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

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Onions - Growing From Seed


There are literally hundreds of varieties of onions grown in this world, but unless you grow your own you usually have access to only a handful of varieties from the grocery store.  If you rely on growing onions from ‘sets’, (the little onions available from nurseries with about a hundred per bag) your options are often still quite limited.  Growing from 'sets' has other disadvantages too; often they will produce a significant number of ‘doubles’ (meaning smaller onions at harvest-time) or they go to seed, 
which makes them tough and unpalatable.   
Here is a guide you can follow that will ensure your success at growing onions from seed.

Onions going to seed.
Here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (USDA Zone 8a - Link to finding what zone you are in), we do best to grow what are called ‘long day’ varieties which include Cipollini (chip-o-leenie) both red and yellow varieties, Southport White Globe,  or White and Yellow Sweet Spanish. There are many more varieties to choose from; check your seed catalogs or go online to see a greater selection. (Be aware that, if you wish to save your own seed, you must choose Heirloom/Open Pollinated non-hybrid seeds. Those listed above are all Heirloom varieties.)

You will need:
  • Sifted potting mix
  • Sand (optional)
  • Pots: 4"-wide x 6"-deep (1 pot per 25 seeds)
  • Seeds; start with fresh seeds each year; onion seeds lose viability within one or two years.
  • Greenhouse or grow-lights, or the ability to bring seedlings indoors if in danger of frost.
  • Plant-mister  
When to start: About eight-to-ten weeks from the time you wish to transplant them into your garden. We always get the seeds started around the middle of February. By late April the seedlings will be ready to set out into the garden.  They are ready when you can see a clearly defined "bulb", 1/8" to 1/4" pushing above the soil-surface in the pot. At this stage, the sooner they get into the ground the larger your onion bulbs will be at harvest time.  It’s always a good idea to have a bed in mind that you’ve prepared during the previous fall since it’s difficult to prepare beds in the spring if you have a long rainy season like we often experience here in Oregon. The seedlings can handle a touch of frost at this stage but its no fun transplanting them in really muddy garden beds. Some people wait until early or mid-March to start seeds and still have plenty of time for the onions to ripen.

Pots: We've found that starting the seeds in pots that are 4" - 6" deep is best. Any shallower and the seedlings become root-bound before it's time to transplant them.

Soil/Sand: Start with a good organic seed-starting mix.  It doesn’t need to be a premium potting blend, in fact, if you start with too rich of a soil blend you can experience a condition referred to as ‘damping off’ which looks like mold growing on the surface and which causes the young seedlings to rot as they emerge from the soil.  One way to help eliminate this condition is to sprinkle a thin layer of sand over the seeds.  By keeping the soil damp but not too wet and having good ventilation you shouldn’t have this problem. 

Onion seeds can be started in a variety of containers.
Fill the pots with a sifted soil to about 1/2" from the top (tiny seeds find it difficult to germinate in soil with large chunks of material). Level out the soil, tamping them down with the bottom of another pot to create a level surface so that all of the seeds will be sewn at the same depth (otherwise they germinate unevenly). 

Seeds: You may want to actually count out the seeds the first time so that you can have an idea of what 25 - 35 seeds looks like because that is about how many would be optimal to sew in 4" pots.  You can adjust up or down depending on the size container you choose.  The idea is to not have an overcrowded condition that would produce weak and unhealthy seedlings.  Place the seeds in the palm of your hand and pinch out a few at a time. Gently drop them on the surface of the soil, distributing them as evenly as you can without becoming too concerned about accuracy.  It’s OK if some seeds are touching each other. Sprinkle a sifted layer of starting mix or sand over the seeds at a depth of about an eighth to a quarter inch.  Tamp it down again and water gently (a planter mist-er works great at this stage). 

Watering:  Keep the soil moist using either a small spray bottle or water them from below by putting water in trays and setting pots in them. Tiny seeds, until established can be washed away with more aggressive watering techniques. Make sure you label them with the name of the variety and the date you started them.  Then it’s time to be patient, and let Nature do her work.

