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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Importance of Local Food Self-Reliance

Those who are familiar with the Sharing Gardens know that we are motivated to guide people towards a model of local food-production, seed-saving, and Earth-friendly gardening techniques while increasing people’s sense of responsibility to assist those less fortunate members of our communities. 

In this eight minute video, physicist Vandana Shiva makes the observation that the highest incidence of hunger in the world shows up in rural and agricultural communities. The very people who should be most able to feed themselves have been forced, through commodity-trading and mono-cropping to abandon growing the diverse variety of foods needed for a nourishing diet. We see examples of this even here in the lush and fertile Willamette Valley of Oregon  where most of the local canneries closed down years ago and many farmers are making their livings growing such crops as grass-seed, animal feed and pumpkin seeds to ship to Asia.

Shiva says, “Access to food should be a basic human right.” 

Please take a few minutes to listen to this warm and intelligent woman connect the dots about GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), seed-saving, the rights and responsibilities of corporations and other important topics related to local food security.  We hope that it will help you to understand a little better ‘why’ we do 'what' we do at the Sharing Gardens.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Onions - Growing From Seed

There are literally hundreds of varieties of onions grown in this world, but unless you grow your own you usually have access to only a handful of varieties from the grocery store.  If you rely on growing onions from ‘sets’, (the little onions available from nurseries with about a hundred per bag) your options are often still quite limited.  Growing from 'sets' has other disadvantages too; often they will produce a significant number of ‘doubles’ (meaning smaller onions at harvest-time) or they go to seed, 
which makes them tough and unpalatable.   
Here is a guide you can follow that will ensure your success at growing onions from seed.

Onions going to seed.
Here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (USDA Zone 8a - Link to finding what zone you are in), we do best to grow what are called ‘long day’ varieties which include Cipollini (chip-o-leenie) both red and yellow varieties, Southport White Globe,  or White and Yellow Sweet Spanish. There are many more varieties to choose from; check your seed catalogs or go online to see a greater selection. (Be aware that, if you wish to save your own seed, you must choose Heirloom/Open Pollinated non-hybrid seeds. Those listed above are all Heirloom varieties.)

You will need:
  • Sifted potting mix
  • Sand (optional)
  • Pots: 4"-wide x 6"-deep (1 pot per 25 seeds)
  • Seeds; start with fresh seeds each year; onion seeds lose viability within one or two years.
  • Greenhouse or grow-lights, or the ability to bring seedlings indoors if in danger of frost.
  • Plant-mister  
When to start: About eight-to-ten weeks from the time you wish to transplant them into your garden. We always get the seeds started around the middle of February. By late April the seedlings will be ready to set out into the garden.  They are ready when you can see a clearly defined "bulb", 1/8" to 1/4" pushing above the soil-surface in the pot. At this stage, the sooner they get into the ground the larger your onion bulbs will be at harvest time.  It’s always a good idea to have a bed in mind that you’ve prepared during the previous fall since it’s difficult to prepare beds in the spring if you have a long rainy season like we often experience here in Oregon. The seedlings can handle a touch of frost at this stage but its no fun transplanting them in really muddy garden beds. Some people wait until early or mid-March to start seeds and still have plenty of time for the onions to ripen.

Pots: We've found that starting the seeds in pots that are 4" - 6" deep is best. Any shallower and the seedlings become root-bound before it's time to transplant them.

Soil/Sand: Start with a good organic seed-starting mix.  It doesn’t need to be a premium potting blend, in fact, if you start with too rich of a soil blend you can experience a condition referred to as ‘damping off’ which looks like mold growing on the surface and which causes the young seedlings to rot as they emerge from the soil.  One way to help eliminate this condition is to sprinkle a thin layer of sand over the seeds.  By keeping the soil damp but not too wet and having good ventilation you shouldn’t have this problem. 

Onion seeds can be started in a variety of containers.
Fill the pots with a sifted soil to about 1/2" from the top (tiny seeds find it difficult to germinate in soil with large chunks of material). Level out the soil, tamping them down with the bottom of another pot to create a level surface so that all of the seeds will be sewn at the same depth (otherwise they germinate unevenly). 

Seeds: You may want to actually count out the seeds the first time so that you can have an idea of what 25 - 35 seeds looks like because that is about how many would be optimal to sew in 4" pots.  You can adjust up or down depending on the size container you choose.  The idea is to not have an overcrowded condition that would produce weak and unhealthy seedlings.  Place the seeds in the palm of your hand and pinch out a few at a time. Gently drop them on the surface of the soil, distributing them as evenly as you can without becoming too concerned about accuracy.  It’s OK if some seeds are touching each other. Sprinkle a sifted layer of starting mix or sand over the seeds at a depth of about an eighth to a quarter inch.  Tamp it down again and water gently (a planter mist-er works great at this stage). 

