Joe Knows

Growing Greenbacks: How to Make Your Farming Profitable

Joe KnowsOf the more than two million farms across the United States, more than three-quarters produce gross annual revenues of less than $50,000. It's not surprising then that fewer than half of America's farmers name farming as their principal occupation, with most having another profession to supplement their income. However, with these tips you can make your farm profitable and grow your greenbacks.

Offer Accommodation

farmstay

Image via Flickr by Julie Gibson

Broadening your focus and offering accommodation to travelers keen to experience rural life is a great way to boost your revenue. More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, so there are plenty of people who feel a country getaway is the perfect way to recharge their batteries and get back to nature. Spare rooms or barns can be easily converted into a bed and breakfast. Your guests may even be eager to help feed your animals and complete other basic chores.

If your buildings are full, you might convert part of your land into a campsite. You should provide a simple shower and toilet block, and consider providing electrical outlets to attract higher tariffs.

Depending on what you are growing, it might be possible to grow several crops at once and boost your revenue. For example, if your farm has previously only grown coconut trees, you could consider planting beans, courgettes, and cucumbers. These crops make use of the irrigation already in place for the coconut trees, so there's no extra effort required.

Take a Business Class

Too often, farmers spend so much time tending to livestock and soil management that other important aspects of farming, such as planning, analysis, and goal setting fall by the wayside. However, if you want your farm to be profitable then these business matters must be a higher priority.

A business class will give you the foundation you need to start thinking like a businessperson. It'll help you get a grip on your finances and teach you to assess the big picture. You'll also meet other business professionals who could help your farm grow.

In this modern age, taking a business class doesn't mean committing to hours in the classroom either. An online EMBA will let you structure classes around your lifestyle, making it easier to juggle your studies around your professional obligations. Online courses like these are ideal for farmers who are often based in rural areas, far from traditional brick and mortar educational institutions.

Sell at Farmers' Markets

Booking a stall at your local farmers' market is a great way to sell directly to consumers and raise awareness of your farm. Fresh produce is always appealing, but if you can offer different or unique products, such as specialty lettuces or unusual herbs, you'll have an edge over other stalls. Making up signs with buzzwords like "organic," "heirloom," and "free range" is another great way to attract crowds. Consider printing business cards or brochures advertising your farm and encouraging customers who love your products to order them directly from you.

Follow these tips, and you can beat the odds and turn your farm into a thriving business venture.

Surviving Tax Day on the Farm

Joe KnowsEach year, like every other farmer, I face a slew of tax codes that are difficult to navigate and estimate. The ups and downs of the seasons make predicting taxes difficult, but this year I did a few things differently that made it a lot easier when tax time rolled around.

Hiring My Kids

clover

Image via Flickr by WillowGardeners

My kids work hard on the farm, so paying them isn't a stretch. I want them to grow up with the family mentality that includes pitching in and not expecting to be paid for every chore, so the wages I pay can go toward their car insurance or into retirement or college funds. I can also deduct their farm clothing costs if it is something they need for their jobs.

In order to get a tax break and show reasonable expenses, I have to keep records of the work they've done. The IRS doesn't see a difference between me hiring neighborhood kids to help out or my own kids, so I choose to combine the values I'm teaching my own kids about hard work with the valuable breaks I can receive from the IRS when I invest money into my kids' futures. It's a win-win for us.

Really Understanding the Laws

It's important to understand the codes to avoid paying overly high taxes or facing an audit by the IRS for incorrect filing. If you are interested in learning about in-depth tax laws like I am, it might be worth it to take a few classes on the side to become a tax professional. The preparation will not only help you navigate complicated laws with your own farm, but help out friends and the surrounding community as well. 

Purchasing Equipment

equipment

Image via Flickr by basicbill

One of the important tax sections to really understand is the part on equipment deductions. Section 179 allows farms producing less than $400,000 gross annually to depreciate up to $108,000 of their equipment costs for that year. However, some farmers go overboard in purchasing unnecessary equipment to try to save on tax costs. Only buy equipment you really need and consider the most timely point to make that purchase during the year.

Considering All the Costs

This year I took careful notes on other farming costs I could deduct. Knowing how much I spent on electricity and insurance for the farm (not the house), for example, made it easy to deduct expenses from my profits. I have separate electric meters that help me know the usage difference between house and barns, but the IRS only requires an estimate of electricity used. I can also deduct my work phone, vehicle mileage and many other work-dedicated costs.

