Tips to Cut Your Fresh Christmas Tree

treeslandMany people seem intimidated by if not puzzled by how to cut a Christmas tree. A fresh cut Christmas tree that is properly cared for is much safer than one that may dry out soon after you get it. Here are some tips to keep your tree safe and beautiful.

There are many farms where you can select a tree but when visiting them remember that their business – their annual income! – is on this season. As one who raised trees for the Christmas season there are many mistakes someone can make that cost you money and can also cost the farm money.

The biggest waste was from people who would cut a tree then see a “better one” and leave the first one to cut a second one. In effect this takes two trees while paying for one. Another one is in ‘topping’ trees – the 10 foot tree that someone liked the top 5 feet so they cut the tree half way up, leaving a bottom half that could not be sold or used as a tree, and reducing the big trees available for businesses or churches that wanted those big trees. Be considerate of your tree farmers!

One of the biggest errors is not measuring! That big beautiful 8 foot tree just is not going to fit in your six foot living room! Additionally a six foot tree won’t fit with room for the star or angel tree topper! Be realistic about the size tree you need.

Keep in mind also to allow 4-6 inches you’re going to take off before putting in water. Opinions vary about treating the water, using 7-Up, using just plain water – but not in that the tree needs plenty of it! When you get the tree home make another fresh cut at the base of the tree.

A fresh cut insures the water is soaked up and the pores aren’t clogged shut with sap. Use a solidly secured bucket or tree stand and remember that your tree can use a gallon of water per day. Keeping your tree watered is the #1 way you can reduce drying it out, which reduces the fire issues.

Ideally you’ll have two people to cut and, for most trees of the size you’ll be searching for a hand saw or bow saw will do the job fine. Have the helper hold the tree upright which reduces the chances of the tree falling and “tearing” the cut. Try to arrange a time that you can cut, get the tree home, do your “butt cut” and get the tree in water. The faster this can happen the better for the tree.

The Christmas tree cutting can be a family tradition and a fresh cut Christmas tree starts the season off well. Have a great Christmas and enjoy your cut Christmas tree.

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5 Places to Make a Halloween to Remember

Halloween is a time for scary things but not a time many take vacations. Halloween festivals, haunted towns and Halloween trips make it an ideal time to go somewhere for a getaway to remember. Here are five places to go to.

1.Midwest’s flyover country. Many places in the Midwest have historical and haunted value plus there’s more. For all of those who have seen movies like “Children of the Corn” welcome to not only corn mazes but corn mazes Halloween style! They stretch across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. An example is Boondocks Farm which has a 12 acre maze and a haunted trail maze for $8 per person. Other activities include disc golf and hay rides. There’s also pumpkin patches for another side of Halloween fun. The Jonamac Orchard has haunted corn maze beginning at dark – no flashlights just glow sticks or pen lights allowed. Check out the rural traditions and more scared than you thought you’d ever get without technology…visit the Midwest on the ground for Halloween! There’s much to see and do all across the area.

2.Winchester Mystery House in the bay area of California is a popular destination. Located in San Jose the home is of a magnitude you have to see to believe. Sarah L. Winchester was a widow who believed that the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester rifle were coming to her home and in 1884 she employed carpenters and craftsmen to keep construction going. Incredibly modern for it’s time frame, there are stairways that go nowhere, 2 basements, 52 skylights, 40 staircases and prior to the 1906 earthquake it had seven stories. The haunted aspect and history of 38 years constant construction is only part of the story. On Friday the 13th and at Halloween there are flashlight tours of the House. Highly recommended.

3. Jerome Arizona is a spectacular sight to see. From the rugged hillside it seems it is sprouted from the earth itself and looks over miles of flat open desert. Once a mining camp far from anywhere today Jerome exists as a destination for artists, musicians, writers, gift shops and – yes – ghosts. Sitting between Flagstaff and Prescott it is “in the middle of nowhere. Restaurants and lodging are available.

A compact town it’s not recommended to take large vehicles through, but definitely a place to visit, for history, old stories and ghostly tales.

4. Vicksburg Mississippi has been said to have ghosts make believers of unbelievers. The Anchuca mansion is now a bed and breakfast, available as a historical place of note to stay. Joseph E. Davis, brother to President Jefferson Davis, owned the plantation and made his home here. The home survived the Civil War but in 1863 served as shelter for those who served and were inured. Vicksburg is also home to the Cedar Grove Mansion Inn & Restaurant, which did come under fire and a cannon ball remains in a wall. It’s said it survived due to serving as a Union hospital. Having two historical places of such significance available to stay at is a treat.

