Archive for garden

Why Keeping a Garden Journal is so Important and, How to Keep it Simple

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Why Keeping a Garden Journal is so Important and,     How to Keep it Simple

By: Emily Shirley, Adv. Master Gardener

We have mentioned the idea of keeping a garden journal and all the advantages of doing so, but we continue to get comments on why people don’t seem to be able to do this, as well as questions about how to organize. Some say they have good intentions and they start, but for several reasons, they don’t keep it up.   It is a good conversation to have, so here we go.

Let’s start with the basics. What is a garden journal? It is a written record of your garden and your garden-related activities. And by “written” we mean hand-written, typed on a computer, and maybe includes things you may want to attach, such as attaching receipts from the store or copies of your seed packets. You can keep your garden journal contents in any notebook, on note cards organized into a file or a combination of a folder with attachments and information entered into a computer journal. A ring binder works best because it allows you to insert sheets of graph paper, calendar pages, pockets for your seed packets and plant tags, and pages for your photographs. Keeping a garden journal gives you a written record of your garden plans, successes and failures.

Sometimes future “plans” become dreams that have to “bake” in my head until at some point they become a reality. The garden journal is a place for me to jot down what I think I may want to do at some point in the future with some small plot for a new garden area. I can continue to think about this area and change things around until I feel that it is ready to be done. (My Garden Journal has a section for “New Plans” and we can talk about that more as we talk about how to set up and divide your journal.)

For vegetable gardeners, an important function of the journal is keeping track of crop rotation. I name the different garden areas on my property so I know what I am referring to when I make note of what is planted where at various times.   We know that planting the same crop in the same location each time you plant depletes the soil and encourages pests and diseases. Many vegetables should be planted on a 3- to 5-year rotation schedule. This is where the sketch of your garden areas, with the names of each area, comes in handy.

A Gardener Rabbit Hole

So let’s get off subject just a minute and go down a gardeners “rabbit hole”. Because crop rotation is so important and is one of the most important reasons you will want to keep a garden journal, let’s talk about crop rotation and the different plant families just a bit more before moving on to the subject at hand.

Different vegetables belong to different families, and different botanical families have different nutritional needs and have different issues.

We learned in our Master Gardener classes about these different plant families:

Solanaceae – The nightshade family is the most commonly represented group in most home gardens. These include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes (not sweet potatoes). There are common fungi that build in the soil when nightshades are planted in the same spot year after year.

Cucurbitaceae – Vining plants produce their fruit on a long vine with seeds running through the center of the fruit and most are protected by a hard rind. Cucumbers, zucchini, summer and winter squash, pumpkins, melons and gourds are included in this family.

Fabaceae – This is the large family of legumes. These are our nitrogen fixers. Peas, beans, peanuts and cowpeas are common vegetables in the legume family.   Gardeners who use clover or alfalfa as cover crops in the winter need to rotate them along with other members of the Fabaceae family, since they are also legumes and susceptible to the same diseases.

Brassicacae – Also known as the cole crops are members of the mustard family and are used by many gardeners to extend their growing season. Frost sometimes improves the flavor of these crops. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, radishes, turnips and collard greens are mustards grown in home gardens.

Liliaceae – Members of the onion family require rotation just like other families. These include onions, garlic, chives, shallots or asparagus. Asparagus must be life in place for several years.   Also, when selecting a site for your asparagus bed, make sure that no other family members have been grown nearby for several years.

Lamiaceae – These are not really vegetables but are members of the mint family. These include mints, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage. These are sometimes inter-planted with vegetables to deter pests.

We are still talking about crop rotation here so stick with me for a minute. When you grow plants from the same family in the same place year after year, they leach away specific nutrients that they need. Eventually, the area will be depleted of the nutrients that particular family of plants need.

Vegetables in the same botanical family will also be susceptible to the same pets and diseases. If you plant the same families in the same spot year after year it is like hanging a sign up for certain pests and diseases. You want to keep them on the run and confused. You will do that with crop rotation.

