entire bed especially if doing a mass planting.
Drainage is critical with any plant but especially with bulbs. Dig the bed several inches below the proper planting depth and mix generous amounts of organic matter and sprinkle an inch or so of bone meal—which is preferable—or super-phosphate at the bottom of the hole. This is a critical ingredient in bulb culture. I also like to add alfalfa pellets. A general rule of thumb is to plant a bulb at a depth of approximately three times its diameter. Be sure to plant the pointy end of the bulb up.

Some experts recommend that bulbs be planted in a triangle formation for a more dramatic effect since planting in a straight line does not produce the same visual impact. After planting, water your bulb site thoroughly. If you are feeling adventuresome and want to go beyond the usual daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, there are other bulbs which can add color and interest to your garden. After the emergence of your bulbs, weeding, watering and maintenance is important.


Dead Spots On Lawns
Many Almadale Farms homeowners are experiencing dead patches—often circular shaped. There are many reasons for these unsightly dead spots. First of all, in many instances, the top soil was peeled from the lawn area at the time of development. Then hybrid bermuda sod—or in a few rare instances—zoysia was laid on the hard gray clay subsoil, a poor base for sod. There are other causes for dead patches. In some cases the cause is white grubs which are curved, fat, whitish larvae of Japanese beetles and other beetle species which feed on grass roots and rhizomes. Dead brown spots may also be caused by fungus which is especially hard to treat. This fungus tends to attack bermuda grass especially during hot, humid weather. Close cutting, poor drainage, overwatering and excessive nitrogen may all add to the problem which is basically a result of the very poor soil which lies directly underneath the sod.
The organic books I have read all indicate that the best treatment for grub related and most other lawn problems is good preventative maintenance. Smaller areas or spots may be treated by using a pitchfork to aerate, followed by the spreading of organic additives such as alfalfa pellets, cottonseed meal and/or soya meal. Then cover the spots with regular organic mulch or top soil. Approximately once every two years I aerate my lawn.


Before having my lawn aerated, I spread generous amounts of alfalfa pellets on the lawn. The aeration holes allow the pellets to enter the soil, thereby providing a healthier nutritional foundation for the grass. The protein content in the organic substances encourages an increase in earthworms and other beneficial organisms. There are other good organic additives such as cottonseed and/or soya meals. I prefer the alfalfa pellets since they are heavier and less likely to be blown away. Alfalfa pellets are very reasonably price at approximately $11 per 50 lb. bag and are available at Collierville feed and garden stores.

There are other effective ways to treat the lawn problems such as the use of beneficial nematodes. However, this can be very expensive and requires close monitoring. Beneficial nematodes require nourishment—which translated means good organic substances. There are also some chemical solutions which can be used. However, like all chemical sprays and granules, these poisons can kill many beneficial microorganisms and do little to remedy the major underlying problem—the poor health of your lawn.


Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits, Rabbits...
In case you haven't noticed, Almadale Farms has an ever increasing number of wild rabbits. I have seen as many as three rabbits frolicking in my neighbor's yard after dark when they become particularly active. Rabbits like to feed at twilight, but they have no rules. I've watched them feeding at dawn and in the middle of the day. Rabbits will seek out a garden in the spring or fall but they particularly like young succulent plants in the spring. I have learned the hard way—especially over the last two years—that rabbits are particularly fond of my broccoli. While I have used a deer and rabbit repellent to deter the little broccoli bandits, I haven't been too successful. I've even planted extra lettuce hoping the rabbits will choose the lettuce over the broccoli. At least they don't care for my tomatoes. Cottontails are approximately 15-19 inches in length, weigh 2 to 4 pounds and are a grayish brown. They mate several times a year and each litter can have six or seven young ones. You don't need a calculator to figure that the possibilities are daunting. A cottontail's average life expectancy is only 12-15 months. However, they have an extremely high reproductive potential reaching up to four litters per year--with a gestation period of only 28-29 days.

Many naturalists theorize that rabbits are becoming more numerous in subdivisions for the same reasons other wild animals have moved to town--their natural habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate. Landscaped backyards with lots of flowers and shrubbery offer the perfect habitat for rabbits to build their nest-like cavities. Their primary neighborhood predators are cats, redtail hawks and occasionally even coyotes and foxes. Most of the young die within the first month and many die during the winter. A number of repellents have been suggested for harassed gardeners and I'll be happy to provide you with a list if you're interested. As for myself, I've decided that I will just tolerate these furry little critters.


Black Vultures
No creature has been affected as much by habitat loss as the buzzard—also known as the black vulture in the South. These graceful birds have always sought remote areas that are inaccessible to predators and humans. As woodlands and other “undeveloped” areas cease to exist, this graceful, soaring bird will become more commonplace in Almadale Farms and other populated areas. One of my Almadale Farms neighbors remarked that he now has regular backyard visits from buzzards. I often see 3–4 buzzards on the south side of Walnut Grove Road just off Houston Levee near Briarcrest High School. The buzzard is large—two and a half to three feet tall—and has a wingspan of six feet. Buzzards have heavy bodies and short tails. As a boy growing up in Gibson County I often hunted rabbits and other small game. While hunting I occasionally saw buzzards only in isolated, remote areas. They are scavengers and feed on small animals such as squirrels, field mice and other rodents. Road kill consisting of deer and other animals is also a part of the buzzard's diet—the riper the better. Arguably the buzzard is the most graceful soaring bird in the world—spending countless hours searching for carrion. Fortunately, many in our country recognize the beauty and ecological value of the buzzard. Folks in Hinckley, Ohio town even have a National Buzzard Day every March 15.