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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

There's No Competition on the Giving Side of Life

The Garden's Bounty
Many people may have a mis-perception about the Sharing Gardens and how they work. As it says in our Overview, "All materials and labor are donated. The food we grow is shared amongst those who have contributed in some way as well as others who are in need in our community. All surplus is donated to our local food-bank and other charities. No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown." Even though it clearly says that the food we grow "is shared amongst those who have contributed in some way," we realized in this conversation with our neighbors,  that many local people, who are not particularly suffering financially have held back on participating, or feeling OK about receiving harvest from the garden because of their perception that the primary purpose of the Gardens is to feed "those in need."

First of all, while our guiding purpose is to feed "those in need", in the last two seasons we grew 3,500 and 4,500 pounds of food (those figures included both the volunteers and the surplus donated to the Food Bank, the Senior Lunch Program and others.) One of our greatest challenges has been, as the Food Bank was closing up each week, was to find people to take home all the fresh produce that was still left over! Growing food in the style of sharing creates tremendous abundance and "rising waters lift all ships." Even if you or your family is not in dire financial circumstances, you are still welcome to participate in the growing of food and sharing in the bounty. There is plenty to go around!

Secondly, there are many less-material benefits to those who volunteer in the gardens that go beyond the amount of food you would be able to take home with you in harvest times. Getting your hands in the soil, moving your body as you prepare the ground, pulling weeds and harvesting--all contribute to your physical health and well-being. Sharing in conversation, meeting the other volunteers and making new connections is good for you emotionally. Learning how to grow your own food organically and having stimulating conversations about the current world-situation while pulling weeds or picking beans, is good for your mind. And stepping into active service; giving without a specific calculation of what you'll get in return is just plain good for the soul!

Conversation in the bean-patch.
It's not too late to be added to our email list to be informed of where and when we'll be in the gardens. Just email us at: shareinjoy@gmail.com and let us know you want to be added to the volunteer list.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Seeds and 'Starts' Giveaway and Fund-raiser - Sat. Apr. 21.

Come see the new greenhouse and take home starts for your garden!
Seeds and 'Starts' Giveaway and Fund-raiser for the Sharing Gardens. Saturday, April 21 - 9:00 to noon at the Monroe garden site. We've grown over 3,000 starts in our new greenhouse! Many of these will be planted in our own plots but we have purposely grown extra to share. We also have packaged up many of the seeds we've saved and these will be available too. All seeds and starts are free for anyone not going to sell their produce. Donations also gladly accepted. We will have lettuces, broccoli and kale. More to follow in a few weeks. Later in the Spring we will have flowers, tomatoes and other starts to share as well. If you have any empty nursery pots or flats you can bring them for us to re-use. 

The Monroe Sharing Garden is behind the Methodist Church - 648 Orchard St. Turn into the parking lot and head straight back. Look for the sign and shed below (you can't see the greenhouse from the parking lot).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Snow-ball Effect!

Monroe Greenhouse under construction - note bamboo ribs with PVC joints.
So much has happened since our last "update" post of March 15th. On March 21st, when most of the central and eastern parts of the country were setting records for high temps, the Southern Willamette valley of Oregon (where we live) set an all-time record for a late-March snowfall. We had a full twelve inches at our place! It was a wet, heavy snow and began falling in the night. There was close to five inches by the time Chris and I finished breakfast and we knew we needed to get down to the new Monroe greenhouse to see if it needed any help.

It soon became clear that we weren't going to be able to make it down our 1/4-mile long driveway in our truck, so Chris and I bundled up and began the 2+-mile walk down to Monroe. We were on an adventure! Shortly after we began walking on the road,we spotted a neighbor stopped in his pick-up truck at the bottom of his driveway. He waited for us to catch up to him and we chatted for a bit. We'd never met him before. He had tried to go to work that day but soon realized (after seeing the third car in a ditch off highway 99) that he'd be better off staying home. When he heard what we were up to he told us to hop into the truck and he gave us a ride! Fortunately Keith's truck had four-wheel drive or we never would have made it!
The greenhouse during the snowstorm
It was a good thing we checked on the greenhouse because the snow was building up on the flatter side of the roof. We'd designed it to shed rain and to withstand a mild snowfall but it was no match for the weight of the thick, heavy snow. Several of the bamboo struts holding up the ceiling had cracked; others had popped out of the PVC elbows holding the frame together and the plastic was bulging into deep pockets that continued to fill with snow. The weight of these pockets then tore holes in the plastic where it was speared by the bamboo uprights. Yikes! Keith and Chris grabbed push brooms to push the snow off the roof from inside. The miracle was that, although we already had over 500 'starts' potted up, and many of our power tools were still in the greenhouse to complete the finishing touches, none of these sustained any damage at all. The little baby plants just kept growing right through the crisis as if nothing were wrong.

