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

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Sharing Gardens - Overview of 2019

Hello dear friends, We're already preparing for the 2020 season (we'll start our first seeds in just six weeks) but this post looks back at some of the highlights from 2019, one of our best seasons ever! This post also offers thanks to all our supporters, near and far. We couldn't do it without you!

We are truly grateful.

Chris and Jim harvesting potatoes with little Jace's help. Potato harvest 2019: 676 pounds; our best yet!
Well, the numbers are in! The Sharing Gardens have surpassed all previous records for harvesting this year with a total of 8,006 pounds!
Here are the highlights of our donations to charities:
South Benton Food Pantry: 1,513 pounds
Local Aid Food Pantry: 1,311 pounds
Other Misc. charitable donations: 575 pounds
                                                Sub-total: 3,399 pounds
Shared amongst participants:
Sharegiver's (volunteers) weekly distribution of the harvest (and one family facing a cancer crisis who we donated a CSA membership to): 1,447 pounds
Food Preservation (canning/dehydration) and winter storage (potatoes, squash etc) - also shared amongst participants and will continue to be donated to the SB Food Pantry through the winter: 1,078 pounds
                                                Sub-total: 2,525
Three CSA memberships (Community Supported Agriculture - LINK): 1,075 pounds
Equivalent of four CSA memberships offered to a class on healthy living for 12 weeks: 1,007 pounds
                                                Sub-total: 2,082

Sharing Gardens 2019 Harvest Total: 8,006 pounds!

OSU student-volunteers with sweet-meat squash harvest.
Previous years' harvests averaged closer to 6,000 pounds. The increase this year comes largely from the fact that our orchards and vineyards are beginning to really bear fruit (approx. 521 pounds). We also grew lots of potatoes (681 pounds) and winter squash (676 pounds). We've also continued to expand our vegetable garden spaces for growing annual vegetables, and in planting succession crops, so fertile ground is not left empty after crops are harvested early in the season.

In addition to the food we grew ourselves, each week we received all the surplus produce from the Corvallis Farmer's Market that was picked up by Jim Templeton from the Monroe Gleaner's. We sorted it and redistributed it back through the Gleaners and through Local Aid which amounted to over 800 pounds total - thus keeping this valuable food from going to waste.

We have so much to be grateful for.