Understanding farming tax laws has made it easier to plan ahead and be in control of this year's expenses as much as possible. I won't be able to predict everything, but my tax knowledge has helped me make smarter farming decisions throughout the year that save me a lot of money in the long run.

How to Test for Hard Water in Your Home

Joe KnowsHard water, contrary to what the term sounds like, is not ice. The “hard” refers to a high mineral content. There are many arguments for and against the use of hard water in homes. It's a common issue in homes and is easy to test for. Here’s how.

Before You Test

If you are in the market for your first home and have never dealt with hard water, educate yourself on what it is and the issues that come along with it. 

When certified water testing facilities measure the amount of minerals in a water sample, anything with more than one grain of hardness per gallon qualifies as being "hard." About.com defines a grain of hardness as the “amount of calcium and magnesium equal in weight to a kernel of wheat.” 

What problems come with hard water? Some argue that hard water does not taste as good as soft water. It also cuts back on the efficiency of soaps and detergents, and causes unsightly mineral buildup. Bathing in hard water can leave an icky film of minerals and soap scum on your skin.

If a home you are considering buying does indeed have hard water, don’t worry. One easy solution is to install water filters for the whole house.

The Easy Bottle Test

The at-home test for hard water is super easy. Even if you have lived in the same home for decades, discovering that you have hard water can answer some questions you had about why you always have to use so much fabric softener or why you get spots on your dishes so often.

– First, find an empty 16-ounce water bottle with its cap. You'll also need dish soap.

– Put about 1/2 cup of tap water into the bottle. Add 10 drops or so of the dish soap. Tightly close the bottle.

– Vigorously shake it.

 –If soapy suds form quickly and linger in the bottle, your water is nice and soft. Hard water will look milky, and suds will disappear quickly if any form. A film may also appear.

Super simple, right?

Watch the video:

http://youtu.be/41eBQ9_FFV4

Look for Buildup

hardwaterhead

Image via Flickr by Graeme Maclean 

Another quick way to see if you have hard water is by taking a close look at your sinks, tubs, and faucets. Mineral buildup will form in these places. Check the aerators of faucets as well. 

If you have hard water stains or see them in a home that you might buy, you can get rid of the stains in a few steps.

– Prepare a 50/50 mixture of water and white vinegar.

– Dip a rag into the solution and wipe the affected area. You may need to leave the rag on the area for a few minutes before you wipe. The worst spots will take several applications to clean thoroughly.

– If you have large spots, such as on glass shower doors, put some of the mixture into a spray bottle. Go over the area a few times, spraying repeatedly.

– You also want to get rid of buildup in aerators, so soak them in vinegar.

Once everything is clean, you can welcome your new filtration system and not worry about having to deal with those ugly spots ever again.

The Scientific Test

You can send a water sample to a lab to confirm the hardness of your water and tell you exactly how hard it is. Or, you can take a short drive to the nearest hardware store or home center and grab an at-home test kit. The strips that come in the kit will give you a fairly accurate reading on the hardness of the water in your home.

The kits come with other testing strips as well. You can see if your water has too much iron or nitrate, or if it is acidic. Low levels of water hardness are usually more of an inconvenience than anything else, but if you have very hard water or find that your water has other problems, it is all the more reason to invest in a filtration system.

Water is the liquid of life – for hydration, for cleaning, for cooling. Water with icky or unhealthful contaminants can put a damper on more than one aspect of your life. A simple test will let you know if you need to take action to clean up your H2O.

Worst Case Scenario 6 Steps to Turn Your Home into a Bunker

Joe KnowsNatural disasters can pop up in a matter of hours, and leave a path of destruction that takes months to clean up. Having a safe place for your family to "bug out" and stay safe till the threat passes is the only way to assure their safety. So how can you turn your home into a bunker? Here are six steps for doing just that. 

 

Clear out Your Cellar

Cellars are great options for bunkers because they're typically made of solid concrete. If an unexpected disaster happens, you won't have time to prepare the cellar, so you'll want to plan ahead. Clear the cellar of all items and then bring in supplies you'll need in the event you have hunker down for a while. 

