The electric root cellar

We’ve been honing our chops at Seven Trees Farm since June 2005, and love researching all aspects of diversified subsistence farming before jumping into new challenges. It’s still mad harvest time here, with onions, apples and potatoes looking for their winter homes. Most urban/tiny/newb farmstead publications extol the virtues (and necessity) of a root cellar for long term produce storage, and back in the day, we dutifully bought the books and bookmarked the many informational websites.

Welp, like many other ‘perfect homestead’ ideas/tools/livestock breeds, root cellars are not universally applicable. In Cascadia we are lucky to have a lovely climate for food growing, even with gloomy spring rains and ferocious summer droughts. But one thing the climate lacks is consistency. Root cellars generally depend on steady cold outside temperatures to maintain the steady cool in-ground temperatures best suited for keeping produce in good shape for the duration.

But here winter weather runs the gamut from sub-zero blizzard conditions to apocalyptic wind and rain to balmy brilliant 60F sun – sometimes all in the same few weeks. Not exactly the best for tucking crates of garden bounty away for safe-keeping.

So what to do? Much of our research and goals lean in the low-input direction, i.e. off-grid. But chances are pretty good that electricity access is going to be much more stable than access to decent root-cellaring temperatures. So we bought an electric root cellar.

Not just any old shop fridge, but one made especially for the range of temperatures our shop experiences throughout the year. A critical aspect of fridge/freezer combos is that when it is below freezing the compressor usually won’t trigger, meaning frozen food melts, and refrigerated food freezes (This website explains some of the magic involved.)


Shiny happy new fridge from the Sears website.

But a freezerless fridge doesn’t have that problem since there is only one temperature zone to maintain. (With 2 chest freezers in the shop there’s no need for more freezer space.) Ours has seen some hard service over the years, and keeps on chilling. Right now it’s full of eggs, veggies, garden seeds, greens, rendered lard, and many jars of pickled goodness.


The electric root cellar always has room for more.


Lammas/Lughnasadh is here!

Originally posted in 2008, when Junuary was still a force to be reckoned with. 2016 has been one for the record books in terms of heat and drought, and bringing in the harvest is just as satisfying (and challenging).

Seven Trees Farm

Cool spring weather notwithstanding, Seven Trees is starting to enjoy the first fruits of summer. Lettuce, broccoli, beets, kohlrabi, carrots and potatoes. The tradition of celebrating the beginning of harvest-time goes back a long way. Here is a wonderful article from The Weather Doctor about the background of these celebrations: To the agrarian societies of medieval Europe, early August signalled the beginning of the harvest season, the time when the first grains were harvested and many fruits and vegetables ripened, ready for picking. A quarter of the annual solar wheel had now turned since the celebration of Beltane, the time of planting crops and vegetable gardens. Those crops and gardens planted at Beltane, now poured forth their bounty proving early August a reason for celebration.
As the month of August begins, the rising and setting positions of the Sun move noticeably more southward each day. So too, the mid-day peak…

View original post 942 more words

Bog day afternoon

Our little water feature is taking much longer to finish than planned, but then again, it will always be somewhat of a work in progress. Excavating the bog garden uncovered a water pipe, probably running from the old well to a barn or outbuilding. We left it in place, and lined the pit with black plastic, then poked a few holes in the sides for drainage. The soil stays nice and soggy without being a giant mud wallow.

File Jul 26, 11 44 05 AM

It’s hard to slog in the bog when temps hit the 90’s, and the rest of Seven Trees Farm needs extra watering and weeding. Adding a small canopy definitely helps keep the jobsite cooler. The trough pond has a sun bonnet made from bamboo poles and shade cloth. Too much sun can cause algae blooms, and the water plants can’t keep up filtering the fish waste. We plan to rebuild the bonnet with timber-sized bamboo and switch to green shade cloth eventually.File Jul 26, 11 47 02 AM

The random assortment of bog plants we’ve accumulated this season are waaaay overdue to get their roots in the dirt, so in they go, and we’ll finish up the hardscaping shortly.File Jul 26, 11 48 34 AM

