Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What You Need for Seed Starting

If your green thumb is getting antsy during the off-season, seed starting can give you an early jump on spring. Cold conditions make it impossible for seeds to survive outside, but by beginning the cultivation process indoors, your plants can thrive when the weather inevitably improves.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t access a greenhouse! Incredible results of starting seeds indoors are still possible for amateur gardeners on a budget. Best of all, seed starting is a simple technique to practice—it only requires a bit of foresight, a little time for preparation and a few basic supplies.

To help you understand the practical process necessary for the implementation of this technique, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide that outlines the materials every seed-starter should have on hand. Read over our list below to distract yourself from the dreary winter weather – and to begin cultivating seeds of your own year-round!

Seeds

The most important factor influencing the results of your seed starting experiment is—wait for it—the quality of the seeds themselves (self-explanatory, we know). Luckily, finding good seeds is simple if you know what to look for. When choosing seeds, be sure to select an Open Pollinated (OP) seed rather than a Hybrid (F1) variety. Along with being more expensive, Hybrid seeds are used more frequently by commercial farmers than by backyard botanists. It takes more time for an OP seed to mature than an F1, but the extended waiting period gives amateur growers flexibility when harvest season rolls around.

When choosing what type of plant or crop you’d like to grow, don’t get overly ambitious from the onset. Seeds that naturally thrive indoors include: basil, zinnia, tomatoes, marigolds and cosmos. We suggest that you stay away from seeds that require very particular, native soil like petunias and azaleas.

Starting Mixture and Fertilizer

Instead of simply tossing your seeds into garden-variety topsoil, it’s essential that you use a pure, unadulterated seed starting mixture. By choosing a seed mix, you ensure that your soil is devoid of any contaminants that could potentially alter the germination process and harm the plants’ overall health. Seeding mix contains fewer nutrients than soil straight from the ground, so be sure to supplement the mix with an organic liquid fertilizer

Tray or Container

As long as the container you choose has enough depth (2 to 3 inches), your seeds should grow properly. This leaves growers with plenty of room to get creative. Yogurt cups, newspaper and paper towel rolls are effective DIY options, but we suggest you use a greenhouse starter kit instead. Specialized trays are better equipped for handling the increased levels of humidity your seedlings will be exposed to, and these trays won’t mold with moisture.

Lighting Setup

Providing your growing trays with adequate artificial sunlight is a fundamental key to seed starting success. Relying upon a window for natural sunlight during the winter is a surefire way to get stunted sprouts. Instead of settling for uneven lighting, we suggest investing in a grow light set up or a compact lighting system.

Timer

This small apparatus isn’t critical – but it will make your seed growing easier since you won’t need to remember to turn the lights on and off at the start and finish of each day. Your budding seeds need an environment that simulates that of being outdoors, and daylight is a big part of that. So save yourself the effort of remembering to hit the lights each day and invest in a timer. 

Spray Bottle & Watering Can

As your seedlings grow, you’ll be watering them from the bottom, so you’ll want a vessel that makes this process easy, like a watering can. You’ll also want some sort of spray bottle to keep the seeds from drying out from above without dumping too much water on them. It’s a fine balance, and these supplies will help you reach it. 

Heat Mat and Enclosure

If you’d like your seeds to start sprouting in no time, a heat mat may be just the thing. By placing your tray of growing seedlings on this mat, germination and rooting will take place sooner than otherwise with the elevated temperature. The root area will be about 10-20° warmer than what it would be otherwise, giving it that extra boost for growth. Adding a dome to that tray will create an enclosure for the growth – a layer of protection for your budding vegetation. 



With the help of these basic seed starting supplies, you can begin carefully cultivating seeds before the onset of spring and receive unparalleled satisfaction from watching your seedlings sprout. If you’d like to try seed starting for yourself, be sure to check out our full selection of seed and plant starting accessories
Monday, January 30, 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Maple Syrup’s Health Benefits

Throughout the month of February, you should be prepping for the upcoming sugaring season. Gallons of sap will be spilling out of your spouts, and you need to have your equipment ready to transform this unremarkable substance into a rich, sugary syrup. Once you’ve boiled your sap into syrup, it can be used to make candies, marinate bacon or add much-needed moisture to a stack of pancakes.

