Looking 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:
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!
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.
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.).
Special weather or personal events.
Every 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:
Temperature conversion formulas.
The Beaufort scale.
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.
Running a farm or ranch is not the only way to cash in on your agricultural interest. These days, there are plenty of fields where a knowledge of agriculture and agricultural sciences can be a plus, and where you will have an opportunity to aid those who have chosen to work the land.
Here are a few ideas:
Veterinary medicine. Practitioners experienced with livestock work closely with most large farms and many smaller ones, as well.
Inspections. Inspectors ensure that USDA and FDA regulations are enforced. Some work in laboratories, others in processing facilities.
Scientific research. Science and farming go hand in hand. The points at which agriculture and science intersect are too many to list here, but just to give you an idea:
Soil science, the study of the soil and its management and conservation as it relates to farming.
Botany, the study of plants of all types. Botanists may research anything from breeding crops for hardiness to the conservation of native species to new food, fiber, and medicinal uses for familiar plants.
Plant biology, the study of how plants work, particularly from a genetic perspective. Plant biology differs from botany in that the former seeks information in the lab while the latter seeks information in the field.
Animal sciences, a broad field covering the standard American livestock species plus other farm animals kept around the world. Animal scientists can focus their attention on subcategories including physiology, livestock management, nutrition, breeding/genetics, and diseases.
Food science, the study of and experimentation with food ingredients and processing techniques with a view to improving food products.
Agricultural engineering. Not the same as genetic engineering. This field involves designing logistical solutions to farming problems and needs. Machinery design is a major focus of agricultural engineering, but some engineers work with livestock housing, processing plants, food storage facilities, dams and reservoirs, or even water quality solutions to minimize pollution.
Historical scholarship. Some historians pin their focus on agriculture and rural living, preserving and interpreting the past of farming to aid us in understanding its present and future.
Agricultural economists. The study of all aspects of agribusiness, including management, law, policy, and rural sociology.
Agricultural meteorology. A specific branch of meteorology that connects weather events with their effects on crops and livestock. Agricultural meteorologists forecast crop yields, animal performance, and enterprise risk.
Agricultural communications. This field covers a wide array of talent from PR, advertising, and marketing experts to those who write about farming-related topics in magazines and newspapers.
Extension. Extension services provide much of the information beginning farmers rely on to get started.
Accounting. Many farms hire accountants and bookkeepers to make sense of those tangled numbers.
Trucking and heavy equipment operation. These people do everything from transport food to operate hay balers.
Summer can be a tough time to garden. The heat is challenging to many plants. Coupled with dry weather, it pulls the moisture right out of the ground and wilts leaves and stems. Paired with humidity, high temperatures may stress plants and foster fungal diseases.
But never fear! Gardens can continue to be productive in the hot summer months!
Here’s how to keep your plants in peak health despite the heat:
Water deeply and infrequently, but regularly. It stands to reason that plants will need regular watering in the heat of summer. However, it is important to avoid weakening them by watering shallowly and thus encouraging their roots to grow near the surface. By watering deeply and allowing the surface of the ground to dry out in between waterings, the plants will put down extensive root systems less prone to damage from rapid soil moisture evaporation.
Mulch. Mulch helps the soil retain moisture longer. This will allow to you water less frequently, and will help protect the plants from stress due to water deprivation. In a hot, dry, windy summer, an unmulched garden may literally require watering every day, and even that may not keep it alive.
Protect cool-season plants with shade cloth. Still have broccoli or lettuce persisting through the summer heat? Increase your chances of a successful harvest and give these cool-weather plants a helping hand by shading them from the intense sun. Shade cloth is sold specifically for this purpose.
Avoid excess nitrogen. Heat and humidity promote plant diseases, and so does excess nitrogen. A quick boost of nitrogen will indeed result in large, lush plants, but there are hidden side effects. The new cells grow very quickly, resulting in soft tissue susceptible to the invasion of pathogens. If your plants need nitrogen, apply it in a slow-release form, such as compost or well-rotted manure.
Grow vines vertically for better airflow. Not only do sprawling vines take up space and promote weed growth, they are prone to disease and attract insect pests looking for a hiding place. Growing vertically exposes the entire plant to light and air. While this means that it will require more water (again, a mulch is recommended here), the trade-off is typically beneficial because the plant is healthier overall.
Pull dead and dying plants. Not every plant will be able to keep going through the summer. Leftover cool-season plants will succumb, and even some hot-weather plants, such as bush beans, will eventually reach the end of their productive lives. Trying to keep dying plants going through the summer rarely produces miracles—in fact, it typically just attracts pests. Do the rest of your garden a favor and remove sickly vegetables.
With these tips in mind, your garden can continue to produce bountiful harvests throughout the summer.
Most Americans probably know that Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm to examine the properties of lightning. But did you know that he was also one of the first recorded storm chasers?
As early as the mid-1750s, Ben Franklin was chasing tornadoes on horseback. It was something of an accident, Franklin evidently being out with some friends for a pleasure ride. But when a small funnel formed, Franklin was not one to miss the opportunity.
While his friends huddled in terror, Benjamin Franklin urged his horse on through the woods toward the tornado. Just how close he got to the funnel we may never know for sure. If Franklin’s own account is accurate, he could have whipped it with his riding crop.
Fortunately for Franklin and subsequently for the rest of the nation, the tornado was very weak and quickly died out.
But Franklin was more than a thrill-seeker—he had an inquiring mind and a thirst for knowledge. He was probably one of the earliest Americans to attempt to forecast the weather in a scientific manner through observation of principles.
A short list of Franklin’s investigations and achievements in the realm of weather would include:
Charting the Gulf Stream, which affects U.S. temperatures.
