Category Archives: The Lifestyle

2020 Reading Challenge: Nature

2020 Reading Challenge: NatureLooking for something good to read this year, or maybe just through those cold winter months? How about a reading challenge?

The theme of this year’s reading challenge at Homestead on the Range is nature. One of the key tenets of sustainable agriculture is to work in sync with nature. Another, closely related rule of thumb is to mimic nature’s systems. A good way to start is to read up on the subject.

To complete the reading challenge, you must read 12 books by the end of the year, or an average of one book every month. Each book will be in a different category. This year’s categories are as follows:

  1. A book about plants.
  2. A book about animals.
  3. A nature-themed photo book.
  4. A book about a specific ecosystem.
  5. A book about weather or the atmosphere.
  6. A book about water.
  7. A book about habitat restoration or conservation.
  8. A book about how to observe nature.
  9. A book about agricultural practices that benefit nature.
  10. A book about outdoor recreation or skills.
  11. A book about an endangered species.
  12. A book about an extinct species.

A few rules:

  • Books in electronic formats count.
  • Both fiction and nonfiction books count.
  • You can work through the categories 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!

Food Cravings and What They Mean

Food Cravings and What They MeanFor a long time, many scientists denied that food cravings had any relevance. There was some logic to their claim. After all, Americans frequently crave chips, candy, and soda—foods that are detrimental to the body rather than helpful.

However, a close observation of many animals shows that they have an innate ability to select foods that contain nutrients that they are lacking. Could it be that mankind can do the same?

Newer research says yes! While we may attempt to satisfy our cravings in ways that are not beneficial (e.g., chips, candy, and soda), it does not negate the fact that a craving is our body’s plea for some inputs. Many cravings are associated with real mineral deficiencies or imbalances. Others are cravings are associated with various parts of the brain and may therefore suggest lifestyle changes that need to be made.

Let’s take a look at some common food cravings and what they mean.

Food Categories

  • Refined carbohydrates. Foods in this group include bread and pasta. This type of craving is associated with many different things, including nitrogen deficiency, yeast overgrowth, and low estrogen or progesterone levels. Another possibility is that you have been restricting your carb intake too tightly. A super-low-carb diet may cause your body to rebel and seek out more carbohydrates. A carb craving may also suggest that your mood is too low and that you could use the serotonin boost that comes from eating carbs. Note, however, that caving to the craving in this case may be counterproductive, as the boost will be short-lived and will eventually leave you wanting more.
  • Sugars. Sugary foods are a rather broad category. Not surprisingly, a craving for sweets may therefore indicate a need for one of several nutrients. Common deficiencies associated with sugar cravings are chromium, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, and tryptophan. Sugar is also frequently associated with pleasant memories and happy feelings, making it a go-to for many who could use some positivity. Factors that can contribute to a sugar craving include stress, lack of food, or lack of sleep. But watch out—because sugar stimulates dopamine release, it is addictive!
  • Meat. Craving meat may mean more than just a need for more protein—it may be this craving could be signaling a vitamin or mineral deficiency, such as B12 or iron. Meat cravings are also observed in those who are eating a diet disproportionately skewed toward carbohydrates.
  • Dairy. Craving dairy products of all types often suggests a calcium or magnesium deficiency. However, it may also signal emotional stress, because these nutrients can be depleted under such circumstances. Full-fat dairy products are particularly appealing at such times because they contain tryptophan, which in turn stimulates serotonin release.
  • Fatty or oily foods. Surprisingly, fat cravings can be associated with calcium deficiency. But even more intriguing may be the effects of such foods on the brain. Fatty foods remain in the stomach for a while, taking a long time to digest relative to other foods. At the same time, many people who crave fat are extremely busy, perhaps even hectic. Some nutritionists speculate that the constant fullness that fat provides may offer a sensation of stability. Finally, eating a diet too low in fat may cause fat craving, so make sure you include some healthy saturated fats in your diet.
  • Crunchy foods. For many, chewing on something crunchy is a way to relieve stress. Those who regularly go to crunchy foods may be dealing with a great deal of frustration in their lives.
  • Caffeinated beverages. The primary cravings associated with this category are for tea or coffee, but may include soda. Caffeine cravings can signal several different deficiencies, including iron, phosphorus, sulfur, and sodium chloride (salt). Caffeine is also a go-to for many who are dealing with stress, mental exhaustion, lack of sleep, or adrenal fatigue, as it tends to keep the mind feeling sharp. Keep in mind, too, that caffeinated beverages are habit-forming—you may simply be craving coffee today because you had it yesterday.
  • Carbonated drinks. Craving carbonated drinks suggests a calcium deficiency.

Flavors

  • Salty. Salty food cravings may indicate either dehydration or a deficiency in silicon, chloride, or both nutrients. Some women may experience salt cravings prior to menstruation. An ongoing need for salt can be associated with anemia, adrenal fatigue or insufficiency, or a renal problem. Note that many people who regularly go for salty foods may actually be seeking the crunch, rather than truly craving salt or salty flavors.
  • Acidic. People who crave acidic foods may need more magnesium in their diet, or they simply might need more acid. Your stomach acid is designed to be super-acidic, and an incorrect pH can lead to a great deal of digestive discomfort.
  • Spicy. A craving for spicy foods like salsa and chili may suggest that the body could use some assistance in regulating its temperature. The hot peppers that give food its heat contain capsaicin, which speeds up the metabolism and prompts the body to produce more heat. Still crave spicy foods when it’s hot outside? The heat-producing effects of capsaicin can, paradoxically, help the body cool off by prompting a sweat.