If you harvest maple syrup, you’re already aware that it is a lucrative product and a sweet treat, but few are privy to the bevy of health benefits that are masked beneath the syrup’s rich taste. Pure, organic maple syrup is swimming with antioxidants, nutrients and minerals that make it a suitable substitute for processed sweeteners with added chemicals.

Read on to learn more about the health benefits of maple syrup and the extent of its nutritional value!


Strengthen Your Immune System 


Two minerals that maple syrup has in abundance are zinc and manganese. Both of these minerals effectively bolster the immune system and support cells that fight harmful bacteria. A quarter cup of maple syrup contains 100 percent of the DRV of manganese, which helps build a healthy metabolism, encourage energy production and expedite the healing of tissue. Research has indicated that zinc deficiency ultimately leads to the production of fewer white blood cells, but consuming foods high in zinc (like maple syrup) causes production to return to normal levels.

Build a Healthy Liver 


The liver is indispensable in keeping blood sugar in equilibrium, filtering alcohol from the bloodstream and producing amino acids. Preliminary results on lab rats have suggested that pure maple syrup aids liver function when compared to standard sugars. The study concluded that maple syrup may be a better choice of sweetener due to the polyphenols, vitamins and minerals it contains. In addition to swapping out your sweetener, be sure to exercise and manage stress—your liver will thank you.

Neutralize Free Radicals & Reduce Inflammation 


Free radicals are molecules that have an unstable number of electrons, and they form naturally in your body through the process of oxidation. This degenerative oxidation has a number of negative side effects that include aging, heart problems, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer. Luckily, antioxidants found in fruits, veggies, legumes and dietary supplements neutralize free radicals by providing an extra electron.

Maple syrup is laden with natural antioxidants that can stave off chronic illness. In fact, a study by the American Chemical Society discovered 54 total antioxidants present in maple syrup. By testing cell growth in vitro, researchers have found that these antioxidants in maple syrup slow the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a chemical that encourages the growth of cells and oftentimes incites the formation of cancerous tumors. Maple syrup is especially effective at halting the growth of prostate cancer and lung cancer. It also has positive effects on brain, colon and breast cancer cells.


Defend Against Diabetes 


A study from the Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that polyphenols found in maple syrup (specifically abscisic acid) increase fat cells’ absorption of insulin and increase activity in pancreatic cells. Due to maple syrup’s lower relative glycemic index, it causes less of a spike in blood sugar than corn syrup or white sugar.

However, the majority of maple syrup’s composition is sucrose (table sugar), and it’s a highly concentrated source of carbohydrates. For that reason, diabetics should not consume maple syrup in large quantities. Instead, maple syrup should be used in moderation as a substitute for sugars that diabetics already add into their diet.

Finally, a healthy “super food” that doesn’t taste horrible (that means you, kale)! We don’t recommend guzzling gallons of maple syrup each day, but it’s wonderful if enjoyed in moderation and as a substitute for artificial sweeteners. To start harvesting your own sap, check out Paris Farmers Union’s collection of maple sugaring supplies. Shop today for drills, tap spouts, tubing and much more. And let us know in the comments below about any other maple syrup nutrition facts we may have missed.
Monday, January 16, 2017

What to Look For When Buying a New Pair of Boots

If you spend a lot of time on your feet, you know how important footwear can be. Cramped toes, blistered heels and sore arches all equate to a pretty painful experience. But have you ever invested in a “good” pair of shoes only to still have these ailments? Knowing what to look for – and what to avoid – when you make this purchase is half the battle.

Regardless of your budget, there are certain things to keep in mind when shopping for boots, and we’ve got the rundown right here. Some of these tips are pretty well known, but others may surprise you. Read on so you know how to find the right pair of boots for you – and don’t get stuck with sore feet and an empty wallet!

Before you choose a boot to try on, make sure it’s got what you’re looking for. If you need a sturdy winter boot, it should be water resistant and insulated and have good traction. Going on a hiking trip? Get boots with sturdy ankle support and lots of padding to protect your feet as you trek up and down steep surfaces.