Some will say, “Wait a minute – this is all too confusing and complicated. I thought gardening was simple.” Well, yes it is simple. All you really have to do is make sure that plants from the same family do not get planted in the same spot for more than three years in a row. If there is a particular pest or disease in one area of the garden, don’t plant the affected botanical families there for at least two years. For example, if you had problems with your tomatoes last year, do not plant tomatoes, peppers or eggplant in that area for at least two years. It is simple but you do have to remember a few things.   This is where the Garden Journal comes in handy.

Every year, before you plant your garden, refer to your journal and make a note of where plants were planted last year and how they performed. If they performed poorly, rotate that family to a different area of the garden.     This will greatly increase the yield of your crop.

Okay, that is the end of the gardeners “rabbit hole” so let’s get back to focusing on the Garden Journal.

There are not a lot of complicated rules that someone else has made up that you need to follow when it comes to keeping a Garden Journal. Keep it simple and try to find time to record something every day or so, and record the important things as soon as possible so you do not forget. Make it your own and make it something that is useful to you.

At a minimum you may want to include:

  • An initial sketch of your garden layout.   (Again, name each different garden area for reference.)
  • Pictures of your garden areas
  • A list of plants you know you will plant each year because these are the plants you know you and your family like. You will want to note plant times for each of these.   You can also make notes to remind you of things. For example: “I plant my Irish potatoes by Valentine’s Day each year.”
  • Any research papers on these plants. (This will be a one-page “cheat-sheet” where you have looked up things about this particular plant such as plant times, fertilizer requirements, watering requirements, etc.
  • A list of plants you would like to try and your research about these plants. (Their growing requirements, when you would plant them, etc.)
  • Resources. (Including favorite seed catalogs, web sites that you typically refer to, etc.) This is a good place to list local businesses that carry the things you typically need each growing season. (For example: “O’Neal Feeder Supply carries the onions I plant each year. I get my strawberry plants and sweet potato slips from Country Gardens.”)
  • Reminders. (For example. “Remember to call Country Gardens around May 15th and tell them how many sweet potato slips I need this year.”
  • Expenses and receipts.
  • Calendar (It is handy to just purchase a refill of the type calendar that fits into a ring binder so you can just make entries each day.
  • Dates to remember. Keep a list of these and then at the beginning of the year, go to your daily calendar and note a reminder to yourself – such as when to divide perennials.

Description of an ideal Garden Journal:

  • A three-ring binder that is three inches thick
    • Sheet protectors
    • Large envelopes with holes punched in order to put in the binder
    • A three-ring calendar refill to make daily entries
  • A designated “In-Box” to drop things into until you have time to put them in the binder.
    • A set of dividers with tabs.   Tabs will include:
    • Calendar (goes as the first thing in the journal because you will open up to it almost daily.)
    • Garden Layout – layout of your garden areas (with the names of each area noted.)
    • My plants – list of plants you typically plant each year, with a note of when you typically plant each of these.
    • Plant Research – file your research paper here.
    • Resources – Behind this tab is a sheet that lists all your resources, including people and telephone numbers. Sometimes you need to call others for help. You can include a “Reminders” page in the resource section.
    • Dates to remember
    • Future Plants – list of plants you will try at some future date.
    • Garden Design Ideas – Put sheet protectors behind this tab to hold pictures of design ideas that you cut out from magazines, etc.
    • Expenses & Receipts (put a sheet protector or envelope behind this tab to hold things in as you get them.)
    • Pictures – you may need sheet protectors to hold pictures if you do not just print them out on regular paper.
    • Equipment — If you have a lot of gardening equipment, you may want to include a tab on garden equipment, or make a separate binder for information on your equipment. (For example: I have three tractors, a weed-eater and a mower.) I need to keep up with when everything is serviced and making a note in my garden journal, and then transferring that to a permanent “equipment’ journal is easy since I am making entries in the garden journal daily.)

 

Keeping a garden journal is fun and fulfilling.   It is something “garden related” that gives you something to do on those rainy days when you cannot get out in the garden. Start by having a designated gardening “in-box” where you drop things such as receipts, articles, research papers, seed packets and plant tags. Keeping a Garden Journal is THE way to learn from your successes and mistakes and improve your gardening skills. And, you don’t have to remember a thing – it is all there in your Garden Journal (binder)!