Food Cravings and What They MeanSpecific Foods

  • Celery. Craving celery is most common among people who are anemic due to iron deficiency.
  • Onions. Onions may be related to a sulfur deficiency. Sulfur is necessary for liver function.
  • Pickles. Pickles and pickle brine are highly acidic. Believe it or not, acid is actually good for your stomach (after all, your stomach is made to be filled with extremely potent acid), helping ease indigestion. The sodium in pickles may have the added benefit of helping you stay hydrated.
  • Nuts and cashews. If you are craving salted nuts only, then you might actually be experiencing a salt craving. If, however, you can’t get enough nuts in any form, you might need more magnesium.
  • Beef. If the food you want most is a steak, you may simply need a little more protein in your diet. But another possibility is that you need more vitamins and minerals. The most common deficiency associated with craving red meats such as beef is iron deficiency. Other deficiencies to watch for include folic acid, vitamin B12, and magnesium. If you are still craving beef after your meal, it is possible that your digestive system is not working efficiently, perhaps due to a slow metabolism.
  • Fish. Craving all types of fish may mean that you need more protein in your diet. Craving oily or salty fish (e.g., sardines) specifically may mean that your body could use some calcium or sodium.
  • Cheese. Cheese may signal a need for more protein, fat, calcium, vitamin D, or tryptophan.
  • Cinnamon. Cinnamon craving may actually be a sign of a sugar craving if the treats you are craving are ooey, gooey cinnamon rolls and the like. If this is not the case and you are truly craving cinnamon, then it is possible that you need more manganese, about the only nutrient cinnamon is known for.
  • Chips. Chips typically fall into the crunchiness category, although a craving for chips could alternatively be a salt or fat craving.
  • Candy. This is a manifestation of a sugar craving.
  • Chocolate. Chocolate cravings are most commonly reported in people who are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium keeps the nerves on an even keel, producing a sensation of relaxation. Other nutrient deficiencies associated with chocolate craving include copper, chromium, B vitamins, and various fatty acids. Chocolate is also a mood-boosting food that activates the pleasure centers of the brain, prompts serotonin production, and encourages the body to relax despite stress. Premenstrual hormone shifts may cause a chocolate craving, although oddly enough these cravings do not typically abate after menopause.

A Little More Unusual…

  • Burnt food. While this craving may seem a little bizarre to the uninitiated, it is actually quite simple when you get to the bottom of it. People who can’t seem to get enough burnt food need more carbon in their diet.
  • Vinegar. Not surprisingly, craving vinegar may suggest a pH imbalance in the body. But there are other possibilities, too—a desire to actually drink vinegar may signal an overgrowth of fungus in the system or perhaps a potassium deficiency.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG tends to create its own cravings. Besides being delicious when added to savory foods, it stimulates appetite, keeping you coming back for more over and over again.
  • Ice. People who find chewing on ice cubes to be irresistible may benefit from more iron in their diet. This urge may be more common in children or pregnant women. Here’s a hint—you will probably satisfy your craving much faster by going for some spinach, beans, or red meat rather than ice cubes.
  • A liquid diet. Preferring to take in your meals in the form of a beverage to the exclusion of solid foods may suggest that you are dehydrated.
  • More! Some people just crave food and lots of it, often continuing to eat even after they feel full. These people might benefit from more silicone, tryptophan, or tyrosine. In some cases, continuing to want food despite feeling full can suggest a condition that is impairing proper nutrient absorption, such as a food intolerance or insulin resistance.
  • Less. Finally, those who crave nothing more than the absence of food could probably use some additional chloride, manganese, vitamin B1, or vitamin B3 in their diet.

How to Use This Information

While hyper-analyzing your dietary preferences is not usually productive, being aware of your body’s needs can be very helpful. If you find that you repeatedly crave something, there could be a reason. Likewise, if you find that you have several cravings that point in the same direction, you may want to take note.

Needless to say, going to junk food to satisfy your cravings is generally not a good idea. Besides the long-term ramifications of a poor-quality diet, many sugars and processed foods tend to be habit-forming, leaving you wanting more without ever really satisfying the need. It is best to supply your body with whole foods, and a wide variety of them. So if you are craving vegetables or real meats, dig in! But if your preferences tend toward potato chips, candy, or ice cubes, you may want to find a high-quality source of the nutrients you are most likely needing.

Also pay attention to cravings that may suggest a lifestyle change is needed. Do all the signs point to excess stress? Consider the likely causes of your stress and seek to remedy them. Are you frequently in need of a mood boost? Try incorporating moderate exercise and some pleasurable activities into your daily routine.

As long as your body is not addicted to processed foods and the like, it can tell you a great deal about what it needs. Listen up!

Top 10 Reader-Favorite Books

Vegetable Garden Planting Guide

We love curating helpful reading material for country living enthusiasts!

If you are looking for a variety of useful books on everything from starting a farming enterprise to planting crops to drawing horses, we highly recommend the Homestead Bookshelf as the place to find what you’re looking for. We have collected public domain classics, modern paperbacks, free extension service PDFs, and even a few books published by Homestead on the Range to help you learn important facts and skills.

