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

Monday, May 6, 2024

15 Years! and Still 'Growing' Strong

Spring's abundance has fully arrived! We're harvesting cart-loads of greens on a bi-weekly basis which we eat ourselves and share with supporters of the gardens. We continue to donate the sizable surplus to food charities. No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown. 

This post shares highlights of what's currently happening at the Sharing Gardens as well as seasonally relevant links. Enjoy! (Pic above: Oregon State University students after a morning of 'service learning' in the gardens. We had a lot of fun with this group! - See more below).

The Sharing Gardens just turned 15! On April 15th 2009 (tax day!) our friend Steve Rose (left) brought his tractor to our original site and broke ground.  It was the beginning of an amazing journey! 

I've had the intention of creating a post with photo-highlights from our previous seasons but we're just really busy at this time of year! Through the years we've made dozens of friends who have helped  in the gardens, had over 750,000 visits to our website and given away thousands of veggie starts and thousands of pounds of incredible, organic produce. We've renovated an 1875 farmhouse which we now live in and this land provides sanctuary to all who come here; human and non-human alike. Perhaps I'll get around to making that photo retrospective next winter!

2024 promises to be another year of abundance. One of the secrets of the Garden's ability to produce comes from Chris' years of experience with 'succession planting'. This means that, as one crop comes out of the ground, it is quickly replaced with another one, so very little of the gardens lay fallow during the peak growing seasons.

Lettuce is a crop that lends itself very well to succession cropping. Here's Jen, one of our newest 'sharegivers' (volunteers) with a head of Slo-bolt lettuce we started back in January. (LINK: Starting lettuce from seed... ) (LINK: Lettuce: Saving Seed
We start our lettuce, first in tofu-containers with holes drilled out of the bottoms (45-60 seeds per container).  Then we transfer each individual seedling into its own egg carton cell.
The advantage of this method is that we just tear off a single plant and plant it directly in the ground without removing the egg carton. The roots of the seedling grow right through the carton cells. This is a good method for any of our sharegivers who are new to gardening (or for kids) because it's so easy to plant the seedlings without damaging the roots.
From January through May, lettuce takes up a sizable proportion of our greenhouse space. All five rows, from left to right, are different varieties of lettuce. As the seasons warm, lettuce gets planted outside and eventually phased out altogether as it doesn't like the full summer's heat. Our greenhouse beds get filled with peppers and tomatoes and other heat-loving crops through the summer and into the fall.
This pic shows a half a week's harvest (late April). About 20% is enjoyed by me and Chris and garden-supporters. The rest goes to food charities. On May 6th we donated 48 pounds of lettuce, kale and beets with greens to Local Aid! (LINK: How it works/Benefits of the Sharing Gardens model)

Suzanne planting celery, April 2024. The large green plants in the upper right corner of the pic are last year's celery's second cutting. Celery is harvested in full by autumn's end and a whole new crop emerges during the winter months. It tends to be a bit more fibrous, but very flavorful so it's great in soups!

Llyn with a summer celery harvest, 2012

Here are two carrot patches, planted about two weeks apart in early and late January of this year. We did our first thinning of carrots that were too crowded in the last week of April. They're really starting to grow in size now.
Imperator carrots, 2023. These are a delicious, sweet and tender variety but they require very loose soil to reach this length. We grow them in our raised beds in the greenhouses.

Potatoes: We've been having greater success with potatoes these past two years. The main reason for this is that we've found we can grow potatoes in our greenhouse raised beds in the winter months when outside, the ground is too saturated and the temperatures too cold.

A bed of potatoes in April.

Donn and Chris beginning to dig that same bed (April 29). It wasn't our highest yield, but the spuds looked beautiful; no scab, no nibbles either from our resident mole population that tunnel all through our land (they seem to prefer eating the worms - of which we have aplenty!). And, if we'd waited till outside conditions were conducive to planting we wouldn't have had any at this time of year.
We have begun, and completed, our first outside batch of potatoes. Here are Chris and Donn digging holes and planting. Each potato 'seed' gets about a gallon-scoop of our premium home-grown compost. Soil is pushed back up in a mound. Grass-clippings are laid on thick in the paths between the potato mounds. Finally, a thick layer of dry leaves (collected last fall from our neighbors and tarped over the winter months) covers the whole bed - see below.

