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Corn Fed: Fill up on the South’s favorite grain this summer while it’s fresh.

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY / Food/Photography BY BROOKE ECHOLS

Southern summers are synonymous with an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies, and while its arrival may not be as celebrated as that of popular produce like tomatoes or peaches, corn is an undeniable staple down here. This reliable standard is at its peak right now, and summer is when we enjoy it in its purest state, sometimes only hours or days off the stalk and mere minutes after shucking frees it from its husk and slippery silk. It may be basic, but hot corn on the cob, slick with melted butter and a sprinkling of salt is an essential element of a backyard, lakefront or beachside cookout.

But you can do so much more with fresh corn. Cut off the kernels and cook over high heat with some bacon grease in cast iron to create fried corn. Stir some cream in with the little niblets of sunshine, and you’ve got creamed corn, a rich addition to a veggie plate. Toss them raw with a little mayo (and/or sour cream), sliced scallions, salt and pepper, plus herbs and seasonings of your choice for a cold corn salad. You can even add it to your dessert menu. Sweet corn makes a deliciously light and natural-tasting ice cream.

     And corn is not relegated to a single season. It’s important in the Southern kitchen year-round in the forms of cornmeal and grits, and advances in both freezing and canning mean that you can get pretty decent raw corn anytime you want. All this use of and access to corn is a good thing because it contains some valuable nutrients. Corn is high in fiber and rich in vitamins A, B and C and also adds to your iron intake.

     You likely already have some tasty uses for corn, but check out this month’s reader-submitted recipes for a few new ways to incorporate even more of it into your eating itinerary.


Cook of the Month: Laura Hardy, Wiregrass EC

Laura Hardy has been making this colorful, flavorful fresh corn dish for years but finally gave it a name when she decided to submit it to the magazine. “Every time I make it, it just looks like a party,” she says. And, the first time she made it, she was searching for a side to go with homemade chimichangas. “I had all these vegetables from my garden and had family coming over for dinner and needed a side dish, so I just cut everything up, roasted it, and it smelled so amazing,” she says. Now, she pairs it with all kinds of entrees like barbecue, grilled meats and fish. And she keeps making it because it’s tasty, but also because it usually yields leftovers than can be easily transformed into a whole new dish. “You can use it as a filling to stuff anything or spoon it into wonton wrappers to make eggrolls,” she says. Laura also sometimes embellishes it with a ranch drizzle made from one cup sour cream, a half cup of bottled ranch dressing with a pinch or two of cumin and cayenne pepper. She also loves how well it highlights corn. “This dish lets it stand out while complementing the other ingredients,” she says.

Corn Fiesta

  • 3 ears sweet corn (bi-color works great)
  • 1 chayote squash, peeled
  • 2 large zucchini squash, do not peel
  • 1/2 pint grape tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 10 mini sweet peppers, cored to remove seeds
  • 1 small green bell pepper, cored
  • 1 small eggplant, peeled
  • 2 large carrots, peeled
  • 1 medium sweet onion, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Fine sea salt and black pepper

Slice all vegetables except corn, tomatoes and garlic into one-inch pieces. Toss all with oil, salt and pepper and place in sheet pan. Rub corn and tomatoes with oil and scatter tomatoes, placing corn in center of tray. Chop garlic into ¼-inch pieces and place under veggies. Roast at 375 degrees for 45 minutes until veggie edges are browning and they are tender crisp. Butter corn when cooked. Cool slightly and scrape corn off cob. Chop veggies into ¼-inch pieces and toss with corn.

Laura Hardy, Wiregrass EC


Easy Corn Fritters

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 2/3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears of corn)
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil

Beat egg whites in a glass or metal bowl until stiff peaks form. Stir together corn, egg yolks, flour, salt and cayenne pepper in a large bowl, then fold in egg whites. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches of 4, drop 2 tablespoons corn mixture per fritter into oil without crowding skillet. Cook until golden brown on underside, about 2 minutes. Gently flip fritters over and cook until golden brown and cooked through, 2-3 minutes more.

Eva Wright

North Alabama EC


Mama’s Creamed Corn

  • 10 cobs of corn (we like Silver King)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white (or black) pepper
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Scrape corn cobs down and put in a large pot with heavy cream, butter, salt, white pepper and sugar. In a small bowl, blend the milk and flour. Stir the two mixtures together and cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese.

Glenda Weigel

Baldwin EMC


Mexican Corn

  • 6 ears of corn
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili power
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat grill to direct high heat. Brush corn with vegetable oil. Put corn and bell pepper on the grill, turning every 3 minutes until slightly charred on all sides. Cool and chop bell pepper and cut corn off the cob. In a medium bowl, combine corn kernels, bell pepper, mayo, sour cream, lime juice, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Garnish with queso fresco and chopped cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Kirk Vantrease

Cullman EC


Corn on the Cob with Basil & Butter

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 ears corn

Heat oven to 350-400 degrees. Place ears on individual pieces of tin foil large enough to wrap around the ear. Stir together ingredients and pour over corncobs. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Memory Bush

South Alabama EC


Corn Pudding

  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups white or yellow corn (fresh or frozen)

Mix flour, salt and sugar with corn; add beaten eggs. Stir in milk and butter. Be sure eggs are mixed well with other ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until you have a good, firm custard-look to your dish.

