On March 6, 1847, a group of women and men living near Union Springs, Ala., held a meeting that forever changed Alabama’s gardening history — and the gardening history of the whole nation.
It was on that day that the Chunnenuggee Ridge Horticultural Society, the first such society in Alabama and one of the first of its kind in the United States, was formed. The organization’s primary goal was to preserve and protect the beauty of their community’s landscape and, as their early minutes stated: “…we claim not for(the Society) the cultivation of flowers only, we aim at usefulness and utility.”
“Usefulness and utility” remain the tenets of its modern-day successor, the Chunnenuggee Public Garden Club, and also of the many gardening clubs and societies that have been created in the 170-plus years since.
Tricia Mitchell is the current president of The Garden Club of Alabama, Inc., the umbrella organization for Alabama’s more than 100 active garden clubs. She says members of these groups are committed to beautifying and protecting natural and cultural resources in their communities while also educating and honoring their fellow citizens. In the process, those members reap amazing benefits themselves.
Garden clubs, Mitchell says, educate their members about a wide range of horticultural subjects, from gardening best practices to landscape and flower designing. But their educations don’t stop there. Club members also learn about, and teach the public about, vital environmental issues, such as protecting pollinators and watersheds.
Mitchell knows firsthand how educational garden club membership can be. “I grew up in an era where people farmed and canned and I loved gardening,” she says.
When she joined her local Decatur Garden Club, she embraced the chance to learn more about the breadth of gardening. But in the process, she discovered that there was so much more to love about being in a garden club. “It’s as much about fun, fellowship, friendship, unity and support as it is about plants,” she says.
Members include men, children
While garden clubs are usually thought of as women’s clubs, their memberships (in Alabama there are more than 2,000 people who belong to a garden club) include many men as well as children. In fact, children, who can join junior garden club organizations and be involved in an array of garden club-sponsored activities, are a priority for the GCA and its member clubs.
“Teaching our young people is so crucial,” Mitchell says. “We want to invest in them so they can be the next generation of gardeners.”
Garden clubs also invest in future professionals. The GCA sponsors six endowed scholarships at Auburn University for students majoring in horticulture, forestry and landscape design, and a number of local clubs also fund their own college scholarships.
Supporting military veterans and their families is also a primary focus of garden clubs, a focus that began in the 1940s and continues today as the clubs support Blue Star and Gold Star programs and memorials. (In 1951, Alabama garden club members held an “Every Light a Prayer for Peace” ceremony to pay tribute to those serving in the military as the Korean Conflict was raging. That service is now held annually and is practiced throughout the country.)
In addition, the GCA has been active in establishing garden spaces, such as the Garden of Memory on the Auburn University campus that honors veterans of both World Wars and the Korean Conflict and the Helen Keller Fragrance Garden at the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind.
Today, garden clubs continue to help with a wide range of community projects ranging from beautification and memorial projects to supporting state parks and preserving land, heritage sites and endangered species. They also take care of others. One Alabama club sponsors a program to teach female prison inmates how to grow and preserve food, and several clubs run community gardens to help feed the hungry.
But perhaps the best benefit of being in a garden club is the chance to develop lasting relationships. “Garden club members will probably be some of your best friends forever,” Mitchell says. “I guess that’s because we have a lot of things in common.”
To become involved in this 170-year-old tradition, visit the GCA website at http://gardenclubofalabama.org. There you can find contact information for garden clubs in your area or learn how to start one of your own. You can also sign up to attend the GCA’s state convention April 8-10 in Tuscaloosa.
Strong year-class could make for a better turkey season
Despite severe cold this past winter, Alabama sportsmen should enjoy a good turkey season this spring, especially in the central and northeastern part of the state.
“The cold shouldn’t have much of an impact on the turkey population,” says Brandon Bobo, a National Wild Turkey Federation biologist in Oxford, Ala. “Gobbling is mostly based upon photoperiod, or the amount of daylight. In Alabama, gobbling typically peaks in the last week of March and first week of April. Then, gobbling might trail off in mid-April, but pick up a bit in late April.”
Since 2014, state biologists have asked Alabama turkey hunters to participate in the Avid Turkey Hunter Survey. While hunting, participants keep track of turkey sightings, gobbling and other data and report their observations to wildlife managers. At the end of the season, the Alabama NWTF will draw a name from all the program participants and reward that person with a new shotgun.
Program participants will also receive the annual turkey report published by the state. Anyone can view the report at www.outdooralabama.com/wild-turkey. During the 2017 spring season, hunters across much of Alabama reported seeing many “jakes,” or young gobblers, a good sign for this upcoming season.
“From the results of our Avid Turkey Hunter Survey, we had an increase in the number of jakes observed in 2017,” says Steve Barnett, the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries top wild turkey biologist. “It was the highest since we began the survey in 2014. Those jakes spotted in the spring of 2017 will be the two-year-old gobblers people will be hunting this year.”
For most of Alabama, turkey season runs from March 15 through April 30. In Zone 2, the season begins on March 31 and concludes on April 30. In Zone 3, sportsmen can only hunt from April 21 to April 25. The state also offers special youth and disabled sportsmen hunts before the regular seasons begin. For specific hunting zone boundaries and additional information, see www.outdooralabama.com/season-and-bag-limits.
“Overall, the forecast looks pretty good throughout the state,” Barnett says. “Northeastern Alabama is probably the best place in the state to hunt turkeys, followed by the west-central part. Northwest Alabama probably has the fewest turkeys compared to the rest of the state. The entire Southeastern United States is experiencing a decline in turkey recruitment. That’s probably most prevalent in northern Alabama.”
Season dates and other regulations may differ on some public properties, so always check the laws before hunting. In particular, six of the best wildlife management areas will open later than most of the state. These include Barbour, Choccolocco, Oakmulgee, Lowndes, Perdido River and Skyline.
“Choccolocco is always a good area,” Bobo says. “I hunt there frequently and have heard hundreds of gobbles on some mornings, but it’s a hard place to hunt. Barbour has a lot of turkeys and intensive management. The NWTF has done a lot of habitat work in Oakmulgee and the Talladega National Forest. Skyline is also pretty good.”
Working with the NWTF and Auburn University, the state captured and released more than 200 wild turkeys during the past four years. Researchers fitted them with tracking devices and released the birds on Barbour, Oakmulgee and Skyline WMAs. The devices give biologists information on gobbling activity, nesting, survival rates, reproduction and other factors, which could help determine future season dates and bag limits.
“We are following a structured decision-making process to guide turkey management in Alabama,” Barnett says. “In that process, we have developed a prediction model to look at survival, reproduction and harvest rates. We needed updated research in Alabama to get us better numbers on these elements. This experiment will test our prediction model to demonstrate if a delayed opening date will help improve turkey reproduction and total turkey numbers over time.”
Sportsmen hunting these areas might spot turkeys wearing leg bands or something resembling miniature backpacks. Hunters can legally shoot these gobblers during the season if they choose.
“We don’t want hunters to be biased toward not killing gobblers with tracking devices,” Barnett says. “Part of the information we need is harvest rates. If hunters shoot a turkey with a device or leg band, we request that they report those harvests to us as soon as possible.”
Although numbers may have dipped a little in recent years, Alabama still holds more wild turkeys than any other Southeastern state and thousands more than the 10,000 birds estimated to live in Alabama about a century ago. These magnificent birds now gobble in all counties across the Cotton State, even where no turkeys lived just a few decades ago. Now, Alabama sportsmen enjoy long seasons and very liberal bag limits of one gobbler per day and five per season.
In Mississippi, it’s a tortoise. In New England, it’s a hare. Those are just two species symbolizing the successes electric cooperatives are achieving with vegetation management strategies designed to reduce right-of-way maintenance costs while improving wildlife habitat.
“Instead of 12 feet of open space immediately under our poles, we have opened up our entire 100 feet of right of way,” said Wesley Graham, a transmission field biologist at Cooperative Energy.
The Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based generation and transmission (G&T) cooperative used the catastrophic system damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to completely rethink its approach to right-of-way management, and the results are paying off.
“In five years, we’ve seen evidence that gopher tortoises are nesting or moving boundary-to-boundary,” said Graham. He has collected reams of data on nest activity indicating an increase in population for the species which remains on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list.
Before Katrina ripped down much of the co-op’s transmission system, vegetation management meant mowing the entire 1,800 miles of transmission corridors on a four-year rotation and side trimming boundary vegetation over a 15 to 20-year cycle.
Graham now uses herbicides specifically formulated to control woody vegetation within the 100-foot-wide utility easements. Crews walking the right of way are able to treat half the system within an annual control cycle.
“There’s evidence that the change has increased populations of quail, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and squirrels,” said Graham. “It’s a win for the co-op, it’s a win for the landowners and it’s a win for the environment.”