Theorizing that storm movement is related to high- and low-pressure areas.
Demonstrating that lightning is nothing more than electricity.
Theorizing that the bottom of a storm cloud is negatively charged.
Promoting the widespread use of the lightning rod.
Proposing a hypothesis that the upper atmosphere is colder than the lower atmosphere, thus allowing for hail formation even in summer.
As wet weather sets in, it’s handy to have access to tools for tracking rapidly changing weather conditions. One resource we’ve made good use of is the WunderMap from Weather Underground.
The WunderMap is an impressive compilation of data from the National Weather Service, trained spotters, law enforcement officials, and citizen scientists. With the click of a checkbox, you can view:
Temperature, wind, and precipitation data from weather stations.
Live radar and satellite images.
Current warnings, watches, and advisories.
Front types and locations.
Data from the GFS and ECMWF models.
Locations and timings of positive and negative lightning.
Major active fires.
Reports of severe weather such as ice, flooding, and hail.
This one is great for weather enthusiasts of all levels. If all you need to do is loop the radar, it’s easy. But if you are eager to try your hand at some amateur forecasting for your own personal benefit, you have some good tools at your disposal.
Looking for a good way to keep up with daily agriculture-related headlines? Give Kansas Ag Connection a try!
Subscribers to On the Range, our weekly country living update (read more), may already be familiar with this site as a source for some of our headlines. There’s a reason for that. Kansas Ag Connection is a clutter-free aggregator of news stories and press releases of interest to farmers small and large across the state.
Kansas Ag Connection offers a way to keep up with the latest stories on:
Updates from the governor and state legislature.
Health issues currently affecting Kansans.
KU and K-State research on health, nature, and agricultural topics.
Press releases from Kansas-based companies.
State and regional crop and weather reports.
Conferences and workshops coming to Kansas.
Ron Wilson’s Kansas Profile column, featuring Kansas entrepreneurs with rural roots.
Links are also provided to more headlines from neighboring states, across the nation, and around the world.
In an effort to reduce hog numbers, payments were also distributed to farmers who would destroy their piglets and pregnant sows. About 6 million piglets were slaughtered under the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA).
A cattle-purchasing program was similarly implemented under the Drought Relief Service in areas where the Dust Bowl had hit the hardest. The federal government purchased approximately 7 million cattle, most of which had been in imminent danger of starvation.
At first, surplus livestock were typically shot and buried. However, a tremendous public outcry arose over the waste at a time when many people were starving. In October 1933, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation was established to placate Americans and put the livestock to better use. From then on, most salvageable meat was purchased by the government and distributed through various relief programs. Because many slaughterhouses were not equipped to process the massive numbers of small pigs sent through their doors, however, they often took the easier route of processing young pigs for grease and fertilizer. Meanwhile, enough cattle hides entered the market that newspapers reported a price crisis among tanners.
The Economic Results
Many Great Plains farmers welcomed the subsidies. In some areas, as many as 90% of the local farmers came to rely on the AAA. By the end of 1935, the AAA had shelled out about $1.1 billion, about half of which went to farmers in the Great Plains. According to the USDA, farm income increased by 50% between 1932 and 1935, 25% of the increase coming from federal payments.
Commodity prices did indeed rise between 1932 and 1935. In fact, the prices for corn, wheat, and cotton doubled. However, prices remained well below 1929 levels and the parity goal set by the New Deal. Of course, higher prices only benefited farmers who had crops to harvest in spite of the drought.
The AAA payments were rarely enough to help small-scale farmers subsist. Families with small acreages generally failed, abandoned their farms, and left agriculture to the major players. An estimated 2.5 million people had evacuated the Great Plains by 1940. A large number of these former farmers moved to California to seek jobs picking seasonal produce for low wages.
The situation was particularly bad for tenant farmers. While tenant farmers were not as conspicuous in the Great Plains as in the South, they did exist, and they, too, suffered. Under the initial provisions of the AAA, the landowner was to share the money with any tenant farmers he had working for him. Unfortunately, this part of the contract was poorly enforced, and some landlords resorted to fraud to keep the money for themselves. More honest landlords often used their rightful share of the subsidy to purchase modern machinery to reduce their labor needs, setting their tenant farmers adrift. In Oklahoma alone, the number of tenant farmers was nearly cut in half between 1935 and 1945.
The end result was a decided trend toward the consolidation of agriculture. Farm numbers declined in droughty areas, while farm sizes increased. In southwestern Kansas, for instance, the average farm had more than doubled in acreage by 1950.
A New Act
In the 1936 case United States v. Butler, the Supreme Court declared the Agricultural Adjustment Act to be unconstitutional:
The act invades the reserved rights of the states. It is a statutory plan to regulate and control agricultural production, a matter beyond the powers delegated to the federal government.…
From the accepted doctrine that the United States is a government of delegated powers, it follows that those not expressly granted, or reasonably to be implied from such as are conferred, are reserved to the states, or to the people. To forestall any suggestion to the contrary, the Tenth Amendment was adopted. The same proposition, otherwise stated, is that powers not granted are prohibited. None to regulate agricultural production is given, and therefore legislation by Congress for that purpose is forbidden.…
The Congress cannot invade state jurisdiction to compel individual action; no more can it purchase such action.
However, the AAA was replaced by a new farm relief act. This act did not overtly pay farmers to reduce agricultural production, but instead set up a soil conservation program. Landowners were now paid to implement cover-cropping and similar practices. The money came out of the federal treasury, instead of the tax on food processing. The new program was popular while the drought continued, but most farmers resumed their former cropping practices as soon as the rainfall returned.
But the original AAA had left a lasting legacy. By 1940, 6 million farmers were receiving subsidies. Farm commodities have been subsidized ever since.