Every House Needs A FoodRoom


If you’re not familiar with Gene Logsdon, Ohio native and lifelong farmer, you’ll want to get right out there and wallow in the rich soil of his work. He’s the author of dozens of books, each one deeply wise and entirely useful. Some of our favorites are The Contrary Farmer , Living at Nature’s Pace: Farming and the American Dream, and All Flesh Is Grass: Pleasures & Promises Of Pasture Farming. He’s written guides to growing berries, small-scale grain growing, even a book titled Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind.

I read his posts each week on his site, The Contrary Farmer, and enjoy every one. But this week’s post is too good not to share. It should go viral. It’s titled “Foodroom Gardening: No Rows, No Woes.” What he proposes is genius.

Each house, as he envisions it, would have a FoodRoom. It would be covered by a translucent roof that could be slid away during good weather. It would consist of garden beds the height of a tabletop where plants could grow year-round. No stooping or bending, no plants nibbled away by animals, no mosquitoes, no frost, no misery. It would provide an ongoing supply of fresh food  with minimal effort while making us all just a little more self-reliant.

As Gene writes,

Just think what would happen when the furniture business got wind of the new foodrooms. They would outdo themselves over who could make the most comfortable bar stool to glide alongside the plants to make eye level weeding and harvesting even more convenient.  And over the mantel of the typical American fireplace would not be a muzzle loader, but a hoe.

Please, go read his post. Then share it wherever you share great stuff.


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Use Till Tattered

Porch peace flags still hanging in there.

Porch peace flags still hanging in there.

Erma Bombeck, comedian of all things domestic, once wrote,

My mother won’t admit it, but I’ve always been a disappointment to her. Deep down inside, she’ll never forgive herself for giving birth to a daughter who refuses to launder aluminium foil and use it over again.

My parents used what they had until it couldn’t be used again. Clothes that couldn’t be repaired became rags (although I refused to use my father’s old underwear for a dust cloth). Bread bags were washed and turned inside out to dry. And yes Erma, sometimes foil was reused too.

My kids would surely say I uphold that tradition. It might be frugality, but I think there’s more to it. I have sort of a Velveteen Rabbit feeling about objects worn from use. I like using the same cloth bag to carry library books home. Sure it’s frayed, with straps ever shorter from being sewn back on, but the bag has life left in it. I wear shoes until sunlight shows through, then relegate them to gardening shoes. I save old jeans too, using them for everything from a jeans quilt to trying out my weird idea for jeans-based weed control.

I once wrote a post about the psychological effects of materialism, illustrating it with an image of my toe peeking through a hole in one of our very old blankets. My toe really didn’t appreciate the publicity. Yet here’s that photo again because it really illustrates my point.

Who takes pictures of their own toes in a past-its-prime blanket?

Who takes pictures of their own toes in a past-its-prime blanket?

We have lots of dear ones over for dinner on a regular basis. Each time, I use trivets that were probably given to my parents as wedding gifts over 50 years ago. The cork covering has degraded pretty badly, but they deflect heat as well as they ever did.

Useful, just unattractive.

Useful, just unattractive.

I also use the best hot pads ever. These were crocheted in tight little stitches by my grandmother sometime in the 1960’s. They still work perfectly even if marred by scorch marks. I’ve tried all sorts of replacements, from thermal fabric to silicone. Nothing is as flexible and washable as these handmade circles sewn together. If I could buy such crocheted hot pads, I would.

In use for decades. Stained but still perfectly functional.

Our towels are, as you might imagine, pretty tattered. Of course they absorb moisture as well as they did when their side seams were perfect.

Absorbent yet tattered.

Absorbent yet tattered.

We actually do buy new things. I can prove it.

The comforter on our bed had been worn through for years. I repaired it over and over until the fabric got so thin that it simply split. It had also been indelibly stained. I remember the origins of some of those stains. Like the time one of my son’s friends came in our bedroom late at night to seek our counsel on some apparently vital matter, sitting on the edge of our bed (with bib overalls greasy from working on his car in our garage) while chatting with my husband and me. Those stains wouldn’t launder out.

Bedspread of 20 years.

Bedspread of 20 years.

We used it with peek-a-boo batting for years until we broke down and bought a (severely marked down) bedspread. “A new bedspread? Who are you?” my daughter asked, “It’s like I don’t know you any more.”

Something new. It happens, even here.

Something new. It happens, even here.

There’s a heightened beauty in things we use everyday. I see it in our daily tablecloth, our heirloom serving dishes, our antique furniture. I like the sense of completion that comes when using something fully.  We’re supposed to use ourselves up too.

