Drinking Water Leads to Better Health

Water is as crucial to you as it is to your plants.

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Your plants aren’t the only ones that need water. So do you, and a good amount of it at that.

That’s the gist of a recent study by a professor from the University of Illinois. He found that people who increase their daily intake of plan water, from a tap or a cooler for example, but not sweetened or as a vehicle for tea or coffee, saw some improvements, like taking in less calories and sodium in general.

Essentially, the more water you drink, the fewer extra calories and the less sodium, saturated fats, sugar, or cholesterol you take in. That’s probably because you’re eating less food since water can give you the same “full” feeling as eating snacks but without any of the extra junk.

“The impact of plain water intake on diet was similar across race/ethnicity, education and income levels, and body weight status,” says study author Professor Ruopeng An.

It should be pretty obvious that water is good for you: it’s the only liquid humans can drink. Any beverage, be it juice, coffee, soda, milk, or anything else, is really just water with stuff in it, a solution in chemistry terms. The thing is, many of the solutions that we love so much, contain a lot of things we don’t need and which often have no benefit to our bodies.

While we need some amount of sugar, fat, and cholesterol, which, in large amounts, can have a number of negative side effects on our bodies, we need water a lot more.

This is why drinking water is important, and why having ready access to safe drinking water is considered a basic human right. People can’t live on coffee and soda alone. That’s why it’s so important that we keep water sources clean of pollutants such as lead and make sure that everyone can have access to them. But we also need to make sure that everybody knows that drinking that safe water is really, really important.

An said that the finding that water’s benefits cross racial and socioeconomic boundaries “indicates that it might be sufficient to design and deliver universal nutrition interventions and education campaigns that promote plain water consumption in replacement of beverages with calories … without profound concerns about message and strategy customization.”

In other words, it’s probably pretty easy to design a pro-water campaign that works. Now it’s up to us to do that.

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Simple Suggestions for Thanksgiving Leftovers

There are lots of simple and creative things you can do with Thanksgiving leftovers.

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Thanksgiving is an odd holiday. We look forward to gorging ourselves on an excess of food and drink for an entire afternoon and evening. Then, for the next two weeks, we have to figure out how to eat or deal with the plethora of food that we cooked for our one feast. Here are some simple suggestions for what to do with these leftovers.

  • Turkey soup: Winter approaches. Soup is great. You have a turkey carcass that can’t go to waste. Cook the carcass with some veggies for at least an hour. Use this as a base for a variety of awesome homemade soups.
  • Sandwiches: This is perhaps the easiest suggestion. You don’t even have to reheat anything. Just add some cranberry sauce, greens, and maybe some cheese. Or just substitute turkey wherever you would use deli meats.
  • Pot pie: Buy pie crust. Fill pie crust with leftover turkey, veggies, and gravy. Bake with some herbs and seasoning.
  • Fried foods: Forget being healthy. It’s Thanksgiving leftovers we’re talking about. Anything from the stuffing to macaroni and cheese to turkey can be coated and fried to turn it into a delicious second meal. Try dipping fried bites in cranberry sauce.
  • What about the potatoes?: Mashed potatoes and gravy gets tiring to eat over and over. Mix the potatoes with veggies, cilantro, ginger, curry powder, and cayenne pepper before baking them in triangles of previously purchased puff pastry. More easily, mix egg, cheese, potatoes, chives and turkey. Scoop these into a muffin tin and bake them.
  • Just add egg: You can take any combination of your meat and vegetable leftovers and toss them in a pan with some scrambled eggs. Keep stirring to make it a scramble, or bake it with cheese on top to finish off a frittata.

Do you have any other ideas for Thanksgiving leftovers? Share them in the comments!

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How You Can Use Coffee Grounds for Agriculture and Your Household

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Americans love coffee. One could even say that it fuels us. Many of us choose to make our delicious coffee at home instead of paying high prices for store-bought lattes. This means we are left with coffee filters full of used grounds. Don’t throw them away. Review this list to check out the nifty ways they can help out around the house.

Repellent: Coffee grounds are a great way to protect your house or garden against pests. Ants snails and slugs really don’t like the smell of coffee.

