Thursday, July 7, 2016

Exploring a Hidden Horticultural Treasure


Blog Entry by Shayla Carey

Tucked away in the far corner of the site is a true Landis Valley treasure:  the Brick Garden.  Mainly tended by Heirloom Seed Project volunteer Mickey Blefko, it contains vegetables and herbs in well-weeded raised beds and is surrounded on three sides by flowers.

Despite temperatures close to 90 in the sun, Mickey eagerly gives me a tour on this early July morning, taking me through the paths among the raised beds. “Some of these are here for seed and some are just here for demonstration,” she says.  She points to a row of beets situated half-way into the garden.  “We have 'Deacon Dan' beet seeds for sale, but they are too big for this garden, so we grow other demonstration varieties that we can harvest and eat ourselves.”  The volunteers are careful not to let them go to seed and they are grown in areas remote enough not to adulterate the heirloom population.

'Munchen Bier' radish seed pods
We walk past kale and Swiss chard that were thinned by other volunteers earlier in the day.  She points rows of peppers of various stages of ripeness.  “The Seed Project saves the seed.  But, the great thing about it is that we can keep the fruit after the seeds come out.” I look at her and the same twinkle is in her eyes as is in mine:  we can just taste the stuffed peppers that can be made later in the season.  The same rule goes for tomatoes and Mickey eats them stuffed, too.

The garden is in a constant state of change, as some plants die back and others start again.  A few, such as ‘Munchen Bier’ Radish and ‘Green Star’ bean, are precious and are babied.  The radishes weren’t sold for years and the remaining seed was a few years old, so Mickey was tasked with planting them here and refreshing the genetic supply.  They came back like gangbusters and are now laden with seed pods full of seed.  If nothing kills them before the seed is fully ripe, it will be a true success story.

Beets in the front and 'Green Star' beans climbing poles.
'Amish Paste' tomatoes behind the beans and 'Beste Von Alum'
bush beans to the left.
The beans have a similar story, though they are still in the flowering stage.  ‘Green Star’ is a pole bean that was not for sale for years due to low population and, this year, Mickey was given 20 of the 30 or so seeds left to plant.  “I didn’t know what to expect, so I planted five of them in each corner,” she says as she points to the pole structure that supports healthy plants.  “Wouldn’t you know?  All five in each corner came up!  I had to thin them.”

Most of the plants here do well, though she has had some misfortunes.  Demonstration potatoes that occupied a far corner didn’t germinate, critters got to her peas, and she had to re-plant lavender and rosemary, as even hilling them with straw didn’t ensure their survival through the winter.  But for all of that, the garden is brimming with beautiful bounty.  Mickey encourages visitors to stop by and view the garden from a designated spot along the fence between flower plantings.  “Come back later on and see what’s growing,” Mickey says cheerily as we leave the garden to bask in the July sun.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Saying Goodbye: Tom Martin


Blog Post by Shayla Carey

This week, we lost a man who was just as much a part of Landis Valley as the Landis brothers, the Isaac Landis family, or the Zangari family (who lived in the Seed House).  Tom Martin passed away on Sunday, June 26, from causes unknown to this writer.  He was employed by the PHMC for twenty-two years.  He was an inspiration to those who knew and worked with him in the Tavern and I was privileged to have known him even just a little bit.

I first saw Tom in the Tavern.  I was a volunteer who came to the annual Holiday Bonfire at Landis Valley to drive the horses around.  At the end of the night, I learned that one of the staff members had organized a huge spread of food for all of the volunteers.  Cooked entirely in the Tavern, it consisted of pies, pig stomach, turkey, ham, breads, drunken cranberries, tarts, and other delicacies.  Tom had supervised the labor and had provided much of the meal.  We all stuffed ourselves into the room, lined up, and heaped as much of the meal onto our plates as we could.  Tom didn't eat much--he sat in a corner, arms crossed over his belly, and basked in the glow of warm fellowship and holiday good wishes, catching up with old friends and socializing with co-workers.  Occasionally, I heard his trademark staccato, "ha-ha-ha-ha," punctuate the overall conversation and wished I had heard the joke, too. I was too busy enjoying my food.

