27 November 2011

How to Build a Root Cellar

 Unfortunately for many of us, winter is coming.  However, that doesn’t mean you have to harvest every single item out of your garden and worry about it spoiling before you can eat it all.  For those of you that have grown root vegetables, you can easily store your bounty in a root cellar.  What’s that, you don’t have a root cellar you say?  Fear not.  You can build your own outdoors, right in your garden if you like!
I have researched several different types of root storage spaces and actually, there are many of them.  I tend to like one in particular as it seems a sure fire way to keep out rodents as well as water.  You will need to first know the amount of vegetables you will be storing as this will determine the amount of storage space you will need.  Find a location that is slightly uphill if you have one.  This will help water to drain away from your storage area.  You will need a clean garbage can with a lid, fresh, clean straw and a good shovel for digging.  You will also need a couple of pieces of extruded polystyrene foam (for insulation) , cut several inches larger than the diameter of the can, along with an exterior grade piece of plywood that is about ¾” thick and about the same size as the foam.
Dig a hole a few inches larger than the diameter of the garbage can and deep enough so that the can’s lid will sit about 6 or 7 inches below the soil line.  Set the can inside the hole and line it with straw, alternating layers of straw with your root vegetables.  Cover the can with the lid and pack in the soil around the outside of the can, flaring the soil away from the top edge of the can.  Cover the lid with the two layers of foam you’ve cut and then with the plywood.  Set a large stone or weight of some kind on top to keep the board in place. The foam will insulate the storage space from frost and the plywood will help to keep it dry.  Long keeping root vegetables will store quite well for you over the course of the winter this way.  One word of caution, you can also store good quality storage apples like this, but allow them their own storage container, as the ethylene gas the apples give off will shorten the storage life of the vegetables.
A few tips:  you can store potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets, etc. in the same storage unit, but if you have the room, allowing them their own space makes it easier to retrieve them.  Also, mark the storage spaces with stakes, so once the snow flies, you will be able to locate them more readily.

How to Build a Terrarium

When I was a little girl, my mother kept a terrarium in our home.  It always intrigued me; seeing plants growing inside a glass tea kettle was really cool.  It was like a miniature rainforest!  Terrariums are a great way for those of us who are busy to have lush plants in our homes without having to remember to care for them so often.  As the plants in the terrarium transpire, the moisture collects on the sides of the terrarium (condensation) and flows back down to the soil.
A terrarium is basically any enclosed or partially enclosed clear container which houses its own micro-ecosystem of plants, and sometimes animals too, such as small lizards or turtles.  For our purposes here, I will focus on plant terrariums.  You can use any clear container of plastic or glass, such as an aquarium or fish bowl, a hurricane jar, bottles or glassware.  Be creative and look around your home before you spend money.  Chances are you’ll find something.  You will also need small pebbles, gravel or coarse sand (NOT beach sand) for drainage, clean, fresh potting soil, a collection of carefully chosen plants, some sphagnum moss and finally, activated charcoal, like you would use in an aquarium filter.  Fertilizer is not necessary as we don’t want the plants to outgrow their surroundings.  Be sure all items are clean and free of disease or bacteria.  Wash your container and drainage medium with hot water and air-dry.  If you are using any materials to decorate with, such as larger stones or wood, you should rinse those items with hot water as well.  Also be sure your plants are free of disease and insects. 
To begin, place about one to three inches of sand or gravel (depending on the size of your terrarium) evenly across the bottom of the container.  Next, add an even layer of activated charcoal.  This will serve to minimize odors from decomposition as the terrarium establishes itself.  Next cover both layers evenly with a thin layer of sphagnum moss.  This will keep your potting soil from spreading into the drainage layer and interfering with proper drainage.  The last layer is your potting soil.  This should be fresh and sterile, as you don’t want to introduce any possible diseases to your new plantings.  You can purchase special terrarium soil, or just add one part coarse builder’s sand and one part humus to your usual potting mix.  Be sure to add extra sand if you are creating a desert type terrarium. 
Whatever plants you choose, you’ll want to be sure they are of compact growth habit and compatible; they should have the same lighting, humidity and water requirements.  Having plants of differing heights and textures adds interest to your terrarium.  Plant them evenly spaced apart and away from the sides of the container.  Do not place your terrarium in direct sunlight as it will overheat.  Mist the sides of the container after planting to clean any stray soil and water the planted soil lightly.  Cover your terrarium and watch it for signs of dryness.  If the soil seems dry, add a little more water.  If you are seeing large droplets of water on the walls of the terrarium, then open the lid to avoid excess moisture from accumulating in the soil.   If at some time later in your terrarium’s life, the plants look like they are lacking nutrition, provide a weak solution of houseplant fertilizer for them.   
Over time, you may need to replace some plants if they become too big or die off, but all in all, your terrarium should provide many years of enjoyment with little care.