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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Family Heirlooms - Saving Your Own Seed

Llyn, with a variety of bean seeds
In the Sharing Gardens we probably save about 80 - 90% of our own seeds. It really isn't that difficult to do and it is very gratifying to experience this deeper level of "local food self-reliance". If you have a garden plot that is separated from other gardens by at least 500 feet (to prevent unwanted cross-pollination) you can save your own seed. Even if there are other gardens nearby, there are many crops you can grow that will not cross (tomatoes, beans and onions, for example) so don't let that stop you.

There are many good reasons to save your own seed:
  • It will be more adapted to your local growing-conditions
  • You can "select" for certain qualities/characteristics (early ripening, sweetness, cold-tolerance etc)
  • The flowering plants provide food for pollinators
  • You have better control over the quality of your seed
  • You are not as dependent on supplies being available from outside sources
  • It's fun!
Chris, winnowing lettuce-seed.
Always start with Heirloom (or "open-pollinated") seed. "Hybrid" seed is developed in a carefully controlled environment that crosses unique qualities between parent-plants to yield consistent, specific results (like early-ripening "Early Girl" tomatoes). If you save seed from a hybrid plant, it is likely that it will revert back to one, or the other's parent-qualities and not give you the desired outcome. Many seed-companies will label their packets, or inform you in their catalog descriptions so you know what you are starting with;  or you can do an on-line search and have your "shopping list" handy next time you pick out seeds, or starts. Of course, once you start saving your own, you always know you've got "heirloom" seed.

Some plants easily cross-pollinate with other plants of the same family (see below). It is difficult to control the outcome of these crosses and, you won't know the results until you grow out the seed the following year. For example, many gardeners have had the experience of having a squash seed germinate in their compost pile, grow to gigantic proportions and discover at harvest time that their "zucchini" is funny shaped, or has a woody skin or poor flavor. These variations are due to cross-pollination. Peppers also cross easily so, if you grow hot- and sweet-peppers close to each other, the seed you save may either have "sweetened" your hot peppers, or "heated" up the sweet.
    Sometimes these crosses are beneficial, creating a variety that is an improvement over either of its "parents" but beneficial "crosses" are rare. Often (unless you know what you're doing) you'll end up with something that isn't quite as good as either of its parents.

    Squash-blossom with bees.
    Examples of plants that easily cross-pollinate:
    • Squash - with other squashes (some varieties won't cross with each other but for specifics, do more research HERE)
    • Cucumbers - with other varieties of cukes
    • Melons - with other varieties of melons
    • Peppers - with other peppers
    • Lettuce - with other lettuce
    • Broccoli/Cabbage/Kale/Cauliflower - with each other
    • Chard/Beets - with each other
    If you wish to save seed from the plants listed above you either need to learn which varieties cross and keep them far away from each other when they're going to seed, or grow them on alternate years.

    Some plants won't easily cross, even with other plants in the same family. Tomatoes are a good example: you can grow two, five or ten varieties in close proximity with each other and the seed you save will almost always have the same characteristics as the plant you picked it from. On rare occasions we've had tomatoes that were a 'cross' from two varieties of plants we grew the year before. (Though we haven't experienced it ourselves, we've heard that 'potato-leaf' varieties such as Stupice or Brandywine are especially susceptible to crossing.)

    Brandywine Heirloom tomatoes
    Examples of plants that won't easily cross-pollinate:
    • Tomatoes
    • Beans
    • Peas
    • Onion family (includes garlic, shallots, leeks)

    Can my garden seed cross with "weed" seed? Yes! There are wild relatives of domestic vegetables that, if flowering at the same time, can 'cross' making your seed produce fruit that is woody, or bitter or has other undesirable characteristics. Learn to identify your local weeds (especially if there are big, open fields of them nearby). Consult expert sources to learn of techniques to avoid this problem (i.e. hand pollinating, bagging the flowers, timing your bloom to avoid the wild varieties' blooming. etc). Examples: Wild lettuce can cross with domestic lettuce; Queen Anne's Lace is a wild variety of carrot.

    Dustin saving sunflower seed
    Can I "save seed" from produce I buy from the store? Sometimes, but not always. Tomatoes are often hybridized (and being "organic" does not mean they grew it from heirloom-seed). Melons are often from hybrid seed, and they may have been grown in a field next to other melons that they could have crossed with (true with squash as well). On the other hand, we have gotten excellent bean seeds at the bulk-food section of the grocery, and grown fantastic sunflowers from bulk-seed (raw and unsalted, and still in the shell -- of course.) See the article below, if you want to grow potatoes from grocery-store "seed".

    This post just covers some of the most basic aspects of seed-saving. For more detailed info, read our posts below and/or consult other sources through books or the internet.