Depending on what you’re going to use your boots for, it may be wise to try them on in the afternoon or evening rather than in the morning. Since your feet swell throughout the day, doing so will give you a more accurate idea of how your feet will feel at their biggest.

Once you’ve picked out a pair of boots to try on, follow these steps to assess whether they’re the right match for you:

1. First off, make sure you’ve got a pair of socks with you when you go to the shoe store. You may have the option to buy a pair at the store if you’d rather, but otherwise, the salesperson will often only give you a sheer stocking sock that’s too thin to come close to how your regular socks will feel. And you most certainly want to get as close to that feeling as possible when making your decision.

2. Consider trying a couple of different sizes above and below the one you normally wear. This may not be necessary, but many boots and labels run small or large, so it’s a safe way to make sure you’re covering all your bases and getting exactly what fits your feet best.

3. Once you slide on your prospective new boots (onto both feet, not just one), check behind the heel. You can actually do this before you lace up your boot. Just push your foot forward in the boot and then see how much space there is behind your heel. You should be able to fit one finger there.

4. Lace up your boots, stand up straight and wiggle your toes. How do they feel? Cramped? Or like they’re floating around? You don’t want the boots to feel ginormous; however, the greater concern is tightness. Make sure your toes aren’t tightly wedged and have plenty of room to wiggle around. Think about the three outer areas of the front of your foot – the end of your big toe, the big toe mound (that sticks out to the side at the base of your big toe) and the pinky toe mount (that sticks out below the base of your pinky toe). Make sure these three areas especially aren’t feeling any pressure.

5. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell just how much space you want in your boots. A test you can do to check this is kicking a wall (ideally without alarming any other shoe store patrons or staff). Make sure your toes do not touch the end of the boot when you do this.

6. Now for the heel test: Walk, run, rock up and down, squat, jump – move your body in a number of different directions, all the while focusing on your heel. It shouldn’t move.

7. The foot isn’t the only thing to consider in boot sizing; your ankle needs support, too. By standing on the sides of your feet, you’ll be able to determine whether your ankles are well supported and have flexibility.

8. One last trick – slip your bare feet into the boots and see how they feel. This will give you a different sensation and may help you determine whether there are any spots that could turn into pain points. 

And that’s it! If you go through these steps and still like the boots, it’s probably a safe bet that they’re good quality boots that fit your feet well. There will usually be some time required to break in your boots, of course, so plan to wear them for short periods a few times before you go in for the long haul. And if you’re looking for a variety of high-quality options, check out our selection right here. Good luck! 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Don’t Be Fooled by Myths About Winter

Wintertime can be a tough season to get through. For one thing, you have to bundle up in layers and layers of extra clothing anytime you leave the house. For another thing, there are lots of germs floating around. And the weather can be unpredictably treacherous – for driving, walking or however it is you’re getting around. But there are some myths that circulate around winter – and we want to clear them up right here so everyone knows what’s what. Don’t be fooled; read on for the truth about some common cold weather myths.

One of the most widespread winter health myths is that cold air makes you sick. Rather, our bodies actually produce more infection-fighting cells in the cold than otherwise as a way to combat low temperatures. Cold viruses thrive most at 91° Fahrenheit, so being in the cold air (with proper attire, of course) is probably going to help combat sickness rather than cause it.

You don’t need sunscreen in the wintertime. This is just not true. As it turns out, the earth is actually closer to the sun during the winter months (that is, winter months for the northern hemisphere – it’s summer on the other side). This being the case, it’s even more critical to cover your exposed skin with a layer of sunscreen to protect it. Not to mention the harmful rays that can be powerful as they reflect off snow and ice. Granted, less of your skin will be exposed during winter than in other seasons – but make sure you’re protecting what the sun is hitting.

Exercising in the cold is a bad idea: false! Race times have actually been found to be faster in colder temperatures. Again, as long as you’re properly dressed for the weather (and you’re healthy and in good shape), you’ll be fine exercising outside in the freezing air – and may even do better than otherwise.

