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

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Growing Gratitude

Dear Friends and supporters of the Sharing Gardens - Well, it's been almost six months since we last posted!

We just finished our eighth season, have a core group of 6-10 sharegivers who help us in the garden, deepening relationships with our neighbors, and we're still sending close to 5,000 pounds of fresh, organic produce -- free of charge--to two local food pantries. That's in addition to the sizable harvests our sharegivers take home each week to feed their families and can/dehydrate for winter-use.

Our website continues to have anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 visits per month from all over the world  from people interested in how our project works and how to grow food in the methods we use.

Oregon State University, with their commitment to 'service-learning' has sent us close to 75 students in 2016 for volunteer time in the gardens. Here's a delightful video made by Trent Toney, one of the OSU students, that gives you a glimpse into a typical service-learning day at the Gardens. Enjoy! LINK

This post highlights many of the people and organizations who help us be in service to the world. Enjoy!

Gradually, people in our small town are beginning to see the Sharing Gardens as a place to share their surplus - whether that be building materials, canning and garden-supplies, yard "waste" or fruits and veggies.

Mulches Gracias

Leaves, a renewable natural resource.
Because we practice an organic method of farming that uses large amounts of organic materials (leaves, grass, kitchen-scraps) it has been important to develop relationships with our "neighbors" to keep a strong supply coming. Our town does not provide a yard-waste pick up service so this valuable resource is often burned or left to rot in the corner of people's yards where it benefits no one. Currently we receive leaves and/or grass clippings from six families in our community. These are - Cathy and Roger Coy, Jo and David Crosby, George and Irene Daugherty, Jody Kahn, Victor Stone and Michelle and Al Copeland. Thanks so much! Keep 'em coming!

Grass, donated by neighbors, increases garden fertility.
Chris and David Crosby - unloading a composted horse manure delivery.

Michelle and her partner, Al convinced the people they do yard-work for, to buy this large wheelbarrow so they could bring us grass clippings once a week from a block away.
Much of the organic material we receive is placed directly on the soil as a top-dressing or mulch. This feeds the worms, bacteria and fungi below. With the surplus, we build compost piles. The finished compost is used for planting in the spring. (Deep Mulch Method: LINK)

Llyn layering grass and leaves in a compost-ring. Minimum 3-foot diameter.
Service-learning students help to turn our compost piles.

Finished compost can be added to potting soil, mixed into planting holes or used as mulch around plants.

It takes a village...

There are many ways people support the sharing gardens. Here are some of this year's donors:

Our neighbors Donna and John Dillard have been very generous this year donating apples and pears, metal roofing, welded-wire fencing and all the firewood we could handle off a huge oak tree cut down in their yard. That will keep us warm for several winters!
Eva (above), also brought many bushels of apples gleaned from her neighbor's tree.

John Kinsey (left) has a backyard worm farm. He feeds his worms food scraps and coffee grounds. The worm-poo (castings) provides excellent soil-fertility. John donates worm castings and surplus coffee-grounds he collects weekly from a local coffee-shop. (Pictured with garlic seeds).

Steve Rose (right) has made many generous donations over the years --tomato starts, hundreds of gallon pots, bamboo, and more. This year he's provided us with spores from the Wine Red Stropharia mushrooms with which we have successfully inoculated a wood-chip pile. Delicious! Here he is giving a lesson in grafting fruit-trees. Steve is a fountain of knowledge and a real local treasure.

Monroe's United Methodist church had a long stretch of fence-boards they wanted removed. Here's Chris (above) de-nailing them for re-use as bird-houses and fencing around the gardens.

This year we extended our wire fence to encompass almost the full three acres of the property. We ran into some problems in late winter because the ground was too wet to pour cement for wooden corner posts. The gardens were open to local deer and we suffered some significant damage to our fruit-tree saplings and new spring crops. Our dear friend Rob (left) came to the rescue. He put in several long sessions with Chris, pounding metal posts and hanging the fence once we got the corner posts in. It was a huge help!

Oregon State Univ. students continue to come each term and provide volunteer help in the gardens. They receive credit and hands-on experience and we receive a huge amount of help! We have hosted close to 75 students in 2016 for four-hours each. Wow, do they get a lot done! Our biggest challenge is to provide enough tasks to keep them busy. Their time with us always includes a popcorn break when we engage them in rich conversations about organic gardening and sustainability. These students were transplanting tomato seedlings.
A recent student group leader wrote:
 "Thank you so much for having us participate in the Sharing Gardens. Our group appreciated everything you and Chris taught us today! I want to thank you for everything you do in helping to make your community better each and every day. We had a blast today and we want to also thank you for welcoming us into your home and passing your knowledge to us!"
We provide free produce to two Food Pantries. One of them is just a wheelbarrow's ride away (South Benton Food Pantry) but Local Aid is almost 10-miles from us. We're grateful to Pete Alford for coming weekly to drive our donation to Local Aid. We don't have a picture of Pete but the smiling faces above are volunteers at Local Aid, receiving our donation.

