Mulch helps save water

mulch-pictureWith Alabama in its current drought, residence throughout the state can look to mulch to help save water in their yards and gardens. (Photo Source: Flickr // Jessica Cross)

Rhonda Britton, a regional extension agent, said mulch can help hold moisture when placed on top of the soil.

“It keeps down on erosion and helps hold the moisture in,” Britton said. “It basically seals the soil or works as a barrier to help the moisture from evaporating out of the soil.”

Types of mulch

The most accessible type of mulch in Alabama is Pine Bark due to the numerous pulp mills throughout the state.

However, there are multiple types of mulch including:

  • Pine Bark mulch
  • Hardwood mulch
  • Pine Straw
  • Cyprus mulch
  • Eucalyptus
  • Melaleuca
  • Red Mulch

Beyond these standard purchases, Britton said residents can add household compost to their mulch including newspaper, leaf straw and cardboard.

“Any of your grass clippings or rotten plants and vegetables that people did not picked in time can also be added to their compost,” Britton said. “When those all set over time, the mulch breaks down into a good composting soil, holding in moisture and fighting weed seeds.”

Mulching in the drought

With the state in a current drought, any small practice to save water should be incorporated into people’s homes.

Britton said people should absolutely incorporate mulching into their gardens and yards.

“What mulch does, if you mulch around your landscape, it serves as a dual purpose – it helps keep weeds from germinating and helps hold that soil moisture in,” Britton said. “And in this drought, most people are sublimating the water so if you have mulch around the plants you can water your plants less frequently because it wont evaporate as fast.”

Other benefits of mulch

Beyond saving water, there are other important benefits to mulching your yards and plants.

Britton recommends at least a 3-inch lay of mulch so that it continues to work over time.

“Mulch will break down over time and help add organic matter to your plants and helps fight weed seeds from germinate,” Britton said.  “It helps protect the plants at the base of the plant.”

Residents should also spread the mulch out evenly across the base of the plant.

“You don’t want to mulch up around the trunk of the tree,” Britton said. “This is known as the volcano effect and should be avoided by making sure the mulch is evenly spread.”

More information

For more information on mulching practices, visit or contact your local Extension agent for assistance in the field.

Picking your family pumpkin patch

With October in full swing and Halloween just around the corner, families throughout Alabama have begun picking their family pumpkin patch. (Photo source // Farmer in the Dell)

The tradition of family pumpkin patches has grown beyond picking and carving the fall vegetable. Today patches throughout the state offer multiple family-friendly activities.

What to look for in a patch

When researching local pumpkin patches, shoppers should ensure the patches offer all the activities they want for their family. Many pumpkin patches offer:

Quality pumpkin picking

Different sized pumpkins fit different shoppers. Families with small children may want smaller pumpkins while teens and college-aged students may want larger pumpkins for carving. Therefore, shoppers should research to ensure their pumpkin patches have different sizes available.

Hay rides

This timeless tradition is for the whole family. While this is not as interactive, this allows for riders to enjoy the outdoor scenery and rest from the day’s picking.

Sunflower picking

Sunflowers are in peak season during the fall months. Sunflowers are not always offered at pumpkin patches, however, those that do offer a one-stop location for fall decorations.

Corn trough

Corn troughs are great options for families with small children. These often resemble sandboxes and contain small shovels and buckets for children to use for play.

Farm animals to feed

Animal feedings or petting zoos add an interactive touch to the patches and gives younger children experience with farm animals.

Buy from your local patch

Joe Kemble, an Alabama Extension Vegetable Specialist, said he encourages communities to support their local pumpkin patch. He said Facebook may be a good resource for families to find a patch in their area.

Marie Foshee, operations director at Farmer in the Dell said the support of the Auburn-Opelika area is vital to the success of their patch.

“One of the greatest privileges of having the pumpkin patch is getting to see families year after year,” Foshee said. “So much of what we do is for the community, so it’s a great encouragement when we see the smiles of people enjoying the farm. We’re so thankful for everyone that comes out to support us, whether that’s for the first time or the ninth time.”

For more information on the positive effects of buying locally, check out the following PDF.

More Information

For a list of patches throughout the state, visit the following website. Also, for more information on Alabama pumpkin patches, visit or contact your local Extension agent for assistance in the field.

What is available at fall farmers markets

*This article originally appeared in Extension Daily*

AUBURN, Ala. – As the weather gets colder and the fall months push on, farmers market shoppers are left to question what is still available at their favorite markets.   (Photo: Patrick Kuhl // Flickr)

Within the last few years, the nearly 200 Alabama markets have seen a dramatic rise in popularity.

Due to this increase, farmers are finding new ways to stay competitive and offer shoppers products year-round.

Tony Glover, Cullman county extension coordinator, says more and more farmers are planting fall crops to extend their marketing season as long as possible.

Available standard produce

The most common and steadfast product that is sold at farmers markets is produce.

While many crops’ peak-seasons end before the fall, there are still many products sold in the early winter months. Most common fall produce products are:

  • Bell peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Cucumbers
  • Greens (kale, mustard, collard and turnip greens)
  • Lima Beans
  • Okra
  • Pumpkin
  • Snap Beans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tomatoes

For an extensive, year-round list, check out the following PDF.

New crops to try

A new trend in farmers markets is the appearance of ethnic vegetables that cater to Hispanic, Asian and other cultures in the local population.

While the availability varies based on the surrounding population, these uncommon crops bring something new to the classic farmers market.

“I would encourage farmers to engage these cultures in conversation and find out what they want to buy and start small scale production,” Glover said.

Products besides produce

Although some markets throughout the state continue to only sell produce, many markets are expanding.

For bigger markets in metropolitan areas, shoppers have seen a rise in small, boutique stores joining the markets.

Joe Kemble, an extension vegetable specialist, said, “these specialized stores boost foot traffic and draw people in. Having these options help expand clientele beyond the classic farmers market shopper.”

From custom cheeses and home-made jams to entertainment and chef demos, farmers markets across the state are expanding their target audiences.

Why buy locally

Shopping local keeps money in the local economy and supports local farmers.

The push to “buy fresh buy local” also encourages shoppers to buy the freshest products available at their local markets.

“It’s a way to keep money within an area,” Kemble said. “Most of the time we go to big box stores, and that money doesn’t stay in Alabama or impact the local economy, so we support buying local.”

More Information

For more information on Alabama markets, visit or contact your local Extension agent for assistance in the field.