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

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Saving Tomato Seeds

Striped German - Heirloom tomato
One of the missions of the Sharing Gardens is to educate people about the importance of seed-saving and to offer techniques to demystify this process. Today's blog covers the practical steps necessary for saving one of the home-gardener's favorite fruits: the tomato! If you're new to seed-saving tomatoes are good to start with because of their relative simplicity.

In order to save seeds that will "grow true" and produce fruit similar to the one you saved seeds from, you must start with an "heirloom" or "open-pollinated" (OP) variety (not hybrid). Hybrid seeds are artificially created by seed companies to produce plants with unique qualities (early ripening, bug resistance etc). The problem is that they don't "breed true". If you save seed from hybrids, next year's plants may or may not be what you want. If you wish to save seeds, choose seeds or starts that say "open pollinated", OP, heirloom or non-hybrid.
"Heirloom" tomatoes come in all types: here are large paste-tomatoes called "Long Toms"
OK, so lets say you have grown some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and you're ready to save seeds. If you have more than one plant to pick from, choose the plant that is healthiest, most robust, earliest to ripen and with the largest and/or best-tasting fruit. Then, pick one or two fruits that are the best examples of these same qualities.. If there are other people who harvest from your garden, put a twist-tie, or in some other way mark the fruit so no one picks it prematurely. We often use onion or citrus bags (plastic, stretchy netting) so we can actually cover the fruit, making it clear that it's not to be picked. Let the fruit come to fullest maturity possible. It's OK even if it starts to rot a little.

Black Krim (below) and Striped German
Here are two heirloom tomato varieties we saved for seed this year (right). We saved them as beautiful examples of color, juiciness and size. That's a Black Krim on the bottom and a Striped German on the top.

In saving seed, you wish to mimic nature's process. Have you ever noticed what happens to the tomatoes left in the garden after the first frost? They turn to a slimy mush, with the fruit eventually dissolving away from the seed. In the following year, robust little volunteers emerge from where the tomato rotted. The way we mimic this process: Remove the stem from your chosen tomato and put it in the blender with enough water to fill a quart jar. Whiz it in the blender, at a low speed, just long enough to separate seeds from fruit. Don't worry about the seeds. They have a protective gel that keeps the blades from harming them. Pour them into a wide-mouth glass jar. Be sure to swirl the blender as you pour the last liquid out so no seeds are left in the bottom. If you're processing more than one tomato variety in a row, rinse the blender well so you don't mix seed varieties. Label the jar so you remember the variety of seeds you're saving.

The next step is to leave them to "rot". To minimize fruit-flies secure a piece of cheese cloth over the opening with a rubber-band or canning-jar ring. Leave them in the open jar for 4-7 days. When it's warm outside, the process will go faster. Stir them once or twice a day with a chopstick to help separate the seed from the pulp. The pulp and non-viable seeds will form a layer at the top. The healthy seeds will sink to the bottom. Look for a nice scum to form on the top. Mold is OK. The picture on the left is of two varieties of tomato seeds in process. The ones on the right were just blended so no layers have formed. The ones on the left have been sitting a few days. The other picture shows the quality of the scum that has formed on the tomatoes once they are ready for the next step. Notice the bubbles which indicate a mild fermentation process.













The last step is to dry the seeds. Spoon out the scum and pour off most of the water. The viable seeds will have sunk to the bottom but be careful not to pour them out with the pulp/water. Add more water, allow to settle and continue to pour off excess flesh. Repeat this process till you've removed the majority of the flesh. Then pour the seeds through a fine-mesh strainer and rinse them in the strainer. Let them drip-dry and then tap them onto a piece of tin-foil, a jar-lid or other non-porous surface. We find that the lid to a plastic tub (like a yogurt container) works best as it's flexible and we can "pop" off the seeds after they've dried. Seeds will stick to paper towel or napkins. Transfer your label to the drying seeds and leave them to dry for a week or so. Be sure they are thoroughly dry before storage so they don't mold in the bag, envelope or jar.

Each seed-saver has his or her preference for containers to store seeds in. We use clean, small plastic bags or recycled plastic pill-bottles or other small jars. The most important thing is to keep your whole seed collection in a dry, dark environment with moderate temperatures, in air-tight containers. Avoid freezing or excessive heat. Stored well, tomato seeds can remain viable for many years.

Tomato seeds drying.


The Sharing Gardens is a registered non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist entirely through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a small donation through PayPal. (Click button below.)


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Making Pumpkin Pie from Scratch - Recipe

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

(This is re-posted from October 2020) 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, because of the tremendously hot and dry summer, almost all our winter-squash (the types we use to make pie-filling) finished ripening well before the first frost so we harvested them anyway. They're not as sweet as when they've been frosted but every bit as nutritious.