Llyn's mom, Judy Peabody continues to make a large cash donation each year. Thanks, Mom! Sandy and Andy (not pictured) have also made annual donations for several years in a row.

Meet Janeece and her right-hand man Dave Cook. Janeece took over the management of the South Benton Food Pantry a few years ago and has done a fantastic job. She has changed it into a "shopping style" pantry so, instead of each family getting the same contents in their boxes, they may choose the foods that their families will use. Janeece has also become an avid label-reader and has begun providing whole-grain, less processed and organic foods when available. In the time she has been manager we notice a real increase in the customers' awareness around food choices and greater attraction for the fresh fruits and veggies being offered. Earlier this Fall, Janeece went before her Board and advocated for financial support for the Sharing Gardens. The $500 annual stipend was approved unanimously by the Board with a retroactive $500 for 2015. We are now automatically included in their budget each year. We are so grateful for the growing sense of partnership with the Cooks and South Benton Food Pantry.

Meet Jim and Cindy Kitchen. Jim's holding about half of last year's kidney-bean harvest while Cindy can be found in her usual weekly task of rinsing beets. These two have become like family to us. Cindy discovered us back in 2010 when we made a presentation about community gardens. She wanted to start one with her church and was comparing models. She decided the SG was the way to go and tried for a season to get one started, coming weekly to our gardens for tips and inspiration. Well, her church garden didn't work out but she and Jim and their granddaughter, Adri began to be some of our steadiest participants. Cindy is known for keeping her eye out for organic foods on sale that she knows we'll like and quietly slipping them into our fridge or pantry when we're not looking; or finding garden-supplies at yard sales and leaving them in our garden shed for later discovery. She and Jim also made a cash donation this year to offset the cost of supplies. The big surprise came back in the Spring when they noticed we'd asked for a refurbished computer on our wishlist to replace our ancient desk-top model. Jim did the research and found us a wonderful computer that's lightening fast and able to keep up with all its needed updates. You guys are great!

Lest we give the wrong impression that the Sharing Gardens is successfully supported by our community, financial donations in 2016 were $950. The balance of costs to run the garden come entirely out of our own funds. If you're inspired by what we do and wish to see it thrive and grow, please be generous. All donations are tax-deductible. (See our wish list for info on donations - Wish list LINK).

The Sharing Gardens would not be complete without its community of sharegivers. These people come week after week and help with whatever garden tasks are needed - from planting and mulching to weeding and harvesting. We thank you!

Kat, Chris, Jim, Cindy and Rook. Just look at all those tomatoes!

Jim, Llyn, Chris, Rob, Sabine and Doreen surrounding part of a week's harvest. (Elisa, not pictured).
Each year I'm filled with joy and wonder at the beauty of the garden-harvests. The plants seem to know they're being grown to be shared and give with all of Nature's generosity.

Delicious celery.

Sweet Meat squash. great for pies!

Striped German tomatoes (left) and Black Krims (rt.). We grew 87 plants this year - all Heirloom varieties so we can save our own seed.
A very good year for peppers!
Thank you for your support of the Sharing Gardens!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sharing the Gardens with Wild Critters

Little Adri, picking dandelion heads.
When I was a little girl, walking the few, quiet, tree-lined blocks to school, I used to pretend I was a benevolent queen for the critters and plants along the way. When I saw a plant who's stem had broken, I'd lean it on its neighbors and instruct them to take care of their wounded comrade till strength and vigor returned. A pair of doves lived in the neighborhood and I enjoyed their crooning as if they were calling out to me personally as I passed. I imagined that when I was "grown up" I'd like to have a house that was so full of plants and critters inside that you couldn't quite tell when you left outside.

Sometimes it seems I got my wish (though I'm not sure I ever did grow up)!  I have to admit, now that it's up to me and Chris to do the housekeeping (thanks, Mom for all those years that it was mainly your job!) that I've had to reconsider just how much of the house I want to share with the 'creepy-crawlies' and the 'skitterers'.

House-plants on the porch, in summer...

...become part of winter's interior decor.
We don't really enjoy clouds of fruit-flies. House-flies can be awfully annoying as they buzz about or land on my nose when I'm trying to catch a little afternoon nap. Enter: Homer. Homer is the name we give to all the spiders that have colonized the many window-corners in our house. The bedroom window is home to multiple generations of ambush-hunters.  They don't build webs but lurk out of site and rush in to gobble up the gnats and fruit-flies that are drawn to window-light.