While four-wheel drive is certainly a good thing to have while driving in wintery weather conditions, it should not be relied upon completely. Four-wheel drive doesn’t help stop a car – rather, it’s snow tires and skilled driving that do that. (Snow tires allow stopping up to 30% faster than otherwise!) Driving in the snow should be done using a vehicle that, yes, has four-wheel drive, but also by a driver who has gone through driver education specific to best winter driving practices. 

Although it might not seem to be the case, drinking alcohol does not warm you up. When you drink alcohol, what’s actually happening is that your blood rushes toward your skin – and away from your internal organs – causing your core temperature to drop. What’s more, alcohol makes it harder for your body to shiver and create extra heat. So, drinking is definitely not a good solution for keeping warm on cold winter nights.

Vitamin C is the solution to the common cold. That would be nice, but unfortunately, it’s not the case – at least not entirely so. Vitamin C will contribute to keeping your immune system strong, but it won’t prevent or necessarily directly help you get over a cold. We do know that a balanced diet, exercise and plenty of sleep (especially through the holiday stress time) will keep you healthy and going strong, whatever the season brings your way.

There are a number of factors that make the winter months difficult – but that doesn’t have to be the case. Embrace the chill by layering up with warm materials like wool and fleece. And when you’re inside on cold, dark nights, create cozy, candle-lit spaces to enjoy. If nothing else, we hope that now you have a more accurate understanding of the common myths about winter and the truths behind them. Feel free to share more winter myths in the comments below – we’d love to hear them!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How to Stay Warm in the Outdoors This Winter

We’re already two weeks into December and even less before the winter solstice is upon us. You may be preparing for indoor hibernation – but for those of you who relish the great outdoors during the cold months (or perhaps don’t have a choice but to be outside), we’ve collected a few cold weather safety tips to keep you safe and warm, regardless of how low the thermometer plunges. Read on for these important reminders!

Stay Dry


It’s remarkable how quickly your body temperature can drop if you get wet as you’re braving the elements. Even sweat, which is actually a cooling mechanism to keep you from overheating, will cause issues once you slow down. Try to avoid any risks of getting wet, and pace yourself so as to limit how much you perspire. Of course, there will be instances where you don’t want to slow down. In these cases, if possible, try to reach a more moderate pace 20 or 30 minutes out from the end. This period will act as a sort of cool down so you’re not completely stopping from full-speed-ahead (and freezing in your fresh layer of sweat).

Another note on sweating: adjusting the number of layers you wear will help, so make sure you’re adding or pulling off what you need to in order to avoid getting too hot (or cold). Gage this on the temperature, humidity, wind levels and your level of activity.

Take Breaks


Breaks are a given with any physical exertion you do. While taking a break in the wintertime, sit on your pack – or whatever you’ve got – so you’re not sitting directly on the ground. Otherwise, the ground will suck away your body’s heat via thermal conduction. Any distance you can keep between the two will help your body hold its warmth.

And while you’re on this coveted break, aim for taking it in a sunny spot, if at all possible. Take advantage of nature’s ultimate heater – you’ll certainly feel the difference between sun and shade, even on the coldest of days.

Mittens over Gloves


Mittens may seem best suited for 3-year-olds, tied together under their coat so they’re not lost. But in reality, keeping skin-to-skin contact between your fingers will actually hold warmth more than separating them. That is, of course, as long as you don’t need a lot of maneuverability. We all know trying to do almost anything with our hands while wearing mittens is a challenge – so gloves can be a better option to get the job done. But if dexterity isn’t required, mittens are golden.

If you do choose to wear gloves, bring along a back-up pair that you can keep warm in a pocket in case your hands get cold and you need to switch it up.

Hats – But Not in Lieu of Other Essentials


If you grew up in a cold place, you more than likely have been ingrained with the idea that you need a warm hat to be outside in the wintertime. That’s because of the well-established idea that most body heat escapes through the head. Well, this “fact” has actually been shown to be more of a myth; rather, the more skin that’s exposed, the colder you’ll be because there’s more opportunity for heat to exit the body. Regardless, wearing a hat is still very important – as is covering up every part of your body. 