Add in Some Food

foodstock

Image via Flickr by istolethetv

To make sure that your doomsday food stash hasn't spoiled, choose food items that have a long shelf life; for example, wheat is a great option. Combine it with a hand-cranked mill and you can easily turn it into flour. You can also add water to wheat seeds and create sprouted wheat, which doesn't need sunlight and can provide fresh food. Other sprouting seeds, such as broccoli and alfalfa, are great options for the same reasons. The seeds store for long periods of time and can be sprouted within a few days' time.

Salt is great for preserving food and lasts indefinitely. Honey is a great item to be used as a sweetener, and if you get raw honey, it also has a lot of nutrients while lasting for years. Because fresh milk doesn't last, powdered milk is a great option. Fat-free powdered milk, if stored correctly, can last up to 15 years. Other items to consider storing are yeast, dried eggs, spices, dried beans, rice, and vitamin supplements.

Make It Homey

Having a big stash of food is great for survival, but if you end up being stuck down there for a while, you'll want the space to be comfortable as well. Cots are a great addition providing you and your loved ones places to sleep. Pack away some space blankets in case of cold temperatures as well as storing blankets in space-saver vacuum-sealed bags that will decrease the likelihood of them being eaten. Add in other items to make it more comfortable like photographs of your family, stuff animals, candy, and books to read. 

Prepare for Injuries

If there's a major disaster like an earthquake, it's possible that you may have to perform emergency medical care for someone who is injured and bleeding. Make sure to keep basic medical supplies in the bunker.

If anyone in the family takes medication for a chronic condition, store extra medications in the bunker making sure to rotate them out (i.e. have two to three months' supply in the bunker. Whenever you get the prescription filled, take the bottle out of the bunker and replace with the newly filled prescription, so the medication down there does not expire).

Other items to have include bandages, a sterilized needle and strong thread, cold medicine, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, medical tape, cotton wool, and cough drops.

Keep in Contact With Outside World

If you're stuck in the basement or you're not sure if it's safe to come out, you'll want ways to hear what's going on outside the safety of your bunker. A hand-cranked radio is a great option because you don't have to worry about needing batteries. If you want to watch news broadcasts, keep a small digital TV in the bunker and choose an off-air TV antenna to get TV signals from the outside world.

You also might want to consider keeping an emergency cell phone in the bunker. These phones can last 15 years on one charge and have up to 10 hours of talk time. 

Protect Your Family

Whenever disasters hit, you never know what challenges you'll face. You can protect your family by safely storing guns and ammunition in the cellar as well. Take the time to teach your family about gun safety and teach them how to properly handle and fire guns.

By taking time to prepare for disasters now, you'll have peace of mind that if something happens, you and your family will have a refuge to go to and will be comfortable until the disaster passes. Have you ever built a bunker for your home? What other tips do you have?

6 Pieces of Equipment You Need for a Start-up Landscaping Business

Joe KnowsBefore starting a landscaping business, you'll need some essential pieces of equipment. Use this list to make sure you have the most important items you'll need to make your business successful.

Shovels

People who don't work in the landscaping industry rarely know about all the shovel types that can help you do your job more efficiently. Some of the most useful shovels include:

  • square-mouth
  • trench
  • round-mouth
  • spade

Shovel - Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia/Horticulture

When you have these shovels, you can choose the right tool for the job. If you need to dig a long, narrow path, then a trench shovel should work well. If you want to remove a large section of sod or dirt, a square-mouth shovel will help.

Wheelbarrow

wheelbarrow

Photo: Flickr by Jonas B

A bag of quick-setting concrete can weigh 80 pounds or more. Even the burliest landscapers could only move so many bags before their muscles give out. A wheelbarrow makes it easier to transport heavy items. It also provides an easy place to store dirt, rocks, and other materials that you might want to relocate.

Without a wheelbarrow, simple jobs that should only take a couple of hours will turn into projects that take days.

Cordless Drill

Cordless drills don't offer as much power as corded models, but they come in useful for small outdoor jobs that don't require a ton of torque. Cordless drills can also make it easier for you to reach small areas. It's also convenient when you don't have nearby outlet to plug in your drill.

Cordless Drill - Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia/abhbah05

You can get the most out of your drill by using edge preparation to keep the bits sharp. The sharper your bits are, the less friction they create while drilling through wood. That can make your cordless drill seem more powerful than it actually is.