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 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 400
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 down 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. If you’ve chosen one of the juicier squashes, you’ll have best results by putting the pieces in a large colander over a bowl to drain any excess juice. The juice makes a delicious soup stock. I used to peel off the skins but found that they can be food-processed and taste just fine.


If you baked more squash than you’re prepared to deal with, you can freeze it and thaw to make filling at a later time. Freeze in 2-cup batches.

Sydney w/ a Provence

Yummy Natural Pumpkin Pie Filling 
YIELD: Filling for one, 9” pie.
Preheat oven to 365

In a food processor (a blender will not work), combine:

2 eggs (sorry, we haven't perfected a vegan version yet...)
2 cups squash/pumpkin

2/3 cup brown sugar
2 TBSP powdered milk (or soy protein powder*)
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp salt

½ cup soy milk, cow’s milk, almond or coconut milk

Begin with eggs, alone. Mix thoroughly.
Add squash. Puree till smooth. Check to be sure there are no pumpkin lumps.
Add milk and all dry ingredients making an effort to distribute spices evenly. Mix in well.

* (not soy-flour).

Pour into your favorite pie shell and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour at 375 or until the pie is golden-brown, the middle is reasonably firm (it will get firmer as it cools) and before the crust gets too brown. Cool on wire rack before eating. Cover and chill to store.

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. Freeze in 2-cup batches so you can thaw them, one pie at a time.

James and Jaye holding Buttercups; a drier, sweet, golden squash.

Flaky Rolled Pie Crust – YIELD: Two 9” pies without top shells

1 ¼  cups unbleached pastry flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup sunflower oil (chilled is best)
1/3 cup ice water

Mix the flours 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 fit dough into tin. Freeze extra pie crust, in a pie-tin, in a plastic bag for later use.

Llyn, with Sugar-pie pumpkins.


The Sharing Gardens is a non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist entirely through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a donation through PayPal. (Click button below.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Baking Delicata Squash

Delicata squash - one of our favorites!
Mmmm, we baked some of our Delicata squash last night. Boy was it delicious! here's how we prepared it.

Delicata skins are quite thin and tasty so we always wash them well so we can eat them once they're baked. Preheat oven to 375 - 400F degrees

Slice the squash open the long way and scoop out the seeds.
The seeds are probably too small to be worth baking. We just put them in our compost and the mice enjoy finding them.

Lightly oil the bottom of a shallow baking pan. This will make it much easier to wash later.

Spread butter or salted oil on the inside of the squash. This pic shows about how much to use on each one.

...and place them in the pan face down and cover with tin-foil - this helps keep the moisture in so the squash stays moist during baking.
Bake for 40 minutes (until you can easily poke a fork into them).

Take the squash out of the oven, remove tin-foil and turn them face-up and put them back in the oven and bake for another 10-15 min till they start to brown a bit.
Enjoy!

We grow a variety of bush Delicata. Here's a row of them.
Delicata are ripe (or cured) when the skin is too hard to dent with your fingernail (this is true of all winter-squash). Here's are three crates we harvested in 2017. They store for several months if kept in a cool, dry place - out of the direct sun.




Friday, June 18, 2021

It Takes a Village...Gratitude and update

It's been a beautiful spring this year. Though much of eastern Oregon is experiencing severe drought, the Willamette Valley, where we live, has been receiving adequate rainfall, spaced nicely apart. This keeps the grass growing (a major source of mulch and compost-building) and has meant that we spend less time hand-watering our outside crops which is especially crucial when they're first sown or transplanted.

March in the Ark greenhouse.

May in the Sunship greenhouse. Scarlet runner beans (left) were seeded in January and now (mid-June) are already loaded with beans!

Though we're in a bit of a lull now between the spring greens (lettuce, kale and such) and summer's bounteous, heat-loving crops, we've still managed to fill six CSA boxes per week, feed ourselves and our volunteers and still been able to donate a surplus of over 180 pounds of vegetables to food charities in our area. Once the summer bounty comes on, the number will go way up!

Chris, transplanting clusters of bunching onions.

Our largest greenhouse, the Sunship, had the honor of hosting a litter of three baby bunnies last month. One of our volunteers was startled by the mulch moving just inches from where he was preparing a bed for planting. They've already left the nest just two weeks after we discovered them. Hopefully the neighborhood cats won't find them. The wild rabbits have never been a problem in our garden as they seem to prefer eating the clover in our lawns to any domesticated veggies we grow.

Three baby bunnies the first day we found them nested in the mulch in our greenhouse.