    Please leave us comments about your own experiences of saving seed below. It's great when we can all learn from each other!

    Here are several posts we've written that include information on saving seed: (click on the bolded text.)

    Tomato Seeds: Tomatoes are a good plant to start with if you're learning to save seed. As long as you know that the plant you're saving from is not hybrid (see above) you are bound to be successful!

    Lettuce: Just be sure you save seed from only one variety of lettuce at a time (it crosses easily if plants are closer than 50-feet apart). With one plant you can save enough seed to keep you, and your whole neighborhood (!) supplied with seed for several seasons to come.

    Peas: are easy (if you can restrain yourself from picking every last ripe pea-pod <smile>). Be sure to follow the instructions in the post and, once the seed is fully ripened and dry, freeze the seed to prevent pea-weevil larvae from ruining your batch.

    Scarlet Runner Beans: Beautiful red blossoms, big seeds (easy to harvest and dry) and the most delicious bean we know of...what's not to like!

    Potatoes: If you're already growing potatoes, saving seed is as simple as sorting out the smaller egg-sized ones and storing them till next season. You can also find seed-potatoes in the organic section of your grocer's in the spring.

    Saving your own seed is only one of the many benefits of a sharing-type garden (one big garden, instead of many separate plots). To read about how a sharing garden works, and many of its other benefits, CLICK HERE- Overview of the Sharing Gardens).
    (BENEFITS of a Sharing Garden).

    Ismael trimming dill seed-heads; lettuce going to seed in lower-left corner.

    Monday, July 16, 2018

    Children In the Garden

    Caleb loves radishes. We find that kids who help in the garden are more likely to enjoy eating vegetables.
    Our dear friend Cathy Rose came by recently to pick up two CSA boxes that she delivers for us in Eugene and said, in no uncertain terms, "Post more pictures!". I've also become aware that few people have time to read through our longer posts so here's a quickie to introduce our youngest gardener, Caleb and show how we are finding ways to integrate him into garden-time. Much fun!
    Early in the season, Caleb still sometimes needed a morning nap upon arrival at the gardens. Here's his Mom, Sabine, pouring 'compost tea' on the cabbage while Caleb snoozes.
    At first, it took one of us full-time to entertain Caleb while everyone else harvested and weeded and planted. (Sabine in the front - harvesting beets, Cindy with Caleb and Chris).
    Next we tried a portable play pen but he seemed a bit lonely and...

    ...we wanted to help Caleb be involved in the gardens, not off somewhere entertaining himself. Here we are planting and mulching potatoes. That's his Dad, Tye with his hand in the garden-cart picking up mulch.

    Caleb is beginning to show interest in what the "big" kids are doing. Here he is with Adri (who's been coming since she was a baby, and Chris' grandson - Joey - who enjoyed shelling walnuts from our tree while he visited last week.
    We're careful never to use the term "work" in the garden so the children think of helping out as "playing". We also always invite them to participate but don't require it. (Adri and Sabine "playing" in the gardens - 2015).

    Usually, if the adults seem to be having fun, then the kids want to join in too. (Adri and her Grandpa Jim shelling kidney beans. 2015)
    In the garden, it's important not to be too concerned about staying clean! (Jazmin eating blackberries that she helped pick! 2016)

    Before you know it, we'll have Caleb harvesting grass-clippings with our riding-mower for use in mulching the garden!
    But for now we're happy that he's finding ways, through 'play' to become part of our gardening family. Here is he "sorting" sticks.

    Monday, June 25, 2018

    "Work is Love Made Visible"

    Hi folks - The coolest thing happened the other day! We were playing in the gardens on Food Pantry day when our friend Dave Cook (who's wife, Janeece runs the Monroe Food Pantry) drove up with a trailer-load full of firewood to donate. No sooner did we get finished unloading and stacking it when another guy, Jimmy Templeton - who runs the Monroe Food and Firewood Gleaners - pulled up with another load to donate. He and his crew then brought another trailer and truck-load to us the following morning and have promised us one more load before the summer's through. That's five cords of firewood; probably enough to get us through two and a half winters, if they're not too harsh.

    Unloading firewood donation.
    The Gleaners is an organization that "gleans" a community's surplus - whether from farmer's fields, grocery stores, restaurants or, in this case, trees for firewood - and provides them to members of the community who are in need and can't afford it for themselves. Though we're not officially members of the Gleaners, the Sharing Gardens has been supportive of their organization. In the peak of summer, when we have more vegetables than the two Food Pantries we serve can handle, the surplus has often gone to the Gleaners. We have also let them use our flat-bed trailer for over a year to pick up large donations on a bi-weekly basis and donated a large chain saw that the firewood gleaners have used for several years. I guess they felt that they wanted to give back to us in some way.

