Navigate / search

Grow gardeners this summer

By Katie Jackson

The summer I turned 8 years old my mother gave me a garden plot—a small grove of spindly trees that we rescued from honeysuckle, then planted with odds and ends of perennials thinned from her own garden.

Truth is my little garden was never much to look at, but it was mine-all-mine, no siblings allowed! It was also an example of Mom’s perceptive parenting skills: Working on that tiny space kept me outside and engaged (and out from underfoot…) all summer and it made me a gardener for life.

This summer, you, too can entertain the children in your life—and maybe even cultivate future gardeners or your own little garden helpers—by tapping into kid-friendly gardening projects.

For example, container gardening is great fun for all ages, but it is especially ideal for younger children or for families with limited gardening space. By planting herb, vegetable or flower seeds or plants in pots of any size, children can see the botanical process in action and learn about responsibility as they tend those little gardens.

If there’s space available, do as my mother did and give the young’uns their own little bit of land for a garden, compost pile or worm farm. Or simply invite the kids to help you in the yard and garden by giving them fun and age-appropriate tasks, whether that’s weeding or watering (just watch out for those “accidental” showers), picking vegetables and fruit for the family meal or keeping bird baths and feeders full.

Want a project that combines gardening and play? Construct a teepee frame using lightweight sticks or bamboo then plant vining vegetables or ornamentals around it to form a private fort. Or literally grow a playhouse using sunflowers for the walls.

Blend art with gardening by having the kids draw and install their own garden designs or make garden sculptures from wood, rocks or other weatherproof material. Let them release their inner Jackson Pollock by allowing them to use water-soluble paints on a fence or rocks in the yard. Encourage them to find uses for cast-off items, such as turning old boots or wheelbarrows into planters or garden art. Help them collect leaves, gumballs, pinecones, rocks and other natural items from the garden and yard to make collages, wind chimes, mobiles and other craft projects.

Older children who typically crave peer interaction during the summer may find that they love gardening by volunteering with a community or church gardening project. A great option for youngsters ages 8 through 14 is the Alabama Junior Master Gardener program (, which offers a variety of garden education opportunities through schools and day camps. For more information on that option, contact JMG Coordinator Luci Davis at 334-703-7509, or

Honestly, the gardening options for children are unlimited and tons of ideas are available online, through local libraries and, as Luci suggested, at the National Junior Master Gardener website (

As you cultivate those budding gardeners this summer and beyond, do make sure they are safe. Sunscreen and bug spray are vital for anyone working in the yard, as is proper attire such as protective clothing, hats and gloves. Make sure children (and adults!) don’t become overheated or dehydrated while working and playing in the yard, and keep children away from potentially dangerous garden tools, power equipment, chemicals or other garden-related hazards.

With just a little bit of caution and imagination you and the kids can revel in a summer of gardening and create memories, if not future gardeners. Plus, you’ll probably all sleep well every night!

June Gardening Tips
June 6 is National Gardening Exercise Day. Such a day does exist and you can even see a hilarious exercise video by searching for National Gardening Exercise Day on YouTube!

June is also National Hunger Awareness Month and National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month. Celebrate by volunteering at a community garden or food bank and sharing produce with your loved ones and others.

Plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and sweet potatoes.

Deadhead flowering annuals to encourage continued blooming.

Irrigate (with long, deep weekly waterings) spring-planted shrubs, especially if the weather turns dry.

Sow seeds for beans, field peas, pumpkins, squash, corn, cantaloupes and watermelon.

Remove foliage from spring bulbs if it has become yellow and dry.

Be on the lookout for insect and disease problems in the garden and on houseplants.

Thin fruits on apple, pear and peach trees to produce larger fruit.

Add fresh water to birdbaths and ornamental pools frequently to reduce mosquito breeding.

New Archives director wants Alabamians involved in their history

“We’re an extremely content-rich, tremendous resource for genealogists … in fact (for) anyone interested in their past. We have tremendous databases. And that is something that will continue in the future. It’s the way the world is moving …”

— Steve Murray, director, Alabama Department of Archives and History

By John Brightman Brock

It’s hard not to notice Steve Murray’s savvy, sensitivity and optimism when he lays out his plans as the new director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery. His cerebral, archival jargon converts quickly to an impassioned appeal to Alabamians to get involved in their own history, and then to make their own.

