Almadale Farms in Collierville, TN
Will's Archives 2004
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Below you will find the following articles writen by Almadale Farms' favorite Master Gardener, Will Stafford.
 
  • A Great Year For Tomatoes
  • Bring Out the Best In Your Crepe Myrtles
  • A Few Thoughts About Poison Ivy
  • Cicadas
  • The Sounds of Almadale Farms
  • A Few Observations About Trees
  • Snakes Are Coming Out of Hibernation
  • Red-Tailed Hawks

A Great Year For Tomatoes
 
To date in 2004 I have given away approximately 200 pounds of tomatoes to friends and neighbors. One of my tomato "patrons" remarked that this year's crop was the sweetest tomatoes she had ever tasted. This was very gratifying since I added generous amounts of sugar to my soil this year along with crushed oyster shells, crushed rock phosphate, Epsom salts, Soya meal, cottonseed meal and alfalfa pellets.  I like to experiment with new tomato varieties but this year's crops came primarily from two old standbys....Better Boy and  Goliath. I also planted a few Brandywine Heirloom tomatoes--a large pink tomato with red meat. However heirlooms just don't seem to fare well in our area. Instead of staking or allowing my plants to sprawl I have found tomato cages made from concrete reinforcement wire to be the best method for supporting tomato plants. Tomato cages are normally approximately 4' tall and 2 ft. in diameter. So far this year I have seen no hornworms--4" long blue-green caterpillars which like to eat tomato leaves and will occasionally nibble on the tomatoes. Over all my summer garden has done very well and I look forward to planting my fall garden on approximately September 15. Broccoli, onions, greens and lettuce will be the staples. I may plant something special for the two rabbits that have taken up residence.

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Bring Out the Best in Your Crepe Myrtles

 

Can you imagine Almadale Farms without all the beautiful crepe myrtles? No plant is more beautiful and hardier than the crepe myrtle. Following are a few tips.

 

Be judicious with your pruning. Always use sharp clippers.

Most healthy crepes are now loaded with hard and woody dead heads—spent seedpods at the end of the crepes' limber branches. These seedpods are heavier than the flowers and cause limbs to sag. Clip off the seedpods to lessen the weight. The removal of the seedpods not only raises the sagging limbs, but it also encourages more flowers and adds to the beauty of your crepes. Crepes loaded with seedpods can also get too heavy during hard rains and the added weight of water may even break branches.

 

In July, larger, more mature crepes will start exfoliating their bark—much like a snake sheds its skin. Exfoliating is no cause for alarm—it is the sign of a maturing, expanding crepe. I allow the exfoliated crepe skin to hang from the limbs—reminds me of the beautiful Spanish moss in Louisiana, Florida and other coastal areas.

 

It is the season for giving your crepes a sprinkling of phosphate if you would like a new crop of blooms. I do this each year for my specimen Natchez crepe.

A Few Thoughts About Poison Ivy

 

Poison ivy—a relative of the sumac—is a woody shrub or vine with hairy looking roots and is widely spread throughout the South. Poison oak is another name for poison ivy but is used especially for the bushy forms. Poison ivy can grow up to ten feet or more, climbing high on trees, walls and fences or may trail along the ground. All parts of this plant are poisonous at all times during the year. Its leaves are compound and made up of three leaflets. The new growth is tinged red, usually becoming shiny green in summer, and then turning scarlet in the fall. In spring, poison ivy develops clusters of small white flowers, which develop into white berries. Poison ivy contains poisonous oil similar to carbolic acid.

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The triple leaves of Poison Ivy, as well as some developing fruit, are particularly visible in this view.

The toxin in poison ivy oil can cause an irritating skin reaction on many people. Poison ivy irritation can be caused by touching or walking on the ivy. While burning poison ivy is not permissible because poison ivy oil vaporizes when hot, carries in smoke and can cause a severe rash.

 

Control: Poison ivy control can be done at any time of the year but is best achieved May through July while the plants are flowering. For chemical control, Roundup or some chemical containing glyphosate is most effective. There are other methods of eradication such as removing with a spade. Regardless of your eradication method, be very careful. Any tool or article of clothing having contact with poison ivy can transmit the irritation to exposed skin. Many years ago, farmers used goats that gladly gobbled this noxious plant, tin cans and other choice morsels. Before getting a goat, please consult the Almadale Farms Homeowners Association.☺

 

The Good News: While poison ivy is a nuisance to people, it compensates by having considerable wildlife value. The white, waxy berries are a popular food for songbirds during fall migration and in winter when other foods are scarce.

Cicadas
You may have noticed the loud, noisy emergence of one of my favorite insects--the cicada. We are very fortunate since most of Tennessee is one of the favorite habitats of this amazing insect. The cicada--or harvest fly--is a heavy-bodied, darkly colored 1-2" long insect with four thin wings that it folds over its body like a roof. Cicada are renown for the buzzing song the male makes. The sound attracts females and will likely cause large numbers of males to assemble and produce a loud chorus of sounds--imagine--a cicada chorus. The cicada phenomenon only happens every 17 years--and this is the year. I remember seeing cicadas when I was a boy--and I was just as intrigued then as I am today. Cicadas crawl out of the ground, leave their exoskeletons attached to a tree or other plant and mate. Then, after developing the larvae, the cicadas will fall to the ground, burrow into the soil, take another 17 year sleep and repeat the procedure.  Happy cicada watching--and listening!
 