If you’re going to be out for a fair amount of time, consider bringing along two hats: a heavier one for when you’re exerting yourself less and a lighter one for when you’re working hard so as not to overheat. Switch them as appropriate, and keep the one not being used close to your core so it stays warm and dry.

Stay Hydrated – with Water, That Is


Your body needs plenty of water all the time, but especially while out in frigid temperatures. You become more dehydrated than you realize out there, so it’s important to carry a substantial supply of water with you, wherever that may be. You can add some sugar to it for a surge of energy, or even butter for some flavor and calories. 

Along with this additional intake of water, you should also make sure you’re giving your body enough fuel to energize your expedition. Pack some high-fat snacks, like nuts, to chomp on as you go. Because fat is a slow-burning fuel, you’ll get more out of it if you’re going to be in the great outdoors for a while. 

Don't Let Your Water Freeze


That hydration information we just covered? It’s not going to be very successful if your water is frozen. Keeping your water in liquid form is an extremely important part of staying healthy in the cold. For temperatures down to the low 20s (F), you should be fine using a hydration bladder that’s kept on your body. Just make sure the hose that leads from the sack to your mouth stays clear of water – as this is where it is most likely to freeze – by blowing into it after every sip you take. Any colder than the 20s and you will probably want to use a wide-mouth water bottle instead. Keep the bottle in an insulated sleeve upside-down so when you turn it right-side up to take a drink, any ice that’s formed is at the bottom. Clever, eh?

Feel free to add more tips on staying warm in winter in the comments below – we’d love to hear them! 


Sources:
http://theweek.com/articles/453487/how-keep-warm-outside-5-sciencebased-tips 
https://thebigoutside.com/12-pro-tips-for-staying-warm-outdoors-in-winter/ 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tips for Pet Health & Safety in Winter


The cold is here – and likely to stay – as we work our way up to the dark winter months. Digging through closets for our heavy coats and scarves, hats and gloves is all part of the process to keep ourselves warm while venturing outside. But what about our furry friends? Pets and cold weather aren’t always a good match, so it’s important to take special measures to ensure they safely make it through what can be a tough season with their health and happiness intact.

Here at Paris Farmers Union, we’ve put together a few winter pet safety tips to help your loved pets get through the winter, whether they love frolicking through the snow or would rather stay curled up by the fire for the next four months. Read on to learn more!

  • For pets that stay outside most of the time, they’ll probably need some kind of shelter as protection from the elements. Make sure it’s warm, dry and doesn’t let in drafts. 
  • Imagine wandering through snow drifts barefoot. Doesn’t sound too comfortable, does it? And it’s often not comfortable for pets, either – especially when chunks of snow build up between the pads of their paws. Avoid this discomfort (and the possibility of frostbite) by putting booties on your pet’s paws. They also may like a coat or hat, depending on how thick their own coats are. Warning signs of frostbite are waxy, firm skin and blisters, so keep an eye out for those.
  • Pets that come in and out of your home frequently during the wintertime will start to feel the effects of flaky, itchy skin. Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as they come inside to alleviate this discomfort.
  • This may go without saying, but save shaving your pet for the warmer months, as they’ll need as much hair or fur as possible to hold their heat. For animals with long hair, give them a trim to reduce the buildup of snow on their coats.
  • Cold temperatures mean we’re all burning more calories to stay warm – so outdoor pets will probably need more food than usual. Keep an eye on their food bowls, and notice whether or not they’re chomping down more than usual. While you’re at it, make sure their water stays in liquid form; you don’t want your animal to have to lap at a frozen puddle to stay hydrated.
  • Wash and dry your pet’s feet after walks to remove snow balls, salt and any melting chemicals that may line your neighborhood’s streets and sidewalks. You don’t want your pet being exposed to those chemicals by licking them, so best to wash everything off before they’ve got the chance.
  • While we’re on the subject of chemicals, antifreeze is another one that can cause serious harm to your pet if ingested. If you’re using antifreeze on your vehicle(s), be sure not to leave any spills behind that an animal could lap up. If your pet starts to convulse or act drunk and you suspect they could have been exposed to antifreeze, contact your vet as soon as possible. 
  • Baths should be avoided during low temperatures, as they’ll remove essential oils your pet needs and increase dryness of their skin. 
  • Ever started your car on a cold winter day to see a screeching cat jump out from beneath your hood? A warm motor is the perfect place for kitties to curl up next to – until the engine rears up for its next ride. So before starting your car, give your hood a couple taps to make sure no creatures have found their way inside. 
  • If temperatures are really low, consider bringing outdoor pets inside. It’s not a good idea to stay out in the frigid air for too long, so it may be wise to venture out only for your pets to relieve themselves and then head back indoors. 

