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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spring Planting Has Begun!

Chris gives a lesson in seed-planting - 2015.
Well, we've come through a wet, grey January with a couple of really cold spells but it seems that spring is finally on its way. We decided to take a break from bringing Oregon State Univ. students to the gardens for winter term. Chris and I are largely caught up on major building projects and tree-planting and we didn't feel we had enough projects that needed student help. Six students can get a lot done in four hours! But we've already got lists started for the spring and hope to host at least two OSU groups.
"Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January with the dream." - Josephine Nuese

Adri fills pots with soil.
Being the gardeners that we are, we just couldn't wait to get some seeds started. This post is about  our continued experiments with creating fertile soil using locally-sourced materials and the seeds we've started (including some links to earlier posts on how to grow some of the plants listed below).

Soil-prep: (Growing food using "organic" methods is a very dynamic and ever-evolving process. What follows are the techniques we are currently using but we won't necessarily know if we are successful until crops come to harvest. Also, a method that works one year under certain climate conditions may not be successful in years to come).
Chris adds and mixes in compost.

Because we're slowly weaning ourselves from using the rototiller to loosen soil (outside) and creating permanent beds (in the greenhouses) much of winter "gardening" involves preparing beds for spring planting.

Greenhouse Prep: In the Fall we pulled old plant material from the beds and gave them a light sprinkling of wood-ashes and a thicker coating of coffee grounds. The ashes provide many needed minerals. The coffee-grounds also boost the nutrient-content of the soil but the main reason we like to use them is that they are a favorite food for worms. With this food source, they reproduce rapidly and add their worm-poo (castings) to the soil which is an almost perfectly balanced fertilizer! In the Fall we also covered the beds (and paths) with a thick mulch (leaves, straw and fresh grass-clippings).

Llyn adds more coffee grounds.
In late January we began to we pull all the mulch off the beds and add it to the paths. It will continue to compost through the spring and summer and, as plant-roots grow out into the paths, they will be nourished by this material.

Once the beds were cleared, we added more coffee and compost, and gently dug it in a few inches. We've been absolutely amazed with how much worm activity we're finding in our greenhouse beds!

It's good to have several weeks with the bare soil exposed as the sun's heat will warm it and activate many micro-organisms. The added coffee also encourages worm-reproduction which adds more nutrients and worm-tunnels to the soil. LINK: Preparing Garden Beds - One Low-tech Way

We put the first batches of seeds on electric heat-mats with plastic covers to keep in heat and moisture. This gives a head-start to seed germination. For later batches of seeds, when there is more sun to heat up the soil, we won't use the mats.

This is what the greenhouse will look like in a short time!
Here is a list of the seeds we've started in pots, in the greenhouses:

Peas back-lit by the sun.
We started peas at the New Year but it was too cloudy and cold for the seeds to germinate (many rotted in the pots) so we re-planted mid-January. The peas are mostly up about an inch now. When they're 4"-5" tall they'll be transplanted into greenhouse beds.

Cindy with carrots - 2016.

As an experiment, we've started a small patch of carrots and beets in a greenhouse (they prefer cooler soil to germinate). Ideally, they'll be done producing by mid to late-spring leaving room in the beds for summer-crops such as tomatoes and peppers that love the heat!

Burgundy Globe onions-an Heirloom variety from which you can save seed.
Onions: We like to start onions from seed as it is less expensive than buying "sets" and we have less incidents of onions "bolting" (going to seed) which means that we have a bigger harvest.  Here is a LINK to a post about growing onions from seed. Another LINK.

Lettuce! Can't you just taste that tender goodness?
Lettuce: Our goal this year, is to start small batches of lettuce every few weeks until it gets too hot to grow it (it prefers the cooler spring and fall weather). This way we can have enough for everyone who helps with the gardens and to share with the South Benton Food Pantry and Local Aid. LINK: Growing Lettuce from Seed.
Red Winter Kale - one of the most nutritious land-vegetables!
Kale: We have a few plants that wintered-over outside this year. We'll eat most of these spring "greens" (so sweet and tender after getting a "kiss" of frost). Kale-flowers, formed in their second year, also called raab, are also delicious and nutritious. We'll eat some of the flowers and let some of it go to seed so we have enough seed for next year.

Llyn with Broccoli-2009
Broccoli: We're experimenting with growing some of our broccoli crop in the greenhouse this year. It doesn't like a lot of heat but we hope to have it done and harvested by late-spring when the heat begins to build.

We use milk-cartons or large soy-milk containers as collars.
Celery: Celery takes a very long time to grow, especially at first. Once it establishes a long and extensive root system, the upper part grows more rapidly. Commercially-grown celery is one of the more highly-pesticided crops so it's good to grow your own or buy "organic".

The collars - pictured above - provide pest-protection, cause the celery to grow up-right and "blanch" the stalks so they are more tender.

These potatoes, with their short, stout sprouts, are ready for planting.
Potatoes: Each year we try new methods to grow potatoes. Potatoes have a natural dormancy period and will begin to sprout once this period is over. They need to be planted within a month or so of sprouting or they will begin to shrivel and won't be as viable. We have a lot of clay in our soil and it can stay cold and wet until late spring. Many times we have had our seed-potatoes rot in the ground before the last of the spring rains drain.  This year we are going to plant two rounds of potatoes; a first crop inside the greenhouse and a second one outdoors in late spring. This later batch will provide storage potatoes and perhaps even seed-potatoes for next spring. Here is a LINK to a post on preparing potatoes for planting.