Like many electric cooperatives, Cooperative Energy is reducing its reliance upon pruning, cutting and mowing as primary methods of right-of-way vegetation management, and turning to resource management techniques to save money and energy.
Many G&Ts are working with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state natural resources and environmental agencies. Cooperative Energy’s current vegetation management plan was also reviewed by environmental interest groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation.
“We’ve worked to develop a program that’s beneficial to all involved, and that includes wildlife,” said Graham. “We’re trying to create ecosystems that support biologic diversity.”
Instead of using turf grasses, like Bermuda or Bahia, Cooperative Energy has stripped away invasive or overly dominant vegetation, enabling native grasses to recover, said Graham.
Graham and other G&T vegetation management experts now suggest that transmission right of way be viewed as natural corridors for wildlife because many easements have been in place for more than 50 years. Effective management can help make them ecological assets.
Starting small for big benefits
“Utility easements create opportunities to establish or expand habitat,” said Mace Vaughan, co-director of pollinator conservation and agricultural biodiversity for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “When you bring wildflower and plant diversity into those areas, you can make them more productive.” That means healthy new growth can be “feathered in,” featuring shorter or slower growing trees and other plants, protecting more mature forests from high winds that might topple trees into rights of way.
“No one wants trees growing up into or falling onto power lines, so we’re offering solutions that can help promote and maintain diverse ecosystems,” said Vaughan. “Encouraging growth of smaller stature shrubs helps create sunny, open meadows that support pollinators and other wildlife.”
Foresters and botanists have identified varieties of slow-growing or medium-height mature trees, flowering or fruiting shrubs, forbs, grasses and wildflowers suitable for naturalized landscaping.
When they are established along or near a utility transmission right of way, they can offer a welcoming stop for insects and animals moving along easement edges between parkland and larger, undeveloped areas.
Helping Mother Nature
Small populations of the New England cottontail, sometimes called the gray hare, have been identified from eastern New York to southeastern Maine. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is involved in a three-year conservation plan for the species on behalf of USDA’s Working Lands for Wildlife Program. Several utilities in the region are supporting the project in northeastern New York and six nearby states.
A major utility transmission corridor in Maine has been planted with shrubby habitat that could attract rabbits and there is evidence they are moving along the right of way and establishing new active colonies.
The challenge is finding ways to mimic nature, while controlling growth to occupy available space. Wildlife friendly habitats can be compatible with most urban and suburban homes, leaving ample room for outdoor recreation and entertaining.ν
Derrill Holly writes on cooperative issues 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.
Q: We want to make renovations to our home that will improve aesthetics and overall energy efficiency. How can we make sure we hire a contractor who will do a good job and stay within our budget?
A: Great question! Renovations can be the perfect time to improve your home’s energy efficiency. To make sure you get those energy savings, it’s important to do some planning right from the beginning.
The first step is to educate yourself so you can be in control of your project. Helpful, easy-to-understand energy efficiency information is available for virtually any area of your home and any renovation project. Just be sure to use reputable sources, like energy.gov, energystar.gov or your local electric co-op.
You’ll need that knowledge so you can judge the solutions each potential contractor proposes. Some products or methods that are sold as effective energy efficiency solutions may not work as well as they claim, or may be too expensive relative to the energy savings they provide.
It’s important to talk to your local building department to find out if your project requires a permit and inspections. Some contractors may suggest doing the work without a permit, but unpermitted work can cause problems if you need to file an insurance claim down the road or when you get ready to sell your home.
You can also use your newfound knowledge to ask the right questions of potential contractors. Ask about the product to be installed, the energy savings it should yield and whether it will improve comfort. Because energy efficiency installations and construction are specialized, most measures are unlikely to be installed correctly unless the installer has experience and hopefully some appropriate training or certification.
Finding a contractor can be a challenge, especially in rural areas. To find them, use your online search engine to “find a contractor in your area.”If you’re in a sparsely-populated area, the right contractor may be located an hour or two away. Your electric co-op may be able to provide a list of approved contractors in your area. You can also check with a local energy auditor for contractor names.
You may decide you’d like to hire a small specialty contractor or a larger general contractor. Either way, it’s crucial to hire someone with a contractor’s license, a local business license and three types of insurance: liability, personal injury and workers’ compensation. Check references to verify the contractor has a solid history of cost-control, timeliness, good communication and excellent results, including significant energy savings. You might learn that your lowest bidder has a tendency to increase the price after the job has begun.
