Tag: Nature

Osage Orange Firewood: A Caution
The Lifestyle

Osage Orange Firewood: A Few Cautions

Osage Orange Firewood: A CautionA quick glance at the heating properties of Osage orange may suggest that this tree is the world’s best firewood (if you don’t mind battling thorns and sharpening chainsaw blades frequently). After all, this dense wood is the hottest-burning firewood east of the Rocky Mountains, producing as much as 32.6 million BTUs per cord according to K-State. That’s enough heat to warp a wood-burning stove without proper precautions to keep the temperature down.

But sitting in front of an Osage orange fire can be anything but restful. Once the wood heats up, the constant shower of sparks can transform your fireplace in a miniature fireworks display.

Sparking occurs when the wood releases sap, which in this species is a thick, sticky white substance containing latex. The sparking increases dramatically if the fire is suddenly exposed to air.

You can mitigate, but not completely eliminate, the spark shower by allowing the sap to dry out before burning. Osage orange dries very slowly, taking from six months to two years depending on the size of the pieces. Note that the wood should be split before drying begins. Dry Osage orange is remarkably like iron.

It’s always best to be on the safe side, even with dry wood. Never burn Osage orange in an open fireplace, and never leave the fire unattended.

2018 Reading Challenge: Kansas
The Lifestyle

2018 Reading Challenge: Kansas

2018 Reading Challenge: KansasA new year—a new reading challenge!

This year, Kansas is the theme. To complete the challenge, you must read 12 Kansas-related books by the end of 2018:

  1. A book about Kansas prior to 1854.
  2. A book about Kansas flora.
  3. A fictional book written by a Kansas author.
  4. A book about territorial Kansas.
  5. A book about Kansas travel.
  6. A book about Kansas fauna.
  7. A book about Kansas in the late 1800s.
  8. A book of poetry written by a Kansas author.
  9. A book about a famous Kansan.
  10. A book about Kansas in the 1900s.
  11. A book of Kansas photography.
  12. A book about a current issue in Kansas.

Here are the 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.

If you can complete a book a month, you will be able to complete the challenge easily.

Stuck? Sign up for On the Range, our free weekly country living update (learn more). In the last issue of every month, we’ll suggest a book for one of the categories as a hint.

Let us know what you’re reading this year! We’d love to hear from you!


Helpful Resource

The Homestead Bookshelf
Looking for a good book? Start here.

Exploring the Night Sky With Binoculars
The Sunflower State

Exploring the Night Sky With Binoculars

Exploring the Night Sky With BinocularsIt’s getting to be that time of year again—time to admire the beauty of the stars and planets.

For a simple, inexpensive introduction consider Exploring the Night Sky With Binoculars by David Chandler. Binoculars are a great way to get started stargazing, as they are easy to find and extremely portable, and this little booklet will get you off to a good start using them.

Exploring the Night Sky With Binoculars begins at the beginning—choosing a good pair of binoculars and learning how to use them properly. After a brief discussion of cosmic geography (some parents may want to address the “billions of years” perspective) comes information on identifying and examining the varied objects of the night sky:

  • The moon.
  • Planets.
  • Asteroids.
  • Comets.
  • The Milky Way.
  • Nebulae.
  • Star clusters.
  • Galaxies.

Once you have seen some of the highlights of space, take one of the four seasonal tours to learn how to find your way around the stars. These brief tours will help you identify the major constellations, particularly with the use of pointer stars.

If you are expecting an exhaustive resource, you will probably be disappointed with this booklet. It was really intended for the absolute beginner who wants to see the sights of the night sky armed only with a pair of binoculars. However, because Exploring the Night Sky With Binoculars is clear, concise, and well illustrated (not to mention small enough to carry easily), we do not hesitate to recommend it to the novice stargazer. Hopefully it will whet your appetite for more thorough probing and more in-depth information.

Buffalo Jones
The Sunflower State

Buffalo Jones

Buffalo Jones

From left to right: Pawnee Bill, Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Jones

There are many reasons why Charles Jesse Jones could be an interesting person to read about. He grew up on the Illinois frontier when Abraham Lincoln was still a backwoods lawyer. He became a pioneer, a cowboy, and a rancher, but still lived a remarkably clean life, never touching caffeine, let alone spirits. He was a founding member of Garden City, Kansas. He rubbed elbows with Teddy Roosevelt, who eventually appointed him Park Warden at Yellowstone. He even spent a while capturing big game in Africa—with a lasso!