Murray says Alabamians are “inheriting” history, categorically placed in inviting rooms of artifact displays in the large white building across from the State Capitol. Now, they can create their own – whether navigating through the agency’s digital format online – bristling with functionality – or walking the halls, taking the stairs or elevators up to exhibits opening their understanding of who they are. As the chief Alabama history buff, Murray wants to encourage the appetites of Alabamians for their history, through technological means and more exhibits.

There are some “great things being done,” Murray said in a recent interview, including the completion of the Museum of Alabama later this year on the archives’ second floor. Eight months after the retirement of Ed Bridges, the archives’ director for three decades, the 42-year-old, web-centric historical project manager became director in a decision announced in Aug. 2012 and effective Oct. 1. Murray joined the agency in 2006 as assistant director for administration, and his responsibilities have included finance, budget, personnel, facilities, development and special projects. Bridges was named director emeritus and is devoting his time to developing the Museum of Alabama.

Pieces of the puzzle

The collections reflect the archival activity ongoing for the last 112 years. “Some of the most fascinating historical artifacts just walk in the door,” he says. “People appreciate what they have in their attics … those artifacts. Sometimes they are looking for a permanent place for those to go. They tend to have a very strong belief and high degree of confidence that they will be very well-cared for” at the archives. “What happens is that these artifacts are used to help the public understand their history. Every time we can fill a gap it helps us to complete the picture.”

Alabamians have a vital role to play in inheriting Alabama, Murray says, and his staff will be asking visitors to the Archives to reply to questions facing their state.

“We want to make the point, especially to younger visitors, that they are the inheritors. For better or worse, the decisions from the past shape what they are being handed. They have the role and responsibility to make the decisions that are best for Alabamians,” he says.

Things are looking up

Murray takes on his new role following years of intense economic hardship for the archives, but “things are looking up a bit,” Murray said. “But we’ll be very careful stewards to look after the resources we have.”

The archives’ staff was reduced by 40 percent during the recent recession, he says, so the administrative road ahead should be a “gradual process … with careful and thoughtful steps, not overreaching. But you don’t accomplish anything unless you set some type of goal. And there’s great work that can be done.”

He has been tasked with caring for the needs of Alabama governmental agencies, providing upon request voluminous public records that form the decisions of public officials. “These are the basis of the rights of Alabama citizens,” he says. “We are the custodians of these records for the people of our state.”

Then there’s the state’s electronic archives. “How to preserve not just 10 to 20, but 200 to 300 years?” he asks.

“How do we protect those records that are being created in the digital realm? We have to be able to preserve them and in a format that will be accessible in technology for continuous change. The records must be available for access …. to write the history of Alabama,” Murray says.

In the next few years, Murray aims to make the archives’ website more user-friendly and “more up to speed in terms of aesthetics” with the look and feel to entice most internet users. “We also want to develop some online apps to enhance visitors’ experience, and develop the opportunity for technology for younger people. They expect it.”

A personal fascination with history

A native of Shreveport, Murray’s love of history began in the northwest and west central portions of Louisiana.

“I grew up with a fascination with history, something that started with an interest in archeology and ancient history. I was fascinated with ancient Egypt.” And as he grew older, his historical curiosity stirred even more from decades of configuring his own roots.

Murray reveals a family where maternal grandparents were “children of sharecroppers, growing up in poverty on opposite sides of the Sabine River” – he near Joaquin, Texas, and she near Logansport. “My paternal grandfather grew up on a family farm that Michael Murray homesteaded after the Civil War in rural Natchitoches Parish, La. They owned their own land, farmed and did other jobs on the side.

“My paternal grandmother grew up on a large cotton plantation on the bank of the Red River, near Ida, La. Her parents managed the plantation for an absentee landowner. African American tenants worked the plantation. It was a large operation, complete with its own commissary.”

A young, aspiring Murray went to Louisiana College in Pineville, La., where 1,100 students worked toward degrees and he pursued “a fantastic education” double-majoring in history and English. Upon graduation, he headed to graduate school at Auburn University, attaining his master’s degree and intending to get his doctorate, although he stopped short.

What lay directly in his path was a research assistantship with The Alabama Review, he says, that “moved me into the venue of editing and publishing.” He had been in that journalistic realm before, as editor of his college newspaper. So he started as a graduate assistant, then serving as managing editor from 2000 to 2006. “During an overlapping period, I was also managing editor of the Encyclopedia of Alabama from 2002 to 2006.” The EOA, at the time, was a joint venture of Auburn University and the Alabama Humanities Foundation, and was part of a team with Dr. Wayne Flynt, he said.  “We fundraised to put this together as a digital resource at no cost to the user.”