The seeds will not require sunlight until they have emerged from the soil, usually about two weeks from the time they are sewn, so you can keep them indoors where they will not freeze, on a window sill or in a greenhouse if you have one. Once the greens are up, they will require full sun. If you don't have grow-lights or a greenhouse, be sure to bring them inside at night if it looks like you may have freezing temps.

Teasing onion-roots apart before trimming.
Transplanting: Each pot of seedlings must be teased apart. You will need to trim back both the tops and the roots before trying to stick these tiny seedlings into the ground. You trim the roots so they're easier to slip into the holes and you trim the tops so that the pruned roots can support the greens above.

First, dump the whole pot into the palm of your hand.  Next, separate the clump into several sections (maybe 10-12 seedlings in each clump).  Hold one clump by its 'greens' and gently tap the root ball until most of the soil has fallen away.  Tease the seedlings apart and lay them back in your hand so that the small bulbs are in a line (see picture below). Using a scissors or hand pruner, cut away all but about 2 inches of the roots.  Trim the tops to about the same length as the roots. Now set the clump into another shallow container with a little water in the bottom to keep them from drying out while you prepare the rest for transplanting.  Prepare only as many as you are able to set out in one session.

Trim roots and greens to same length.
In the bed that you’ve already prepared you open up small holes about 4-5 inches apart. Our onions are usually planted in beds two to three feet wide, with several rows in each bed.  

Make holes: To make the holes you can fashion a planting stick called a ‘dibble’ from a smooth branch or a ¾ in dowel with a point, or, just use a ‘Sharpie pen’ to make the hole.  Make a number of holes and then go back and drop a single onion in each hole.  Gently press the roots into the hole and pinch the soil around each one, making sure the part that was under the soil in the pot is covered when you transplant leaving only the green top showing.  You’ll get the hang of it after a few and will be able to transplant hundreds in no time at all!

Onions in a wide bed.
Now the focus becomes keeping the bed weed-free and well watered.  Once the plants have become established and the warmer, sunny weather settles in you’ll be amazed at how fast everything grows.  Feel free to thin out your onions when they are immature and be sure to use the whole thing, greens and all. 

If you have planted non-hybrid seeds, hold back a few onions to replant next spring to save seed Onions are biennial meaning they don't produce seed till their second year. By collecting your own seeds you can begin the process all over again, and saving seeds, dear friends, is one big step toward greater food security!

Link to another post we wrote about onion-growing.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Great Monroe Leaf Drive!

Our beautiful hickory tree!
The Sharing Gardens is now accepting autumn leaves to help build up our compost piles in preparation for next year's growing season.



Neighbors bringing leaves.





We are blessed to have two "neighbors" who bring us leaves from their oak and maple trees that amount to ten or more trailer-loads full each year. We use them to cover large areas of our gardens so they have time over the winter to compost and feed the worms and other soil-organisms and suppress weeds.

This year, we are very happy to announce that Monroe's City Hall is including a flier about our need for leaves in this month's newsletter which is mailed to all the town's residents in their water bills.

Here is the text of the mailing:

Please bring bagged leaves and grass to:
664 Orchard St., Monroe (bright yellow house behind the big, white Methodist Church) and leave the bags in a pile under the big, hickory tree at the back of the church parking lot.

Please no animal waste, trash or sticks/branches, no holly or roses (too sharp), or black walnut leaves (they can kill plants - LINK). Just leaves and grass 😊.
Free bags to share...

We have plenty of previously-used lawn/leaf bags to share. They are available in a trash-can underneath the hickory tree.  Please take what you can use.

Please don’t fill bags too full and tie them lightly (so we can re-use them).

We would prefer that you bring the filled bags to the Sharing Gardens but if you have more bags than you can bring in your own vehicle, please save up enough bags to make it worth our trip to come get them. Place them on the curb, up-side-down (so no rain gets in) and give us a call for pick-up. Chris and Llyn (541) 847-8797 (Before noon or after 2:00, please. We take a rest mid-day). End of flier.