Time passed and I joined the museum as an intern.  I got to work closely with Tom when he was assigned interpretation of the Brick House.  He was working on a rye basket and I needed a diversion from a homework assignment so I asked him about his craft.  He responded by not only telling me about rye baskets (did you know that they were used by Pennsylvania Germans because mice don't care for them and therefore won't get to the food inside?), but by putting some extra rye into his long, water-filled trough and then showing me how to make baskets, too.  While we worked, we talked about many things besides history.  He told me how he liked interpreting at the quiet Brick House best of all, he told me that he used to make baskets to sell, he joked about how he was related to many of the Martins in Lancaster County and I found out that we shared some left-leaning views on politics.  We worked on that basket the next time I was at the Brick with him and I got pretty good at it.  Unfortunately, my internship ended before I could finish the basket and it still sits in my office.

Tom at the head of our Summer Institute
Cooking class table. I am to the right of him.
I got to work with Tom again when I became a staff member.  It was during Summer Institute and I took his cooking class.  I learned to roll and lift a pie crust, to make the best lemon ice cream ever (by using two metal bowls, some ice, and rock salt), to knead bread with a gentle hand, and that scrapple is best fried in bacon grease over the open fire.  We supped in the open air and I gained a whole new appreciation for Tom's talents, as well as a glimpse into his popularity among other historic foodways interpreters.

I saw Tom on other occasions after that.  He worked in the Crafts Barn, at the front desk, and at the Brothers' House, but I didn't really get to talk to him too much after my Institute class.  I took some pictures of him in costume over the years and I interviewed him for articles. When he became ill and took a leave of absence, I learned more about him through stories from our co-workers.  Now, I mourn his loss when I reminice with others and read comments on Facebook from all of the visitors and friends he inspired over the course of his career and his life. We've lost a true treasure and we will miss him. Goodbye, Tom.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Traditional Yeast Making from Potatoes

Blog entry by Dan Silfies

Some of the potato yeast breads baked in the bake oven
Hello from the Tavern. So far, I've been busy this spring baking away in the bake oven every Friday. This year I decided not to use store bought yeast and to grow it traditionally. For this, I boiled about 2 pounds of diced and peeled potatoes in water. Once soft, I mashed them and added enough of the water that the potatoes were cooked in to bring the mixture to a cream like consistency. Next, I added approximately 2 tablespoons of molasses and mixed. After waiting for the mixture to cool down, I added a little yeast to get the process moving and set it aside for a few days. Adding a little yeast is not necessary but definitely helpful.

As I have never made yeast before, I was uncertain of what my results would be. Keeping this in mind, I used a basic white bread recipe that I knew well. I substituted one cup water for one cup of the potato yeast and added no additional yeast.

The resulting dough didn't rise as much as it did with store bought yeast. However, after punching it down and forming into 2 loaves, letting rise again and baking, I was surprised. The finished bread, although slightly denser, rose to make wonderful bread with just a hint of potato.

The recipe claims that it will last several weeks so I saved the remaining yeast and used it a week later; although it smelled sour, the bread had no sourness to it.

The yeast recipe that I used can be found in the Landis Valley Cookbook, along with other variations on making yeast.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Baby Bees & Trees

Blog entry by Shayla Carey
Don with rootstocks awaiting grafting
Last week, with the help of Don Zeigler, co-founder of the Backyard Fruit Growers, Landis Valley welcomed 150 baby bees and 20 new baby trees to its horticultural family.

It was an easy delivery:  Don grafted 20 scion wood to rootstock and farm manager Joe Schott attached two new bee boxes to fence posts in the herb garden and behind the Heirloom Seed House.  Don and Joe then inserted tubes filled with mason bee eggs into the boxes.  After that, the waiting began...