In 2006, opportunity knocked at the archives.

“Something opened up … a good fit for my history and project management background. And that was something that the department was looking for, an assistant director for administration.” It was in that capacity that he began to work with Bridges.

The Museum of Alabama

Dominating his life for a while will be constructing the “Museum of Alabama,” which is the name of the museum within the Department of Archives and History.

Completed in 2011, Phase I of the museum included two permanent exhibitions: “The Land” and “The First Alabamians,” both located on the building’s second floor. The museum’s Phase II, being constructed nearby, includes one permanent exhibition: “Alabama Voices.”

Under-girding the Museum of Alabama is “Becoming Alabama,” a programming emphasis that took shape through a series of conversations around the state, beginning in the spring of 2009.

“Becoming Alabama is not just our effort,” Murray says. “The idea grew with input from other organizations in Alabama working with history and culture. Among them, Alabama Heritage magazine, the Encyclopedia of Alabama, the Shelby County Historical Society and others who are using Alabama as a point of interest in their programs.”

An exhibition covering the years 1700 to 2000, Alabama Voices is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2013, with a grand opening in early 2014. It will be a very “defining” journey that visitors will enjoy, Murray says. “During those 300 years, it was the people who came here, the motivations they had; the conflict/cooperations defined who we were … and we became a state.

“We gain a better understanding of the past every day,” Murray says. “Like putting together pieces from a large puzzle.”

Steve Murray can be reached by contacting the Alabama Department of Archives and History, P.O. Box 300100, 624 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36130; 334-242-4435; or online at

Follow Alabama’s Wine Trail

By Teri Greene

This is the PieLab.
This is the PieLab.

Want to tour the wine country? There’s no need to book a trip to Napa Valley. Raise a toast to the wines of Alabama as laid out on the Alabama Wine Trail.

Wine is created in and flows through the state in rural enclaves far off well-traveled roads, often at the end of long stretches of highway and gravel driveways.

There are 13 active wineries on the Alabama Wine Trail – up from eight when the trail debuted — the oldest one established nearly 35 years ago, others reaping the first fruits of their labor, and plenty in between, winding their way from the hills of the north to the southern coastal area.

In 2006, with the introduction of the brochure outlining those locations, the reality was made visible. You can find the trail at or, for updates,

“We got involved in the early stages trying to create a statewide wine trail,” says Tami Reist, president of that Decatur-based Alabama Mountain Lakes Association, which teamed with The Alabama Wineries Association to create a point-by-point guide to Alabama wineries and wine-related events in the state.

Getting folks to follow three trails — the Plateau, the Valley and Ridge and the Coastal Plain — may lead to a lot of people seeing Alabama in a new light.

Visit just a couple, and you’ll get a sense of both the diversity and the dedication of these vintners.

Family tradition

Wine has been Jules J. Berta’s family business for generations in his native Hungary.  In 1993, Berta planted his first vineyards in Albertville, Ala. In 2005, on five acres of a 50-acre spread, he and his wife, Becky, officially opened the vineyard and winery.  It sits at the end of a country road in the state’s mountainous region.

Like most points on the trail, this is a start-to-finish establishment, tended by family.

Enter the warm, inviting shop where the Berta wines are available for sale and tastings. Walk through a pair of doors and you’re surrounded by dozens of silos of closely monitored Berta wines.  Just outside are countless rows of vines. Justin Bailey, Becky Berta’s son, who with his brothers help run the business, knows the exact location of the grapes that produce each cultivar — even on an overcast winter day, with each branch gray and bare.

A small median of land divides the white grapes from the red.  

“Here are our Cab sauvignon, Cab francs,” Bailey says, pointing to the right, where rows of Cabernet, Merlot, Blaufränkisch, Petit Syrahs and other reds bloom in April.

The expertise and passion have spread to a new generation in the family.  Bailey respectfully refers to the grapes, the wines, the rows and the vineyard itself as “she.”

“She’s beautiful when she’s in bloom,” Bailey says of the vineyard in late summer. “You can see the different color reds, whites; Chardonnay will be in gold.”

Unexpected treasures with help from local farmers

People don’t expect to find such non-native grapes as Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet and Sylvaner – a white grape that, in this state, is grown only at Jules J. Berta — thriving in north Alabama.  It all has to do with the distinct soil here.