When potatoes begin to sprout, we take them out of the dark and put them on our front porch which gets indirect, northern light. This process, called 'chitting', causes the sprouts to become stout and the potatoes to store up solar energy (they get uniformly green under the skin). Using this method, we've found we can delay needing to plant the potatoes for several months till the ground and weather are more conducive to potato's growth. (LINK: Sprouting potatoes, What to do?)
Service Learning:
This year (2024) marks the 11th year we've been hosting 'service learning' students from Oregon State University. This is an excellent aspect of OSU's curriculum in which students in selected classes (in this case, Soil Science) receive a significant part of their grade from volunteering for four hours in the community. In late April, we had a group of five students from OSU join us for a Saturday morning. These young people were a particularly great bunch; asking tjoughtful, relevant questions, and really putting their backs into the projects we had for them to do. Here are  a few pics from their time with us:
Here, Belle and Trinity from OSU gather leaves to spread on our potato patch.

They got our potato patch completely mulched with leaves!

Adam, Allie and Julia - from OSU - loading the huge compost pile (that's been sitting under a tarp since late fall) into 5-gallon buckets. We estimate that the students filled and distributed about 70 buckets!

Chris drove the buckets out to the fields where he and Adam spread them on tilled ground for summer crops.
The rains threatened all morning but we only had a few misty-sprinkles. As seems to be our lucky pattern on service-learning days, the rains held off in earnest till the young people loaded back into cars to head home.

Here's a photo taken last July, from the same angle as the pic above. By clearing away the giant leaf and compost piles at the entrance to the gardens, the students made way for us to erect our iconic teepees on which we grow our favorite bean for drying and winter storage: the scarlet runner bean. (LINK: Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans ) - (LINK: How to build a bean teepee)

Wildlife patches: When we first began gardening on this land in 2010, most of the three acres was overrun with tall grasses. The only big trees were a white oak, a yellow plum and a very neglected and overgrown golden delicious apple tree. One of the first things we did when we bought the land in 2014, was to begin planting trees. Not only did we plant fruit and nut trees, but we planted large amounts of aspen in groves. These were to break up the monotony of the grass, add to our supply of leaves (for composting) and to begin to provide some habitat for wildlife. Over the years we've added shrubs and wildflowers and allowed the grasses to fill back in between them.

Here's one of the original aspen groves. The aspens are 10 years old. This view, looks north (yellow farmhouse in the background, blue/grey workshop to the right).  There are some wild hazelnut bushes to the right, within the grove. We just planted yellow-willow and gooseberries in the strip of leaves in the foreground *that we grew from cuttings we'd rooted).

This is a similar view taken in 2010, the first year we gardened here. The dilapidated shed in the foreground was the pump-house for our well (it's been replaced). The grey shed behind it is the blue-grey workshop shown above. The greenish shed to the right became our garden shed. The aspen grove is now, what would have been the center of this picture.

Recently we've begun learning about the concept of food forests or guilds. These are patches of perennial plants with multi-levels (flowers, shrubs and trees) that fulfill multiple functions of feeding humans and providing habitat for the non-human kin that share this land. Here's the latest 'food forest guild/wildlife patch' we've begun this year. We've laid down a woven synthetic 'cloth' called 'road carpet' to kill the grass (salvaged from a retired nursery; not purchased new). We're covering it with leaves. After a year, we'll remove the 'cloth' so weeds and grass don't permanently root it into the ground. Currently, there are five blueberry bushes already planted there. We'll add trees, other shrubs and perennial flowers after the road carpet is removed.

Jen - carting leaves to fill in our new food forest/patch.

