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

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sharing the Gardens with Wild Critters

Little Adri, picking dandelion heads.
When I was a little girl, walking the few, quiet, tree-lined blocks to school, I used to pretend I was a benevolent queen for the critters and plants along the way. When I saw a plant who's stem had broken, I'd lean it on its neighbors and instruct them to take care of their wounded comrade till strength and vigor returned. A pair of doves lived in the neighborhood and I enjoyed their crooning as if they were calling out to me personally as I passed. I imagined that when I was "grown up" I'd like to have a house that was so full of plants and critters inside that you couldn't quite tell when you left outside.

Sometimes it seems I got my wish (though I'm not sure I ever did grow up)!  I have to admit, now that it's up to me and Chris to do the housekeeping (thanks, Mom for all those years that it was mainly your job!) that I've had to reconsider just how much of the house I want to share with the 'creepy-crawlies' and the 'skitterers'.

House-plants on the porch, in summer...

...become part of winter's interior decor.
We don't really enjoy clouds of fruit-flies. House-flies can be awfully annoying as they buzz about or land on my nose when I'm trying to catch a little afternoon nap. Enter: Homer. Homer is the name we give to all the spiders that have colonized the many window-corners in our house. The bedroom window is home to multiple generations of ambush-hunters.  They don't build webs but lurk out of site and rush in to gobble up the gnats and fruit-flies that are drawn to window-light.

Some big, brown spiders are the masters of the web. In the Fall, when the flies get lazy and repeatedly bap their heads against the windows trying to get out, inevitably a few of them stray into web-land only to be wrapped in silk and saved for later times when food is scarce and Mama Spider needs extra sustenance to lay her clutch of eggs thus beginning the cycle anew.

This isn't the kind of spiders we have in our house but, you've got to admit he's cute!
Though we meant to seal all the nooks and crannies that a Mouse might enter, in a 141 year-old house, it's nearly impossible to find every one! During the summer months the pickin's are always better outside so we don't see much evidence of the little squeekers. But as nights get cold and the gardens are put to bed, the farmhouse gains in appeal. We have a few live-traps that we bait with peanut butter and cereal. A dish of water and some bedding adds to the appeal. Each morning, part of our winter routine is to see if anyone has checked into the Deluxe Mouse-Shuttle.

At first, before the winter rains started in earnest, the Mice received a one-way ticket to the compost bins. This gave them a ready food source while they established winter living quarters. But as winter wore on, we began to feel concern that, without shelter nearby, the mice would likely perish slowly from the cold/wet conditions so we began releasing them into one of the greenhouses. This worked fine...for awhile. Everyone was happy and the stream of House-Mice dwindled.

But then came pea-planting time. We like to start peas in the greenhouses so we have an earlier harvest.

Sara picking greenhouse peas.
Guess who has a taste for baby pea shoots...ah, yes, the Greenhouse-Mouse-Family. So, what to do? Have you ever put too much cayenne powder on something you were cooking? Did its heat bite your tongue? Did it make you sneeze? Well, it turns out it has the same effect on Mice! A few applications of the hot-powder sprinkled on the seedlings cured the Mice of their culinary habits! Problem solved.

Now that it's warm again, the compost piles are back to being the home of choice. Plenty of food to go around there!

Summer-time, and there's lots to eat, outside!
We have a family of ground squirrels living in our walls. We began noticing the mama squirrel a year ago, sunning herself atop our wood-pile and making furtive visits to our bird-feeders to fill her cheeks with sunflower seeds and millet. We'd heard her scrabbling in our walls and were amazed at her capacity for digging by burrowing under a 6-foot wide cement pad to have her exit hole from the house be as close as possible to this free and easy food source. We didn't realize she was "with-child" though until one day she appeared at our dining-room window to let us know that, "The bird-feeder is empty and I'm hungry!".

As she sat on the window-sill, we could see that she'd been nursing her babies. Once she knew she had our attention she hopped down to the porch and put her paws on the container of bird-seed, looking over her shoulder at us. She then hopped back up on the sill and peered through the glass as if to underline her point..."Where's my supper?!". Needless to say, we fed her right away and kept it up till we knew she'd weaned the babes and so could forage wider-afield.

Mama Squirrel and Chris eyeing each other.

Adri cleaning the bird-bath
Chris and I feel  happy knowing that our home and gardens provide shelter and food for so much wildlife. Each year we add a few more birdhouses, plant more bird and butterfly-food among the peppers and squash, peas and beans. The brush-pile has become a small hill full of nooks and crannies -- home to many critters. The clusters of un-mowed berry-bushes and grass-lands grow in size. Bunnies, snakes and birds increasingly call our home, their home.

It is a "sharing" garden, after all!

Update: Lest you think we're living in some sort of Utopia, in perfect balance with the wild critters around us...Just hours after I first published this post, I went walking in the gardens and discovered a big ol' bunny happily making its way down a row of cabbage and lettuce and helping himself to every third or fourth plant. Arrrgh! Guess who's going to be surprised when he comes back tonight and finds a dusting of cayenne has been added to the buffet!?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sowing Seeds of Generosity

Sowing Seeds of Generosity - Service-Learning at the Sharing Gardens
You'd think that there wouldn't be much to do during the winter months in a garden. It's true, things do slow down a bit but it's amazing how much there still is to get done! We've had a variety of repair and restoration projects to attend to as well as pruning, turning compost piles, sifting soil and preparing garden beds. We're expanding our fence-line (again!) and constructing another greenhouse. As of February, we've begun planting seedlings for our use and to support other "sharing"-type gardens in the area. Here is a gallery of some of the garden-highlights from the winter season at the Sharing Gardens including pictures of many of the students who have come to help from a local university.