Chainsaw

Landscapers who don't have chainsaws might waste a lot of time on difficult jobs. If a tree has gotten so out of control that you couldn't possibly prune it into shape, then you might need to remove small limbs. A chainsaw will reduce the time and physical energy that you put into removing those limbs.

Chainsaw - Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia/cpickard2790

Make sure you have a sharp chain. A sharp chain will cut right through wood. A dull one will cause the chainsaw to buck and stick inside the wood.

Keep a spare chain with you at all times. That way, you can swap them out if your chainsaw gets dull.

Tiller

Tillers use heavy tines cut through the dirt. This lets landscapers prepare large areas for planting.

There are different types of tillers that you should consider before choosing one for your business. Some of the most popular types include:

  • rear-tine tillers
  • front-tine tillers
  • cultivators
  • counter-rotating tines

Tiller - Fotolia

Photo: Fotolia/Gilly Smith

You can also choose between electric- and gas-powered tillers. Gas models give you more power to tear through difficult ground that contains a lot of rocks and roots. Electric models aren't as strong, but they're cheaper to operate because you don't need to purchase gas. If you only have an electric model, though, you'll need to make sure that your work site has an available outlet. You can't use an electric tiller without electricity.

Trailer

You should have a truck or similar vehicle to move all of your equipment. No matter how big your truck is, a trailer will make it easier to haul equipment between the day's job sites.

Trailer - iStock

Photo: iStockphoto.com/kozmoat98

Make sure you choose a trailer that will suit your growing business. You don't want to get one that's just big enough to hold the items you currently use. Next year, you might decide to invest in a riding lawnmower to make work more efficient. If your trailer is too small for the mower, then you'll have to spend money buying another trailer.

Always look to the future so that you don't have to replace your items to keep up with your workload.

What are some of the tools that you use most during landscaping jobs? Would you recommend other pieces of equipment for people just getting into the landscaping industry?

Texas Living: 4 Things I Love About the Lonestar State

Joe KnowsWhat makes us love the Lone Star state? It might almost do us better to ask what we don't like about it. Sure, it has its issues, but Texas might be the greatest state in the nation. Many could argue it offers the best of what enjoying America is all about. Great food, great music, great sports, and great city living. Keep reading on to see why these aspects of the state garner so much love from so many millions of people.


The Music

The music scene

Image via Flickr by Scott Moore

Texas overflows with music. Go out in any city on any night, and you're bound to see hear multiple shows as you wander the streets. At the very least, you'll find locals strumming guitar and singing at the bars. They might even ask you to join, which you should, assuming you have the skills to keep up.

Texas also has many of the greatest music venues in the country, such as Gruene Hall, Continental Club, Carousel Lounge, Beerland, Whitewater Amphitheater, or the Firehouse Saloon. Many of the world's greatest musicians (and not just country musicians) have performed at these venues.

Texas has also been the birthplace of so many famous musical artists. Some of them may surprise you, such as Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Clarkson, Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, Usher, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Selena, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Janis Joplin, Hillary Duff, Destiny's Child, and plenty of others.

Sports

Texas football

Image via Flickr by TheRealMstiles

One of the greatest states for sports fans, Texas offers three NBA teams, two NFL teams, two MLB teams, one NHL team, and seemingly endless NCAA teams. How can you possibly get bored if you're a sports fan? Texas also acts as one of the greatest states for team spirit. It's so big, people form rivalries against their own state.

Try checking out a high school football game – that's where you see the true passion for sports. Professional sports offer plenty of fun and enthusiasm, but those fans don't have personal investment in the players (usually). At high school games, players mostly play in front of people they know. It creates a whole new level of emotion. If you've never been to a high school football game, make a Texas High School your first.

Big-City Small-City Experience

City life

Image via Flickr by Adriano Aurello Araujo

Many people think of Texas as a super right winged state, offering big cities mixed with big country attitude. Whether or not that appeals to you, the reality is even better: It's all those things, and everything else. Outside of the big, red cities, you find smaller, more homey cities. And, not all the big cities have the attitude most people associate with Texas.

Take Austin as an example. It's the capital of Texas, and the 11th largest city in the United States, but it has a surprisingly friendly, homey feel. You can go out alone and have the time of your life. Plus, politics often land on a more middle ground than other big Texas cities.

Irving also lets you experience the best of both worlds; it's a smaller town with a friendlier, homey feel, but it's close enough to Dallas that you can enjoy all the big city amenities as well. If this already gets you excited, it might be fun to check out some new homes in Irving or Austin.