But none of these things gave Charles Jones his claim to fame. His nickname, “Buffalo” Jones, says it all. He has the distinction as being one of the first and most dedicated to save the bison from extinction.


The Inspiration

Incidentally, Buffalo Jones, the rescuer of the bison, started out as a buffalo hunter himself.

Jones had been studying at Illinois Wesleyan University for two years when a bout with typhoid fever changed the course of his life. His poor health convinced him to give up his studies and move west to Kansas. In 1866, he moved to the town of Troy in the northeastern corner of the state, where he married, started a tree nursery, and taught a Sunday school class. Jones was evidently cut out for adventure, however, so while in Troy he decided to try his hand at hunting buffalo.

Selling buffalo hides was a profitable pursuit at the time, so Jones moved his family and his nursery business to Osborne County, arriving on New Year’s Day, 1872. Here he could be close to the great herds of bison. Besides hunting buffalo, Jones earned extra cash by capturing mustangs and taming bison calves to sell at county fairs.

In 1878, Jones moved still further west to help lay out Garden City, and was subsequently elected as the new town’s first mayor. In addition to his duties as mayor, Jones became involved in architecture, real estate, irrigation, and railroads. One would think that these diverse projects would leave little time for thinking about bison, but even then Jones enjoyed training buffalo calves to pull his wagon through the streets of Garden City.

Terrible blizzards hit Jones’s part of Kansas in 1886, killing cattle by the thousands. The catastrophe proved to be an epiphany for Jones. He suddenly realized that bison would never have perished in the cold. At that moment, he also recognized what the West was losing. He appreciated the historical significance and iconic symbolism of the bison. By 1886, Jones was sorry that he had ever become a buffalo hunter.


The Market

Buffalo Jones

Buffalo Jones donning his buffalo fur coat

Jones’s friends regarded him as a visionary, and indeed he was. But he was also a man of action. Buffalo Jones did not waste time lamenting the fate of the bison—he set about to reverse that fate.

Jones recognized early on that if ranchers were going to be interested in saving the bison, the bison was going to have to make himself useful in return. So Buffalo Jones worked diligently to identify potential markets for buffalo.

One potential produce that bison could provide was fur. Fur could be collected without killing the buffalo, and it had many uses, ranging from socks to blankets.

Another possibility was breeding buffalo to cattle. Jones hoped that a buffalo/cattle hybrid would provide a profitable beef animal with superior hardiness to range conditions. He also hoped that the “cattalo,” as he called them, would retain the docile temperament of their domesticated parent.


The Rescue

After scouring the area around Garden City for buffalo, Jones was alarmed to realize just how few bison were left. Clearly, there was no time to be lost.

Starting in 1886, Jones began making trips to the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles to capture bison calves. After four trips, he had collected 57 buffalo. These calves were released on his ranch in Garden City. In 1889, Jones added to this herd by purchasing 83 head from Manitoba—nearly all of the bison that were left in Canada at that time!

Jones subsequently collected another large herd at a ranch in McCook, Nebraska. This ranch lasted from 1890 to 1892 and was home to as many as 100 buffalo.

Jones used both herds to supply all who shared his vision of preserving the bison. Some buffalo went to zoos, while others formed herds on private ranches. Ten of Jones’s bison were even shipped to England.

Meanwhile, Jones also worked on breeding cattalo at his Garden City ranch. Here he met with limited success. For one thing, the cattalo were usually sterile. For another thing, they seemed to partake strongly of the wild nature of the bison.

Unfortunately, Jones did not have the means to continue his great rescue. The McCook ranch proved to be a financial failure by 1892. The rest of Jones’s money was lost in the Panic of 1893, so he took part in an Oklahoma land rush that same year, hoping to restore his fallen fortunes. However, in 1895, Jones was forced to sell off his Garden City bison to ranchers further west. Jones next spent some time as a legislator, a railroad promoter, a prospector in the Yukon, the author of an autobiography, and a game warden at Yellowstone National Park.