 

 
Each of us has an opportunity to support a healthier, sustainable food system through the choices we make every day.
 
 

 

Basil helps tomatoes to overcome insects and disease, also improving growth and flavor. Since it is a small plant, one to two feet tall, grow it parallel to tomatoes rather than among them. It repels mosquitoes and flies, and when laid over tomatoes in a serving bowl will deter fruit flies.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Chasing the Rose

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Book Review: Chasing the Rose

By: Emily Shirley, Adv. Master Gardener

Chasing the Rose

Because people that know me know that I love to read, I am often asked “What are you reading?” At the moment, I am reading a book titled “Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside

This book is Andrea di Robilant’s quest for the name of a rose that grew on his family’s former estate near Venice. His journey took him from the wild overgrown park on the estate that had left his family decades before, to Eleanora Garlant and her rose garden, the largest in Italy with 1500 roses, as well as tales of his great-great-great-great grandmother Lucia with her love and knowledge of roses, the Empress Josephine and the histories of many individual roses.

For centuries people have considered the Rose a romantic flower, inspiring poets, artists and rose hunters who dared the treacherous and distant mountains of faraway China. Di Robilant’s researches are a romantic quest in themselves, and while his explorations and discoveries are fascinating to a rose gardener and lover, there is an enchantment in his travels, captured by Nina Fuga’s simple and graceful watercolor illustrations.

“When I planted my first old fashioned roses I chose Madame Hardy, Comtesse de Murinais, Konegin von Danemark and Madame Plantier and other lady roses who were famous enough or loved enough to have a rose named in their honor. When I walked past these roses early in the dewy morning I imagined us all primping and preparing for the day together. My reaction to the roses is very similar to di Robilant’s in Signora Galant’s garden. “When I saw the ‘Empress Josephine’ spread out against Eleanora’s corner pergola, I inevitably conjured up the real Josephine. And so it was with the other roses arrayed around it. I was no longer simply walking along a path looking at the roses on display; I had stepped into a crowded, lively room filled with roses that were looking at me.”

Although di Robilant sometimes writes of the gardens of the wealthy, it is the stamina and resilience of these old roses that fascinate him, and me. I was moved by the amazing story of Pierina, a teacher who married a civil engineer and followed her husband to Irkutsk in Siberia where he was overseeing the building of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. There she continued to teach school, and wrote about conditions for labor organizations. She survived the Russian Revolution and many other trials until at age 74 she walked to Vladivostok, and from there made her way home – and continued to teach!  Stamina and resilience. Signora Galant named one of her new hybrids Pierina.

This is definitely a book for anyone that loves roses. I almost felt as if the roses discussed were people that I got to know through the book.  Would I recommend this book to others, especially gardeners, and especially to rose gardeners?  YES!

Emily Shirley

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Is your Garden Soil Safe for Vegetable Gardening?

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Is your Garden Soil Safe for Vegetable Gardening?

By George Giltner, Adv. MG, Biology MS

Most of our gardens are safe and natural ecosystems, which grow wholesome, nutrient dense foods.  We work and handle the soil, enjoy the rich earth aroma, and appreciate the vital processes of living organisms that recycle nutrients, filter water, and produce our crops.

However, soils can be polluted just like water and air.  Lead, arsenic, and cadmium  are toxic heavy metals that are of concern.  Once these heavy metals are introduced into soil, they persist a very long time.  Knowing the history of the garden location can help to identify areas that are contaminated.  Examples of contamination from the past include arsenic treated lumber residues, some fertilizers, old orchard sites where lead arsenate pesticides were used, a gun range, lead bearing paint residues, and  even soil near roads in the time of leaded gasoline.

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Here are watermelons at the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden where George has various project. Photo by Jimmy Earl Cooley, MG’er.

