Better Kansas – Ideas for Living, Growing and Succeeding

Month: August 2019

Better Kansas – August 29, 2019


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Welcome to Better Kansas. Where every Thursday we shed light on events, resources and other information designed to make your life, businesses, communities and state better. Don’t forget to hit subscribe! – Mary Lou Peter

Better Living, Better Communities

FOR MANY EVENTS, WE PREPARE. Planning a wedding? The to-do list is a mile long. Expecting a baby? Another crazy list. But disasters happen every year in Kansas, and most of us are woefully unprepared. We’ve had tornadoes, floods and blizzards this year, with more extreme weather likely to come. It’s human nature to be in denial about bad things that might happen, but preparing ahead of time can make getting back to normal easier. Check out the Prepare Kansas blog and also look for resources on the FEMA page for National Preparedness Month. Thinking about being in denial reminds me of the Pam Tillis song Cleopatra: Queen of Denial. The mind does veer sometimes!

WHAT DRIVES YOUNG ADULTS’ FINANCIAL DECISIONS? I don’t mean the occasional stop at Starbucks, but bigger-picture decisions like buying a home or saving for retirement? Student loan debt, which tops $1.5 trillion, is a top-of-mind factor. A section of the article Money Matters in the spring 2019 K-State Seek research magazine sheds light on this and other factors that drive young adults’ financial decisions. In addition, eXtension offers student loan related fact sheets for students and parents, including savings options, such as 529 plans, types of student loans, responsible borrowing, how student loans can impact your later life, plus information on recovering from student loan default. K-State Research and Extension is part of

MUSIC CAN CONNECT US, SOOTHE US AND HAVE POWERFUL EFFECTS on our emotions like nothing else can. It can take us to a different place. And research shows that listening to music as a child can affect the way we think. Researchers believe that the complexity of classical music especially, primes the brain to solve spatial problems more quickly. Take a look at Building Baby’s Brain: The Role of Music to learn more.

So maybe there WERE benefits to those squeaky 4th grade violin lessons despite your family’s cringes while you were practicing!

Better Farming, Ranching and Gardening

SEPTEMBER IS A GREAT TIME TO GIVE YOUR LAWN A BOOST. Tips on seeding, overseeding and fertilizing plus power raking and core-aeration are outlined in a recent horticulture newsletter. And there’s more! Information on dividing peonies, thinking ahead for next year’s vegetable garden and current challenges for oak trees are also covered. And check out the video Fertilize for a Healthy Lawn.

WHEN WE’RE HYPER-FOCUSED ON SOMETHING IT MAY FEEL LIKE WE’RE operating in a vacuum. That can be true of running a farm business or any kind of business. But stepping back and evaluating the growth and progress of your farm or other agricultural enterprise can help pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. Benchmarking against similar farms can also help you assess your financial position and inform your plans for the future. The Financial Benchmarking Tool was developed by K-State and the CoBank Research Fellow program to help agricultural producers, bankers, consultants and others benchmark their financial ratios with cohorts who are members of the Kansas Farm Management Association.


GOING THROUGH STRESSFUL TIMES IS EASIER WITH A BUDDY, RIGHT? Cattle feel that way, too. So, some cattle operations have installed cattle handling systems called the Bud Box, designed to reduce stress for animals and the humans working with them. I admit, when I first heard of the Bud Box I thought it was so named because cattle are more comfortable when other cattle are nearby. That is true – think herd instinct – but the Bud Box is named after stockman Bud Williams who designed the system. It does draw on basic principles of cattle behavior and movement, including that cattle want to be with other cattle. Other principles and more information are outlined in the publication, Designing a Bud Box for Cattle Handling.

For more resources and activities, contact the K-State Research and Extension office in your area. Check out our other blogs and subscribe to our weekly emails here:

Better Kansas – August 22, 2019

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Welcome to Better Kansas. Where every Thursday we shed light on events, resources and other information designed to make your life, businesses, communities and state better. Don’t forget to hit subscribe! – Mary Lou Peter

Better Living, Better Communities

MANY OF US HAVE A LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH SUGAR and most of us know the difference between table sugar and powdered sugar, but there’s a lot more to that sweet carbohydrate than some of us knew. And it comes in so many forms! There’s your coarse sugar and your fruit sugar and your brown sugar and your turbinado sugar?! … You get the picture. Get the scoop in Sugar: More Than Just a Sweetener to learn about sugars and sugar substitutes such as aspartame and stevia, plus information on the function of sugar in foods. I never knew that in frozen foods, low temperatures tend to numb the taste buds and sugar acts to enhance flavors. Am I the only person who’s never heard of the Maillard reaction?