New to our site? Allow us to recommend some of the books our readers purchase or download after visiting.

Continue reading Top 10 Reader-Favorite Books

The Homesteading Bucket List Part 2: 25 More Practical Country Living Projects

The Country Living Bucket List Part 2

Ready for 25 more skills to build on the ones you mastered previously? This set is considerably more advanced than the first, so take your time and be prepared for the learning curve.

26. Prune a Fruit Tree

Although more involved than pruning cane fruits, pruning fruit trees is still quite essential to keeping your trees productive and healthy. Be sure to study some diagrams carefully before you tackle this one. Every cut you make will affect your harvest for better or worse for years to come.

Helpful Resource

Pruning Fruit Trees
Handy free document with illustrations from K-State.

27. Build a Fence

Good fences make good farms. Fencing the garden is a must to keep animal pests at bay. Fencing the yard is highly recommended if you have pets. Fencing the perimeter of the property discourages trespassers. One type of fencing that is better avoided at first, however, is permanent fencing subdividing pastures. Most grazing management experts recommend that beginners use only portable fencing to break up pastures for the first three years or so, as there is a strong tendency to overdo it when starting out, creating logistical mayhem in the long run.

Helpful Resource

How to Make Osage Orange Fence Posts
Making your own fence posts can be surprisingly easy.

28. Learn an Intensive Gardening Technique

Intensive gardening methods seek to maximize the yields of produce per square foot of growing space. These methods were usually created in response to the inefficiencies of traditional row gardening, which was developed based on commercial horticultural implements. For making the most of small areas, intensive gardening techniques cannot be beat. Consider some of these possibilities:

  • Biointensive gardening.
  • Container gardening.
  • Interplanting.
  • Lasagna gardening.
  • Mittlieder method.
  • No-work gardening.
  • Raised bed gardening.
  • Square foot gardening.
  • Soil bag gardening.
  • Straw bale gardening.
  • Succession planting.
  • Tire gardening.
  • Vertical gardening.

29. Work with a Team of Draft Animals

What can draft animals do for you? Plenty. Two areas where draft animals still excel today are in small-scale grain growing and in sustainable logging. For farms with an agritourism bent, draft animals have considerable educational and entertainment value, as well.

Helpful Resource

Draft Animal Power for Farming
Important information to know before you get started, conveniently available in a free PDF download.

30. Grow Grain

You would be surprised at how little space it takes to meet a family’s annual grain needs! Furthermore, raising your own grain can be a way to avoid pesticides and GMOs while taking advantage of the impressive nutrient profiles of traditional grains that may be hard to find at the grocery store.

31. Freeze Eggs

Once your layer flock hits its stride, you will probably start wondering what to do with all those eggs. Freezing them is an incredibly simple way to save them for the winter, when your chickens will be taking a holiday. Frozen eggs are quite satisfactory when used for baking or scrambling.

Helpful Resource

How to Freeze Eggs
Step-by-step instructions.

32. Sell Homegrown Food

This is not an easy task, but fortunately it doesn’t have to be done on a large scale. If starting a full-fledged food business is not for you, sell a dozen eggs to some close friends. If you are more ambitious, set up a produce stand or sell grassfed beef to a restaurant.

Helpful Resources

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm BusinessStarting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business
A 10-step overview covering everything from business plans to product pricing to sale venues. Read our full review.

Farm Fresh
Plenty of ideas for marketing grassfed meat and milk. Read our full review.

Kansas Department of Agriculture Licensing Guides
Important information to know before making your first sale. (If you are not in Kansas, check your state’s department of agriculture for a similar resource.)

33. Make Homemade Bread

Making bread does not have to be complicated! While some home bread bakers are true artisans, working with carefully crafted recipes and doing every step by hand, those who are pressed for time or inclination can use a bread machine.

34. Plant a Cover Crop

Whether you grow vegetables or grains, a cover crop is a great way to improve your soil—naturally! Cover crops can offer numerous benefits in the way of nitrogen fixation, weed suppression, and organic matter building.

Helpful Resources

Cover Crop Decision Tool
A superb online tool that factors in your objectives, climate, and soil conditions. Highly recommended for growers of both grains and vegetables.

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers
Useful site from Cornell that profiles 17 cover crops that work well in the garden.

35. Sew an Entire Garment

Again, keep it simple, especially to start. Make it easy on yourself by starting with a purchased pattern. Also, invest in some internet tutorials and how-to books before you pick up the thread. As a final time-saving tip, consider buying a sewing machine, particularly if you think you are likely to sew regularly in the future. A sewing machine can make garment repair and creation quick and easy.

36. Learn to Quilt

This time-honored tradition can be a great creative outlet! Furthermore, there are plenty of kits and books to get you off to a good start these days. If an entire quilt seems like a daunting first project, consider a pillow instead.

37. Build a Root Cellar

It seems like nearly every homesteader’s dream involves a root cellar. And it’s a great way to keep your produce fresh throughout the long winter months when you can’t garden as much!

Helpful Resource

HomeMadeHomeMade
This handy project book includes tips and plans for building your own root cellar. Read our full review.

38. Shear a Sheep

Shearing is something of a lost art, with few professional shearers left. Fortunately, thanks to a growing interest in country living across America, the skill of shearing still has a bright future among hobby farmers.

39. Learn How to Spin

Once you’ve sheared your first sheep, it is only logical to learn how spin the fleece into yarn. Unfortunately, spinning wheels can be very expensive these days. However, the drop spindle is an affordable alternative, especially if you want to test your level of interest before making a considerable investment.

40. Hatch a Batch of Chicks Yourself

There’s nothing like raising your own chicks from eggs. This is an area where you have quite a few options, too. You may want to purchase fertile eggs from a hatchery, or you can let your own rooster and hens do the work. You can bring the hatching process indoors with an incubator, or you can opt to let a broody hen provide a more natural experience.

Helpful Resource

The Broody Hen Versus the Incubator
A comparison of the advantages of each option.

41. Make Ice Cream

Even if you don’t have farm-fresh milk available, you can still make some mighty tasty ice cream with cream from the store. Many gadgets for making ice cream exist these days, and most come with recipes to get you started.

Helpful Resource

Ice Cream Ball
This is a fun way to make ice cream, but it does involve some exercise and some patience.

Stocking UpStocking Up
The third edition of this classic includes tips on making ice cream. Read our full review.

42. Make Cheese

Again, even if you don’t raise dairy cows or goats, you can still make cheese at home. If you are completely new to the process, consider starting with a beginner’s kit.

Helpful Resource

Stocking Up
The third edition includes quite a bit of cheesemaking information, including specifics on cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, semi-hard cheese, and cheddar. Read our full review.

43. Learn How to Dehydrate Fruit

Many fruits can be dehydrated at home, and often without much investment in equipment. If you are new to food dehydration, consider starting out with your tried-and-true home oven. Other dehydrating options include solar drying, freeze drying, and using a special electric food dehydrator.

Helpful Resources

Stocking Up
The third edition of this old classic includes a considerable amount of information on your many dehydrating options. Read our full review.

Drying
This part of K-State’s Food Preservation site offers links to information on equipment, methods, storage, and more.

44. Make Jam or Jelly

Making homemade jam or jelly is not only a way to preserve fruit, it is also a way to achieve unique flavor. However, food safety considerations are crucial when making jam or jelly, so be sure to read up before you start!

Helpful Resources

Stocking Up
Includes very practical information on making jam or jelly. Read our full review.

Jams & Jellies
This part of K-State’s Food Preservation site has information on working with apples, cherries, peaches, and a variety of berries, along with general information on the various steps of the jelly-making process.

45. Learn to Knit

This is an easy and rewarding skill to pick up, and a natural next step after learning to spin. Start with something really simple, such as a washcloth or scarf, and before you know it you’ll be making everything from socks to sweaters.

Helpful Resource

Kids KnittingKids Knitting
Not only is this inviting, easy-to-understand book a great way to introduce children to a productive craft, it is a superb way for an adult to get started, too! Read our full review.

46. Learn to Crochet

And if you’re going to learn how to knit, learning how to crochet is also a natural choice!

47. Sell a Handmade Craft

Already selling food? Selling crafts is even easier. Considering adding your handmade items to your farm product lineup or setting up shop online.

48. Make an Entire Meal with Only Homegrown Ingredients

This is the ultimate goal for many homesteaders, and it is one that will require some planning. You will likely need a homegrown grain and some homemade butter to make bread or some other baked good. For a dinner, you will also want home-raised meat and a sampling of produce from the garden. For a breakfast, you might consider farm-fresh eggs and some homemade jelly.

49. Learn to Ride a Horse

While not absolutely essential on many homesteads, horseback riding can be excellent recreation, and it can be useful if you raise a larger herd of cattle. Consider this one a reward for a lifetime of homesteading well done.

Helpful Resource

The Basics of Western RidingThe Basics of Western Riding
While you will definitely need a more advanced guide at some point, this should get you started. Read our full review.

50. Teach a Country Living Skill to Someone Younger Than You

Here’s your chance to give back. Whether you pass your knowledge along to your children, to an apprentice, or to a blog reader, sharing your expertise will help ensure that country living skills are handed down through the years.

The Homesteading Bucket List Part 1: 25 Practical Country Living Projects

The Country Living Bucket List Part 1If you love country living, you probably enjoy reading websites and magazines that regularly feed your interest and give you new ideas of things to try out. After all, there are always new skills to be learned, and you never know what will become your next favorite project, hobby, or venture!

While your homesteading bucket list can (and should) be unique, you may find that the following suggestions spark an interest that you didn’t even know you had. You’ll also find helpful resources for jumping into many of the projects. The projects are roughly organized with the idea that the skills will complement and build upon one another.

We will feature 25 projects this week and 25 more next week for an even 50.

Have fun!

1. Start a Country Living Library

The perfect starting point! Reading broadly is the key to knowledgeable country living, and therefore the key to success. Want to get the most bang for your book-buying buck? Start with a few classics with philosophies that appeal to you—those that provide inspiration and a broad feel of what you are aiming for in your country living adventure, whether that is a slower lifestyle, a farm that pays the bills, or just a source of healthier food. Also pick up a few beginner-friendly how-to books on projects that you intend to pursue in the near future, such as gardening, cooking, or chicken-keeping.

Helpful Resources

Top 10 Books for Beginning Farmers
This list includes titles on gardening, field crops, livestock, food preservation, starting a farm business, and more.

