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

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mulches Gracias!

Alpine Community Garden - May 2009

The Alpine Community Garden is off to a great start! We've got all but about five rows of the 80'x 100' plot planted, and the fence (mostly) in place. If you live nearby, c'mon down to see the progress we've made in the last month. Remember, the Alpine Community Garden is growing food for the Monroe Food Bank, the Senior Lunch Program in Monroe and others in need in our community. "Give what you have, receive what you need." Contact us by email at AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com if you have donations, comments, would like to volunteer or would like to be added or removed from this regular blog-update. Also, if you are local and know of anyone with mulch materials who may not get this blog, please forward it, or give them our number. Thanks. Chris and Llyn 541-847-8797

Today's blog is about the benefits of mulching your garden. We are in need of significant quantities of mulch. Ideally we prefer bedding straw (either baled or raked out of animal stalls), spoiled hay (maybe you have some bails that are moldy or otherwise unsuitable for feeding to livestock that we could use in the garden), leaves from last fall (it's probably too late to rake them from under trees but if you've got a big pile we could collect, we'd be interested.) or grass clippings (either in a pile, or drying on your lawn, so we can rake them up) . Ideally, we'd love to have mulch-materials delivered to the garden but let us know what you've got and maybe we can come collect them from your home or farm.

Autumn Leaves Mulching the Broccoli and Peas from a Previous garden

The next big step for the garden's health involves a heavy mulching on the pathways between the rows. The method of organic gardening that we're doing focuses on feeding the soil and nourishing a healthy environment for worms, beneficial insects and micro-organisms. Soil is composed of sand, clay and decomposing plant/organic material (bio-mass). If these components are out of balance, crops will suffer. Mulching adds bio-mass to the soil, helps retain moisture (so you don't have to water as much) and, along with worm castings, compost and the small amount of organic fertilizer were adding, literally feeds your mini-livestock (worms, bugs and micro-organisms). They in turn correct the acid/alkaline balance in the soil, dig little tunnels that provide easy pathways for the plant's rootlets to grow into and digest the mulch thereby making all the nutrients locked into the bio-mass available to your garden, (worm poop (or castings) is like vitamins for your soil!) . Mulching also blocks weeds from getting sunlight so they can't grow, which cuts down on the need for weeding.

As we have prepared the garden this first year in Alpine, we dug soil out of the paths and heaped it in mounded rows. This makes the soil deeper and looser in the rows, making it easier for plants to grow. We will mulch heavily, primarily in the paths where we walk. Though we've got exceptionally good soil for a first-year garden, it seems that it has more clay than is ideal. The mulch we add in the paths between rows will decompose from sun and rain and worms and micro-organisms and make next-year's garden even better because of this added plant matter.

Many people don't realize that a plant's root system may reach out well into the pathways. Another advantage of mulching is that you make the soil less likely to become compacted in the pathways, and it's also more pleasant to be on your knees when weeding, or harvesting plants.

Here are the kinds of mulch we prefer, and why:

Bedding straw:
Straw is from the stalks left standing after grains are harvested (wheat, barley, rye). It consists just of the lower stems of the plant. We prefer the straw because it doesn't have as many seed-heads (which means less weeding for us). We can use straw straight out of the bale, or raked out of animal stalls. The benefit of used straw is that it contains urine and manure from the livestock which functions as fertilizer for the garden. We can also use spoiled hay. (Pictured at left)

Autumn Leaves: Leaves from maples and fruit-trees are some of our favorites. In the fall we either put them directly in the garden rows so they will decompose over the winter or rake them into big piles and cover them in plastic for use in the spring. Not all leaves are beneficial. Walnut leaves (for example) are toxic to many plants and will retard their growth or actually kill them. (Below: A big load of autumn leaves diverted from the landfill/burn-pile)

