A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Winter Solstice Musings

...A re-post of our Winter Solstice posting from 2009. Still just as true today.

Mandala by Llyn

Winter Solstice was only meaningful to me on a rather "intellectual" basis when I lived in the city. Each year, as Autumn days drew shorter and evening commutes occurred more and more in the dark, I vowed to "pay attention to the seasons" and aspired to live a life in tune with natural rhythms. I was only ever marginally successful. These last two years, since living in rural Alpine, Oregon and growing a garden, the seasonal changes have become very real to me. The sun is setting these days at about 4:30 here, and doesn't rise again till about 7:30. I am acutely aware of just how few daylight hours there are and eagerly await the turning point of Winter Solstice. Even though winter will still have its grip on things  - weather-wise, I know the days will start getting longer and for this I am truly grateful.

I know many of you who receive these posts from Chris' and my garden blog are probably faced with your own winter blues these days. Even if you live in a city with its artificially extended day-light hours, you can't help but be affected by the turning seasons, the dour headlines, economic stress and other challenges of being human.

I send along this slide-show I put together with a song whose lyrics are meant to inspire you to keep looking for simple ways your bliss and gifts can intersect with the world's need. (link below)


"Light is returning,
Even though this is the darkest hour,
No one can hold
Back the dawn." Charlie Murphy

LINK: The Forest of a Million Trees

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Join the Occu-Pie Movement!

Making Pumpkin Pie – from scratch

Sugar-pie pumpkins; a variety bred for sweet, smooth flesh.

Making pumpkin pie from scratch is truly a labor of love! How much easier it is just to open a can of puree. In the spirit of the slow food movement, we start making our pies back in April when we first plant the seeds! The small vines are transplanted into mounds of compost we've made ourselves, mulched, watered and weeded through the summer and harvested by the hundreds of pounds after they get their first kiss of frost.

This year, pie-making took place over two full days! From two Provence pumpkins (they're the big lobe-y ones in the picture to the left that look like Cinderella's coach!) we made enough filling for 23 pies! The fillings are stacked neatly in our freezer and will make it easy, over the next few months, to thaw and bake up this delicious and nutritious reminder of the garden's bounty.

Provence, Buttercups and Sweetmeats.
When you're planning your garden for next season, consider sketching out enough space for plenty of winter-squash. Winter squash are the varieties that have a harder skin and store well for enjoyment all through the winter.  "Pumpkins" are just a variety of the larger category of "squash". Pumpkin pie filling can be made from sugar-pie pumpkins, or any kind of sweet, golden-meat type of squash. Delicata, Buttercup and Sweetmeat are all good varieties. If its too late to grow your own this year, or you don't have room in your garden next year, look for these varieties at your local market. Sometimes we combine two types of squash/pumpkin to make one batch of filling. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are not good to use as they are not bred for sweetness and the meat can be quite stringy. Our current favorite is the Provence pumpkin, an heirloom variety that has the sweetest meat we’ve found. It tends to grow quite large so it provides filling for many pies but, because they tend to be so big, they're not often grown commercially (most people can't use that much squash before it goes bad) so, if you want a Provence, you'll probably have to grow your own.

We make many batches of filling at once and freeze them. If you’re going to mess up the kitchen, you might as well make it worth it! Be sure you have plenty of all the ingredients you’ll need on hand. Or, you can also bake the squash and freeze it in 2-cup batches plain, using it much like you'd use a can of store-bought puree.


To bake the squash: 
The Provence is one of our favorites for pie.
Preheat oven to 375
Wash pumpkin/squash and dry skin 
Cut it open: Use a stout, sharp knife on a table or counter low enough that you can use the weight of your upper body to quarter the squash.  Doing it on the floor might even be easiest. 

Use a strong metal spoon to scrape out seeds and loose pulp/strings. You can put the seeds and pulp outside to feed birds and squirrels or separate the seeds, oil, salt and bake them. You probably won't want to save the seeds for planting, unless you're certain that they haven't "crossed" with other varieties. 

