The Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather Notebook

The Old Farmer's Almanac Weather NotebookLooking for a great tool for logging the weather? Look no further! The Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather Notebook is a full-color four-year journal that is sure to please!

There is so much to love about the Weather Notebook that it is hard to know where to start. There is one page for every day of the year (including February 29), with each page allowing you to compare four years of weather records side by side. Every day, you will have ample room to record:

  • Current conditions (sunny, rainy, cloudy, etc.).
  • Temperature.
  • Precipitation.
  • Wind speed.
  • Barometric pressure.
  • Humidity.
  • Special weather or personal events.

The Old Farmer's Almanac Weather NotebookEvery page also offers a tidbit of weather folklore.

Now for the nice touches that really make this journal shine. This book has a vinyl cover, tight binding, and thick pages, making it very durable. It also includes a ribbon for keeping your place. And then there are all the weather facts, located about mid-month every month and packed with information on a variety of weather-related topics:

  • Snowflakes.
  • Rain.
  • Rainbows.
  • Temperature conversion formulas.
  • Lightning.
  • Tornadoes.
  • Hail.
  • Drought.
  • Heat index.
  • The Beaufort scale.
  • Thunderstorms.
  • Flash floods.
  • Fog.
  • Windchill.
  • Frost.
  • Safe ice thicknesses.

Every page of weather facts also includes a little bit of weather history and an “Ask the Old Farmer” section.

And for the icing on the cake—how about the beautiful color photography scattered liberally throughout the journal? These breathtaking photos depict weather in all its moods, fair and foul.

If you have been following us for a while, you are probably familiar with our previous favorite weather journal, The Weather Wizard’s 5-Year Weather Diary, now out of print. We are very pleased to have found this substitute, and we heartily recommend The Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather Notebook as a far superior product. The only inconvenience you may experience when making the switch is getting used to the binding—The Weather Wizard’s 5-Year Weather Diary was spiral-bound and could lie flat on a desk. However, this design was also very prone to torn pages and would fall apart well before the five years were up. The Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather Notebook does not lie flat, but it is much sturdier.

A new favorite, and highly recommended!

8 Ideas for an Elk Business

8 Ideas for an Elk BusinessOften it is the novelty that first attracts people to the idea of raising elk. But those who do their research have the potential to cash in on a profitable enterprise.

While starting an elk ranch will require attention to legalities, fencing, safe handling facilities, and the like, one of the first questions begged is—what do you do with an elk?

Elk have several uses:

  1. Velvet. Elk velvet comes from the soft inner core of the growing antler, typically of the bull elk. Because elk grow new antlers every year, elk velvet can be harvested annually, and should not cause injury to the elk if done properly. The velvet is then marketed as a dietary supplement. It is believed to have immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties. Note, however, that the velvet market, while often lucrative, can be rather volatile.
  2. Antlers. The hard, calcified antlers can be used to make innumerable items. Options range from jewelry to chandeliers to knife handles. Are you the handyman sort? Add value to your elk antlers by making art, novelties, and home furnishings, then direct marketing the finished products. Another option is to sell antlers as all-natural dog chews, a popular product in these chemical-conscious days.
  3. Ivories. Ivories are the canine teeth of the elk. Elk ivories can be made into Western-themed jewelry. Bull ivories are particularly favored.
  4. Hides. Elk hides can be quite useful since an elk hide is about twice the size of a deer hide. However, its size and thickness may make it harder to work with. Elk hides can be used for products ranging from rugs to clothing.
  5. Meat. While elk meat is a specialty item, it is a favorite lean treat with some who would otherwise avoid red meat for health reasons. Farm-raised elk can have an advantage over wild-caught elk due to its milder flavor. Prime cuts are typically sold at either farmers markets or fancy restaurants. Less valuable cuts can be processed into value-added products such as jerky.
  6. Breeding stock. High-quality breeding elk can be very profitable. Elk are typically sold by private treaty (from one breeder directly to another) or at a handful of auctions. There is also a demand for semen from registered bull elk with desirable traits, such as a calm disposition, high weight gains, and impressive antlers.
  7. Agritourism. Farm guests often enjoy taking tours of elk herds. Of course, care must be taken to protect the guests from injury, as even farm-raised elk are still wild animals at heart.
  8. Game preserves. Game preserves can be extremely profitable because they capitalize on extensive tracts of low-maintenance natural landscapes. Game preserves are sought out by hunters because they have high success rates, healthy elk, and quality trophies. In areas where wild elk are rare, a preserve is likely to receive plenty of business from hunters seeking thrilling experiences close to home.

