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

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!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

No-Fail Kale: Growing Kale and Saving Seed

"The King of Vegetables; 'Kale' to the Chief!"

Cathy, Danielle and Llyn with "bouquets" of Red Russian kale to share at the Food Pantry.
Early spring in the Pacific NW is a time of joyful anticipation of the coming growing season. We already have hundreds of seedlings started in our greenhouses and, in a few short weeks we'll be able to transplant many early-season crops outdoors. But one of the great culinary pleasures of this time of year is the kale that wintered over from last season. Kale is one of those plants that when touched by a kiss of frost, becomes more sweet and tender than when growing at the height of summer.

Eat your kale for healthy skin, hair, bones and teeth!
There are many articles on-line about the nutritional benefits of kale and recipes for its preparation.  You will not find as many articles on-line about growing kale, using it as a cover crop, or saving your own seed which is what this article is focused on.

But, before we get into growing kale and saving seeds, in researching this post I discovered two important facts: Kale has the densest concentration of nutrients, per calorie, of a wide range of foods tested. (PDF of 72 tested foods) (explanation of chart).

And secondly, it is extremely important that, the source of the kale you eat is organically grown.
"The health benefits of kale greatly depend on the source you buy it from. Whenever you shop for kale, make sure to get organic kale, as it’s one of the most heavily pesticide-sprayed crops. Two-thirds of produce sampled in recent evaluations were poisoned with pesticides and non-organic kale ranks among the world’s most heavily polluted crops."(source)

How to grow it: Kale won't grow well in the tropics or arid regions but it's perfectly suited to a moist, temperate climate such as the Willamette Valley of Oregon where we live. There are several varieties available. The main two we grow are Toscana (or dinosaur) kale. With its greyish-green leaves (without many frilly edges) and mild-flavored tenderness, it is perfectly suited to make roasted kale chips (recipe below).


Toscana (or dinosaur) kale
But for ease of growing and hardiness through the winter, our favorite kale is Winter Red/Russian kale. This kale actually has the nickname 'hungry gap', after the period in winter in traditional agriculture when little else can be harvested. We've had stands of it survive through all but the most sustained snow and cold, outside and unsheltered through the winter.

Toscana kale is darker green and its leaves are less frilly (far left). Red Winter kale, hardier and more vigorous (easier to grow through the winter) is on the right.
Sign, we put with kale at the Food Pantry as many people were unfamiliar with eating it.
Typically we grow two main crops of kale per year. The first we start in early/mid-February.  We either start them in pots/six packs and transplant them outside (late March/early April) or we start them directly in beds in the greenhouse. We pick from both these plantings all the way until mid-July when a) the leaves become bigger and less tender and b) there is so much else coming ripe that we prefer to eat! In the heat of summer they also usually become infested with aphids and become inedible for this reason. This is also the perfect time to sow the second crop of the season (more on this below).

We start seeds in plastic tofu-containers with holes drilled in the bottom. We fill the containers mostly full of soil and press the soil down evenly with the bottom of another container. After sowing seeds, cover with scant, even layer of soil. Keep moist but don't over-water. These seedlings above are lettuce plants (to show spacing of seeds).
Once seedlings are large enough to handle easily and they have well-developed roots, but before they are root-bound, gently dump out the batch of seedlings and tease them apart, placing one in each cell of a six-pack.

In a few weeks, seedlings will grow and their roots fill the six-pack cells. They are then ready to transplant into garden-beds (18" apart). (Red Russian kale seedlings shown)
We have also sowed the seed loosely over a whole greenhouse bed in February (ideally the seeds are about 2" apart) and cover them lightly with topsoil. The kale comes up thickly filling the whole bed and grows rapidly in the protected climate of the greenhouse. It is easy to harvest whole clumps at a time with a sharp knife or scissors and, as long as you don't cut below where the leaves generate from, the kale will keep growing back all spring until a) you want to use the bed for something else or b) the greenhouse gets too warm for the cool-loving kale and it succumbs to aphids, or mold or gets too tough to enjoy.