As you choose between contractors, quality should be an even more important consideration than price. Poor-quality energy efficiency work will not deliver maximum savings.
Once you have settled on a contractor, be sure to get a written contract. It should include “as built” details and specifications that include energy performance ratings you have researched ahead of time, such as:
• the name of the individual doing the installation
• the specific R value if you’re insulating
• the make, model, the AFUE (annual fuel use efficiency) and COP (coefficient of performance) ratings if you’re replacing a furnace (and ask that an efficiency test be conducted before and after the work)
• the make, model and EER (energy efficient ratio) rating if you are replacing the air conditioner. (Some contractors are able to check for duct leakage in the supply and return ductwork with a duct blaster if you’re doing any furnace or AC work.)
• whether the contractor must pay for the necessary building permits.
Finally, be cautious about pre-paying. Keep the upfront payment as low as possible, set benchmarks the contractor must meet to receive the next payment and make sure a reasonable amount of the payment is not due until the project is completed, passes building inspections and you are fully satisfied. If you don’t feel qualified to approve the project, you could even require testing or inspection by an independent energy auditor.
Then, enjoy your new energy efficient space!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY| FOOD/PHOTOGRAPHY BY BROOKE ECHOLS
Packed with health benefits and boasting a better sweet than regular sugar, honey is one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts and should stay on your cooking “to do” list.
Honey’s sweet. We all know that. But it’s got plenty more going for it too. In fact, its very sweetness is more — more than the one-dimensional saccharine flavor of refined sugar. Its distinct taste is layered, complex, and it’s different depending on which bees made it and which flower nectar they were sippin’ on. The flavor of honey can vary greatly even from one neighborhood to the next, so just imagine the diversity in honey harvested all around our state.
From spreading it on white bread opposite peanut butter for a sandwich that surpasses your average PB&J, stirring a spoonful into hot tea or making a sticky-sweet glaze for grilled meats, honey is as versatile as it is delicious.
It’s also packed with nutrients our bodies need like vitamins B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3; minerals; enzymes; and antioxidants. It has anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties too. This, combined with its taste and countless kitchen uses, gives it high culinary value.
But not all honey is equal. Only raw honey is the real liquid gold. The next time you need some, take a closer look at what you’re buying. The honey you see in the grocery store may not always be 100-percent honey; some of it includes other ingredients. Plus, some honey has been pasteurized, which destroys most of its health-benefitting substances. On the flipside, raw honey is un-pasteurized and un-processed and retains all of its inherent good stuff. Raw honey has been proven to aid in digestion, strengthen your immune system, balance blood sugar and soothe a sore throat, too.
And while raw honey is great, local raw honey is even better since it contains pollen that is specific to where you live — and breathe. Some folks claim this helps lessen the effects of seasonal allergies. Plus, you’re supporting area farms and beekeepers, so it’s a win-win.
If all of this info makes you want to increase your honey consumption, you’re in luck! We got a great list of honey recipes from our readers this month.
Cook of the Month:
Victoria Motyka, Baldwin EMC
Victoria Motyka has been baking Ukrainian Honey Cake for decades. She wanted to make something sweet for her honey (her husband) whose parents came to America from Ukraine. “When we first got married, I wanted to be able to cook some dishes that he liked growing up, so I got a few recipes from his mom, and this cake is something she made often,” Motyka said. She quickly learned why the moist, spiced dessert stayed on her mother-in-law’s rotation. “It tastes great, and it’s easy to make,” she said. “It’s not a layer cake, you don’t ice it. It’s kinda their version of a brownie or a snack cake.” It has a lot of flavors, yet the honey still comes through. Motyka particularly likes the raisins, and her family likes it all. “They love it. My grown daughter now makes it herself.”
Ukrainian Honey Cake
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter, room temperature
1 cup honey
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
½ cup golden raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)
½ teaspoon nutmeg (or to taste)
Dissolve the baking soda in the sour cream and set aside. Cream the butter and brown sugar; add honey and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing between additions. Mix in the sour cream with baking soda, add the flour a little at a time, mixing slowly, then add the cinnamon and nutmeg (can be adjusted to taste) with one last mix and then fold in the walnuts and raisins. Grease a 9×12-inch baking pan and dust with flour, pour in the mixture and bake in a 325 degree oven for 50 minutes or so. It will be very dark in color when done, so be cautious not to take it out too soon. It is an unfrosted cake but a light dusting of powdered sugar can be used. Note that the walnuts are finely chopped, so be sure to warn anyone who might have a nut allergy.