The ribs of our fourth, biggest and final (!) greenhouse (30' x 50')
We scored a huge stack of free lumber. Chris has been "ripping" it on the table-saw for various garden-uses: domes, tomato A-frame "ladders" and stakes.

We've cut, assembled and painted pieces for two domes. Pictured here are pieces for the larger one. This will be set up in our orchard, under an oak tree providing a little "get-away" for overnight campers.

Here's Chris painting one of the pieces for the smaller dome - an eye-catching centerpiece for the garden that our smallest gardeners can play on, and around.
Here's Llyn pruning the old apple-tree. It had been sorely neglected so it's taking a few years to bring it down in height and to balance the weight of its branches.
Winter provides time for indoor crafts. Here's Llyn making a rug with strips of old blankets....
...and painting signs in the art "studio" we set up in the dining room.

Planting the tower.
Chris found plans for this strawberry tower and, using materials we already had lying around, built, and filled this beautiful and productive (we hope!) "fountain of food".
It's been a wet winter in Oregon (thank goodness, as the mountain snow-pack was getting dangerously low). Here's a picture of our rain-water collection system (we shut down the outside water-lines in winter). Rainwater is actually more beneficial to plants than ground water, it contains nitrogen and sulphur in a form readily accessible - LINK.
Our relationship with Oregon State University (OSU) continues to deepen. We had 23 students participate in "service-learning" projects this winter. Typically we'll have six students, for four hours at a time. We stage a variety of projects for them to do. Their time with us also includes a popcorn break (seasoned with Bragg's Liquid Aminos - kinda like soy-sauce - and nutritional yeast - also known as "hippie dust" yum!). During this break we engage them in conversations about sustainability and the state of the environment. Sadly, for most, it seems that deep conversations of this nature are a rarity and we must coax them to express themselves freely. But, once they relax, many share openly about the many challenges their generation is facing and the hopes they have for making the world a better place. Very gratifying! Though many of them are unfamiliar with using simple hand-tools, they eagerly embrace the opportunity to learn. And all of them, it seems, truly relish the simple pleasure of getting their hands in the dirt!

Ally and Athira process willow cuttings for re-planting in our wetlands restoration project in the soggy corner of our land.
Jennie, Stevie and Llyn empty compost bins to build up soil in the gardens.
Reilly sifts coffee - a fantastic soil-amendment - while Chris breathes in the wonderful aroma!
Cameron cuts the bottoms off pots (to be used as collars for young plants' protection) while Aaron sifts soil so it is fine enough for starting seedlings.
Llyn and Tara prepare garden-beds by digging in grass clippings and leaves.

Tomena and Tara use the cart to gather tree-prunings. These are added to a brush pile in the back part of the land to provide habitat for birds and small animals. Logan carries 'cages' he's pulled off our grape vines in preparation for pruning.
Ashley and Nicki transplant tomatoes.
Winter is a time for repairs and restoration...Stevie adds some bright color to one of the saw-horses. We can use your old, exterior paint. CLICK HERE to see our complete wish-list.
This picture, taken March 5th, shows the greenhouse filling with baby seedlings. The season has begun!
Chris and Alex turning the compost pile. "You can never have too much compost!"
Morgan gently holds one of the two baby garter snakes we found clearing mulch from one of the greenhouse garden-beds. We also found a little lizard that day too. Organic gardening provides habitat to a multitude of critters.

This winter we were invited to give a slide-show at OSU for one of the classes in sustainable living that sends us service-learning students.

There were about 35 students in the class. We began by giving them a brief overview of the Sharing Gardens and then opened it up for questions. We're always happy to see that interest in our project goes beyond the simple "how-to's" of gardening and delves deeper into the philosophy of caring and generosity that the project is based on.
Service-learning students must complete a final project - either a poster, or a power-point presentation. We like to attend the poster-presentations. Very inspiring to see the final projects of over 150 students performing all kinds of community-service.
To Bella, our dear, little friend, service-learning comes naturally!
We are always so appreciative of the willingness to be of service that we witness in the students who come help us in the gardens. At the end of the day, a student asked me where to put the hand-tools his group had been using and I waved him to the greenhouse. "Oh, just put them in there," I said (so they'd be safe from the pending rain). Imagine my delight when I came inside later and found this neat display of tools all laid out ready for the next group of gardeners.

Does one of these tools have your name on it? LINK to our volunteer-information page.
We love our service-learning "kids"!
Our intern Heather - a true delight!
Heather Bullock, one of the service-learning students from January 2015, went on to become an intern with us through the summer. She came for an over-night each week and participated in all aspects of growing and storing food. She was a wonderful addition to our "family" and we became very close. Here is a LINK to a beautiful essay she wrote about her experience with us entitled, "A Gift of Gratitude". Enjoy!