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

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Still Going Strong!


A great year for blackberries! Yumm!
I'm writing on a beautiful, crisp autumn day. Gentle  rains began to fall last week breaking the long stretch of hot, dry weather. Lush summer greens are shifting into muted browns, golds and russet-colors signaling the end of another fertile garden season.

Despite the devastating setback of herbicide contamination to our potting soil mix (LINK and LINK), the gardens rebounded amazingly. Harvests have been averaging over 400 pounds/week since early August and, with the majority of our winter-squash still to go, and quite a few tomatoes still ripening, this average should extend through much of October.
Tomatoes thriving after initial set-back. A new variety: Amish Rose. Thanks to Steve Rose for his tomato-plant donations.
Cabbage was not affected by the herbicide and we grew a record amount! Chris, "going up for a shot!".
Our relationships with people and agencies continue to grow throughout our small town of Monroe (population 680). The main recipient of the garden's surplus produce (after feeding the coordinators, volunteers and other local donors) continues to be the South Benton Food Pantry (LINK). We are so grateful for our growing partnership with SBFP -- they have given us three, $500 grants and covered the cost of a supplemental refrigerator to handle the overflow of summer harvests. The director, Janeece Cook has also been refreshingly open to suggestions of increasing the number of whole, unprocessed foods offered by the Pantry.

Llyn with part of a week's harvest delivered to S. Benton Food Pantry.
We have also shared weekly harvests with students in a class offered by our local, award-winning Health Clinic (LINK) who are pioneering a "Food as Medicine" program promoting a Plant-Based diet to address the epidemics of diabetes, hypertension and obesity that effect both rural and urban communities alike.
Garlic- food as "medicine!
Adri-11 months - 2012.
Other occasional recipients of our produce have been Junction City's Local Aid, the Monroe Gleaners, the Senior Lunch Program of Monroe and Muddy Creek charter school where one of our younger garden members, Adri, - just started kindergarten (she's been coming to the gardens since she was first born!).
Adri and Bella - best garden buddies - 2017.

Bella and Adri digging up potatoes. When kids help grow and harvest their own food, they're more likely to eat it!
Our relationship with Oregon State University continues to thrive and deepen. On average we're bringing two groups of six-students each to the gardens for four-hours per term of "service-learning" (volunteer-work in the community). These visits  are a highlight of each season as it is refreshing to see the students' slow turning towards greater ecological consciousness coupled with a willingness to put these ideals into action. The students also get a huge amount of work done!

Christy and Chelsea - planting garlic - Sept. 2017.
Visiting OSU class on Sustainability - the "V" sign means: "Live long and volunteer often!" This class actually brought posters they'd made, mapping out our valley's local food-system.
Lucas and Savannah - OSU giving final presentation about the Ecological sustainability of our local food system. Other groups explored the Economic, and Social aspects of Sustainability
OSU students spreading wheat-straw as mulch.
Llyn and Haley sifting compost. Scarlet runner bean blossoms in foreground.

Shawn (r) was a service-learning student in 2016 and returned this summer (with sister Sheila) to continue to learn about gardening. He is always a big help - great thoroughness and attention to detail!
We're excited about a new relationship forming with the Monroe Grade School (kindergarten through 8th grade) that shares our back-fence property line. We've been approached by a 7th grade teacher who is teaching a unit on Sustainability. Students choose from a menu of actions  that help them live more Earth-friendly lives and will also join the Gardens in a morning of "service-learning"--spreading out through the town with rakes and recycled leaf-bags to collect as many leaves as they can to fill our compost bins and help cover our garden-beds for the winter.

Organic gardening requires A LOT of organic material for soil-fertility. Here, OSU students "turn" a compost pile composed of leaves, grass-clippings and garden "waste" (weeds and plants pulled up after harvest).
One, giant  'volunteer' squash plant grew out of our composted manure pile and produced all the squash pictured above! An inedible 'ghost pumpkin'  -- we'll be offering these squash to MGS students as a thank-you for raking leaves.
This year we have had a much smaller core-group of volunteers. This was a conscious decision on our part as we noticed in previous years that by having a weekly group of 4-6 "share-givers" that a) Chris and I often held off on doing certain projects so there'd be enough for them to do; b) 'staging' the projects and keeping everyone engaged on volunteer days was sometimes more tiring than actually doing the projects ourselves and c) with that many people coming at once, we rarely had time to visit with everyone and enjoy the social time that the gardens were meant to provide. We are grateful to everyone who has come volunteer this year but a special thank-you goes out to Jim and Cindy Kitchen - participants since 2010, who have come almost weekly this summer and continue to find ways of showing their support through little treats they squirrel away in our pantry; clothes, tools and housewares they offer to us to use or pass along and a general feeling of including us as members of their extended "family".
"Husky" Grandpa Jim - husking blue corn to be dried and ground. We're finally growing enough corn (and beans)  to share with our volunteers this year (and enough for Chris and I to eat year-round).
Adri and Grandma Cindy in the bean patch.
And finally a hearty welcome to our newest garden-member: Caleb Deweber, born late December 2016, he's finally accompanying his mom, Sabine who is in her third year of helping in the gardens. Welcome Caleb! (Thanks also to Sabine and her family for all the "goodies" they've been stocking up our pantry with - yumm!)
Caleb, already a big fan of tomatoes! "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face!"
Gratitude to other volunteers who have helped throughout this season: Eva, Rook, Christina, Shawn, Sheila, Judy-Mom, Uncle Craig, Manfred, Yvonne, Wanda, Becky - we appreciate you!

Sabine's parents - Manfred and Yvonne visited from Germany this year. We look forward to seeing you again next summer!



Christina and Rook weeding the beet-patch. We sure had some interesting discussions, didn't we?

Jim and Llyn - autumn tasks in the greenhouse. Llyn is setting out sunflower heads to dry for winter bird-seed.
A great year for artichokes - here is an artichoke left to go to seed. "...mmm, so fragrant! The bees love 'em!"










Friday, September 1, 2017

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.