Here, Chris is harvesting kale that was sown directly in a greenhouse bed. Using a sharp knife, he cuts off whole handfuls of kale leaving the node where new leaves sprout untouched for future harvests. The leaves will continue to re-grow for many, many months.
The second main crop of kale (for fall and winter eating) is sown in late July. It can be done in pots and transplanted, or loosely scattered as a thick crop (either inside or outside a greenhouse). It's counter-intuitive that you start these 'winter crops' in the peak of the summer heat but the seeds need enough time to germinate, and the leaves need long enough days to gain some height and volume as they will not gain much in size once the day-length shortens after autumn-equinox (Sept. 21 or so). We usually find it challenging to have enough room in our greenhouses at the peak of summer to grow a large kale crop indoors but, since kale does well outside, except in all but the harshest winters, we've had good luck with growing it outside.

Kale as a cover-crop: Below are some pictures of an experiment we did one year with kale as a cover crop. We sowed it thickly along with fava beans (tried to space plants about 2" apart). This was done by scattering the two varieties of seed and very lightly tilling them in with tiller at shallowest depth-setting. The kale did very well and lasted all through the winter. The fava beans succumbed to a sustained hard-frost and didn't survive till spring. After eating kale all winter-long, we tilled the rest in as a source for 'green manure'. This worked fine but we are now moving away from using the roto-tiller in the spring as it really compacts our clay-dense soil but, if you're still tilling in cover-crops and have a lot of kale-seed, it's a great way to go!

Kale and fava beans as a cover crop (planted in Sept., pictured in late October). Kale survived the winter; favas did not (froze). We ate kale all winter and tilled the kale into the soil in the spring as a 'green manure' (for fertility).
The same field of kale in February. OSU students harvesting a tub-full to take home and enjoy!
Springtime bonus: Kale 'raab'
Though there are some annual varieties of kale, most are biennial and set seed in their second season, after wintering over. If you have some kale that has survived the winter, look for the start of flowers forming. The best time to catch them is before the flowers begin to open (below). These kale flowers, called 'raab' (pronounced 'rob') are very tender and have a slight 'sweet' taste. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals.

Kale 'raab' (pronounced 'rob') is the flowers of the plant before they fully open. Tender, sweet and densely nutritious; a springtime treat! (pictured: Red Russian kale-raab) Note: Pick some leaves and stem along with the flowers; they'll still be tender at this time of year.
Here's Llyn picking raab off a Toscana kale plant in March or April.
Bella loves kale, raw from the garden! We prefer to steam it for about 7-min. and eat it with apple-cider vinegar or a touch of butter.
Saving seed: One of the pleasures of growing your own food from seeds is to begin to save your own seeds. With most varieties, it's not difficult and the seeds you save yourself will naturally select/adapt to be more perfectly suited to your local climate and conditions. It also contributes to having a greater sense of local food-security in case there ever comes a time when seeds are not distributed over long distances, or there is a seed-crop failure in another part of the country.

If left to mature, the raab opens up into yellow flowers. Once the flowers open, the plants become more woody and less pleasant to eat.
The flowers are pollinated and become seed-pods. Each plant can produce thousands of seeds! Wait to harvest the seed-pods till they are mostly turning purplish/tan and the pods are drying out (see above).
When ripe, the pods will easily open by rubbing them between your fingers yielding multiple seeds in each.
It's important to find the right time to harvest seed. You want to be sure the seeds are ripe enough that they are fully black and pop easily out of the pods, but don't wait so long that the birds eat your seed, or the pods shatter and spread the seed onto the ground below. Regardless of your best intentions, there are always some seeds that shatter out of the pods so you can anticipate 'volunteer' seedlings to germinate in places you've let kale plants go-to-seed.  We have one place in a greenhouse that has germinated kale plants for a third season in a row since we last let plants go to seed in that spot. That's what we call a 'high-quality problem'!

Mature kale seeds. Each plant is capable of producing thousands of seeds. This is just a small fraction of those saved from one plant.
You need to have some way of catching the seeds as the pods dry and open. After clipping the ripe seed-stalks, slip them gently in a paper-sack and hang in a dry place where birds and other animals can't reach them until the pods are all dry. You can also put them upside-down in a plastic tub or bucket. We have hung them from the rafters of our garden-shed, or on a shelf above our wood-stove, or put them in the greenhouse in a tub, on a shelf, covered by screens (to keep animals from eating them).

