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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Locally Sustainable Gardening in the Face of Supply-Chain Shortages

Seeds from the bulk-foods section
According to this article on: Staying Ahead Of The Shortages: What To Stock Up On For The Coming Year (link below), one of the categories that may be in short supply are commercial fertilizers, as the majority of these are produced abroad and shipped from countries that will also be facing supply-chain challenges. They say:
"A lot of people are gardening and that has led to a big run on fertilizers. While there is still plenty available, that might not always be the case. It takes high amounts of energy, and people to make many of the commercial fertilizers on the market. Many people are stocking up on the organic varieties in particular. The smaller organic fertilizer companies are not used to this type of demand and they could struggle to meet it in the near future." (LINK: Staying Ahead Of The Shortages: What To Stock Up On For The Coming Year)
For years, the Sharing Gardens has been anticipating shortages, and higher prices on fertilizers and soil amendments. This is why we've been developing and perfecting our methods of creating soil-fertility from locally available materials such as leaves, grass-clippings, wood ash and coffee-grounds. (See links below).

Fertility without fertilizers (commercially-made ones that is...). Sharing Gardens - July 2019
Sharing Gardens - late July - 2019
This year we didn't purchase or use any fertilizers or amendments (including livestock manures) and we created our own potting mix from the worm-castings we harvested from our greenhouse paths, mixed with a courser compost our neighbor produced from hard-wood sawdust, coffee grounds, leaves and grass clippings (with a lot of help from his worms!). Here are articles about this "veganic" method we are using with great success.

Lovely compost!
Making your own "Veganic" (no animal manures) Potting Soil

Grass Clippings and Leaves for Mulch

Coffee Grounds and Wood-Ash for Fertility

We noticed in the article on Stocking Up that they didn't mention stocking up on seeds. We have seen many headlines this season about vegetable-seed shortages. If you would like to learn about saving many of your own seeds (the majority of seeds we use, we saved ourselves!) here is a post with info on saving many kinds of seeds in your own garden for use next year.

Saving squash-seeds
Family Heirlooms: Saving Your Own Seed

Please keep in mind that sustainable gardening practices at a local level will be far more successful if you build cooperative relationships with your neighbors instead of trying to do it all alone. Here is a link to many resources about how to start a Sharing Garden in your own community.

Gardening with a group! Many hands make light work...

Planting Potatoes in Clay Soil - our best method...

Big yields in clay-soil.
We've already written several posts about potatoes. Links to those are below. This new post is to illustrate a method for planting that we've not featured before. We have a lot of clay in our soil and, here in Oregon's Willamette Valley, it's not uncommon to have soaking Spring rains that can make it challenging to loosen the soil for potato planting without making a muddy mess!

This "new" method (this will be our third year using it) is easy and has yielded great results.

No matter which method of planting potatoes you use (and there are many, many of them!) your potato crops will have the highest yield if you prep them correctly (called chitting). This will toughen the sprouts and help the potato "seeds" store up solar energy and give them the best chance of growing. LINK: Sprouting Potatoes? What to Do.

These potatoes are prefect for planting: a bit larger than a chicken's egg with stout sprouts and a flush of green.

Potatoes being chitted on our northern facing sun-porch. (Chitting (storing up solar energy) must be done in indirect sun.)
To plant the potatoes, we use a bulb-planter (see pic below) which produces regular-sized holes without a lot of mess and it's easier on one's body than using a post-hole digger or shovel - both methods we've used in the past. Bulb-planting tools taper to a smaller diameter so when you lift them out of the soil after twisting them in, they bring back with them a "plug" of dirt which you have to remove before you can make the next hole. We've found both our bulb-digging tools at yard sales or second-hand stores so they hardly cost anything!

This is a bulb-planter, available at nursery stores, or "used" at yard sales and second-hand stores.
Space the holes approximately one foot apart. You can use the bulb-tool as a measuring device to keep the holes evenly spaced.