Getting into the elk business can be expensive due to the cost of both the animals and the facilities needed to handle them. However, several lucrative markets exist that can easily justify the cost. The possibility of filling several niches with one elk herd can make this unique business an attractive one to enterprising farmers and ranchers.

7 Guitar String Care Tips

7 Guitar String Care TipsIf you play your guitar often, you will find that your strings wear out quickly. Is there a way to extend their life so that you don’t have to replace them quite so often?

Yes! Allow us to share a few tips for keeping your strings clean and at their best for as long as possible (Hint: These tips work great for mandolin, banjo, and Dobro, too!)

  1. Wash your hands before you play. Even if you haven’t been doing anything particularly dirty, your fingers still have oil and extraneous debris on the tips. Washing your hands immediately before playing will cut down on the deposits that you leave on the strings. Just make sure you dry your hands thoroughly before you pick up your guitar.
  2. Avoid tuning your guitar strings to a sharper pitch than they were designed for. Stretching reduces the elasticity of the strings, which in turn reduces their tonal quality. While guitar strings must be stretched to be useful, stretching them too far shortens their lifespan and may even lead to breakage.
  3. Wipe your strings down with a soft cloth after playing. You may also want to wipe your strings between every few songs if you tend to sweat profusely. For best results, wipe off each string individually. This helps remove excess finger oil.
  4. Store your guitar in a low-humidity environment. You may have already known that humidity warps the wood of your guitar. Humidity will also cause your strings to rust. Protect your strings by storing your guitar (and your unused string sets) in a hard-shell case in a room with a relatively stable temperature and a humidity between 40% and 60%. A humidity between 45% to 55% is even better.
  5. Clean your strings with string cleaner/lubricant from time to time. The cleaner will remove oil and debris buildup from the strings and extend their life.
  6. Keep spare string sets sealed until use. Most string manufacturers seal their strings in special plastic packaging to keep them from oxidizing due to contact with the air. If your new set of strings comes in sealed packaging, keep them there until you are ready to change your guitar strings. If you happen to buy a string or set of strings that is not sealed, seal them yourself in a Ziploc bag, preferably with a pack of silica gel.
  7. Clean your fretboard every time you change your strings. Removing dust and grime from your fretboard will prevent your new strings from premature damage and decay. Special fretboard conditioners are manufactured for this purpose and have the added benefit of protecting your fretboard wood from drying out and cracking.

String care is actually quite simple! With a little attention to guitar and string storage, plus developing the good habits of cleaning your hands and guitar on a routine basis, your strings will stay shiny and rich-sounding as long as possible.

How to Prune Blackberries

How to Prune BlackberriesAs winter continues to linger, some of you may be taking the opportunity to prune the orchard, including the small fruits, while the plants are dormant.

But before we tell you how to safely chop away at your blackberries, let’s address the different varieties of blackberries. Traditionally, most blackberries have borne fruit on two-year-old canes, called floricanes. Recently, however, some ever-bearing varieties have been developed; these bear fruit on one-year-old canes, or primocanes.

Primocane varieties have the potential to bear two crops—one in the summer from the second-year canes and one in the fall from the first-year canes. This is why they are considered ever-bearing. While this initially sounds like an advantage, fruiting on the first-year canes is typically only beneficial in northerly climates with late springs. Fruit from primocanes gets off to a later start start than fruit from floricanes, enabling it to ripen in the cool fall when moisture is abundant. After harvest, the canes are typically cut to the ground, as northern growers generally do not want to deal with the sparse summer harvest of the second-year canes.

However, primocane blackberries typically suffer in quantity and quality in climates where summer temperatures hit 90°F. Under these conditions, floricanes have the advantage due to their greater heat tolerance. This is probably why K-State blackberry variety recommendation lists typically only include the tried-and-true floricane varieties.

Therefore, we will only address the pruning needs of standard floricane blackberries in this post.

 

You Will Need

  • Pruning shears.
  • Lopping shears (good for tougher wood and reaching into brambles without getting scratched).
  • Gloves (thick ones if you are dealing with thorny varieties!).

