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

Monday, May 24, 2010

Volunteers Galore

Rann Millar and Chris putting in the floor.
The Alpine Park Clean-Up Day was a big success despite foreboding weather forecasts. Ida Mae showed up early and got the coffee pot perking and Chris and Llyn showed up with a batch of choc-chip oatmeal cookies to keep the crews humming.

George, Chris and Gary Weems kept the garden-shed project moving forward. They dubbed themselves the "Team of Amateurs" but it sure is looking professional! Rann, Gary, Llyn and Chris put in some time earlier in the week. We now have the floor, two sides and the roof rafters finished.

Other projects that were accomplished on Saturday: Jack Jones and Gary Watts are in the process of repairing the bathroom at Alpine and installing a shut-off valve so we won't break pipes again in the winter: A BIG job! Thanks guys. Steve Rose made heroic in-roads on weeding the perennial bed. It still needs some more work. In fact, it could really use a person to take over the managing of it. If you're a flower gardener in need of a bed to take care of, let us know. 

David Urbach digging tomato holes
Steve also brought 51 tomatoes that he started from seed. George Wisner planted them into the Alpine beds prepared earlier in the week by our new friend David Urbach. Gary Weems weed-wacked the park's periphery. Llyn scalped the grass away from the tree-trunks of our fruit orchard and gave the trees a heavy mulching.

Evelyn Lee and Doreen Millar in the pea-patch
In spite of the wet spring, our weekly volunteer program has been blossoming beautifully. We have a core group of about seven of us showing up regularly and another half-dozen who've expressed interest in joining in. Our regular volunteer hours are posted at the top, right corner of our site and, if you send us your email address we can add you to the list to let you know of special work-parties where we need a larger crew. Just send a note to us at: AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com to be added to the list.

We still have dozens of potted raspberries on the picnic table behind the pavilion.  Help yourself! Please bring back the gallon pots when you're done transplanting so we can use them again.

Here are more pictures of volunteers sharing in the fun! Rann Millar tying up the bamboo trellis for pole-beans.

Evelyn Lee weeding the garlic patch.

Llyn Peabody and Doreen Millar gathering grass clippings for mulch.

For more pictures of garden beauty and smiling volunteers, just go to our site:"Sharing Gardens"

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Big Day at the Sharing Gardens

April and May have been unbelievably rainy here in the Willamette Valley of western Oregon. I don't know if we've set any records but the consistent and sometimes heavy rainfall has made it difficult to get into our new garden site in Monroe and do any tilling. When the soil is too wet it clumps together and then hardens into big chunks that are not conducive to growing vegetables. We've had a few stretches of dry, sunny weather but not enough to dry things out as deep as is ideal. Volunteer Steve Rose has been down to the site three times already this spring, mowing the long grass, "scalping" off the first few inches of grass-roots and soil and finally going another 4" down with the big tractor and roto-tiller attachment but he's had to hold off on going deeper while the ground has been too saturated.

Yesterday we had a little break in the weather (with more rain predicted in the forecast) so Chris decided we'd go down to the Monroe site and just see if maybe we could get a few things in the ground. Our timing couldn't have been better! We used our little red 1947 Farmall Cub, a fully restored tractor that was developed and used for "truck farming" - small-scale vegetable farms in the 40's and 50's before agri-business and the mega farms became the norm, to plow up a few beds.

Chris mounded up eight, forty-foot beds and three, twenty-foot beds. We planted 320' of potatoes (probably close to 400 chitted seed potatoes in all!), and the other three rows we filled with broccoli, kale and two kinds of lettuce that were beginning to get a little root-bound. Best of all, though the rain held off the whole time we were planting, we felt the first drops fall as we loaded up into the truck to head home for lunch and a siesta. Better yet, we were lulled to sleep and blessed with the sound of a steady rain falling on the roof of our home all through the night guaranteeing that the spuds and transplants are settled snuggly in their new beds. It won't be too long before we'll be harvesting the greens. 

More "thank-you's" are in order: Adele "Gia" Kubein donated a load of brand-new pressure-treated lumber and plywood. Kat Conn gave us four big, food-grade plastic buckets and a few dozen chitted potatoes. Thanks to Ray Kreth, we got a lawnmower! Phil Ezell has taken over the mowing at Bert and Theresa's place by the Alpine garden and been bringing us grass clippings for mulch. Renee Duncan has contributed a stack of weathered, cedar fence-boards that we can use to build birdhouses and feeders with the kids. Thanks to the folks at Ten Rivers Food Web who have been re-posting our blogs on their wonderful site. Check 'em out! Thanks too to all those people near and far who have been sending us notes of thanks and support, especially my mom, Judy Peabody (our biggest fan!) It really lifts our spirits! We apologize if we've overlooked anyone. Please know that you are all appreciated. After all, this is your garden too!

Wish list: Does anyone have a wheelbarrow or a garden-cart they'd like to donate?

 It won't be long now!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

How to Plant Potatoes

Some people who are following this blog have been "chitting" potatoes to increase their storage of solar energy and make their sprouts tougher prior to planting. This post covers how to plant your potatoes. If you've got some potatoes that are eager to get in the ground, here's a simple method that yields good results. (As with all gardening techniques, there are about as many ways to plant potatoes as there are potato varieties - and that's a lot! What follows is just one way that we've found works well for us. Feel free to add comments to our web-page with your own best tips and methods.)

Potato leaves emerging from the soil
Begin by roto-tilling the soil, or loosening it up so the potatoes have light, loose soil to form in. If the ground is too firmly packed, your potatoes will tend to be smaller. If you're planting more than one row, stake the rows about 36" apart. We use wooden stakes at the end of each row and baling twine we've recycled and tied together to form a long string. This will help you plant straight rows.