Vicksburg itself is a small town survivor of both Union and Confederate dwelling from 1862 to 1863. Grant’s army attacked, but many died not only during the campaign but from disease and starvation. Like many in the south some had no choice. The Vicksburg National Military Park has a museum part way through. There’s also the Soldiers Rest Confederate Cemetery Old Courthouse Museum, Southern Cultural Complex (where “Mississippi Burning” was filmed, Windsor Ruins and McRaven home. The latter is said to be particularly haunted and was home to a confederate campsite.

5. Adams Tennessee is the place to go for the Bell Witch which was made into a movie “An American Haunting“. This is possibly the most documented of haunting in the US. Located a couple easy hours from Nashville it is the legend that far outgrew the area, and in the wooded hills of Tennessee it’s wise to get reservations in early for Halloween tours of sites like the Bell Witch Cave.

These are places to embrace the spirit of Halloween on many fronts. Make it a Halloween to remember!

Cow Productivity Depends on Cow Comfort

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACow productivity and cow comfort is something that often is pointed at dairy cattle. Beef cattle, too, are more productive when comfortable. The comfort of cattle is of primary concern among producers who not only want to maximize the care of the cattle.

Modern dairy cows are often a focus due to confinement situations that are needed from a labor standpoint. Many modern confinement systems provide shade, fans and even misters for cows in hot weather. Feed that is easily available is important as well as clean water – both make for more milk. While concrete pens are usually used for reasons of ease of cleaning, it can be hard on a cow’s feet and legs. For this reason a comfortable, dry, clean place to lie down is important.

Free stalls are designed so that cows walk in and lie down, helping to insure that the manure deposited when she stands up is in the gutter or at least at the back of the stall where it is easily scraped into the gutter to be scraped out. Sand, shavings, rubber and cow mattresses are all options that are used in dairies around the US.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the basics of feed, water, shelter are a great deal towards cow comfort that certainly isn’t all. Dairies that dry cattle off for a rest grass based dairies and beef facilities also make use of pasture. Ground is easier on feet and legs, but more difficult to keep dry and sanitary.

Dry areas to lie down reduce the chances of mastitis and other problems. Cows will lay down in many areas and some cows are just messy and don’t seem to mind laying in manure, but most given a choice will choose a dry stall over a wet one.

Cow comfort of course goes much further. Keeping feet properly trimmed and maintained makes it easier for cows to walk without pain. If they are hesitant to stand or walk they won’t be up eating and, pasture or confinement, can lose production and condition.

Pest control is another important part of cow comfort. Cows that spend their time fighting flies aren’t eating or resting – both essential activities of a cow’s productive day. There are also diseases such as pinkeye that can be transmitted with flies. Pest control also includes controlling mice and rats around the feed supplies.

When designing barns, shelters or even feeding areas in pastures keeping the focus on cow comfort pays off whether it’s 2 cows or 2,000. Observe cattle daily for signs of soreness or injury.

Keeping up on cow care basics is important but it also is important to think from a cow’s preference, not a human one. Don’t let dominant cows keep more submissive ones from the feed – make sure there is plenty of bunk space for all to eat without harassment or fear.

Plan well for cow care and productivity. Your cows depend on you as much as you depend on them, and a good cow is too expensive to replace in rotation before her time. Take care of your cows and they’ll take care of you.

Heating Without Gas

A while back I was reading a copy of “Out Here”, a magazine put out quarterly by Tractor Supply Co., and it mentioned more than 600,000 homes in North America use wood pellets for heat. I kept reading…then thought about that in perspective.

We have public complaining about reducing demand for gas. We want independence and no relying on gas from other countries. And yet most of the country completely disregards DOING something to actually reduce using gas. We have so many alternatives here – not only passive solar systems but other alternatives. Another issue is the amount of waste – landfills absorbing yard waste and other biodegradable byproducts. Those can be used to reduce fuel consumption.

A couple hundred dollars you can put a solar heating in which uses the sun – free. Even if it raises the temperature just 20 degrees – that’s 20 degrees heated without burning gas. This option is discussed in further detail in the current “Mother Earth News”.

But there’s other options also. Wood pellets are made from sawdust, a “waste” product which otherwise could go to landfills. The basic process is drying the sawdust then compressing it into a pellet at a rate of 21,000 pounds per square inch. The pellets then are bagged and can be used for heating – reducing waste and reducing gas consumption. Pellet stoves have advantages beyond this. There is little ash left because the pellets burn completely. They produce virtually no creosote which is the cause of many chimney fires and a 40 pound bag can heat a home for a day. Instead of a one month $500 bill for gas – this could be your total winter’s supply in pellets!