Grass Clippings: Some people like to leave grass clippings on their lawns/fields because they act as a mulch and fertilizer for the growing grass. Other people have collection-bags on their mowers and pile their grass clippings in one place. Grass clippings make an excellent garden mulch and fertilizer as they are easy to spread and compost readily making the nutrients easily available to your plants. We don't recommend bagging up your lawn clippings because they will become a stinky, gooey mess if they decompose in an airtight container or bag. If you wish to save grass clippings for later use, either leave them in the lawn/field for a few days in the sun and rake them after they've dried or use your bagger-mower to collect and then spread them just a few inches thick on a large sheet of plastic, in the sun, and they will dry quickly. Then you can store them in bags for use at a later time. (Below: Spoiled hay mulching on a lawns-to-gardens project. Cox Lane Garden)

In this 'full-circle' style of gardening, we are always looking for ways to pull materials out of the waste stream (taking up room at the land-fill, or being burned in burn-piles) and save money by re-using and recycling. In the garden, "one man's trash" can truly be "another man's treasure". Let us know if you have any of these mulching materials available, so we can take them off your hands and turn them into 'garden treasure'. Chris and Llyn: 847-8797 AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com
Thank you to Gary Weems for donating time and materials to get the toilet working again at the Alpine Park. Thanks to Steve and Beatrice Rose for housing our tomato-starts in their greenhouse this spring. Thanks to Patty Parsons for writing the grant and to the South Benton Foundation for awarding our project $350 (this means that cash donations have now surpassed $1000.) Thank you to Dorothy Brinckerhoff for being our treasurer (and all-around go-to gal!). We also appreciate Phil Hawkins and Emily Smith for the picture spread and article that featured our Alpine Park clean-up day in the Tri-County news.

Fun in the leaf pile!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Alpine Garden Wishlist

Llyn and Malachi, planting tomatoes, May 2009
These are our current needs for the gardens:

 Gates: 4', 6' or 10'

 Garden shed: pre-fab or materials to build one

 Garden tools/gloves

 Hoses: soaker and regular

 Sprinkler heads/hose nozzles

 Storage tank for water

 Drip irrigation lines

 PVC piping

 Manure: any kind as long as you can deliver it.

 Hay/straw (spoiled is fine)

 Leaves/lawn clippings

 Seeds: open-pollinated/heirloom varieties

 Sprouting potatoes (under your sink) - anytime of year. Just leave them at the door of the pre-school in Alpine.

 Herbs/perennials that need thinning/division

Contact us at the
Alpine Community Garden
Chris Burns and Llyn Peabody - Garden Facilitators

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tips for Carrot Planting

Gardening is like any art-form. There are basic recipes and styles that most people agree on, and there's a lot of room for variation and personal adaptations to your own site and skills. These garden tips are our own 'best practices'; techniques that Chris has learned and adapted from others experience over his 40 years of growing food. We offer them as a starting place for the new gardener, and hope to offer a few new tips or variations that are of value to established gardeners. We welcome your comments and contributions to this blog. 

To prepare a bed for carrots
, you need to dig down deep and really loosen the soil. Bust up any clods, or rake them off the surface till you have a flat, clodless, level bed.

We're using soaker hoses to get things started this year so we laid one down the center of the bed. This will water seedlings on both sides. When you lay out soaker hoses, it's best not to do it in lengths much more than 50 feet. The water pressure diminishes as you move down the hose and the plants at the tail end of the hose won't get as much water as those at the head. We have fashioned soaker hose clips (to hold them in place) with old plastic coat hangers we've clipped in the shape of hooks.

Take a stick or sharp trowel and create a groove in the soil on either side of the soaker hose.

Carrots don't like a lot of fertilizer but, since we're starting this garden from scratch, and the soil hasn't ever been built-up, we use a small amount, sprinkling lightly, of "All-Purpose" organic fertilizer. We get this from our local organic-supportive garden supply store. ('Down to Earth' is our favorite, in Eugene, OR) It has all the micro and macro nutrients needed for healthy plant growth, in a balanced form and it isn't too "hot"; it won't burn the seedlings as they grow like some un-composted manures can.