I’LL BE THE FIRST TO ADMIT, I NEED AN OCCASIONAL REMINDER to stick to a budget, use credit wisely and to be savvy about saving. For many of us baby boomers, our thoughts have shifted to thinking less about saving for a wedding or making it to the kids’ volleyball tournament and a lot more about planning our next weekend getaway and how to make our money last through a long, healthy 😊 retirement. The article Keys to Embracing Aging: Financial Affairs is full of reminders of things to consider as we age, plus do’s and don’ts we may not think about, especially regarding consumer protection. My own family remembers a relative who was incredibly smart but fell prey to a company that took advantage of him as he grew older. It can happen to anyone.

ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS ABOUT BEING NEAR A MAJOR UNIVERSITY is easy access to informational sessions presented by an array of experts – and sometimes you don’t even have to be a student. A visual and insightful treat is in store for anyone who attends the Henry C. Gardiner Lecture Series at K-State Oct. 14. That’s when Dennis Dimick, the former executive environmental editor for National Geographic will speak about the challenges of living in the modern human era in his presentation “Living in the Human Age.” The free lecture, in the university’s McCain Auditorium, is open to the public. While at National Geographic, Dimick worked on more than 90 projects that addressed climate change, public lands, freshwater scarcity, coal and natural gas as energy supplies, and the effects on water supply from drought and snowpack loss in the United States. While on campus, he and National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson will speak to students and other campus groups. More information, plus a Q&A is available online. Plus, more information is available about the Henry C. Gardiner Global Foods Systems Lecture Series.

Better Farming, Ranching and Gardening

THEY COME BACK EVERY YEAR TO WOW US WITH THEIR BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS, but even daylilies need a little TLC. This is the time of year to consider dividing daylilies, especially if it’s been a few years (or ever?) since the last time they were divided. Dividing them every 3-4 years helps keep them looking their best and we’ll be the lucky recipients of that for years to come. Check out the Dividing Daylilies section of a recent K-State Horticulture Newsletter and take a look at the video Dividing Daylilies.


YOU MAY KNOW KANSAS AS THE WHEAT STATE but did you know there are many varieties of wheat grown across the state? What grows well in western Kansas does not necessarily grow well on the eastern side of the state because of differences in average precipitation, soil type and other factors. To help farmers determine what varieties grow best and where, which certainly comes in handy when making decisions about seed purchases, K-State’s Agronomy Department and partners have just issued the NEW 2019 Kansas Performance Tests with Winter Wheat Varieties. It’s just a tad important since about one-fifth of all wheat grown in the United States is grown in Kansas.

By the way, university agronomists make public information on other crops too, such as corn, soybeans, canola, sunflower, grain sorghum and others. More on those later.

WHAT DO YOU CALL TWO SPIDERS THAT JUST GOT MARRIED? NEWLY WEBS! I’ve not met an entomologist yet that doesn’t have a sense of humor and that humor surfaces frequently in the Bug Jokes section of the K-State Extension Entomology blog. The scientists get down to serious business, too, as they conduct research and work with Kansans to scout farm fields, identify insects in homes and businesses and share information about how to manage them. By the way, the photo is of a longhorn milkweed beetle.

For more resources and activities, contact the K-State Research and Extension office in your area. Check out our other blogs and subscribe to our weekly emails here:



Better Kansas – August 15, 2019

Header image for the Better Kansas BlogWelcome to Better Kansas. Where every Thursday we shed light on events, resources and other information designed to make your life, businesses, communities and state better. Don’t forget to hit subscribe! – Mary Lou Peter

Better Living, Better Communities

IT SEEMS WAY TOO EARLY TO SAY IT, BUT THOSE KIDDOS ARE STARTING BACK TO SCHOOL and the fall routine has begun. Now it’s time to think about football practice, band concerts and SNACKS! Keeping a supply of healthy and easy after-school treats helps children get needed nutrients, maintain a healthy weight and curbs a growling tummy. Snacks shouldn’t replace a meal, so using snack-sized bags can help with portion control. Tips to help be mindful of sugar, fiber, protein and calories can be found in After School Snacks .. Part of Good NutritionFor a fun, colorful item you may want to print out and put on your refrigerator, check out Nature’s Fast Food: Fruits and Vegetables for tips on making “Ants on a Log” (celery with peanut butter and raisins) and more. 

