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DIY Home Apothecary

Living in a small home and having a lack of space for essentials is a challenge. It requires creativity and proper planning on our part to maximize functionality and to make sure no space is being wasted. I had been growing, harvesting, and drying a large amount of herbs from my garden and I wanted to create a space to honor their beauty that in its essence, was simply “storage”. As for every project here at Allendale, budget is also a major factor. Like I said before, it is challenging, but the beauty of it all is creating something totally customized and unique to us.

The first design issue we needed to work around was covering our well, all the while keeping it accessible for maintenance. You are probably wondering reading this, so yes, our well is located inside of our house! Here’s a before photo of the space when we moved in January, 2014:

indoor well

It wasn’t long before my husband tore this space apart and built a large work surface for me. I started to learn that canning and preserving bounties from the garden required more work surface area than I ever thought as a beginner.

kitchen workspace

Above is a photo of what became only a temporary solution. You can see my dried herbs in mason jars in the one corner and a large work surface in front. Another round of upgrading came a year later as I continued growing even more of my own herbs and vegetables.

Gathering materials over a period of time is how we always begin the building/planning process. It’s great if you have a barn, or even a yard and a tarp to store useable materials you gathered for free over a period of time. (Think old windows, barn beams, roofing, stone, cement tiles, etc.! They will eventually come in handy when you need to DIY.) For this project we used rough cut wood and also foraged dead tress out back from the woods for the supports. If you do the same, just remember to leave the trunks on a porch or in a garage to dry out. You don't want to bring in wood that is inhabited by bugs!

In just about a week we were able to complete the whole project from start to finish. Here is the new apothecary in all its rustic charm! So far it has been functioning just as I had imagined, with a gigantic workspace and storage shelves to the ceiling. I hope this latest DIY from us inspires you to DIY your way through your next project!

home apothecary

home apothecary

Egyptian Walking Onions, A Statement Perennial for Your Garden

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I think it's safe to say gardeners across the board have a special relationship with edible perennials!  As the first plants emerge, so does a gardeners' spring spirit.  Among these perennials are the Egyptian Walking Onion.  It is a different sort of onion, but in a good way!  Like all onions, the entire plant is edible but you will have much earlier harvests starting in early spring.  Instead of forming flowers at the top of their stems like most onion types to seed themselves, these plants form what I like to call "bulblets", or groupings of tiny bulbs.  Being the heaviest part of the plant, they weigh down the stalks and seed themselves a few inches away from the mother plant they grew from. Hence the name "walking onions"!

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When eaten raw, they have a very sharp, spicy onion flavor.  To eat them you can use the solid bottoms the same way you would use scallions, by chopping up and using them fresh in salads, or, for a more mild flavor, caramelize and serve with your favorite meat and veggies!  The hollow tops can be used the same way you would use green onions or chives.  So far my favorite way to eat them is to caramelize and serve on top of homemade toast with a fried egg.  Absolutely delicious!

Aside from being tasty and being one of the first plants to pop up in spring, one of my favorite things about the Egyptian Walking Onion is how the plants themselves represent an organic work of art in the garden.  They are indeed unique to look at, and I always get compliments and questions about them when people visit!  That is one of the most wonderful things about gardening; The ability to share, to learn, and to be inspired to try new things.  The first time I was ever introduced to this plant was when I was helping an elderly woman weed her gardens.  As payment for helping her, she allowed me to dig up some Irises of hers, and in addition to those I ended up with the incredible Egyptian Walking Onions that grow in my garden now.

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If you let them, these plants will literally walk across your garden and continue to do so every year.  As you can see from the photos, I choose to keep mine contained in a raised bed and I re-planted the bulblets from last year in the spaces that were left in the bed.  This year I might have to start another garden bed for more, as mine appears to be filling out quite nicely and I like to leave an inch or so between plants.

If you happen to come across one of these in someone's garden, ask them if it would be okay to take some bulblets home to plant for yourself!  You can also divide the clumps at the base of the mother plant to propagate if you prefer, or dig up and re-plant the entire thing.  Egyptian Walking Onions are so much fun to grow and it's great to have a perennial onion to harvest for meals in early Spring and throughout the entire growing season up until it snows!

Easy-to-Grow Heirloom Seeds to Try

Amber AllenGrowing heirloom seeds has given me a greater respect for growing food and with that, a deeper appreciation of the natural world. Before I started gardening, I had no idea what an heirloom vegetable was or how they would eventually shape my journey to a simpler life. Growing and saving primitive seeds is literally passing down history. How grounding, to witness the growth of a seed passed down through generations, unadulterated by modern demands, ripening the same as it has for centuries. The best part of it all: Anyone can grow their own heirlooms, and here are five of my favorite varieties that were prolific growers my first year growing them. For a good overview of the advantages of growing heirloom seeds over hybrid, I recommend you check out the Mother Earth News article, Heirloom Vegetables: 6 Advantages Compared to Hybrids.

sour gherkin

Mexican sour gherkins. These are bite-sized cucumbers that you eat like a grape but they look like watermelons. They are a delicious cucumber with a faint taste of lemon. Eat them raw in salads, or pickle your bounty to enjoy later if you have a bumper crop (which you will). These are perfect for kids to grow because of their compact size. I did not expect the delicate-looking plants to grow as strong and climb as to tall up our cucumber trellis, but they did. Try these once and you will want to grow them every year, they are just that awesome!

dragons tongue

‘Dragon Tongue’ beans. I was immediately drawn to this Dutch heirloom because of its beautiful purple stripes. A prolific bush-type bean that produces long 7” pods, this tender and delicious bean is a favorite among our friends and family. I froze a whole bunch of what we couldn't eat fresh and we enjoyed them all winter long. We’ve been ery pleased with this gorgeous, tasty bean!

Melon Charentais
Photo credit: www.RareSeeds.com

‘Charentais’ melon. If there were a variety of melon that could win the award for sweetest and best-tasting melon, it would be the ‘Charentais.’ This French heirloom produces petit fruit that when ripe give off the loveliest fragrance. It’s a treat to all of your senses when combined with the bright orange flesh. This melon is an all-around delight to grow and towards the very top of my “favorites” list.

graet white tomato 

‘Great White’ tomato. These mild, incredibly delicious, 1 lb. tomatoes have hints of pineapple flavor. Who even knew there was such a thing as a tropical-tasting tomato? This tomato is easy to grow, super tasty raw, and makes a scrumptious white tomato sauce. Though I haven't tried it yet, a white salsa with this tomato would be beautiful! I do believe that making some white salsa this summer just became a primary goal of mine.           

golden sunshine 

‘Golden Sunshine’ runner beans. Have you ever considered growing runner beans for their flowers? The ‘Golden Sunshine’ variety produces hefty pods which are good for eating fresh or for preserving, but the most interesting part of this plant are its beautiful red flowers against chartreuse leaves that make an incredible statement in the garden. If you're looking for that kind of statement, look no further! You can’t go wrong with a dense, colorful wall of foliage and then reap the reward of bean pods later.

There are so many more fruits and vegetables out there than the few common selections you have at the supermarket. Why not expand your palate and treat your eyes to a cornucopia of shapes and colors that make heirlooms such a treat to grow in your own garden. The five varieties listed have been proven winners in my garden, and are a great way to get your feet wet (or hands dirty). An entire world of heirlooms awaits you.

Photo credits: Amber Allen