"Veganic" Agriculture:

Since we began weening ourselves off the use of animal manures as a source of soil fertility, we have turned increasingly to leaves, grass-clippings, wood-ash and coffee grounds as a replacement. There is a saying that, "for every calorie you harvest out of a farm or garden, you must put at least a calorie back in". In a typical year we harvest and share over four-thousand pounds of produce. We have to replenish a huge amount of organic-matter so our soils don't get depleted!

Each year we must replenish the organic-material to keep our gardens fertile. That's a lot of leaves!
Llyn spreading leaves
We tarp the leaves with various recycled materials to keep them from blowing away. This is called "sheet-composting" or "solarizing" and it has the added benefit of killing many weed-seeds that germinate in early spring which means far less weeding for us later in the season.

There are many materials that work well for solarizing: carpet-scraps, old pieces of green-house plastic (greenhouse plastic is specially coated so it's protected from UV-rays and won't break-down as fast - beware of using regular plastic sheeting because, as it disintegrates it breaks-up into many little pieces which are then polluting for the environment). Black plastic works too.

Another great source of solarizing material comes from lumber-yards. Much of their lumber comes wrapped in a woven plastic "paper". They give this plastic-wrap away for free and it appears that it holds up fine for at least two seasons.

Tarping the leaves keeps them from blowing away and kills many weed-seeds that germinate in early spring.
We use metal fence-posts and pieces of pipe to weight down the tarps/plastic.
Please note that all of these materials we use are re-purposed; most of them were headed for the land-fills and by finding uses for them we extend their life-times.

We weight down the edges of these materials with fence-posts, metal piping or whatever we have on-hand to keep the tarps from blowing away.

Another neighbor collects used-coffee-grounds from a local coffee-shop and brings them to us. We now have over 150 gallons of them stock-piled for the spring! We heat our home exclusively with wood and use the ashes as another source of soil-fertility. Here's a post about the "Benefits of Coffee-grounds and Wood Ashes in the Garden".

Leaves make excellent mulch for trees...
We add leaves to the raised-beds in our greenhouses too...

Here are some links explaining this style of deep-mulch gardening that we practice:

Benefits of Deep-Mulch Gardening

Grass-clippings for soil-fertility!
Grass-Clippings and Leaves for Fertilizer

Mulch We Love, and Why

More on Mulch

Something to be aware of when you're using donated mulch materials...Some materials - particularly un-composted horse manure can contain high levels of herbicides and can pollute your soil and compost piles if you are not careful. Here is a post we wrote about our experience with this:

Herbicide Contamination?

This compost pile was made entirely from leaves and grass-clippings...

...beautiful compost leads to...

...bountiful harvests. Buttercup (green) and Delicata (white) squash.

...and playing in the leaves is just good fun too.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Coffee Grounds and Wood Ash for Soil Fertility

Coffee grounds collected from coffee-shops.
Since we began weening ourselves off the use of animal manures as a source of soil fertility, we have turned increasingly to leaves, grass-clippings, wood-ash and coffee grounds as a replacement. Here is a summary of our "Deep Mulch Method" in which we cover the topic of leaves and grass and other organic materials in our gardens.

Regarding coffee:

Coffee grounds provide generous amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper. They also release nitrogen into the soil as they degrade. When we have it, we spread it about 1/2" thick on beds before we plant. We also layer it into our compost piles. Here's an informative article about "Using Coffee-Grounds in the Garden".


We sift both our coffee grounds and wood-ashes. Here are students from OSU performing "service-learning" at the Sharing Gardens.
...and Wood Ash:

Wood Ashes provide all necessary nutrients for plant growth except nitrogen and sulfur.  We use ashes from our wood-stove (that heats our house). We use only newspaper to start the fires and burn pure wood. We don't burn anything with paint; no ply-wood or other man-made products so the chemicals in them don't get into our food-chain. We sift the ashes to remove any big chunks, and use a heavy-duty magnet to remove any screws or nails.  