While we’re not defined by our things, they do say quite a bit about us. I guess I’ve said this already in a poem I tossed in my book Tending. Nuff said.

Object Lesson  

18 and in love

I heard

Too young.

Won’t last.

Yet each solid thing unwrapped

from fussy wedding paper

made it real.

The cutting board

too thin to last

split into kindling.

Paint chipped off leaky flowerpots

used until they cracked.

Bath towels, coarse and cheap,

wore down to barn rags.

Bed sheets, gone to tatters, torn

to tie tomato plants and peonies.

One last gift, a satin-edged coverlet

saved for good till every other blanket

fell to pieces. Pretty but polyester,

it too frayed to shreds.

Nothing temporal

remains inviolate.

All that’s left are

clear glass canisters

holding exactly what we put in them

right here on the counter

for us to see

each day of our long marriage.

Posted in frugality, gratitude, poem, repurposing, simple living | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

What The Plants Say

What The Plants Say

Tree, give up your secret. How can you be so satisfied? Why
don’t you need to change location, look for a better job, find
prettier scenery, or even want to get away from people?

Grass, you don’t care where you turn up. You appear running
wild in the oat field, out of a crack in a city street. You are
the first word in the vocabulary of the earth. How is it that you
are able to grow so near the lake without falling in? How can
you be so alert for the early frost, bend in the slightest breeze,
and yet be so hard to break that you are still there, quiet, green,
among the ruins of others?

Weed, it is you with your bad reputation that I love the most.
Teach me not to care what anyone has to say about me. Help me
to be in the world for no purpose at all except for the joy of
sunlight and rain. Keep me close to the edge where every wild
thing begins.

~ Tom Hennen,  from Darkness Sticks to Everything

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Indoor Seed Starting Problem Solved


There are few things more glorious than a seedling emerging from the soil.

We’ve been starting seeds for decades with great success. We used to set up a low bench in front of a south-facing window and start a few tomatoes and peppers. That operation expanded. Soon we were also starting squash, cukes, eggplants, broccoli, even some flowers indoors. We got a little fancier about it each year, using warming mats, clear plastic sheeting, and grow lights; following all recommendations.

Each year we start seeds we’ve saved as well as seeds we buy from reputable companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Turtle Tree Seed. (You’re probably aware Monsanto owns the vast majority of seed companies including favorites such as Jung, Park Seeds, Stokes, and Wayside Garden. Burpee buys seeds from Monsanto subsidiary, Seminis. Even eco-friendly Seeds of Change is owned by the candy company Mars, Inc.).

We’ve tried all sorts of pots, from egg cartons to black plastic pots saved from nursery plants. One year we made little pots out of newspaper. It’s easy to do, but a few weeks of daily misting and the papers sprouted mold. That didn’t seem to hurt the seedlings at all, but our sinuses weren’t happy. 

Some seeds we start late in March, others not till mid-April. While wind, rain, and snow make our garden outdoor suited for only the earliest of plants, our little indoor plants flourish in cradles of dirt under benevolent artificial suns.

That is, until we bought online a huge supply of NK Seed Starter Pots sold by Plantation Products. An entire gross of multipacks.

Last spring we planted some seeds in these pots while using up other peat pots we’d bought locally. Quite a few seeds didn’t germinate, a first for us. We weren’t sure why. We thought that since NK pots are thicker and sturdier than other peat pots that we should water more or cover them longer, but none of those efforts worked. We ended up buying a few dozen tomato and pepper plants from a family not far from us. Disappointing.

This year we planted all our seeds in NK pots. Again, they were kept on warming mats under carefully calibrated grow lights. I imagined them awakening each day as I carefully tended (and yes, chatted with) those seeds. Instead we were shocked by a 95% non-germination rate. The few seedlings that emerged died within days. Okay, we thought. Let’s solve this. The pots are not too dry or wet, the light is not too low or high, the seeds are ones we saved or from reputable growers. What factors could be in play here?  We sterilized our seed starter potting soil (not a fun process) in case our soil harbored some evil dampening off virus, then replanted. Another week or so and again only a few seedlings emerged only to die.

It didn’t occur to us that the only variable was the pots themselves until we read a NYT article about a class of chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, the same ones that help pizza boxes stand up to moisture without breaking down. PFASs are now implicated in health problems including cancer.

I don’t know if the NK Seed Starter Pots contained PFASs, but we realized something about those pots must be toxic. Coincidentally, I found several of last year’s discarded pots outside our barn. They’d been lying there exposed to 12 months of rain, snow, and mud. They were not even remotely decomposed, simply discolored. That’s odd, because right on the package growers are told to “plant pot and all.” No way could roots get through those stiff, unyielding pots.

