About Me

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Writing about the things I love. My writing work has appeared in hard copy magazines including Green Prints, Twins Magazine, Practical Parenting Magazine, The Journal of Court Reporting, and more as well as hundreds of articles in Sunset Hosta Farm's Hosta blog and The Homesteading Village blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Great Gifts for Bird Lovers!

Whether it's a birthday gift, Mother's Day, Christmas, or just a thank you for that bird lover you know, here are some great gift ideas!

Even if your bird lover already has a bird feeder, another one is a great idea.  If you love birds, you can't have too many.  

Most popular seems to be the tube bird feeders.
I like this one because it has the metal seed guard which deters the larger birds, like grackles, pigeons and cowbirds, from entering. It attracts finches, chickadees, nuthatches and more.  It's also squirrel proof.

A more unusual one is this oriole feeder.  The design gives you a clear view of the orioles as they feed.  Just add orange halves, grape jelly or nectar!

I have a lot of bird feeders, and one of my all-time favorites is the suet feeders.  This one has a nice wire cage around it to block out large birds and squirrels.    I love these because the suets themselves are really inexpensive to replace and it takes the birds quite a bit of time to eat the whole thing.

Be sure to get the "no melt" suets, though, or you'll have a big mess underneath.


Birdhouses are always a hit, and again, a real bird lover has more than one.

You may want to steer clear of the birdhouses that look pretty but aren't really practical for attracting real birds.  

As a bird lover myself, I would rather receive a birdhouse designed for a special type of bird than a house that welcomes all birds.  It's just more fun to await a specific bird arriving to your house!

A good example is this cedar bluebird house.  It's sturdy and well-built, has clean-out doors to provide easy access for cleaning and has a predator guard near the entrance hole to protect young birds against predators.

Another example is this cedar birdhouse specifically made for chickadees and wrens.  Again, well built with rust-free stainless steel hardware, clean-out doors for access and has a hanging cable.  I also have this one and I love it!  It took no time at all for a family of wrens to find it.

Other Great Ideas

You can't go wrong with a great book or bird guide.

This book not only has great colorful illustrations but has a digital audio player that provides the sound of the corresponding bird.  How cool is that?

Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans

And for up-close viewing, a good pair of binoculars would be a welcomed gift.

These flashcards can help identify birds.  The information is organized by bird size, shape, color, pattern, behavior and habitat.

And for the young bird lover,  this coloring book for kids which helps them learn about different bird species.

Secret Santa Ideas

Here are some less expensive ideas that are great for Secret Santa, White Elephant or gift trading games.

Bird Jewelry

How about a water sprayer that fits inside a birdbath to keep the water moving and clean.  This one comes with four nozzles so you can choose different water fountain patterns.


I hope you found some good ideas for gifts for your bird lover friend or family.  And if you don't already have a bird paradise in your yard, I can tell you it will give you many hours of peace and enjoyment to begin one!

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you anything extra.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Growing Arugula -- Homesteading 101

aka  Rocket Roquette 
Cool-season annual plant
Height:  6-12"       Width 8-10"

The leaves of Arugula provide a spicy zing when added to salads.  It will grow a rosette about a foot wide and equally as tall.  It's a cut-and-come-again plant.  It boasts several health benefits.  It is an excellent source of fiber, rich in Vitamins A, C, and K as well as a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.


Wild Arugula.  Grows up to 2' tall with jagged leaves and a yellow flower.

Rocket Salad.  A weaker peppery flavor.  The plant grows up to 3' tall.  It has lobed leaves and a white flower.

Starting Seeds of Arugula

Seed Depth:                    1/8" on the soil surface and tamp down.
Seed Spacing:                 3-4"  Thin to 4-6".
Days to Germinate:          7-14 days.
Days to Harvest:              3 weeks/baby leaves,  45 days mature.
Seed Longevity:               4 years.

Sowing Outdoors

Direct sow in the ground or in containers as early as when the soil temperature is 40+ degrees.