 

Instructions

Winter Pruning
  1. Cut down all dead, diseased, or weak canes. Make sure your cut is as close to ground level as possible.
  2. Thin out the remaining live, healthy canes to leave about four to six inches of space between every cane.
  3. Trim lateral branches back to a length of 12 to 18 inches. Err on the shorter side if you frequently have problems with breakage. Not only does this part of the pruning process result in sturdier branches, but it will encourage the plant to put more energy into growing big, luscious berries rather than longer branches.
Post-Harvest Pruning
  1. Cut down all canes that bore fruit during the summer. They will not bear again, and removing them immediately after harvest can reduce the risk of disease. You should have no difficulty identifying the canes that bore fruit, as they will likely have evidence of old flowers and fruits remaining on them. They will also have very hard, woody stems. Make sure your cut is as close to ground level as possible.
  2. Cut down all canes that have escaped the beds.
  3. Trim new canes (thick, fleshy, greenish canes that did not bear fruit during the growing season) back to a height of four feet. If the first-year canes are less than four feet tall, just nip off an inch or two of the tip. This encourages the growth of lateral branches, which is where the next season’s fruit will grow. It will also cause the cane to thicken up and become stronger and less top-heavy.
  4. If you are using a trellis, this is a good opportunity to train the canes.

 

A Few Final Tips

If your blackberry plants are healthy, feel free to compost the pruned material. Just be sure to chop up anything hard or unwieldy to encourage faster composting. But if your blackberries are suffering from any disease issues, you will probably want to burn the pruned-out canes to avoid the spread of disease.

Regularly cleaning your pruning shears is advisable when dealing with diseased plants. Use a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.

 

Helpful Resource

Raspberries and Blackberries
Handy illustrated report from K-State that includes pruning directions.

$2.99 for a Limited Time Only—The Worst Jokes I Know

The Worst Jokes I Know (and I Know a Lot!)The Kindle edition of The Worst Jokes I Know (and I Know a Lot!): 101 Funny Bone Ticklers for Jokesters of All Ages by B. Patrick Lincoln is currently available from Amazon for $2.99—but only for a little while longer. Next week, the price will go back up to $4.49.

If you struggle to find clean, family-friendly humor that even youngest can share, The Worst Jokes I Know was created with you in mind.

These jokes were selected to connect generations with a good laugh. Lincoln has revived some old jokes with a new twist (Why is it inadvisable to read the contents of this book to an egg?) and added some wordplay of his own:

I must here apologize for having organized such a book of horrid jokes. The problem is, I couldn’t help it. I’ve always been a joker—a card, you might say.

Quirky illustrations add to the fun, while the puns and riddles themselves will help children expand their vocabularies and logic skills as they delight and entertain their families, friends, and pun pals. (And readers will finally have an answer to that nagging question of why the chicken really crossed the road.)

Free sample pages are available for download here.

Ready to give the gift of good, clean humor? The Kindle version of The Worst Jokes I Know is available for purchase here.

Pros and Cons of Deep-Litter Bedding

Pros and Cons of Deep-Litter BeddingWhile allowing livestock of all types to enjoy the freedom and nutrition of pasture is ideal, there are times when animals may need to be temporarily confined. For instance, you might be raising chicks in a brooder, or you might need to isolate an injured animal in a stall.

So how do you keep livestock healthy under these conditions? One common solution proposed is the deep-litter bedding method. Basically, this method keeps animals off the ground by using at least eight inches of carbon-rich bedding, such as straw or wood shavings. More bedding is added regularly to keep things fresh and clean. The bedding is only dug out on occasion, ranging from every couple of weeks for horse stalls to perhaps only once a year for a winter-use-only chicken coop.

Is deep-litter bedding right for your animals? Let’s take a look.

 