Seeds are ready for winnowing (separating seeds and chaff) when the pods are crisp and dry and crush easily by rubbing them between your hands. If it isn't in a tub already, carefully place the stalks of seed-heads into a tub and rub the pods between your hands to shatter them and release the seeds. As each stalk is cleaned, remove it from the tub. In the end you will have a mixture of seeds and dried leaves/pods (chaff). Winnowing is described in the caption below.

Here, Chris is giving a demonstration to Rook and Cindy of winnowing bean seeds (separating the seeds from the chaff). On a lightly breezy day, or in front of an electric fan, slowly pour seeds from one container into the other so the breeze blows the chaff away and the seeds fall into the lower container.
Storing seeds: Often, after winnowing, we continue to dry the seeds on a shelf above our woodstove. It is very important that they be totally dry or they can develop mold during storage. Heat can also destroy seeds so don't dry them any more than is necessary. Store seeds in a cool, dark place (or in your freezer, in an airtight container if you have the room). If you are new to saving seeds, check the plastic bags, jars or bottles a week or two after you store them to check there's no mold growing. We've lost a few batches due to mold which is always a sad thing when you go to check your seeds at the beginning of the next growing season.

Here's a LINK listing all our other posts about saving your own seed.

Delicious and nutritious, spring "greens": Toscana and Red Russian kale flanked by "Red Sails" lettuce.
Kale is easy to prepare and eat. We mainly use it steamed with a little apple-cider vinegar or lemon juice sprinkled on top, or a little butter but it it also good in smoothies (recipes), fresh in a tossed salad (recipe) or baked into chips (recipe). There are many great recipes on line. Always rinse well before using.

In the spring, when plants are small, the ribs will be tender and can be chopped right in with the rest of the leaves. As the plants mature, the ribs become more woody so best to slice them out and compost them.

Kale is incredibly nutritious. A 3.5 oz. serving (100g) gives you 7% of an adult's protein needs for the day as well as 5%- 15% of several vitamins and minerals. It is also very high in fiber.

(LINK: Health Benefits of Kale)

This 'ANDI' chart (below) lists 72 foods, rating them by their concentration of nutrients per calorie. Kale is #1! They're not suggesting that you rule out the foods that are higher in calories and less dense in nutrients (healthy bodies need high-quality fats, carbohydrates and protein) but most of us are deficient in the micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals etc) and fiber, that are essential for all our metabolic processes and optimal health. (LINK: Aggregate Nutritional Density Index - note, kale is #1) (LINK to one-page, printable ANDI chart).

'Rob' with kale 'raab'

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A New Chapter!

Dear Friends - We're adding a new feature to the Sharing Gardens this year in order to put this project on a more financially sustainable foundation. It will be a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture - subscription farming). As many of you know, we've never sold anything so this represents a major shift for us. We're going to start small, with only 12 subscriptions, so we're sure to be successful. We intend to continue in our charitable contributions to those in our local community who need food-assistance through the South Benton Food Pantry.

Here's a description of our CSA to give you all the details:

Llyn and Chris-Your local 'farm'acists.
What is a CSA? A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a membership-relationship between you and a farm. Members receive a "share" of seasonally available produce, on a weekly basis. This gives you the benefit of knowing where your food comes from, how it is grown, and that you are giving direct support to the people who grow your food.

The Sharing Gardens CSA will provide weekly boxes of seasonal produce from early May until mid-November, by subscription, to a limited number of families

Your subscription will bring fresh and local food to your family while supporting us in our mission to provide healthy produce to people in our community, through local food charities, who otherwise could not afford it. We will be focusing on familiar, staple crops; the things that are most popular at grocery stores and farmer's markets.

Home-grown fresh!
What's in my box? In the beginning of the season, the produce available may not be worth what you'd pay for the same organic produce at a store but the value of the boxes from July through November will be worth more than $25 so it will more than balance in the end. The Sharing Gardens has always been known for generosity! Also, the freshness will be unlike anything you can get at a store.