I realized long ago that if I cut the grapes into smaller clumps before putting them in the fridge, we were more apt to eat them. It seems so simple but it makes taking a few that much easier. 

CHOICES IN LIFE ARE GOOD but some can be baffling in the most unlikely of places. Like a simple trip to the store to pick up light bulbs. Easy, right? Then turn the corner and there’s a mile-long aisle devoted to LEDs, CFLs and incandescents. Dimmable or no? Soft light or harsh? Ok, maybe they don’t call it harsh, but my front porch looks like an interrogation room because I bought a brighter bulb than I needed. I’m not dragging that pesky ladder out again anytime soon. It’s all worth paying attention to. The U.S. Department of Energy says if everyone in the nation converted to new technologies, the electricity used to produce light could be cut by up to 70%. Take a look at Home Light Bulb Use to learn more about the difference in bulbs, including comparisons about energy savings, how long they typically last, the average cost per bulb and more.

FOR MANY OF US, OUR HOMES ARE OUR BIGGEST INVESTMENT and can be a significant asset – especially if we’ve owned them for a long time. But is it possible to turn your home’s equity into cash without moving out? Home equity is the dollar amount calculated as the difference between the current market value of your home and the remaining balance on any mortgage loan. There are ways to access home equity for cash: Sell it and move to a different home; borrow against it with a home equity loan that must be repaid; or borrow against it using a reverse mortgage. Reverse mortgages can be complex and are only available to homeowners aged 62+ but in some situations, they might be a good option. Take a look at Understanding Reverse Mortgages: Do They Make Sense For You? for information on the differences between the three ways to tap your home’s equity and a closer look at reverse mortgages.

I found another way for my house to help pay for itself by renting a room to a grad student, but that’s a different story for a different time!

Better Farming, Ranching and Gardening

RECENT REPORTS OF DOGS DYING in North Carolina and Texas prompt me to remind pet owners, livestock owners and those of us who like to slip into a pond or lake ourselves on these hot, summer days to beware of toxic blue-green algae. Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae or harmful algal blooms (HABs) are the rapid growth of algae that can harm animals, people, and the local ecology. It may look like foam, scum, or mats on the surface of water and can be different colors. It can occur in warm fresh or stagnant water that is rich in nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and iron. Read more about this in Heat, runoff heighten risk of blue-green algae in Kansas ponds and lakes. In addition, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment maintains a Watch, Warning, or Closure list on some of the state’s lakes. As I write this, numerous lakes in various parts of the state are at “Warning” level with others listed as “Watch.” About those dogs, check CBS News and other national news reports.


DROP BY PRECIOUS DROP: IN OTHER WATER-RELATED NEWS, K-State is teaming with western Kansas farmers and the Kansas Water Office to present Water Technology Field Days on several privately owned Kansas farms and other locations in August and September. The events are each a bit different and feature different technology, but all give agricultural producers and others in western Kansas the opportunity to see first-hand, in real-life settings, the most current research and equipment available to save water as they grow crops. Farmers who are using the technology, along with university researchers, extension specialists and agents, Kansas Water Office representatives and equipment manufacturers will be on hand to answer questions.


MEANWHILE, THERE IS PLENTY HAPPENING ON THE EASTERN SIDE OF THE STATE with crop field days planned. This is your opportunity to see what worked (and maybe just as telling, what didn’t), find out about current research and this year learn more about how the Mesonet can aid herbicide application. A complimentary meal will be served at both sites.

The North Central Fall Field Day is Aug. 20 near Scandia.

The East Central Experiment Field Fall Field Day is Aug. 21 near Ottawa.

Credits for certified crop advisors or commercial pesticide applicators are available.


