Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Calm Down this Holiday Season with Chamomile

Guest blog entry by Dr. Irwin Richman

What can be more calming than a nice cup of chamomile tea?  The apple-scented tea is made from two different chamomiles:  either German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), or Roman or garden chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile).

Chamomile is easy to grow from seed and it reseeds itself.  Roman, or garden, chamomile often naturalizes in lawns, especially in England as, along with English daisies (Bellis), it can survive close trimming.

They have attractive daisy flowers, hence their membership in the Asteraceae family of ray flowers, along with sunflowers and Black-eyed Susans.  Both of these tea making plants are close relatives of the unlovely plant with a beautiful family name, "Ambrosia." Ambrosia psilostachya is a rag weed scourge of hay fever sufferers.  If you have hay fever, chamomile tea might give you a kick you're not seeking.

In the middle ages, a popular garden feature was a turf seat, and earthen sculpture covered in grass which was close cropped.  As a variant, these turf seats could be covered in herbs which could be closely cropped and chamomile was favored because it emits a nice aroma when sat upon.  Another favored herb for this purpose was creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum).  While few, if any turf seats were built in America, more are known to have survived, but creeping thyme is still used in old PA German cemeteries where it is planted atop graves so that visitors will have fragrant visits.

Another chamomile is dyer's chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria), a widely naturalized perennial herb with hairy, divided leaves and yellow flowers that is Eurasian in origin.  Not medicinal, like German & Roman chamomile, it was used, as the name suggests, as a yellow to orange dyestuff.  Some folks grow it in their gardens for its blossom.  I remember it as a boy growing in the cow pastures during my Catskill Mountain childhood.

All of this & more are in the new book currently being written by Irwin Richman & Michael Emery, Of Ray Flowers & Roses, due in 2019. You can also read about chamomile and other heirlooms in the book, Heritage Gardens, Heirloom Seeds, also written by Richman & Emery.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Landis Valley’s Gentle Giants

Guest blog entry by Joanne Ranck Dirks
Here at Landis Valley it’s easy to imagine living in the past when riding on a wagon pulled by two slow-stepping draft horses.  The farm on the museum grounds is home to eight of these gentle giants who ferry visitors of all ages around the site.  It’s wonderful to hear delighted school children shout, “Horses!  Horses!” and see seniors smile and exclaim, I haven’t had a wagon ride since I was a child!”

The horses have names as unique as they are.  There’s Duke, Maude, Ben, Hank, and Hunter, and then there’s Bonnie and her daughters, Lizzie and Nettie May.  Both of Bonnie’s girls were born here and Nettie May is named after Nettie May Landis, sister of our museum’s founders.  Four are Percherons, two are Belgians and two are Clydesdales.

These draft horses do most of their work when temperatures are warm, from April to November, but that is mostly to please the folks who ride on the wagons.  The horses themselves prefer to be outside in temperatures that range from 40 to 80 degrees.  Winter wagon rides are a treat during the
Country Christmas Village (December 3 and 4).  At the annual Holiday Bonfire (December 16), wagon rides happen in the dark with bells jingling!  And on the occasion of a deep snowfall, it doesn’t take long to hitch up the horses to the bobsled.

 There’s also work to be done each year in June during the annual Summer Institute classes here at Landis Valley.  The class “Using Horses as Draft Animals” gives participants an opportunity to learn to drive horses and also watch demonstrations of horses cultivating rows in the field.

Four of the horses are owned by volunteers and four are owned by the museum. They are some of our best museum ambassadors, as they occasionally travel to other historic sites to give wagon rides, join parades and compete at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show held in January each year pulling carts and wagons.

In past centuries, teams of draft horses pulled Conestoga freight wagons filled with the bounty of Lancaster County farms to Philadelphia and returned with manufactured goods.  The horses at Landis Valley today don't work that hard yet they help us glimpse into the past and do it handsomely.​

Friday, September 9, 2016

#AskACurator Day and Other Announcements

Just a short post today with a couple of announcements:

#AskACurator Day

Landis Valley curator Bruce Bomberger will be on-hand from 1:30 to 2:15 p.m. on September 14 to answer your questions about the collection, curating, agricultural technology, and the Landis Brothers, founders of Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum.  Send us your questions and we'll post them on Twitter and Facebook.  No personal questions, please, and no requests for appraisals.

To see our Twitter feed, you can either follow us on Twitter or you can visit our Media page, where we have a Twitter feed embeded.

In other news...

Wool Frolic

On September 17, Landis Valley will host the Wool Frolic & Yarn Sale event.  In this celebration of the fiber arts, you'll get to pet live animals, see a sheep being shorn, and then get to watch wool get spun, woven and needle-felted.  Staff and volunteers will there to teach you the basics of crochet and knitting, or you can stroll around and purchase fiber arts products from one of our vendors. If you're inspired, visit the yarn sale, where we have sorted yarns of all kinds and pattern books for that next project.  It's a great day of fuzzy fun for the family!

Harvest Days

It's an event about Pennsylvania German harvest traditions, but, after 56 years of existence, it's become a tradition itself.  Families come from all over to taste heritage varieties of apples and see them turned into pies, cider, apple butter, and even molasses.  There's wagon rides, too, as well as a pumpkin patch, food vendors, interactive exhibits, a children's discovery tent, and demonstrations of crafts, trades, and machinery.  We also will welcome the Horseless Carriage Club of America when they bring roughly 30 turn-of-the-century vehicles to the Millstone Grove from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Regular admission rates apply to both of these events and, as always, Landis Valley Associates members are free.

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!