Cast Iron Skillet Honey Lime Chicken
1 ½pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup honey
Juice of one lime
Zest of one lime
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
In a medium-sized skillet over medium heat add olive oil. In a small bowl combine cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Rub on chicken and place in skillet. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side or until chicken is no longer pink and 165 degrees internal temperature. Remove chicken and set aside on plate. Add honey, lime juice and zest, soy sauce and garlic. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and reduce heat and whisk until it starts to thicken. About 2 minutes. Add the chicken back to the skillet and coat in the sauce. Garnish with lime wedges.
North Alabama EC
Salted Honey Taffy
1 pound real honey (about 11/2 cups)
Salt, to taste
Bring honey to a boil in an uncovered medium saucepan over medium heat (about 5 to 7 minutes). Continue to boil until honey registers 280 degrees on a candy thermometer (about 10 to 12 minutes). Line a pan with parchment paper and coat lightly with cooking spray. When the honey reaches temperature, pour it onto your prepared pan and allow to cool on the counter for 20-25 minutes. Spray your hands with nonstick spray and break off about a third of the cooled honey. Begin to pull and stretch the honey, continually folding it and working more air into the taffy. As you continue to pull and incorporate air into the taffy, it will start to firm up and become lighter in color. Keep doing this for about five minutes, or until taffy has lightened in color from dark amber to tan. When taffy is tan and firmed up, roll it into several long thin snakes and place these back on your parchment paper lined pan. Sprinkle with salt. Refrigerate pan for 10 minutes then use a knife coated in cooking spray to cut each taffy roll into one inch long pieces. Roll up each piece of taffy in wax paper, twisting the ends to close.
South Alabama EC
Heavenly Honey Cake
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup warm coffee
3/4 cup fresh orange juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch angel food cake pan or bundt cake pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Make a well in the center to add the oil, honey, white and brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee and orange juice. Using an electric mixer on slow speed, combine the ingredients well to make a thick batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Place the cake pan on a baking sheet and bake for 60 to 70 minutes. Let the cake stand for 15 minutes before removing it from the pan, then invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely.
¼ cup honey
½ cup catsup
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons vinegar
½ teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon onion powder
Whisk all ingredients together. Chill and use on favorite garden salad.
Black Warrior EMC
Honey Graham Apple Bars
1 package honey graham crackers, crushed
1 1/4 cups quick oats
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 apple, chopped
8-ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup honey
Vanilla, to taste
Honey graham crackers
Melted butter (just enough to make a nice crumble)
Directions for Bars:
In a bowl, mix 1 cup graham cracker crumbs, quick oats, flour and cinnamon. In a separate bowl mix coconut oil and honey. Then add the vanilla and egg. Combine with graham cracker mixture. Add the chopped apple and chopped walnuts (reserving some walnuts for the topping). Pour into an oiled 11×6-inch pan and bake at 320 degrees.
Directions for Frosting:
Blend together the cream cheese, honey and vanilla. Frost the bars when they are done baking.
Directions for Crumb Topping:
Combine the leftover graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, cinnamon and the reserved walnuts. Sprinkle on top of the frosting.
Joe Wheeler EMC
1 /2 cup honey
1 cup balsamic salad dressing
1/2 cup Siracha sauce
2 dozen wings (drumsticks and wings)
Mix together honey, balsamic and Siracha. Put drumsticks and wings in a Ziploc bag. Shake bag to ensure wings are coated. Store in refrigerator 3 days. Shake bag periodically. To cook in the oven: Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes. To cook on a gas grill: Heat two burners on high. Once the grill is hot, turn one burner off and turn the other burner to low. Place wings on no-heat side, cooking for 1 hour. Turn heat up to crisp wings. They can also be cooked in a smoker at 200 degrees for three and a half hours. Crisp under house broiler, if needed. Mix up extra sauce for dipping.
Honey Jalapeno Salmon
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 large jalapeno, sliced
2 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin removed
Salt and black pepper
Combine honey, lemon juice and jalapeno slices in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer over very low heat for 10 minutes. Rinse salmon and pat dry. Brush lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil for about 5 minutes each side, brushing with honey glaze. When cooked, drizzle with remaining glaze.
Tallapoosa River EC
Coming up in April…Bread!
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!
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.