Planning Your Backyard Vegetable Garden

So you are ready to start a backyard garden? It’s an exciting prospect; fresh, organic vegetables to feed your family from your own backyard! A backyard garden can be a great way to grow your own healthy vegetables and save money in the process. Having a successful and bountiful backyard garden does require some planning before you get started. Where will you put your garden? Raised beds or no? What are the soil requirements? How about keeping out local wildlife and insects? How should you set up your backyard garden? These are a few questions that we will answer today.

Location, Location, Location!

First, plan a location in your yard that gets full sunlight for most of the day. Be aware of any shade trees or bushes in your yard and avoid planting your garden in these areas. Take a look at where the sunniest spots are in your backyard. Generally, the south and west facing areas will get the most sun. Also be aware of structures like walls and fences, that can help shelter your garden from wind and also capture some warmth from the sun. Also, take a look at the hills and slopes, and avoid placing your garden in a low area that might be cooler and pool moisture. If you are planning to plant tender vegetable crops early in the spring season, consider making a cold frame in your garden to add shelter and warmth until the warmer weather comes along. A cold frame is like a mini-greenhouse in your garden and it will allow you to plant seedlings earlier in cooler climates.

Drainage and Irrigation

It’s also very important to be sure your backyard vegetable garden has good drainage and irrigation. The soil in the area should be spongy and spring back somewhat when you squeeze it. It should not be in a low-lying area, or an area in your yard that puddles when it rains. Try using raised beds to help allow for good drainage and irrigation when you are watering your vegetable garden. Also plan your garden in a location that is easy for you to water.

Soil Quality

Take a look at the quality of the soil in the area that you plan to have your vegetable garden. The type of soil that is best for growing a garden is rich, dark, loomy soil that feels a little spongy when you squeeze it. It should have a sweet earthy smell. Is your soil more sandy, clay like, or pale in color? Never fear, you can improve the quality of your soil in many ways. One is to buy some loom or topsoil from a local garden center. If you are looking for a low cost option, try looking around locally reasonable prices for topsoil. You can also add organic matter like rotted leaves, manure or other organic matter to your soil. Also, don’t forget worms! Worms are a gardener’s friend. They ingest organic matter and process it and add it back to your soil, all the time aerating your soil in their travels. Consider adding some earthworms to your vegetable garden soil to help improve it’s growing power.

Plan Before you Plant!

Now you need to decide what vegetables you want to grow in your garden. Start by deciding what vegetables you and your family enjoy the most. If no one likes zucchini, don’t plant it or you’ll end up with buckets of zucchini that you have no use for. Think of some favorite vegetables and then fully research them. Do they grow well in your climate? Do they need a lot of sun? How long does it take for them to produce vegetables. If this is your first garden, it’s a great idea to start with some vegetables that produce results quickly, so that you can start to reap the rewards right away. Good choices for a fast harvest are lettuce, potatoes, spring onions and beans. Also try to choose hardy, basic varieties that are tried and true. You can get fancy after you have a few growing seasons under your belt!

Don’t Forget Fencing

Critters love fresh grown vegetables from your garden. Be aware if there are bunnies, deer, or other animals in the area that they will see your garden as an easy meal! Plan a fence around your garden keeping in mind the type of animals in your area. Do some research and talk to your neighbors about potential local pests in order to plan your garden fencing.

Taking the time to fully prepare and plan your garden can make the difference between a lackluster showing and a bountiful growing season. Planning for a good location, proper sunlight, quality soil and good drainage and aeration, as well as keeping out pests will make the difference in your backyard garden!

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The Potential Dangers of Energy Drinks and How to Naturally Increase Energy Levels

