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

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Gallery of Givers - July 2011

So much has been happening since last we posted. This is the time of year when the gardens begin to grow in leaps and bounds! Though this has been the coolest and wettest spring that we've had for a long time, we're finally starting to get some real summer weather. Here is a gallery which will show you some highlights of the people and projects in the garden.
Kaitlyn helps Chris harvest garlic. That's celery in "sleeves" in the foreground.
Kaitlyn with garlic harvest
Larry and Germaine harvesting and weeding beets. Our tomatoes (in A-frame cages) are getting nice and bushy and starting to ripen steadily now.
Weeding and harvesting.
Renee and Johan pull the last of the broccoli plants. Time to soak the compost pile and tarp it so it will start to decompose. Renee has been a big help this spring as she comes weekly to help and harvest food to take to the bi-weekly Senior Lunch program in Monroe at the Legion Hall.
Danielle sifting compost. Rich with worm castings and eggs it makes a great top-dressing or tilled into the beds. This is the end product of our hay-bale compost piles.
Jan has been one of our steadiest volunteers this year. Here she is spreading straw in the garden paths.
Ken helps build tomato cages.
Jennifer, Llyn and Dawn transplant Shag Bark Hickory tree seedlings.
Larry helps Chris plant and mulch potatoes. Curtis, at the Food Bank gave us fifty pounds (!) of sprouting potatoes. I think we're going to have a fine harvest this year.
Fun at the gardens. John, Chris, Jennifer and Llyn (Sorry, Dawn, I cut off your face holding up the camera like I did.)
Herman and Liz brought us a full truck load of grass clippings from behind their church. "Mulch" thanks!
Our kale harvest has been abundant this year. We were having a hard time giving it all away each week till we added this sign at the Food Bank. "Tastes like broccoli...Cook it like spinach..." Sometimes people need help in trying unfamiliar foods.
Mike Hall adds onions to 'what's cookin' at a recent community dinner hosted by Monroe's Methodist Church...
...and Phyllis Derr helps with the dishes. She's been donating her grass clippings for garden-mulch all spring. Thanks!
We sold our dear little 1947 Farmall Cub to a young couple getting their own organic farm started near Albany, Oregon. Glad to see the Cub's going to a working home and won't just be a museum piece. These tractors were designed for small-scale vegetable farming and 1947 was the first year they were built. Their website is http://pitchforkandcrow.com/
Ken, a happy helper! Job well done.
Aside from the volunteers, pictured and "behind the scenes", we'd also like to thank these people for their contributions to the garden's success:
Tina - ice cream buckets with lids
Renee and Johan Ferrer - T-post driver
Judy Todd - cash donation
Jo Ellen Watts - gardening boots and plant tags
Phyllis Derr - grass clippings
Chuck and Betty Conway - cash donation
Liz and Herman Koontz - grass clippings from Church of Christ mowings
The Tribune News who continue to publish our articles and wish-lists.
Tom Goracke - 30 bales of nicely rotting grass-straw, complete with pigeon poop "frosting" on the top bales. Keep 'em coming!

We've been receiving regular anonymous donations of pots/flats and hoses. Much thanks for these. Whatever we can't use goes to good homes. Apologies if we haven't specifically acknowledged someone. You are appreciated!

Friday, July 22, 2011

We Can Use Your Spoiled Hay and Straw!

We've harvested over 250 heads of lettuce in the last three weeks at the Sharing Gardens (as well as smaller quantities of broccoli, peas and kale). The first zucchinis are ripening and the tomatoes are setting fruit. With continued sun we'll be feeding people prolific quantities of these and other summer beauties. The garden's bounty is shared amongst volunteers, the Monroe Food Bank, Monroe's Senior Nutrition Program, the Harrisburg Gleaners, the Linn/Benton Food Share Program and other people in need. No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown.

Our primary need in the gardens at this time is for a large infusion of straw or hay for mulch (spoiled is OK if the bales are still dry enough to move easily).  Straw is preferable as it flakes more evenly but grass-hay will work too. If you are cleaning out your barn to make room for new hay, we can provide an alternative to burning, or piling it to slowly rot.

The straw adds organic matter to the gardens, improving  fertility. Volunteers love the dry comfort of weeding from straw paths and the worms, snakes and other garden-friendly wildlife appreciate the food and shelter it provides.

We've already used the 55 bales of straw donated by Mark Frystak, of Monroe but we can still use much more and will continue to have need all through the season. We used about 10 tons last year and had about a third less garden in cultivation. If you have bales to donate, we can probably arrange for pick-up but delivery is preferred.

All Donations are Tax-deductible. Please call if you can help (541) 847-8797. www.AlpineGarden.blogspot.com

Local Wisdom - Eugene's Potato Leaf Project

Here is a re-posting of an article which appeared in the Eugene Weekly about a nearby project that is very much in the spirit of the Sharing Gardens - using autumn leaf "waste" to grow food to share amongst volunteers and those in need.