The Homestead Bookshelf
Our steadily growing selection of the best books on country living out there!

2. Learn About Five Alternative Agriculture Concepts, Practices, or Systems

Once you have a library, you’ll be ready to explore the many options available for those looking to farm a little differently. You will likely want to mix and match to adapt to your unique circumstances. However, each of the different systems has much to offer. Topics you might research include:

3. Create a Budget

Living within your means is a huge part of country living. Take some time to plan how you will pay off any and all debt, and then start saving!

4. Start a Vegetable Garden

No matter how little land you have, you almost certainly have enough room for a vegetable garden, even if it consists solely of a few pots on a porch. This is probably the most rewarding country living project you can tackle.

Helpful Resources

Starting a Garden or Orchard
This series walks you through the basics of water, workload, location, logistics, and plant selection.

How to Plan a Garden
A step-by-step guide to mapping out a successful first garden.

5. Plant an Herb Garden

And while you are working on your vegetable garden, be sure to make room for a few herbs! Your herb garden does not have to be a separate feature of your property. Many herbs can protect your vegetables from insect pests if grown as companion plants.

6. Plant an Apple Tree

A dwarf apple tree is fairly easy to care for compared to other fruits, and it will reward you for years to come.

Helpful Resource

Planning Your Fruit Garden
Just the basics from K-State.

7. Build a Small Shed, Coop, or Other Shelter for Livestock

Livestock require shelter, and many country handymen enjoy building their own. What you build will obviously depend on what you intend to raise. Just keep in mind that simple is often best.

Helpful Resources

HomeMadeHomeMade
Includes many basic projects that will come in handy on your new homestead! Read our full review.

Free LSU Building Plans
These structures tend to be larger and more involved, but there is still plenty of useful material here.

8. Start a Flock of Laying Hens

What homestead would be complete without laying hens? This rewarding project is truly a must—homegrown eggs are infinitely superior to commercial in appearance and peace of mind, not to mention nutritional value.

Helpful Resources

Choosing a Breed of Chicken
Tried-and-true tips for selecting breeds that will meet your needs.

How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks
A step-by-step procedure for getting your baby chicks off to a good start.

Storey's Guide to Raising ChickensStorey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
An essential book for the beginning chicken-keeper! Read our full review.

9. Build a Birdhouse

A backyard full of birds is a place of beauty. Furthermore, these delightful creatures will do their part in keeping insect pests under control. Have a little extra time on your hands? Make a few more birdhouses than you need and give them away as Christmas gifts to those nature lovers on your list!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Book of Birdhouse ConstructionComplete Book of Birdhouse Construction
Very concise illustrated guide with detailed plans for homes for house finches, great crested flycatchers, purple martins, phoebes, downy woodpeckers, wood ducks, and bluebirds, as well as specifications for many more. Read our full review.

10. Use Native Plants for Landscaping

Native plants have a tremendous advantage when it comes to landscaping—they are exceptionally well adapted to your area! When setting about beautifying your place in the country, consider some of the hardy plants that are native to your soil and climate.

11. Make Compost

Composting is not as difficult or mysterious as many books would lead you to believe. While there are many advantages to a precisely controlled hot compost pile, cold composting is a forgiving method that can have you looking like a pro in no time!

Helpful Resource

The Complete Compost Gardening GuideThe Complete Compost Gardening Guide
This friendly book makes composting easy! Read our full review.

12. Raise Earthworms

Earthworms are a gardener’s best friend! If you just want to introduce the children to these fun and fascinating animals, keep it simple and house some worms from your backyard in a clear jar with some garden soil and kitchen scraps for a while. Serious about raising earthworms? Try vermicomposting!

13. Identify the Plants in Your Pasture

What’s the best pasture grass to start with? Often it’s whatever is already occupying the place! Learn what plants, useful and toxic, are on your land, and use that information to find out how to manage your native pastures to advantage.

Helpful Resource

Grasses of Kansas
Our own guide to Kansas grasses, their characteristics, life cycles, ecology, uses, and hazards.

Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses
A very useful website with concise information and photos galore!

14. Press Flowers

While you’re in the pasture, collect some plants to press and store in a nature journal. Not only is this a fun craft, it will help you master plant identification over time.

15. Dry Herbs

Many gardeners believe that the flavor of homegrown herbs dried in small batches and stored for short periods of time is far superior to that of dried herbs that have sat on the grocery store shelf for a while. Fortunately, the skill of drying herbs is not a difficult one to acquire, and these days there are many methods, ranging from hanging up bundles of herbs in an airy place to using sophisticated solar dehydrators.

16. Save Heirloom Seeds

The practice of saving seeds to plant and to share is a time-honored one. Some old vegetable varieties are only around today because one dedicated gardener thought they were worth preserving. Make sure your favorite heirloom plants are still around for future generations by saving the seeds!

Helpful Resource

Vegetables
Our guide to growing vegetables includes step-by-step instructions for saving seeds.

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables
Information on ensuring a healthy gene pool when saving heirloom plants, for the truly dedicated seed-saver.

17. Start an Indoor Container Garden

Even if you have space for a large outdoor garden, there are still advantages to growing a few plants in pots indoors. Herbs are often more convenient when placed within arm’s reach of the cook. Indoor container gardening can be a simple way to extend the growing season. Also, container gardening makes growing some plants, such as citrus trees, possible regardless of your climate.