Annie Fossett

North Alabama EC


Scalloped Corn

  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels
  • Dash of pepper
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons diced pimento
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup cracker crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup buttered cracker crumbs

Combine corn, pimento, butter, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Beat egg slightly and add in milk and cracker crumbs. Combine egg mixture to corn mixture. Mix well and put in buttered shallow baking dish. Top with buttered cracker crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. Serves 6.

LaCretia Bevel

North Alabama EC


Easy Corn and Tomato Relish

  • 3 ears corn
  • 1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Cut the kernels off the fresh corn. Peel and chop tomato. Finely chop jalapeño (seeds removed) to measure 1 tablespoon. Add olive oil to a pan over medium heat, and add corn kernels. Cook until lightly browned. Lower heat and add tomato, salt and jalapeño. Cook for about 3 minutes. Turn off heat. Serve at room temperature. Will store in the fridge for two days.

Shari Lowery

Pioneer EC


Pro Tip

Removing corn from the cob can be a mess. Have a bundt pan? Put it to work to contain the mess. No pan, no problem. Place a small bowl with a good flat bottom upside down in a larger bowl. Place your shucked ear of corn, flat side down, on top of the small bowl’s bottom. Carefully run a sharp knife down two to three rows of the corn, getting close to the cob, and cut the corn kernels off. They’ll just fall down the sides of the small bowl and be collected in the larger bowl. Repeat until you’ve cut the corn off of all sides.


Coming up in September… BBQ!

It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!

Themes and Deadlines

October: Pumpkin | Aug. 8

November: Nuts | Sept. 8

December: Party Foods | Oct 8

Submit your recipe here.

Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.

Photo contest winners capture the essence of Alabama

By Allison Law

For Alabama Living’s first photo contest in 2017, we asked our readers to capture life in rural Alabama. That contest garnered more than 100 photos from all parts of Alabama, from the picturesque mountains of the northeast to the sugar white sands of the Gulf coast.

The contest was, from our viewpoint, a great success. We knew that there were many talented amateur photographers all around Alabama, and we weren’t disappointed. We were able to share them with you in our July 2017 issue.

For our second photo contest this year, we expanded our call for photos with four separate categories: Rural landscapes, Alabama landmarks, emotions and cute critters. The idea was to broaden the subject matter of the photos, and to get our readers to use some creativity in submitting their entries.

Entries were limited to two photos per category, per photographer, and the contest was limited to amateur photographers only. We printed the call for entries in the March and April issues of the magazine.

This year, our judge was Phil Scarsbrook, a professional photographer in central Alabama with nearly 40 years of experience. He also takes the group photos for our annual Montgomery Youth Tour. Scarsbrook did not know the identities of the photographers during the judging.

Each first-place winner will receive $50. Enjoy this year’s winners, and keep an eye out for next year’s contest.

Cute critters (photo on the cover) First place winner: Dorie Parsons, Baldwin EMC. Judge’s remarks: “Whether this is a pet rabbit or wild rabbit, the photograph gives the illusion of wild. Nice use of a shallow depth of focus to pull attention to the subject. Also having the rabbit look into the open space to the right makes for a more interesting composition.”

Honorable Mention. Beach Chorus: Dorie Parsons, Baldwin EMC. “I took this shot of some very opinionated gulls at Orange Beach.”

Honorable Mention. Boll Weevil monument: Kathryn Tipton, South Alabama EC. “I think this photo is special because it’s the only monument in the world dedicated to a pest.”

Alabama Landmarks. First place winner: Rebekah Calhoun, Coosa Valley EC. Judge’s remarks: “I have seen variations of this shot (of the staircase in the Alabama Capitol building) before, however, this one is particularly well executed. The leading lines of the handrail pull your eyes into the composition and keep them there.”

Honorable Mention. Cranes at Wheeler: Susanlynn Allen, North Alabama EC. “Photographed at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge during the annual migration of the Sandhill Cranes. It is an amazing adventure to watch the cranes fly into the refuge and land and to think about their migration habits of returning each year.”

Honorable Mention. Cross on lake: Kathryn Taipton, South Alabama EC “This photo, taken at the Vineyard Christian Retreat) is a constant reminder of the one who died for our sins.”

Emotions. First place winner: Jennifer McCuiston, Cullman EC. Judge’s remarks: “Very cute photo catching the spontaneity of the moment and the child’s natural reaction.” “We have backyard chickens and wanted a few more, so we bought six new chicks this year. Coleman (McCuiston’s son) liked to bring them in the house when they were little to play with them. He set the chick on his shoulder to be like a pirate, but was laughing because the chick kept pecking at the freckle on his face.”

Honorable Mention. Fishing on Wheeler Lake: William Porter, North Alabama EC. “I was taking photos of the pelican migration (at Joe Wheeler Dam), perhaps on their way back to Canada. The sun was setting low on the horizon, giving a warm glow on the birds. When I looked over my shoulder I saw a peaceful scene of Alabamians enjoying their leisure time.”