Re-potting a tomato seedling.
Tomatoes: It's always a tricky dance to start seeds early enough to have the longest growing season but not so early that you have to keep transplanting the 'starts' into larger pots until it's time to put them in the ground - using your precious time and potting soil. For the second year in a row we will plant all 90 (or so) tomato plants inside greenhouses so we started our first batch of seedlings in early February. Later we'll start more tomato seeds that we can share with people in our community.
Saving Seeds: We save and re-plant over 85% of our own seeds. Developing this skill is fun and very rewarding. The seeds you save yourself will be adapted to your own micro-climate and soil conditions. One of the advantages of having a community-garden organized like the Sharing Gardens (with all of us growing food together; no separate plots rented by individuals and families) is that you can coordinate seed-saving and isolate varieties that might 'cross' and give you impure seed. LINK to saving your own seeds

Chervena Chuska peppers. If peppers are pulled up in the Fall before the first frost, and hung indoors, they will continue to ripen on the plant.
Peppers: Like the tomatoes, we finally have enough indoor greenhouse space (2500 square feet) to grow most of our peppers. This extends our season for growing by at least a month. These heat-loving plants require warm soil to germinate so, when starting the seeds (even in a greenhouse) we put them on an electric heat-mat. Our seeds typically break through the soil in 8-10 days.

Chris has been painting a new sign for the Food Pantry.
Winter's not over yet! Though the days are growing longer and signs of spring are all around, there's still plenty of time for creative projects, baking and other activities that must retreat to the background in the height of the garden-season.

...and Llyn's been having fun in the kitchen baking pies and bread and muffins!
The Sharing Gardens is located in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon and is considered Zone 7b by the USDA. Click here to find your gardening zone. To find a planting guide for your area, do a search on-line. Most agricultural universities offer guides specific to their regions.

Friday, February 10, 2017

We Give Thanks

A "praying" mantis, giving thanks!
The Sharing Gardens is a hub of giving and receiving. People give what they can and receive what they need. We give thanks to those who continue to contribute to and support the program; we couldn't do it without you!

Last month we received three cash donations, totaling $145. Much of the project runs on donations of materials and labor but, as we all know, you can't fill your gas tank by trading a basket-full of tomatoes! Thanks to Rob and Elisa, Cecilia and Dave Gore and Cathy Rose.

Rob and Elisa are a married couple that have bought land near-by. This is their first experience at 'homesteading' and  they are enthusiastic about growing food, harboring wildlife and moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle. We always enjoy their participation in the gardens, especially knowing that much of the knowledge and experience they gain, they're able to go home and put into practice.

Chris and Rob planting Fava beans in the greenhouse. Since this pic was taken, we've had several days in a row that never got above freezing and the beans died. This is why Chris is always saying, "Plant for all contingencies"!
Elisa - harvesting raspberries.
That's Jen in the pink tie-dye shirt.

Cecilia and Dave Gore (not pictured), besides making a cash donation, have become seed-distributors for the Sharing Gardens. We gave them a huge batch of seeds to share, some we'd saved ourselves and some commercial varieties that had been donated to the project. They have been taking the seeds to many gatherings in Corvallis and doing their best to find good homes for them! Grow seeds!
Well-pipe makes good fence-posts.

Long-time friend and participant, Jen Revais (above), donated about 200-feet of well-pipe. This heavy-duty metal pipe has many uses for us including fence-posts and trellises.

Thanks go to Dorene Wolfe, whose daughter Dina is the pastor at the church that shares a parking lot and property-line with the Sharing Gardens. Dorene is a can-do lady and took the initiative to rake leaves all around the church grounds and cart them over to our pile. We don't have a picture of Dorene but here's the view we have of the church from our front yard (below).

Growing in partnership with our neighbor - the United Methodist Church. Love those leaves!
Our last round of thanks goes to all the wild-critters who have come to make the Sharing Gardens their home. You enhance our life with your funny antics and help keep things in balance  by playing your parts in the great web of life. These first few pics were all taken here at the Sharing Gardens.

Pregnant preying mantis. We see egg-cases frequently on wood-piles and fence posts.
Baby "Racer" snake. We saw one that was easily four-feet long near one of our greenhouses.
We grow some pretty big earthworms too!
We don't have any good pictures of the birds and mammals that live in and around the Sharing Gardens; our camera just isn't good enough to zoom in on them at a distance. But here's a story about the flicker family who comes daily to our feeder. We've seen as many as five flickers at a time in the upper branches of our walnut tree and one or two come regularly to our feeder. They seem to enjoy the millet we provide (purchased in the bulk-foods section, it's much less expensive than buying it as "bird-seed mixed with other ingredients). I've watched them with binoculars and they feed by extending their sticky tongues, coating them with millet seeds and retracting their tongues full of the yummy nibbles.

Northern Flicker
Flicker with tongue extended; they're in the woodpecker family and love eating ants. Photo credit: W.H. Sim LINK
The flickers are the only birds at our feeder who aren't intimidated by the scrub jays. Though the juncos and sparrows are far smaller than the flickers, they all feed happily side-by-side.
Western Scrub Jay - though "bullies" at the feeder, they play an important role in planting nut trees. They probably plant the  majority of walnuts and hazelnuts around our land in the leaves and straw we use as mulch. If they're planted in good spots, we nurture them along for future nut crops. Photo credit
It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. 
--Ralph Waldo Emerson