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Spending a fortune on expensive gifts for your friends and relatives doesn’t always equal thoughtfulness. With a little time and care you can grow beautiful potted plants, and show you were thinking of them long before now. If you have a sunny windowsill, make the most of it by growing flowers, herbs or something your loved ones will really appreciate. And really, any time of year will do, so here are some tips and ideas to get you started.

What to grow

Start by growing an assortment of flowering plants, handy herbs, and attractive ornamental plants to ensure there’s something to suit all tastes. Then start asking questions. Find out their favorite herbs to use, favorite colors (for flowering plants) or what they plan to grow in their very first vegetable garden. You can save money by taking cuttings or bulbs from your own garden.

Flowering plants. For pretty, colorful flowers, begonias, geraniums and miniature roses will serve well. You can grow them all through the winter months in a bright, warm room. A browse online will lead you to other flowering plants that thrive in a sunny interior. You can also nurture spring flower bulbs, such as hyacinth, crocus, and narcissus, through the winter, ready for the season. There will be even more choice in the light, summer months so that you can provide for your friends’ summer birthdays with a riot of color.

Herbs for the kitchen. For herbs, you could choose lemongrass, mint, parsley, and oregano, among others. They will all be happy by a window or under a skylight in a warm, bright room. Parsley, thyme, and basil are also easy to grow indoors, with plenty of natural light. Check indoor growing websites for more examples.

Ornamental plants. Exotic plants will probably prefer your cozy room to the chilly outdoors, even if daylight is a little limited. Caladium, or “Elephant’s ear,” is one such plant, and produces strikingly patterned purple-streaked leaves. Asparagus fern is a delicate, feathery plant that grows quickly indoors and will grace any room. Perhaps invest in a miniature fruit tree, too, such as the calamondin orange tree, which is said to be easy to grow. Use the fruits or stems to create new plants for future gifts. You can find more ornamental plant varieties on appropriate websites, along with guidelines for growing.

Light, warmth, and soil

Different plants have different needs, so remember to add plant care instructions on an accompanying card. For most plants, they’ll need a warm room with plenty of daylight. Use good quality garden soil or potting compost mixed in.

Presenting your plant-gifts

Take give-giving up a notch by decorating a plain planter/pot with a few painted-on words, polka dots or some other fun design. Then shroud the whole plant in a whirl of bright wrapping paper, a home-made label and a beautiful bow.

Your plants will make ideal gifts for birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other events. And every time you give a home-grown plant you’ll be showing them what’s in your heart.

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Cathy Burnett
Cathy Burnett

I love this idea and I am going to start doing this during this new year. Thank you!

Oh, we are all about…

Geese and Guineas for Homestead Security

Birds as livestock guardians? Yes! And, they just might be the best critter for the job! We’ve talked about using llamas, donkeys, and dogs to guard our livestock, but did you know that some species of birds can make excellent guard animals, too? Birds could, in fact, be the perfect off-grid security solution for your homestead!

Using Geese for Homestead Security

If you want an animal that’s going to stay close to home and protect and defend your livestock and farm, consider a flock of guard geese. Believe it or not, geese have been used to protect police stations in China and to patrol prison yards in Brazil. Geese can be every bit as effective as a guard dog, and they do it on instinct. You don’t even have to train them.

All geese, but especially males, are extremely territorial. While most domestic geese retain their ability to fly, they choose not to. Once they know your farm is home, they will defend it from intruders, to the death if need be. Geese have even been successfully used as a defense against coyotes! Now that says something, doesn’t it?

Geese will bond with their owners and the other animals around them if they are brought to your farm as chicks. Anyone else, human or animal, is likely to be treated as an intruder and viciously attacked on sight. Their exceptional eyesight and hearing makes them perfect for detecting intruders both day and night. They also have a wide field of view, thanks to their widely spaced eyes.