Honorable Mention. Fox squirrel: Donna Marcella, Cullman EC. “I took this photo in our back yard beside our pecan tree. With three pecan trees in our yard this fox squirrel is a frequent visitor. We recognize this particular squirrel by the white on its face and look forward to each visit.”

Rural Landscapes. First place winner: Caroline Mann, Double Springs. Judge’s remarks: “Beautiful image. Could easily been in the emotions category. Makes me want to travel up the road to see what’s beyond the rise.”

Honorable Mention. Raccoons ready to fight: Dorie Parsons, Baldwin EMC. “These young raccoons on Catman Trail in Orange Beach seem to be having a disagreement over breakfast.”

Honorable Mention. Shrimp boats: Jeff Hosterman, Baldwin EMC. “The tremendous historical legacy of this small, diverse Alabama town (Bayou La Batre), with its shrimping and shipbuilding industries on a local, state and national level.”

Skunks can ‘reek’ havoc, but there are ways to avoid them

Skunks in Alabama don’t look for animals or humans to spray, and usually use an elaborate warning ritual before releasing a potent blast of mercaptan. Photo by Geoffrey Kuchera/Dreamstime.com

By Richard Bauman

Skunks aren’t ferocious, but they can be dangerous, and it’s the rare person who wants to meet up with one.

They are notorious, of course, for the overpowering, stomach-turning odorous mercaptan they produce, which you definitely want to avoid. And it’s reasonably easy to avoid being sprayed if you encounter a skunk.

Skunks are nocturnal, and you’re most likely to encounter one at dusk or at night. They don’t go around looking for animals or humans to spray, and often use an elaborate warning ritual before letting go with a blast of mercaptan. They will:

  • stand still
  • stamp their front feet
  • hiss and shake their head from side to side
  • raise their tail straight up

By the time the skunk raises its tail, if you haven’t backed off, you probably won’t escape unscathed.

North America is home to two types of skunks — the striped skunk, and the spotted skunk. And both call Alabama home.

Striped skunks are the larger of the two (about the size of a house cat), with black fur and one or more white stripes running from head to tail. Spotted skunks are smaller, but no less potent, are reddish colored with random “body bands” of white fur that give them their spotted appearance.

Spotted and striped skunks spray mercaptan from musk glands at the base of their tails. After going through its warning ritual, the striped skunk quickly turns around, arches its back and blasts some mercaptan at its target.

Spotted skunks use a “handstand” method of spraying. They stand on their front paws, hold their hind legs in the air, and with tail arched shoots a stream at their target. The spotted skunk can hold its handstand for five seconds, which is plenty of time to aim and spray.

Whether mercaptan is from a spotted or striped skunk matters little. Both are yellowish in color, and need to be washed off promptly, or the stench will last for days on skin, hair and clothes of humans, and on the fur and skin of animals.

De-skunking products are available or make your own

Pet stores, sporting goods stores and even Walmart sell de-skunking products. The go-to home remedy for de-skunking humans and animals was discovered by chemist Paul Krebaum. It chemically neutralizes the skunk odor, but it must be made up fresh.

It’s a mixture of:

  • one quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
  • ¼ cup of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing detergent

If your pet gets skunked, the Humane Society of the United States recommends:

  • Keep the pet outdoors
  • Mix up the hydrogen peroxide solution, or use a commercially available product
  • Clean vigorously and rinse thoroughly
  • Shampoo your pet
  • Use the solution to get rid of any mercaptan you might have accidentally gotten on you or your clothes.

Keep skunks from moving in

According to experts at the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Wildlife Damage Management Program, skunks are attracted to places where they can readily find food, water, and shelter. They will live in burrows, but they are also like:

  • old buildings
  • hollow trees
  • spaces under porches, decks, and crawl spaces under houses
  • wood piles

To prevent skunks from moving in on your property, make it unattractive to them:

  • remove piles of wood or junk from the area
  • stack firewood tightly, and at least 18 inches above the ground
  • seal garbage cans and secure pet food bins
  • use insecticides to control grubs and lawn pests
  • reduce potential food sources such as fallen fruit and spilled seed from bird feeders
  • remove food placed outdoors for pets by nightfall
  • install fencing that extends below ground at least twelve inches around buildings and seal your foundation.

If a skunk has already made a home under your house or elsewhere, proceed with caution. It is probably best to hire a wildlife removal specialist. These experts can remove resident critters, and “skunk proof” areas favored by skunks.

According to the Professional Wildlife Removal website, skunk repellent products you spray or sprinkle about your property aren’t effective. “Wildlife experts insist that habitat modification and removal are the only effective ways of preventing skunks. Several repellent substances are available … (but) Most do not keep away skunks.”

Skunks are usually considered unwelcome, but skunks do their part to control other pests. They eat grasshoppers, crickets, mice, salamanders, tobacco and tomato worms, snakes, small birds and even small rabbits.