The Result

In 1906, Jones once again owned a ranch, this time on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Here he resumed his experiment of crossing bison with Galloway cattle, with about the same success he had experienced in Garden City. Cattalo never became very popular among ranchers.

But Jones’s broader purpose—saving the bison from extinction—was a resounding success thanks to the breeding stock that he sold around the country. His bison provided the genetic foundation for most of the buffalo alive in the United States today.


Helpful Resource

Charles Jesse Jones
An old photo of Buffalo Jones himself driving a team of buffalo—“Conquered at Last.”

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract Hummingbirds
The Sunflower State

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract Hummingbirds

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract HummingbirdsAttracting hummingbirds to your backyard doesn’t have to be complicated! If you want to enjoy the beautiful sight of these tiny creatures hovering outside, there are two incredibly simple ways to put out the welcome mat. One requires a little advanced planning, and one can be implemented today.


Plant Hummingbird-Friendly Flowers

A diverse display of flowers is a sight few hummingbirds can resist. And if a few blooms feature their favorite color—red—so much the better!

The Two Easiest Ways to Attract Hummingbirds

Butterflies love bee balm, too!

Red flowers that hummingbirds enjoy include:

  • Begonia.
  • Columbine.
  • Daylily.
  • Gilia.
  • Hibiscus.
  • Lantana.
  • Peony.
  • Zinnia.
  • Bee balm.
  • Scarlet sage.
  • Trumpet honeysuckle.
  • Red cardinal flower.

But just because it isn’t red doesn’t mean that hummingbirds won’t like it! Other proven favorites include:

  • Foxglove.
  • Geranium.
  • Hollyhock.
  • Impatiens.
  • Nasturtium.
  • Petunia.
  • Phlox.
  • Yucca.
  • Blazing star.
  • Butterfly bush.
  • Purple coneflower.

Note that tube-shaped blossoms help the hummingbirds access the nectar.


The Two Easiest Ways to Attract HummingbirdsFill a Nectar Feeder

Have you ever been tempted to buy a hummingbird nectar mix from your favorite supplier of all things bird-related? Resist the urge! Commercial nectar mixes usually contain artificial colorings and preservatives that are actually harmful to hummingbirds.

Incidentally, the cheapest and easiest solution is actually the best for the birds—just dissolve plain old white cane sugar in clean water in a 1:4 ratio. White sugar is sucrose, which is a major part of the natural diet of a hummingbird. While there are other nutrients hummingbirds need, they will obtain those by sipping out of the flowers you planted for them.

Never feed any of these ingredients to hummingbirds:

  • Honey; it will ferment outdoors and produce deadly bacteria.
  • Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, xylitol, etc.).
  • Minimally processed sugars (sucanat, turbinado, etc.); they contain iron, which is toxic to hummingbirds.

And please do not add red food coloring to your homemade nectar. Red food coloring usually contains red dye #40, which can be toxic to hummingbirds. Instead, alert hummingbirds to the presence of nectar by selecting a feeder that displays red prominently. This one fits the bill, plus does not tend to jettison nectar by blowing around in a strong wind like some models do.


Enjoy the Hummingbirds!

Attracting hummingbirds is easy! With these two easy steps, you’ll be sure to enjoy the tiny creatures this summer. Keep your camera handy!

The Sunflower State


BirdCastBirdwatchers have long had a few hints and tricks on the best days to go birding (preferably on a cloudy day with low barometric pressure sometime near the peak of migration season). Now scientists have offered us a new tool.

BirdCast, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, periodically releases migration forecasts to help birdwatchers pick the perfect time to spot that rare bird. Find out what bird is heading where nationally and regionally throughout the spring and fall migration seasons based on current weather patterns. For each species on the move, the forecasts predict:

  • Noticeability.
  • Date of arrival.
  • Date of rapid influx.
  • Peak date.
  • Date of rapid departure.
  • Date of final departure.

The computer models used to create these forecasts are based on three important sources of information:

  • Online records from citizen scientists.
  • Recorded flight calls.
  • Weather surveillance radar.

Of course, the result is a model, not an absolute. But it is fascinating to see the ways birds interact with national weather systems.

All is quiet on the bird migration front at present, but be sure to bookmark this site for later. Fall migration will be upon us again before you know it!