Geese really know how to sound an alarm. Once they’ve noticed an intruder, there’s no stopping their honking until the threat is gone, and often for a good while afterwards, too! Geese are flock animals, so they are happiest in a group. That means intruders will face multiple defenders at once. Each goose comes armed with a sharp serrated beak that’s capable of inflicting some serious bites. But, that’s not all! Their wings are weapons, too. They are capable of beating their opponent so hard that they could actually break bones. And, certain breeds of domestic geese can weigh as much as 22 pounds! That’s a lot of power behind their punch.

If all that wasn’t enough, geese are easy to keep. Their food preference is to graze on grass. They are excellent foragers, so if there’s plenty of grass available, they won’t need much additional feed. Domestic geese don’t fly south for the winter, but prefer to stay at their home base. They don’t mind the cold and their downy feathers and webbed feet provide excellent insulation. Even better, they lay delicious eggs and they can live for up to 20 years. They make good moms and are quite capable of raising up their own young to expand the flock or fill the freezer.

The biggest con to having a flock of geese on the homestead is that they don’t know the difference between a hostile intruder and a friendly intruder. And, you’re not going to be able to call them off like you can a dog. They might attack the mailman or any other visitor that comes to your farm. You should be prepared to put them in some sort of pen when you’re expecting company, especially if the company includes small children!

Using Guinea Fowl for Homestead Security

Guineas are another multi-purpose bird that can be very useful on the homestead. A flock of guineas will work as a team, staying in a tight group as they forage around the farm looking for insects, small rodents, and snakes to eat. They have excellent hearing and eyesight and they’re always on the alert.

As a guardian animal, they attack in groups to chase off smaller poultry-eating predators including cats, opossums, and even raccoons. Your farm cats will learn really quick to stay clear of the guineas! Guineas have a natural hatred of snakes. They are fearless, and they’ve been used by ranchers to keep dangerous snakes like copperheads and rattlers away from the flocks. If you have problems with snakes eating your chicken eggs, keep some guineas around and you won’t have problems anymore! Groups of guineas will surround a snake, or other small predator, and literally peck it to death.

Guineas are also commonly used by the homesteader as an alarm animal. A flock of guineas that has spotted an intruder, human or animal, can be deafening. Over time, you learn to tell the difference between their normal noise and their alarm noise. You know that when they are raising an alarm you better go out and see what’s going on! They will alert you to the presence of all sorts of predators, including coyotes and stray dogs, and pretty much anything else that doesn’t belong.

Guineas are useful as pest control, too. If you have problems with ticks in your area, a flock of guineas will gobble them up pretty quick and keep them under control. In the garden, guineas can be used to patrol the crops for pests. They won’t do nearly as much damage to your plants as chickens will, and they will keep the bugs well under control. Just wait until your plants are pretty large before giving the guineas access to the garden because they may dig up seedlings in freshly worked soil.

Guinea hens lay delicious eggs, but only in the spring and early summer. Their eggs are a little smaller than chicken eggs and they are light brown in color. If you keep your guineas confined until they are done laying in the morning, it will be much easier to find the eggs. However, they will forage most of their food if allowed, so they’re very cheap to keep around.

Guineas do have some less endearing qualities you should be aware of, though. For one, guineas like to converse a lot, so they are noisy all the time, not just when they are sounding an alarm. If you have close neighbors, that could be an issue. Also, guineas don’t like to be confined. They will wander into neighbors’ yards looking for food and they prefer to roost in the trees at night if they can get away with it. They do, however, love millet and can be trained to come to their house at night for a treat, especially if you start when they’re keets. Also, guineas are not very smart, and they are vulnerable to larger predators like coyotes and foxes. Guineas are horrible mothers, so you’re better off incubating the eggs and brooding the keets yourself, or you could let a broody hen do it.


I’m a big believer in multiple layers of protection on the homestead. Having geese or guineas around as an alarm system and for protection against smaller predators makes good sense. Add in a larger guardian animal for protection against big predators and the best fencing you can afford, and you’ll have a very effective off-grid homestead security system.

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