Bulb-planter pushed all the way in. A slight twisting motion makes it easier to insert it into heavy soil.
Rook and Jim dig holes for potato-planting. Sabine, in the background adds compost on top.
Next step is to plant the seed potato. Please read the posts below for details about how many sprouts per potato, what is a seed-potato (hint, it's not actually a true "seed"), what to do if your sprouts are really long or there are lots of sprouts coming out of each "seed".

Note: the new potatoes will form above the seed potato. First it will send up shoots with leaves so the sprouts should be facing up towards the surface of the ground. The plant's roots, and the new potatoes will form off the sides of these shoots.
How Potatoes Grow: Source
Choose the best "seeds" first: ones that are about the size of a large chicken egg (or larger) with short, stout sprouts and a greenish tinge. If you cut larger potatoes into smaller "seeds", be sure the skin has fully healed over before planting or you risk losing the seed to rot. If your seeds have long-sprouts or they're fragile, be very careful not to break them as you put them in the hole. If you break them off, it will take your seed potato a long time to grow new ones.

Next we put about a quart (or half a coffee-can) of fine-grade compost in and over each hole (see pic). Be sure your compost is well-finished, without any organic-matter that is anaerobic (septic and stinky). Your compost should not be hot either as this means it is still not finished and the heat could damage the potato sprouts. If you put unfinished compost in the hole it can lead to rot of the potato "seed". We run our compost through a screen that has half-inch holes to strain out any big chunks. You can also use a high-quality potting soil in place of the compost.

We add about a quart, or two large, double handfuls of compost to each potato planted.
Digging holes and composting potatoes...
DO NOT fertilize with wood-ash. This is one of the few vegetable crops that does not benefit from wood-ash as fertilizer! LINK: Coffee Grounds and Wood Ash for Soil Fertility

The final step is to mulch the potatoes heavily with whatever organic-matter you have enough of. Our favorite these days is dried leaves and fresh grass-clippings (though we've used straw or hay in the past). In order to have enough dried leaves, we rake them up and bag them the previous Fall and store them out of the rain. The fresh grass clippings have a bit of weight to them so they will hold down the leaves and prevent them from blowing away.
We collect leaves in the Fall and store many of them under-cover so we have dry ones to use for potato mulch in the spring. LINK: The Great Monroe Leaf Drive! 
Dried leaves are a great mulch for potatoes!

A layer of fresh grass clippings weighs down the dry leaves so they don't blow away.

Dried straw, or hay is a good potato-mulch too.
Do not use wet leaves as they may form a mat that is difficult for the sprouts to grow up through. If you have enough finished compost, or loose soil, you can hill it up over the potatoes. In a few weeks the potato sprouts will begin poking up through the mulch. Ideally you will add another layer or two of mulch as the potatoes grow. It's important that the new potatoes are not exposed to any sunlight as this will turn them green and green potatoes are toxic to eat.

This potato has already begun to turn green from exposure to the sun. Don't eat it, plant it! LINK: Solanine Poisoning
When it comes time to harvest, you will find this is a relatively easy process (if done before the Fall rains come and make the ground muddy). Much of our potato-harvesting is done with small children, as finding the potatoes is like a treasure hunt for them!
Potato harvesting is fun, especially for the kids.

Here, Jim is using a Broad Fork to loose the soil for potato harvesting. Be sure to have an adult hunt with the kids as the kids may miss quite a few and you'll have potatoes sprouting up in future seasons.

Our biggest potato ever!
Potatoes will store in the ground for several months without re-sprouting so, unless you need the area they're planted in for a Fall crop, you can leave them in the ground for awhile. Ideally though you'll want to dig them up before the ground gets too wet, muddy or frozen. Any that you leave in the ground (even the little ones) will re-sprout next season, so try to get them all!

Here are links to all the posts we've written about potatoes: Enjoy!

Sprouting Potatoes? What to do.

The Sharing Gardens is a registered non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist primarily through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a donation through PayPal. A receipt will automatically be provided for your records. (Click button below.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

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).