18. Make Your Own Mulch

There are many types of mulch that can easily be made at home. Shredding discarded newspapers and collecting lawn clippings are two options within reach of nearly every homesteader. With the right equipment, you may also be able to cut your own straw or chip your own wood mulch.

Helpful Resource

A Brief Guide to 13 Common Garden Mulches
Learn about the pros, cons, and best applications of over a dozen mulches, some of which are easy to make yourself.

19. Build a Cold Frame

There’s a reason homesteaders love cold frames—they are easy to build and highly effective at extending the growing season. Don’t neglect this valuable addition to your country lifestyle!

Helpful Resource

HomeMade
Includes plans for a cold frame. Read our full review.

20. Put Up a Bird Feeder

Bring some cheer to your place during those cold winter months (and enjoy the satisfaction of doing a good deed while you’re at it!). Bird feeders can be surprisingly easy to make.

Helpful Resource

The Backyard Bird Feeder's BibleThe Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible
This fun and friendly book includes numerous do-it-yourself bird feeder projects, and it will even tell you what your favorite birds prefer to eat! Read our full review.

21. Cut and Use Firewood from Your Own Property

Many find cutting firewood to be a very satisfying way to heat their own homes. Keep in mind that not all firewoods are created equal. Hardwoods are much more efficient than softwoods, and seasoned wood is highly recommended for a nice, clean burn.

22. Mend a Garment

Clothing mishaps are inevitable on a small farm, so it’s best to be prepared. Learning these simple skills can extend the life of your clothes considerably:

  • Sewing on a button.
  • Stitching a tear in fabric.
  • Patching blue jeans.
  • Darning socks.

23. Make a Piece of Furniture

Here’s a winter project that can quickly make you very popular with your relatives! Furthermore, making your own furniture can provide you with the satisfaction of owning one-of-a-kind pieces that fit perfectly into your home.

24. Learn to Tie Basic Knots

Knot-tying is a very useful skill for those who spend time working outdoors. Even if gardening is your only country living project, you would be amazed at how useful a good knot can be.

25. Prune Cane Fruits

To maximize the health and productivity of your cane fruits, such as blackberries and raspberries, regular pruning is recommended. Fortunately, it is also quite an easy skill to learn.

Helpful Resource

How to Prune Blackberries
Step-by-step instructions for both winter and post-harvest pruning.

Microwave Bread Pudding

Microwave Bread PuddingYou know what they say—waste not, want not. And what more delicious application of this proverb is there than bread pudding?

This super-easy recipe, adapted from a Betty Crocker cookbook, is a family favorite and an excellent way to keep those bread heels and halves from going to waste. If you make your own homemade bread on a regular basis, it’s hearty, too.

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups bread cubes
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 2 eggs

Directions

  1. Place milk and butter in a 4-cup microwavable measuring cup. Microwave uncovered on high 4 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, spread bread cubes evenly in a round microwavable dish, 8 x 1-1/2 inches.
  3. Sprinkle with raisins, brown sugar, and nuts.
  4. Quickly beat eggs into warm water mixture. Pour over fruit.
  5. Microwave uncovered on 70% power for 9 to 12 minutes until center is almost set (center will set while standing).
  6. Serve warm.

Now on Kindle Unlimited: The Worst Jokes I Know (and I Know a Lot!)

The Worst Jokes I Know (and I Know a Lot!)Looking for some fun reading for the whole family? The Worst Jokes I Know (and I Know a Lot!): 101 Funny Bone Ticklers for Jokesters of All Ages is once again available for free through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program for a limited time.

Finding clean jokes that children of all ages can enjoy doesn’t have to be difficult!

B. Patrick Lincoln has supplied the need by collecting 101 family-friendly puns and riddles! Old jokes receive a new spin (Why is it inadvisable to read the contents of this book to an egg?), while original wordplay delights and entertains:

“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.”

Children will love sharing these jokes with their parents, grandparents, friends, and pun pals, while quirky illustrations add to the fun. Not only will the gift of clean humor connect generations, children will sharpen their logic and vocabulary skills as they practice their delivery. (And readers will finally have an answer to that nagging question of why the chicken really crossed the road.)

Share a laugh!

The Worst Jokes I Know is also available for purchase as a paperback. Find more information and free sample pages here.

Pros and Cons of Drinking Coffee

Pros and Cons of Drinking CoffeeIs drinking coffee good for your health? Or is it bad for you?

Often, we seem to receive conflicting information on this subject from the media.

And while there are good reasons we probably really don’t want a straight answer to the question…some of us are just too curious to resist the urge to dig a little deeper!

So, is that morning joe beneficial or not, strictly from a health standpoint? Let’s find out.

Note that this post will strictly examine black coffee—not sweetened or flavored coffee beverages. Introducing flavored syrups to the equation definitely dips the balance in the direction of unhealthy.