May, June: Beets, cabbage, carrots, green onions, kale, lettuce and radishes
July: same as above, AND early tomatoes. summer squash and cucumbers
August, Sept.: same as above, AND celery, large tomatoes, peppers
Oct., Nov.: Most of above, AND winter squash.

Lettuce grown from seed we saved.
How do we grow your food?

No herbicides or pesticides
Soil-fertility created primarily through compost, worm castings, leaves, grass-clippings and wood-ash.
Slow-grown for maximum density of nutrition and flavor.
We encourage birds and beneficial insects for natural pest-management.
We grow all heirloom varieties (no hybrids or GMO) from 85% (or more) of seed we saved ourselves.

Healthy food for you and your family!
Cost of membership: $25/week x 28 weeks = $700 (payable either in full - when you sign-up, or in two payments of $400 - when you sign up and $300 by July 1st).

Payment methods: We can accept cash or checks made out to 'The Sharing Gardens'.

Early sign-up bonus: Some vegetables will be ready earlier than May 9th. Members will receive a share of whatever we have available on a weekly basis, once it is available.

Where do I pick up my box? Members in the Monroe area will be able to pick up their boxes on Wed. afternoons from 3:00 to 6:00 at the Sharing Gardens (map below).
664 Orchard St., Monroe 97456 
Corvallis: Boxes can be picked up on Wed. afternoons at NW 36th and Polk from 2:00 to 6:00 Eugene: We have one member already signed up who lives at 12th and Grant SW. If we get more members in Eugene we will see if all boxes can be picked up there on Sunday afternoons/early evening.

Can I share my membership? Yes, if you find someone to share it with.

Can I cancel my membership? Only if we have a waiting list. You will be refunded the balance of your fees if there is someone else who wishes to buy your "share".

To sign up for the Sharing Gardens CSA,  send an email to us at - ShareInJoy@gmail.com - We will email you an application for you to fill out and mail to us, along with your payment.

Questions? Phone: Chris and Llyn (541) 847-8797
Call: 8:00 to 12:30 or 2:00 to 6:30 (we keep 'farmer's hours' and take a nap each day :-)


Map to the Sharing Gardens:

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

"Sharing Gardens" for Local, 'Plant-Based' Food Security


 A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance while building stronger communities.
Sharing creates abundance!
We've been watching the dramatic weather world-wide: floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves and record snows! In recent years, every country that grows food has experienced repeated significant crop-failures. Pests, weather and super-weeds are all taking their toll. It seems more important than ever for people to learn to grow, at least some, of their own food. At the Sharing Gardens (MAP), we demonstrate a style of gardening that builds soil fertility using locally-generated, renewable and sustainable materials - like leaves and grass-clippings - that are commonly considered waste products. This model also fosters trust and a sense of community at the neighborhood level; relationships that can be called upon in times of social, or environmental stress. It by-passes "business-as-usual" in that it generates a bounty of "organic" fruits and vegetables feeding far more people than it takes to run it and no money ever changes hands. We call it a "Sharing Garden".
Sharing the bounty - garden helpers "shop" for their week's vegetables. 
What makes these Sharing Gardens unique is that, instead of many separate plots, that are rented by individuals, we all garden together. All materials and labor are donated. The food we grow is shared by all who have contributed in some way. All surplus is donated to local food-charities (like Food Banks and Soup Kitchens). No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown.
Lettuce and other vegetables being donated to a local food-charity.
This model is easily replicated anywhere there are vacant lots with a water-source, and people with enough gardening experience to oversee the project and does not require a large input of money to make it work. It can be adapted to many different scales of gardening; from a few families who live and garden on the same block, to a multi-acre production farm. "Sharing Gardens" help keep materials out of burn-piles and the land-fill (garbage dumps) through re-using, re-purposing and encouraging people to share their surplus.

Overview of the Sharing Gardens
Benefits of a Sharing Garden 
Harvest Totals - 2012
Using Leaves and Grass-Clippings to Create Soil-Fertility
Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans
Grow Your Own 'Blue Corn'
 Wish List - To Donate

To view videos about the project, LINK including the the Peak Moment video: The Giving is Growing.
To read articles about the project: Click Here
 
Volunteers from our local university help the gardens thrive!