There’s no other animal quite like a skunk. The potent odor it produces is unique. Once you’ve had a nose full of it, you never forget it.

On the other hand, there’s no reason to ever become the target of a skunk’s spray. If you encounter a skunk, give it a lot of room. Don’t make threatening moves toward it, and you probably will never need a peroxide and baking soda bath.

Teens and distracted driving: Adults must be role models for young drivers

By Donna Bayless and Sharon Winter

Have you ever followed a car that was weaving all over the road and thought, “I bet that person has been drinking?” Maybe you pulled up next to them at a red light and realized, instead, they were on their phone.

We know we shouldn’t drive when drinking. Why do we think it’s OK to drive when we’re on our phone?

Maybe because our phones are our lifeline to the outside world. Think of them this way: Our phones are a movie theater, mailbox, library, sports arena, newspaper, GPS, weather guy, calendar and a huge party with all our friends and acquaintances rolled into one tiny little box.

Now, it’s one thing if you miss some dialogue from tonight’s episode of “This is Us” because you’re texting your best friend your plans for the weekend. You can always rewind the DVR, right?

But what if you take that need to look at your phone every five minutes into the car with you and you miss a stop sign? Or the car in front of you that stopped suddenly to avoid hitting the black lab that darted into the road? You can’t hit rewind on a car crash.

Driving = freedom

For most teens, getting their driver licenses equates to freedom.  Jackson, a junior at Hewitt Trussville High School, says he loves having a car and a license because it means he can drive to visit his girlfriend, friends, and even to see his grandparents across town. 

We met Jackson because we teach safe driving to both corporate audiences and at a defensive driving school we operate in Franklin, Tennessee.

Most teenagers that we talk to never want to be responsible for hurting someone, either physically or emotionally. When we’ve talked about the aftermath of a potential crash, where they would be at fault, teenagers consistently go back to the emotion of the event. How would that make my grandmother feel if I was responsible for a crash that hurt someone else? Or my parents?  Or my friends? What would my life be like if I killed my best friend? What would I say to his parents? How could I live with that?

By helping teenagers get in touch with those emotions, we can help them make better decisions when they drive.

We fear that we, as adults, have unknowingly taught our children that you start the ignition, buckle the seatbelt, put the car in gear, and pick up the phone, in that order. Because it’s not just teens on their phones. We adults are addicted to our phones. Is this the behavior we want our young teen drivers to imitate?

Parents must set the example

So, what can parents do? Parents must set the precedent for safe driving. If a dad thinks nothing of going 90 mph down the interstate, then his daughter will think that’s OK, too. If a mom decides to send a quick text from the car, then the son will never see a problem with using his phone when he drives.

Parents must be the first ones to draw the line on distracted driving and put their phones on Do Not Disturb. Only then, will they be able to encourage their kids to hang up and drive.

Secondly, and critically important, parents must not expect their teenagers to answer their phone when they’re driving. This is the number one complaint we hear from teens about their parents: “My mom gets mad at me if I don’t pick up the phone or if I don’t immediately respond to a text. Even when I’m driving.” We suggest you develop a family agreement that there is never an expectation that teens answer a phone call or text when they’re driving.

And lastly, when we learned to drive in the 1980s, our biggest obstacle was learning how to use the clutch when starting from a stop — especially on a hill. We never had to worry about missing a phone call from parents or boyfriends because we were driving our cool cars. Oh, the freedom!

Which brings us to a lost skill set and maybe a great opportunity for parents. Get your teens a standard transmission vehicle. Both hands are busy driving and perhaps there will be more focus on the road.

Research shows it takes around 21 days to make a habit. Your family could make a conscious decision to put the phone out of reach for three weeks when driving. The pull of the ping of a notification or the ring of a phone is powerful, and it takes strong willpower not to give in. So, turn on the Do Not Disturb. Use it only for GPS, letting the verbal directions guide you.

And then when you get to where you’re going, call back those people who love you and want you home tonight. Or even the client or boss who counts on you to be there for them every day. In other words, call back when you can focus on them and not when you are focused on driving.

Be focused.  Be safe.

Sharon Winter and Donna Bayless are founders of RightLane, a training company based in Brentwood, Tenn., that offers seminars on safe driving nationwide. RightLane also operates a defensive driving school in Franklin, Tenn.


Alabama law restricts the youngest drivers from using any handheld communication device. The state law also restricts all drivers from texting and driving.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act took effect July 1. The law requires drivers to use hands-free technology when using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.

Beautiful, hardy, adaptable and local: Ten native plants that feel like home

Passionflower vines can provide stunning blooms and a sense of place to our home landscapes. The purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), commonly known as the maypop, suggested by Kaul Wildflower Garden curator John Manion, is native to Alabama. It is among a number of passionflower species readily available in a variety of colors, such as this red one, at garden centers in the state. Passionflowers are magnets for butterflies and can be grown on trellises or other structures, but also look fabulous climbing up a tree or scrambling across rocks and stones.

Native plants, those denizens of Alabama’s natural terrain, are increasingly popular choices for Alabama’s cultivated landscapes. And well they should be, because they are as necessary to our wellbeing as they are beautiful to our eyes.