Your pets may not be able to tell you how much they dislike being cold, but rest assured, they feel that same air you do and know when enough is enough. Keep them happy and warm with these tips, and you’ll be on your way to enjoying a winter wonderland, however low the temperatures plummet this year!

Sources:
http://www.petmd.com/dog/care/evr_multi_caring_for_pets_during_winter 
http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/cold-weather-safety-tips 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Holiday Decorating Ideas for Your Home, Inside & Out


The holidays are just around the corner, and with them, the hustle and bustle that accompanies them each year. This year, wouldn’t it be nice to focus on your own home, adding some holiday cheer in the small details? Or maybe some big details, too. Whether you’re a veteran at holiday decorating or are new to this vast world, you’ll be sure to find some holiday decorating ideas and tips you hadn’t thought of here. Just remember, you can make your décor exactly as simple or complicated as you want it to be – just enjoy the process!

For those of you who want to add a little festivity to the inside of your home, we offer the following indoor Christmas ideas:

  • Clip cards you receive to a string and hang them along your staircase – or across any wall if you don’t have stairs.
  • Place festive candles throughout your home. Whether they’re green, red, gold or white, light them in the evenings (or even by mid-afternoon this time of year) for a warm, welcoming ambiance. Deep windowsills or end tables are ideal – just be sure that any drapes or other materials don’t get too close and catch the flame. 
  • Make your own Advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas using a bulletin board and 24 envelopes. Be sure to put a special little something in each one!
  • Add wrapped presents under the tree as you go – you’re going to be wrapping them anyway, so why not double their use as both a present for someone you love and a decoration for your house in the meantime? The trick is in the final touches – a gorgeous, bright ribbon, perhaps tucking a candy cane under the knot.
  • Hang ornaments from strings in your front window for some simple holiday flair.

And for those of you who want to wow your neighbors and any passersby with your holiday spirit from the street, a few outdoor Christmas decoration ideas:

  • Use glass vases or mason jars to light the path to your front door for guests on their way in. Just pour a thin layer of rock salt at the bottom of each vase or jar and place a tea candle inside for a gorgeous illumination guiding guests to your home.
  • Or if it’s really cold out, replace the mason jars with ice lanterns to hold the candles. You can make your own ice lanterns by placing a plastic cup filled with rocks (or something to weigh it down inside of a larger plastic container. Fill the larger plastic container with water, and then freeze the whole thing overnight, either in your freezer or outside. You can even place berries or leaves in the water (before freezing) as decoration. To get the ice lanterns out of their containers, run warm water along the outside and viola – a pretty ice lantern!
  • If you’re handy and have some extra plywood lying around, try sawing the wood into holiday decorations like evergreen trees to set up in your yard.
  • Hang some frozen fruit ornaments from trees for your furry and feathered friends using a plate, string and your favorite holiday berries, oranges and greens. 
  • Illuminate your porch (or stoop) with some pretty birch log luminaries – just cut a birch log into a few pieces of varying heights, drill holes into one of the two flat sides (large enough to fit a tea candle), and you’ve got beautiful, natural candle holders. 
  • String cranberries to make a garland and wrap the garland around any greenery you have in planters.

You can also decorate the outside of your home, yard, or your Christmas Tree with a Lighting Effects Laser Light Projector from Prime! An alternative to the hassle of stringing lights, a Laser Light installs easily and quickly, and covers the outside of your home with a dazzling red and green light display. Simply plug it in, aim the laser where you want, and cover your home or tree with a bright light display in a matter of minutes!




And of course, check out our own selection of holiday decorating items, offering everything from string lights to angels, ornaments to tree stands. It’s time to get into that holiday spirit – so embrace it!