Bean-trellis made with bamboo poles wired to a cable.
Scarlet Runner Beans will grow in a greenhouse too. Just be sure to leave enough vents open to allow pollinators to come and go.
Plant beans 4"-6" apart and 1"- deep. Soil can be course and should stay moist but not too wet as seeds germinate. Often we will pre-sprout the seeds by keeping them between wet towels for several days till they germinate. Be very careful when planting as the sprouts are fragile.
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.

Pods, any bigger than this and they're too tough to eat green.
If it's dried beans you want, don't pick the pods until they are evenly tan and dry. If picked too green, beans won't store well, nor will they be viable for planting next year's crop. Once the frost hits, beans will no longer ripen much more. Pull up the whole vine and let the beans finish ripening in a green-house or warm, dry place before picking them off the vines. When they are as dry as they're going to get, shell these partially ripe beans and use them first as they won't store as well as fully cured beans.

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.
Harvest beans once their pods are tan and dry. OSU-students shelling Scarlet Runner Beans.

Shelling beans from their pods is a fun activity for all! Jim and Adri shelling kidney beans.
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.

Such beauty!
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!

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.)

Thursday, April 2, 2020

It's Time To Plant a Garden! and Garden Update.

Dear Adri - planting lettuce.
Hey folks - With so many people being required to stay home for the foreseeable future, maybe this spring would be a good time to grow a garden! For those who are interested, there are SO many online resources that will give you advice specific to your region/grow-zone so we won't go into a lot of detail here. But, below are a handful of links to previous posts you might find helpful if you're just getting started. This post also includes: How the COV is affecting us personally; and a Sharing Gardens update with some beautiful pictures.

By the way, if you're local and would like some of the freshest, nutrient packed, veganically grown produce around, we still have a few CSA memberships available! Click here for more info...

Bella loves kale!
If you're just getting started, and don't have a lot of garden space, here's a post about "King Kale" - how to grow it, how to save seed and why it's just so darn good for you! (It has the most nutrients per calorie of any vegetable, along with collards). There are recipes for how to use it too. No Fail Kale: A guide to growing and eating this highly nutritious vegetable

Scarlet runner bean blossoms
Growing scarlet runner beans on a tipi: In our neck of the woods, it's still too early to plant beans but that doesn't mean you can't begin to get the materials together to build your bean tipi and prep the soil. Scarlet Runner beans are just about our favorite dried bean (great for soups and chili). If you pick them when they're small, the pods are sweet and edible too, and the vining red flowers are beautiful to look at, and a favorite for bumblebees, hummingbirds and other pollinators. If you're local and need some seeds, let us know and we'll share. Grow Your Own Protein: Scarlet Runner Beans 

If you're really feeling inspired, perhaps this is the year that you help get a Sharing Garden started in your neighborhood. Here's a link that will take you to several other links we've compiled on "How to Start a Sharing Garden". Let us know if you start one so we can give you support along the way. And take lots of pictures to send to us so we can share your story!
Oregon State Univ. - Service Learning students - March 2015. Growing food with other people can be FUN! Here's info on starting a Sharing Garden in your community.
People have been asking us how the corona virus has been impacting us so far. To be honest, it hasn't changed that much for me and Chris. We always keep our home stocked with plenty of food, water and firewood (which is our only source of heat and our main way of cooking stove-top dishes in the winter). And, thanks to one of our volunteers, who can never pass up a good deal on toilet paper, we already had many months worth stored away when the big rush began. We already "work from home" - as the gardens are our work. And, because we live 20-minutes from the nearest city, we already were limiting our town-trips to three or four times per month, anyway. So, externally, our lives look much the same.