Most common fertilizers are not a significant source of heavy metals.  Nitrogen and potassium fertilizers are generally free of toxic metal content, but phosphate fertilizers often contain cadmium depending on the mining site.  Excess phosphorus typically is “tied-up” with insoluble compounds like calcium phosphate, therefore it lingers in the soil for years.  Use soil tests to determine if additional phosphate amendments are needed.  Thus, avoiding unnecessary phosphorus fertilizer applications may prevent the undesirable cadmium additions, too.

Micronutrient fertilizers have been and are still being produced from recycled toxic materials.  “Ironite” has contained as much as 3600 ppm arsenic and 2900 ppm lead.  No federal standards for heavy metals in fertilizers exist.  Composition of fertilizers is in the control of the states.  However, Washington State does require testing for 9 heavy metals with results on the web.  Gardeners from other states use their postings to look up heavy metal concentrations in commercial fertilizers.

What are the negative effects of heavy metals on human health?  Children bear the greatest risk as the developing brain and IQ are especially vulnerable to lead.  Even the lowest detectable quantities are considered toxic to children.  Children’s behavior as “Rug Rats” with mouthing and crawling on floors, exposes them to greater quantities of dirt and dust. Chromosome damage, nerve damage, cancer, etc. are among other toxic effects of heavy metals on all of us.

Vegetables are not all equal in their ability to uptake heavy metals.  Some are concentrators and others are not.  Leafy greens like lettuce, and root crops like carrots will have more than fruits like tomatoes.  Some plants like water hyacinths are super concentrators that may have thousands of ppm of mercury from water sources.  Therefore it should not be used as compost material for soil.

How do you get your soil tested?  The LSU AgCenter Soil Lab can do an optional lab test for heavy metals for an additional $5.  Another reliable lab is TP&S Lab (956-383-0739) which will cost around $100.  Interpretation of results can be done with on-line research.  Common sense guidelines – “Less is better”.

Please note the first paragraph of this article, “Most gardens are safe-“.  This article is for awareness of heavy metals.  It is not meant to scare or deter in any manner from the joys of gardening.

 

 

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Master Gardener Classes from A Teens Perspective ~ Heather L. Grimes

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Master Gardener Classes from A Teens Perspective ~ Heather L. Grimes, 4-H’er & recent MG Graduate.

 When my dad mentioned the family taking Master Gardener classes together I was excited because I love flowers.  However, after the first few classes I was wondering if I had signed up for extra homework.  There were classes on soil, pests, and vegetables, but where were the flowers?  I did not understand what all of this had to do with planting pretty flowers.  I kept trying to be patient because mom kept telling me we have to learn about all of this before we get to the good stuff.  Well she was right as I went about creating my own flower garden I realized that I needed to think about my soil, was it acidic enough for my roses?  I also had to think about what type of plants I needed to not only make it look great, but also that compliment and help with mom and dad’s vegetable garden.

1 Heathers garden

Over the past month I have been very busy putting all my new found knowledge to work.  I have begun noticing more bees and birds and good bugs.  I am really excited at seeing all I have learned come full circle.  I would strongly encourage others to take advantage of your local Master Gardener Program.  To twist an old saying I would say give a person a flower and they will enjoy it for a while, teach a person to garden and they will enjoy it a lifetime.

1 Heather and parents

Heather Grimes, center, with her parents, Jennifer & Steve Newbury. This family attended MG classes together.

 

 

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Mr. Jimmy’s Wildflower Project June 2014

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Mr. Jimmy’s Wildflower Project June 2014

Jimmy Earl Cooley, Louisiana Master Gardener

 

Growing vegetables and fruit in Louisiana can be a real challenge, given the summer weather conditions along with the animals, insects, and number of pests. I helped my Grandfather raise chickens, make a vegetable garden and milk a cow in Ludington, LA in the 1950’s. I moved to Maryland and worked for NASA after graduating from ULL in 1960. I was an avid gar-dener there and become a University of Maryland Master Gardener after I re-tired in 1992. My general rule of thumb was that I got 80 % of my crop and the animals, pests and etc got 20 %.

