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March is National Nutrition Month – Extension Daily

Source: March is National Nutrition Month 

National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” which acts as a reminder that each bite counts. Making just small shifts in your food choices can add up over time. Start with small changes in your eating habits – one fork at a time –to make healthier lasting changes you can enjoy.

Whether you are planning meals to prepare at home or making selections when eating out, put your best fork forward to help find your healthy eating style.

Key messages

Some of the key messages for National Nutrition Month include:

  1. Create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, healthful foods.
  2. Practice cooking more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
  3. How much you eat is as important as what you eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages you to do.
  4. Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
  5. Manage your weight or lower your health risks by consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist. RDNs can provide sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences and health-related needs.

Alabama Extension has nutrition professionals that serve every county in the state. If you have a nutrition question, contact your county Extension office.


Plant Asparagus and Be Rewarded for Many Seasons

Asparagus may be one of the most costly vegetables at the supermarket.  However, this perennial vegetable may be one of the easiest to grow.  Perennials are plants that live for many growing seasons.  Perennial plants dieback in the winter and come back in the spring from the same root system.  Asparagus plants will produce for 20 years, if not longer, providing the tender green spears every spring. It will take 2 – 3 years before the asparagus reaches full production.  So, before you begin planting, choose the perfect site and prepare the bed well, it’s going to be there a long time.


There are several varieties of Asparagus officinalis altilis to choose from.  Most have heard of Mary Washington.  This is an older variety that has been a standard for many decades.  It is a female variety.  No, you do not need more than one variety, and it doesn’t matter if you have male or female plants.  I really like some of the newer male hybrids such as Jersey Knight and Jersey Gem.  Often, they produce more spears.  The male plants do not produce seeds which can lead to seedling asparagus that may become a nuisance in the garden.  There is also a purple cultivar of asparagus that grows well here, Purple Passion.  Once cooked, it will turn green. Green, purple, blue, or yellow, fresh asparagus spears from the garden is hard to beat.

Planting Time

Dormant asparagus crowns can be planted as early January through March in Alabama. Use one year old crowns or plants as it takes one to two years longer to produce asparagus from seed. Purchase the plants from a garden store, nursery or through a seed catalog. Set crowns out in the Spring.  The most common planting method is to dig a trench 10 to 12 inches deep and just as wide.  Incorporate rotted manure or compost in the bottom of the trench before setting the crowns into the trench.


Set plants in the sun – Asparagus, like most vegetable plants, needs full sun.  Full sun means at least 6 – 8 hours of uninterrupted sunlight every day.  Asparagus beds planted near trees may receive full sun at the time the bed was prepared.  Remember the trees will grow and years from now, the bed may become shaded.  Plan accordingly.   Plant asparagus along the perimeter of the vegetable garden so it will not be in the way of garden equipment.  .

Soil-  Asparagus prefers a high organic soil. Most soils in Alabama will have to be amended to grow asparagus successfully.

Fertility– Asparagus has medium to high fertility requirements.  A soil test is the best way to calculate fertilizer requirements. Before planting, incorporate 1 pound of actual nitrogen into the planting bed.  Another pound of actual nitrogen can be applied after harvest.    One pound of actual nitrogen per 1000 square feet is equal to approximately ¾ lb of ammonium nitrate per 100 feet of row.

pH – 6.0 to 7.0

Moisture – Asparagus requires a moist soil – about 1 to 2 inches of water per week (more on a sandy soil; less for a clay soil).

Spacing and Depth

Set the crowns 12 inches apart in the trench.  Asparagus beds or trenches should be at least 3 feet apart.  Place the crowns on top of a small amount of loose soil in the bottom of the trench.  Make sure the roots of the crown are spread out over the soil.  The crowns should be covered with 2- 3 inches of soil.  The asparagus will grow up and through this soil.  When it does pull the soil in around the crowns and cover them up with a couple of inches of soil.  Again, the asparagus plants will grow through.  Cover them again and repeat until the trench is filled.  Take care of the plants. Asparagus is a fern like plant.  Let it grow until frost turns the asparagus plant brown.  At that time you can cut down the brown ferns.  Early the next year, use your soil test results to fertilize the plants.

Harvesting and Storage

 Early in the year, you will see the asparagus spears start to poke through the ground.  But, be patient.  Do not harvest any asparagus the first year, much like blueberries.  Harvesting too much too early will result in a week plant.  The second year, you will be able to enjoy about 6 weeks of harvest…and maybe 8 weeks the next year. Harvest the spears daily when they are 5 to 7 inches tall.  Snap off above the soil line.  Harvest in the early morning and use or refrigerate immediately.