Suzanne removing leaves from the aspen grove shown above so it will be easier to plant the yellow-willow and gooseberry plants we grew from cuttings we started in previous seasons. After planting, we put the leaves back for mulch.
As we were clearing leaves to plant the perennials in the old patch, we were thrilled to discover the first salamander we've ever seen on our land! There are no year-round creeks nearby (for reproduction) and we're not sure how this little one came to be on this land but we're happy that, for now, we're providing sanctuary.

Relevant, seasonal links:

Wish List: Here's our latest wish list (updated in January). The most needed item is a digital camera that takes decent pictures, that has rechargable batteries and will slip easily into a pocket.

Making Your Own "Veganic" Potting Soil in Your Greenhouse Paths - Using Worms: Growing food without the use of animal by-products, manures or commercial fertilizers is core to what we do. This post provides step by step instructions for our methods.

If you're excited about growing native plants, providing habitat and re-wilding the planet, here's a link for you: Good news about Re-wilding Our Planet or: Sharing the Gardens with Wild Critters

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

And then the rains came!

Well folks, in the past month or so, the southern Willamette valley where we live has been under repeated waves of deluging downpours that have swelled the watershed drainage at the back of the land to a shallow creek over fifteen feet across. In the fourteen years that we've grown food on this land, there was only one other winter with such persistent and extreme flooding. I'm not sure how much extra housework we got done (above) but we are so very grateful for our greenhouse/grow tunnels which have allowed us to get a jump on starting seeds. The other big weather challenge we faced since our last post was a four-night stretch of sub-freezing temps.

This post is about how the food we started to grow in early January has fared and the ways we've mitigated these extremes in the weather. This post also includes many live LINKS to seasonally relevant articles. Enjoy!

Rain is always a challenge here in the winter so, even though this was a rainier winter than average, it hasn't really slowed us down too much; we have hundreds of veg-starts and perennial herb and flower plants already thriving in pots, and hundreds more plants already in the ground. 

Chris planted our first carrot crops on January 5th in the greenhouse raised beds he completely rebuilt in December. They're doing beautifully.

By mid-January, Chris began starting other cold-tolerant crops including beets, lettuce, kale, collards and cabbage. We make all our own potting mix and use re-purposed tofu containers, with holes drilled in the bottoms to germinate seeds and 'pot-up' the seedlings once they're big enough (right).

Chris re-built all our raised beds in our two main greenhouses during December. He managed to save the wonderful soil we'd already accumulated over the years. Every winter we also add more of our amazing home-grown compost, generated right in the greenhouse paths. (LINK: How we grow...Veganic Community-based gardening) Note: Rows of red and green lettuce in the beds behind him and in front of him, and potted seedlings in the path he's crawling along. This pic was taken March 6th.

This pic was taken just four days later on March 10th. Everything is growing so well now! Red Russian kale on left with Four Seasons red and Slo-bolt green lettuce above the kale (LINK: Planting Lettuce (or other cool-weather loving crops) from seed). The dominant seedlings in the GH path are cabbage and more kale plants, primarily for sharing. The white specks in the raised bed to the right are perlite which is a natural material derived from volcanic glass which helps soil drain better LINK: Perlite. It's the only commercial additive we use in making our potting mix. We also mix it into all our greenhouse raised beds.

In between the heavy downpours, we have had a couple of sunny stretches that allowed the land to drain and dry out enough to harvest some grass clippings. Leaves and grass are all we put in our greenhouse paths. These turn to compost over the full garden season and we harvest the compost in the autumn to use throughout the gardens (LINK: Making Your Own "Veganic" Potting Soil in Your Greenhouse Paths - Using Worms )

Though we've had to cancel close to half the Monday share-giver (volunteer) sessions this winter due to inclement weather, we have had two dedicated folks who seem to be just about as crazy for gardening and the fellowship that it brings throughout all the seasons as Chris and I - Donn and Suzanne. I know that all four of us have really looked forward to being together on Monday mornings with our hands and knees and hearts touching the Earth. If you're local and itching to get your hands in the dirt, here's info about joining our share-givers (volunteers) this spring.