    Their donation is a huge help to us. We heat exclusively with firewood and, cook most of our stove-top meals on our flat wood-stove through the coldest part of the winter. Then, since we don't burn any treated or painted woods, all the ashes are clean and pure enough to use as fertilizer in the gardens. Wood-ash contains most of what's needed for plant growth except nitrogen and sulfur so it's a great resource. LINK to article about Wood Ash Use for Lawn and Garden.

    Jimmy Templeton-a man of generosity!
    Note: Just as I was writing this post, who should drive up but Jimmy - head of the gleaners, with a donation of surplus organic vegetables gleaned from the local Farmer's Market. He receives more donations than he can distribute through his networks so, by bringing them to us, he knows we'll get them into the hands of people who will appreciate them.

    This post is about gratitude. This year feels like a real turning point. After having given away everything we grew for the first nine seasons, many members of the community who appreciate the services we provide have begun looking for ways to give back. The Sharing Gardens is beginning to fulfill its dream of becoming (as it says in our banner) "a common-ground gathering place dedicated to the cultivation of mutual generosity".
    Rainbow over the Sharing Gardens - June 2018
    Our first expression of gratitude goes to our sharegivers - the volunteers who come on a weekly basis during the growing season and join in the myriad of tasks involved in keeping the gardens thriving.
    Cathy, Cindy, Jim, Sabine, Rook, Kat, and Jessie.

    Share-givers enjoying homemade soup after a garden-session.
    Cathy Rose - (left) helping us sort a huge donation of seeds. She is also being our delivery person for CSA members in Eugene. We love you Cathy!
    We also continue to feel gratitude to Oregon State University for its dedication to "service-learning" (students receive college-credit for volunteering in the community). We have been hosting 4-8 groups of students per year since 2012. We estimate that's about 180 students who have spent three - four hours each at the Sharing Gardens learning about sustainable living and how to grow food. Here are some highlights from the four groups we've hosted so far in 2018.

    We always share a snack with the OSU students. This provides a great time for conversations about organic gardening and sustainable-living.
    We had an abundance of lettuce in March so OSU students helped us harvest it and...
    ...here they are displaying the lettuce we donated that week to Local Aid Food Pantry.
    We have a number of "neighbors" who support the project by bringing us leaves and grass-clippings on a regular basis or make other donations of time and materials to keep the project thriving. John Kinsey, Victor Stone and David Crosby bring us many trailer-loads each, full of compostable materials each year. Keep 'em coming, guys!

    Bob Nelson - refrigerator repair and re-wiring of an electrical outlet that kept 'shorting out'.
    St Vincent de Paul - honored a warranty for a defective refrigerator we bought from them last Fall. The warranty had expired but, because of what we do, they let us come and pick out another refrigerator to replace the one that 'died'.
    George and Irene (leaves and zucchini plants) - they've been donating leaves for many years.
    Sally and Gary Smith - donated a miniature greenhouse, still new in its box that we will pass along to a family in-need.
    Uncle Craig Erken - computer help.
    Pete Alford - pick up for Local Aid. Pete drives several miles out of his way to come pick up our donations.
    Chris' Dad, Pete Burns, for being a role model for community-service and teaching Chris so much about using tools.
    Pete Alford - picking up a vegetable donation to take to Local Aid.

    Papa Burns - Chris' Dad - chief of his town's volunteer fire department for many years; he built their brick station-house by hand. Chris' Mom, Rene drove the ambulance and taught first aid classes through the Red Cross for decades. True community-servants.

    New for us this year is our membership-farming (CSA - Community Supported Agriculture). We have seven members/share-holders. Two in Corvallis, two in Eugene and the rest are more local. Special thanks to Dr Kyle Homertgen (our local, vegan doctor) for his strong encouragement to move forward with our idea and for being our first subscriber.

    Our first subscription food-box. April, 2018.
    And last, but not least, we wish to extend gratitude to all those who have made cash donations. Though we do our best to live simply and keep costs of the project low, there are just some things that only money will get you (just try trading a case of ripe tomatoes for a tankful of gas...).

    Our largest donor by far is the South Benton Food Pantry-LINK. They invited us to make a presentation to their Board at the beginning of the year, outlining the Gardens' income and expenses.They granted us a very generous annual grant of $1800 with no strings attached so we can spend it on whatever the project needs to continue. They also continue to allow us to add the Garden's trash in with their weekly pick-up service. We don't generate a lot of garbage but this saves us from accumulating enough to warrant a trip to the dump.
    Chalk-sign, Llyn made for the Food Pantry in our town.

    Since January of 2018, we have received cash donations from several other individuals, ranging from $100 to $500 each, for a total of $1,100. Thank you so much!