Keith and Chris push snow off the roof. Note fallen support poles angled across the back.
The snow melted off within two days, which was a blessing but then we were hit with wave after wave of chilly days with rain that hardly stopped. As the 'starts' grew big enough to need planting to larger pots, I began to feel like the Sorcerer's Apprentice with a seemingly unending task of transplanting the tiny seedlings one-by-one. Meanwhile Chris was facing his own Sisyphean task. When the greenhouse plastic held the weight of the snow it was stretched into pockets that now held the unending rains. Every day Chris faced a new challenge as he repaired and shored up the roof from the previous day's damage.

The rains turned out to be somewhat of a blessing though. At the very end of the garden season last year, electricity to the garden's well-pump had been cut and so we had no water for all our starts. When the roof of the greenhouse began collecting gallons each day, Chris poked holes in the plastic and put buckets underneath them to catch the rain. We used this water to keep our starts thriving, using an old-fashioned watering can (boy, does that build up your muscles when you lift that full watering can up over the tables in the nursery!)

Llyn watering starts.
Because we were potting up so many plants, we began running out of soil and, feeling a little pent up from dealing with the snow and rain, we decided, during a break in the weather to hook up our trailer and head to town to get a 'yard' of soil. All went smoothly until, about ten miles from home, just coming out of a sharp curve on a two-lane highway, a tire blew on the trailer. Gratefully it occurred at one of the only places with a wide enough shoulder to pull over so we got out to assess the damage. The tire was shredded! We had no spare with us so we just unhooked the trailer, threw a tarp over the soil and headed home for the night.

The next day was April Fool's and guess who turned out to be the fools! We made three trips back to the trailer with three different jacks till we found one that was strong enough to lift the trailer filled with soil (thank you Mark Frystak and Larry Winiarski for the loan of your jacks!) only to discover that the spare we found had a different bolt-hole pattern so wouldn't fit. Meanwhile the rains had begun again in earnest and a chilly wind was blowing down from the north. The tire-repair store was closed on Sundays so we just headed home and waited till the morning to try again. Amazing how smoothly things can go when you have the right tools and the right tire for the job! We had the soil dropped off to the greenhouse well before lunch that Monday.

Meanwhile, our camera stopped being recognized by our computer so we weren't sure if all the pictures we were taking were ones we'd ever be able to use. As I mentioned before, we were also facing the uncertainty of whether our water would be turned back on and, soon it would be time to install a portable toilet for the summer at a cost of over $60/month and we didn't know where that money was coming from. Chris and I were really finding our faith challenged as we faced all these uncertainties but we felt strongly that the gardens were calling to be planted again so we just kept going down to the greenhouse, patiently implementing the repairs and starting seeds and gradually the Fates began smiling on the project again.
After the storms, a rainbow!
First we got word that Monroe's Methodist Church (which is adjacent to the garden and houses the South Benton Food Bank) had offered to cover the cost for the portable toilet. The potty will be shared by the gardens and by people who volunteer for the Food Bank as well. Then, a secret angel repaired the broken wiring to the well-pump and, just a few days ago we were able to begin watering with hoses in the greenhouse. Lastly, my wonderful uncle Craig re-configured our computer so we can upload pictures again.