Three weeks later, we spotted this one near our wood-shed, a week after s/he left the nest. We've seen another one that likes to hide under the scarlet runner beans in the greenhouse where s/he was born.
We have birds and butterflies and other pollinators galore. Our Showy Milkweed patches continue to expand and though we've yet to see any Monarch butterflies (for which they are a host plant), there are plenty of other pollinators (including hummingbirds) that seem to enjoy the flowers' sweet scent.

Milkweed started from seed four years ago is now naturalized in three places on our land and comes back each year. A favorite of many pollinators - including hummingbirds.

There's a saying from African tribal peoples that "It takes a village to raise a child". Here at the Sharing Gardens, it "takes a village," to grow the food, provide habitat for wildlife and a sanctuary to those people who visit here for respite from the hubbub of day-to-day life. It has been our goal all along to demonstrate a model of "mutual generosity",  where "sharing" is an experience of reciprocity; of giving and receiving, but not everyone is in a position to be generous. Though some folks are primarily at the receiving end of the gardens, there are others who primarily give and some for whom the giving and receiving happen more or less equally. By everyone doing what they can do, this keeps the project sustainable over time. (LINK: Overview and Benefits of the Sharing Gardens Model).

As Anne Frank has been purported to say, "No one has ever become poorer by giving." It has actually been our experience that generosity has increased our sense of abundance and prosperity. 


We've received $2,190 in cash donations since our last gratitude-post in February. Thank you to the South Benton Food Pantry (LINK), John and Donna Dillard, Karen and Stan Salot and Cathy Rose.

We are grateful to our small but mighty volunteer crew: Donn and Marilyn Dussell, Jim, Cindy and Adri Kitchen, Rook Stillwater, and Becky Bauer. There's still room for a few more folks on our crew. For more info, CLICK HERE.

Donn, tilling a bed for squash to grow in.

Marilyn loves to mow!
Jim's our other champion mower. Just look at all that luscious mulch!

Llyn and Cindy always look forward to gardening together each week. Here we are planting lettuce and onions.

Adri, dead-heading the calendula flowers.

Rook, digging compost, coffee-grounds and wood-ash into the garden beds.

Becky, starting seeds.

Our collection site for bagged leaves and grass clippings continues to be very successful. This is a clear example of reciprocal generosity: the Sharing Gardens provides free re-used leaf bags and a free site for people to dispose of their yard-waste (which would otherwise end up in burn-piles or the land fill) and we receive as much organic matter as we can use to mulch and feed our gardens. (LINK: Create your own 'veganic' potting mix).

Our collection site for leaves and grass-clippings in front of our wonderful yellow house.

A special thank you to our friend John Kinsey who generated hundreds of pellet-bags of compost for us over the winter and continues to bring us coffee grounds from a local drive-through cafe' every week. Thanks also to Lua who brought us a load of leaf mold (from Harry McCormack at Sunbow Farms - one of the founders of Oregon Tilth and a pioneer in the organics movement) to enhance our garden's fertility.

John Kinsey with garlic "seeds".

Just a fraction of the "tea" John makes from his worm-compost. We use it to feed our plants.

Firewood is our only source of heat, and our primary means of cooking and drying our laundry in the winter. This year we are feeling especially grateful for the community's generosity regarding firewood. We have received donations of wood "rounds" from David and Jo Crosby (who had a couple of oak trees fall down in a bad storm two years ago). Bob and Cheryl Ballard brought us a load of fir to be split. Thank you to the Dussells for the loan of your splitter too!

Chris, splitting firewood.

We are grateful to our five and a half CSA subscribers and to David Roux and Dallice Drake for their $250 scholarship donation which covers most of the second half of the membership to a low-income family who is committed to eating healthy food to stay cancer-free after the Mom contracted an aggressive case several years ago. (She's been cancer-free for over a year now and attributes some of her success to receiving a CSA box last year as well.) Thanks to Catherine Henry who perused our Wish List and keeps finding items we can use.

Thanks to Communities Magazine and Chris Roth, editor - for publishing our article on Veganic Soil Fertility with Local Materials - in their latest issue on "Ecological Culture" Whatever your living situation, whether in a large community or small household, you can adapt these methods to grow food with a lighter footprint on the planet. (LINK to order a copy of the whole issue on Ecological Culture ($5.00 for digital copy. $10 for digital copy and hard copy mailed to you in the USA - see drop down menu) LINK to Global Ecovillage Network - USA - publishers of the magazine.

And last, but not least: thanks to all our unsung partners in garden abundance: the pollinators, bug- and slug-eaters (birds) and the billions of microbes and soil organisms for whom without their contributions, the gardens would soon cease to exist.

If you feel inspired to leave a comment, please do so below so everyone can enjoy it. Thanks.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Lettuce: From Seed to Feed - Part 2: Saving Seed

By Llyn Peabody 

If you grow your own lettuce, as the weather warms, it's not uncommon to have some of it "bolt" (try to go to seed). Saving lettuce seed is fairly easy and a good entry-point for those new to the process. Here is a re-publishing of a post we wrote back in 2011 but the information is just as relevant today. Happy seed-saving :-).