Watering:  Keep the soil moist using either a small spray bottle or water them from below by putting water in trays and setting pots in them. Tiny seeds, until established can be washed away with more aggressive watering techniques. Make sure you label them with the name of the variety and the date you started them.  Then it’s time to be patient, and let Nature do her work.

The seeds will not require sunlight until they have emerged from the soil, usually about two weeks from the time they are sewn, so you can keep them indoors where they will not freeze, on a window sill or in a greenhouse if you have one. Once the greens are up, they will require full sun. If you don't have grow-lights or a greenhouse, be sure to bring them inside at night if it looks like you may have freezing temps.

Teasing onion-roots apart before trimming.
Transplanting: Each pot of seedlings must be teased apart. You will need to trim back both the tops and the roots before trying to stick these tiny seedlings into the ground. You trim the roots so they're easier to slip into the holes and you trim the tops so that the pruned roots can support the greens above.

First, dump the whole pot into the palm of your hand.  Next, separate the clump into several sections (maybe 10-12 seedlings in each clump).  Hold one clump by its 'greens' and gently tap the root ball until most of the soil has fallen away.  Tease the seedlings apart and lay them back in your hand so that the small bulbs are in a line (see picture below). Using a scissors or hand pruner, cut away all but about 2 inches of the roots.  Trim the tops to about the same length as the roots. Now set the clump into another shallow container with a little water in the bottom to keep them from drying out while you prepare the rest for transplanting.  Prepare only as many as you are able to set out in one session.

Trim roots and greens to same length.
In the bed that you’ve already prepared you open up small holes about 4-5 inches apart. Our onions are usually planted in beds two to three feet wide, with several rows in each bed.  

Make holes: To make the holes you can fashion a planting stick called a ‘dibble’ from a smooth branch or a ¾ in dowel with a point, or, just use a ‘Sharpie pen’ to make the hole.  Make a number of holes and then go back and drop a single onion in each hole.  Gently press the roots into the hole and pinch the soil around each one, making sure the part that was under the soil in the pot is covered when you transplant leaving only the green top showing.  You’ll get the hang of it after a few and will be able to transplant hundreds in no time at all!

Onions in a wide bed.
Now the focus becomes keeping the bed weed-free and well watered.  Once the plants have become established and the warmer, sunny weather settles in you’ll be amazed at how fast everything grows.  Feel free to thin out your onions when they are immature and be sure to use the whole thing, greens and all. 

If you have planted non-hybrid seeds, hold back a few onions to replant next spring to save seed Onions are biennial meaning they don't produce seed till their second year. By collecting your own seeds you can begin the process all over again, and saving seeds, dear friends, is one big step toward greater food security!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Winter Projects Galore!

By Chris Burns
It’s been some time since we’ve written, and that might lead some of you to believe that there’s nothing going on in the Sharing Gardens at this time of the year. Some people have commented that “It must be great to have a break from all that garden work.”, or something to that effect. We can assure you all that although we are ‘chomping at the bit’ to start planting next Spring’s garden, we are enjoying a variety of projects that are keeping us happily busy through these colder and shorter winter days. We really DO enjoy what we do! We love to get out and rake leaves to use for soil-building, for example. It’s an activity that keeps us from turning flabby and depressed, We call it “Rakey Therapy.”

Thanks to some additional contributions of leaves from our local community, we now have almost 3/4‘s of the Monroe garden covered with leaves and have tilled them into the top few inches where they will provide a rich supply of nutrients for soil organisms and create a condition of high fertility for next year’s crops. Leaves need to be worked in during the Fall so that they have enough time to decompose. Otherwise, if they are put into the soil just before planting, it is very likely that they will pull too much nitrogen from the soil and result in withered and yellow looking starts.

Leaves need to be worked in during the Fall so that they have enough time to decompose. Chris, tilling in donated leaves, in between cover-crops.

Another project that we’ve taken on is the building of a 12 x 40 greenhouse in the Monroe Sharing Garden. (Please see our wishlist below.) We have two design ideas for its construction. Our first option would be to use two of those portable, tarp-covered parking structures like the ones that people buy at Costco. We often see them on people’s property, frames only, since the tarp coverings seem to deteriorate in a few years (see picture). We came up with another idea to build a greenhouse using bamboo, of all things, and it just so happens that Betty Briggs of the Harrisburg Gleaners contacted a friend of hers, John Sundquist who has a farm with bamboo “jungles” that are in serious need of management and selective thinning. Llyn and I have become great friends with John and have been given permission to harvest as much as we need.