Potatoes often volunteer to grow in your compost pile.
The Potato Leaf Project, a clever way to use waste leaves and grow food at the same time, is a great example of a home-grown idea gone viral. The idea, which was first featured in a local story in the Eugene Weekly, is now making its way around the world.

The Potato Leaf Project came about by a group of participants in one of the "Sustainable Eugene" meetings held at the University Longhouse in November 2010.  The idea was initially suggested by David Hazen, creator of The City of Peace, as a way to help those in need of jobs, income and food.  

The initial goals of the project were to:
  1. Keep the leaves in neighborhoods by finding a place to use them in a planting project.
  2. Bring individuals in communities together in a food sharing mode, similar to
    the Neighborhood Gardens which are developing around town. (see
    Common Ground Garden and the Edgewood Garden)
  3. Use potatoes because they are so easy to grow.
  4. Encourage
    the potential for business possibilities for the low-income and
    jobless.  For example, starting a Mission Garden where homeless
    community members could tend to the growing.  Additionally, the potatoes
    could be sold to local stores or simply prepared in storable food
    products and then sold.  They could also be donated to
    Food for Lane County.
Leaves piled in a Eugene alley for potato planting.
    In November, leaves were ordered from the City of Eugene's Leaf Collection Program.
 When they were delivered, they were piled up in a neighborhood easement, which is the back alley of a street owned by the neighbors.  The leaves were laid in a 100 foot long row about 2 feet high to sit and begin to decompose. In the Spring, they were planted with seed potatoes (using many varieties for testing).  As the spuds grew out of the pile, they were covered with more leaves to form mounds, which
covered the new green growth under the leaves to promote more tuber growth.  In August or September the potatoes will be harvested by the neighbors for use.   

As of today, the testing goes on around the world. People in Guam, France, Spain, Texas, Arizona and Eugene have been inspired by this process and are building their own potato patches.  It is an ongoing event and any other suggestions and participation are welcomed.

Please address any questions to Ginny at ginny@efn.org.

Illinois Sharing Garden

We recently received this enthusiastic email from someone who feels inspired to start a Sharing Garden in Illinois. Our response follows:

Hello :0) My Name is Angelica T.  I live in Illinois. I just saw your video on youtube with Peakmoment. My Boyfriend and I have grown most of our own veggies for 3 years now. I work at a school in the Cafe so I have the summers off, unless I find a summer job. We are always talking about the unused land just sitting there with grass and lots if sun. I LOVE the Garden Sharing idea. I have Lots of spots in mind and would LOVE your help. Please tell me how to go about it. I think it might be to late this year but I could get the ground ready and fences up for next year. I have no idea on how I would go about applying for a grant or any of it. Oh Please help me. When I was young I wanted to change the world, if you were to help I think we might.

Thanks for reading
Angie :0)

Hi Angie - So great to hear from you! Your enthusiasm is like wind in our sails! The need for local communities to become empowered to grow their own food and save seed is becoming more important than ever. It is also imperative that we move beyond the profit motive when it comes to feeding the people of the world. "Sharing Gardens" give people a non-threatening way to build a sense of community, learn important skills, eat healthier, live lighter on the planet and have fun doing it!

We will help you as much as we are able.

Chris and I started small: the first year we did about 95% of the gardening, fence-building etc. ourselves. The second year is when we began bringing in more volunteer help. Don't know if your project will follow the same pattern but don't be discouraged if you have a small group involved at first. If everyone is aligned and committed you will probably get more done than if you have a large, loose group of people who aren't fully on-board.

You will want to find a local non-profit agency to be your "fiscal agent". This means you can apply for grants through them. They will then distribute the grant monies to you as you provide receipts for your spending. If you write a grant that includes a stipend for you and other coordinators, it is possible to be compensated somewhat for your time.

I would encourage you to find a site to begin developing (as you said...). Then you'll be ready for planting next spring. You might also wish to start a Blog or Facebook fan page so you can document your experience and keep others informed.

Be of good cheer! Keep us posted on your progress.

Llyn (and Chris)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

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

By Llyn Peabody
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.
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.

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.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lettuce: From Seed to Feed - Part 1: Planting

Red Iceberg Lettuce - a summer rose!
Here in the Pacific NW, we start our lettuce seed in a greenhouse in late February and then transplant the starts out in April or May when conditions allow. We're vegetarians and end up with a lot of those white, plastic, square tofu containers. We've found they make great tubs to start small seedlings. We drill holes in the bottom for drainage, fill with a good potting mix (using the bottom of another tofu tub to pack the soil firmly and make a flat surface for the seeds).

After misting the soil so it is good and damp, we sprinkle the lettuce seeds with our finger-tips trying to have a 100 or so seeds per tofu tub.  Lastly we gently sprinkle a thin lay of cover soil over the seeds and lightly mist to settle the seeds. They must be kept moist but not overly wet or the seeds and starts may rot. Lettuce seed germinates best in a cool soil so don't put it on a heat mat or under a lamp to get it to germinate.