“It’s sandstone and limestone, mixed into one,” Bailey says. “When you get down further into the dirt, the soil here is just about identical to that in Hungary.  It’s very sandy, so we excel.”

Most of their wines are made with fruit from local farmers, says Becky Berta. “Alabama folks want to know where the fruits are grown that go into their wines. And I love that about our customers, because we have educated them from opening day of our winery about how we process the fruit wines.

“They love knowing some of the farmers where we get the fruits. We know how hard these farmers work, and their outlet for indirect sales of their fruits can be hard to locate, so that’s where we step in. They contact us and we purchase the fruits whenever possible. We get strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, apples and watermelons from local farmers. We have even done a mead (honey wine) where the honey came from Valley Head,” she adds.

The array of Berta’s “proper wines” impresses regular visitor Jim Rhodes, a retired Air Force officer who moved back to Alabama after living in France, Italy and Oregon’s wine country. He said the place is brimming with visitors year-round. One is his friend Diana Kennedy of Birmingham, daughter of a California winegrower. Her reaction to the Berta Merlot?
“I had yet to taste anything grown and vinted locally that I would dare introduce to my family. Well, this is it! I am so impressed with this wine, and trust me when I say, that’s no easy task.”

Becky Berta chooses the whimsical labels for the wines, which also include fruit-based varieties. The most popular are the winery’s signature Merlot; a blackberry Merlot called Dog at Large; Sylvaner, named after its rare white grape; Love Shack, a chocolate Merlot, and the lemon Bullfrog.

“In the summertime, you can’t beat her,” Bailey says of the latter. “She’s very light, clean crisp and refreshing. She’s amazing.”

Savor local flavor

The wineries on the trail are widely diverse because of the state’s range of terrain. They are open to guests year-round. It’s best to check the establishment’s website before you go. On the site for Hodges Vineyards in Camp Hill, proprietors Earl and Elke Hodges, who opened in 2011, point out that GPS devices cannot locate the site. They offer easy-to-follow directions that will get you there. Take heed.

At most wine trail locations, guests see where wines are bottled and roam the grounds.  And of course, they taste. The samples are half-ounce and quarter-ounce, as regulated by the state.  If you fall in love with a wine, it’s best to buy it on-site. Wines can be ordered online, but shipping is roughly $6 to $10 per bottle.

Every stop at a winery earns a stamp on your wine trail passport. After eight stamps, you receive a wine glass bearing the names of all the vineyards and wineries on the trail.

Trail pioneer

That includes the one that started it all. Alabama’s southernmost winery, Perdido Vineyards, is also its oldest. Jim Eddins and his wife, Marianne, established 50 acres of native Muscadine grapes in 1972.  In 1979, Perdido Vineyards became Native Farm Winery No. 1 in Alabama, the first since Prohibition was lifted. The same year, its Sweet Muscadine was the named the Founders First Vintage.

That all came after mass protests from the local religious community and a resulting string of rejected loan applications to open the winery.

Eddins, 79, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Vietnam War veteran, is a die-hard advocate for Alabama-made wines. His current mission: “Uncork Alabama,” an effort to lower taxes and spread availability of wine produced in the state.

Here, the Muscadine produces both traditional and fortified wines. The Alabama Legislature only approved wineries’ sales of fortified wines, which range from 16.5 to 19 percent alcohol per volume, in 2010. Perdido’s fortified varieties are 25-year-old muscadine wines with locally-grown fruit, including cherry, blackberry, blueberry, satsuma and black currant.

On a chilly afternoon, couples gathered inside the winery as Kathy McMahon — “not a sommelier, just a neighbor”  — poured from bottles bearing labels created by area artists. With every sip, visitors get brief history and science lessons. The wines’ names recall local lore, and tasters learn of the delicate science to cultivating a Muscadine wine to resemble, for instance, a Riesling or a White Zinfandel, or creating dry wines from the naturally sweet grape.  Eddins, a civil and environmental engineer by trade, has mastered the science. He also creates award-winning vinegars with high antioxidant content.

His vision, one shared by the folks who laid out the Alabama Wine Trail, is to celebrate and spread the wine created in Alabama.

“I’m trying to educate my friends and neighbors,” he says. “You cultivate our people, our land, and you go for excellence.”

Becky Berta says all the wineries support each other and share the cost of the souvenir glasses and rack cards.

“It would be great if our beautiful state would get involved in promoting us by way of road signage and such,” she says. “Other states do this for their wineries and that would be a great start. The wine trail could really catch on then. We, too, are Alabama the beautiful!”

