Makings of a Proper Root Cellar

When I was growing up, I remember our basement having a small room off of the main area. The room was lined with shelves. By the end of summer, those shelves held what looked like thousands of Mason jars. All of the jars held pickles.

I thought it was silly for several reasons.
1. I don’t like pickles.
2. You could buy pickles at the grocery store.
3. We didn’t have a vegetable garden. So, the cucumbers had to be bought and then pickled.
4. It looked like a lot of work, especially when you take into account #2.

And here I am many years later stocking my shelves in the basement with the very same Mason jars.

But, I have a an excuse or two.

I do have a garden.
This has been my best year ever for tomatoes. I can’t possibly eat them all. Although my intention was to freeze all the spaghetti sauce and tomato soup, my freezer is pretty full. Boy, do I regret buying the smaller size now. It seemed like a good idea 5 years ago, but 5 years ago I didn’t have a garden or a reason to stock pike my freezer with ready-made meals.

Thus, my shelves got a good wash down this past weekend. I wasn’t about to put my pretty Mason jars down on dusty shelves. And since it’s only early August, I expect my shelves to be full by the time Fall rolls in.

I suppose the apple never does fall far from the tree.

Home at Last

Since Wednesday of last week, we’ve attended a wedding, enjoyed 2 days at the Jersey shore and attended a bridal shower.



Although every bit of it was fun, I am glad to be back home.

I plan to do absolutely nothing today.

OK, that is not entirely true. I plan to stay in the neighborhood to facilitate a boatload of cooking. Folks, it’s harvesting time.

The carrots, jalapeno peppers and, most importantly, the tomatoes are in. First up on the menu: tomato sauce. Oh boy, oh boy!

Harvesting Onions

This is the 3rd year I have tried to grow onions.

Three times is a charm.

Not only did they grow well but I also didn’t lose a 1/3 of them in the drying process.

Here’s what I’ve learned about growing and harvesting onions.

Soil is important. I amended the soil with compost. I had done so before, but this year I increased the amount of compost twofold. It mattered. This is the largest they have ever grown.

Mulch is necessary. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I used grass clippings. Yet, it helped retain the water that the soaker hose or Mother Nature delivered.

Air flow is essential in the drying process. The previous two times, I had laid the onions out on our front porch. They got a lot of sun thanks to the southern exposure, but there is very little airflow due to brick wall. This year, I laid them in the garden for a few days before transferring them to the chaise lounge.

Total onions lost in the drying process: 1. It was eaten by a bug.

Now to make my favorite onion dish, onion tart.

Gardened Out

After spending the afternoon in the garden digging up the last of the Lily of the Valley and transplanting all the purple coneflowers, I am worn out. So for the next few months, I am just going to sit underneath our pin oak tree and enjoy it all.

Like knitting, I would rather not garden once the weather turns hot. I sweated like a pig pulling out the lilies. It was too much like work and not a lot like a relaxing hobby.

All the gardening projects on my to-do list ( most of which involve cutting down bushes and flowers that no longer fit into my landscape design) will just have to wait. Maybe by the time Fall rolls around, I’ll get my energy back.

My Biggest Garden Yet

After 2 years of neglecting my garden (pregnancy and Elly’s 1st year kept me busy), I made up for lost time this year.

Not only did I fill the 3 raised garden beds, purchased from Garden Supply Co, with the following vegetables and herbs:
Spinach
Tomatoes
Parsley
Basil
Curry
Carrots
Peppers
Zucchini
Onions,
But I also made a herb bed.

The herbs I chose to plant are all perennials (the annuals went in the raised beds).
Rather than start from seed as I did in the raised beds, I purchased saplings from my local nursery, Achin Back. The following herbs were planted:
Lavender
Rosemary
Sage
Thyme
The chives were originally in the raised beds, but I moved them over to allow more room for vegetables.

Then, because I lost my mind, I made a strawberry patch and a pumpkin patch.