Fertilizer: Grounds add nitrogen and potassium to the soil. They are a great fertilizer for flowers such as “azaleas, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, camellias, roses, or other acid-loving plants.” You can also mix the grounds with grass clippings or straw to help neutralize the acidity for other plants.

Carrots: Planting carrots in your garden? When you sow the seeds, mix some coffee grounds into the dirt around them. The carrots will thrive.

Odors: Grounds will absorb odors just like baking soda will. Leave grounds in your fridge like you would baking soda.

Dye: We have all ruined at least one clothing item with a coffee stain. Why not use that color intentionally. Save coffee grounds and soak anything from Easter eggs to cloth. Got a school project and need to artificially age some paper? Dip it in coffee.

Abrasive: Coffee grounds are naturally abrasive. Use this to scrub dishes, your fireplace or even your face. Incorporating coffee into your cleaning or beauty regimen reduces your need to use artificial products or exfoliants. It all depends on what medium you decide to place the grounds in.

These are just a few of the dozens of things you can do with your old coffee grounds. Think of these ideas when you’re planting your next container garden or deciding whether to compost or reuse them.

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The Importance of Urban Farming

Urban farming will become increasingly important in cities as rural areas disappear.

Urban farming. Photo: Shutterstock

Food production is an important part of our existence as humans, but the traditional definition of farming conjures up images of rolling wheat fields and large fields of fruit trees. As the population of the world grows and cities occupy more space, less and less of the world is available as land for farming. This is why urban farming is becoming increasingly more important.

This isn’t just community farming or household vegetable patches. Urban farming has a degree of commerce included. It is figuring out ways to grow produce or farm effectively and profitably with significantly reduced space.

Urban farming doesn’t need to be large scale and is used in many cases to support local food banks or soup kitchens, farmers’ markets, or restaurants. For restaurant supply, it is a great way to ensure fresh, local, and in-season produce.

Urban farming is especially important in poorer urban areas, particularly in developing countries. Urban farms create both food and employment opportunities. They also provide ways to assist with waste disposal and air quality control. Both of these tend to be large problems in urban centers. The centers also increase local food security because there is no need for a large distribution network<

Urban farming also supports healthy nutrition. It has been shown that lower-income households, especially in urban centers, have less access to fresh produce. Not only is it more expensive, but it is perishable so there is unreliable access to it. Because urban farming can include protein in the form of animal products, it seriously improves access in urban areas as well as improving the quality of the products available since they aren’t traveling from rural areas.

As the population of the world increases and we lose rural land, it will be increasingly important for us to use the land we do have efficiently, especially in urban centers that are underrepresented or low-income.<

Urban farming is a way to provide economic stimulus as well as high quality food in these areas and will be very important to food production moving forward.

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Growing an Indoor Herb Garden

Growing an indoor herb garden

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Many gardeners dread the winter months: no digging in the garden, significantly less fresh local produce, and very few fresh herbs. But the good news is that even if you don’t have an indoor greenhouse, you don’t have to give up herbs. They’ll keep your home green and fresh while giving you a great source of flavor for your meals.

The best place to grow your herbs is in a room that gets a lot of sun, ideally a kitchen for convenience. The herbs will need at least four hours of sun on an average day. South- or southwest-facing windows are best but windows with eastern and western exposure also work well.

High-quality potting soil is key to good herb growth. The soil should be loamy and not compacted. You can mix in a little bit of perlite to improve soil drainage.

Your soil “[shouldn’t] lump together in a ball if it’s wet,” says New American Garden author Carole Ottesen. “If you squeeze it and it doesn’t stick together and it sort of crumbles, that’s good.”

Speaking of drainage, herbs need good drainage. Pots must have a drain because if the roots sit in still water, they will rot quickly. Clay pots provide good drainage, but also will dry soil out quickly in dry climates. Plastic or glazed pottery would be better in these instances.

Herbs like the same temperatures as humans. Don’t let them be consistently below 65 degrees F. Temperatures do drop and night, and the air directly next to windows will have more extreme temperature fluctuations. Don’t let leaves get sunburned or get too cold at night.

Rotate your pots every week to make sure all your herbs’ leaves get equal exposure to sunlight. Don’t cut more than a third of the leaves off your herbs; they need the rest of those leaves to keep growing.