Llyn and Chris - 2017

Still it wouldn't be honest to say that we're completely unaffected. Chris and I both have people close to us who have either had a COV death in the family, or someone who is actively fighting off a severe case. As we follow the unfolding story online, we find ourselves cycling through the stages of grief and, when we're feeling frustrated, sad or scared, we have to keep reminding ourselves that "This too shall pass". We hope that you, and those closest to you are faring well and that this forced "pause" from life-as-usual is actually helping you to discover what has true value; and giving you time to make some clear, perhaps new choices as to how you wish to live your life, once the crisis has passed.

It seems the COV crisis is bringing out the best in our community of volunteers and other supporters. We've had a real surge of offers to help out. People do want to support what we do, and a garden is a pretty easy place to be "together" but still at a safe distance. Here are a handful of pics from the 2020 season so far.

Rook and Chris planting kale and collards in February.
Donn and Chris planting broccoli.
...and here's Donn giving our roto-tiller a tune-up. We're using the tiller less and less as we develop our soil but it's still useful for some things that need very loose soil (like carrots and beets). Don  also sharpened our mower blades. Thank you, Donn!
Llyn, planting a maple tree for future leaf-mulch!

Potatoes (in boxes) getting "chitted" (a way to prep them before planting) on our front porch. See post on how to plant potatoes.

Grant, in yellow, and Rook, in front - planting potatoes.
Here's Llyn folding leaf-bags for re-distribution. People donate grass-clippings and leaves for our compost. We hang the bags to dry and then re-distribute them for free, so people don't have to keep buying new ones.

Adri and Cindy, planting lettuce.
Adri, dumping weeds in the compost pile. Adri has been coming to the gardens since she was a baby! Now, at almost 9-years old, she's a big help with all kinds of garden-tasks.
Adri's Grandpa Jim, planting lettuce in the greenhouse.
Llyn, drilling oak logs (donated by our neighbor Victor Stone - who has  a small forest on his land, just up the street). Llyn then plugged the holes with Shitake mushroom spawn (donated by Karen J. and Peter S.). With any luck, we'll have a crop of fresh mushrooms by next Fall!

Homemade face-masks made by Karen Salot for the Food Pantry and Gleaner's volunteers. Karen also made a $100 donation to the gardens.Thank you Karen!

Here's a our dear friend John Kinsey and one of  his worm-compost "incubators". John takes sawdust and coffee-grounds, both considered "waste products" and, with the help of thousands of red-wiggler worms, turns them into amazing, fluffy, rich worm castings. He's brought us over twenty pellet-bags already this season and has another batch ready to bring us when we're ready to receive. A huge help!

Here's a picture of the only OSU Student-Learning group of volunteers we've had so far this year. They came on Feb. 22nd, before the pandemic had become obvious in the United States.
We will have no more volunteer-groups from the university this spring as all classes have been shifted to on-line. In informing us of the university's decision, we received a beautiful note from Deanna Lloyd, one of the Service-Learning project coordinators. In her note she said:
"We want to thank you for all you do for our community. We know you are still engaged and active through this trying time – the garden still needs tending, people still need food, invasive plants still need to be removed, and systemic inequities still need dismantling. We greatly appreciate you, your continued partnership, and the work you are doing to create a more resilient and equitable community." Deanna Lloyd
Deanna, we thank you, and all the others who, through their work are helping to make this world a healthier, more sustainable place...for people and the natural world that supports us all.

Chris and I have a saying: "Wherever you are in the Spring, plant a garden!" Is this the year, you get one started in your yard? Image Credit: Llyn Peabody

The Sharing Gardens is a registered non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist primarily through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a donation through PayPal. A receipt will automatically be provided for your records. (Click button below.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Do I Need to Buy Seed Potatoes or Can I Just Grow Potatoes from the Grocery Store?

Buying seed potatoes from a nursery catalog can be pretty pricey and its not really necessary. The only real advantages are that they sort them for uniformity of size (not a big deal), you know that they're ready for planting (see the discussion about dormancy below) and you can find some exotic varieties. We just use potatoes we saved from last year's harvest or buy them straight out of the produce section at the grocery store.   