So far we have cardinal flowers, crocosima, green goddess calla lily, a button fern, creeping Jenny, yellow eyed grass, dwarf cattails, and some Irish moss and native sedges that we found in the yard. The little tub in the middle will be mostly filled in with dirt and pea gravel and holds more water than the rest, for plants and critters that like their toes wet. File Jul 26, 11 49 25 AMAn old pump spigot for the outflow and a small dripper over a birdbath set in the water keep things circulating. The fish love playing in the bubbles and birds & bees come and go all day, drinking and bathing. Still plenty of room for more plants in the trough🙂

File Jul 26, 11 49 43 AMFile Jul 26, 11 50 17 AM Luckily we had a stash of mossy old concrete chunks to add some elevation to the low end of the bog. Hopefully the spaces between them will provide habitat for toads and frogs. The narrow space between bog and trough will have a little pea gravel path that is sloped to allow overflow from the pond to drain into the bog. Once the rainy season returns, that is.
It’s amazingly refreshing to sip a cold bevvie while watching fish & wildlife, listening to the bubbles & splashing. The sound of the neighbor’s mower isn’t quite drowned out, but with so much nature going on, who cares…

Aud the Deep-Minded

July 9th is a holiday in the Asatru calendar, also known as Haymoon 9; the day of remembrance for Unn (or Aud) the Deep-Minded. Unn was a powerful figure from the Laxdaela Saga who emigrated to Scotland to avoid the hostility of King Harald Finehair. She was the second daughter of Ketil Flatnose, a Norwegian hersir, and Yngvid Ketilsdóttir, daughter of Ketill Wether, a hersir from Ringarike. Aud married Olaf the White (Oleif), son of King Ingjald, who had named himself King of Dublin after going on voyages to Britain and then conquering the shire of Dublin. They had a son named Thorstein the Red. After Oleif was killed in battle in Ireland, Aud and Thorstein journeyed to the Hebrides.
Thorstein married there and had many children; he also became a great warrior king, conquering over half of Scotland; however, he was killed in battle after being betrayed by his people. After this happened Aud, who was at Caithness, learned of her son’s death and built a Knarr, a Viking era ship commonly built for Atlantic voyages.Viking ship

She did this secretly in the forest possibly because women were not allowed to be in possession of these ships, or because she did not want anyone to know that she was building one. After its completion, Aud sailed to the Orkneys. There she married off one of her granddaughters, Groa, the daughter of Thorstein the Red. Aud then set off for Iceland. As a settler in Iceland she continued to exhibit all those traits which were her hallmark-strong will, a determination to control, dignity, and a noble character. In the last days of her life, she established a mighty line choosing one of her grandsons as her heir. She died during his wedding celebration, and received a typical Nordic ship burial, surrounded by her treasure and her reputation for great deeds.

Read more about Unn/Aud here – Aud the Deep-Minded

Read more about Crass and Creative Norse Nicknames

Currant events

Blackcurrants are only recently regaining popularity in the United States, after being banned from the early 1900’s through the 20th century. Ribes nigrum is native to parts of northern Asia and Europe, and susceptible to a few pests and diseases, most notably white pine blister rust. When blackcurrant plants were imported to the US, the disease spread to domestic white pine forests, which had a negative impact on the logging industry, and led to the ban.

Blackcurrants have long been a favorite in Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, due in part to it’s use as an emergency source of vitamin C  during and after WW2. The German U boat blockade prevented food supplies from reaching Britain, so the government encouraged citizens to grow blackcurrants in their home gardens. Most of the crop was made into syrups and cordials, as the fresh, raw fruit has a very strong flavor, then distributed to children across the UK.

File Jun 29, 3 51 28 PM

Our blackcurrant jungle, complete with volunteer oregano plant.

With disease resistant varieties now available, and rising interest in the health benefits of dietary polyphenols and other micro-nutrients, blackcurrant cultivation is on the rise in the US. At Seven Trees Farm, we started with a few bushes, then quickly added more once we fell in love with the funky fruity flavor of blackcurrant cordial.