Be warned that basil is more difficult than other herbs, but by following this simple advice, you should be able to get an indoor herb garden to thrive easily.

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Tips for Growing Succulents Indoors

You can easily grow succulents in your home by following these tips.

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In hot climates, succulents grow more easily than grass. In climates with colder winters, this can present quite an obstacle for those who love succulents. Succulents do need to go through a dormant period in order to thrive and grow each spring and summer, but the extreme cold in many places kills succulents left outdoors without cover or protection. Instead, the succulents will need to be brought inside. This presents its own set of issues. Follow these three tips to make sure that your succulents thrive inside as well.

Give them plenty of bright light. Succulents need around six hours of sun per day. They should be placed very close to windows, although not so close that they will get burned by the sun coming through the glass. Eastern and southern windows are ideal. Keep in mind that if they aren’t getting enough light the plants will start to stretch. If they start to stretch, you can take the top off and use it as a starter for another one.

Water them properly. The reason most people kill succulents is by watering them improperly. It’s not just a problem with overwatering, it’s that the succulents need to have time for their roots to dry after being watered. Succulents store water in their leaves, and soaked roots need to be allowed to dry out entirely before watering them again. If the roots are never allowed to dry, the plant will die. On the other hand, if the roots are never soaked, the plants will die too. This is why spraying succulents daily is unsuccessful.

Signs that your succulents need watering are shrinking or puckering leaves, or normally shiny leaves that appear dull.

Drainage is key. The pots you use for your succulents must have a hole in the bottom. If there is no hole, water remains in the bottom of the container and soaks the roots. Succulents are sensitive to air flow. Don’t water your succulents unless the dirt is dry two inches down into the container.

With these three tips, you should be able to successfully maintain succulents in your apartment.

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Urban Agriculture Saving Lives in Besieged Aleppo

Urban agriculture is saving lives in beseiged Aleppo

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The ongoing civil war in Syria has been devastating for the city of Aleppo, currently held by rebel forces and besieged by the government. After the September ceasefire fell apart, it has gotten progressively harder to feed the people of the city, but there may be some hope in the shape of urban agriculture.

While there are number of families and small groups that are attempting to grow their own food in the city, most of these attempts make use of only a small fraction of a hectare, hardly enough space to grow food for a family, much less to provide for neighbors.

This is where Red Team comes in. Red Team is a volunteer organization that manages 37 hectares of farmland on the outskirts of town, helping to feed eastern Aleppo. They’re out of the way of most of the shelling and skirmishes that make life in that city so dangerous. The farm is selling the produce at cost, trying to keep the farm running instead of making a profit on it. They’re doing this in a city where produce prices are sometimes 10 times as high as they were before the war.

Living in a city under siege has been difficult for as long as there have been cities or war. Throughout history, cities have traditionally given in when it ha become impossible to feed the people there.

The rebels controlling Aleppo don’t seem likely to give up any time soon, but that kind of resistance can be bad for the city. Barely able to feed itself, much of the city is reliant upon food brought in from other, rebel-controlled parts of the country, which are themselves struggling as well.

Hopefully, groups of farmers like Red Team can help keep the people of Aleppo from succumbing to the horrors of war, and keep the death toll from getting even higher.

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Backyard Chickens Still On Arlington Council’s Mind

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Urban agriculture is a growing phenomenon throughout the country. This goes beyond simply having a little vegetable garden, which was long a staple of suburban homes, and instead consists of applying some actual agricultural know-how to urban plots. Urban agriculture has been touted as a potential savior for cities like Detroit, which have a lot of unused space and large areas of “food deserts,” which are areas in which actual grocery stores cannot be reached on foot.

But advocates of urban agriculture have been fighting a constant battle against zoning laws in a lot of cities across the country. While Seattle or Portland might have embraced urban agriculture because it appeals to large segments of their populations, other places, like Arlington, Virginia, have had more trouble moving forward.

That city in particular has spent a lot of council hours on the question of who can legally raise chickens within the city.

Chickens are a common sight in urban agriculture because they don’t require a lot of room or nearly as much work as other livestock, and they produce eggs frequently enough that they’re actually worth having around. But to date, only a very small number of households in the city can raise chickens legally, because the coop has to be at least 100 feet from the street, and the vast majority of lots simply aren’t that big. There have been discussions of reducing that number by as much as 75 percent, which would vastly increase the number of single-family lots in the city where chickens could live.