Nutritional Value

Asparagus is low in calories and carbohydrates, and compared to other vegetables it is relatively rich in protein.  Asparagus is an excellent source of potassium, vitamin K, folic acid, vitamins C and A, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamin B6.  It is also a very good source of dietary fiber, niacin, phosphorus, protein, and iron.

by Dani Carroll

Winter is the Time to Punish Privet

As I sit on my front porch looking out into a drizzly sky, I am reflecting on what to write to you this month.  A few hardwood leaves remain in my trees; their lifeless forms clinging to the branch not wanting to cascade to the forest floor.  Silhouetted against a gray sky, is the green of my mountain top pines. Winter is a great time to assess the amount of pine in the forest.  I lost a few pines to lightening this past year, but as I count the trees from my porch I can see my financial friends standing proudly and increasing their value.  Winter is not just a good time to assess pines, but it is also a good time to punish privet hedge.

Chinese (Ligustrum sinense) and Japanese (Ligustrum japonicum) Privet were brought into the U.S. in the 1800s as a landscaping plant.  In our yards, under the strong hand of the hedge shear, the shrub can be pretty.  It grows thick, becoming an evergreen living fence, separating neighbors in closely packed neighborhoods.  Privet has a bountiful supply of pretty, fragrant white flowers in spring and an equally bountiful supply of blue-black berries in the fall and throughout the winter; which birds love.

Apart from the strong hand of the hedge shear, privet can grow to a height of thirty feet, and can provide so much shade that nothing will grow under these shrub-trees.  These shrubs like moist soils, many times we find them growing along streams and creeks in the forest.  One time I found a thirty-acre privet patch growing under a canopy of large cypress and tupelo trees west of Tuscaloosa.  The normally open “park-like” stand of large trees with young trees under them was so crowded with privet, I had to machete my way through this death zone as I appraised the large cypress.  My advice to the landowner was to kill the privet first, allow regeneration to begin, then harvest the mature timber.
Privet, occupying one million forested acres, is second only to Japanese honeysuckle as an invasive plant in Alabama.  Privet is a BIG problem.

How do we get rid of privet?  One landowner at a time.  First for all you homeowners, please do not plant privet in your yards, and if you consider re-landscaping remove your privet and replace it with a native species.  Now for all the rural landowners out there, please get in the battle against this invasive.  Privet is easy to see this time of year, it’s one of the few green plants in the winter woods, and because the plants tend to be shallow-rooted they can be easily pulled.  Small plants can be hand pulled.  Wrist size plants may require the help of a metal weed-wrench tool.  Chainsaws can tackle the largest of plants.  This method of removal is labor intensive and time consuming. It works well in small areas and with lots of labor.  For those of us doing this by themselves I recommend using herbicides.

Extension has a publication entitled:  ANR 1468-Control Options for Chinese Privet.   This publication lays out all of the options before us as we begin to tackle the privet problem.

by Andrew J. Baril, Regional Extension Agent, Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resource Management

Plant and Seed Catalogs Inspire Gardeners

The last few years, usually in winter, I have received in the mail a few various plant and seed catalogs. I’ll pick it up and take a minute to glance through it. Not that I’m likely going to order anything, I just like to look. What always intrigues me are the really nice colors photos that correspond to the items being advertised.  There will be lush pictures of super-size tomatoes, new types of watermelons that get humongous, ever-flowering ornamental trees in all sorts of wild colors, and fantastic, spotless fruits of all kinds.  It is simply amazing.  Just order their super seeds and plants and your garden will look like their photos.  Yeah, right. Although all these wonderful photos and talk are simply just marketing and selling techniques, they are sort of inspiring.

Looking through plant and seed catalogs makes one wish it was spring already so one could get started planting and growing things.  But unfortunately, it is still mid winter and still cold.   Not much growing going on.  However, you can go ahead and order your seeds and begin planning your vegetable garden.  Nothing wrong with getting a head start.  You can also go ahead and order any fruit trees and small fruits that you might like to grow.  Don’t put if off. The month of February is the ideal time to start new plantings and get them set out before spring.

Plant and seed catalogs may also inspire those of you who might not be experience gardeners to have a garden this year.  A garden or orchard doesn’t have to extravagant to be successful.  Start off small with a few crops that you like to eat.  There are many varieties of vegetables and fruits out on the market; I bet there is one you can grow. And if you don’t have the traditional ground space for a garden, try raising your crops in containers or raised beds.  In fact, you might be even more successful and productive this way.

A word of caution.  Before ordering and buying plants or seeds from any source, be sure they are adapted for growing in our area.  Don’t be fooled into buying something that won’t survive in our Alabama climate. Caveat Emptor: “Let the Buyer Beware”.

Do Research Before Buying Fruit Trees

Having a home orchard with lots of fruit trees and eating fresh, home-grown fruit in the summer is a dream for many people. However, wanting a home orchard and having a home orchard is two separate things. It can be a wonderful thing if managed right or it can turn into a nightmare if done wrong. Much of the success or failure of having a home orchard lies primarily on the variety of the fruits chosen.  Simply going out and buying just any type of fruit tree is easy enough and sounds like a good idea, right?  Doing just that and not doing your homework can result in a very bad investment.

Before you order a fruit crop from a catalog, find out what varieties of fruit trees and small fruits grow best in our area. The truth is that it is very difficult to grow most of those types of fruits you see in the grocery store and catalogs.  Alabama climate conditions of hot and dry summers and mild winters just won’t let you have that perfect orchard full of fabulous fruit. That is why other states are known for growing certain fruits. Peaches tend to grow better in Georgia, oranges do well in Florida, apples are perfect in Washington, and everything grows in California.  But don’t worry, fruit can be grown in Alabama and be grown successfully.  You just have to know which varieties will work in Alabama.

If you want to grow apples, then try these varieties: Gala, Fuji, Rome, McIntosh, Jonathon, Smoothee or Granny Smith.  For peaches, try Redhaven, Sweethaven, Belle of Georgia, and AU Glow. If you like pears, then you might want to try Orient, Kieffer, or Moonglow (soft).  AU Producer, AU Roadside, and AU Cherry are great varieties of plums.   You won’t go wrong with varieties of figs like Brown Turkey, Celeste, LSU Gold, and LSU Purple.  A few blueberry varieties you will enjoy are Tifblue, Premier, and Climax.  Cardinal, Earliglow, and Chandler are a few suggested types of strawberries.  Navaho, Kiowa, Cheynne, and Apache are examples of blackberries that will do great.  If you like grapes, go with mucadines since they will do much better than bunch grapes.

With so many plant and seed catalog companies out there, there is a wide variety to choose from.  Sometimes it is very hard to tell who may be the best or if it even makes a difference.  The best way is to just compare or talk to someone who has experience with that specific company.  With many of the seed and plant catalog companies now on the internet, you can easily shop around to find the best deals.

But let’s face the facts.  It doesn’t matter how great the color photos are or how super the variety is if the garden isn’t care for and managed.  You still have to do the little things, but if you do, then you too will have some very nice photos to show.

The Christmas Tree Debate – Real vs Artificial

Christmas tree in snowy night

The Christmas holiday season is here again and the time has come to put up a Christmas tree.  One question that is raised each year is whether to get a real Christmas tree or use an artificial version. The ultimate goal is to have a beautiful Christmas tree for everyone to enjoy, but deciding which type to use usually comes down to personal preference. It is an important decision that has to be made, yet it can be a difficult one.  It is debatable on whether a real or artificial tree makes the best Christmas tree; there are pros and cons of each type.  Let’s look at the positives and negatives of each type and then you can make an informative decision.

Artificial Christmas trees have been around for many years and are now more common than ever.  The major advantage of using a fake tree is convenience.  It can be used year after year, doesn’t create much of a mess, and doesn’t have to be watered and maintained.  Many of the newer artificial trees look very realistic, now come with built in lights, come in array of seasonal colors, and are partly decorated.  Once the holiday season is over, you can just pack it up and store it until next year.

One disadvantage of artificial Christmas trees is that they can be sort of expensive, although in the long run they do pay for themselves.  The biggest flaw of artificial trees is they are indeed fake – some are cheap, look pathetic, and are an embarrassment.  Artificial trees do not have the same effect as real trees in regards to natural fragrance and appearance.  Most are made of plastic and metals with many not even coming close to looking like real trees.  A pole with green arms sticking out just doesn’t quite work, nor does it put you in the holiday spirit.  Another negative is that one also has to have the space to store it year after year.

Selecting a real living tree for a Christmas tree has been a tradition for centuries. They are many positives of using a real one.  First, the beauty of a real Christmas tree is simply spectacular. There are many species to choose from, they offer a natural pleasing fragrance, and they come in a variety of textures, sizes, and shapes.  There is something that can be said about the experience of going to the tree farm or nursery and picking out your very own Christmas tree.  It can be made into a special family event.  Real trees are also biodegradable and can be recycled into mulch or as a fish reef after the holidays.