What will be exciting is watching the new additions grow.

The moment of truth:
when scion meets rootstock
While we do not grow the apples to sell, we do grow them to keep the genetics going, which is a core mission of the Heirloom Seed Project.  Some of the apple scions (living twigs from mature trees) are from existing trees on Landis Valley property, which are getting rather old and will need to be removed within a few years.  15 others are heritage varieties from the Backyard Fruit Growers’ woodbank, a collection of fruit trees grown by BYFG members that are shared among them.  Our new orchard is currently residing in buckets outside of the greenhouses, but will be permanently located towards the rear of the site and, once they are planted, visitors who wander to the Collections Gallery or to the Maple Grove Schoolhouse can hike a little further up the old Kissel Hill Road and see them.  Honeybees, which are in danger of decline due to CCD, will join the site in April and will eventually assist the mason bees in pollinating the new orchard.  The apples will be used for demonstration purposes.

In a few weeks, the mason bees will emerge from the holes in the boxes (pictured at right), pollinating various plants around the site.  They hatch about 3-4 weeks before honeybees do and they will die at the end of the year after laying more eggs in the boxes in August.  Because of their short lifespan, they do not produce honey, but they are prolific pollinators.  They do not form colonies, so are not subject to colony collapse disorder (CCD).  They are smaller than honeybees, are native to North America, and do not have a stinger, either, which makes this writer like them a lot.


The bees are part of a working relationship that Landis Valley is developing with insects to help bring up productivity of plants around the site.  Because we need all of the seeds we can get from every plant we grow, pollination is hugely important.  Ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and mites also assist plant production in our greenhouses, keeping pests at bay without the need for chemical insecticides.

Apple trees and mason bees – here’s to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Friday, January 29, 2016

The Museum Store Upgrade

Guest blog entry by Museum Store manager Terry Kreider

New displays are being created at the Landis Valley Museum Store
January and February are traditionally slow months in the store and we are taking advantage of the reduced traffic to do a major over haul of the first floor.  The main reasons for the changes are to make space on the first floor for all our handcrafted merchandise currently displayed on the second floor (assuring our best merchandise is accessible to all our visitors) and to improve the Museum Book Store sales area.

The museum store's new book nook
First project was to move the register counter toward the front door by 4 feet.  This also required moving the electric and running computer wires under the floor.  This small shift made the back corner open to our customers; previously they had to ask permission to see items displayed behind the register.

The most involved job is the Museum Book Store.  More display shelves are being added and book cases being rearranged to create an open area with more light.  We moved the stage from the middle of the store to the back corner of the book area to create a place to spotlight our children’s books as well as space for book signings and presentations. 

Several displays are being transported from the second floor to the first.  Blacksmith Mike Reinard, who built the blacksmith display, is relocating it from the back corner of the second floor.  Framed artwork display pallets will also be moved. 

Blacksmith-created pieces front and center
I am thankful to carpenter Mike Wagner and Kyle Hake from our maintenance staff.  They took my ideas and made them work.  Thank you to the winter store staff, Kenney Brunning and Liz Miller, who with volunteers Brad Potts and Lin Forney have contributed ideas, constructive feedback and hard work! We have been having fun trying to figure out what displays will work where.  There’s been a lot of trial and error!  A final thank you goes to Site Administrator Jim Lewers for green lighting the project and providing feedback and support.

The most enjoyable part of all this for me is communicating with many local artists and working to bring our customers the highest quality handmade items to fill the Museum Store when the renovations are done!