Salad Spinner


Winter Sowing

If you haven't tried winter sowing, you're in for a treat.  This method is especially good for sowing herbs and greens.  Winter sowing is basically sowing seeds in the bottom of a milk jug during the winter, setting the milk jugs outside for the winter and leaving them there until the seeds germinate in Spring.

To see our detailed article about Winter Sowing, click here.

Salad Tongs


Growing Arugula Plants

Growing Temperature: 
Arugula is frost hardy enough that it can grow through the winter in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse.

Plant Spacing:                  12-18" apart.
Container Size:                 8" depth is enough.
Sun/Shade:                       Full sun, some mid-day shade.
Soil:                                   Rich, compost.
Watering:                           Consistent moisture for best flavor.

Salad Lunch Container


Since greens are such a  fast-growing crop, as long as they are grown in rich soil there may be little need for further fertilization.    That said, a liquid balanced fertilizer when the seedlings are 4" tall will give your greens a boost and carry them through their short season.  After the temperatures warm, though, the leaves of Arugula will turn bitter and no amount of fertilizer will help at that point.

Harvesting Arugula

Harvest when leaves are 4-6" tall.  Harvest outer leaves.  Harvest until leaves taste too strong.  Harvesting often will encourage new growth.

Using Arugula

  • A great addition to any salad, but use sparingly for a mustard-like flavor.
  • Pizza toppings.
  • Add Arugula flowers to salads in late spring and summer for their peppery flavor.
  • Cook larger leaves with other greens.
  • Small leaves tend to be milder while the larger has a more peppery taste.
  • Arugula goes well with most meats, especially grilled meats.

Storing Arugula For Later Use

Remove Arugula's tough stems, clean and dry.
Although tender green-leafed plants, like lettuce, cannot be preserved well, the thicker leafed greens can be preserved.

  • Clean and pat dry.  Bundle stems lightly, place on a paper towel (to absorb moisture) and wrap in a plastic bag.  Keeps in refrigerator for 10 days.

Freezing for Later Use in Chilis, Soups, Sauces, and Casseroles.
  • Steam or saute' leaves, chop them and store in freezer bags.
  • Puree with water and freeze into ice cube trays.
  • Clean and dry the leaves and store in quart size freezer bags.
  • Frozen leaves will keep for 6 months.
  • Blanching the leaves for two minutes first will extend freezer storage to 14 months.

To read the other articles in our Growing Your Greens series, click on the name below:

Swiss Chard

Check out our other great gardening articles:  Click Here

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you anything extra.

Growing Oregano - Homesteading 101

A hardy perennial in Zones 5 – 10 gardens, Oregano is a pungently aromatic plant that is one of the most important herbs in Italian, Greek and Mexican cooking.  It has a bold flavor and a hardy constitution.  It is also called Wild Marjoram.

The flavor of Oregano can vary greatly from variety to variety.  Greek Oregano is the spiciest. 

Starting Oregano From Seed

Seed Longevity:                                   One Year.
Seed Sowing Depth:                            Just cover.  Needs light to germinate.
Best Soil Temp for Germination:          60 degrees.
Days to Germination:                           7 - 14.
Spring Sowing:                                    Sow indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost.                                                                Direct sow 2 weeks before last frost.
Fall:                                                      Not recommended.

Winter Sowing

If you haven't tried winter sowing, you're in for a treat.  This method is especially good for sowing herbs.  Winter sowing is basically sowing seeds in the bottom of milk jugs in the winter, setting the milk jugs outside for the winter and leaving them there until the seeds germinate in the Spring.

For our article containing detailed information about Winter Sowing, click here.

            Other Sowing Tips                               

At 6” tall, thin seedlings to 12” apart.