For more resources and activities, contact the K-State Research and Extension office in your area. Check out our other blogs and subscribe to our weekly emails here:

Better Kansas – August 8, 2019

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Welcome to Better Kansas, where every Thursday we shed light on events, resources and other information designed to make your life, businesses, communities and state better. Don’t forget to hit subscribe! – Mary Lou Peter

Better Living, Better Communities

IT’S SO GOOD TO DRIVE THROUGH A COMMUNITY and see thriving businesses, whether a store that’s taken an innovative approach or a restaurant that serves great food AND has figured out a way to market it. Running your own business, however, leaves little time to communicate with your peers in other communities who have similar challenges or successes, or ways to learn about technology or legislation that may affect your business. To support small businesses in communities across Kansas, First Friday e-Calls are available the first Friday of the month. It’s professional development information without leaving your business and the only cost is the time it takes to participate. Previous First Friday e-Calls are archived, and topics run the gamut from “Funding Options for Small Businesses” to “Effective Use of Social Media for Rural Organizations”; “Cyber Security Threat to Small Business”; “Innovative Rural Business Models”; “Business Valuation and Business Transition Planning” and many more. Take a look at the website or send an email to to learn more or to be added to the notification list about upcoming e-Calls.

THINK OF ALL OF THE WAYS OUR LIVES HAVE BECOME CONVENIENT, the drive-throughs, the remote controls, and now the grocery delivery! But is that convenience always a good thing? A decline in physical activity is especially a problem for older adults, less than 20% of whom engage in adequate physical activity. That loss of muscle mass can sneak up on us and post-menopausal women can lose 1%-2% of their bone mass annually. To help get us back to where we should be, many K-State Research and Extension offices offer the Stay Strong, Stay Healthy program. Participants meet for one-hour sessions, twice a week for eight weeks. Activities include warm-up exercises, strengthening exercises with or without weights, and cool-down stretches. Class members are encouraged to do the exercises on their own once more per week. Benefits? A potential to restore bone density and reduce the risk of fractures, plus a decrease in arthritis pain, weight maintenance, and a reduction in the risk of diabetes, heart disease and depression.

DO YOU DREAD GETTING THOSE LATE SUMMER ELECTRIC BILLS as much as I do? Thank goodness for electricity and air conditioners, but some days they can barely keep up with our heat and humidity. Air conditioners use about 5% of all electricity produced in the United States, costing homeowners more than $29 billion a year. Save on cooling costs by installing a programmable thermostat and replacing your home’s air filter. Take a look at more tips to beat the heat or listen in.

Better Farming, Ranching and Gardening

ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS TO DO THIS TIME OF YEAR is to spend time on my patio with my flowers, something good to read and yes, the bees, flitting from flower to flower as though they’re trying to decide which classmate to ask to the prom. As a child I was afraid of bees, but that was when I was ignorant about the crucial role they play in our lives. Nearly 75% of the world’s food crops depend on honey bees and other pollinators. But bee populations have been declining and there is evidence to suggest that humans’ inappropriate use of pesticides may be part of the problem. For a closer look, including great photos, check out Pesticides and Bees. So yes, I’m happy to share my space with the bees. Certain other crawly creatures not so much, but I’m really trying to stick with the idea, can’t we all just get along?

SORGHUM (AKA MILO) IS ONE OF KANSAS’ MOST IMPORTANT CROPS, partly for its drought-resistant ways. It’s a key ingredient in livestock rations and increasingly food products, not to mention other uses. But some insects, such as chinch bugs and sugarcane aphids among others, also love sorghum and can take more than their share from a farmer’s yield (and the bottom line). For a whole lot of practical, research-based information on how to control the pesky bugs, take a look at Sorghum Insect Management. And for a radio interview on sugarcane aphids in sorghum, plus other ag related topics listen to Agriculture Today .

IF YOU EMBRACE THE OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES of farming in southwest Kansas, there’s a spot (or many spots) for you at the K-State Southwest Research-Extension Center Fall Field Day on Thursday, Aug. 22 in Garden City. It’s a place to come learn what scientists have found, including what’s working well and what isn’t in this part of the state, with plenty of opportunity to ask questions of researchers and your fellow producers. And this is one of those days where you tour the fields and see for yourself what the researchers are working on. Topics range from weed control, summer annual forages, irrigation efficiency, Bt corn refuges, beneficial insects, and several on control of the weed, kochia, that can cut crop yields by more than half. Industry exhibitors will be on site and did I mention, there’s lunch?!

For more resources and activities, check with the K-State Research and Extension office in your area. Check out our other blogs and subscribe to our weekly emails here:

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