Some big, brown spiders are the masters of the web. In the Fall, when the flies get lazy and repeatedly bap their heads against the windows trying to get out, inevitably a few of them stray into web-land only to be wrapped in silk and saved for later times when food is scarce and Mama Spider needs extra sustenance to lay her clutch of eggs thus beginning the cycle anew.

This isn't the kind of spiders we have in our house but, you've got to admit he's cute!
Though we meant to seal all the nooks and crannies that a Mouse might enter, in a 141 year-old house, it's nearly impossible to find every one! During the summer months the pickin's are always better outside so we don't see much evidence of the little squeekers. But as nights get cold and the gardens are put to bed, the farmhouse gains in appeal. We have a few live-traps that we bait with peanut butter and cereal. A dish of water and some bedding adds to the appeal. Each morning, part of our winter routine is to see if anyone has checked into the Deluxe Mouse-Shuttle.

At first, before the winter rains started in earnest, the Mice received a one-way ticket to the compost bins. This gave them a ready food source while they established winter living quarters. But as winter wore on, we began to feel concern that, without shelter nearby, the mice would likely perish slowly from the cold/wet conditions so we began releasing them into one of the greenhouses. This worked fine...for awhile. Everyone was happy and the stream of House-Mice dwindled.

But then came pea-planting time. We like to start peas in the greenhouses so we have an earlier harvest.

Sara picking greenhouse peas.
Guess who has a taste for baby pea shoots...ah, yes, the Greenhouse-Mouse-Family. So, what to do? Have you ever put too much cayenne powder on something you were cooking? Did its heat bite your tongue? Did it make you sneeze? Well, it turns out it has the same effect on Mice! A few applications of the hot-powder sprinkled on the seedlings cured the Mice of their culinary habits! Problem solved.

Now that it's warm again, the compost piles are back to being the home of choice. Plenty of food to go around there!

Summer-time, and there's lots to eat, outside!
We have a family of ground squirrels living in our walls. We began noticing the mama squirrel a year ago, sunning herself atop our wood-pile and making furtive visits to our bird-feeders to fill her cheeks with sunflower seeds and millet. We'd heard her scrabbling in our walls and were amazed at her capacity for digging by burrowing under a 6-foot wide cement pad to have her exit hole from the house be as close as possible to this free and easy food source. We didn't realize she was "with-child" though until one day she appeared at our dining-room window to let us know that, "The bird-feeder is empty and I'm hungry!".

As she sat on the window-sill, we could see that she'd been nursing her babies. Once she knew she had our attention she hopped down to the porch and put her paws on the container of bird-seed, looking over her shoulder at us. She then hopped back up on the sill and peered through the glass as if to underline her point..."Where's my supper?!". Needless to say, we fed her right away and kept it up till we knew she'd weaned the babes and so could forage wider-afield.

Mama Squirrel and Chris eyeing each other.

Adri cleaning the bird-bath
Chris and I feel  happy knowing that our home and gardens provide shelter and food for so much wildlife. Each year we add a few more birdhouses, plant more bird and butterfly-food among the peppers and squash, peas and beans. The brush-pile has become a small hill full of nooks and crannies -- home to many critters. The clusters of un-mowed berry-bushes and grass-lands grow in size. Bunnies, snakes and birds increasingly call our home, their home.

It is a "sharing" garden, after all!

Update: Lest you think we're living in some sort of Utopia, in perfect balance with the wild critters around us...Just hours after I first published this post, I went walking in the gardens and discovered a big ol' bunny happily making its way down a row of cabbage and lettuce and helping himself to every third or fourth plant. Arrrgh! Guess who's going to be surprised when he comes back tonight and finds a dusting of cayenne has been added to the buffet!?


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, May 11, 2016

Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans

by Chris Burns
Just like snow flakes, you'll never find two that look exactly alike,  attesting to Nature's infinite variety of expression!
Have you ever seen these beautiful beans for sale at any market?  Would you even know what they were if I didn't tell you?  Don't they look like some kind of 'Magic Bean' that Jack of 'The Beanstalk' fame might have planted?  If you haven't guessed by now, I'll tell you. They're Scarlet Runner Beans and they're called that for two good reasons.  One, they have the most intensely scarlet red flowers, and Two, they 'run' up any pole, tree, fence or trellis that happens to be close to where they are growing.  If you've never grown them then maybe it's time to consider giving them a place in your garden.

