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

Monday, August 3, 2015

Growing Onions from Seed - It takes a Village

Burgundy Globe onions from this year's harvest.
I made a stir-fry with vegetables from the garden last night. Chopping up a Burgundy Globe onion made me reflect on all the people who had had a hand in it's growth and drying. We don't have pictures of all the stages but this will give you an idea of the time and attention that were involved:

We started seed in February with students from OSU.
OSU student, Amy -- planting onion seeds.
Llyn with OSU students, starting seeds. We grow all our plants from seed (don't depend on other nurseries for our "starts"). In fact, we end up giving away about 2/3 of all the starts we grow. These go primarily to other "sharing"-type gardens in our area.
February is also time for re-planting onions that we'd kept in our root cellar over-winter (from last summer's crop) so they would 'go-to-seed' this summer keeping the full cycle of saving and using our own seed alive.

Many plants don't produce seed till their second year. We dig them in the fall, keep them in a root-cellar over-winter and replant in the winter/spring. Pictured: parsnips, onions and carrots.
Onions 'going to seed'. Kinda look like ocean-plants or something from an alien world!
Onion seeds, drying on tray. Soon they'll be ready for planting...and the cycle continues!
Onion seeds are incredibly slow to grow. We don't typically transplant the starts until some time in April and they just look like a blade of onion-grass when we do. Onions have shallow root systems so they must be kept evenly moist but not sodden. For some reason our local slug population enjoys nibbling the greens so we have to put out iron-phosphate pellets to give them all tummy-aches so they lay off our babies! LINK

Rows of onions. A tedious crop to plant,and weed.
Onions are also fairly heavy feeders (they have to be to put on all that weight!) so we soak compost in 5-gallon buckets and make a tea to pour over them.

Llyn making buckets of compost-tea to fertilize plants.
Llyn pouring compost-tea on baby plants. Plants that receive good nutrition are able to withstand diseases and pests. Just like people!
Next came weeding. Hours of pain-staking, tedious weeding around the rows and rows of onions. Doreen - who has the patience and focus of a monk, applied herself diligently to the task and made us all feel inspired that we could get the job done. So, after she'd concentrated on the task for most of a morning-session,  a team of five of us carried the job across the finish-line.

Doreen - "weeder-extraordinaire"! She has been a part of the gardens since 2010 - our longest-term volunteer. Doreen has come to be quite an experimenter with healthy cooking and food-preservation since joining the gardens and shares generously with us, and the other volunteers with her "successes".
We've had an unusually dry and hot spring and summer here in the Willamette valley this year. This has made it even more important than in previous years to mulch heavily. It's hard to mulch around onions without covering them so Chris came up with this idea to spread a bunch of straw on the lawn and mow over it, collecting with the bagger attachment. We collected several garbage-cans full of this fine material and tucked it around the bulging bulbs.
We use literally tons of mulch in the gardens. Here's Llyn with fresh grass clippings; applied around newly transplanted starts it keeps moisture levels constant and slow-feeds nutrients to the plants as we water. Also feeds worms and micro-organisms in the soil below. (Note: fresh grass can burn plants. If applied green, keep it  from touching them.)
Weeding is more fun in groups! Here we are in the Fava bean patch - mid-spring.
Many of the weeds we pull, and other garden "extras" go to feed local chicken flocks. Here are Allyson and Elisa loading cabbage leaves into bags.
From this point we mainly just watered and waited.
When the tops of the onions began to die back,  we bent over their greens to encourage them to go into their drying/storage process. Heather, Joshua and Chris did this together. Then Jim pulled them all and layed them on screens in the greenhouse to finish their curing. We cover them with sheets so they don't become sun-burned. The last stage involved trimming roots and greens.
Elisa, trimming onions.
All that remains to do now is eat the onions! When I look down on my plate and everything but the oil and condiments used to prepare it came from the gardens it gives me new appreciation for the term "slow food"! From seed through harvest and back to saving seed again, that's full circle farming! Each onion has had (by my count) the help of at least 14 people who directly contributed to its planting, growth and harvest. Our garden-produce is delicious and nutritious, in part, because of all the caring and love it receives along the way.

What follows is a gallery of many of the people who help to grow the gardens:
Chris and David unloading composted horse manure. David is a neighbor who has fully embraced the spirit of the Sharing Gardens. Though he grows a big garden himself and doesn't need vegetables from us, he's always finding ways he can contribute. He's been quick to catch the spirit of 'mutual generosity'; giving without accounting--that makes the gardens thrive.
Two of our littlest helpers -- Bella and Adri, loading buckets with manure.

Gini and her sister Kathy harvesting lettuce. Gini has been a great connector for us with the Brownsville 'sharing' garden. Kathy is new this year and brings great enthusiasm, a strong back and a working knowledge of carpenter's tools.

Cindy washing beets. Cindy has a tenacity and focus for gardening that is unrivaled! Once she starts weeding a section of garden, she'll continue till its done -- even after the rest of us have retired to the shade of the hickory tree! We appreciate her so much for all the snack-time treats she brings and for sharing her grand-daughter Adri with us!
That's Jim - Cindy's husband. Jim has a knack for the "detailed work" of sifting seeds, trimming onions and things that require that meditative kind of stillness. Here he is harvesting beet-seed plants.

Jim and Danny in a production-line of tomato transplanting.

Danny has discovered he enjoys salvaging building-materials (and he's good at it!). Here he is pulling nails from lumber. Look at the perfectly neat stack of finished boards behind him!

Here's our OSU intern -- Heather. She's been coming out since late June and staying for a day and a half each week. We love her enthusiasm, big heart and willingness to participate in the many aspects of living sustainably we've been able to show her.
That's Heather again -- thinning beets with Calla and Annaleece.

Willow and Adri with a mid-spring harvest. Willow is new to us this year. A generous spirit with a gentle touch for all the plants. She's also a skilled carpenter. (Note Adri's choice of boot-colors. "She picked them out herself," says Grandma Cindy!)
Willow's Mom, Vicky came from Utah to help out a few mornings. Vicky is pulling a cart of dried grass clippings to mulch the melon patch.

Sabine is also new this year . She's come from Germany and is a "natural" at gardening: gentle, yet efficient. She says she loves weeding thistles! "I like having one thing to focus on and, in a short time having so much to show for my work."
Rob-harvesting garlic; a willing and cheerful helper. We're so glad he's become a part of the garden-family!
Those are Maia's feet! We set her loose with our camera one day. Such a treat to see the garden through fresh eyes.
Here are some pics of supporters/partners in our community:
Laura Kleman receiving a bunch of 'starts' for the SAGE garden in Corvallis. Their program provides food for local food banks and opportunities for kids to learn about gardening.

Les Koltavary helping Chris remove the heating system from the greenhouse frame he has donated to our project.
Volunteers at the Local Aid Food Pantry receiving donations from the Sharing Gardens. Twenty percent of Junction City's small-town population receive some sort of services through their agency on a monthly basis.
Janeece and Dave Cook -- Janeece took over managing Monroe's Food Pantry in 2014 and has done an extraordinary job. She's focusing on ordering healthier food and has set up the pantry so participants can select the foods they want (instead of one-box-fits-all as many Pantries still do). Dave has volunteered to deliver our produce weekly to Local Aid. They are both real servants in our community.
...and here's the Sharing Garden's greatest partner of all - my sweetheart, Chris!

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