Baling twine saved from hay-bales, tied together for re-use in the garden
Using a clam-shell post-hole digger, dig your holes about 8"-10" apart and about 10" deep. You have to wait until your soil is drained enough so the fence-post digger doesn't get caked up with mud. If you just can't wait, and the mud is a problem, try filling a 5-gallon bucket with water and dipping the clam-shells in it between holes. This should help keep the mud from building up.

Digging holes with a clam-shell post-hole digger
Put some fertilizer in each hole - about 2 heaping tablespoons ( a small handful). We use an all-purpose, organic mix that we get from a local supplier called "Down to Earth" in Eugene. It's OK to put it straight in the hole. It won't "burn" the potato plants. You can use a big handful of worm-compost instead of fertilizer, if you have some. It helps if you're systematic: first dig all your holes, then fertilize, then plant them all. This gives you economy of motion and, if the holes are all prepared, your potatoes won't be shocked through excessive exposure to sun and air. 

Worm compost to fertilize the growing potatoes
This year we chitted potatoes in March and April, and then layered them in leaves so they didn't become dehydrated before we put them in the ground. Because we've had such a wet spring and we've had to wait so long, many of the potatoes had begun to send out long shoots and tiny rootlets. While it is important to expose potatoes to the sun when you first chit them, that same exposure can be devastating if they have begun to form fine root-hairs. If they get dried out from direct exposure to sun and air, at this stage, it can set them back considerably from their ability to produce potatoes.  Very carefully tease the potatoes out of the leaf or straw mulch you've stored them in. The ideal time to plant your potatoes is before they've grown fragile stems and rootlets but, if nature hasn't been cooperating and they've grown too far, just be very gentle. Don't get too far ahead of yourself. Only tease out as many potatoes as you have dug holes for. Don't leave any exposed to the sun or air. Cover them if you must attend to something else for awhile. Place a seed-potato in each hole.

Note the long sprouts and fragile, skinny root-hairs
The next step is to cover and mound the potatoes. Using a flat rake, gently pull the soil back over the hole and build it up into a raised bed at least 6" above the path and a foot or so wide. This will give you foot-wide paths for mulching. The advantage of raised beds is that they are able to catch more sun, the soil heats up and drains better and plant-growth is increased.

Heavily mulching the paths feeds the soil, keeps moisture in the ground and prevents weeds from growing.
Lastly, lay down a nice, thick layer (about 6") of mulch in the paths. You can use last year's leaves (no walnut please--they're toxic to plants), or straw, or spoiled hay. For more about the heavy-mulch method that we use for gardening, you'll just have to wait till we have time to write that post! If the potato leaves poke through the ground before the risk of frost has passed in your area, be sure to loosely cover them with these mulch materials on cold nights. Potatoes are very sensitive to frost. There's not a whole lot more to do with potatoes until harvest time. If you notice the forming potatoes pushing up out of the soil, be sure to cover them with more soil or mulch to keep them from turning green (green potatoes are poisonous).

Anticipate the harvest!

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Our "Chip's" Come In!

Wood chips donated from Trees Inc.
Thanks to our local power company and the tree service they contract to for line maintenance, Trees Inc., we had a huge load of wood chips donated at the Monroe Garden site. This was enough to make a thick path from the Methodist Church's driveway back to our tool shed. Volunteer Steve Rose brought his tractor down to the site and began the process of tilling up the soil last Thursday but took a break from that to move the wood chips to where it was easier to spread them.
Chris and Steve spreading wood chips - Monroe Garden

Other big news! (which some of you haven't heard yet): An anonymous donor (an Oregon family), through the grant brokerage of Trust Management Services (TMS), has awarded our project $9,980, the full amount we asked for in a proposal we submitted in February. The grant proposal focuses on three main threads: expansion and maintenance of both the Alpine and Monroe sites; development and support of our volunteer base; and development of a program aimed at young people ages 9-18 and their families, through partnering with the local schools and other youth programs in the area.This grant gives us a strong "green light" signal to move ahead with the Sharing Gardens. Much thanks to Evelyn Lee and Dorothy Brinckerhoff for their assistance in writing and submitting the grant and to Mary Lanthrum (TMS) for going to bat for us.
Danielle sifting soil for raspberry transplants
Speaking of "developing our volunteer base", Saturday May 9th was our first "official" volunteer day at the Alpine Park. The weather was gorgeous and we got a lot done. We now have about 1/3 of our "chitted" potatoes planted which is equal to our whole crop from last year (five 30-foot rows). The rest will go into the Monroe site.We mulched the potato paths with leaves raked last fall (thanks to Mylrea Estell and Raymond Kreth for giving us rent-credit for the raking!) We potted up two dozen raspberry plants - and there's a lot more still to be potted. And finally, Chris got the beautiful sign he painted over the winter hung at the Alpine site. A very productive morning.
Tibbi and Chris planting potatoes
A few more "thank you's" need to be mentioned: Bert and Theresa, who live on the edge of the Alpine Park, keep bringing us lawn clippings. Bert's probably in his 80's so we're especially grateful for him making the extra effort to drive his mower over to our drop-site. Guy Urbach has been nice enough to foot the bill for the Porta-Potty that's been stationed at Alpine park since we took over the bathroom-building as our tool shed. Once we get the new shed built we'll be able to leave the bathroom unlocked all summer.
Tibbi, Llyn and Danielle on our first official volunteer day - 2010
If you're local, and would like to be notified of volunteer days at the garden, or want some raspberry plants, send us an email. Also write us if you'd like to be added or removed from our mailing list.

P.S. Does anyone out there have a running lawn-mower they'd like to donate? It would help us keep the gardens looking nice.