Learning from our local County Extension Agent.

Neal and a sickly Max.

Mr. Neal Hargle, our local County Extension Agent, was kind enough to meet a somewhat diminished Coryell crew at the community garden plot today. The kids are still grappling with coxsackie virus, which left them on the less energetic side. Poor Max even sprouted a fever while we were there.

But Neal delighted us with stories of birds getting intoxicated on hackberry trees and the landscape around us- from the clay-heavy soil of the plots to the way hybrid plants don’t breed true over time. We learned soooooo many things, and Neal’s eagerness to share his knowledge came through in his vibrant descriptions and enthusiastic appraisals. Not to mention that someone who plays piano, guitar, and harmonica must be very cool.

Max came with a list of questions, but Neal tied his answers into pictures so big that Max soon discovered an abundance of other questions needing answers. A few of the things we learned:

The garden soil would be perfect for making bricks- it has a high clay content and we’ll probably need to add some hummus to it before planting.

Watermelons, which Max wants to plant, are annuals and need an 8 foot vine to really prosper. It’s better to invest in heirlooms because hybrids tend to lose flavor and cross breed. It would take the entire space of our plot to grow watermelons, so we’ll probably try it at home instead.

Corn has to be planted in several rows because it cross-pollinates. Every piece of pollen is a corn kernel. Max guessed that corn was a legume, but Neal explained that it was actually a member of the grass family which relies on wind for fertilization.

Sunflowers, another plant on Max’s wish list, would do well in this soil. Sunflower seeds attract doves. Some dove hunters purposefully plants sunflowers to attract doves.

Good Friday is spring planting day in Alabama.

Dormant trees should be planted between November and February so the roots can grow strong and firm without having to compete with flowers and leaves for energy.

Pomme fruits, like apples, plums, and peaches, require a lot of chilling hours to help the fruit set. A chilling hour is between 45 and 35 degrees F. Usually, pomme trees need at least 1,100 chilling hours to get them going. So far, we’ve only had 700 chilling hours this planting year, which means our fruits might not be the richest crop this year.

Persimmons and muscadine, on the other hand, do well with fewer chilling hours. As do pomegranates. Pomegranates and figs grow well in Tuscaloosa, and are easy to root.

We returned to the castle with signs of spring on the bottom of our boots.

Max drank a little Sprite and climbed into his bed. He is sleeping with the planting guides given to him by Neal. I have a feeling that, as soon as he feels better, we’ll be hearing about what we should plant and when and how and why and every fascinating detail.

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