Pros

  • Reduced odor. Odor occurs in animal housing when nitrogen-rich manure gives off ammonia gas. Having large quantities of carbon present in the bedding locks up the nitrogen, essentially beginning a composting process that is low in odor. Of course, this benefit is dependent on providing enough fresh, dry bedding regularly.
  • Cheap entertainment for chickens and pigs. If for any reason your chickens or pigs have to be housed for a time, put down a good, thick layer of bedding, and then toss some dry corn around. Searching for the grain will satisfy the natural foraging instincts of these animals (and their rummaging around will keep the bedding supplied with oxygen).
  • Added warmth. Deep-litter bedding encourages composting, which in turn produces warmth. Animals housed away from drafts on deep-litter bedding will stay cozy in winter. (Note that deep-litter bedding may become excessively warm in summer.)
  • Beneficial bacteria. Aerobic decomposition promotes the flourishing of beneficial bacteria. These in turn produce vitamins B12 and K, as well as antibiotic substances that control the growth of the bad bacteria. Chickens that have the opportunity to scratch around in the slowly decomposing, oxygen-rich environment of a layer of good-quality bedding can benefit tremendously from the experience.
  • Reduced nutrient loading. Too much nitrogen in one place is harmful to the pasture. Containing it with bedding can keep your land in good health. This practice also reduces nutrient loading in surrounding waterways by cutting down on manure-contaminated runoff.
  • Quality compost. When you are done with used bedding, it makes an excellent, well-balanced compost due to the fact that it already contains both carbon and nitrogen. In fact, due to the nature of deep-litter bedding, it probably has already started the composting process by the time you are ready to dig it out! One more bonus? If you keep the chickens in a coop over the winter, when you move them out to pasture in the spring, that empty coop can be put to work as a composter.

 

Cons

  • Expense. If you do not have ready access to carbon bedding in abundance, deep-litter bedding can be remarkably expensive. You will want to find a way to source leaves, straw, wood chips, and the like cheaply.
  • Poor suitability for some structures. Some animal housing is not built to handle layers of bedding eight inches or deeper without creating logistical issues. Inspect your animal housing before trying to implement a deep-litter bedding system. You may need to build your own housing.
  • Dead grass. Deep bedding is very much like mulch. If you pile it on the ground in a movable field structure and leave it there for more than a day or two, you will end up with dead grass and subsequently mud and weeds. Deep-litter bedding is more ideally suited for permanent structures.
  • Need for good-quality bedding. No matter how expertly you handle and maintain your deep-litter bedding system, if you start with poor-quality materials, you will end up with poor-quality results. Dusty or moldy bedding is not acceptable here.
  • Potential for anaerobic decomposition. Deep-litter bedding works best in well-ventilated buildings that are good at keeping water out. If the litter gets waterlogged, or if it does not receive enough air circulation, it will begin to decompose anaerobically. Not only does this cause a smelly mess, the ammonia released into the air can cause serious eye and respiratory problems in livestock.
  • Labor requirements. Maintaining deep-litter bedding requires regular inputs of fresh bedding to keep your animals’ living quarters clean, dry, and odor-free. Also, caked bedding needs to be broken up with a fork to reintroduce air. And, finally, digging out the whole building at the end of the year can be backbreaking work!

 

Conclusion

Letting animals enjoy fresh pasture is always preferable, but for those times when housing is a must, deep-litter bedding has much to offer. Basically, by using the science behind composting, deep-litter bedding promotes a healthy environment and prevents manure from damaging the surrounding area.

However, deep-litter bedding does require regular monitoring. Odor is not acceptable—if you smell ammonia, your system has devolved into anaerobic decomposition. Your animals will suffer for it, so be sure to keep this from happening at any point in time. Be proactive in adding fresh, dry bedding of good quality, and fluff it any time it shows an inclination to pack down or cake up.

Once your animals are finished with the bedding, enjoy its benefits in your compost pile, garden, or field!

2019 Reading Challenge: Sustainable Agriculture

2019 Reading Challenge: Sustainable AgricultureStart 2019 right with some fresh inspiration! Try a reading challenge!

This year’s theme is sustainable agriculture. To complete the challenge, all you have to do is read 12 books, one from each of the categories listed below, by the end of the year. If you can read an average of one book per month, this should be no problem.

The categories are:

  1. A book published by SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program).
  2. A book written by Joel Salatin.
  3. A book about soil health.
  4. A book about sustainable practices written prior to 1950.
  5. A book about sustainable agriculture published in 2019.
  6. A book with the word organic in the title.
  7. A book about composting.
  8. A book about real food.
  9. A book about agripreneurship.
  10. A book about environmentally friendly farming.
  11. A book about natural pest control.
  12. A book about rotational grazing methods.

A few rules:

  • Books in electronic formats count.
  • Both fiction and nonfiction books count.
  • You can read the books in any order.
  • Books cannot be counted twice, even if they fit into more than one category.

Need some help finding the books? Check out The Homestead Bookshelf to browse our favorite titles. Then sign up for On the Range, your free weekly country living update (learn more here). At the end of every month, we’ll suggest a book for one of the categories.

Let us know what you decide to read! We’d love to hear from you!