    John and Donna Dillard - our neighbors - who have also donated paint and fencing material to the project and tolerate our lackadaisical approach to weeding our common fence-line. Much thanks!
    Rich Locus - a stranger we met at a restaurant who, after talking with us through breakfast, pulled out his check-book and wrote us a check, right on the spot!
    Judith Peabody- Llyn's Mom who gives generously, each year.
    Rob Wiseman - a local friend, former share-giver and repeated donor. We love you Rob!

    LINK to Wish List

    P.S. We sure love hearing your comments! Won't you please take a moment and leave them below so others can enjoy them too :-). Love, Llyn and Chris  

    We got a nice comment on this post from a friend of ours and guest-blogger to our site. She wrote:
    Llyn & Chris -- 
    Well, this post just begs a big THANK YOU in return -- both for the work you do, and for faithfully reporting back on your progress. This project is social experiment that I SO enjoy watching unfold (better than anything on Netflix, let me tell you!)
    Happy summer gardening!!

     Here's the post she wrote about the SG back in 2012:

    Conscious Cultivation: A community food solution flourishes in rural Oregon

    Wednesday, May 9, 2018

    What are "Garlic Scapes"?

    Every year, before garlic bulbs are ready to be harvested, the plant sends up a flower-stalk, or "scape". If picked when young and tender, they are a delicious, mild form of garlic and can be used just like garlic, in most recipes that call for it. They are considered a gourmet treat by many and are not often found in grocery stores or markets.

    Fresh-cut garlic "scapes"
    We like to chop them up in eggs, saute' them in stir-fries or cook them into soups.

    Garlic-farmers pick them off so the garlic plant will send more energy into the bulb and the cloves will be bigger at harvest time.  As long as they are picked young, all parts are edible.

    Here's a link to Cook's Illustrated, for more detailed cooking ideas.

    Friday, April 20, 2018

    Happy Birthday - Sharing Gardens!

    Hi Folks! On April 15th, 2009, our friend Steve Rose broke ground with his tractor at Alpine Park, marking the birth of the Sharing Gardens. We're nine years old this week!

    Here's Chris, forming 'raised beds' with our little 1947 Farmall Cub tractor in Alpine, after Steve Rose had plowed it (April, 2009).
    Here's Llyn with the Sharing Gardens' first harvest taken to the Food Pantry, July 2009.
    Here are a few highlights from the 2018 season so far. Enjoy!

    We've had two service-learning groups from Oregon State University. We have two more scheduled for later this spring.

    The February group helped us mulch trees...
    ...empty our compost bins...
    ...mulch our blueberries...
    ...and mix and sift soil in preparation for starting seedlings.
    Our second group of OSU students came on April 14th. The ground was too wet to do anything outside so they helped us in the greenhouses:

    April, Ema and Anna harvest radishes.
    They helped us transplant tomatoes too.
    Here's Cody harvesting lettuce in the Sun Ship greenhouse...
    ...and potting onions to be transplanted outdoors once the ground dries out.
    We've managed to host a few volunteer sessions with our local Share-givers:

    Chris and Rook mulching potatoes with leaves in the Sun Ship greenhouse (Feb 15).
    Rook, Kat and Llyn planting cabbage before the big rains came (March 20).
    Here's Kat on April 5th. Even on cool, wet days outside, it's always more pleasant in the greenhouses!
    We are so grateful for our two big greenhouses. They allow us to plant many cold-weather crops directly in the ground much earlier than we could outside. Also we can start all the heat-loving seedlings and grow them big indoors so they're ready for outside planting as soon as the last likely frost-date has passed.

    Here's a view of the Ark greenhouse on March 15.

    Here's that same view in mid-April. Left bed has radishes, and two patches of lettuce. Right bed has radishes, beets and red lettuce in the background. Note fresh grass-clippings in the path. These are very pleasant to walk and kneel on, smell great, and provide food for the worms and other "micro-livestock" living below.

    I didn't take many early pics of the  Sun Ship greenhouse for comparison, but here's Chris, on April 18th examining our pea-patch, started in mid-December! It looks like we're going to have a fantastic harvest this year.
    We experimented with starting tomatoes and peppers in early/mid February on heat mats with excellent results (late Feb. start is more typical for our region). We had only a few freezing nights once they had sprouted, but the seedlings did fine under plastic tray covers and/or 'floating row cover fabric' with the heat mats left on.
    Here are some of those same tomato 'starts' on April 17. Some are beginning to flower already!

    As some of you recall, we had a terrible problem last year when our potting soil was contaminated with herbicides (from un-composted horse manure) which killed many of our tomato-, pepper -, and flower-seedlings. No sign of that problem this year; all our seedlings look great!

    Great, spring weather is in the forecast and we expect everything will really begin to grow much faster now. Hurray!