The term "seed-potato" can be misleading. Potatoes do, on occasion produce seeds, but growers do not grow their crops from them. Instead, they grow them from small sprouting potatoes. Any potato, with sprouting eyes, that's at least the size of a chicken egg has the means to yield up to five pounds of fresh potatoes (Generally speaking, the smaller varieties of potatoes grow to maturity faster but yield less harvest.)

These green spheres in Chris' hand contain actual potato seeds but rarely do people grow potatoes from seeds
Potatoes are unique in that their growth cycle is not determined by length of day (as so many other plants are.) Potatoes have an internal clock that requires them to be dormant for a prescribed amount of time--different lengths for different varieties of potatoes. They won't sprout until their dormancy cycle has been reached. This is why some potatoes are better storage potatoes, because they won't start sprouting before you've eaten all the ones you want to eat.

When we want to plant more potatoes than we've saved from the previous year's harvest, we start looking for seed potatoes at the grocery store in late January (mid-winter in northern latitudes) and continue to buy them through till mid-spring. Many of the potatoes that have been in storage for the winter start to sprout in the warehouses at that time and you can get them for better prices. When selecting potatoes to plant, look for ones that already show signs of budding/sprouting from the eyes as this way you know they are viable for growing. Choose the variety you like best. Potatoes do not "cross pollinate". This means that, if you plant a russet, by golly you'll get a russet. (Note: one of our favorites is the Yukon Gold. They last a long time in winter storage and we like the flavor/texture too.)

Ideally, seed potatoes should be about the size of a chicken-egg. Larger potatoes can be cut and skinned over before planting. be sure you have at least three "eyes" per potato.
Potatoes need 70-90 days from planting to maturity so count backwards from your first frost date, or when you wish to begin eating your harvest! The exotic potatoes that come into the markets, and the small, egg-sized, common varieties are usually quite fresh; as they don't keep a long time in storage. They too won't be ready for planting till they naturally go through their dormancy cycle—four to six months. We haven't tried this but I read that you can hasten the dormancy by storing the potatoes in a cool, moist place for a few months and then putting them in a dryer, warmer (but still dark) area.
It is important that you buy organic potatoes because many of the commercially grown ones are sprayed with a "sprout-retardant" which gives them a longer shelf-life and this can delay their sprouting until the potato actually rots.

If the potatoes you have are only just starting to sprout and the buds aren't very long, keep them in the dark to encourage more sprouting. Once the buds are at least 3/4 of an inch long, it's time to "chit" them. 
How many to get? Each plant will take up about 12 - 16 inches of row space. If stored well, they will last for up to six months before starting to sprout again. Figure on 3-5 pounds of yield per potato you plant.  

What size should you get? Ideally you will find them that are about the size of a chicken's egg. Larger potatoes can be cut and allowed to skin over so they won't rot when you plant them.

What if they aren't already sprouting? If you can find potatoes that already have "eyes" that are budding, so much the better. This way you know they are viable for planting. As long as you buy organic potatoes (that have not been sprayed with sprout retardant), and allow 3-4 months time for them to begin to sprout, they do not already need to be sprouting.

When is it time to plant potatoes? Here in the S. Willamette Valley, unless you have raised beds, you need to wait to plant them till the ground dries out a bit. We planted them in early-April one year, when things were especially cool and wet and they just rotted in the ground. Depending on the variety you plant, they take 13 to 17 weeks to ripen. You may wish to plant them in succession so you'll have some potatoes to eat fresh and, the later harvests will last longer through the winter.

If you buy them in a plastic bag, transfer them into a cardboard box or paper sack so they don't rot before you get to them. Keep them in a cool, dark place, with good air circulation until they sprout. Layering them in a tub with leaves or straw, or sawdust works too. Just be sure to keep them from freezing.
Potatoes stored in damp layers of damp leaves. These had already begun to sprout and this storage protected their sprouts from breaking off, or the potatoes from drying out until we had the right conditions for planting.

Links to our other potato blogs, go to:

Sprouting Potatoes? What to do.

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