Growing Oregano

Plant Size:                                                   Height 8-12” Spread 24”.
Spacing:                                                      18”.
Container Size:                                            12" diameter and  8+” deep.
Soil:                                                              Well-drained.
Watering:                                                      Thoroughly, less often. 
Light/Sun:                                                     Thrives in warm, sunny spots.
Fertilizer:                                                       None for the best-flavored foliage.
Good Companions:                                       Everything.  
Bad Companions:                                          Nothing.


                                Other Care Tips                                       

  • Flowers should be pinched off to keep the plants bushier and prevent them from early bolting.
  • Allow plants to grow to 4” tall then trim lightly to encourage branching.
  • Regular trimming will avoid plant legginess.                               

Dividing Oregano

Divide Oregano plants when the stems begin to die out or the stems become woody, or to simply make more plants. 

Soft Cuttings

Take cuttings in spring when new growth is several inches in length.  Side shoots of 4" in length are perfect. Cut the stem at an angle and remove lower leaves leaving an inch or two of the stem bare.  Plant cutting bare side down into a well-drained soil mix.  No fertilizer is needed at this stage.

Wrap the container in plastic to keep in humidity.  Avoid having the leaves touch the plastic.  Place the pot in light but out of direct light.  Keep soil moist but never soggy.  Remove the plastic when cutting grows roots.  A light tug that gives you some resistance means it has rooted.

Overwinter Plant Care

Oregano plants should be cut back to ground level and covered with a layer of mulch.  Containers can be brought inside for the winter.

Harvesting Oregano

As soon as the leaves are large enough to use and before the plant flowers.
Snip the leaves individually or shear plants to 2” above ground level just before flowering and again a month before the first frost.  You'll get two harvests that way.

Harvesting Oregano Seed

Oregano seeds are tiny and develop after the flowers fade in late summer or fall.  Collect and thoroughly dry seeds before storing them in an airtight container.

Storing Oregano

Damp Paper Towel

This method works well for hardy herbs that have woody stems as well as a few soft-stemmed herbs.

Clean and thoroughly dry the Oregano.  Arrange lengthwise in a single layer on a slightly damp paper towel.  Loosely roll up the herb and transfer to a plastic bag or plastic wrap.  Label and store in the fridge. 

Oregano will stay fresh in the fridge using this method for up to 2 weeks.


For best results, use frozen Oregano within 1-2 years.
By freezing herbs, you will lose some of the herb's texture but preserve the flavor.
Here are some freezing methods:

Tray Freeze

Spread herb onto a cookie sheet on a single layer. Freeze in the freezer, then transfer the Oregano into a labeled freezer bag to store.  Since the leaves are frozen separately, later you can easily remove the amount you need.

Ice Cube Trays with Oil

This method works well for hard-stemmed herbs that would probably be cooked when adding to a dish.  The oil reduces some of the browning and freezer burn.
Clean and thoroughly dry the Oregano.  Mince and firmly pack herbs into an ice cube tray 3/4 full.  Add Olive Oil to fill and freeze.  Transfer frozen cubes into labeled freezer bags to store.

Flat Freezer Bag

Trim off the stems and place in a labeled freezer bag.  Squeeze out the air, flatten the freezer bag, label and store.

Drying Oregano

Oregano is one of the best herbs to use in a dried form.  For best results, use dried Oregano within 1-2 years.

Hang to Dry

Pick your Oregano in bunches right before you intend to store them.  Tie the bottom of the bunch together with twine and hang upside down to dry in a dry, low humidity area. For added protection against dust, you can put the bundles inside paper bags with plenty of holes for ventilation.  When the herbs are dry, the leaves will crumble easily between your fingers.  Store in an air tight container.

Using Oregano

  • Oregano adds zest to pasta and pizza sauces.
  • It complements meats and vegetables.
  • Garlic, onion, thyme, basil, parsley and olive oil are complementary partners.
  • Makes a great ground cover.

Growing your own herbs is fun, easy, more healthy than the herbs shipped to grocery stores, and what's best, saves you tons of money! Try it today.

To view other herb articles in our culinary herb series, click on the herb name below.

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you anything extra.

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