Cash donations from individuals:
  • Peter Stoel, Karen Josephson - $2,100 (from an I.R.A required distribution).
  • Judy Peabody - $500 
  • Karen Salot: $100 
  • Lee Cornforth: $100
  • Jim and Cindy Kitchen: $50
Jim  and Cindy Kitchen (with Chris in the middle) - enjoying watermelon.
Other donations:
  • Victor Stone - honey (when a huge maple tree split open in a storm this winter, it revealed a hive of wild bees who then abandoned their hive leaving us with two gallons of wild-honey). Four cords of maple-firewood (a $1,000+ value): Victor already had enough firewood stored up for his needs so he helped us chop up that maple tree (and two others that also came down in the storm) and load the "rounds" into our truck. He got the debris from the storm cleaned up and we got several winters' worth of firewood. Now that's mutual-generosity! Victor has many maple trees on his land and this year, once again, he's blown the leaves into huge piles and then loaded them into our trailer for garden-use. Nineteen trailer loads so far!  - Enough to cover the entire garden. Much thanks.
  • David Crosby - loaned us his log-splitter to split Victor's wood-donation. Who needs a gym-membership when you have to split and stack all the wood you'll need to heat your house for the winter? David is also a local with lots of big trees on his land. We received five trailer-loads this year that he and his helper collected and delivered! Wow!
  • Neighborhood leaf donations: Our leaf drive has continued to be a big success. We estimate that we've had approximately 150 bags of leaves donated this season.
  • Llyn spreading donated leaves. Donations have been enough this year already to cover all outdoor garden-beds, our greenhouse paths and still have a surplus for next summer's growing season.
  • S.A.G.E. Garden: S.A.G.E. Garden is a non-profit project run through the Corvallis Environmental Center. Like us, they grow a huge garden of organic vegetables to be donated to soup kitchens and food pantries. We donated over 100 cabbage and broccoli "starts" to them and they let us fill up a few dozen buckets of their surplus compost. Again, "mutual generosity"! LINK
  • John and Donna Dillard - donated a chest freezer that was no-longer needed. The Dillards also donated a couple of trees-worth of firewood from trees taken down to make room for their new house. Also, cinder-blocks, large plastic and terra cotta planters, and salvaged lumber. Best neighbors ever!
  • Larry M. - Fixed mower belt. Our trusty ride-on mower finally wore out the belt that drives the mower blade. Larry saved us the money it would have cost to have it repaired at the dealer, plus the hassle of transporting the mower.
  • Craig Erken: Llyn's uncle Craig donated a Mother Earth News-subscription - the classic guide to homesteading. Also, after her help in cleaning out his garage, Craig donated a dutch-oven we are using to cook with on our wood-stove, a  mini-shop-vac, a Champion juicer and a bunch of other useful miscellany.
    OSU Service-Learning students with kale-bouquets. Nov. 2019
  • Peter Alford - driving our donations to Local Aid.
  • Wanda Foster: a grocery bag full of fresh-picked Chanterelle mushrooms (it's been a great year for them but we've only managed to go out picking a handful of times ourselves).
  • Cheryl Anson: wheelbarrow, salvaged redwood decking. Cheryl is the warehouse manager at Local Aid - one of the main recipients of our produce donations.
  • Jim and Cindy Kitchen: gloves and pruners. The Kitchens also transported two of our CSA member's boxes each week on their way home from volunteering in the gardens.
  • Catherine Henry: three and a half pounds of seed garlic (six varieties) which we've planted in our greenhouse.
  • Mara Friddle - USDA/NRCS Plant Materials Center: Forty wire tomato cages made from fencing material.
  • Our wonderful Share-givers: We couldn't do this without our core group of six wonderful volunteers. They came almost every week during the growing season for three hours, doing whatever needed to be done.
  • Oregon State University "Service Learning" students: The SG has hosted six groups of 4-6 students-each to volunteer with us in 2019. The students receive hands-on experience in some of the many tasks needed to grow food for the community, an extensive Q&A session where we delve into their curiosity in living a more generous and sustainable lifestyle, and we receive an incredible boost of high-energy labor! A real Win-Win!
Llyn, with some of summer bounty donated to the SB Food Pantry.
Foundation grants:
  • Benton Community Foundation - $2,400: This grant funded the Sharing Gardens to provide vegetables to the Total Health Improvement Program (THIP), a twelve-week free class designed to help participants address, prevent and heal from chronic health issues through adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet, and stress-reducing behaviors such as meditation and exercise. The class is a partnership between our local, Monroe Health Clinic, it's vegan doctor - Dr. Kyle Homertgen, the South Benton Food Pantry and the Sharing Gardens.
  • South Benton Food Pantry: $1,800 - for general operating expenses. This is the second year in a row that SBFP (a main recipient of Sharing Garden's produce) has made this generous donation.
  • OSU Folk Club Thrift Store granted us $772 for general garden expenses: tools, hoses, gloves and potting soil to fill up our raised beds.
Thank you "berry" much! Bella, Adri and Jasmyn enjoy summer's blackberry abundance.
The Sharing Gardens is a non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist entirely through grants, our CSA program and donations from people like you. If you have found benefit from our site, our project or just want to support the work we do, please consider making a donation through PayPal. (Click button below.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Leaf Love!

How we use leaves in the garden...

Shag bark hickory.
Hello folks - Well, the autumn leaves have mostly fallen here in Monroe. It's been our best year yet for leaf-collection! We had a couple of cold snaps early on and not much rain so the colors were gorgeous (prettiest I can remember in over 20 years of living out west) and wonderfully dry, which makes it easier to rake them and bag them. This is the second year we've had a sign out front welcoming leaf-donations and the locals are definitely catching on. Hardly a day goes by without at least several bags showing up under our big Hickory tree. 

It's a real "win-win" as neighbors have a free, local place to bring their leaves (which they would otherwise need to burn, compost or take to the land-fill). We recycle the leaf-bags by hanging them in our greenhouses to dry and re-bundling them in packets of six which we offer free to folks in a trash can out front, saving people money from buying new ones and helping to reduce the purchase of single-use plastic.

Leaves in greenhouse paths.
The gardens benefit from having a free source of fertilizer - whether added to our compost bins, the paths of our greenhouses or directly mulching the garden-beds over the winter.

About a month ago, a local reporter offered to write an article about using leaves in one's landscape or garden and she included info about the Sharing Garden's leaf-collection program. Here is Edie's article re-printed with permission from the Tribune News (where it was first published).

By Edie Moro

The trees are beautiful in the fall with their shades of red, orange and burnt yellow. Then, the leaves are shed and the trees are bare. What do you do with the leaves?
Homeowners may want to make use of their bounty of leaves in their own gardens. Spread the leaves in a layer on the lawn and run a lawnmower over them several times. This chops up the leaves and adds grass clippings, which may then be spread over garden beds and under shrubs. Keep the chopped leaves away from the base of shrubs or trees where they could hide voles and other rodents that may chew on the bark.

