Roots & Ropes

There are many good points to a produce farm, and having access to a greenhouse on a cold day is one.

Currently, we have two houses covered in plastic year-round. They’re summer in a bubble.  

On Sunday, Grandma Linda and Silas spent much of the afternoon in the propagation greenhouse. To get to this greenhouse, you open the sliding door that leads out of our basement, step across about 3 feet of gravel, with or without shoes, and you’re in. As long as the sun’s out, you experience an instant 50-degree temperature change. As of Sunday, the propagation greenhouse is even hotter because we covered the ground with black mesh plastic. Eventually, we’ll add a layer of gravel.

While Grandma Linda and Silas did a craft in the backyard, Jason and I walked up the hill to the big greenhouse at the farm. I went from four layers and a winter coat, to a sleeveless shirt as soon as we stepped in. With the affect sun and temperature have on mood, and the butt-kicking Pa. winters can dole out, I suggest ignoring neighbors' looks and constructing a sun chamber out of plastic or glass in your yard or on your porch. Close yourself in there, stand in a bucket of potting soil, and have someone sprinkle water on your head daily. Yo ho, yo ho, a plant’s life for me.

We did some “housekeeping” in the big greenhouse last fall, and when the weather improves, we’ll drive the walking tractor inside, so we only had to untangle the dead tomato vines from the twine, and tear up the peppers.

Jason tangles with last season's tomato vines. 

Jason tangles with last season's tomato vines. 

*** GRAPHIC CONTENT: the following description of weeding may be too upsetting for some readers, and the cheesy analysis that follows may be too annoying. ***

While Jay started pulling out the long-dead, papery tomato vines, I made my way up the pepper rows. The dry, brown pepper stems felt like nothing in my hand, and the roots pulled from the soil easily. They had developed an impressive root ball, which seemed more alive than dead. It even had a pleasant, complex scent. Part earthen, part sweet, with notes that brought to mind sassafras.

Farewell, peppers. Thanks for the memories, and all the sauce. 

Farewell, peppers. Thanks for the memories, and all the sauce. 

As I tore the peppers up, each one making a satisfying rumble as it erupted from the soil, I recalled how, just a few short months ago, each plant dutifully yielded pepper after pepper. First, it was bushels of green peppers, and then deep red ones in autumn. At such an exciting time of year – the start of a new season – it was surprising to feel a surge of reverence for dead pepper plants.


Last week, we had two good meetings. The first, was with the chefs of The Blue Canoe Brewery, a brew pub with tall windows that face Spring and Franklin streets, in the small city of Titusville.

It’s one of our favorite restaurants, and it holds special meaning for us.

One long ago September evening, I asked Jason to meet me there, during my dinner break. After we sat down, I slid a small rectangle of paper across the table to him. It was my favorite comic strip, Baby Blues. After six happy years of marriage, with talk of children merely a pleasant hypothetical, a few cartoon panels earlier in the week had flipped a switch in my brain. I wanted to start a family.

So it’s clearly a special restaurant to us, and, this chapter of Jason and Stella history aside, it’s a cool place. The beer, the food, the atmosphere, it’s all quite perfect. We’re excited to work with the Canoe, and the talented people in their kitchen. Chefs Nate and Taylor are clearly excited about connecting local food to the community, and we can’t wait to watch them unveil their culinary masterpieces every week.

Our second meeting was in the central part of Crawford County, at the Venango General Store.

If you find yourself at the intersection in Venango, do yourself a solid, and turn onto Cussewago Street. The family that owns the Venango General Store has brought an era of history back to life. It's like a portal into another time, when the general store was a town staple. 

We met with owner, Mark, who shared some of his delicious and unique pickled specialties with us (pickled green tomatoes!), and discussed plans for this season.

Mark is passionate about making the most delicious food with local ingredients, and labels that you can read in about three seconds.

We enjoyed crunchy, chilled coleslaw with our lunch, and some of Mark’s pickled onions. The slaw was the perfect combo of tangy and creamy. This intro into what they're capable of with cabbage prompted us to buy a jar of sauerkraut. We can’t wait to pair it with buttery mashed potatoes. They know what they’re doing in that kitchen.

Hammock safety tip: Save your tortilla chip snack for when your feet are firmly on the ground.

Hammock safety tip: Save your tortilla chip snack for when your feet are firmly on the ground.

To celebrate our productive farm week, and what looks like one of our last sunny days for a while, we had one final task to accomplish in the greenhouse Sunday: hanging a hammock. Jason called up his Boy Scout knot-tying knowledge, and I demonstrated my deep trust in him as I tested the ropes. 

We feel 100 percent confident in this farm investment. 

- Stella