wildflower 1

We moved back to Louisiana where I have continued my love for gardening, living in a wooded area where the take for the last few years has be reversed with 80% going to the animals, insects, diseases and etc. I became a LSU Mas-ter Gardener and use semi organic methods to combat this condition. I found that I was spending a lot of money and time on fertilizer, lime, soil additives, gasoline (cutting grass and weeds-mostly for good looks and neat-ness, organic detertnents, picking, and giving away most of my produce. Good exercise, but as one gets older lots of these chores become work and I find that there is only so much energy to go around.

wildflower 2

In 2013-14 these realizations con-vinced me to convert three of my five garden areas into wildflower refuges in an effort to support dwindling wildlife productive areas. Sort of if you cant beat them then join them attitude.

wildflower 3

There is a continuing loss of wooded ar-eas, clearing of fencerows and meadows by herbicides and mechanical means, and necessarily loss of forging materials for the birds, insects, and animals .

wildflower 4

In late 2013 I tilled the areas, spread a small quantity of 13-13-13 and planted wildflowers.

The areas consisted of:

1. Front garden – 1/3 acre near home – _ wild flower packet Butterfly and Hum-mingbird Blend.

2. Burn pile garden – 1/3 acre near shop – wild flower packet Southwestern Wildflower Mix.

3. End of Runway garden – 2/3 acre at end of air strip – wild flower packet Southwestern Wildflower Mix.

The wildflower seeds are very small and fragile and to evenly spread the seed upon the soil is a task, some addi-tive should be added to the seeds to help cover the area. I used a three year old, 50 pound, sack of rye grass as a filler, mistakenly thinking that, since it was old, much of it would not sprout and grow. I knew that the ryegrass used for feed, hay, or ground cover must be planted in early spring so it can grow, mature, and die in the heat of the torrid summer sun in southwest Louisiana. Well grow it did! Leading to a bumper crop of rye grass mixed indiscriminately with the wildflowers. A situation which, I was sure, would doom my wildflower project. .

Now in early June the ryegrass is dying and the wildflowers are peaking their heads through the leaning, dead stems in all their glory.

I had expected a large percentage of the wildflower seeds to germinate and grow into a beautiful parfait of colors and shapes to attract butterflies and beneficial insects, birds, and etc. in and between the spare up coming rye grass. Many of the low grow-ing wildflower plants were surely crowded out.

I started keeping bees in 2012 with two hives; named Hebert and Shirley. I also started raising Muscadine grapes in 2012. My bees were to help with the polli-nation of the grapes and vegetables, and some honey for personal use. The first year I got a half gallon of good, dark honey from tallow tree flow. in 2013 the Hebert hive swarmed and I lost half of the bees. The bees remaining filled two brood boxes with honey (amount they needed to sustain the winter) but not sur-plus for me. The Shirley hive survived but was not strong and I harvested only one frame of honey; 2.5 quarts. The planting of the wildflowers was suppose to increase the amount of pollen and nectar available and help the bee population and produc-tion. Unfortunately, the Hebert Hive ex-perienced, what I believe to be, a case of the CCD, Complete Colony Disorder. First a number of bees died, after a cold spell in the weather, followed by the bees abandon-ing the hive completely by date . This left me with only the Shirley hive. In date of 2014 I split the Shirley in thirds, leaving 1/3, transferring 1/3 to a new brood box (Carollyn) and 1/3 to the Hebert hive pieces. As of June date all three boxes have queens and the bees are now working hard during the tallow flow. So it remains to be seen if the wildflowers have been of any benefit. I have not noticed a lot of added activity with bees on the new wildflowers but butterflies are on an increase. The Wildflower Project has been quite an ad-venture. I’m hoping that reseeding will oc-cur and the added flowers will help the honey bees better sustain their life and help in plant pollination.

 

 

 

 

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Gardening Note: Toxins in Concrete Blocks and Concrete

 

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Gardening Note: Toxins in Concrete Blocks and Concrete

By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener, MS Biology (and Pesticide Applicator Certified)

Gardeners love raised beds.  And, raised beds are so easily built with concrete blocks which are thought of as the most inert and safest product on the market for gardening.  Gee, I hate spoil your perceptions.  Like the commercial food we consume, some is good and some is bad, just like concrete products used in gardening.