The next step is to sow the seeds. Carrot seeds are quite tiny. The trick is to make a line of them with about one seed per inch. If they're spread much further, and some don't germinate, you'll have big gaps in your bed. If you sow them much thicker, you'll have a lot of thinning to do later (ultimately you want about an inch and a half between seedlings). Carrot seedlings are tiny, delicate little beings and easily confused with some kinds of weeds. So, save yourself trouble later and gently distribute them along the groove in an even, well-spaced manner.

Next, using the back edge of a garden rake, gently push 1/4 to 1/2 inch soil back over the seeds. They just want the merest covering so they don't have far to grow to get to the sunlight. The last step in planting is to tap the soil down on top of the seeds.

Again, using the back of the rake, use a gentle tapping motion along the row. This helps settle the soil around the seeds and creates a groove for water to collect and nurture your young plants. Remove grass or dirt clods as you go, either break them up or pull them out of your row so the seedlings don't have to struggle to grow around or through them. Carrots like it easy.

Give your carrots a light watering with the sprinkler head of your hose. This too will help settle the seeds and give them a little head start in their germinating process. Don't over water. The seeds don't need much and if you water heavily you risk floating the seeds into clumps and undoing your careful job of spacing them along the row.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

An Attitude of Gratitude

We have so much to be grateful for! The Alpine Park Clean-up Day was a huge success. We had 13 volunteers show up and we pruned, weed-wacked and prepared the ground in our perennial garden bed so we can plant bulbs, herbs and berries as they're donated. Here are a few pics from the day:

This first one shows us digging grass out of the perennial bed.

This second one shows the guys weed-wacking along the cemetery road.

The Alpine Community Garden is a unique model. Most community gardens have a separate plot that each family rents for the summer. Ours is one big plot. All the time and materials are donated and the harvest will be shared amongst the volunteers/donors. Surplus goes to the food-bank, senior lunch program and other people in need.We think of it as a 'Stone Soup' Garden, where if each of us gives a little of what we can spare, there will be enough for everyone. Here's a list of people and organizations who have contributed time, money and materials:

Steve Rose - tractor work - preparing the ground
Larry Lester and Leonard Cox - helping us get our Cub tractor running again
Larry Hammond - putting in the fence posts
Gary Weems - dug the holes for the wooden fence posts

That's Gary drilling fence post holes

South Benton Community Enhancement $300 donation
Corvallis Oregon Tilthe $250 donation
Jerry's Home Improvement Center $50 donation
Evening Garden Club $100 donation

Here's Larry putting in fence posts.

Gary Watts - turned on the water for us at the park.
Jack Jones - fixed the outlets at the park.
Patty Parsons - grant writing
Joe Russin and Jeri Mrazek - donated a Troybilt rototiller (Thanks Suzie Morrill for telling them about our project).
Olivia and Cory for shoveling a load of rabbit manure.

That's Michelle pushing a wheel-barrow full of prunings

If you would like to donate time, money or materials, or if you would like to be removed from this list, or have any other communications, please contact us at AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com

Thank you!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Alpine Community Center Art Time

First Thursdays of the Month - 3:30 - 6:00 at the Alpine Community
Center (in the library room). The next one is this Thursday, May 7.

Bring a portable project (knitting, small painting, jewelery-making
etc) or use the materials that are down there (paints/colored markers,
pencils, collaging, etc), or just come for the company and to see what
others are working on.

I'll have the library open for people to pick up bread from the Bread
for Life program. If the weather's nice, Chris Burns will probably be
gardening in the park across the street.

Young people of all ages are welcome as long as they're well-behaved
and pick up after themselves. :-)

If you have any questions, email me at AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com

Llyn Peabody

Monday, May 4, 2009

Many Hands Make Light Work

Just a reminder that the Alpine Garden Club (the people that oversee Alpine's town park) is having a park-clean-up day on this coming Saturday:

May 9, 9:00 - 12:00 Followed by a potluck picnic.

There are some tools already at the park but it would be helpful if you bring gloves and hand tools:

Weeding tools

Potluck item

Come for all or part of the event and get involved!

For info, email us at AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com