Alabama is home to some 4,000 different species of native plants, 28 of which grow only in our state, and we are ranked fifth in the nation for plant biodiversity. While some of these plants are endangered and protected, many are readily available for use in our gardens. So many, in fact, that it may be hard to choose which ones to plant.

To get some advice on making those selections, I turned to John Manion, curator of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Kaul Wildflower Garden. As curator, Manion tends the largest collection of native plants in the state — about 900 at last count — but he also tends to the education of others by sharing his knowledge as often as possible, and sharing it with delightful and compelling enthusiasm.

Manion’s enthusiasm stems from several factors, chief among them the roles native plants play in our ecosystem. “Until a few decades ago, the image of native plants was sort of kumbaya and peasant shirts,” Manion says. “But they have really come to the fore now as people have begun to understand that native plants are essential to our survival.”

According to Manion, the book Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Doug Tallamy, which eloquently explains humankind’s interconnectedness with native plants and the other animals they support, was a major catalyst for this growing appreciation of native plants.

It doesn’t hurt their popularity, though, that native plants can also make the hard work of gardening easier. Manion noted that this doesn’t mean natives are easier to establish than other plants, but once they are established, natives requires less attention because they tend to be drought and pest tolerant and longer lived, among many other fine attributes.

“They have evolved here over thousands of years, so they are well adapted to Alabama’s growing conditions,” Manion explained. “Natives just know what to do.”

But natives have another huge plus for Manion — they feel like home. “These plants are part of where we are,” he says. “I have nothing against other plants, but I personally want plants that feel and look like I am in Alabama.”

So how can you begin to surround yourself with plants that feel like home? Start with a few native plants that are as adaptable as they are beautiful, for which Manion offered suggestions. He actually offered lots of suggestions, and sang the praises of each, but in this limited space here are simply the names (common and scientific) of 10 plants he adores, all of which tolerate a variety of growing conditions, are easy to find in retail outlets and, best of all, are gorgeous.

In the groundcover category, Manion recommended green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). If you’re interested in flowering perennials, try an herbaceous native such as lance-leafed coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolate), Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis) and ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata).

Looking for a native vine? Manion suggested coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirus), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) and climbing hydrangea (Decumaria barbara). Ferns, such as the Christmas (Polystichum acrostichoides) and southern shield (Thelypteris kunthii) ferns, and grasses, such as woodoats (Chasmanthium sessiliflorum), are also great choices for a variety of uses and environments.

The Kaul Wildflower Garden, which has more than six acres of native plants to wander among. Or if you’re interested in growing your knowledge of native plants, consider signing up for Manion’s Certificate in Native Plant Studies program. You can learn more at bbgardens.org.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

Understanding appliance energy use

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

Q: Several of my appliances are getting old and will need to be replaced soon. Will the appliance choices I make have much impact on my energy bill?

A: Your energy use varies month to month, so it can be difficult to see how much difference an appliance purchase makes. It’s best to view the purchase over the lifetime of the equipment. Think about the up-front cost and the lifetime energy cost. In a Consumer Reports test, the most efficient refrigerator used $68/year less electricity than the least efficient model. Multiply that difference over a decade or two, and the lifetime energy savings could be greater than the up-front cost. All it takes to get the best appliance for your needs is some initial research.

Appliance energy use is usually less, on average, than home heating and cooling bills, but can be several hundred dollars each year. Your appliance use depends on factors like the model, how often you use it, the settings you use for its particular function and even the time of day it is most used.

Over the last few decades, new appliances became more energy efficient, driven partly by minimum government standards. These standards, created by the U.S. Department of Energy, save consumers over $60 billion each year. Appliances are required to include an Energy Guide label that shows estimated energy use and operating cost per year. These labels help you compare different models and calculate the initial cost against the long-term savings.

Some appliances will also have an ENERGY STAR label. This indicates the appliance is substantially more efficient than the minimum standard. Your greatest energy savings opportunities can come from replacing an old appliance with an ENERGY STAR-rated appliance. Removing a refrigerator that’s 20 years old and replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR model can lower the monthly electricity cost by 75 percent, from $16.50 to less than $4.

In some cases, the configuration of the appliance can also make a substantial difference. For example, a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer uses about 70 percent more energy than other configurations, with all the most efficient models having the refrigerator stacked on top of the freezer. All 36 of the most efficient clothes washers of 2018 were frontloading models.

Consider how much you use the appliance. The more you use the appliance the greater your savings will be from choosing a more efficient model. If you use the appliance less or have a small household, you may get by with a smaller refrigerator or freezer, which will save you money.

How you operate appliances can also make a difference. Here are some easy ways to save:

Refrigerator/Freezer:

• Set your refrigerator at 35 to 38 degrees and your freezer at 0 degrees.

• Make sure there is adequate air flow between the wall and the back of the unit.

• Keep the refrigerator relatively full when possible.

• Replace the seals around the doors if they appear to be leaking air.

• Defrost the refrigerator and freezer regularly.

