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

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!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans

by Chris Burns
Just like snow flakes, you'll never find two that look exactly alike,  attesting to Nature's infinite variety of expression!
Have you ever seen these beautiful beans for sale at any market?  Would you even know what they were if I didn't tell you?  Don't they look like some kind of 'Magic Bean' that Jack of 'The Beanstalk' fame might have planted?  If you haven't guessed by now, I'll tell you. They're Scarlet Runner Beans and they're called that for two good reasons.  One, they have the most intensely scarlet red flowers, and Two, they 'run' up any pole, tree, fence or trellis that happens to be close to where they are growing.  If you've never grown them then maybe it's time to consider giving them a place in your garden.

I've grown them many times before, but up until recently I always considered them to be strictly 'ornamental'.  Don't know why!  Perhaps it's because they were described that way in the catalog from which I ordered my first seeds.  As you can see in the pictures posted with this article, they add exquisite beauty to any garden patch. It wasn't until 2011 that I sampled them as cooked, dried beans and discovered their beauty is only rivaled by their delicious flavor!
Scarlet Runners vining up the bamboo trellis. We grew a 70-foot row last year and are doubling it in the 2013 season.
These beauties grow steadily to a dramatic height of 10-12 feet (or more) and need a sturdy trellis of some sort to support the weight of their generous profusion of bean pods (we used bamboo poles tied to a wire pulled taught between t-posts). For those who enjoy attracting pollinators to your garden, you'll likely find (as we did) that the flowers regularly attract hummingbirds and many beneficial insects. (If you have cats, best not to grow the runners as we've heard sad tales of hummingbirds being caught and killed by those furry, domestic predators).

The pods are deliciously sweet when they are young and tender (about 3-4 inches long).  So sweet, in fact that it was the first thing our two teen-age garden-helpers would seek out and munch on whenever they came to the gardens.

Bean pod-loving teens!
If it's mainly green beans that you're looking for though, it's probably best to grow another variety like 'Blue Lake' or 'Contender' which provide you with more of a volume at each picking.  These Scarlet Runners tend to produce pods steadily over a longer season but they become tough and stringy if they aren't picked on the small side.  The reason they probably aren't grown commercially for dried beans is that they must be hand-picked. At the Sharing Gardens we've turned this limitation into an asset as the weekly bean-picking was a task that folks with back and knee-issues could accomplish easily standing up. After a few days laid out on screens in the greenhouse the husks were dry enough to split open easily by hand. This was a task that many volunteers (share-givers), who weren't able to do more strenuous tasks,  found fun and relaxing; it also provided an opportunity to sit in the shade and chat with new found friends. These beautiful beans are rather large --about the size of a fat Lima bean-- and therefore yield enough to make a pot of soup-beans in a short time. If you're serious about growing your own protein-source, Scarlet Runners make an excellent choice.
But the best kept secret of all is just how delicious the dried beans are. They have a mild flavor and, unlike Fava beans, their skin is thin (not even noticeable) and they have a velvety texture.

A bamboo tipi provides a trellis for beans and beautifully frames our garden helpers.
Recipe: To cook these beans for eating, soak them over night just like you would any other, with about 1/3 beans to 2/3 water in a stainless or cast iron pot.  Pour off the water the next day; rinse the beans with fresh water and put them back in the pot. Add fresh water until the level is about 2-3 inches over the beans.  Don't add any salt because it won't allow the beans to absorb the water as they cook and they'll never soften.  I like to cook them on the woodstove in the winter.   These beans stay very firm when they're finished cooking but can be easily mashed and used as refries, or made into a hearty chile with tomatoes, onions, peppers and Mexican spices.  I cook up a large pot at a time and, once rinsed and cooled, I pack them into smaller zip-lock bags which I stack in the freezer to add to stir-fried kale and leeks with potatoes all winter long. Instant dinner!

Be creative! Sometimes just a plain ole' bowl of beans with olive oil, soy sauce, finely chopped onions and grated cheese is all you need to get you in the mood to go outside and brave the winter elements.

Anyway, if you want to enjoy these wonderful and versatile garden gems, the time to plant is coming up soon! (late May or first week of June in our region)  If any of our local readers need seed  please let us know and we'll get you started, and you can save your own for next year.  Happy Gardening!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Crocuses, Onions and Peas, Oh My!

First crocuses of 2014
The last of the fourteen inches of our February snow have melted though rivers are still running high from recent heavy rains. Here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, it still feels like winter is hanging on a bit but just in the last few days we noticed crocuses blooming in our yard; always a sign of spring's approach.

Another sign of spring's arrival includes getting peas and onions started in the greenhouse which is what we did last week.

Here are links to articles we have written about the techniques we use to get a jump-start on pea and onion growing.