Masonry block and concrete producers use coal combustion byproducts in two ways – fly ash as a cement replacement and bottom ash as a partial replacement for the sand and/or coarse aggregate. The fly ash composition varies from 5 to 60+ percent depending on the product.  Adding fly ash prevents hydration of lime which increases its strength and makes concrete less porous, makes finishes smooth, and eases concrete pours.  Seems like the ideal way to recycle hazardous waste that has historically created problems in water supplies.

Hazardous waste.  Yes, there are small amounts of heavy metals in concrete products.  Typically the main composition of Class C fly ash contains 3.5 to 40% calcium oxide, 0.5 to 40% aluminum oxide, and 2.5 to 25% Magnesium oxide.  However smaller percentages of strontium, chromium, nickel, lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other heavy metals are also present which cause it to be classified as hazardous waste by the EPA.

The spherical particle size of coal fly ash varies from 5-120 microns which is similar to that of silty sand to silty clay.  The good news is that this material is bonded, insoluble, and immobile in concrete.  However if the concrete or blocks are pulverized in destruction or become soluble with acids, the surface area exposed is greatly increased and the heavy metals may become mobile.  Example: You would not want to use pulverized concrete to “lime” a garden where it could be acted upon by microbes and organic acids.

Concrete blocks are porous unless they are sealed for outside and inside use.  Sealing with paint and other products prevents mineral (like hydrochloric acid, a concrete cleaner) and organic acids (from microbes and other life forms) from decomposing the locked in heavy metal chemical structure in concrete materials.

Variation in solubility and composition of concrete heavy metals is all over the map, depending upon the type of coal burned to produce the fly ash, percent of fly ash used, sealants incorporated in the blocks, acids in the environment and other factors.

If you are concerned about heavy metals in concrete materials, there is a reliable way to test for their presence.  Grow hyper accumulator plants in the concrete structures of concern, and then have chemical analysis performed on specific plant parts.  These plants can be found in Wikipedia and on other web sites.  Example: Sunflower parts can be used for soil and water hyacinths can be used in aquatic environments.

Another option is to separate the soil from the concrete structure.  Line the container with plastic or polymer paint.  Therefore decomposition products are not available for plant absorption.  This is probably your best and cheapest option.

Decomposition of concrete is usually slow; therefore your risk level is probably small in comparison with other heavy metal routes of entry into your body.  Rice, chicken, and other foods have been in the news with carcinogenic arsenic concerns recently.  Lead always comes up with old paints in buildings, and possibly lead shot cooked in wild game acid stews and gumbos.  Lead as an example can cause DNA genetic damage, nerve damage, and child learning disorders.

The science behind heavy metal poisoning is very well documented and proven.  Awareness of toxins in our environment, not phobias, leads to healthy gardening and living.

Author’s note: I recently had a conversation with fellow Master Gardener, Emily Shirley and after giving her the above information about concrete blocks, her question to me was “Bottom line – would you use concrete cinder blocks to build raised beds that you would be growing food to eat?  If yes, what would you do to the blocks before filing the bed with soil to plant in?”  My response to her – was to seal the blocks with concrete sealant and polymer paint before adding dirt. An extra layer of safety gives “Peace of Mind”.

 

 

 

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2014 Beauregard Master Gardener Graduates

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2014 Beauregard Master Gardener Graduates

2014 BPMG CLASS 1

Congratulations to MG Grads

Graduates are listed in alphabetic order:

 

Lisa Ann Clark
Steve Coleman
Heather Grimes
Paige LeBeau
Paul LeBeau
Marguerite McNeely
Jennifer Newbury
Steven Newbury
Judy Newman
Kay Nyros
Darline Parish
Gary Parish
Byron Redger
Violet Redger
Evan Scoggins
Niki Scoggins
Elizabeth Smith
Jeff Solinsky
Darla Solinsky
Diana Todd
Ronald Weathersby

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