The goal is to have everything completed and stocked for Charter Day (Sunday, March 13).  Feel free to stop in, watch our progress, and shop from all the new merchandise we are getting in on a daily basis!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Fine art of Finely Made Sauerkraut

Blog Post by Dan Silfies

I always say homemade sauerkraut is better than store bought sauerkraut. Today many don’t take the time to make it and don’t realize the stronger flavor of homemade sauerkraut.
If you have a clean crock, that will work great but, if you’re like me, you don’t have a crock. Instead, I went to my local deli and asked for a food safe bucket to make my sauerkraut in.
When making sauerkraut, you don’t want your cabbage to rot, but you don’t want to preserve it in a salt bath either. What you want is a happy mix of salt and cabbage that will control the cabbage’s fermentation without stopping it.  I use 3 tablespoons of pickling or kosher salt for every 5 lbs.  of shredded cabbage. Note that we are not using any water at this point, the salt should be able to pull enough out of the cabbage for our needs.

To prepare the cabbage, you want to remove the inner core, then using a cabbage shredder shred the cabbage. I don’t own a cabbage shredder, but I find a good sharp chef knife works.  It will take longer, as you need to cut the cabbage into about 1/8 inch to ¼ inch slices.

Sauerkraut making at Harvest Days
I put the cabbage into a large mixing bowl and add the salt. Toss and stir until the salt is evenly dispersed.

Next, I put the salted cabbage in the crock/bucket in layers about 2 inches thick. The reason for the layers is to make sure that each layer gets packed tight as we don’t want large pockets of air to become trapped.

Once all the salted cabbage is in the crock/bucket, add a weight to keep the cabbage packed. Over the next few days, the salt will leach the water out of the cabbage and the weight will keep the cabbage submerged. If it is not all submerged, add a salt water solution until the cabbage is all covered. About 3 teaspoons for every 2 cups of water will give you a proper salt solution.

For the weight, I usually use a large plate with zip lock bags full of water to hold down the cabbage. The bags give an added benefit to the mixture, as it keeps a tight barrier around the inside of the crock/bucket, reducing what may be exposed to the air.

Put the crock in a cool place out of the way and cover with a towel for 6 weeks. Checking every few days to ensure the cabbage is still submerged. If not add more salt water solution. I usually keep mine in the basement.

After  the six weeks have passed, your cabbage should now be sauerkraut. Remove any off-colored sauerkraut that may be on the top, usually the top 1 ½ inched to 2 inches as this will have an off flavor.


I will usually heat up my sauerkraut then place it in zip lock bags and freeze until I’m ready for it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Preserving the Fortna Family’s Pumpkin Pie

Blog entry by Joanne Ranck-Dirks
A pair of Fortna White pumpkins
The Heirloom Seed Project is committed to seed preservation.  One piece of the program that brings us joy is sharing these garden heirlooms with others and also knowing that sometimes we’re saving more than seeds!

Last April, a seed order arrived for just one packet of seeds – the Fortna White Pumpkin.  The shipping charge was higher than the price of that one packet of seeds so I pondered how I could increase the value of those seeds to the customer so that she wouldn’t mind paying more in postage that she did for the seeds!  Perhaps sharing the history of the pumpkin could add some value.

Every seed donated to the Heirloom Seed Project is documented in an old card file.  I went digging into the file to learn more of the history of the Fortna While Pumpkin.  It had been donated 25 years ago in 1990 and had been grown by the Fortna families in Franklin and Adams Counties.  It is an unusual white, pear-shaped pumpkin and creamy yellow on the inside.  To my amazement, I saw that it had been donated by the same person who was now ordering the seed!

I sent Sue a quick email and said, “This is your family’s pumpkin!”  She replied, “I am not the farmer my dad was, by any means!!”  I did grow one pumpkin last year and didn’t let the seeds dry as long as I should have, and the seeds molded.”

“So I am extremely grateful that you do the hard work of keeping these heritage seeds alive – if you hadn’t had the seed, it would surely have died out with my generation. (Not to mention that all the extended family would have been so disappointed to not have a Fortna Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving – we all still think it’s the best for pies!)”


Happy Thanksgiving to the Fortna Family.  We hope you enjoy your pie!