The long streak of rainy, cool weather has lifted for a few days so we've been down at the Monroe site a bunch. On Easter we were joined by John Kinsey (also know as "Garlic John" for single-handedly growing enough garlic to just about supply the town of Monroe!). He helped us plant out the peas we'd grown in pots (started Feb. 17th). We've got a beautiful row of plants, a foot tall and they seem to have adapted easily to their new home in the garden. We also have two long rows of fava beans and about 50 feet of shallots planted. The plants we started in March have come along far enough that we've moved them to saw horses outside the greenhouse to "harden off". We've grown over 3,000 seedlings so far this year! The wave of community support really lifts our spirits as well. It feels like the Sharing Gardens have truly been adopted by many of the people, businesses and organizations where we live. What began with a record-braking snow-fall just a few weeks ago has  "snow-balled" into a project that is uniting members of all walks of our rural community.
'Starts' in the foreground, Chris tilling in the back.
 We have a huge list of people to thank for their support. You are helping to make this project a success!
Continued gratitude to Chester Crowson who continues to let us garden on his Monroe property for free, and pays the electricity to run the well-pump. The Sharing Gardens wouldn't be happening whithout you! Cathy Rose - generous cash donation. Bud Hardin - wheel-barrow, garden tools and two garden carts. Gini Bramlett and the Tribune News - for publishing our Wish List and articles about us. Mark Frystak - large donation of straw, camera and coffee grounds from Allann Bros. Coffee of Albany. Keith Hazelton - snow-day greenhouse rescue. Earnie Wilson and Eva and Jesse - for joining our seed-saving network. Craig Erken and Ray Kreth - for technical assistance in getting our camera working again. Rantu Press, and Rann and Doreen Millar - for offering us cameras. The Millars have also offered to share a subscription to the Tribune News. This will help us keep our scrapbook up to date. United Methodist Church of Monroe - paying for seven months of portable toilet rental. Best Pots - discount rate for toilet rental. David Mills and son, Tyler - truckloads of leaves (from Monroe Telephone - thanks John Dillard for suggesting they bring them to us) and two truckloads of sheep manure - great stuff! John Kinsey - starting peas and onions in his greenhouse, help with transplanting and mowing the lawn at the Monroe site (a Herculean task!) Linda and David Prowse - multiple truckloads of leaves. South Benton Nutrition Program - all your love and support - we feel appreciated by you!
David Mills and son Tyler bring us a load of leaves.

We have a handful of upcoming events that you might wish to add to your calendar:

Friday, April 20 - Big volunteer day in the Monroe Garden. Twice a year, OSU organizes a massive service-project effort. Dozens of teams of 6-volunteers each spread out through Corvallis and South Benton County to assist groups in gardening, wildlife restoration, clean-ups and more. Professor Steve Cook says that, "OSU is beginning to emphasize "Service Learning'". His class of 315 students "contributes 40% of the Service Learning for the entire university". Our event takes place from 9:00 to 1:00 followed by a sack-lunch picnic. If you would like to join us, please RSVP (541) 847-8797 so we know how many projects to have ready for people to do.

Saturday, April 21 - 9:00 to noon. Seeds and 'Starts' Fund-raiser for the Sharing Gardens. We've grown over 3,000 starts in our new greenhouse! Many of these will be planted in our own plots but we have purposely grown extra to share. We also have packaged up many of the seeds we've saved and these will be available too. All seeds and starts are free for anyone not going to sell their produce. Donations also gladly accepted. We will have lettuces, broccoli, cabbage and kale. Later in the Spring we will have flowers, tomatoes and other starts to share as well. If you have any empty nursery pots or flats you can bring them for us to re-use.

John Kinsey and Llyn planting peas on Easter.
Volunteer times: Currently we seem to be in the garden/greenhouse just about every day but it's too soon to establish regular volunteer times. If you'd like to come join us, give us a call and we'll try to schedule you in. If you'd like to be informed of regular volunteer times once they start up again, send us an email at: ShareInJoy@gmail.com and we'll add you to our list.

Seed Savers Needed: We are looking for gardeners who are interested in learning the art of seed-saving and who would be willing to grow-out certain varieties of vegetables to save, and share the seed. If you have a garden patch, separated from other vegetable gardens by at least 500 feet, and would like to grow and save seed, please let us know and we will inform you of next steps. We'll coach you along the way in how to grow the plants and save the seeds (if you need help). Send us an email at: ShareInJoy@gmail.com or phone us at (541) 847-8797. Let us know if you have a greenhouse and if you have any previous experience in growing seeds.

We've set a date for the second annual Farm to Farm Century Ride  - Sept. 15, 2012. The bicycle tour travels through  beautiful farmland and the coastal mountains stopping at several small-scale farms along the way.  Beginning and ending in Monroe, the ride highlights local and organic foods and culminates in an afternoon meal, catered by the Sharing Gardens while riders enjoy bluegrass music from "When Picks Fly" Last year this benefit raised $2,000 for our project. For more info, here is the website - Link.

Spring sky over Monroe garden.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Preparing Garden Beds - One Low-Tech Way

Planted side-beds in a previous greenhouse that Chris built and managed.
The challenge: In our 100-foot-long greenhouse we've got two side-beds that still have living grass growing in them. Since we began building the greenhouse at the start of Oregon's rainy season we didn't want to roto-till the ground which would have created a muddy mess during construction-time.  We have begun a process now which we hope will leave us with healthy, worm-filled beds in time for this next summer's plantings of tomatoes, peppers and other herbs and vegetables.

Creating raised beds with salvaged lumber.
The Solution: Step 1: We used salvaged lumber to create the sides of the raised beds. As we build the soil, this will contain it from spilling into the paths. Each bed is four feet wide.

Step 2: With leaves that people have donated, we lay down a layer about 4" thick, the full length of the beds.

Step 3: Next we added a layer of rabbit manure. One five-pound bucket per six-feet of bed, spread evenly (Sometimes it clumps so you have to break it up with a spade fork or your hands.) We are fortunate to have a rabbitry in our neighborhood (Julia Sunkler - "My Pharm") where we can go shovel large quantities of manure for use in our gardens. Rabbit manure is preferable because grass seeds do not survive their digestive tracts. If you don't have access to rabbit manure, cow, llama and chicken are also excellent (for the same reason). Horse manure is the least desirable as, unless it has been well-composted, weed seeds are still viable and can be a major problem in your garden. (Update: Since writing this post in 2011, we have almost phased out using animal manures entirely and are using coffee grounds and wood-ashes to build soil fertility. Coffee grounds are available for free from most coffee-shops and can be applied liberally in garden-beds and compost piles; worms love them!).

Step 4: Using a hand-held pump sprayer, or one of those hose attachments that allows you to spray a mist, spray evenly a strong solution of fish emulsion, liquid seaweed and water on your garden beds.

Step 5: If you have a small tiller, that you can easily run in your beds, mix everything together at this time. We don't have a small tiller so we are using something called a broad fork. This is an indestructible hand tool that is excellent for breaking up new soil. It is also great for harvesting potatoes. If you don't have a broad fork, you can loosen the soil with a spade fork instead. It will just take you a lot longer. If you have heavy, clay soil, be sure to wait until it has drained a bit or you will end up with heavy, brick-like clumps.

A broad fork in action.
Step 6: Once you have mixed everything, it's ideal if you can "seed" your bed with micro-livestock i.e. "red wiggler" worms. These are a variety of worms that thrives on compost, manure and mulch. If you don't have a starter batch, they will eventually come on their own but you can significantly jump-start the process by spreading them through-out your beds. When we went to dig up the rabbit manure, we came across several concentrated clumps of the worms. These we put in specially marked bags and distributed them throughout our greenhouse beds.

"Red Wigglers", our micro-livestock.
Step 7: Using thick black plastic (that we found dumped at our local recycling center) we have covered the beds completely. Blocked of sunlight, the grass still growing in the beds cannot survive. The worms and other microbes have plenty of food to keep them busy and multiplying, doing the work of preparing the beds for late-spring planting.

Finished job (for now!)
Please also read: Herbicide Contamination in Manure, Compost and Grass Clippings?

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.)

Needed: Seed Saver volunteers

Part of the "Sharing Garden's" Mission Statement is "to create a local and sustainable seed bank." We are looking for gardeners who are interested in learning the art of seed-saving and who would be willing to grow-out certain varieties of vegetables to save, and share the seed. If you have a garden patch, separated from other vegetable gardens by at least 500 feet, and would like to grow and save seed, please let us know and we will inform you of next steps. We'll coach you along the way in how to grow the plants and save the seeds (if you need help). Also, if you are an experienced local gardener and have some input that could help the rest of us to understand the finer points of seed-saving, please be in touch. We welcome your participation.

This notice is primarily directed towards gardeners who live near us, although we encourage our far-flung readers to initiate a similar project with gardeners in your own area. The more we can learn about growing our own food, storing it and saving seed, the more secure we will all be.

Before the days of Agri-business, Grange Halls had a vital function in farming communities. Not only did members of the local granges share large, expensive equipment (so each farmer did not have to own his or her own). But grange-members would also gather in the winter and agree on who was going to grow what. This was a valuable process so that a) farmers could rotate their crops and not overtax any one field by growing the same crop on it year after year, b) local communities were assured that there would be enough of the staple-crops to go around and c) for those farmers who were taking their crops to market, this planning assured that there would not be a glut on any one crop.

Most Grange Halls no longer serve these original functions. We, at the "Sharing Gardens" would like to re-introduce this idea on a smaller scale. It doesn't take a lot of room to grow most seed crops but, for the vegetables that easily cross-pollinate with other similar varieties, they should be isolated by 500 feet to a half mile from others with which they might cross.

Butter Cup Squash
For example, Sweet Meat and Butter Cup squash, if grown in the same patch will "cross" and you can't know which characteristics of the mother plants will carry through in their offspring. The next generation might be delicious but they could turn out to be woody or flavorless and, you wouldn't know until you've grown out the whole next generation.

Our intention with the Seed-Savers network is to encourage people to learn about the art of saving seed and to create more local food self-reliance. With participation from other experienced gardeners and seed-savers, we will learn about this important skill together. All levels of expertise are welcome.