Make the most out of your vacation by planning ahead

Make the most out of your vacation by planning ahead
By Marilyn Jones

There are lots of things to consider when planning a vacation: where to go, what to do and how to get there, time and money. For Lacie Waits, planning for the family’s summer vacation begins around Christmas every year.

“This way if we want to rent a house, we have a great selection before everything gets booked. Also, some of the rentals offer a discounted rate for early bookings, such as 2012 prices for summer 2013 rentals, or a percentage off for early booking.”

Lacie and her husband Mike often use the website for booking their vacation homes. “They have rentals all over the world, and many of them work directly with the owner, so I have been able to negotiate rates, or get discounts for
return visits.”

After deciding on a location — this year Gatlinburg, Tenn. — the couple considers what amenities they’re looking for in a rental. “I spend countless hours and days scavenging this website and sometimes others to find that perfect place,” she says. “We have two sons, ages 3 and 5. We like to dine out some during the trips, but also prefer to stay in and cook as well. We love to cook, and we get more family time by staying in rather than going out to wait in long lines at restaurants,” Lacie explains. “When we do dine out, we like to research online and talk to locals to find the best spots.”

The joy of planning a vacation is being able to choose just the right formula for a successful trip. The Waits family is thinking about a trip to Nashville too, but in this case they want to stay in a hotel.

“I am starting to talk to friends and research online since I have not been there in almost 20 years,” Lacie says. “I have really enjoyed researching hotels on It gives you detailed information, customer reviews and photos of
the locations — professional ones and ones taken by people who have stayed there. “And I always request information from each city so I can plan activities,” she says. “Most times when you get on their mailing and e-mail lists, they will send you information, coupons and upcoming event information.”

Planes, trains, automobiles
The Waits will drive the 300 miles to their vacation home, while others — depending on their destination — may opt to fly. Alabama residents also are fortunate to be able to take the train if it suits their needs or they’re looking for something a little different. Amtrak stations in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Anniston can whisk vacationers away to popular destination cities including Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

There are several things to remember no matter what your mode of travel or who is in your travel party — bring something to do, something to eat and lots of patience. We always think about children, making sure they have their favorite toys or books and lots of snacks, but adults need to do the same. While driving, listen to a book-on-CD to keep your mind off the seemingly endless miles you are traveling. And stop at each state welcome center. It’s good for everyone to get out and walk around. Collect some of the free attraction literature. You may not be visiting this state — just simply passing through — but you can get ideas for future trips and children love to look at the booklets. If you are in the state you are visiting, load up on brochures of the attractions and communities you’ll be visiting to fuel everyone’s excitement.

If your journey is by plane, make sure to bring along snacks. Airlines are hard pressed to even offer the tiny bags of pretzels these days. What to bring along to make the journey easier also ties in to what to pack — one of the most important aspects of travel planning and one of the most stressful. The best way to do this, especially if you are packing for the entire family, is to make a list. And once you have a good and efficient list, save it on your computer and reuse it for every trip.

Vacations are supposed to be fun; a way to get away, recharge and rediscover the world around us. Planning is exciting and a very important aspect of travel no matter if you’re going away for a weekend or a month. The definition of vacation is a period of time devoted to rest, travel or recreation. So get out there, have some fun and see the sights!

Super Saver Travel Tips
· Save on Gas: Take a One-Tank Trip. Alabama offers so many great tourist destinations from Huntsville’s U.S. Space & Rocket Center to the beach communities along the Gulf of Mexico.
· Save When You Fly: Bring along snacks for the flight rather than buying them at the airport or onboard. Children and adults are allowed one personal item and one bag as carry-ons, so bring on the full number that your group is allowed and you may be able to avoid checking luggage altogether. If you do need to check luggage, combine suitcases. If you can put everyone’s stuff in one large bag,
you’ll cut your costs significantly. Just keep in mind that most airlines have an additional fee for bags more than 50 pounds.
· Save on meals: Choose hotels that offer complimentary breakfast or have breakfast in the room. Have your sit-down meal at lunchtime when meal prices are usually significantly cheaper and look for restaurants where children eat free. Also search for fast food coupons on the internet before leaving home.
· If a theme park is on your itinerary, check its website before you go. Many offer discounts if you buy your tickets online.
· Souvenirs: Give yourself — and your kids — a budget. Depending on the age of your children, you can either give them a set amount of money at the beginning of the trip or a certain amount every day. Tell them whatever they don’t spend they can keep.