April 2013
Howle's Hints

Don’t Pop the Maypops and Watch the Weather

"When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost." Billy Graham

The ground is bursting with new growth, and it’s time to start thinking about what to plant in the garden. You know what grows in your garden is healthy, and you don’t have to search a label for the country of origin. I am convinced you can raise your food cheaper than you can buy it. During my youth, however, I decided growing vegetables to sell was a good way to lose wealth, especially on the small-scale farming operation I was involved in.

My Grandfather allowed my two cousins and me access to about half an acre of a field so we could plant a crop of butterbeans to sell in town because we heard butterbeans sold for a high amount. We spent countless hours plowing with a garden digger, planting, fertilizing, hoeing and pulling weeds till those first beans began to appear. When it came time to harvest, we were in for a rude awakening. It took us an eternity just to pick one bushel of butterbeans. We started early that morning, and by noon, we had picked the field and were ready to go in to town to sell them. We went door-to-door until we sold all those butterbeans except for the last bucket, which we just gave away. Once we split the money three ways, we all three decided it took too long to pick a bushel of butterbeans, especially since they were so flat and stacked so tight together in the bottom of the buckets.


Left, select produce to plant this year that the whole family will enjoy. Above, plant a few rows of field corn and you’ll have plenty of feed for the chickens in the fall.


Crop Choices

If you are planting a garden for the first time, it is critical to get a soil sample to determine if the soil needs conditioning before planting. Otherwise, you can end up wasting your money on seed and fertilizer to no avail. Many times the soil is too acidic and the nutrients stay locked up in the soil particles. Lime, which you can purchase from your local Quality Co-op, unlocks those nutrients and makes them available to the plants.

Decide first what your family likes to eat. We always plant plenty of sweet corn, okra and tomatoes in the spring planting season.

When I’ve picked the last corn, I plow the middles and plant rows of peas. When the peas have been picked, I come back and plant winter greens in the fall. This will give you garden produce for three out of the four seasons of the year.

In addition, you can plant a few rows of field corn, which grow to great heights and, when dried, make great feed for the chickens. I leave the corn on the stalk until fall when the ear droops down. The shuck acts as shingles protecting the ear inside until ready for harvest and to be fed to the animals.


Left, when the weather warms, locate the large, white oak acorn producers for hunting later in the year. Above, this egg-shaped fruit has insides that taste good to humans and wildlife once the exterior turns

Huge White Oaks

Scout your property for the large white oaks on your place because these are areas where you will find deer, turkeys and squirrels in the upcoming fall. Keep your eyes on these trees during the warm months to see which trees are the best producers. Then when fall comes, you’ll know the best places to hunt.

Don’t Pop the Maypops

You know what this means if you live in the country. The maypop is the yellow, edible fruit of the passionflower. When they are growing, they are about the size of an egg and are dark green. When the fruit inside is ready to eat, they will be a pale yellow color. Supposedly, the Spanish explorers discovered the plants in Florida in 1529, and the name passionflower came from the fact they described the blossom as a symbol for "Passion of Christ."

The plant is native to America, but, in Europe, it is commonly used for medicinal purposes in sedatives to treat anxiety and insomnia. Here in Alabama, wildlife love the plant. If you have plenty of these growing in your food plots, simply leave them alone and you will see plenty of wildlife enjoying the ones you don’t eat. The insides taste a little like grapes and the plant is a relative of the papaya plant.

Watch the Weather

This time of year in Alabama, we know the weather can go from fair to furious in a short time. Here are a few weather tips. If there’s dew on the grass, rain won’t come to pass for that day. When small clouds join and thicken, expect rain. Finally, if the smoke from your campfire or chimney hovers low, rain is likely because of the low pressure in the atmosphere. Finally, if it rains before seven, it will clear before 11.

This April, don’t worry about a loss of wealth. Take care of your health, and keep your character intact.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.