Be very careful not to use too much! We put just the lightest dusting in our beds. Do not use wood-ash to make a potting soil. It is caustic to worms and will alkalize your soil so use only a little, and wait 7-10 days before planting seeds or seedlings. Do not use around acid-loving plants (like blueberries, or in potato-beds). Article from our local University Extension Service: "Wood Ashes Can Benefit Lawns and Gardens".

Heating with wood has many benefits. Here's a wood-stove in one of our greenhouses we made from a barrel-kit.
Here's Caleb - our youngest coffee-spreader!



Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Paste-Tomato Varieties and Peppers We Grow

Here are pictures of the four varieties of 'paste-type' tomatoes we grew this year. Paste-tomatoes tend to have a drier flesh so they are the preferred types for any process that involves cooking them down for paste, sauce or ketchup; dehydrating or making salsa. All varieties we grow are "heirloom" meaning they are non-hybrid so we can save our own seeds.

Ropreco tomatoes: small and flavorful - good in salsa, or sliced for sun-dried/dehydrated tomatoes. We also like to can this variety (and the San Marzano's whole).

San Marzano tomatoes: a classic paste-tomato; very productive - grow in clusters almost like grapes.

Long Tom tomato: these take a long time for plants to mature and ripen but if you are making lots of salsa or paste they are wonderful for their size and a minimum of seeds.

Moonglow tomatoes - sweet and creamy flesh; great in salsa, salads, or on pizza for that flash of golden color!

Here are pictures of some of the peppers we grew this year: It's a bit more challenging to save seeds from peppers than some other vegetables because they have a strong tendency to 'cross' with peppers of a different variety - (if grown near-by) - leading to unpredictable results. But with care and isolating the plants, the process is really quite easy.

'Poblano peppers' (L) - very mild heat; great for stuffing or roasting. 'Cubanelle' Pimento peppers (R) - a yummy, 'sweet', red pepper (no heat) - we love them because they are so productive and turn red faster than some other varieties.
Cayenne peppers (front, left corner) on a home-made drying rack.
Here is the classic green bell pepper; the variety we grow is called "California Wonder".
We love the bounty of autumn harvests! Elephant garlic, mixed peppers and basil - yum!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Baking Delicata Squash

Delicata squash - one of our favorites!
Mmmm, we baked some of our Delicata squash last night. Boy was it delicious! here's how we prepared it.

Delicata skins are quite thin and tasty so we always wash them well so we can eat them once they're baked. Preheat oven to 375 - 400F degrees

Slice the squash open the long way and scoop out the seeds.
The seeds are probably too small to be worth baking. We just put them in our compost and the mice enjoy finding them.

Lightly oil the bottom of a shallow baking pan. This will make it much easier to wash later.

Spread butter or salted oil on the inside of the squash. This pic shows about how much to use on each one.

...and place them in the pan face down and cover with tin-foil - this helps keep the moisture in so the squash stays moist during baking.
Bake for 40 minutes (until you can easily poke a fork into them).

Take the squash out of the oven, remove tin-foil and turn them face-up and put them back in the oven and bake for another 10-15 min till they start to brown a bit.
Enjoy!

We grow a variety of bush Delicata. Here's a row of them.
Delicata are ripe (or cured) when the skin is too hard to dent with your fingernail (this is true of all winter-squash). Here's are three crates we harvested in 2017. They store for several months if kept in a cool, dry place - out of the direct sun.




Sunday, September 30, 2018

Thanks Giving

Hi friends - Last week we featured our many share-givers (volunteers) in our gratitude post. This post is about expressing gratitude to the folks who support the Sharing Gardens in a variety of other ways.

Jessie is new to our garden "family". We met her when she was making a donation of diapers to the Food Pantry that her one-year old baby had outgrown. She brings a ray of sunshine wherever she goes!