Mowing leaves to use as mulch.
Also, for rhododendrons and azaleas, spread a light layer, no more than one or two inches, over their root zone. These shrubs are shallow-rooted and need access to oxygen. Piling mulch and clippings too deeply around these plants has been known to smother and kill them – called “death by volcano.”

Even easier - homeowners may want to just mow the leaves and let them melt into the lawn over the winter. It is a great, economical way to feed the lawn.

Sharing Gardens in Monroe would love your leaves. They use them to cover large areas of the gardens so they have time over the winter to compost and feed the worms and other soil-organisms and suppress weeds. The garden has stopped using animal manures as a source of soil fertility, and have turned to leaves, grass-clippings, wood-ash and coffee grounds as a replacement (see links below for more info).

Llyn Peabody and Chris Burns are the Sharing Gardens coordinators. They write a blog about the garden at www.thesharinggardens.blogspot.com/, which includes gardening information, recipes and other "homesteading" info. 

Llyn explains the need for the leaves, “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 six-thousand pounds of produce. We have to replenish a huge amount of organic-matter so our soils don't get depleted!”

Neighbors bring us grass!
The garden will accept most bagged leaves and grass clippings, with the following exceptions: “no animal waste, trash or sticks/branches, no holly or roses (too sharp), or black walnut leaves (they can kill plants). Also do not include diseased or insect-laden plant material. Just leaves and grass.

Sharing Gardens is located at 664 Orchard Street, Monroe, Oregon 97456, where there is a bright yellow house behind the Methodist Church. The coordinators ask people to leave the bags in a pile under the big, hickory tree at the back of the church parking lot. There are free previously-used lawn/leaf bags available in a trash-can underneath the hickory tree. The coordinators ask that bags be filled not too full and only lightly tied so that they may be re-used.

Thank you Edie and thank you to all the new and returning leaf-donors from this year! 
Gratitude for garden support!
For info on using leaves and grass clippings for fertility in your garden, CLICK HERE.

Leaves to mulch the gardens in winter.
For info about using wood-ashes and coffee grounds for fertility, CLICK HERE.

Adding wood ashes (and coffee grounds) for fertilizer.
For info about making your own potting mix (soil) in your greenhouse paths - using worms, CLICK HERE
Grass-clippings in our greenhouse paths.

The Sharing Gardens is a registered 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 small donation through PayPal. (Click button below.)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Making Your Own "Veganic" Potting Soil in Your Greenhouse Paths - Using Worms

October 2019: Here is a timely re-post of an article we wrote earlier this year about harvesting worm-castings out of our greenhouse paths. We're proud to announce that for the 2019 season we didn't purchase any fertilizers and were able to grow over 7,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables using locally available resources to feed our worms: leaves and grass clippings. We supplemented with wood-ash from heating our house, and coffee-grounds that volunteers bring us from coffee shops. We're almost done harvesting the worm-compost from our paths this year and it looks like we'll have almost double from last year's  harvest.  Enjoy!
Here is one of our greenhouses in mid-Spring. Note how the paths are filled deep with straw and other "organic-matter". As we water the plants and walk over the beds, we help the worms and micro-organisms turn this dead plant-material into nutrient-dense compost for next year's soil.
For those of us with greenhouses in which we plant directly in the ground (as opposed to using the GH to protect seedlings in pots, on tables) the necessary pathways between planting beds can seem like a lot of wasted space. Over the years, we've developed a method of composting right in the paths, creating habitat for worms and micro-organisms so that, over the course of the growing season we generate (and then harvest) large amounts of fine, high-quality worm-compost using locally available materials often considered "waste" products. We describe our methods below.

"Veganic" method for creating soil-fertility: Over the last few years we have become increasingly convinced that moving toward a veganic method of farming makes a whole lot of sense from several perspectives. Veganic agriculture is defined as:
...an approach to growing plant-foods that encompasses a respect for animals, the environment, and human health. Also known as "stockfree" "vegan organic" and "plant-based," this is a form of agriculture that goes further than organic standards, by eliminating the use of products that are derived from confined animals and by encouraging the presence of wild native animals on the farmland. (LINK: Intro to Veganics)
For many organic farmers\gardeners, if not most, fertilizing the soil means adding some type of manure and\or other animal-based products such as bone meal, fish meal, blood meal, feather meal, etc. Here at the Sharing Gardens, being vegetarians ourselves and wanting to grow food in a way that aligns with our values, we are interested in developing, and demonstrating ways of growing food that uses local materials, gathered in a sustainable way with a gentle impact on the environment.
"Veganic" agriculture: good for the Earth, good for our health.
Here is our current method of building our soil-fertility - right in the paths of our greenhouses!