Here's Suzanne on Feb. 12th, planting lettuce starts. These are the same ones shown in the pics above. They're really growing fast now. Soon, we'll start harvesting a leaf or two off each one for fresh salads.

We've had two large donations of firewood this season. Here are Donn and Chris splitting oak and cherry which will dry through the summer and be ready to use next season. Donn loans us the use of the hydraulic splitter and helps with the collecting and splitting of the wood and keeps much of the wood to heat his home too.

Winter garden-time often includes wonderful conversations around the wood stove in the Sunship-greenhouse. We use the wood ash throughout the gardens and orchards to mineralize the soil. (LINK: Coffee Grounds and Wood Ash for Soil Fertility)

COLD! Aside from the epic January ice storm that we wrote about in our previous post (LINK: A Love Like That! Historic ice storm...) we also had a severe cold snap a few weeks ago with several nights in a row where temps dipped into the high 20's. This put our greenhouse potato crop at high risk of frost damage.

In 2023 we experimented for the first time with growing potatoes in our greenhouses. We had a bunch of potatoes sprouting from the crop we'd harvested in October of 2022 but it was still too cold and wet outside to plant them. The experiment was a success so we repeated it this winter. 

Potatoes are very susceptible to the cold and, if their leaves get frosted hard enough it can either cause the potato to form a hollow in its center, or even kill the plant outright. So, since the greens have grown above the leaf mulch, on any nights that are even approaching the freezing mark, we have blanketed them in three layers of a polyester cloth specifically designed as an agricultural "row cover"...

...followed by a tarp.

So far, so good! (Image: March 18th)
WET: As I mentioned above, rain is a normal part of a western Oregon winter! We are so incredibly grateful that we have so much of our gardens under the protection of our greenhouses (just under 3,000 sq/ft). The water line that goes from our well to the spigots in our gardens is not, however, cold-proof! At the first sign of a hard freeze (usually in late November) we have to shut off and drain the garden's water lines. This means we must rely on the collection of rainwater for our seedlings throughout the coldest part of the winter.

Chris, setting up a row of rain buckets to capture this free gift from the sky...

The buckets lined up under the drip line of our garden shed roof fill the fastest (above). Those are food-grade soy sauce buckets a friend scored from his work in a deli. The racks above are storing bamboo poles. Bamboo rots really fast if in direct contact with wet ground but otherwise will last for many years (we harvested this bamboo in 2011).

Here's a walk down memory lane! Here's the same side of our garden shed before we built the bamboo racks. Chris made the sign for our original garden site in Alpine (2009/2010).

After collecting water in the buckets we pour it into large trashcans and dip out of these to fill our watering cans. The willow branches (above) are said to add a mild 'rooting hormone' to the water which we figure probably helps all our seedlings to do well.

But, as the saying goes, "along with rain, come the rainbows!" (Actually, I've never heard that saying but it seems a good segue - teehee). Here are a few of our favorite Sharing Garden rainbows from over the years: Enjoy!

The greenhouse pictured is, fittingly, named the 'Ark'!

This picture of a double rainbow is taken from our front yard, looking north. The building behind the gorgeous fall trees is the old Methodist Church which was bought by the S. Benton Food Pantry (one of the charities we donate to) and converted to a community center.

Here's a view of the front of our house.

...and here's a rainbow that appeared over the first greenhouse we built at our current site shortly after we finished it in 2011.

And lastly, here are some seasonally relevant posts for fruit and vegetable and flower gardeners:

For vegetable growers, starting plants from seed:
Starting lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale and other cool weather-loving crops - from seed.
Starting Seedlings Directly in Greenhouse Raised Beds 

If you're not growing vegetables but you want to help the pollinators in your area, here's a useful post: Why growing sunflowers is great for bees...and how to grow and process sunflowers for birdseed and sprouts

If you have grape vines and need some tips on pruning:
Best Video on Pruning Table Grapes!

And lastly, a profound and moving Ted Talk video by Peter Owen Jones: Beyond Nations, Ownership and Competition