Food

Texas food

Image via Flickr by /\ \/\/ /\

If you've never had food from the south, you'll never understand the true meaning of great American food. Sure, you'll find top-notch restaurants around the country, but in Texas and other southern states, it's hard to find food that ISN'T incredibly delicious. Not only can you find great food with ease, you'll also love the price; food in usually goes easy on your wallet.

The Dallas Observer has created an awesome list of 30 essential Texas restaurants to eat at before you die, so you can make sure that you experience only the best of the best. Among some of the choices we find Gaido's, a 102-year-old restaurant with its Watkin's Bisque that's kept people coming back for decades, and Gilhooley's, which has some of the freshest oysters in the nation. Don't worry about hitting them all or hitting the right one; wherever you go, you probably won't regret it

Texas has a lot to offer, and not just because it's the biggest state in the country. If you've never been, take some time out to consider making a trip. You might love it too much to ever leave.

Cheap DIY Projects for the Bathroom

Joe KnowsDo you dream of having a luxurious spa-like bathroom but lack the funds for a complete remodel? Luckily for you, there are a few easy, cheap, and quick ways to transform your current bathroom into the luscious oasis of your dreams. Just pick your color scheme, grab a few simple tools, and head to the bathroom for the most inexpensive-yet-comprehensive bathroom DIY ever. 


Replace the Old Mirror 

mirror

Replacing the old mirror is an easy and cheap way to offer the whole bathroom a new look. Choose a mirror that looks nice with your new color pattern and decide whether you'd like an ornate one or a simplistic one. Ornate mirrors work best in traditional or olden-style rooms, while modern looks call for a simple design with a modest or absent frame. Measure the area you have to hang the mirror before you buy to assure it will fit and look nice. 

Paint an Accent Wall 

Even the smallest bathrooms can sport a trendy accent wall to add visual interest. Choose the wall you would like to display prominently, such as the wall behind the vanity. Paint this wall in a contrasting color to the rest of the bathroom. For instance, try a bright yellow wall with a green bathroom or a purple wall with a white bathroom. Pick colors that enhance your mood or help you relax, whichever emotion you'd like to evoke during your bath or shower time. Morning showers are more invigorating amidst bright orange or yellow walls, while evening baths are more relaxing cuddled in blue or green walls. 

Paint the Vinyl Flooring 

It's not necessary to replace the vinyl flooring in order to get a whole new look for the bathroom. Use a quality primer over the existing vinyl flooring, paint it with the color(s) you choose, and seal the paint with several coats of polyurethane. You can even embellish the floor with designs such as tile, stone, stencil or a checkered pattern.

If you're using bold designs on the floor, it's best to keep the walls simple, so the room doesn't get too busy. However, if you select a simple pattern, you can use it on the floor as well as the walls for a unique look. Try creating an ivy wonderland or a tropical jungle in your bathroom, if you dare. 

Make Your Own Custom Shower Curtain 

Custom shower curtains cost hundreds of dollars, but you can get the same thing by making one yourself. Measure the shower curtain rod and double that measurement. Then add two inches per side (left to right) and five inches top to bottom. This gives you the amount of fabric you need to buy.

Hem the fabric by 1 inch on the left and right sides, and along the bottom. Fold down 2 inches along the top and use it to make a loop to thread the shower curtain rod through. Voilà! You have a custom-made shower curtain for just a few bucks. 

Replace Old Hardware 

Replacing the hinges, knobs, and handles on the vanity (not to mention the towel racks) are some more quick bathroom makeovers to consider. You can then match the new hardware to the new look or theme of your bathroom. When shopping for towel racks, consider one that will accommodate oversized bath towels like the ones used in spas.

Then you can truly create a spa-like experience in your bathroom. Remove the old hardware before painting and put the new hardware in after painting, so you don't damage the new paint with the installation

Create Your Own Framed Prints for the Walls 

vaseshelf

Beautiful framed prints are also costly, but you can make your own with cheap frames and pictures from calendars, old magazines, or books. Look for frames and magazines at the thrift store or garage sales. Cheap frames are also available at the dollar store. If you like, create a set of framed prints for each season of the year so you can change them up frequently and not get tired of them as quickly. 

Now there is only one thing left to do: fill the tub, light some candles, add your favorite bubble bath, and enjoy your new creation!