The NK Seed Starter Pots are, according to the packaging, “Biodegradable. Made from organic recycled materials. All Natural Fiber Seed Starter.”

I say that’s not possible.

I emailed the NK Lawn & Garden people. I asked what “organic recycled materials” are used to make these pots. I offered to send them the dozens of unused pots of theirs we still have in their packages so they could test them for toxins and pathogens.

They replied the same day, offering to send different pots they produce.

Nothing can refund the time, money, and disappointment of having none of our own seedlings to transplant into the garden. No Dragon’s Egg cucumbers, Black Hungarian peppers, Rosita eggplant, Red Kuri squash, Jersey Devil tomatoes, or Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

Thank goodness the seeds I planted outdoors are up and growing heartily (so are the weeds). The peas are flowering and the broccoli is knee-high in places. Carrots, kale, chard, squash, rutabaga, cilantro, sunflowers, and corn are flourishing.

Next year we’ll go back to using old nursery pots we’ve saved. But if you’ve had problems germinating seeds indoors, consider peat pots as a possible villain.


Posted in gardening, seeds, spring | Tagged , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Bottle Tree is Planted!

Bottle trees are said to protect one’s home and garden. Folklore tells us the colorful glass lures harmful spirits into the bottles where they’re trapped until morning’s bright light de-demonizes them. Bottle trees are also alleged to make the harvest more bountiful and bring overall good luck.

I was thrilled when Sam offered to make a custom crafted bottle tree. I might have nagged him into it… .

He modeled the branches on an oak tree, angled upwards to ensure all those demon-catching bottles don’t fall off.


Meanwhile, I’ve been helping out by drinking wine. Well, I haven’t been able to drink all 30 bottles the tree can hold so I’ve collected bottles from others. (Thank you to my fellow drinkers.)

We’re still about eight bottles short of the goal, so I guess we’ll be popping a few more corks for art’s sake.

Being me, I don’t want to stop at simply inverting bottles on the branches. I’d also like to collect tiny clear or colored bottles with tight-fitting lids. (Save me some if you can!) I want to write poems or sayings on pieces of paper, then curl those papers into the little bottles, and hang them from the tree on strings. Perhaps that’ll lure benevolent spirits.

Without further ado, here it is.

bottle tree, Bit of Earth Farm,

Custom bottle tree by Sam Weldon.


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Rest in Peace Isabelle

izzy 7 Thanks to Claire’s wise care and tireless dedication


Isabelle has had 17 years of peaceful farm life

grazing on green pastures


and occasional garden snacks

izzy 5

raising calves until they were grown

izzy 4

giving us milk

izzy 6

and sharing her unique personality, always.

Hers was a presence that will not be forgotten.




Posted in cattle, gratitude | Tagged | 7 Comments

To Sunchoke Or Not To Sunchoke

Lovely, prolific, hardy.

Lovely, prolific, hardy.

Life is full of big decisions.

Profess your love or play it cool? Over easy or sunny side up? Argue or let it go? Leave everything behind for what might be the big break? Speak your mind or pretend it doesn’t matter?

There’s another big decision you might be making. Grow sunchokes or avoid sunchokes?

It doesn’t seem like such a big decision, but it is.

I was drawn into the sunchoke question a few years ago. I’d been reading about health problems linked to inflammation. It’s a scary list that includes asthma, allergies, arthritis, auto-immune disorders, osteoporosis, heart disease, depression, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. If that’s not enough, inflammation is also a key factor in skin aging and other outward signs of aging. There are all sorts of things you can do to combat inflammation. Things like being physically active, eating a Mediterranean diet, flossing daily, and getting adequate sleep (not easy for insomniacs like me). It also helps to include sources of inulin (not insulin!) in your diet.

Inulin is a soluable dietary fiber. It brims with naturally occuring oligosaccharide (linked sugars) that belong to the class of carbohydrates known as fructans. Unlike most carbs, inulin isn’t digestible. It ferments (a sort of intestinal home brew), boosting healthy intestinal micro flora but not your blood sugar.

A great source of inulin happens to be the sunchoke. In the world of inflammation prevention it’s called a prebiotic, basically an eager cruise director of healthy gut flora.

So I grew some.

I didn’t know at the time that the sunchoke is a member of the sunflower family. It is.

sunchokes 1

A huge, prolific member of that family. These plants are nearly 8 feet tall.

sunchokes 2

The few tubers I planted turned into a veritable forest, tall stalks topped with cheery yellow blossoms waving in the slightest breeze.