A new ENERGY STAR fridge/freezer can use 70 percent less energy than a model that’s 10+ years old. Models with the fridge stacked over the freezer are also 2/3 more efficient than side-by-side models. PHOTOS Source: Pixabay, Creative Commons

Stove/Oven

• Use the correct size of burner to fit the pan.

• Use smaller appliances like a microwave or slow cooker instead of the oven when possible.

To maximize energy savings when using your stovetop, be sure to match the size of the pot to the burner.

Dishwasher

• Use the most energy-efficient and shortest setting that gets your dishes clean.

• Air dry rather than using the heated dry function.

• Wait to run a load until the dishwasher is full.

All the most efficient 2018 models of washers and dryers were front-loading.

Make the most out of your appliance energy use with a little research before buying a new model and a few easy adjustments to the way you use them.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on saving energy on your appliances, please visit: www.collaborativeefficiency.com/energytips.

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency.com for more information.

Fishing for bass in the grass? Throw a frog!

Rigged with the hook inserted into the plastic, a buzzing frog like this Stanley Ribbit works well for tempting largemouth bass in extremely weedy areas. Photos by John N. Felsher

By John N. Felsher

Even on the hottest summer days, many giant largemouth bass stay in extremely shallow water if they can find cooling, well-oxygenated cover.

In many Alabama lakes, grass grows extremely thick and matted by late summer. Lunker largemouths often burrow into the thickest vegetation they can find. Thick weeds block the broiling sun and provide shade, which drops water temperatures. Also, aquatic grasses give bass a much needed oxygen boost. In addition, the grass attracts not only bass, but sunfish, minnows, frogs and many other creatures that largemouths love to eat.

When faced with impenetrable vegetation mats, some anglers fish around the edges with various lures. They catch fish, but many of the biggest bass lurk under the thickest growth where most lures cannot reach. But buzzing a frog across the grass tops can provoke adrenaline-pumping strikes. Sometimes, giant bass erupt through the vegetation, engulfing the bait, weeds and everything else with explosive strikes on top.

“Nothing is more exciting than a big fish blowing up on a topwater bait – except two big bass blowing up on a topwater bait,” says Jake Davis with Mid-South Bass Guide Service who fishes Lake Guntersville.

“When grass gets too thick, I go to a frog. In many places on Lake Guntersville, weeds get so thick that it’s impossible to get any other bait through it. Bass will eat about anything that moves over the grass tops.”

Rich in protein, frogs create prime forage for largemouth bass in most Alabama waters. The bucket-mouthed predators routinely hunt in the thickest weeds or lily pads they can find. Usually rigged without a weight, soft-plastic frogs look like natural prey as they skitter across dense salads. Bass see these lures silhouetted against the sky and slobber to attack them.

“Frogs are one of the primary forage species for bass,” says Lonnie Stanley, a five-time Bassmaster Classic veteran and legendary lure designer. “If a bass could order its food off a menu, it would probably pick crawfish first, frogs second and shad or bream third. Frogs give bass plenty of protein.”

Some frogs float and some sink. Some come with upturned hooks that glide over the grass tops. With others, anglers insert the hook points into the plastic bodies to make them weedless. Anglers can fish either type with a steady buzzing retrieve over the grass mats. The kicking legs and feet create a sputtering commotion on the surface where most other lures would quickly snag.

Toss a sinking frog to thick cover. Hold the rod tip high and crank the reel just fast enough to make the legs kick. When the frog hits a patch of open water, let it sink a few seconds like a stunned or injured amphibian before pulling it back to the surface and resuming the retrieve. Bass frequently slurp frogs as they sink.

Work floating frogs more like traditional topwater baits. Anglers can make a steady retrieve, pausing occasionally, or use the “hop and pop” method. Toss a floating frog to a good spot and let it sit on the surface until the concentric rings dissipate. Then, pop it vigorously. The commotion simulates a live frog jumping across the surface. Let the frog sit idle again for a few seconds before popping it again.

“Throwing a frog is a tremendous way to fish grass throughout the year,” says Shaw Grigsby, a professional bass fisherman. “A buzzing frog is like a buzzbait that you can throw anywhere in the middle of the thickest vegetation. It comes through cover like a four-wheel drive truck. It’s a very simple bait to use, but it’s a bait that can produce really big fish. Bass come out from under the lily pads or grass beds to eat it. When a big bass explodes on a frog, there’s nothing more exciting.”

Anglers can entice bass in any Alabama lakes, ponds or with thick vegetation and big fish. Some better lakes for buzzing a frog include Guntersville, Pickwick, Wheeler, Jordan, Logan Martin, Lay and Eufaula. Frogs can also entice bass in the weedy backwaters of many Alabama rivers and the marshy flats of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. In the brackish parts of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, anglers might tangle with a few tackle-busting redfish who also want to gulp down a succulent frog.

This month, when even the air seems to sweat, catch the buzz. Work a frog across the thickest cover around and hold on!

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

A bass fights for freedom after hitting a frog worked through lily pads.

Hardy Jackson’s Alabama: My cousin Benny and the snake: Or, yes, we can all get along

If you pay any attention to the news today, you are getting a belly full of stories of how divided we are.  It is as if everyone is bound and determine to take the “united” out of United States.

Well, friends, I am here to offer you a ray of hope.

My cousin Benny.

Now Benny doesn’t talk politics much. He once observed, “I’m not what you call a liberal,” but that was as far as he went.

Benny spent his life in law enforcement, and he tends to see issues in that context. Break the law and you go down. Not much gray area there.

If you have an urge to go someplace you shouldn’t, and want to come out alive, take Benny. Well over six feet tall and carrying 250-plus pounds, he is much a man. Curly blond hair going gray, matching mustache and goatee, he has an affinity for black t-shirts embossed with slogans like “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” and “careful, contents under pressure.”

Like me, he is getting up in years, but in his younger days, when he got home from work, he’d go out riding on his bicycle.  Helped him unwind.

Now Benny likes snakes. Well, actually, he likes to kill snakes, skin them, and cure the hides. Don’t ask why, just keep up with me.

One day, late summer, Benny was pedaling along when he saw a rattlesnake in the road. Naturally Benny took out his derringer (if Benny has on clothes he has a gun) and shoots at the snake. He misses. So, he tries to run over it. The snake takes this none too kindly and bites the tire, hangs a fang, and is caught fast.

Picture the scene (visuals are important here). A massive man who looks like a fugitive from rednecks-R-us rolling a bike back and forth over a snake with its fangs hung on the tire.

Up drives this black couple. They see the situation and the man, like any good Southerner would, asks Benny, “You need any help?”

“Got a gun?” Benny asked. (Not a dumb question, down in Dixie. ‘Course he does.)

The black man pulls out a .40-caliber automatic, hands it to good ‘ol boy personified, who takes it and shoots the snake — a head shot. Impressed, the black man asks the white man if he’d like a drink.

‘Course he would.

Snake killing is hot work.

So, the black man reaches in his cooler, and pulls out a “Big Orange” for each of them.  Then the black man, the black woman, and the white man kick back, cool off, and talk about snakes and guns and stuff.

Now that, dear hearts, is how to get along.

Find a common ground, celebrate, enjoy.

We need more of that.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

Building a community with solar energy How power from the sun is bringing consumers and co-ops closer

By Paul Wesslund

Electric cooperatives and their consumer-members are joining together to invest in community solar installations, which generate clean, renewable electricity for their local communities.

Growth in electric cooperative interest in community solar skyrocketed in the past four years, says Tracy Warren, senior program manager with the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA).

“It’s clean, local and homegrown power,” she says. “The benefits stay within the community. There is just a lot to like.”

What makes community solar unique is not any special technology, but rather how it’s organized and financed. Basically, the electric co-op builds and operates an array of solar panels, then sells or leases the long-term energy output of the panels. In return, the home or business that participates typically receives credit on their electric bill for the portion of their power generated by those solar cells.

“It’s fun to see the community solar credit on your electric bill,” says Warren.

That fun helps drive the popularity of community solar for both electric co-ops and their consumer-members, says Warren. She coordinates online conferences about how to set up community solar programs that typically attract more than 250 people from co-ops around the country. A survey conducted four years ago found 38 electric co-ops had started a community solar project or were planning to. That number grew to 198 this year.

Community solar is not for everyone.

That number is still just a fraction of the more than 900 electric co-ops in the United States. Part of the reason for that small portion is that community solar is still developing. Another reason is that community solar might not make sense for some local electric co-ops, says Paul Carroll, a senior project manager for grant projects at NRECA.

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all anything,” says Carroll. He says some state laws restrict community solar-style setups. The co-op also needs to consider factors like solar power not being available when the sun doesn’t shine, the most practical fuels to generate electricity in that co-op’s area and what those fuels cost.

“A lot of co-ops already have plenty of wind and plenty of hydro,” says Carroll. “They’re always having to watch out for the best interests of their members. Expensive power is not what they’re about. They’re about the safest, most reliable, cheapest power possible. Solar has traditionally been a more expensive energy source.”

But that expense is changing fast. Costs for some of the major solar panel parts have fallen 85 percent in a seven-year period, says a report by NRECA, as technology improves and more mass production lowers prices.

“As you start making things at larger and larger scale, they just get cheaper,” says Carroll. “It’s the same as what happened with large-screen televisions. They used to be terribly expensive, $25,000, and now you can get a large-screen TV for 500 bucks.”

Co-ops are also smoothing the road to community solar with innovative financing and by sharing their practical experience with each other.

The National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, an organization that provides financing for electric co-ops, has developed a program that lets electric co-ops take advantage of tax incentives to build community solar systems. The organization also provides loans to support renewables and energy efficiency.

Community solar’s popularity has also been helped by a program that puts together information on solar energy, and shares that with other co-ops. That information can cover technical details from the most productive size of a solar power installation, to the best siting procedures in order to make sure the co-op complies with zoning and land use rules. That collaboration between the electric co-ops and the Department of Energy is called the SUNDA project, which stands for the descriptive but intimidating full name, Solar Utility Network Deployment Acceleration.

A new relationship with the co-op

NRECA’s Tracy Warren credits the SUNDA project with boosting community solar by finding, refining and promoting ideas from pioneering co-ops to others just thinking about trying it out.

Among the ideas catching on, she says, are financial arrangements that make a basic change to the structure of buying a share of the solar panels and then receiving credits. Instead, co-op members can lease part of the solar array, or even just pay for it month-to-month.

Community solar offers energy uniquely suited to local, member-owned electric co-ops, says Warren. A co-op can work with its members to decide how to tailor community solar to suit local conditions, or whether to offer it at all.

Among the advantages of community solar, says Warren, is that if an individual member doesn’t want to participate, they don’t have to. For members who do sign up, she says, “They feel like this is something they can do for future generations. They like the environmental benefits.” Some co-ops find a community solar program can help with economic development, as businesses look to locate in areas where they can meet the organization’s renewable energy goals.

“The community solar model is well-suited for co-ops because it is flexible, and it can be a way of matching supply with the demand from the co-op membership,” says Warren. “The co-op can gauge how interested its members are in participating and then size the program accordingly.”

Warren even sees community solar as building a stronger bond between the local co-op and its members.

“They’re literally helping to provide the power for the co-op,” she says. “That’s changing the relationship between the consumer-member and the co-op.”

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.

Energy audits: savings you can count on

By Derrill Holly

Better energy efficiency at home starts with savings, not sales, and an energy audit conducted by a trained energy advisor can help you get there.

“Members are our community and we are the experts in the electric energy arena,” says Manuela Heyn, an energy services representative for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative, who is also a member of the Southport, Florida-based co-op. “We have the tools, knowledge and commitment to assist our people. Saving energy can also help shave peak loads.”

Heyn conducted her first energy audits with very basic tools: a flashlight, laser temperature gun and candy thermometer (to check water heater output temperature). She now has access to more sophisticated equipment such as thermal imaging equipment.

Members become frantic when they see a major increase in the power bill and want almost immediate answers as to why. In conjunction with experience and the ability to refer to meter data reports, the process of identifying major power consumption problems has been simplified and resolved in many instances in the office.

During on-site audits, she uses all her senses to find abnormalities such as hot water line leaks, running well pumps, damaged power cords, construction issues – one case leading to spongy drywall, disconnected ducts and lack of insulation to name a few.

She also checks household systems many homeowners seldom see or consider unless they spend time with their HVAC technician.

“One home I visited had an overflowing air handler water pan and extreme fungal growth” says Heyn. “Some members, particularly renters, don’t realize that their HVAC systems have an air filter. When they are dirty, they can freeze up the system and cause an increase in power consumption.”

Expert advice

Many electric co-ops that provide energy audits support professional development for energy advisors that includes exposure to building science concepts. 

Training focused on both new construction techniques designed to improve energy efficiency and retrofitting options for upgraded older housing are common. Specialized training for multi-family units and manufactured housing are also common.

“By providing a picture of how energy is used in the home, people can concentrate on what can save them the most energy,” says Eileen Wysocki, an energy auditor with Holy Cross Energy, headquartered in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Wysocki starts with a baseload estimate of energy use based upon meter data. Talking with the consumer-member, she learns about household size and behavior patterns, and considers seasonal factors like heat tape used to prevent water lines from freezing.

“We have many ‘second homes’ in our service territory,” says Wysocki, adding that even when those homes are empty, energy use continues. “Fan coil blower motors, whole house humidifiers, boiler pumps, ventilation systems, driveway snowmelt pumps, pool pumps, hot tubs, garage heaters, heated toilet seats and towel bars are using energy, regardless of occupancy.”

The co-op serves Colorado’s popular ski areas around Aspen and Vail, and is currently designing a new audit form. It will stress benefits members can receive through efficiency upgrades, including comfort, said Mary Wiener, energy efficiency program administrator for Holy Cross Energy.

Co-ops that offer energy audits use the service to reinforce their roles as trusted energy advisors, helping members save energy in an effort to help them control their electricity costs. 

While some co-ops provide audits free of charge, especially when they are requested in response to high bill concerns, others may charge a small fee, offering rebates to members who implement some of the recommendations provided.

Time spent with an energy auditor can help a member avoid ineffective upgrades or the purchase of outsized equipment that might not improve their comfort or produce savings through recoverable costs. 

Offering solutions

An energy advisor’s home visit usually gets far more attention than a brief discussion about energy efficiency at a co-op district meeting, a county fair or other community event. Most audits are initiated following a request tied to high bill concerns, when members are really motivated to control their energy costs.

On average, a member can reduce their energy use by about 5 percent if they follow the low-cost or no-cost advice given during the audit. Additional savings of up to 20 percent can be achieved by addressing issues with big-ticket items, such as HVAC replacement, attic insulation or major duct repair discovered during the audit.

Improved energy efficiency not only helps the co-op control peak demand and wholesale power costs, it also provides opportunities to discuss services available to members. Those include rebates, weatherization programs and payment assistance. 

To learn more about energy audits available to you, contact your local electric cooperative.

Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.