Cut into smaller pieces: Though it can be quite a challenge to cut these large, winter squash into smaller pieces for baking, you’ll be rewarded with a much shorter cooking time.

Orange, sweet flesh, yum!!
Place squash with skin facing up in a baking pan that has sides that are at least a two-inches deep. Many squash give off quite a lot of juice and can make a mess in your oven if the juice spills over the side of the pan. A roasting pan is ideal.

Bake squash/pumpkin for one hour, or until a fork pokes easily, deep into the flesh.

Once done, allow to cool. Scoop flesh out of the skin and compost the skin.  If you’ve chosen one of the juicier squashes, you’ll have best results by putting the flesh in a large colander over a bowl to drain any excess juice. The juice makes a delicious soup stock. Note: Delicata squash have tender skins that can be eaten along with the flesh, saving you an extra step (just use your food processor: skins and all).

To make the pie filling:

Sydney w/ a Provence
In a food processor, combine:

2 cups squash/pumpkin
2/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup soy milk (or cow’s milk, almond or coconut milk)
2 TBSP powdered milk (or soy protein powder)
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp salt

2 eggs (leave these out if you are freezing multiple batches)

Puree till smooth

Pour into your favorite pie shell and bake for 1 hour at 375 or until lightly browned.

To freeze filling for later:

Combine everything except the eggs. Make one batch at a time. Each batch is a little less than a quart so you can put it in your favorite freezer-containers. We use qt-size plastic zip-lock bags. Label them with blue, painter’s masking tape (it won’t come off in the freezer and you can peel it off after you empty the bag, wash the bag and re-use it.) I always write a reminder on the label to add two eggs. Lay the bags flat and you can easily stack many of them in your freezer.

When you want to make a pie, thaw the filling, add the eggs and use a blender, a mixer or food processor to mix it all well. By mixing in the eggs right before baking, you’ll have a fluffier, more pudding-like pie. Bake as above.

If you run out of any ingredients, before you've used up your squash, just freeze bags of the plain squash puree' and add the other ingredients right before baking.

James and Jaye holding Buttercups; a drier, sweet, golden squash.
Flaky Rolled Pie Crust – YIELD: Two pies without top shells

2 cups whole wheat or unbleached pastry flour
1 scant tsp. salt
½ cup oil (chilled is best) - use something mild to the taste like sunflower or safflower oils. Don't use olive oil or sesame.
¼ cup ice water

Mix the flour and salt. Pour the oil and water into a cup but don’t stir. Mix with the flour. Press into a ball. Cut into halves. Place between two sheets of 12-inch waxed paper. Dampen a tabletop to prevent slipping. Roll out until the circle of dough reaches the edge of the paper. Peel off top paper and place the crust face down in a pie tin. Peel off the other paper and press dough into tin.

Llyn, w/ Sugar-pie pumpkins.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Phoenix Farmhouse Gallery

We love our yellow farmhouse!
The Oregon autumn rains have finally begun. Our gardens have (mostly) been retired from summer production and we have time to turn our attention to indoor projects (like catching up on our five-month hiatus of posting to this blog-site :-). The purchase of the Sharing Gardens land is complete! We spent the nine months from Oct 2013 until early July renovating the 1875 farmhouse that came with the land. The house was considered a "tear-down"; more of a liability than an asset. It had not been occupied in over seven years and in that time all windows and doors had been busted; there were gaping holes in the floor that looked straight down to the ground below and vandals had marred the interior walls with spray paint and sledge hammers. Originally we pictured ourselves fixing it up just enough to use as a work-shop and materials-storage but as we progressed in the renovations it became clear that the house was basically solid and that we had the skills to bring it back to a fully habitable dwelling.

This is the house after considerable work had already been done; doors and windows installed; tangles of blackberries and other overgrown weeds removed. January 2014

Same view, September 2014

Our living room in the early stages.

Now, isn't that cozy!
Dining room: We put rigid foam insulation on the insides of all the walls, and then paneling over that.
Because of the insulation, the house stays cool in the summer and is quick and easy to heat in the winter.

We did most of the renovations ourselves - both inside and outside.

View from the rear. September 2014.
CLICK HERE to see a more extensive gallery ('before' and 'after' pics) of what we've come to call the Phoenix Farmhouse.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Giving is Growing! News from the Sharing Gardens

Mmm, lilacs, can you smell 'em?
You may be wondering why you haven't heard from us in awhile. Things have been wonderfully busy with the onset of the garden-season. In addition, we've been working steadily to finish the house re-model so we can move in and make the Sharing Gardens our permanent home. What follows are garden highlights, gratitude to this season's "share-givers" (volunteers), some timely planting info and ways to be involved. Follow the links for step-by-step garden tips. (News of the land-purchase and farmhouse remodel to follow in future posts.) Enjoy!

February: Start peas...
Early to Bed: Garden season begins in mid-February here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Celery, peas, (LINK- "Tips for Pea-Planting") and onions (LINK - "Growing Onions from Seed") are given a head start in the greenhouse, to be planted out once weather and soil conditions cooperate.
...and onions in the greenhouse.

Many seed crops need two years to develop. Beets, carrots and onions are three examples. In February we re-plant these root-crops (that have lasted since the previous season in our root cellar) into pots, in our greenhouse. Later we will transplant them back into the garden to finish their flowering and seeding process.
Carrots and beets, replanted for seed.
February is also about pruning and planting trees and bushes. OSU students and our neighbor David Crosby joined us in the fun of putting donated plants in the ground, pruning and staking them.

Not the nicest weather but we had a good time anyway. Brad, Chris and Chris planting four-dozen blueberries.
Brad and Llyn, spreading leaves around blueberries for mulch

Brad, planting blueberries. He told us that being in the garden reminded him of hanging out at his immigrant Italian grandparents house when he was a boy.


Getting the fence up was a very important step to protect our new orchard!
David and Llyn tie fruit trees to stakes. We had three dozen trees donated, apples, pears and plums. Next year we'll add hazelnuts and figs!
In early March we start broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower and cabbage. Once they're big enough to be transplanted into the garden, we put collars on them (made from empty soy-milk containers (LINK - "Re-Purposing Things"). We slow down the population of slugs using iron phosphate pellets (Sluggo) which disrupts the digestion of the little critters breaking their cycle of breeding and laying eggs (LINK- "Iron Phosphate; Organic Solution for Slugs"). March is also time to put out nesting boxes for Mason Bees who are emerging from their eggs to re-new the cycle of life (LINK - "Mason Bees - The Friendly Pollinators").
Lettuce and broccoli starts, ready for planting.
Doreen has been a huge help this spring with greenhouse transplanting.
Llyn drills holes in untreated wood-blocks (5/16") for Mason bees.
Gini planting lettuce and showing off a worm. Thanks to all the organic matter we add, our garden is full of them!

Collars made from soy-milk containers protect seedlings from March weather and the few bunnies that manage to squeeze under our fence (left). Lettuce plants in foreground.
Onell piles fresh grass clippings between the plants.
Mulch Mania: All through the spring, we mulch the paths. We use oat or wheat straw (when we can get it) as it has a minimum of seed-heads and spreads easily making a comfortable path for gardeners to crawl along to weed and harvest (LINK - "Benefits of Deep Mulching"). We also put fresh grass clippings between the plants for a slow-release feeding. The clippings act as mulch, keeping moisture near the surface of the ground, feed our resident worm population (our micro-livestock). Their "castings" (worm-poo) then feed the plants.(LINK - "Grass and Leaves - Natural Garden Fertilizers").

Mulching is fun for the whole family, Abel, the youngest of the four Ramos boys lends a hand.

Brianna and Emily - we never heard such giggling in the garden!
Melody and her great-aunt, Doreen.
Onell Ramos and his Mom, Monica.

Onell, Abel and Mom pull last year's old, woody turnips.

Kevin mulches the east gardens.
OSU students plant artichokes and lettuce.
OSU - Service Learning Projects: Several classes at Oregon State Univ. (in Corvallis) have "service-learning" as an integral part of their programs. Each student must complete a four-hour volunteer project and create a simple web-site or poster describing their experience. We have been fortunate to host many of these groups over the years. With two to six students, we can get a lot done in four hours!

Chris and Reilly fill buckets with compost for tomatoes.

Kristen snips the flowers off garlic.

Jason and Chris fill buckets with mint-straw to mulch potatoes.

Potato planting bucket-brigade!

Digging holes and planting potatoes.
Elisa piling compost for tomatoes and squash.
Maple Grove: A year ago we received several dozen maple trees as a donation from Cathy Rose. Here are some pics of OSU students planting them to make two groves for future shade.
Planting our maple groves.
Adri watering peas.
April showers...Through April we continue to start seeds in the greenhouse, transplant the seedlings into bigger pots and transplant starts into the ground. Peas begin to vine up the trellises and it's time to make sure the hoses are fixed and laid out in time for the first hot days. May brings the first harvest of lettuce (yippee!) and anticipation of more fresh, delicious veggies to come.

Chris planting peas - a second crop so we'll have them later in the season!

Courtney and Jenn plant grape cuttings to "root" them.

Doreen and Melody in the greenhouse.


The first planting of peas (in the background) are finally flowering. Won't be long till we can add fresh peas to our salads!
Mid-May lettuce patch.
Let us eat lettuce: Lettuce is finally starting to grow fast! We're harvesting a leaf or two off of each plant. Soon we can harvest whole heads at a time. This year we've planted a new crop of lettuce every 2-3 weeks so, as one crop finishes, the next will be just about ready.
Our first salad of the season!

Gallery of Givers:  The Sharing Gardens operates entirely through volunteers and donations. In addition to all the people you see pictured we also wish to thank: Matt Nelson (our electrician extraordinaire!) and his dad Bob who dropped everything and made fixing up our pump in time to water the gardens his first priority. Ismael Ramos cleans out his rabbit and chicken cages and brings us the goodies. Kate Gillow-Wiles donated a sweet bench for us to take our (far too infrequent) breaks. The Cavenaughs brought us a bunch of Heirloom seeds, Sam and Shirley Stone - windows, firewood, gardening books and more. David Crosby has repeatedly loaned us his tractor and brings us fun-finds from yard sales that we can use in home and garden. The Dillards have donated fencing material and "share" their hired-helper -Thomas- to assist with mowing and weed-wacking when we get overwhelmed. Cindy and Jim Kitchen - though we don't have any pictures of you, we always love to share garden-time. Rick brings us massive amounts of grass-clippings. Mark Frystak delivered two truck-loads of straw on a moment's notice. Lynn and Pat - thank you for your general support and specifically the five buckets of seed potatoes. We think we're finally going to have a decent crop this year!


This tool has your name on i
Ways to get involved: As you can see, folks have been participating in the gardening already though we still don't have regularly scheduled sessions. If you're local and want to come play, just drop us an email and we'll figure out a good time.

Come on down and pick up a tool. We don't want the weeds to grow too high from tools laying idle!

If you're a supporter from far away... Please continue to "forward" and re-post our garden "How-To's" and our posts that you find inspiring. With your help, our readership has risen to over 7,000 hits per month! We have had people coming to our site from just about every country that has a gardening season. It feels good to know that the Sharing Gardens continue to touch people, even when we're staying busy with a hammer or a hoe.

Much love, and we hope to see you soon!