Pros

  • B vitamins. Coffee contains two important B vitamins—B2 (riboflavin) and B5 (pantothenic acid). Vitamin B2 helps the body process other dietary nutrients, while vitamin B5 maintains digestive and adrenal health, among other things.
  • Potassium and magnesium. Caffeine is not the sole benefit from coffee. Coffee happens to contain potassium and magnesium. Granted, there are many more potent sources of potassium and magnesium, but if your diet is deficient in fruits and vegetables, the coffee is probably what’s keeping you going.
  • Antioxidants. You know what antioxidants are—those celebrated substances that help your immune system ward off free radicals. A serving of coffee often contains more antioxidants than some fruits!
  • Improved physical performance and endurance. The caffeine in coffee raises your adrenaline levels, in turn enhancing your physical output. Here’s a tip for maximizing the benefits—drink your coffee black, and enjoy it about an hour before exercising. Drinking coffee has also been linked with improved endurance in long-duration physical activities.
  • Improved cognitive function. Drinking anywhere from one to six cups of coffee a day will give you a dose of caffeine sufficient to keep you alert and focused. Some researchers have even found that coffee drinkers learn new information more readily than non-drinkers. Want an even bigger boost? Pairing a cup of coffee with something sweet appears to improve attention levels and working memory better than either treat alone.
  • Improved mood. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and promotes the production of key neurotransmitters, which in turn are necessary for mood health.
  • Reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease. Some research suggests that coffee may reduce the risk by as much as 25%! Caffeine appears to stimulate the part of the brain affected by Parkinson’s and to protect the brain cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter crucial for preventing the disease. Men appear to benefit more than women in this area.
  • Reduced risk of stroke. Drinking three to four cups of coffee a day is associated with a lower risk of stroke. These benefits can be reaped from decaffeinated coffee as well as caffeinated. Note, however, that those who are not used to drinking coffee may see a sudden increase in their risk of stroke immediately after consumption.
  • Reduced risk of heart disease. Some studies have demonstrated that drinking two to three cups of coffee a day can lower your risk of heart disease by 21%. The benefits appear to wane for those who drink six or more cups each day. Women appear to benefit from coffee consumption more than men in this area.
  • Reduced risk of liver damage. This one applies only to people who are otherwise at risk for liver disease, and the benefits are largely lost in filtered coffee. Several substances found in French press or boiled coffee are associated with lower enzyme levels, which in turn are associated with less liver inflammation and damage.
  • Reduced risk of diabetes. Although drinking coffee can cause a short-term blood sugar spike, habitual coffee consumption can help stabilize your insulin levels, reduce your glucose absorption, and help your body process what glucose it does absorb more efficiently. Three to six cups a day appears to maximize the benefit. Also, decaffeinated coffee produces the same effect as caffeinated in this regard.
  • Reduced risk of stones. Consistent coffee consumption may prevent cholesterol from crystallizing in the gallbladder in the form of stones, and it may keep the system flushed out by increasing bile flow. Coffee is also beneficial in reducing the risk of kidney stones.
  • Reduced risk of cancer. Contrary to popular belief, science has failed to find a link between coffee and cancer. In fact, coffee is surprisingly powerful in its cancer-fighting ability for reasons ranging from anti-inflammatory effects to beneficial plant chemicals. Coffee’s cancer-fighting benefits appear to be particularly powerful in the areas of liver, colon, prostate, and endometrial cancers. Caffeine is also believed to prevent the development of basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer.

Cons

  • Potential for toxins. Not all coffee is created equal. Cheap coffee often contains impurities, including heavy doses of numerous herbicides and pesticides. These chemicals can in turn cause headaches or general feelings of sickness—not to mention add a cancer risk not found in the pure, unadulterated coffee bean. Also, the solvents used to make decaffeinated coffee may contribute to rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Restlessness and anxiety. This is due to caffeine. Whether or not coffee will have this effect on you largely depends on whether you are genetically predisposed to caffeine sensitivity, and going cold turkey on caffeine can make the symptoms worse.
  • Insomnia. One of the well-known downsides of caffeine. Some people are genetically sensitive to caffeine and will have to find their own caffeine limit. For most people, though, the recommended safe maximum is four cups of coffee per day.
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis. Coffee causes the body to excrete calcium, which can in turn lead to brittle bones in people (especially women) who drink four or more cups a day. Fortunately, this effect can be counterbalanced fairly easily—just consume about two tablespoons of milk or yogurt for every cup of coffee you drink (you don’t have to put the dairy into the coffee to reap the benefits).
  • Stomach irritation. Caffeine and several other compounds found in coffee stimulate the stomach lining to produce more acid, which can in turn lead to a major stomachache in some people. When roasted, however, coffee beans produce another substance that blocks stomach acid production. Therefore, if your stomach is sensitive to coffee, you may be able to enjoy a darker roast. Cold brew and decaf are also options for those who suffer from stomach difficulties. As a final tip, eating something with your coffee will reduce the pain by giving the surplus acid something to work on.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux. If you already are prone to reflux, coffee can make it worse.
  • Dehydration. Coffee is a mild diuretic. While most scientists do not consider coffee to present any dehydration risk, and some even encourage counting a cup of coffee toward your daily fluid intake goals, the fact remains that many people do not drink enough water as it is. So be sure to balance out that extra cup of coffee with an extra glass of water.
  • Pregnancy risks. Unborn babies absorb caffeine all too readily, which has been associated with death and low birth weights. How much caffeine produces adverse effects is currently being debated, but drinking no more than one cup of coffee a day is a common recommendation.