The energy beverage market is growing rapidly. Many people consume these beverages in order to increase their energy levels throughout the day. There are over $9 billion dollars in sales of energy drinks just in the United States market and it continues to grow. Statistics show that over 30% of teenagers consume energy drinks on a regular basis.The Concern: There is much concern and debate over the safety of energy drinks. The caffeine levels are very high and can range up to 300 mg per bottle. In comparison to a cup of coffee which has approximately 80 mg of caffeine, one can see how an energy drink can really spike caffeine consumption to potentially unsafe levels. Too much caffeine intake can cause irritability, nervousness, heart palpitations and raise blood pressure. Oftentimes, the caffeine levels are not indicated on the labels of these drinks and people are not aware of just how much they are consuming. People who suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure should not consume energy drinks at all. Also high levels of sugar and mega doses of vitamins can also be unhealthy.Premixed with Alcohol: An alarming fact is that energy drinks are now being premixed with alcohol and available to purchase. This can be dangerous as mixing a stimulant with a depressant such as alcohol can lead to serious health risks such as heart failure. Again, there appears to be such little information available to the public regarding this fact. Many people will consume these beverages at nightclubs and bars not realizing the potentially dangerous interaction of this mixture. The stimulant factor will allow someone to drink more alcohol as the normal intoxication effect is delayed for a longer period of time. This can lead to other potential problems such as unawareness of intoxication, drunk driving, bodily injuries and impaired judgment.Risk of Addiction: There is the risk of becoming addicted to energy drinks if you consume them frequently. In addition to the caffeine addiction the extremely high levels of sugar can become addictive. This combination will give you an instant energy “high” but is then followed by a feeling of energy depletion. The energy increase is unnatural and short lasting. This can of course lead to addiction as one wants to feel the energy rush and avoid the energy slumps that occur soon after. Research has also shown that high usage of energy drinks is linked to increased use of unhealthy substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and prescription drug abuse. If one consumes a lot of energy drinks there is a risk of caffeine intoxication. It’s even possible to experience side effects like rapid heartbeat and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet from the mega doses of vitamin supplements that some of these drinks contain.Alternatives to Energy Drinks: There are much healthier ways to increase your energy levels naturally rather than turning to artificial stimulants. The objective is to incorporate healthy habits that will make you feel truly alive and filled with energy.Avoid Dehydration: Being dehydrated will lower your energy levels. Drink plenty of fresh clean water to hydrate your body and naturally raise energy.Healthy Diet: Eating a healthy well balanced diet will certainly help with providing your body with energy. Protein is important for energy production. Healthy proteins should be eaten throughout the day to ensure adequate energy. Carbohydrates can make you feel sluggish if you eat too much breads, rice and pastas. Try to stick to carbohydrates in the form of vegetables to accompany your protein intake. For example, an energy boosting lunch or dinner could be grilled salmon with asparagus or roasted chicken or turkey with sautéed vegetables. Carbohydrates are very important to keeping blood sugar levels stable so make sure to have good carbohydrates in your diet.Do not skip breakfast as this meal will provide the fuel you need to keep your energy level throughout the day. Also try to eat smaller mini meals instead of three large meals. Smaller, nutritionally dense meals pack more energy power than large meals which can overload your digestive system and make you feel fatigued. Eat fiber based fruits such as bananas and apples as well as snacks such as raisins. These fibrous foods help your body to have more energy and are easy snacks for people on the go. Also don’t forget your omega-3 laden foods such as salmon, tuna and olive oil. The omega nutrients help you to stay alert.Exercise: Exercise is important to energy production. Even though working out will feel like you are expending energy it is actually an energy exchange for longer term consistent energy increases. People who exercise regularly will often notice that their energy decreases when they stop exercise for any period of time. A consistent exercise program that includes walking, light aerobics, treadmill or swimming can boost health and energy levels. All it takes is 20 to 30 minutes per day of exercise to increase your energy naturally. Exercise has the additional benefits of controlling your weight and supporting your immune system.Reduce Stress: Stress is an energy drainer. Of course we will all experience stress but finding constructive ways to reduce it is a good way to increase your energy levels. Holding on to negative emotions will certainly deplete your energy reserves. It is not just negative emotions that can rob you of energy but positive, life changing events can lower energy as well. Getting married or retiring are exciting but even these heightened positive emotions can have the same effect on energy. Bear these facts in mind when experiencing even the greatest joys of life and make sure to incorporate healthy lifestyle habits such as a balanced diet and exercise to counteract the energy draining effects.Energy Improves Quality of Life: Having adequate energy levels really makes life more enjoyable. Being able to accomplish your daily activities without complete exhaustion improves the quality of your life. Remember it is very important to always consult with your medical doctor before undertaking any changes in your diet or lifestyle, particularly if you are currently taking prescription medications or have been diagnosed with any disease. Low energy levels could be symptomatic of an underlying medical condition.