Top 10 Marguerite Henry Books
The Lifestyle

Top 10 Marguerite Henry Books

Top 10 Marguerite Henry BooksWhat horse-loving child hasn’t devoured one of Marguerite Henry’s books? Henry wrote with enthusiasm and feeling, making her stories timeless masterpieces that are sure to touch the heart.

While she has written many books that we could heartily recommend for readers of all ages, we have whittled down the list to ten of our absolute favorites. Looking for some summer reading? Try these.


Justin Morgan Had a Horse10. Justin Morgan Had a Horse

A schoolmaster accepts a fine colt in payment of a debt, only to end up with the colt’s runty little brother. Little does Justin Morgan know that the runt will someday more than prove his worth! This book tells the story of the Morgan breed, embellished enough to capture a child’s imagination, but still close enough to fact to be of interest to the adult horse lover.


9. Misty’s Twilight

Even grownups can dream! At long last, Dr. Sandy Price gets to visit Chincoteague on Pony Penning Day, and she brings back some ponies of her own. One of the ponies has a filly, Twilight. Dr. Price knows that Twilight has what it takes to make a great performance horse—but will horse trainers take the splashy pinto pony seriously?


8. Cinnabar the One O’Clock Fox

One might think that a fox would be terrified by a fox hunt, but not Cinnabar. Cinnabar has a reputation for punctuality that he is bound and determined to maintain. But can he outwit George Washington himself?


White Stallion of Lipizza7. White Stallion of Lipizza

Hans is captivated by the famous and beautiful Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish Riding School at Vienna. However, actually attending the riding school seems like an unattainable goal for a poor baker’s son. Young readers will not only root for Hans as he learns the discipline he needs to live his dream, but will learn quite a bit about Lipizzaners and the amazing feats they perform.


6. Black Gold

The true story of how two dreams converged when a boy who longed to be a jockey laid eyes on an underestimated horse with spirit. Henry retells the bittersweet tale of Black Gold with sympathy and compassion.


5. Stormy, Misty’s Foal

Paul and Maureen Beebe are anxiously awaiting the birth of Misty’s foal, but it seems to be arriving rather late. When a devastating storm hits, the Beebes must evacuate, leaving Misty to her own resources…in the family kitchen. Stormy is based on the true story of the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962. While some of the details have been altered to make a cohesive Misty series centered around Paul and Maureen, Misty really did weather the storm in a kitchen.


Album of Horses4. Album of Horses

The perfect first book on horse breeds for a young reader! The Album of Horses offers an engaging presentation of 24 of America’s favorite horse breeds, from the Clydesdale to the Shetland to the mule. The descriptions are written in story form and beautifully illustrated by Wesley Dennis. Read our full review.


3. Brighty of the Grand Canyon

Brighty lives a peaceful life in the Grand Canyon with his prospector friend—until one day the prospector is murdered, leaving the brave burro with a mystery to solve. Suspense and narrow escapes are around every corner, right up to a thrilling climax in a snowbound cabin.


Misty of Chincoteague2. Misty of Chincoteague

The classic story of the most famous Chincoteague pony of all! Paul Beebe joins in on Pony Penning Day to capture the elusive Phantom and unexpectedly discovers the foal at her side. A must-read for every horse lover. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tends to dismiss Henry’s story of the wrecked Spanish ship, but there is interesting historical and genetic evidence to support it.


1. Dear Readers and Riders

A great read for every child who has questions about Henry’s books. Learn more about favorite characters and the true stories behind the stories. Along the way, you will find out more about Marguerite Henry, her approach to writing, and her thoughts on horses and horsekeeping.

Kansas Bird Checklists
The Sunflower State

Kansas Bird Checklists

Kansas Bird ChecklistsIf you plan on doing any birdwatching in Kansas this Memorial Day weekend, equip yourself with a checklist first.

The Kansas Ornithological Society offers free PDF downloads of the following checklists:

Also, be sure to see the species county dot maps for a visual presentation of where in Kansas a particular bird has been seen.

These maps and checklists are updated as new birds are found in the state and in individual counties. Check back periodically.

Before you hit the road, print out your state checklist. For an extra challenge, start keeping track of your bird sightings by county! Good luck!