There are stoves available that have another option still – corn stoves. These can use not only the pellets but when pellets are harder to find you can burn corn. Corn we can produce here in the US on an annual basis…so it further helps farmers by creating a demand for their product, which sometimes is otherwise unused. There is in years of drought a problem with a fungus on corn which prevents it from being used for food or animal food – but doesn’t stop the use of it for fuel.

There are stoves which can burn not only corn and pellets but other “waste” – cherry pits for example. There’s a cost to purchase of the stoves, and it does require electric to run the auger that brings the fuel to the fire…but remember, this is all US GROWN. We can grow corn…we can use waste from flooring and furniture manufacturing (among others) to make wood pellets. We don’t need to buy gas from overseas markets.

Some states have tax incentives for adding alternative energy systems as well as federal incentives.

There is not just stoves available but furnaces that attach on to existing heating ductwork. http://www.ruralenergyproducts.com/ is one of many sites that have both of these options.

Inventive readers of Farm Show magazine – www.farmshow.com – have had featured in the magazine their LARGE heaters which burn as a source of fuel large bales of hay and corn stalks.

With any of these heating system there is some maintenance to do – removing a small amount of ash and the “clinker”. Is it worth cutting costs in half to do this? Is it worth giving a market to our farmers and taking it away from oil companies? If you have room to grow corn your costs are further reduced…most don’t have the capacity to refine oil. This could be a boon to the small farmers trying to compete against major companies…and a means of independence.

We have the technology to improve several issues in the US with one solution – alternative energy produced here at home to heat our homes.

<From the archives>

Did you know?

According to Plunkett Research 41% of the US energy consumption in 2004 was by Petroleum, with an additional 22% and 23% in coal and natural gas respectively. In contrast only 6% used renewable sources.

4-H Creates Memories, Leadership

JoeJanJerryAprilFor millions of people throughout the USA 4-H offers memories and lessons. It models leadership with the actions of adults getting involved to teach and lead children and teens. Although most popular in rural areas, 4-H has a variety of projects. From the motto “To make the best better” a strive for excellence is set.

Some will choose livestock projects – popular projects include rabbits, poultry, pigs, sheep and cattle. For those that can’t take livestock directly there’s many other projects. Dogs, veterinary science, geology, crafts, mechanics, sewing, gardening, cooking and a wide range of other projects are available to youth wanting to learn and compete in county and state fairs.

Typically 4-H doesn’t have dues associated with it, and the bold green clover is distinctive. A study from Tufts University showed 4-H members are twice as likely to get better school grades and plan to go to college. They’re also 25% more likely to positively contribute to family and community, and 41% less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Because a network of mentors and activities keep kids busy, it’s more important today than ever to keep 4-H alive.

Often run in conjunction with the extension service, budget cuts have hit the organization. Over a half million volunteers keep the organization moving, and 4-H teaches hands on not only in science and homemaking skills needed more all the time, but also in valuable citizenship and leader skills.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom aerospace to agriculture and health to nutrition, 4-H makes leaders. It presents safety programs not only in food but off road vehicles, equipment and other safety issues. Visual arts, wind energy, outdoor activities and a host of other projects prepare youth for the “real world”. It allows youth to explore interests that extend far beyond a field of corn or a beef cow.

4-H camp, judging and other activities teach critical thinking and formulating thoughts to support a point of view. This might be facing four hogs or a class of dairy heifers but the actions and thought process being taught goes far beyond livestock.

This is a great organization that is well worth the funds to participate. There is a cost to the books and such, and donations are always welcome to support the work of 4-H.

For many the 4-H pledge is much more than something to recite at meetings.

“I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.” This pledge has been recited since 1927, unchanged except for the last three words added in 1973.

For many youth in many areas – take a look at 4-H. It builds lives and memories.

Is Hunting a Legitimate Sport?

MuleDeerTupperAnselBlakeUSFWSpubicdomainThere are those who claim that we don’t need to hunt animals. Others claim hunting is not a sport because the humans benefit from taking a trophy animal or for meat. If hunting animals is not a sport due to the human benefit then many other activities are not sports also.

There is no reason that people cannot benefit from an activity and still have it considered a sport, much as running benefits health benefits and is considered a sport. There are many more deer hit and killed by cars, randomly without regard to if it is a doe with fawns to support, than a hunter.

There are many views to what is and isn’t sport. Hunting does take activity, preparation, fitness, etc. – much more so than poker for example. NASCAR developed from running moonshine – since we don’t do that anymore should NASCAR be tossed also? Eh while it’s at that point fencing and 3Day and other Olympic sports are no longer viable. The fact is it takes skill to go on a successful hunt.

It takes skill to track an animal and be it a strictly for food kill or one for food and a trophy it is a decision of the hunter as to what to hunt for. Many criticize people don’t eat it and there’s just as many that DO eat it.