Conclusion

So is coffee good for you? Most scientists still hesitate to go that far—but on the other hand most are now willing to concede that, as long as you are not a caffeine-sensitive individual, coffee probably isn’t bad for you. For most people, there is absolutely no reason not to enjoy a moderate amount (two to four cups) of coffee every day. You might even reap some health benefits.

Some people, however, are sensitive to the effects of caffeine. For them, what is typically termed “moderate” coffee consumption will probably produce side effects that are not enjoyable. While they do not necessarily have to forego coffee altogether, they may have to experiment to find a lower amount that will not wreak havoc on their nerves and digestive systems. These people will probably not be able to reap the full benefit of coffee consumption.

Whatever your coffee tolerance level is, enjoy it with a snack and follow it up with plenty of water. Some of the coffee benefits are maximized with a sweet treat, and the potential for stomach irritation will be minimized, as well. The water will help avoid dehydration due to the diuretic effect.

Finally, if you are really wanting to boost your vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant levels, you probably want to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet rather than relying on coffee to supply your deficit. Here’s a challenge—try eating some colors!

Helpful Resources

Coffee Warning Label Conflicts With Public Health Guidance
Is coffee really a potential carcinogen? Probably not.

Why the Human Body Needs Cholesterol

Why the Human Body Needs CholesterolCholesterol gets a bad rap these days. After all, doesn’t it harden up your arteries and cause heart disease?

Actually, there’s a little more to it than that. Cholesterol is necessary for human health. Here’s why.

Cholesterol and the Cell Membrane

The membrane of each cell in the human body is made up of two layers of lipids. One of the most important lipids that make up cell membranes is cholesterol. In some cells, cholesterol may even make up as much as 50% of the membrane!

Why does the cell membrane require so much cholesterol versus any other lipid? Because cholesterol is relatively rigid compared to many lipids. Cholesterol is the perfect ingredient for keeping cell membranes strong and proof against ion infiltration, while still being flexible enough to allow for a full range of body motions.

Because of its role in the cell membrane, cholesterol is an important part of how the body recovers from inflammation. Any time any part of the body is suffering from inflammation, cholesterol is quickly transported to the source of the problem to begin the process of building new healthy cells. (Ironically, it is the much-maligned LDL cholesterol that is sent to the scene to carry out the repairs.)

Cholesterol and Hormone Production

Cholesterol is an important precursor for the manufacture of several key hormones. The list of hormones that require cholesterol for synthesis includes:

  • Progesterone.
  • Estrogen.
  • Testosterone.
  • Cortisol (produced by the adrenal glands; used to regulate blood sugar and ward off infection).
  • Cortisone (produced by the adrenal glands; used to control the body’s fight/flight response).
  • Aldosterone (produced by the adrenal glands; used to regulate blood pressure, maintain proper sodium levels, and conserve water in the body).

Cholesterol and Digestion

Cholesterol is also used by the body to make bile. Bile is produced in the liver and aids in digesting food, particularly large fat globules. Ironically, without cholesterol to produce bile, the body would be unable to process fats, and the fats would accumulate in the bloodstream, block the arteries, and cause heart disease.

Also of importance, bile is needed to help the intestines absorb fat-soluble vitamins from food. The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Cholesterol and Vitamin D Production

You’ve undoubtedly heard that your body can make its own vitamin D provided enough sunlight. Cholesterol is the secret ingredient in this process. When the sun hits your skin, it starts a chemical reaction that involves the conversion of cholesterol to vitamin D. This vitamin D then goes on to play a role in many body processes, ranging from mineral absorption to metabolism to immune response.

Cholesterol and the Immune System

By now, you may have noticed that cholesterol is important to good immune system function through its roles in hormone manufacture and vitamin D production. But there’s more! LDL cholesterol plays an additional role in the body’s defenses by attaching itself to bacterial toxins and neutralizing them.

Cholesterol and Nervous System Function

Did you know that the brain contains about 25% of the cholesterol volume of the entire human body? Cholesterol is key to the formation of brain synapses and neurotransmitters, both required for the proper firing of neurons. Proper neuron function is in turn necessary to the processes of learning and thinking. Low cholesterol has been associated with impaired mood, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cholesterol is also an important part of the myelin sheath that insulates nerve cells.

Can Cholesterol Levels Drop Too Low?

All of this begs the question—is it possible to have cholesterol levels that are too low? While this scenario is not terribly common, it can happen.

First off, it is important to note that the human body typically manufactures most of its cholesterol. The average American male synthesizes about 1,000 mg of cholesterol daily, while he eats only an additional 307 mg daily. Biosynthesis of cholesterol is very important to keeping the body running, as most of the cholesterol found in food is relatively poorly absorbed. The intestines will only allow more dietary cholesterol absorption if the body is not producing enough cholesterol to meet its many requirements.

Therefore, because cholesterol manufactured by the body plays a more important role than cholesterol consumed in the diet, abnormally low cholesterol levels are typically caused by something that impairs the body’s ability to manufacture and use cholesterol, particularly statin use, genetic defects, and endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism.

The consequences of excessively low cholesterol are not well understood at present due to a dearth of research, but they may include cancer and cerebral hemorrhage, as well as premature births in pregnant women. In most cases, however, the cause of the low cholesterol levels is probably more dangerous than the low levels themselves.

Helpful Resource

Eat Your Egg Yolks
Still on the fence about eating the whole egg? There are many ways that a sunny homegrown egg yolk can boost your health.