Real Christmas trees do, however, have some negatives.  Purchasing a good looking, better quality tree will cost you several dollars.  They aren’t cheap unless you want a cheap looking tree. The cost you put into a real tree or two can sometimes be about the same cost of an artificial one. Another disadvantage is they have to be watered regularly to keep them looking good and to prevent them from drying out.  They can potentially become a fire hazard if they dry out and are near a heat source.  Clean-up can also be a big mess.  When the time arrives to take down the Christmas tree, the tree will likely be drier and will have started dropping lots of needles. There is also the problem of all the real trees not being recycled.  Instead, they wind up out with the garbage and in the landfills.

Whether you choose to have an artificial Christmas tree or a real Christmas tree, may it bring you joy and beauty this holiday season.

by Shane Harris, Tallapoosa County Extension Coordinator

Tips for Hunting Safely this Season


Hunting season is right around the corner. Regardless of game, ammo or method, safety is always a top priority.  Bow season opens October 15 and gun season opens November 19.

Marisa Lee Futral is the coordinator of hunter education for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Futral says there are 10 commandments of firearm safety to create a safe hunting experience. (Photo: Denis Waldrop)

Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety

  1. Treat every firearm with the same respect as a loaded firearm.  If you become careless with unloaded guns, you will soon become careless with loaded guns.
  2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  3. Identify your target and what is behind it before you shoot.  Never shoot at movement and make sure you know what is behind your target before you shoot.
  4. Be sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions. Only have ammunition of the proper size for the firearm you are carrying.
  5. Unload firearms when not in use.  Leave the action open.  Firearms should be carried unloaded and in a case to and from the shooting or hunting area.
  6. Never point a firearm at anything you do not wish to destroy.
  7. Never climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch with a loaded firearm.  Always unload the firearm before you cross a ditch, and never pull a firearm towards you by the muzzle.  Never lean a firearm against a tree, fence, wall or automobile.
  8. Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface or at water.  Bullets can ricochet at odd angles.
  9. Store firearms and ammunition separately. Keep them beyond the reach of children and inexperienced adults.
  10. Never mix gunpowder with alcohol or drugs.  No one should drink alcoholic beverages or take drugs while hunting. Never go hunting with anyone that does.

read more: Hunting Safety 

Ask for Help Identifying Summer Tomato Problems

We get a lot of calls every year from people with gardening questions, and if you have questions I encourage you to continue to contact your local Extension office. Tomatoes are one crop that we get many calls about each year. This article will discuss a few of the more common tomato problems, but keep in mind that many tomato problems are hard to identify in the field and need to be sent to our pathology lab at Auburn or Birmingham. Information on collecting and mailing plant samples can be found on our website or by contacting your local Extension office.

Keep in mind that many tomato problems can be identified from sending pictures to your local Extension office or describing the problem over the phone.  We have many publications with pictures and descriptions of tomato diseases that are available on our web site or at the Extension office.

Blossom-end rot is a very common tomato disorder, but can affect many other crops including pepper, watermelon, squash, etc. It is decay usually on the blossom end of fruit caused by a lack of calcium in the plant. The lack of calcium in the plant could be a result of deficient calcium in the soil, but it could also be the result of the roots being too wet or too dry (stress). The best thing to do for blossom-end rot would be to soil test and add the proper nutrients including calcium and maintain the soil pH at 6.0 to 6.5. Mulch the plants and irrigate when needed. I usually do not like the idea of spraying calcium products on the leaves because it is easy to burn the leaves and the plant can not take in the recommended amount of calcium through the leaves. Calcium fertilizers are available and will increase the calcium in the plant by providing it to the roots.

Blossom drop is not a disease but another very common tomato disorder.  It is the result on some tomato varieties when daytime temperatures exceed 85oF and nighttime temperatures stay above 72oF. Often times it is the high nighttime temperatures that reduce flowering the most. Plants should start producing again as temperatures become more favorable. Many heat set tomato varieties are available that continue to set fruit in higher temperatures.

Tomato plants can get several viruses, but tomato spotted wilt is usually the most common virus that I see. The plants’ growth rate will become stunted, they will turn a lighter green color, and the leaf veins may have a purplish tint. If fruit develop they will have ringspots and quality will suffer. The disease is commonly spread by a tiny insect called a thrips. Thrips feed on many plants including weeds around the garden/field. Managing thrips by destroying weeds adjacent to the field may help but may not stop the problem. Planting tomato spotted wilt resistant varieties is the best method for managing the disease and many tomato spotted wilt resistant varieties are available.