We continue to plug away at the old farmhouse renovations. Still lots to be done but we hope we can begin moving in by late-March. Here are a few pics:

An upstairs bedroom. All exterior walls have been retro-fitted with rigid foam insulation and 1/4" paneling. Should be very cozy! Painting begins soon.

We're creating our own kitchen cabinetry out of second-hand drawer-units and old solid-core doors for counter-tops. We're installing our own plumbing but have hired a great guy to re-do all the electric. Don't want to take any chances with faulty wiring.
We're re-sheathing the whole outside as the original siding is over 100 years-old and, in places, showing signs of extreme wear. The upright poles are framing for our wood-shed. We'll be heating exclusively with wood. All windows and doors have been replaced with double-paned glass.
Gratitude to Steve Rose for grape and basket-willow cuttings; Courtney Childs for grape cuttings and his sunny disposition! If they all root, it looks like we'll have plenty of canes to share--let us know if you're interested in starting some grapes in your own garden. And thanks as well to Al and Arlene Looney for their donation of walnut/laminate flooring; it will really tie things together nicely at the old farmhouse.

If you're local and would like to come join the fun, be sure to let us know! Here's a link to our volunteer (share-givers) info-page.

We hope that signs of spring are showing up in your neck of the woods!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Gallery of Givers

Highlights from 2013

Janeece and Kime, rinsing beets.

Carrots and beets ready for juicing!
With over 13" of snow piled up in our yard, and an icy rain falling, it seems like a good time to reflect back to last year's garden season and celebrate the many people and bounteous fruits and vegetables that helped make the Sharing Gardens possible.

Early in the season. That's a big patch of Fava beans in the foreground (light green) - We use them as a cover-crop; and the dark green row is Toscana Kale that wintered over. Yumm,,,spring greens!
 Beans and other legumes, through a symbiotic relationship with "nitrogen-fixing bacteria" can pull nitrogen (the building block of protein) right out of the air and make it available to the plant. This is why beans are relatively high in protein and why Fava's make a good "green manure" because when you till it in, all that nitrogen is now available for other crops to access.This is what the nodules look like on Fava beans (little pinkish-white clumps on the roots).

Dave Roux was a big help with fencing.
In 2013, we expanded the Sharing Gardens by adding a second greenhouse built out of a carport frame (LINK), and an additional garden area of about 80' x 100'.
Chris roto-tills in a cover-crop of rye-grass.
Llyn and Danielle mulching paths.

Spring time always involves spreading lots of mulch. Leaves, straw and grass clippings from the previous year have mostly been consumed by worms and other "micro-livestock" from below.

Dave Hall and Chris loading grass/hay into a wheelbarrow for distribution.
Jim Kitchen
The gardens are adjacent to a large field that grows waist-high with grass. When mowed and piled it begins to heat up from within beginning the decomposition process. This grass/hay is a great source of fertility for the gardens. That's Jim with an armload (right).

Cindy Kitchen with a big armload.
Another spring-time process to feed the soil is making "tea" from various kinds of manure soaked in water and poured at the roots of plants. We've used rabbit, llama and steer manure for this purpose.

Llyn, straining buckets of manure tea.
Chris and Gini-planting.
Each week, from June through October,we have three regular garden sessions. Our share-givers (volunteers) typically have a regularly scheduled day they come. Together we care for all the garden's needs: planting, weeding, mulching, fertilizing, pruning, harvesting. In turn, share-givers take home the food they can use, receive an education in organic gardening practices and have the satisfaction of contributing to a project that helps feeds many hungry people in our county.

Gail. Chris and Cindy, planting. Little Adri picks marigolds on the right.

Llyn's sister, Jennie (on rt.) helps mulch onions. Jesse, in pink helps too.
Llyn's Mom, Judy always makes an extended visit to the gardens each summer. Here she is picking pears from the trees in our yard.
Grandma Cindy, and Adri in the Swiss chard patch.

Adri's Grandpa Jim rinses beets.

Adri picks dandelion heads to make medicinal tea for their ageing cat. Adri's been coming since she had to be toted around in a back-pack.

  Chris and Anell taking a little time just to sit and visit.

Simple, summer pleasures! Our well-water is delicious. Many of our share-givers fill up jugs each week to take home for drinking water.
Another great year for celery (left). We put collars around it to "blanch" it, keeping it tender and juicy.
A garden cart (right) loaded with beets, cabbage, cucumbers and zucchini to take over to the South Benton Food Pantry. They feed 20 - 30 families a week and often, our produce is the only thing fresh for them to choose from.
Vicki, Gail Doreen and Llyn with harvest for the food pantry. Such abundance!

Onion planting is slow and meditative. That's the 1875 farmhouse we're renovating (back, rt.) and the carport greenhouse on the left.

There's a good reason they named this variety of sunflower Autumn Beauties!
What do you say, let's do it again in 2014!!