Saving your own seed is an important aspect of developing local food self-reliance. Relying on commercial seed farmers may become increasingly unreliable as climate change disrupts weather patterns and seed crops falter. Growing your own seed slowly modifies your plants to be uniquely suited to your micro-climate and growing conditions. Networking with other seed-savers in your area builds a sense of community. LINK: Locally Sustainable Gardening in the Face of Supply-Chain Shortages
 
Lettuce flowers - close-up.

Seed-saving can seem intimidating at first. I know I felt that way. Many vegetables will cross with their neighbors yielding inconsistent results. There are many questions that must be answered before moving forward. For this reason I definitely recommend Suzanne Ashworth's "Seed to Seed". It is a comprehensive manual that covers all aspects of seed-saving. I am also grateful to my husband, Chris, for all he has taught me from his 40+ years of gardening. He's helped me translate the book knowledge into experiential learning. Saving seed appeals to the outlaw in me, I guess. Like treating illness with herbs I grew myself, there is something empowering about developing skills usually left to "the experts". As it turns out, it's not really that difficult at all.

"Red Sails" lettuce - blooming.

Saving Lettuce Seed: Like most things in gardening, a bit of forethought goes a long way. Ashworth recommends 12' - 25' separation between types of lettuce to prevent cross-pollination (the farther the better). Plan your plantings (and harvesting) to leave sufficient distance between the flowering plants. Though you may have enough time to bring a Fall crop of lettuce to seed, we usually do our seed-saving with the lettuce we plant in the Spring.
 
Note: Be sure there is no wild lettuce that is forming seed near the varieties of domesticated lettuce you are saving seed from as it can cross. The plants that grow from these crossed seeds tend to be more bitter and course. There are several varieties of wild lettuce; this one is named Lactuca Serriola LINK.

Lettuce bolting - Black-Seeded Simpson

 Lettuce is an "annual" crop. This means that the plants will produce seed in one season (without over-wintering). As the weather gets hotter and drier you will notice on romaine or "leaf" lettuce a definite lengthening of the plant. ("Leaf" types form a loose rosette of leaves but not a tight "head). When it lengthens, it is starting to "bolt". Lettuce that is bolting gets noticeably more bitter (probably nature's way of protecting the plant in this important phase of its reproduction). On "head" lettuce (such as Iceberg), Ashworth says it can be helpful to slit the head, forming a cross-cut with a sharp knife, making it easier for the flower-stalk to emerge. She says some gardeners strike the head of the lettuce with the palm of their hand thus breaking the leaves away from the stalk. Without some effort to free the flower-stalk, head-rot from heat and humidity may kill the plant before it can go to seed. So far we have saved seed mainly from "leaf" lettuce. This summer we will experiment with our red and green "head" lettuces to see what works best for us and report back.

Lettuce marked for seed with bamboo.

As we are gardening with a group of people, we have found it essential to clearly mark the plants that we are saving for seed, so they are not harvested by accident. We have made small tipi's with bamboo sticks, tied a red ribbon around the plant or put a small sign on a stake and driven it in nearby. Even a plant that is obviously past an edible stage for harvest is not safe as a well-meaning fellow-gardener may assume the responsible thing to do is weed out your seedy lettuce plant and toss it on the compost pile!

Staked lettuce - the flowers get heavy.

As the flower stalk grows it will produce a big head of flowers. You may need to tie it to a stake so it doesn't fall over. Seed production occurs 12 - 24 days after flowering. Ashworth says you can harvest seeds daily by shaking the stalk over a large paper sack. The ripe seeds will fall into the bag. The method we have used is to wait until the majority of seeds are ripe and to cut off the whole flower head and place that in a paper sack. Leave the sack open in a warm, dry place (like the top shelf your tool shed) until the flowers are thoroughly dry. Be sure to label the bag with the name of the lettuce variety. If mice are a problem and you have the space, try hanging the open bag from rafters.

To winnow the seeds, roll the flowers between your fingers and the palms of your hands to free them . Lettuce seed is challenging to separate because the seeds are not much heavier than the chaff. Patiently drop small amounts of the seed/chaff over a tray, from a height of a foot or two while blowing gently. The seed should drop and the fluff blow away. Some people run the seed through screens but we have not tried this method. Commercially available seed-sifting screens are another option. They have different sized holes.

Put ripened lettuce flowers into a paper bag to finish drying.
Lettuce seed will remain viable for 2-3 years if kept in a cool, dark place, in an air-tight container.


The Sharing Gardens is a non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist entirely through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a donation through PayPal. (Click button below.)