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

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A "Growing" Movement

Hello dear friends and followers of the Sharing Gardens,

Heavenly Blue Morning Glory
We're heading into our 5th season with a renewed sense of enthusiasm, due in part to what appears to be a growing upsurge of similar efforts and projects like ours popping up around the country and around the world. In the last few months we've watched the 'stats' on our website (the numbers that tell us how many people, and from where around the globe they are coming from, as well as what kinds of information they are seeking) continue to rise to the point where, at the time of this email, there are nearly 3,000 visits to the 'Sharing Gardens" site each month!!! If you do a search for "sharing gardens", or ask "how to grow potatoes", for example, you will find us near the top of your search. This is amazing!! We just wanted all of you who have participated in some way to know that your efforts are really making a positive difference. People are coming to our site from all over the planet, and are able to translate the information into nearly every spoken language. You can all be quite pleased by that! And we hope that it will inspire you to keep on participating, not only for the great food and exercise, the great social experience and the shared gardening knowledge, but because your contributions, added to each and every other person's contributions, are sending a message out into the world of a way to begin to take back our communities, our health, and our sense of belonging to something bigger than our own little selves.

Briggs-family in the bean patch.
We discovered these two fabulous 'Ted Talks' that really capture the essence of
what our 'Sharing Gardens' are all about. We urge you to PLEASE set aside a little time to watch them. They are very inspiring and passionate examples of work that is SO cutting-edge and SO relevant to the times we live in that we believe that you won't be disappointed. Perhaps you will be even MORE motivated to get involved with us or get something started yourselves in your own communities. The time is NOW! It always IS!

Follow these two links and be inspired! And, if you feel moved, please let us know your thoughts about this topic. Post your comments at the bottom of this post if you'd like, so that others can read them.

Be well, and we (Llyn and I) look for ward to being with many of you in the garden again this season.

Ron Finley: A Guerilla Gardener in L.A.
Roger Doiron: A Subversive Plot; 
How to Grow a Revolution in Your Own Backyard

If you'd like to sign up to receive notices about volunteer-times in the garden: Click Here

To see our current wish list: Click Here

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wish-list: Spring 2013

2010 hay donation - Gene Boshart.
One of the goals of the "Sharing Gardens" project is to demonstrate how materials that might otherwise be headed for the burn-pile or landfill can be "re-purposed" and find new life serving those in need in our community (we call it re-usery!). We also appreciate your cash donations. All donations are tax-deductible - ask us for a receipt. Contact info below.

In the spring, our most pressing need is for hay and straw donations. We practice a deep-mulch method of gardening and use many tons of hay/straw on our garden paths. Spoiled is OK, as long as it's not super-wet. We don't have the means to pick it up but can reimburse you for time/gas if you deliver. Tax receipt also available.

We need a local mechanic who knows older engines really well. We can pay for your services.

Some of our needs are on-going. See list below.  
Home-made V-8, yum!
  • Lawn clippings: We have lots of lawn/leaf bags for you to re-use. Just come by when we're there and we'll give you some. Please don't tie bags too tight (makes it hard to re-use them).
  • Steer, llama, rabbit, chicken, sheep manure - delivered, please. (No horse manure unless it's very composted.)
  • Metal watering can
  • Bird bath 
  • Riding lawn mower with bagger - running, please!
  • Old 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. 
  • Canning jars - all sizes
  • Food-grade, 50-gallon plastic barrels (preferable) or metal drums.
  • Plastic tubs, 5-gallon buckets, kitty-litter tubs, etc. (please no broken ones)
  • Field fencing: the stiff kind, so we can build tomato cages.
  • Cash donations are always appreciated
Last but not least, our biggest wish of all is for a piece of land, with a farmhouse and a few out-buildings; a permanent home for the Sharing Gardens coordinators; a place to plant orchards; a place for an outdoor, rural arts school and a common-ground gathering place dedicated to the cultivation of generosity.
All donations can be brought to the Monroe site.
648 Orchard Rd.
Monroe, 97456 - Behind the big, white Methodist Church    

For large donations, please arrange to meet with us
Volunteers help sort donated pots and flats.

       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

All Donations are Tax-deductible - ask us for a receipt.
 To read an Overview about the Sharing gardens, and the many Benefits of growing food in this way, Click Here.

Your donations help us feed people.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Grass Clippings and Leaves for Fertilizer/Mulch

A Sustainable Approach to Building Soil Using Local-Materials

photo: Muhammad Sajjad
Turning over a new leaf
Leaves, grass clippings and other yard "waste" make excellent fertilizer for garden soil. We have been demonstrating this at the Sharing Gardens with vegetable yields in the tons (2012 Harvest Totals). My husband Chris also demonstrated a great increase in fertility using yard "waste" on his 5-acre farm in the high-desert country NE of Mt. Shasta, California (back in the 1980's - '90's). Within a short amount of time, using only leaves and grass clippings, alfalfa-powder that he collected from the floor of a pellet mill nearby, and a modest amount of goat and chicken manure from his own livestock, Chris turned volcanic soil, the consistency of beach-sand, into a garden that inspired Organic Gardening Magazine to write an article about him called "Defying the Odds on a High-Desert Oasis" (March 1991). Chris' gardens were so bounteous and beautiful that his farm was nicknamed "Findhorn West!"

Feed your worms and other "micro-livestock" directly in the soil!
We have already written several posts that go into great detail about the simple methods we use at the Sharing Gardens, using local materials, to increase fertility (links below). In essence, our method is to feed the soil with leaves, lawn-clippings, spoiled hay and vegetable scraps, weeds and the plants we pull at the end of the season to feed the "micro-livestock" (worms, bacteria and other "composters"). As these garden-partners eat their way through the yard and garden "waste" we provide for them, they fertilize the soil with their manure and create minute tunnels that keep the ground from compacting.

Organic Matter, the "The First Amendment"
As our dear friend, James Cassidy (professor of Soil Science at Oregon State University) likes to say about soil health, no matter what challenges you are facing, the answer is always "add organic matter!"

Here is a step-by-step guide to one of the methods we use at the Sharing Gardens to increase the fertility and tilth of the soil using a lot of grass clippings combined with dry leaves.

Two to three weeks before planting in a bed, spread a layer of leaves and grass clippings and till them in.

1. Thinly distribute dry leaves over the surface of your grass. You want there to be more grass clippings than leaves in your final mix. It'll be much easier to do with dry leaves saved from the previous Fall.
Maple and fruit trees have thinnest leaves that break down quickest. Avoid walnut leaves as they will make your soil toxic to your seedlings. Oak and other thicker leaves work fine -- just mix in more grass clippings than with thinner leaves.

2. Run the mower over the leaves/lawn, using a catcher-bag to collect them. Set mower at a higher setting. Sometimes you may have to lift and lower mower to avoid stalling.
3. Distribute them about 1" - 2" thick in garden beds. You can till first, or lay the grass/leaves out and then till them in.

4. Till grass/leaf combo into the soil passing over the bed two to four times to work them in well.
5. Worms and soil organisms will decompose them enough in 2-3 weeks for you to begin transplanting.
6. Stand back and watch your vegetables grow!
You don't have to spend lots of money on soil amendments, to yield beautiful results!
Note: if you use plain, fresh grass clippings (no leaves), they can be quite hot, if laid on thick. If used as a mulch around plants, be sure they don't actually touch the stems or leaves of the plants.
John mulches lettuce and broccoli using fresh grass-clippings.
Other related posts from the Sharing Gardens:
Preparing Garden Beds - One Low-Tech Way

Hay-Bale Compost

More on Mulch

Mulch We Love, and Why 

Benefits of Deep Mulching

CLICK HERE for article (from your Organic Garden) about using leaves to build healthy soil.

Raking grass - a local resource.
But could it really be so simple? 
In the beginning (if you are starting with a new garden site), or even as you transition from using commercially available soil amendments, you may need to use a pre-mixed, organic fertilizer, or concentrated materials applied judiciously, in addition to leaves, grass clippings etc. For example, in the first years of the Alpine, and Monroe Sharing Gardens we used rabbit and llama manure (dried and sifted as part of our nursery/potting mix, or worked into the hole with transplants.) We used an all-purpose, organic fertilizer in this same way, along with some kelp powder (for minerals and micro-nutrients). At times we have also used fish, or seaweed liquid concentrates as a "foliar feeder" (diluted with water and sprayed on plants when they showed signs of mineral depletion or stress.) But our primary methods of maximizing the fertility of our soil have been through mulching deeply using locally available "waste products": Leaves, grass clippings and spoiled hay (wet or moldy hay that can no longer be used as feed or bedding for livestock).

Volunteers sharing in the harvest. Now that's local!
Taking local food production to a new level
One hot topic these days is "eating local".  A "locavore" is someone who endeavors to eat foods grown or produced within a certain radius (for example, 100 miles). There are many reasons a person might choose to eat more "locally" but one common reason is to live lighter on the planet by reducing the amount of fuel needed to transport food. While this is an important piece of the puzzle, it's also important to go a step further to look also at where the fertilizers and other soil amendments come from. Even if the food you eat travels less than 100 miles, if the soil was fertilized with products that came from half-way around the world, this radically increases the "carbon footprint."  Many of these soil amendments also involve aggressive mining, or extraction methods that are environmentally damaging and threaten the delicate balance of life. Many of the sources for these materials are in increasingly shorter supply, making the long-term use of them unsustainable. Also, for people who choose to eat a vegan, or vegetarian diet, their use in growing vegetables is undesirable (ex: feather-meal, bonemeal and other slaughter-house by-products).

Don't treat your soil like "dirt".
As an overall philosophy, we feel it is better to work with nature and cooperate with the processes of soil-building and fertility that have evolved over eons, than to assume the role of a soil magician, concocting potions and powders, mixes and methods that can be complicated, costly and often disruptive to the health of your soil. The good news is that most, if not all of these products can be supplemented, and eventually replaced by resources that are local, renewable and sustainable: leaves, lawn clippings, kelp concentrates (powder and liquid) and modest amounts of animal manure.

Finding local sources
If you don't live in an area that will deliver leaves, or you don't have a site big enough to warrant a full dump-truck load deposited, here are some other ideas:
  • Offer to rake your neighbors leaves in exchange for using them in your garden.
  • Approach your neighbors about bringing you their bags of leaves.
  • Organize a "leaf co-op" where a group of gardening friends rake and share the leaves they gather.
  • Organize your local scout troop, or 4-H, or youth group to spend a few Saturdays in a row raking leaves in the neighborhood. You can offer this service 'by donation' and collect funds for the youth group's other activities.
  • Put an add on 'Craig's List' requesting leaves.
  • Set up a site at the local dump or transfer station.
Collection station Chris set up at the local dump in Mt Shasta, CA (1980's).
This last solution is one that my husband Chris, implemented quite successfully at his previous farm. At that time, yard "waste" was a real issue as it took up valuable space at the land-fill and meant that they would have to close and find new places to dump the community's refuse. Also, in many rural areas, instead of paying dump-fees, many people gather their leaves and burn them which not only deprives the soil of these valuable nutrients but adds to air pollution as well. Chris made an arrangement with the dump's manager whereby he set up a chain-link enclosure as a collection-site for yard waste and had a separate area for nursery pots and flats. Whenever the enclosure was full, Chris would get a call from the manager, and go pick up the load.

We're all just kids in the garden!
Whenever we write one of these "how-to" posts we try to add a couple of caveats: One is that, there are just about as many different ways to grow a garden as there are gardeners and this is just our way. Two: Gardening is a very dynamic process; each garden site is different, and each year the same garden site is different due to the weather and other shifting conditions. So, while these methods reflect what we're doing these days, check back in another year and see if we've evolved it further!

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.)