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Information Systems Theory 101

“The first on-line, real-time, interactive, data base system was double-entry bookkeeping which was developed by the merchants of Venice in 1200 A.D.”
- Bryce’s LawSystems work is not as hard as you might think. However, we have a tendency in this business to complicate things by changing the vocabulary of systems work and introducing convoluted concepts and techniques, all of which makes it difficult to produce systems in a consistent manner. Consequently, there is a tendency to reinvent the wheel with each systems development project. I believe I owe it to my predecessors and the industry overall to describe basic systems theory, so that people can find the common ground needed to communicate and work. Fortunately, there are only four easy, yet important, concepts to grasp which I will try to define as succinctly as possible.1. THERE ARE THREE INHERENT PROPERTIES TO ANY SYSTEMRegardless of the type of system, be it an irrigation system, a communications relay system, an information system, or whatever, all systems have three basic properties:A. A system has a purpose – such as to distribute water to plant life, bouncing a communications signal around the country to consumers, or producing information for people to use in conducting business.B. A system is a grouping of two or more components which are held together through some common and cohesive bond. The bond may be water as in the irrigation system, a microwave signal as used in communications, or, as we will see, data in an information system.C. A system operates routinely and, as such, it is predictable in terms of how it works and what it will produce.All systems embrace these simple properties. Without any one of them, it is, by definition, not a system.For our purposes, the remainder of this paper will focus on “information systems” as this is what we are normally trying to produce for business. In other words, the development of an orderly arrangement or grouping of components dedicated to producing information to support the actions and decisions of a particular business. Information Systems are used to pay employees, manage finances, manufacture products, monitor and control production, forecast trends, process customer orders, etc.If the intent of the system is to produce information, we should have a good understanding of what it is…2. INFORMATION = DATA + PROCESSINGInformation is not synonymous with data. Data is the raw material needed to produce information. Data by itself is meaningless. It is simply a single element used to identify, describe or quantify an object used in a business, such as a product, an order, an employee, a purchase, a shipment, etc. A data element can also be generated based on a formula as used in a calculation; for example:Net-Pay = Gross-Pay – FICA – Insurance – City-Tax – Union-Dues – (etc.)Only when data is presented in a specific arrangement for use by the human being does it become information. If the human being cannot act on it or base a decision from it, it is nothing more than raw data. This implies data is stored, and information is produced. It is also dependent on the wants and needs of the human being (the consumer of information). Information, therefore, can be defined as “the intelligence or insight gained from the processing and/or analysis of data.”The other variable in our formula is “processing” which specifies how data is to be collected, as well as its retrieval in order to produce information. This is ultimately driven by when the human being needs to make certain actions and decisions. Information is not always needed “upon request” (aka “on demand”); sometimes it is needed once daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. These timing nuances will ultimately dictate how data is collected, stored, and retrieved. To illustrate, assume we collect data once a week. No matter how many times during the week we make a query of the data base, the data will only be valid as of the last weekly update. In other words, we will see the same results every day for one week. However, if we were to collect the data more frequently, such as periodically throughout the day, our query will produce different results throughout the week.Our formula of “I = D + P” makes an important point: if the data is changed, yet the processing remains the same, the information will change. Conversely, if the data remains the same, yet the processing changes, the information will also change. This leads to a compelling argument to manage data and processing as separate by equal resources which can be manipulated and reused to produce information as needed.3. SYSTEMS ARE LOGICAL IN NATURE AND CAN BE PHYSICALLY IMPLEMENTED MANY DIFFERENT WAYSAn information system is a collection of processes (aka, “sub-systems”) to either collect and store data, to retrieve data and produce information, or a combination of both. The cohesive bond between these components is the data which should be shared and reused throughout the system (as well as other systems). You will observe we have not yet discussed the most suitable way to physically implement the processes, such as through the use of manual processes, computer programs, or other office technology. In other words, at this stage, the sub-systems of the system simply define logically WHAT data must be processed, WHEN it must be processed, and who will consume the information (aka “end-users”), but it most definitely does not specify HOW the sub-system is to be implemented.Following this, developers determine a suitable approach for physically implementing each sub-system. This decision should ultimately be based on practicality and cost effectiveness. Sub-systems can be implemented using manual procedures, computer procedures (software), office automation procedures, or combinations of all three. Depending on the complexity