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The Sounds of Almadale Farms
We are blessed with many sounds of nature in Almadale Farms. These include the sounds of geese, ducks, red-tail hawks, mocking birds, blue jays, purple martins and many other birds and animals. One of my favorites is the light green tree frog—considered by many to be the most “beautiful” frog in North America. They are grass-colored, usually having a creamy colored line running from the jaws along the flanks. 

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 During the summer months, green tree frogs will become especially noticeable. If you have some in your yard, it is an indication that you have used poison sprays sparingly.  If you are lucky and a good host, some may even take up residence in your yard. The green tree frog is usually found in areas located near wetlands of the South. Almadale Farms is a perfect habitat. The green tree frog is 1 3/4" to 2" long and has a very slender form with legs 1 1/2 times the length of its body, which allows it to leap distances of 8–10 feet. By early May the green tree frogs make their presence known—and its presence cannot be ignored. This is why this frog is so different from other frogs. The sound of one or the chorus of many green tree frogs has been compared to the sound of bad brakes, cowbells, duck quacking and other loud sounds. When the males are in a breeding frenzy, the noise can be loud enough to keep people awake at night. Green tree frogs are insectivores and eat small insects that will easily fit in their mouths. The large green frog population in Almadale Farms is a good sign of a healthy environment.

A Few Observations About Trees

  • Do not be alarmed if you see a woodpecker on the trunk of your trees your trees. He...or she...is looking for borers or some other insect and is doing you a favor. The beak holes will not harm the tree.
  • Small trees become large trees. Therefore—unless your tree is an ornamental variety—you should start grooming/pruning your tree now. You should be able to walk erect underneath most hardwood trees at maturity. This means that there should be a minimum of 6–8' from the lowest branch to the ground.
  • I have seen galls on several trees in Almadale Farms. Galls are a brown, ball shaped growths and bit unsightly but will do your trees no harm.
  • Be careful how you mulch around your trees. Every volcano-shaped pile of mulch has the potential of harming the tree. Mulch against the trunk keeps the bark moist and makes the tree vulnerable to fungi and insects as well as causing other problems.
  • Never plant competing shrubs or other plants under a tree. Most trees have shallow feeder roots, which are not aided by competing plants.
  • Don't water tease your trees. This is occurring if you use your hose to water you trees for a short period of time. Younger, developing trees need at least 1" of rain weekly in the summer. Older trees also like a drink occasionally. Light watering will encourage feeder roots to surface and this is bad.
  • Many professionals “spike” their trees. By spiking I mean driving fertilizer spikes underneath the drip line. Late winter or early spring are good dates for spiking.
  • When planting a tree, the ball should be no higher than approximately 1–2" above the ground. Late fall or winter is the best time for planting.
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Ginko in Fall

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Snakes Are Coming Out of Hibernation

 

Snakes are becoming active in the Almadale Farms area. The mating season—the period of greatest activity—usually runs from late April through early May. There are a variety of snakes found in our area. Some are poisonous—most are not. Following is a description of the two poisonous snakes normally found in our area. Both are members of the moccasin family. The cottonmouth water moccasin is a very poisonous snake that spends most of its time in lowland areas—especially areas with water—and is the only poisonous water snake in North America. This snake is dark colored with white around the mouth—thus the name cottonmouth. The cottonmouth is a very aggressive, temperamental snake and has been known to actually chase people. My most memorable encounters with this snakes occurred when I was a fourteen-year-old boy gigging frogs in a lake near Milan, Tennessee. I gigged a huge cottonmouth after which I vacated the lake—leaving my gig to the cottonmouth.
 
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On another occasion I was fishing with a friend in the Everglades and a cottonmouth tried to enter the boat. The copperhead—a highland moccasin—is the other poisonous snake found in our area. This snake has color patterns of buff, pink or tan alternating with bands of red or brown. While the copperhead is poisonous, it's not in the same league with the cottonmouth when it comes to aggressiveness. It also has milder venom. When snakes encounter humans. Survival is likely their main goal. My advice is if you see a snake just leave it alone and give it some space. There are also many different species of nonpoisonous snakes in our area. These include racers, king snakes, green snakes, corn snakes, water snakes, and rat snakes among others. Keep in mind that snakes have many valuable qualities—they eat mice and other rodents. Furthermore, federal and state laws protect them. I recently read that while many people have a paranoia about snakes, there are actually more deaths from bee stings than from snakebites. I would be very interested in hearing your snake stories—especially those involving the cottonmouth.

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Red-tailed Hawks

 

Today I saw a red-tail hawk and his mate lumbering 500 feet above Almadale Farms. Red-tails don't fly fast but soar at high altitudes in order to spot prey on the ground below. Red-tails capture living animals as well as birds and kill them instantly for food. Favorite foods include rabbits, voles, mice, snakes--in season-‑as well as doves whose feathery remains I often find in my back yard. When live prey is unavailable, road kill may be an option. They eat not only the flesh of their prey but bones, feathers and fur as well. The red-tails weighs 2-3 pounds, is approximately 18" long and is the largest of the hawks. They have eyesight eight times as powerful as that of a human being and the ability to spot a mouse from a height of one mile. Red-tails are very territorial.

 

 

Because of the encroachment of civilization, the red-tail has been forced to adopt Almadale Farms and other populated areas. Therefore you are quite likely to see red-tails perched on fences, in trees and on tops of houses in Almadale Farms. They nest in trees in or near our wetlands area. Red-tails are frequently seen today, but when I was a boy I might hunt all day in rural west Tennessee and if fortunate--see a single red-tail.

 

It is important to remember that the red-tail is protected by state and federal laws.