Fusarium wilt, southern blight, and bacterial wilt are three common wilt diseases of tomatoes. Fusarium wilt enters the plant through the roots and can cause the plant to wilt. It may start with one stem before spreading to the rest of the plant. Cutting into the stem at the base will show a brown discoloration in the vascular system. This fungus may persist in the soil for many years so crop rotations may not help with this disease, but many fusarium wilt resistant tomato varieties are available. Southern blight symptoms include wilting and yellowing of the plant along with a white fungal growth at the plant base. Best management practice includes destroying infected plants and crop rotation. It is advisable not to plant tomatoes or susceptible crops in the tomato family more than once every four years. Bacterial wilt causes plants to wilt and die rapidly without any other symptoms. To check for bacterial wilt a grower can place a cut section of stem in water.  If bacterial wilt disease is present, a white milky substance will seep from the stem. A management option is the same four year rotation as for southern blight.

Early blight, late blight, septoria leaf spot, bacterial spot, and bacterial speck are common foliar tomato diseases. Management options include planting disease free seeds or transplants, crop rotation, mulching, and no overhead irrigation. A regular fungicide spray program will help as well. We have information for spraying vegetables at our office if you are interested.

Tomato plants can get many diseases other than the ones mentioned in this article. We have publications at our office and on our website that describe these diseases or disorders in more detail if you are interested. It is sometimes hard to identify diseases from pictures or descriptions and for a positive diagnosis a sample may need to be sent to our lab at Auburn or Birmingham. Information for sending samples can be found on our web site or by visiting your local Extension office. There is a small fee of $10 to $15 for sending samples, but losing a crop is much more expensive.

What can be done to reduce the number of gardening problems? Choose a location with well-drained soil or at least try to avoid low areas that stand in water for extended periods. An area that receives full sun and is close to a water source would also be beneficial. Having more than one garden spot will allow you to grow summer cover crops and aid in crop rotation as well.  Growers should soil test to determine the amount of elements that are in the soil in order to determine what elements need to be added. Plant nutrition is a very common problem and one that many overlook. Plant disease resistant seed/plants as much as possible, many problems can be avoided at planting. Amending the soil with organic matter, weed control, mulch, and drip irrigation helps reduce stress on the plants which in turn makes plants healthier. If you have any questions, just give us a call here at the Extension office.

by Dr. Chip East, Regional Extension Agent – Commercial Horticulture

The Worms Go Marching: Combatting Fall Army Worm Infestations

armyworm header

Many producers vividly remember their encounters with fall army worms. The discovery of large, later stage army worms in one’s pasture quickly leads to tremendous destruction of valuable forage. Producers generally see the damage of these pests in late July/August through early fall.

Mature fall army worm moths lay eggs that hatch after just 2-4 days. Upon hatching, young army worms begin to feed and grow. Army worm growth occurs in stages, with the worms’ capacity for destruction increasing with each growth stage. Army worms reach full size 2-3 weeks after hatching, and will then burrow into the soil for 10-14 days. Afterward, they emerge as mature army worm moths and continue the life cycle.

A key to managing fall army worms is the understanding of their life cycle and growth phases. Shortly after hatching, small worms are far less destructive than their more mature counterparts. Figure 1 demonstrates the amount of damage observed from worms at each growth stage. Notice that the vast majority of damage occurs during the last growth phase (which occurs 2 weeks after their hatching). Scouting for worms before you notice their destruction allows for one to spray and kill the worms while they are small and in earlier, less destructive growth phases. This reduces their negative impacts on one’s pastures and allows for better control of future infestations since the lifecycle is interrupted.

Fall armyworm

Use a sweep net to scan your pastures for worms. Follow the links to view a video or article on proper sweep net usage. Treatment for fall army worms is effective if worms are found early on. If infestation is discovered too late, major destruction may be unavoidable. This is why it is essential to scout for worms BEFORE you notice their impact on your forages. Once discovered, worms can be killed by spraying. Click here for an article that contains suggestions for fall army worm control.

Also, remember to help your fellow producers know if army worms are in your area by reporting occurrences of fall army worms. Click here to view the updated map of army worm infestation in Alabama, and let us know if you have fall army worms.

More information about fall army worms is available at the Alabama Forages Pest Management website in the Fall Armyworm section.

If you have questions regarding managing fall armyworms, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050


Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties