‘Assassins’ to take stage at Auburn

The Auburn University Theatre presents “Assassins,” to take the main stage at Telfair Peet Theater each weekend from February 25 to March 6.

Assassins is a dark yet entertaining reflection of American political violence. It explains the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy and highlights the attempted assassinations of F. Roosevelt, Nixon, Reagan, and Ford. The story is a glimpse into the minds and motivations of the men and women who made an effort to assassinate Presidents of the United States, successful or not. Steven Hatcher, who plays Sam Byck in the play explains his character’s history and his disdain for Nixon.

“Hopeful at first, his optimistic attitude is taken over by the bleakness of his life and the horrible way the nation has treated him,” Hatcher describes.

Assassins painting by local artist Cindy Mask
Assassins painting by local artist Cindy Mask


The production tells the stories of real people, who have been let down many times in their life, not to be viewed as just killers. Teyonna Johnson, a member of the ensemble, says she likes this particular story because it shows things from a perspective she’s never thought of before.

“Assassins” opened off-Broadway in 1990 with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. At Auburn it is directed by Chase Bringardner with choreography by Jeri Dickey. Show dates are Thursday, February 25 through Sunday, February 28 and Wednesday, March 2 through Sunday, March 6. Evening performances start at 7:30p.m. and matinees, on Saturday and Sunday, begin at 2:30p.m. Auburn University students receive free admission to the show with ID. AU faculty, senior citizens, and non-AU students each pay $10 a ticket and the general public is $15. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online. For more information please visit http://www.cla.auburn.edu/theatre/.

Growing Grapes in Alabama

Auburn, Ala.—Growing grapes in Alabama has been practiced since the state was first settled, but has only been successful in certain areas for dedicated growers. To produce quality bunch grapes one must learn about their area, choose the grape variety, perfect the setup and devote plenty of attention to the grapevine.

Muscadines are a type of grape that grows well almost everywhere in Alabama. They are native to the Southeast and are used for fresh consumption, juices and wines. Muscadines thrive because they are resistant to a key grape killer, Pierce’s Disease (PD). PD is caused by a bacterium carried by an insect that feeds on infected vegetation, acquires the bacterium and can inject it into the sap of the grapevine. The bacterium multiplies and clogs the xylem vessels so water and nutrient transportation to plant organs is being limited. Consecutively, over time the plant fails to receive nutrients and dies.

Mature bunch grapes growing along their trellis system.
Mature bunch grapes growing along their trellis system.  Source: Pixabay

Cultivars resulting from crosses between American species or between  French and American species are known as hybrid bunch grapes.

Elina Coneva, an Extension specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension explains, “American species produce an inferior quality fruit, but can be resistant or tolerant to PD. Because of this quality they are used in crosses with French cultivars that possess high fruit quality, but are susceptible to diseases including PD, which is the major factor preventing French or European grape production in the Southeast.”

Eleven PD  resistant or tolerant hybrid bunch grapes including  Black Spanish, Blanc du Bois, Champanel, Chardonel, Conquistador, Cynthiana, Favorite, Lake Emerald, Seyval Blanc, Stover and Villard Blanc, have been recently tested in Alabama.  The top three performing hybrid bunch grape cultivars in north Alabama conditions are Black Spanish, Cynthiana, and Villard Blanc.

Regionally produced hybrid bunch grapes yield wine, juice and jams. According to North Alabama Horticulture Research Director Arnold Caylor, Black Spanish is processed to wine, whereas Conquistador is used for juice or jam. Hybrid bunch grapes are susceptible to foliar disease and are attacked by several insect pests so it is important to use pesticides when growing grapes in Alabama.

Progress continues to be made in Alabama toward growing grapevines resistant or tolerant to PD. Currently, Coneva is testing PD resistant French grapes developed by  the grape breeding program at U.C. Davis in California. Based on their upright growing habit, these vines are trained in a vertical shoot positioning system, which also facilitates more efficient  pest control, while concentrating the crop load within a compact fruiting zone. French grape selections are showing promise for Alabama environment and for the first time can provide an opportunity for cultivating high-value French grapes in Alabama and the Southeast.

Learn about the area, choose your type of grape, then set up to plant. The site should be in full sunlight most or all day. If planning to grow several vines, it is best to have straight rows for level land and contour rows for hilly terrain.

“The spacing between rows will depend on the vigor of the cultivar of the grape that you are growing,” said Caylor.

Make every effort to establish a permanent sod between rows to reduce soil erosion. Use a trellis system to train the vines horizontally, managing a dense canopy by dividing it, allowing more sunlight to reach the fruit renewal zone. Prepare a large hole for the entire root system; set the plant at the correct level, fill the hole with topsoil, firm it, water liberally and do not add fertilizer. Hand weeding and hoeing is necessary as there are not many choices for herbicides for the first year of growth. Pruning should be done while vines are dormant.  Summer  hedging can help maintain the vine canopy and ease vineyard operations .

If interested in learning more about growing bunch grapes contact your county Extension office for information and tools to get started at http://www.aces.edu/main/.


Featured image by Andrew Hagen/shutterstock.com


A Good Time for a Good Cause

Guests trying oyster samples at the Auburn Oyster Social.


The second annual Alabama Oyster Social was held Jan. 29 at the Alabama Farmers Pavilion at Auburn University. The social is a nonprofit event held to promote the importance of Mariculture in Alabama as well as raise money for the Auburn University Department of Fisheries and Aquatics.

The Auburn Shellfish Laboratory in Dauphin Island focuses on the research, education, and training for farming quality oysters in a sustainable way and is led by Dr. Bill Walton. In 2011, Auburn University found an opportunity to lease 60 acres of oyster rights from a family. There would be a research area for Auburn and area for Alabama oyster farmers for five years. “The intent of it was to help jumpstart the industry to provide a zone that was permitted for this where you have your neighbors to cooperate with and keep an eye on things,” said Walton. By 2013 the park had been filled with about 17 farmers who had gone through the Auburn training and were using the waters. Because of the growth, Auburn began talking about extending the lease contract for 10 years and after contacting the family everything seemed to be moving forward.

The first Alabama Oyster Social was held in January 2015 and raised $8,000 to give to the university. “In a town where there’s usually something going on there is not a whole lot to do in January. So it’s a good time to get people together and party for a purpose,” said Chef David Bancroft, host of the event. With the success of the first social, they were eager to plan for the next year. Then around May of 2015, Auburn learned that the lease was denied renewal and that no one would get the oyster rights. It was upsetting but they would be able to find water and get the permits for a new farm. “The first thing we’re trying to solve here is what do we do with all these farmers that have businesses that depend on their oysters in the water and their gear in the water, they need another area,” said Walton. The contract ends this summer and everything must be out. Auburn has sighted two areas and are in the permitting process for both, they hope to come out stronger and arrange two farms with longer lease contracts. The current farmers will have an opportunity to move to either of the parks, but it will be an expensive and time-consuming move to get their equipment out of the water and relocated to the new park. Auburn hopes to help offset costs for these farmers.

Bancroft contacted an all-star team of 16 chefs from around the South that are supporters and users of local seafood to come and partake in the second social. After talking with Walton and learning about the denied renewal, the chefs came up with an ambitious goal of $100,000 to raise through ticket sales and donations. Ten days before the social, general admission and VIP tickets had sold out. At the social on Friday night a crowd of about 300 people sampled oysters and other specialty dishes, listened to live music, and socialized. Towards the end of the evening, Bancroft presented Walton with a check for $25,000 for the AU Shellfish Lab. Bancroft said he intends to reach the $100,000 goal by the end of 2016.

To learn more about the Auburn University program please visit http://sfaas.auburn.edu/ and if you would like to make a donation to the Alabama Oyster Social you may do so at http://www.alabamaoystersocial.com.