Jessie - such a beautifully generous spirit!
Over the summer she has volunteered at the gardens many times on the weekends, and helped with planting and weeding tasks. A few weeks ago, she came bounding into the gardens with her big smile and a bigger envelope with these words on it:

New Glove Fund-Raiser from Pegasus Farms

Jessie had noticed that we'd had "gloves" on our wish-list all summer and decided to do "crowd-funding" at her partner's farm. She put an envelope up on the company bulletin board that she seeded with $20 from Sean ("cause he's a big softy, and I knew he'd contribute") and left town for a long weekend. When she got back, everyone else on the farm had added to the envelope for a total of $160.00! Thanks to Q, Dan-the Solar Man - Twan, Sean, Dom and Andrew. That will provide us with a great selection of gloves heading into next year's season (and more).

Janeece and Dave Cook - generosity personified.
Janeece wears many hats in our small town of Monroe, Oregon. She is the director of the South Benton Food Pantry (LINK) that is located directly next-door to the Sharing Gardens; she serves on several boards, works for Strengthening Rural Families and seems to go to every meeting in town that relates to community-issues! She is also cooking vegan recipes for the free, weekly class on Healthy Life-style Choices offered by the Monroe Health Clinic and Dr. Kyle Homertgen - our local, vegan doctor (LINK). Dave is an amazing support for all that Janeece does and also helps a lot with our local Gleaners group, picking up donated baked goods and other groceries when the Gleaners need help.

They fostered two young girls for over a year and bought a swingset for them to enjoy. When the girls were able to return to live with their Mom, the Cooks donated the swing-set to the Sharing Gardens. We have it set up right next to our main garden-shed so that, when people bring their children to our volunteer-sessions, the kids have something to play on. Much thanks!

Here's Bella - one of the foster children, helping us with the kale harvest.

John Kinsey: "Kinsey" has been coming to the gardens since 2011; he lives just a few blocks away. He's been a great contributor over the years. Here's a list of some of his contributions:
  • volunteering in the gardens
  • donating Elephant garlic bulbs to get our patch started
  • donating worm-castings and worm-castings-tea from his worm farm
  • collecting lawn-clippings and leaves from his neighbors to build our compost piles
  • building produce-display-boxes out of scrap lumber - both for us and for the South Benton Food Pantry
  • volunteering at the Food Pantry

John Kinsey with garlic 'seeds'. His contribution of garlic 'bulbs' has grown to our current patch with over 200 plants planted for the June 2019 harvest. One of his early nicknames was 'Garlic John'.


Our deep-mulch method of gardening uses tons of leaves and grass-clippings. John, who's now retired, gathers these materials wherever he can and donates them to the project. Here's a LINK to our post about using leaves and grass-clippings for soil fertility.

John, with a big load of squash-vines for the compost pile.
Coffee-grounds that John picked up from a local coffee-shop. Since coffee is not a local product and must be shipped in from thousands of miles away, it is not a sustainable resource. But since the grounds are currently considered a waste-product, we feel good knowing that we are keeping them out of the garbage. (LINK to coffee-grounds as fertilizer).



Sifting the coffee-grounds and removing trash that's mixed in is one of the favorite jobs of our OSU student-volunteers. The grounds sure make our greenhouses smell nice!


Chris and John - building a compost bin. He sure is a big help!
There are a few donors we don't have pictures of:

Fay and Erik - donated plastic tubs that are great for weeding, and storing or displaying produce.

Becky Lynn -  donated carpet, seed potatoes

Valerie P. - For the last two months, Valerie has been making a $10 donation to the project. We've never met Valerie but are grateful for her support. You too can make a donation through PayPal by clicking on this link:

Drivers: Though some of our CSA members pick up their own boxes, we have members in Eugene and Corvallis who rely on the services of our delivery-people.

Cathy Rose delivers to Eugene. Cathy has been with the gardens since 2010 and been a huge supporter. We love you Cathy!

Here's Sabine shelling walnuts. She was our delivery-person to Philomath this summer.

Jim Kitchen...


...Adri and Cindy Kitchen deliver our Corvallis boxes after spending Wednesday mornings helping in the gardens.