Lettuce seedlings in a tofu container. Using a pen to make holes for transplants.
When the seedlings are about 1/2" - 1" (2 cm) high, they are ready for transplanting. We put ours in regular or "jumbo" six-packs. We use a basic, organic potting soil and add our own fertilizer. To each wheelbarrow of soil we add about two cups of all-purpose organic fertilizer and about a half-gallon of sifted rabbit manure . When germinating tiny seeds (such as lettuce), we sift the soil before adding amendments so the seedlings don't have to push past un-composted bits of bark or wood-chips in the soil. For transplanting, we don't bother to sift the soil.

Transplanting seedlings
For the Sharing Gardens, where we might grow 1,000 or more lettuce plants per season, transplanting is done in large batches. Being systematic in the nursery will save you time and materials and you will have much better results. Have labels ready so you keep track of the varieties you are transplanting. Fill a flat of six-packs and mist it with water and soak the seedlings too. Wet soil is less shocking to transplanted roots than dry. Cupping your hand over the whole tofu-tub of seedlings, flip it over and tap the bottom, catching the whole clump of soil and seedlings in your hand. Gently flip it back over and place it on a tray to catch the loose soil as it drops off.

Seedlings "hardening-off".
Using your finger. a stick or some other object, make a generous hole in each of the cells of the six-packs. Pull off a clump of seedlings and, holding them by their leaves, tease apart a single plant with its roots. On a cool, overcast day you can lay a large number of the seedlings alongside their holes before dropping them in and squeezing the soil around them. If the day is hot or the sun is strong, work in smaller batches so the seedlings don't get shocked. It is very important that all the roots go down into the soil and are covered. If they stick out from the surface, this is called 'J-rooting' and  will often kill the plants as they dry out too easily. This is why you want to dig a generously-sized hole so the rootlets don't catch on the sides as you lower them in. after pressing the soil in around each seedling, water them in gently to settle the soil. Label the tray and move onto the next.

Transplanting peas and lettuce
Depending on warmth and sunlight, and the size of the six-packs you use, your lettuce will be ready to plant in the soil in six to ten weeks. If you stagger your plantings it will mean your lettuce doesn't all come ripe at once. Ideally you wait until the root ball has filled the six-pack cell enough to hold the soil as you pop it out, without being totally root-bound (roots coming through the bottom of the six-pack). A week or two before you transplant into your garden, bring the starts outside and begin "hardening them off". Put them where they will get plenty of sun but not too much wind. They will withstand a light frost but if it is going to get very cold, or doesn't warm up in the day, bring them back into the greenhouse till conditions improve. During this hardening-off period, prepare garden beds so they are ready to receive transplants. In our "deep-mulch/minimal till" gardens, we pull a row of mulch over to the adjacent path (with a pitchfork) and, with a trowel dig a small hole just the size of the lettuce's root-ball. This leaves worm holes intact and lettuce seems to thrive without any roto-tilling needed.

Several weeks after transplanting. Picking individual lettuce leaves for salad.
Here in our area, slugs can be a real problem in the spring. Follow this link for ideas on how to re-use milk cartons or soy-milk containers to thwart off their feasting. Re-Purposing Things We don't find that additional fertilizing is necessary for lettuce plants. They receive enough nutrients from the soil. We hold off on mulching them because we want the sun to warm up and dry out the soil and mulch provides habitat for the slugs. Sometimes, after the lettuce is well established and the soil is warmed up, we mulch with a few inches of grass clippings around our plants. Let the clippings dry out for a few days on a tarp or in a bin. Fresh clippings, if piled thickly, can heat up considerably and burn your plants.

Chris Burns with beautiful lettuce harvest! 2011
We plant our lettuce spaced about 6" - 8" (12 - 15 cm) apart. We harvest them intermittently giving the remaining lettuce room to grow. In the early stages, before the heads are fully formed, we harvest one to three leaves off each plant, rather than clipping whole heads. As the heads become full size we harvest by cutting them off at the root with a paring knife, leaving the roots in the ground to feed the worms.

Fall Crops: Give yourself 45 - 60 days (before hard freezing) to grow your fall crops of lettuce. You can assist your lettuce in germinating if you begin the process in a shaded area so the soil isn't too warm. Once seedlings come up, they will need sunlight to grow but do this outside of the greenhouse so they don't get too hot. Heat triggers the plants to "bolt" (go to seed) even when the plants are very young.

Favorite varieties: Everyone who eats out of our gardens seems to prefer green lettuce to red, or at least to have some green to mix in with the red. (This even includes the bugs who seem to devour the green lettuce much more voraciously!) Our recipients also seem to prefer head lettuce to the "leaf" lettuce. We don't know why this is (maybe just habit...) but we take this into consideration when we plant out our gardens. There are hundreds of varieties of lettuce to choose from. The most popular ones we grew this year were:

Chartwell's Romaine
Green and Red Iceberg (home-grown Iceberg lettuce is much more nutritious than store-bought).
Four Seasons (a red Romaine-type lettuce)

LINK: How to Save Your Own Lettuce Seed

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.)