of the sub-system, several procedures may be involved. Regardless of the procedures selected, developers must establish the precedent relationships in the execution of the procedures, either sequentially, iteratively, of choice (thereby allowing divergent paths). By defining the procedures in this manner, from start to end, the developers are defining the “work flow” of the sub-system, which specifies HOW the data will be physically processed (including how it is to be created, updated, or referenced).Defining information systems logically is beneficial for two reasons:* It provides for the consideration of alternative physical implementations. How one developer designs it may very well be different than the next developer. It also provides the means to effectively determine how a purchased software package may satisfy the needs. Again, the decision to select a specific implementation should be based on practicality and cost justification.* It provides independence from physical equipment, thereby simplifying the migration to a new computer platform. It also opens the door for system portability, for example; our consulting firm helped a large Fortune 500 conglomerate design a single logical payroll system which was implemented on at least three different computer platforms as used by their various operating units; although they physically worked differently, it was all the same basic system producing the same information.These logical and physical considerations leads to our final concept…4. A SYSTEM IS A PRODUCT THAT CAN BE ENGINEERED AND MANUFACTURED LIKE ANY OTHER PRODUCT.An information system can be depicted as a four level hierarchy (aka, “standard system structure”):LEVEL 1 – System
LEVEL 2 – Sub-systems (aka “business processes”) – 2 or more
LEVEL 3 – Procedures (manual, computer, office automation) – 1 or more for each sub-system
LEVEL 4 – Programs (for computer procedures), and Steps (for all others) – 1 or more for each procedureEach level represents a different level of abstraction of the system, from general to specific (aka, “Stepwise Refinement” as found in blueprinting). This means design is a top-down effort. As designers move down the hierarchy, they finalize design decisions. So much so, by the time they finish designing Level 4 for a computer procedure, they should be ready to write program source code based on thorough specifications, thereby taking the guesswork out of programming.The hierarchical structure of an information system is essentially no different than any other common product; to illustrate:LEVEL 1 – Product
LEVEL 2 – Assembly – 2 or more
LEVEL 3 – Sub-assembly – 1 or more for each assembly
LEVEL 4 – Operation – 1 or more for each sub-assemblyAgain, the product is designed top-down and assembled bottom-up (as found in assembly lines). This process is commonly referred to as design by “explosion” (top-down), and implementation by “implosion” (bottom-up). An information system is no different in that it is designed top-down, and tested and installed bottom-up. In engineering terms, this concept of a system/product is commonly referred to as a “four level bill of materials” where the various components of the system/product are defined and related to each other in various levels of abstraction (from general to specific).This approach also suggests parallel development. After the system has been designed into sub-systems, separate teams of developers can independently design the sub-systems into procedures, programs, and steps. This is made possible by the fact that all of the data requirements were identified as the system was logically subdivided into sub-systems. Data is the cohesive bond that holds the system together. From an engineering/manufacturing perspective it is the “parts” used in the “product.” As such, management of the data should be relegated to a separate group of people to control in the same manner as a “materials management” function (inventory) in a manufacturing company. This is commonly referred to as “data resource management.”This process allows parallel development, which is a more effective use of human resources on project work as opposed to the bottleneck of a sequential development process. Whole sections of the system (sub-systems) can be tested and delivered before others, and, because data is being managed separately, we have the assurance it will all fit together cohesively in the end.The standard system structure is also useful from a Project Management perspective. First, it is used to determine the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for a project complete with precedent relationships. The project network is then used to estimate and schedule the project in part and in full. For example, each sub-system can be separately priced and scheduled, thereby giving the project sponsors the ability to pick and chose which parts of the system they want early in the project.The standard system structure also simplifies implementing modification/improvements to the system. Instead of redesigning and reconstructing whole systems, sections of the system hierarchy can be identified and redesigned, thereby saving considerable time and money.This analogy between a system and a product is highly credible and truly remarkable. Here we can take a time-proven concept derived from engineering and manufacturing and apply it to the design and development of something much less tangible, namely, information systems.CONCLUSIONWell, that’s it, the four cardinal concepts of Information Systems theory. I have deliberately tried to keep this dissertation concise and to the point. I have also avoided the introduction of any cryptic vocabulary, thereby demonstrating that systems theory can be easily explained and taught so that anyone can understand and implement it.Systems theory need not be any more complicated than it truly is.

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