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Friday, September 26, 2014

Why Are Barns Usually Red or White?

“Why are barns painted red or white more often than any other color?”

If you’ve spent a lot of time in the country, or spent a lot of time on the road watching the scenery go by, you might have noticed that most barns seem to be the same few colors. One of our patrons wanted to find out why that was.

Curiosity.discovery.com and farmersalmanac.com both tackled the question, and Barns of the Midwest, edited by Allen G. Noble and Hubert G. H. Wilhelm, devotes an entire chapter to barn d├ęcor. As it turns out, there’s conflicting information on the subject.

The Curiosity and Farmers’ Almanac articles give the same basic theory: hundreds of years ago, European farmers would seal their barns with linseed oil mixed with milk or lime, which gave the wood a sort of yellowish-brown color. The red paint began to emerge when they began to either mix in animal blood or rust. The rust had the added bonus of killing off the moss or mold that could grow on the wood.

Barns of the Midwest agrees that the red color developed when farmers began to mix in blood or rust, though the book doesn’t mention the rust’s anti-fungal and herbicidal properties, only its aesthetic value. In fact, David T. Stephens, the author of the chapter, argues that, at least at first, more barns were white than red, since whitewash was the cheapest option. This is in sharp opposition to curiosity.discovery.com – according to that article, red paint was popular until the cost of whitewash went down.

Stephens agrees, though, that by 1872, red paint had gotten much cheaper than white. When ready-mixed paint came on the market, red was the color most commonly marketed specifically toward barns. It may have also been a popular color because of how striking it looked against the landscape, or because red would absorb more heat in winter than white.

Barns of the Midwest goes on to list yellow, gray, green, and blue as the most common barn colors, in order of popularity, after red and white. Red with white trim is the most popular combination, followed by white with green trim and white with black trim.

We have several books here at the Newton Falls Public Library with pictures of barns and information and nostalgic reminiscences on farm life. This Old Farm, edited by Michael Dregini, Farm by Grant Heilman, Old Barns of Gustavus, Ohio by Patricia Jeffers, The Barn by Eric Arthur and Dudley Witney, An Age of Barns by Eric Sloane, and Down on the Farm with commentary by Steward H. Holbrook, are all available for borrowing.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Why Do Potatoes Sprout?

“What makes potatoes start sprouting? Are they okay to eat?” If you’ve left a bag of potatoes sitting around for a while, you might have noticed them starting to grow green, white, or somewhat purple sprouts. That’s the potato trying to grow into a new plant.

The sprouts themselves, as well as any green part of the potato, are home to a toxic alkaloid called solanine and must be removed. Eating them will make you sick - the National Library of Medicine even has a page on their website devoted to potato plant poisoning – though it would take quite a few to do it. The solanine gives the potato a bitter taste, so it wouldn’t be worth eating anyway.

As long as the sprouted potatoes are still firm and haven’t started to shrivel up, there’s no reason to throw them away. Once the sprouts and any green part of the potato have been removed, it’s safe to eat.

You can also plant your sprouted potatoes, though The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith recommends using seed potatoes (which are available from garden supply stores and were grown for the express purpose of being planted) rather than supermarket potatoes for gardening.

To inhibit sprouting and keep your potatoes in their best condition, store them in a cool, dark, dry place with ample ventilation.

For more information on growing potatoes, check out Food Grown Right, in Your Backyard, by Colin McCrate and Brad Halm, Ortho's Complete Guide to Vegetables, or The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour, available at the Newton Falls Public Library. If you're looking to learn about the potato's history, Andrew F. Smith's Potato: A Global History, John Reader's Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent, and Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the World are all available through CLEVNET. For recipes, we have Kay Halsey's Potatoes on the shelf here at Newton Falls. Or you could order Alex Barker's Potato: The Definitive Guide to Potatoes and Potato Cooking through CLEVNET and get information on potato cooking, gardening, and history. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

What Used to Be Built Near the Falls in Newton Falls?

A patron was walking near the falls and grew curious about their history. “What used to be built near the falls in Newton Falls? Was there a mill or anything like that?”

We were able to find a lot of information in Fragments of History of Newton Falls and Newton Township, Ohio, compiled, edited, and annotated by Wendell F. Lauth and the Friends of the Newton Falls Public Library and History of Newton Falls, compiled by Ella A. Woodward. Fragments of History even included a picture of the falls, circa 1900, with the Hoyle Woolen Mill on one side and part of the Eagle Mills on the left.

Mr. Canfield and Mr. Ruggles (no first names available) built a sawmill in 1806 on the site that would later house the Hoyle Woolen Mill. The woolen mill itself was built in 1825, enlarged and improved in 1843, and sold to Allen Hoyle in 1857. Under Hoyle's ownership, it became well-known for the excellent quality of its products. According to History of Newton Falls, some of the blankets from the Hoyle mill were still around a hundred years later.

Canfield and Ruggles built the first grist mill (also known as a flour mill) in 1811, but a drunk man took refuge in it one winter night in 1817 and ended up burning it down.Twelve years later, Horace and Augustus Stephens (or Stevens, depending on the source) built the Eagle Mills, another grist mill, to take its place. The Stephens were bought out and their mill rebuilt by the Porter family in 1871, who renamed it the Eagle Mills of Porter and Sons.

Both the Eagle Mills and the Hoyle Woolen Mill seem to have been bought up by an electric company around 1908.

We’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated volunteer who works in the local history room most Wednesdays and may be able to pull more information and old pictures. Give us a call any Wednesday to see if she’s available!

Friday, September 5, 2014

How Soon Can I Spay My Cat After She Has Kittens?

“I have a pregnant stray cat hanging around my house. How long until she has her babies? When can I get her fixed?”

According to the Wild Discovery Guide to Your Cat, a cat’s pregnancy will typically last between nine and ten weeks. They don’t start to look bigger until around four or five weeks, so if your cat’s very visibly pregnant, she’s probably quite well along. You can prepare a birthing box for her by cutting a hole in a clean, covered, cardboard box (low enough that she can use it as a door, but high enough that the kittens won’t be able to crawl out of the box right away – about five inches) and lining the bottom of the box with shredded newspaper and clean cloth. However, there’s no guarantee she’ll use it – strays tend to try to hide their kittens from people.

You can bring the mother cat in to be spayed once her babies are weaned – usually about five to six weeks after they’re born. It’s possible for her to get pregnant again while she’s nursing, though, so keep her separated from tomcats. The kittens can be spayed or neutered once they weigh at least two pounds. Sources vary on how old they need to be, anywhere from eight weeks to twelve, so it’s best to check with your veterinarian and see what they recommend.

Because spaying and neutering cats and dogs is vital in reducing the overpopulation problem that leads to so many homeless animals being euthanized, animal welfare programs provide a lot of resources to make it as easy and cost-effective as possible. The ASPCA provides a searchable database of low-cost spay/neuter programs across the country so you can find the one that’s most convenient for you.

Anyone considering taking in a cat or kitten is welcome to come check out Eric Swanson’s We’re Having a Kitten!: From the Big Decision Through the Crucial First Year and Wendy Christensen’s Complete Guide to Cat Care, both available here at the Newton Falls Public Library.