Sunchoke-related advice 

First off, these are powerfully prolific plants. Don’t grow them where you don’t want them to keep growing. If you’re afraid you’ll be screaming with sci-fi horror, “just make it stop,” then don’t plant them anywhere you can’t mow. Because mowing, maybe a few years of mowing, is really all that will stop them. (Unless you’re a Round-up sort of person. I’m pretty frustrated with you people for all sorts of reasons.)

Second, I haven’t seen anything written about this but sunchokes seem to have a very positive effect on the soil. I planted them in a section of our back garden that was mostly clay. A few years back we’d amended the soil with some well-seasoned cow poo contributed by our cattle pals, but it was still hard with broad orange streaks of clay. After two years of growing sunchokes, that same patch is loose, friable, and teeming with worms.

Third, these babies last all winter. You can harvest them through the holidays, into the last days of winter, maybe even into early spring if you’ve had heavy snow cover without a thaw. Right now it’s April and I’m digging up sunchokes. Most of them at this point aren’t for us, they’re cattle fodder, but still useful.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, these tubers are commonly known as Jerusalem artichokes. They’re not artichokes nor are they from Jerusalem. They’re also called by another name you should know: “fartichoke.” That’s because the tuber’s health-promoting insoluble fiber gives some people gas. Prolific, propulsive gas.

Still harvesting sunchokes in April.

Still harvesting sunchokes in April.

Tips for easier sunchoke digestion

Don’t harvest sunchokes until after the first hard frost. And then, harvest only what you need and use them while they’re still firm.  Sunchokes happily stay fresh and firm under the snow all winter so you can dig out a few as needed. (Unless the ground is frozen solid. We dug up more in March and early April than we did December to February.)

The first few times you eat them don’t eat too much. They’re tempting little devils when sliced thin and fried into Sunchoke Chips (or Paleo Fries.) Take a few bites and stop. Think of them like beans. If you don’t eat them often your gut may not have enough We Handle This Particular Fiber bacteria. Give your microbiota time to handle the challenge with small regular sunchoke doses.

Avoid eating them raw. There are lots of recipes telling you to add them to salads (just like jicama!) but don’t. Just don’t.

Make them into sunchoke pickles or naturally fermented sunchoke pickles. Apparently fermentation eases the digestion problem too.

Roast em!

Roast em!

Some culinary thoughts on the wonderful versatile sunchoke

Remember, don’t harvest until after a frost or two because cold sweetens the tubers.

Only harvest what you can use in the next day or two. Stored too long they get discolored and lose their firm texture.

Sunchokes are fascinatingly convoluted. No need to peel. Snap or cut them apart so you can clean all the crevices, then scrub with a brush meant for potatoes.

Sunchokes hide nicely in all sorts of dishes and seem to be trendy the last few years.

Sunchokes oxidize when exposed to air, just like apples or eggplant. To prevent this, use right after cutting or toss with an acid like lemon juice or red wine before cooking. There are a bunch of other fascinating tips for preparing sunchokes here — one of my favorites is a pointer about preventing sunchokes from turning gray when pureed or made into soup (their high iron content causes this to happen): again they suggest that you add a pinch of cream of tartar or an acidic liquid (like lemon juice) to the sunchoke cooking water.

They qualify as paleo as well as low carb by most reckonings.

Make them into soup, crisp them in a pan with prosciutto and mint, toss them with fettuccine, crust them on fish, serve them roasted with chicken, hide them in garlic mashed potatoes.

Sunchokes are great roasted. I like to cut them up along with onions, potatoes, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts or cauliflower. Drizzle with good oil and roast in a hot oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Halfway through, toss in a handful or two of whole garlic cloves–making sure the cloves are covered by oil so they don’t burn. Yum.

They’re great in soups. Add a sunchoke or two to nearly any soup recipe, cook thoroughly, and enjoy.

Parboil them, then add them to other recipes. They’re particularly good in potato dishes, plus all that fiber counterbalances a potato’s high glycemic index (if you worry about such things).

They’re also not easily detected (by taste) if you want to toss them into a recipe. Thoroughly boil a few sunchokes, whirl them in the blender, and you’ve got a puree you can add to everything from smoothies to pancakes.

Resist the urge to impose sunchoke-heavy dishes on unaware diners, although it’s tempting when you’ve required to bring something to that company potluck you dread. Well, unless you really wanted to change jobs.

Sunchokes fit in nearly every recipe.

Sunchokes fit in nearly every recipe.

Posted in eating, gardening, kitchen arts | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments