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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Real People STILL doing real things


Llyn, slicing Ropreco tomatoes for dehydration.
The title of this post refers back to an entry we made in July of 2009 quoting our dear friend - Lodie as she remarked on how we at the Sharing Gardens were, "real people, doing real things."! Well Lodie, we're still going strong! Here's a newsy update about how some of our partnerships with other agencies are faring; our property-tax exemption appeal and an uplifting "Gallery of Givers"!

Nasturtium blossom.
Court Update: In June, of this year, the Sharing Gardens had its day in court, building the case for a full exemption of property taxes for the land and farmhouse that host the gardens. We needed to demonstrate that we are a legitimate charity, serving the public. We are very pleased to report that we received a 50% exemption! Magistrate Tanner was very honoring in her written "decision" and, though she did not feel that the farmhouse qualified for exemption, all of the land containing the Sharing Gardens, the orchards and outbuildings was included. Thank you to the dozens of people who wrote letters for us to include in our court materials. We feel that your heart-felt support really tipped the scales in Tanner's decision. she said:
"Plaintiff's charitable work through the Sharing Gardens was well documented by Peabody's testimony and numerous written statements from local beneficiaries of the Sharing Gardens' output. The overwhelming community support for the Sharing Gardens is evidence that Plaintiff's principle of generosity is more than an aspiration; it is practiced."
Connecting with other agencies: As we have mentioned in recent posts, our connections with other agencies is expanding and deepening. Here are some updates:
OSU students transplanting starts.

Oregon State University (OSU) Service Learning Projects: As many of our readers already know, the Sharing Gardens has been offering opportunities for OSU students to complete class requirements to do "service-learning" projects in the community. We began hosting one to two groups per term in 2012 and have expanded our offerings to four groups (of 4-6 students) every Fall, Winter and Spring! These students can get so much done in the four hours they're here that we often have to discourage our regular volunteers from coming for a week or two ahead of time to be sure we have enough to keep them occupied! We bring students for service-learning from two classes : Geo 300 and Soil Sciences.

Grant Partnership: Last June, we were approached by OSU's Soil Science class to see if we would like to partner with them in submitting a grant proposal. The funds had to directly benefit a project related to service-learning. All we had to do was give the writer (Deanna Lloyd) some details about our project and a list of how the money would be spent. She filled out the forms.

Koltavary GH, before dismantling.
We got it! The grant went through without a hitch. The $3,445 will cover the materials' costs for re-erecting a 50' x 30' professional-grade greenhouse on SG grounds. The greenhouse framework was donated by our neighbors - the Koltavary's. With the help of volunteers we have already dismantled and moved the frame to our site. The grant will cover the cost of the plastic "skin", lumber, screws/fasteners, cinder-blocks and soil for raised beds. In short - everything we need to expand the garden's capacity to grow food year-round and provide "indoor" classroom space for rural-arts classes.

Watering plants for sharing. The Sharing Gardens typically gives away over half of the 'starts' we grow.

Cindy helps Bella with her gloves.
Calapooia Food Alliance: A few weeks ago we were invited to give a slide-show presentation at a neighboring town's "Munch Night". The CFA coordinates a Farmer's Market and community-garden that combines your typical "pea-patch" (separate family plots) with a sharing-type plot that grows food collectively with several volunteers. The slide-show was a big success -- the largest turn-out they'd ever had. Don Lyons, president of CFA said, "Your visit was informative and inspiring. We hope to continue to learn from you and that your visit will spread a web of Sharing Gardens through the valley." We hope so too! Thanks to Gini Bramlett who invited us to be presenters. Over the years she's been a fairy-god mother of networking for the SG; helping us spread the word to diverse and widespread communities of folks here in the Willamette valley. Link to CFA

Monroe Health Clinic, Benton County Health Dept., Dr Kyle Homertgen and the Behavior-Change Class for Pre-Diabetics: Monroe was host to its first series of classes to help participants learn and adopt healthier lifestyle habits. Topics included: shifting to a more plant-based diet, increasing exercise, drinking more water and weaning off of diet- and regular-sodas. Participants were weighed and had blood-pressure checks at each session so they could track their own improvements. Each session also included time for them to share amongst themselves about challenges and successes.   


"Detroit" beets. Yumm!
The final session was held at the Sharing Gardens. We gave them a brief tour and provided the lettuce for a potluck salad bar. When Chris was asked how we deal with pests in the garden he drew a metaphor between plant health and human health. He said, "We don't use any pesticides or herbicides in the gardens. We nourish our plants from the ground, up; feeding the soil using mulch and compost. Plants raised on a healthy diet are able to withstand and resist invasions from bugs and diseases. This is as true for people as it is for plants. A healthy diet creates a healthy body and a strong immune system."

Dr. Kyle Homertgen, DO is a family medicine physician who focuses on plant-based nutrition for the prevention and reversal of chronic disease. Dr. Kyle encourages all of his patients to eat a local, nutrient-dense, plant-based diet. He tells his patients that they can "pay the farmer or pay the doctor," and that their most important form of health care is what they decide to put into their bodies. To borrow from Michael Pollan, it should be whole, not too much, and mostly plants. If you are curious to learn more about Dr. Kyle Homertgen and his philosophy of medicine, here is a link to his site.

Sabine, Chris and Cathy weeding.

Now, doesn't that look nice?
Ten Rivers Food Web (TRFW):   Another partnership that has begun to take root and blossom is with Ten Rivers Food Web. This is a local non-profit agency that works as an advocate between small-scale, local farmers and consumers (through farmer's markets, their annual Fill Your Pantry event, and Oregon’s Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (providing coupons and support to connect low-income folks with fresh, local foods). Their website has many links to resources for locally produced food.

Another great season of giving. After our volunteers (share-givers) have harvested the food, and taken what they can use for their families, the rest is distributed weekly to (primarily) two local food pantries: the South Benton Food Pantry and Junction City's Local Aid. We don't have the season's total from SBFP but we delivered 1,592 pounds to JCLA. We are very grateful to Dave Cook for faithfully driving our delivery to them each week.

Gallery of Givers: The 2015 season is basically done. We're still harvesting a trickle of tomatoes from our greenhouse plants each week but that too will soon end. It's been a great year.
Sifting manure to add to potting soil and transplant-holes.

Adri and Sabine planting beans.

Seed-planting with OSU-Sam
Maiya weeding in the greenhouse.

Potato planting in Spring.

...and Fall potato harvesting.
Sabine and Elisa transplanting melons.
...which grew into these beauties! 2015- A great year for melons.

Adding lots of straw-mulch...
...leads to bountiful harvests and fewer weeds.
Heather - our summer intern from OSU and Calla in the beet-patch.
Gini making compost "tea".

The McDougals (Chris' daughter and family) enjoying garden-time together, potato-hunting.

Re-purposing gallon pots to use as collars around young plants.
Chris with grand-daughter Calla, picking beets.

Guys in the potato-field.

Gals in the beet-patch

OSU students "turning" compost piles.

OSU gals picking Scarlet Runner Beans
Students, shelling beans.

Picking flowers is a favorite task for young and 'young-at-heart'.

Elisa and Maiya bring the bounty to the Food Pantry next door.

Fruit smoothies with kale at snack-time. Even the little kids liked 'em!

Llyn picking tomatoes in our newest greenhouse. The canopy is formed from the leaves of just two gourd plants held up with netting. Better than "shade-cloth", this natural covering kept the greenhouse from becoming too hot on those record-setting, scorcher-days in July and August. We'll make rattles and bird-houses from the dried gourds.
We are grateful for another wonderful year. Hard to believe that we'll be starting seeds again in about ten weeks! We're glad for the slow-down of winter; time for indoor-creativity and a slower pace. Thanks to everyone for your participation and support. Llyn and Chris

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.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Making Pumpkin Pie from Scratch - Recipe

Sugar-pie pumpkins; a variety bred for sweet, smooth flesh.

Making pumpkin pie from scratch is truly a labor of love! How much easier it is just to open a can of puree. In the spirit of the slow food movement, we start making our pies back in April when we first plant the seeds! The small vines are transplanted into mounds of compost we've made ourselves, mulched, watered and weeded through the summer and harvested by the hundreds of pounds after they get their first kiss of frost.

This year, because of the tremendously hot and dry summer, almost all our winter-squash (the types we use to make pie-filling) finished ripening well before the first frost so we harvested them anyway. They're not as sweet as when they've been frosted but every bit as nutritious.

Provence, Buttercups and Sweetmeats.
When you're planning your garden for next season, consider sketching out enough space for plenty of winter-squash. Winter squash are the varieties that have a harder skin and store well for enjoyment all through the winter.  "Pumpkins" are just a variety of the larger category of "squash". Pumpkin pie filling can be made from sugar-pie pumpkins, or any kind of sweet, golden-meat type of squash. Delicata, Buttercup and Sweetmeat are all good varieties. If you don't have room in your garden next year, look for these varieties at your local market. Sometimes we combine two types of squash/pumpkin to make one batch of filling. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are not good to use as they are not bred for sweetness and the meat can be quite stringy. Our current favorite is the Provence pumpkin, an heirloom variety that has the sweetest meat we’ve found. It tends to grow quite large so it provides filling for many pies but, because they tend to be so big, they're not often grown commercially (most people can't use that much squash before it goes bad) so, if you want a Provence, you'll probably have to grow your own.

We make many batches of filling at once and freeze them. If you’re going to mess up the kitchen, you might as well make it worth it! Be sure you have plenty of all the ingredients you’ll need on hand. Or, you can also bake the squash and freeze it in 2-cup batches plain, using it much like you'd use a can of store-bought puree.


To bake the squash: 
The Provence is one of our favorites for pie.
Preheat oven to 400
Wash pumpkin/squash and dry skin 
Cut it open: Use a stout, sharp knife on a table or counter low enough that you can use the weight of your upper body to quarter the squash.  Doing it on the floor might even be easiest. 

Use a strong metal spoon to scrape out seeds and loose pulp/strings. You can put the seeds and pulp outside to feed birds and squirrels or separate the seeds, oil, salt and bake them. You probably won't want to save the seeds for planting, unless you're certain that they haven't "crossed" with other varieties. 

Cut into smaller pieces: Though it can be quite a challenge to cut these large, winter squash into smaller pieces for baking, you’ll be rewarded with a much shorter cooking time.

Orange, sweet flesh, yum!!
Place squash with skin facing down in a baking pan that has sides that are at least a two-inches deep. Many squash give off quite a lot of juice and can make a mess in your oven if the juice spills over the side of the pan. A roasting pan is ideal.

Bake squash/pumpkin for one hour, or until a fork pokes easily, deep into the flesh.


Once done, allow to cool. If you’ve chosen one of the juicier squashes, you’ll have best results by putting the pieces in a large colander over a bowl to drain any excess juice. The juice makes a delicious soup stock. I used to peel off the skins but found that they can be food-processed and taste just fine.


If you baked more squash than you’re prepared to deal with, you can freeze it and thaw to make filling at a later time. Freeze in 2-cup batches.

Sydney w/ a Provence

Yummy Natural Pumpkin Pie Filling 
YIELD: Filling for one, 9” pie.
Preheat oven to 365

In a food processor (a blender will not work), combine:

2 eggs (sorry, we haven't perfected a vegan version yet...)
2 cups squash/pumpkin

2/3 cup brown sugar
2 TBSP powdered milk (or soy protein powder*)
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp salt

½ cup soy milk, cow’s milk, almond or coconut milk

Begin with eggs, alone. Mix thoroughly.
Add squash. Puree till smooth. Check to be sure there are no pumpkin lumps.
Add milk and all dry ingredients making an effort to distribute spices evenly. Mix in well.

* (not soy-flour).

Pour into your favorite pie shell and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour at 375 or until the pie is golden-brown, the middle is reasonably firm (it will get firmer as it cools) and before the crust gets too brown. Cool on wire rack before eating. Cover and chill to store.

To freeze filling for later:

Combine everything except the eggs. Make one batch at a time. Each batch is a little less than a quart so you can put it in your favorite freezer-containers. We use qt-size plastic zip-lock bags. Label them with blue, painter’s masking tape (it won’t come off in the freezer and you can peel it off after you empty the bag, wash the bag and re-use it.) I always write a reminder on the label to add two eggs. Lay the bags flat and you can easily stack many of them in your freezer.

When you want to make a pie, thaw the filling, add the eggs and use a blender, a mixer or food processor to mix it all well. By mixing in the eggs right before baking, you’ll have a fluffier, more pudding-like pie. Bake as above.

If you run out of any ingredients, before you've used up your squash, just freeze bags of the plain squash puree' and add the other ingredients right before baking. Freeze in 2-cup batches so you can thaw them, one pie at a time.

James and Jaye holding Buttercups; a drier, sweet, golden squash.

Flaky Rolled Pie Crust – YIELD: Two 9” pies without top shells

1 ¼  cups unbleached pastry flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup sunflower oil (chilled is best)
1/3 cup ice water

Mix the flours and salt. Pour the oil and water into a cup but don’t stir. Mix with the flour. Press into a ball. Cut into halves. Place between two sheets of 12-inch waxed paper. Dampen a tabletop to prevent slipping. Roll out until the circle of dough reaches the edge of the paper. Peel off top paper and place the crust face down in a pie tin. Peel off the other paper and fit dough into tin. Freeze extra pie crust, in a pie-tin, in a plastic bag for later use.

Llyn, with Sugar-pie pumpkins.


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.)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Benefits of Deep Mulching

Deep mulching produces a bounteous harvest!
Here in the Sharing Gardens we practice a style of gardening known as "deep mulching". Just as it is rare to find bare soil in nature, in our gardens you won't find much exposed soil either. We use the materials that are easily available in our area (grass clippings, leaves and spoiled hay) and let nature do the work of increasing the garden's fertility. People who raise livestock such as cows, goats, chickens and rabbits know how important it is to give appropriate food, water and shelter to keep their animals healthy. In turn, these animals produce by-products that are beneficial to the people who care for them, not the least of which are the nutrient-rich manures used as the basis for many commercial fertilizers. In the Sharing Gardens, we tend to "livestock" on a slightly smaller scale. Worms, fungi, beneficial insects and bacteria are the micro-livestock we care for with our heavy mulching. They, in turn, provide a natural balancing of the soil along with castings and other "waste products" that feed the plants' rootlets right where they need it most.

Mulching feeds your "micro-livestock"

In these first years of establishing new garden sites in Alpine and Monroe, we also have used a high-quality organic fertilizer, our own worm-castings compost, and rabbit and llama-doo applied judiciously to the plants that need a boost. But we don't apply any single concentrates of nutrients such as lime or gypsum as we have found through years of gardening experience that a garden's soil can get seriously out of balance through the application of these concentrates. (Note: As of 2018, we no longer use any manures from livestock and have weaned ourselves down to a few gallons of fish-emulsion and 3 pounds - or less- of commercial fertilizers per year!)
  
A summary of the benefits of "deep-mulching":
  • Keeps moisture in (less watering). Though when you water, you must water long and deep to be sure the water penetrates down through the mulch and into the soil. In our Monroe garden, we have gone over two weeks without watering in the heat of August but we watered each section of the garden for over two hours at the beginning of those two weeks. When you're first planting a bed - with seeds or transplants, you need to water more often till the plants are established. To check if you need to water, lift mulch in the paths and check for moisture level in the soil. You can often see red worms and tiny rootlets extending from the plants growing in the beds.
  • Keeps weeds down.
  • Balances your soil-nutrients (your "micro-livestock" keep things balanced without you having to figure it all out.)
  • Moderates day/night temperature fluctuations in the soil.
  • Adds organic matter to keep soil from becoming too sandy or clay-bound.
  • It's very comfortable to sit or kneel on as you cultivate and harvest your plants. (We had a photographer come to our gardens once and said it was "the most comfortable" garden she'd ever been in!)


What materials make good mulch?  It is best to choose materials that are readily available in your local area. Urban gardeners may find that leaves and grass clippings are easiest to come by.

We love leaves! Many cities will actually dump a load of leaves for personal use if you have an adequate drop-site. Do be aware that you can't be 100% sure of the kind of leaves you're getting. There is also likely to be some residue from oil and other materials from motorized vehicles (though probably not enough to be very concerned about). You'll need to be sure and use good gloves in distributing city-leaf piles as its possible that broken bottles or other sharp trash could be mixed in.

Leaves we collected from Alpine Park
Hand-raking leaves is our favorite method for gathering this valuable resource. Leaf-raking gives you a great work-out without being too strenuous (we call it "rakey" (reiki) therapy -ha.) You can use tarps to haul the leaves to your garden, or bag them in leaf-bags. We have established relationships with one neighbor where we help rake and load his leaves and he brings them to us with his dump-trailer. We have another neighbor who lets us leave a large trailer with high-sides on his property while he loads it for us for later pick-up. You know how the saying goes, "One mans burn-pile is another man's compost!" (or something like that!)

In some years we have applied the leaves on dormant beds in the fall so they can decompose in time for spring planting. Other times we have  stored leaves in rings we crafted from fencing, or just made a deep pile and tarped it for the winter. This latter option produced very rich, yummy, decomposed leaf compost by the following spring. We have also layered leaves and fresh grass-clippings in these rings which also makes a great mulch.

We love maple leaves!
What kinds of leaves are best: Generally speaking, the thinner the leaf, the easier it breaks down. Maple is our favorite. Fruit-tree leaves are also great. Oak takes a long time to break down but otherwise works fine.  Don't ever use walnut leaves as they have a natural substance in them that is poisonous to plants and will destroy your garden's fertility.
Maple leaves make excellent mulch

Hay! Hay! Hay! If you live in, or near the country, straw and spoiled hay make a great mulch. Straw is the baled stalks from grain crops (wheat, oats, barley) after the grain has been harvested on top -- typically used for bedding. Straw has a lower nutrient content than hay bust also, usually fewer seed (so not so many weeds to deal with later-on). Hay is typically the stems of grasses after their seed-heads have been harvested.

Many farmers have hay from previous seasons that has become wet or moldy or otherwise unsuitable to feed to their livestock. They will usually be glad to have you haul it away for free, or very little per bale. If you don't have a trailer, you might be able to arrange for the farmer to bring it to you if you give him or her something for their gas and time.

Another rural source for excellent mulch is to clean out the stalls of goats, sheep, cows or horses. (Note: un-composted horse manure can be full of herbicides which are toxic to many flowers and vegetables - especially tomatoes and peppers. See our articles about this issue here and here.) It's ideal if their bedding material is straw. If wood chips or saw dust is their bedding, you'll only want to use it if its been composting for a year or more. The heavy balance of carbon in the wood-products can actually pull nitrogen from your soil. Also if you are using horse manure, be sure it has thoroughly composted for at least a year so that all grass seeds are no longer viable.

A delivery of spoiled hay

When to mulch? In the cycle of a year's gardening, there are two main times for a mulch "push". At the end of harvest, when you're putting your garden to bed, if you have a large enough quantity of grass clippings, raked leaves or animal bedding from cows, goats, sheep or horses that has manure mixed in, you can apply this liberally and roto-till it into the ground. This gives you the whole winter for the micro-livestock to digest it in time for spring planting. It is not a good idea to apply, and till your mulch into the ground in the spring time because the "browns", the more woody/cellulose aspects of the mulch that are high in carbon will bind with the nitrogen in your soil and effectively rob it from your spring seedlings if tilled in too close to their planting.

The second cycle of mulching begins in the spring and continues throughout the summer as you plant your garden rows. This includes deep applications (6" or more") of hay or straw flakes in the garden paths. This provides comfortable and attractive paths to walk on and tend your beds. It also slowly feeds the micro-organisms in your soil and keeps moisture-levels and soil-temperatures at a more constant level.

You can also till in fresh grass clippings and combinations of grass clippings and leaves directly into garden beds as long as you wait 10-14 days for planting. See this post on the methods we use.

If you're using all that hay and grass clippings, what about weeds? This is a question we get asked a lot. Bringing a whole bunch of hay into your garden may not seem like a good idea as you also bring a bunch of weed seeds that can then germinate in your garden soil. The key is in applying enough mulch, soon enough.

How much is enough? You want to put enough of the material to keep in the moisture and block the sun from reaching any weeds growing in the paths. Hay bales often naturally break into "flakes". Just lay these in your paths, end to end, without fluffing them (which can scatter seed into your beds) and make it easier for weeds to grow through (5" to 8" is ideal). If you're using dried leaves, they too should be about 6" thick. Grass clippings work best if you put them locally around the base of plants (leave about a 2" gap around the  stem of the plant as the grass can literally burn your plants if it is applied thick while still green). When applied liberally in the paths they can form a gooey surface that can be quite slick and dangerous to walk on. They also become "felted" or matted down making it harder for water to seep through to the plant's roots. You'll be amazed to see, over the course of a year, that the 8" of mulch you applied in May, June or July, will be almost totally digested (from below) by the following March/April when you begin the spring plantings. Worms travel up to the surface of the soil at night and feed on the mulch, carrying it back down into the soil in their gullets and distributing it as castings throughout your garden.

You will rarely find exposed, bare soil in Nature unless there has been a recent disturbance such as a fire or landslide. In our gardens we try to imitate nature, leaving as little bare soil as possible. Bare ground makes it very easy for weed-seeds to take hold. 

Alpine Garden - 10 weeks after breaking ground 2009
 Sources for mulch:
  • Municipal leaf-gathering
  • Raking your own (offer to rake your neighbors' in exchange for keeping the leaves.)
  • Farmer's moldy or spoiled hay
  • Set up your own collection site: Rural transfer stations appreciate any solution that keeps material out of the landfill. Below is a picture of a collection site Chris established near his farm in northern California. 
A gathering site for mulch donations at the local, rural transfer station.
Here are some other pictures of our gardens showing the deep mulch technique:

Another example of how the garden looks--fully mulched--with hay.
Tilling in leaves in the fall - so they have time to decompose by spring.
The potatoes were mulched first with leaves and we're adding oat-straw in the picture.
This was a "lawns-to-gardens" project where we simply scalped the grass from the beds and mulched the lawn path-ways. The plastic on left was placed to "solarize" the grass (kill it in preparation for fall-crop planting).
Here Chris is using lettuce that has "bolted" (gone to seed) as mulch in the potato patch. Oat straw was then placed over it.
Fun in a leaf ring! (Robin, Chris' son in a "nest" of leaves 1996)
Other related posts:

Herbicide Contamination in Manure, Compost and Grass Clippings?

Grass Clippings and Leaves for Mulch


Mulch We Love, and Why 

Preparing Garden Beds - One Low-Tech Way

Hay-Bale Compost 



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.)