OK. So, this patch looks nothing more than cleared land with some flowers and mulch, but trust me there are at least 70 seeds just under the soil. If they all take, I’ll be doing a bunch of thinning. Goodness knows, I don’t need 70 pumpkins.

And this doesn’t look like a strawberry patch either, but you have to trust me on this one too. The green plants under the lilac bushes are wild strawberries. The itty bitty strawberries that do ripen are disgusting. So, my goal is to let the strawberry plants that I picked up from my local nursery to take over this bit of land.

Here’s hoping.

Even more exciting, I’ve already reaped what I sowed. On Mother’s Day, I made a spinach and strawberry salad with spinach from my garden. It was delicious.

Tomorrow I plan to make a pesto from the spinach.

War on Weeds

Last year we had our Colorado blue spruce tree cut down. Unsure what I wanted to plant in its stead, I let the spot lay fallow. Boy, that was a big mistake. Weeds took over.

These aren’t the sort of weeds that you can grab at the base and pull out. These weeds are evil. They are common milkweed, I think.

Their roots are similar to a dandelion but longer and riddled with rhizomes. Like a dandelion, if you don’t remove the entire root system, it will grow back. Ask me how I know. grrrr.

I found the best way to remove them was with a shovel. I would insert the shovel directly in front of one of the weeds and without pulling the shovel back out of the earth, I pushed down on the shovel handle just until the earth was loosened. Then, I searched through the loose earth for the roots of the weeds. Grabbing each weed by the root, I was able to slowly clear the land.

Afterwards, I planted 3 fast growing coreopsis flowers. More flowers will be planted when I divide up the day lillies.

I wish I could announce that I was done, but alas no. There are more of these evil weeds in front of my lilac bushes. Plus, the lily of the valley, another  invasive weed plant that grows through the use of rhizomes, needs to be eradicated from the bed next to my veggie garden.  I have dreams of an herb garden.

Optimism Required

I’ve read that in order to be a farmer, one has to be an optimistic person.

It’s easy to understand why.

Any person who believes that these boxes of bare earth will bear oodles of vegetables by summer/fall needs to see the glass as half full.

Motivation doesn’t hurt either. There is much work to be done before I can plant the first seeds and take the first step in creating my dream veggie garden.

Fingers are crossed that Elly is old enough to help or at least willing enough to play nearby while I do all the work. Last year, gardening was a tag team effort. I invited my neighbor to sit with us whenever we were outside gardening. She would inevitably catch Elly trying to sneak off to the school playground a block away.

High and (mostly) Dry

We live 8 blocks uphill from the Manatawny River. Normally, I complain about the 8 blocks I have to bike uphill after visiting High Street, the main street through town. Yesterday, I had nothing but kind words for that hill.

Our basement took on a little water. I don’t know how much because it all went straight into the drains (the floor is sloped to aid the runoff).

My garden survived the high winds. No butternut squashes were lost unless you count the one that Dan accidentally mowed over the morning before the storm.

A few branches broke off the old oak tree, but that is a perk if you are talking to Jake. Oh how he loves to chew on sticks.

Though the river did not make it across the Manatawny Street into people’s houses, it did flood the Memorial Park.

Killing the Hardiest Plants

Spring this year was typical of this region: cool temperatures and spring rains. There was no reason to believe summer would be any different from previous summers: hot weather with thunderstorms rolling through every few days.
Well, the hot weather arrived in style. This week has been brutal with temperatures over 100F. Yet, the rains haven’t come. Nearby towns have gotten rain, but Pottstown has received no significant rainfall for almost 2 months. It shows. The grass is brown and brittle. Leaves are turning yellow on several trees and falling off far in advance of Fall.

The common privet hedgerow that my neighbor assured me was impossible to kill is dying.

This was the same hedgerow that I painstakingly removed all the dead branches, old growth and leggy shoots from when we first moved here. Despite all the hard work, I refuse to save it from this slow death by watering it. For if it dies, with joy I will cut it down and plant a row of Hollywood Juniper which will blend a bit better with the informal look of my garden elsewhere.