Mature bushes can produce up to 10 pounds of berries, and ours are just getting into their prime. Unfortunately we planted them a bit too close together, and too close to a neighboring evergreen hedge, but they are still managing to put out about 2 pounds of berries each so far. The plan is to try moving them once they go dormant for the season, but they may not take kindly to that due to their size. Luckily Whatcom county is a major berry-growing region and we can buy overstock plants from the larger farms nearby if we need to replace any. (Lesson learned: always give your plants way more room than any growing guide suggests.)

File Jun 29, 3 50 39 PM

Picker’s perspective. Harvesting blackcurrants is fiddly work.

Summer solstice!

Midnight sun in Swedish forest

One of the humans of Seven Trees is a quarter Swedish, by way of a grandmother named Hilma Siri Perrson. The other human of Seven Trees has Swedish ancestors a bit further up the family tree. And now that the summer solstice approaches, we’re preparing to celebrate the longest day of the year in grand ancestral fashion.

Many of the northern European agricultural groups don’t have a pause for the mid-point of summer. They tend to acknowledge early spring planting (Beltane) and first fruits of harvest (Lammas), but mid-summer bonfires and celebrations come down to us from a pre-farming way of life, when fertility was more about the rising energy of lengthening days than what seeds were in the ground. Scandinavian peoples were the last in northern Europe to fall to Christianity, and the midsommar Maypole festival robustly represents the pre-conquest vitality. The Pacific Northwest has similar climate and topography to Scandinavia, and when we are deep in the midst of June Gloom, the similarities are impossible to ignore. This description of mid-summer rings true to any web-footed, moss-backed PNWer –

Summer in Sweden is short. It starts showing its face in May and explodes into life in June. The summer has to hurry to get things done before the nights turn cold in September and everything stops growing. At Midsummer, the Swedish summer is a lush green and bursting with chlorophyll, and the nights are scarcely dark at all. In the north, the sun never sets.

Also near & dear to the people of Seven Trees are locavore-friendly traditions of eating the year’s first potatoes, pickled herring, chives, sour cream, beer, snaps (homemade vodka) and the first strawberries of the season (we’ve had 2 so far!). Drinking songs are also important at this feast, and many drink heavily. IKEA Germany made a 3 minute commercial celebrating (mocking) the full-on celebration, complete with the traditional dance/song, Sma Grodorna. (Apologies if the video comes up blacked out. It keeps getting taken down on You Tube, and now only this fuzzy full-length version remains)

The great and powerful Wiki says further:

Because Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strongest, it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. Traditionally, young people pick bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hope of dreaming about their future spouse. In the past it was believed that herbs picked at Midsummer were highly potent, and water from springs could bring good health. Greenery placed over houses and barns were supposed to bring good fortune and health to people and livestock; this old tradition of decorating with greens continues, even though most don’t take it seriously. To decorate with greens was called att maja (to may) and may be the origin of the word majstÃ¥ng, maja coming originally from the month May. Other researchers say the term came from German merchants who raised the maypole in June because the Swedish climate made it impossible to find the necessary greens and flowers in May, and continued to call it a maypole. Today, however, it is most commonly called a “midsommarstÃ¥ng” (literally midsummer’s pole). In earlier times, small spires wrapped in greens were erected; this probably predates the maypole tradition, which is believed by many to have come from the continent in the Middle Ages. Others argue that some form of Midsummer pole occurred in Sweden during the pre-Christian times, and was a phallic fertility symbol, meant to impregnate the earth, but as there were no records from those times it cannot be proven, and this idea might just be a modern interpretation of the pole’s form. The earliest historical mention of the maypole in Sweden is from the Middle Ages. Midsummer was, however, linked to an ancient fertility festival which was adapted into St. John’s Day by the church, even though it retained many pagan traditions, as the Swedes were slow to give up the old heathen customs. The connection to fertility is naturally linked to the time of year. Many young people became passionate at Midsummer, and this was accepted, probably because it resulted in more childbirths in March which was a good time for children to be born.

Whichever way your ancestors celebrated this turning point of the year, it’s a good time to stop and mark the longest day, shortest night, and hopefully most fruitful kick-off to summer fertility.