I've grown them many times before, but up until recently I always considered them to be strictly 'ornamental'.  Don't know why!  Perhaps it's because they were described that way in the catalog from which I ordered my first seeds.  As you can see in the pictures posted with this article, they add exquisite beauty to any garden patch. It wasn't until 2011 that I sampled them as cooked, dried beans and discovered their beauty is only rivaled by their delicious flavor!
Scarlet Runners vining up the bamboo trellis. We grew a 70-foot row last year and are doubling it in the 2013 season.
These beauties grow steadily to a dramatic height of 10-12 feet (or more) and need a sturdy trellis of some sort to support the weight of their generous profusion of bean pods (we used bamboo poles tied to a wire pulled taught between t-posts). For those who enjoy attracting pollinators to your garden, you'll likely find (as we did) that the flowers regularly attract hummingbirds and many beneficial insects. (If you have cats, best not to grow the runners as we've heard sad tales of hummingbirds being caught and killed by those furry, domestic predators).

Bean-trellis made with bamboo poles wired to a cable.
Scarlet Runner Beans will grow in a greenhouse too. Just be sure to leave enough vents open to allow pollinators to come and go.
Plant beans 4"-6" apart and 1"- deep. Soil can be course and should stay moist but not too wet as seeds germinate. Often we will pre-sprout the seeds by keeping them between wet towels for several days till they germinate. Be very careful when planting as the sprouts are fragile.
The pods are deliciously sweet when they are young and tender (about 3-4 inches long).  So sweet, in fact that it was the first thing our two teen-age garden-helpers would seek out and munch on whenever they came to the gardens.

Bean pod-loving teens!
If it's mainly green beans that you're looking for though, it's probably best to grow another variety like 'Blue Lake' or 'Contender' which provide you with more of a volume at each picking.  These Scarlet Runners tend to produce pods steadily over a longer season but they become tough and stringy if they aren't picked on the small side.  The reason they probably aren't grown commercially for dried beans is that they must be hand-picked. At the Sharing Gardens we've turned this limitation into an asset as the weekly bean-picking was a task that folks with back and knee-issues could accomplish easily standing up. After a few days laid out on screens in the greenhouse the husks were dry enough to split open easily by hand. This was a task that many volunteers (share-givers), who weren't able to do more strenuous tasks,  found fun and relaxing; it also provided an opportunity to sit in the shade and chat with new found friends.

Pods, any bigger than this and they're too tough to eat green.
If it's dried beans you want, don't pick the pods until they are evenly tan and dry. If picked too green, beans won't store well, nor will they be viable for planting next year's crop. Once the frost hits, beans will no longer ripen much more. Pull up the whole vine and let the beans finish ripening in a green-house or warm, dry place before picking them off the vines. When they are as dry as they're going to get, shell these partially ripe beans and use them first as they won't store as well as fully cured beans.

These beautiful beans are rather large --about the size of a fat Lima bean-- and therefore yield enough to make a pot of soup-beans in a short time. If you're serious about growing your own protein-source, Scarlet Runners make an excellent choice.
Harvest beans once their pods are tan and dry. OSU-students shelling Scarlet Runner Beans.

Shelling beans from their pods is a fun activity for all! Jim and Adri shelling kidney beans.
But the best kept secret of all is just how delicious the dried beans are. They have a mild flavor and, unlike Fava beans, their skin is thin (not even noticeable) and they have a velvety texture.

A bamboo tipi provides a trellis for beans and beautifully frames our garden helpers.
Recipe: To cook these beans for eating, soak them over night just like you would any other, with about 1/3 beans to 2/3 water in a stainless or cast iron pot.  Pour off the water the next day; rinse the beans with fresh water and put them back in the pot. Add fresh water until the level is about 2-3 inches over the beans.  Don't add any salt because it won't allow the beans to absorb the water as they cook and they'll never soften.  I like to cook them on the woodstove in the winter.   These beans stay very firm when they're finished cooking but can be easily mashed and used as refries, or made into a hearty chile with tomatoes, onions, peppers and Mexican spices.  I cook up a large pot at a time and, once rinsed and cooled, I pack them into smaller zip-lock bags which I stack in the freezer to add to stir-fried kale and leeks with potatoes all winter long. Instant dinner!

Be creative! Sometimes just a plain ole' bowl of beans with olive oil, soy sauce, finely chopped onions and grated cheese is all you need to get you in the mood to go outside and brave the winter elements.

Such beauty!
Anyway, if you want to enjoy these wonderful and versatile garden gems, the time to plant is coming up soon! (late May or first week of June in our region)  If any of our local readers need seed  please let us know and we'll get you started, and you can save your own for next year.  Happy Gardening!

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.)