Unfortunately for urban farmers in Arlington, the discussion has been off the table for the last few years, but some changes in the city council have opened up the possibility of moving forward with the discussion.

If those rules could be amended, it would be a win for urban farmers across the country, showing that even places that aren’t “weird” like Portland can embrace potentially very helpful trends.

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Preparing Your Garden for Winter

Time to prepare your garden for winter!

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As much as we hate to admit it, fall is here and winter is right on its heels. It’s time to get your garden ready for next year by doing a few things before the snow flies.

Clean up your garden beds or planters. Remove and compost all your dead vegetation and rotting fruit or veggies that you didn’t get a chance to eat before the first frost. If your plants had fungus, mildew, mold, or blight, burn or trash them rather than composting; your compost pile won’t get hot enough to kill those microorganisms and they could spread to your plants next year.

After you’ve cleaned everything out, add a layer of finished compost and mulch to get your garden off to a good start next spring.

If you have a lawn, gather your fall leaves. Leaves are great mulch and compost materials, and over time those leaves will break down into humus, a lovely, rich soil that will make your garden bloom even better next year. The leaves will compost more quickly if you can shred them using a mower, but even if you can’t, it’s worth piling your leaves in the compost.

Get a soil test. This is especially important if your garden didn’t grow so well in spite of everything you did to help it along. Your soil may need special amendments to give it the ideal balance of nutrients for crop growth. A soil test will tell you your soil pH (acid/alkaline balance); the levels of potassium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur in your soil; the level of organic matter; and whether your soil has toxic materials like lead in it.

Plant garlic. Garlic always does best if it’s started in the fall. Use a bed or container that didn’t have garlic or any of its relations (onions, scallions, shallots, or chives) growing in it. Plant the bulbs about 6 inches apart and 1 to 2 inches deep, then cover with 1 to 2 inches of fine soil. If you live in the northern U.S., add a six-inch layer of mulch before the ground freezes in order to protect the bulbs. Next spring, your garlic crop will be off to a great start!

Finally, remember what did well and what didn’t, and consider making notes that you can refer to when you start your garden again next spring.

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Backyards Chickens: Easier Than You’d Think

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

As people are learning more and more about where food comes from, there has been a greater focus on the wellbeing of the animals that produce our food. It has become increasingly popular for people to raise their own chickens.

There are numerous benefits to these backyard creatures and you have the security of knowing you are benefiting from happy, healthy, antibiotic-free chickens.

Compared to other animals, chickens are relatively easy to take care of. They’re a great form of chemical-free pest control, and chicken waste is one of the world’s best fertilizers.

Eggs are one of the main reasons people raise chickens. It’s great to be able to enjoy and share the eggs with friends and family. The yolks of home-raised chicken eggs are a much richer yellow and have much better flavor than store-bought eggs.

Buy your chickens as young, day-old chicks. You will need to set up a safe space for them. The floor should contain pine shavings or corn cob bedding. This is especially important for chicks.

Baby chicks need to be kept warm with a warming light at 90-100 degrees F for the first week of their life. Every week, this temperature can decrease be about 5 degrees F. They will also need food and water. It is important that they are allowed some time to play and get used to their human owners. In addition, its good to remember that determining the sex of baby chickens is difficult. It is likely you will get a rooster in your bunch. Having a rooster could be illegal in your city.

Once they are adults, your chickens will need a coop. This should provide two to three square feet of space per chicken and be able to protect them from predators. Their space outside should have around four square feet per chicken. The chickens need regular food and water as well as treats in the form of vegetables, bread, or bugs.

While they don’t need a lot of space, your chickens will produce odors. Regular maintenance can mitigate some of this, but anyone who embarks in chicken ownership should know that while they are generally low-maintenance, their coop will need to be cleaned weekly in order to prevent disease. Chickens generate a lot of waste, and they can’t be house-trained or litter trained, so that waste will be everywhere they go.

If you have a dog, keep in mind that some dogs have a high prey drive and can chase and possibly catch your chickens if they’re not protected in their coop.

If you’re ready for the commitment and you have the space, backyard chickens can be a great addition to your urban garden.

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