Carport-cover used as greenhouse frame.

Aside from the Plan ‘B’ to build a greenhouse with some of the larger material, it can be used in a variety of ways in the garden such as bean and pea trellises, A-frames and trellises for tomatoes, garden stakes, teepees for climbing beans, garden gates, shade houses, you name it. Since the first seeds are ready to start in mid-February, (onions and peas) that doesn’t give us much time to ‘get ‘er done’ as they say. Having a greenhouse in the garden will afford us the opportunity to offer classes and workshops that I’m sure many people will enjoy while learning a lot of valuable methods that can be applied in their own home gardens. And of course, we plan to have extra starts to give out, as well as enough to offer ‘by donation’ to those who can afford to contribute financially as a way to help the project.

Bamboo has many versatile uses

And just a reminder, anyone can make tax-deductible donations to the Sharing Gardens. We can always use operating capital, so if you are in need of a “write-off’ and want to help support a great cause that helps local folks in need, please go to our website, and click on the ‘Donate” button in the upper right-hand corner; or send contributions through regular mail to the address given, and we will be sure to mail you a receipt, with our deepest appreciation. Any other donations of materials, tools and so on, are also eligible for tax receipts.

Having fun and learning in the greenhouse. Germaine and Larry Hammon with Llyn Peabody

However you choose to celebrate the ‘Holy-days’ Llyn and I want to wish you all the very best of times spent with friends and family, and thank all of you who have helped us to help others. Keep up the good work and together we can alleviate food insecurity and restore a sense of caring and sharing amongst those who we call ‘Neighbors and Friends.’ Be well!!!

Wish List:
Other Greenhouse Materials we need: 
  • Aluminum-framed, slider windows with screens. 4' x 4' is optimal but anything that size or smaller could work. 
  • Pressure-treated lumber: (4 x 4's), (2 x 4's), (2 x 6's), (4 x 6's) - all sizes. We can salvage materials that have nails in them.
  • Plywood: full or partial pieces 
  • Food-grade, 50-gallon plastic barrels (preferable) or metal drums. We paint them a dark color (if they aren't already), fill them with water and use them to support potting tables. They provide thermal-mass by warming up on sunny days and releasing their heat through the night. Very helpful in the spring (for germinating seedlings) and the fall, for extending the growing season.  
Other Garden Needs:
  • Raked leaves for garden mulch. Please bring them to either garden. LOCATIONS Let us know if you need any leaf bags. We re-use them if they're not too torn.  It helps if you don't tie them too tight (the ones you're dropping off). Please no trash, dog-doo or walnut leaves (they're toxic to plant growth.) 
  • Spoiled Hay or Straw- We use literally tons of hay to mulch and feed the gardens. If you're cleaning out your barn and need some place for the old stuff to go, we'd welcome it! We can even give you a tax-write-off for your donation.
  • Mechanic who's good with small-engine repair: Our roto-tillers and lawn mowers get quite a work-out! The gardens would really benefit from someone who likes to tinker and tune up small engines to keep them running well. We'll keep you supplied with lots of fresh, organic produce!

  • Garden cart or two-wheeled wheel barrow
  • Leaf rakes and other garden tools
  • Trash cans 
  • Plastic tubs, 5-gallon buckets, kitty-litter tubs etc. (please no broken ones)
  • T-posts (slightly bent, OK). All lengths helpful.
  • Cedar fence boards - we use them to build bird houses and compost bins (among other things).
  • Mud boots: some of our volunteers are low-income and can't afford mud boots. We will keep them on-hand for use in the garden. All sizes welcome. 
  • Straw hats: We keep a supply of them at the gardens for volunteers to use.
  • Accurate grocer's scale (to weigh the harvest at the Alpine Garden) 
  • Clean plastic/paper sacks 
  • Canning jars - all sizes, brought to either site
  • Seeds - heirloom varieties, not hybrid (so we can save seeds)
All Donations are Tax-deductible - ask us for a receipt.

       To contact us, please call or email:
       (541) 847-8797 (call from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm to 8:00 pm)

Cash donations - make checks out to the "Sharing Gardens"  and mail to 
       Sharing Gardens
        PO Box 11
        Monroe, OR 97456

Or use your credit card to make a donation through PayPal (click the button below).