I know someone who does hunt for “trophy” animals – he goes out in the wilderness and hunts with a bow, and for every animal he gets he not only passes on MANY but those many are photographed and filmed so others can enjoy them. He bought a large plot of land not to live on but as a protected deer area…where he might take one or two of hundreds that feed on his land…hundreds that have a protected area to eat because of those two. This is a man who hiked three miles into the Alaskan wilderness, with a bow shot a 1600 pound moose, packed every bit of meat as well as the antlers and hide 3 miles back out on backpack. That kind of thing doesn’t happen sitting on a couch watching the outdoor channel and I challenge anyone to match fitness with him in that situation!

If there wasn’t food at the fast food window…would it be ok then to hunt? Everyone I’ve talked to that hunts trophy deer yes gets the taxidermy done – but also uses the meat from those deer! It doesn’t get left in the field. But *if* it did it then feeds other wildlife, perhaps the ones nursing an injury that cannot pull down a meal on their own. We sitting at home instead of in the field don’t see these things.

There is nothing wrong with hunting for meat or for trophy. Using the food makes more sense to me but I’d sure sit down to some venison before a veggie burger – and yes have had both. I’ve had antelope, bison, elk and deer and prepared properly it’s quite tasty. For those who live a mile from the grocery store it’s hard to see or comprehend why everyone doesn’t just buy at the store. For those living 20-30 miles from town or more – and especially those who willingly or not feed the wildlife – there’s no reason a few can’t become dinner, whether they’re “trophy” animals or not.

Over grazing and starving to death is not pleasant – hunting keeps the herds in check. Until you’ve seen 100 head of deer grazing in an alfalfa field (which I did – just west of Peoria IL actually) you cannot fathom the amount they eat even at 10# per head let alone 20-30# per day. That can be a ton or more of feed per day! And if they hit a corn field…well are you willing to go hungry to support 100 head of deer? Even eliminating half of them will not wipe out the population and wildlife management doesn’t eliminate half.

Stay Safe With Home Yard Work

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe home is where we spend much of our lives so it’s little surprise the number of accidents there. As time and money becomes tighter there is sometimes the pressure to save and take shortcuts when working in the yard and around the home. Safety in the home is important but many people do not extend that to the yard. Working in the yard can be a source of many accidents and it’s important to stay safe in the yard.

After a long winter people are eager to get in the yard to work. We want to be the first with flowers blooming or the first to have a tomato picked from the vine. In the eagerness to get into the yard the thought to stay safe is sometimes pushed to the background. This can be a dangerous thing, sometimes fatally so.

All power equipment should be properly maintained. Not only will this help you stay safe in the yard but it also extends the life of your equipment. From the weed eater to the mower make sure that it is in good working order. Clear the yard of sticks, rocks and debris before you mow. Use eye and hearing protection and resist the temptation to crawl on the mower, put the headphones on and crank up the tunes. Not only can you not hear a warning or distress call but you also won’t hear if the motor begins running badly, creating a major repair bill. Keep children and pets out of the work area so that they stay safe also. Don’t leave tools, especially power tools, where they can get to them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother big safety point is dressing appropriately. Shorts, flip flops and minimal clothing are not the way to stay safe from flying debris. Use good shoes or boots, long pants and close fitting clothing that breathes well for yard work. It may be slightly cooler to climb on the mower with shorts but it’s better to alter the time of mowing earlier or later in the day when you can dress safely for the job.

Often times working in the yard means running a power cord for a project. Always use a proper grounded outlet and protect the cord from being run over or damaged. Accidents can happen but a big way to stay safe is to be aware. Know what is going on around you. Use extra caution when using overhead trimmers and pole saws not only to keep the branch from falling on you but also to avoid connection with any overhead lines. Sadly this results in fatalities every year.

Another yard chore than can turn from routine to dangerous is cleaning the gutters or other repairs using a ladder. Yes ladders are expensive but invest in a good quality ladder and use it safely. Always have it on solid ground when working off the ground and do not lean too far over to change the the balance, resulting in a fall. A good ladder might cost you $30-40 more but even if it’s three times that it is cheaper than a trip to the emergency room!

Stay safe also when working around the pool. While some hire pool maintenance to be done others see doing it as part of owning a pool, but work carefully and safely. Don’t allow children or adults to run near the pool. Have the area fenced off from the yard to prevent pets and children from getting in and have a ramp at one end that they are trained to go to if they do get in the pool. This can be a lifesaver.

There are many ways to stay safe throughout the year. Be a safety bug around the yard as well as around the home. Safety is not a game but it can save injury and save a life.