Gathering Materials: Our method of gardening requires massive amounts of "organic matter" (leaves, straw, grass-clippings etc). In the many years since we started the Sharing Gardens (2009) we have developed relationships with the people in, and around our small town encouraging them to bring us these materials instead of burning them or sending them to the land-fill.
One of our neighbors brings us many trailers full of leaves each Fall. He used to burn them. Now he uses some to mulch his own garden-beds but still has plenty of surplus to share with us.
Our land is over three-acres. We have left much of it as grass so that we can harvest this valuable resource. (LINK-Grass Clippings and Leaves for Soil Fertility). When we have surplus from mulching our plants, we spread it in the greenhouse-paths to feed the worms and micro-organisms.
A System for Collection: For many years, the only people who brought us leaves and grass-clippings were those we had made a personal connection with. In 2017, a teacher from our town's Grade School approached us about doing a volunteer project with her students to help the Sharing Gardens. We spent a morning with the students and raked up over 35 big bags of leaves around town! (LINK: Yes, Money Really Does Grow On Trees!) In the Fall of 2018, our city-hall contacted us about inserting a notice in people's water-bills encouraging them to bring their leaves to our garden. We estimate this yielded another close to 50 bags of leaves. We imagine that in future years that number will grow as people hear about the program. LINK: Monroe Leaf Drive
Here's the sign we painted and set up along the road in front of our house for the 2018 leaf-drive.
As people donate their leaves, we hang the bags out to dry on a clothes-line in our greenhouse and roll them into bundles of 5-6. We feel strongly about minimizing the use of plastics so any time a bag can be re-used is a real bonus!
We set up this station in our front yard. The trash-can has bundles of leaf-bags for re-use.
In the flier that was mailed to our town, we included these important guidelines:
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 😊.
The need for sides on your beds: With this method, it is important that your paths and beds be separated with sides so your soil doesn't mix with the materials in the paths.
Chris has made many of our greenhouse beds with recycled fence-boards held in place with stakes driven into the ground. We have used plywood ripped into four-inch strips too.
Spreading materials: Since our method of creating soil is cyclic, we could begin at any point in the process but if you are just getting started, the first step is to spread the materials. We begin this process at the end of Autumn as we are dismantling the tomato-cages, pulling up pepper-plants and weeding the beds in preparation for the following Spring.
Here is a greenhouse path that has been "harvested" of its worm-compost. It is ready for new materials to be added.
After cleaning all of last season's plant material out of the beds, cutting it into small pieces and laying it in the paths, we cover it with layers of leaves or straw, or whatever we have available.

One of our neighbors thatched his lawn and brought all that wonderful grass "hay" for us to use. Here is a college student/volunteer spreading it by the tub-full.
Llyn, spreading fresh grass-clippings on top of straw.

Creating worm-compost all season-long: From Spring through late Summer we continue to add organic-matter as it becomes available. By watering and walking on the paths we help the worms and other "micro-livestock" to break down the materials and turn them into soil.
This picture was taken in April. Note fresh grass-clippings in center and right pathways. Straw has yet to be covered with grass on left-pathway. Llyn is watering the bed of lettuce and waters the paths too, to help in the decomposition process.
During the growing season, the worms and micro-organisms are 'digesting' all this material from below. On tours of the greenhouses we often pull back the mulch to show people the thriving colonies of red-wiggler worms that live in our paths. Many times we can show them worm-eggs as well and little worm tunnels they have formed down into the rich, black compost.
Another benefit of this style of greenhouse gardening is that the mulched paths are so pleasant to kneel on. Also, many plant roots (figs pictured here) will reach their roots out into the paths and be fed by this 'living compost' through the growing season. (Pictured: Bella and Adri harvesting potatoes).
Harvesting worm-castings: We stop adding organic matter by late summer. This means there is less material to move out of the way when it's time to harvest our worm-compost. This 'undigested' material is temporarily gathered in tubs, or piles and then returned to the paths after the worm-compost has been gathered.
Here, Chris scoops up the compost with a flat, hand-trowel. We collected fourteen, five-gallon buckets from this one, forty-foot x two-foot path!
A flat shovel works well too.
Sifting and storing worm-compost:
This homemade sifter works well to remove large material and give the finished product a uniform texture. The screen is made with "hardware cloth", a wire-mesh with 1/2" holes.
After sifting, we often store the worm compost in re-purposed pellet-stove plastic bags. Storing them in this way preserves the material's moisture.
Mixing soil and starting seedlings: In the past we have been fortunate to have pre-used-soil donated from two-different nurseries at the end of their growing seasons. Though the nutrient-content of the soil was mostly depleted, the structure of the soil was still excellent as it was high in organic-matter, perlite and other substances to keep the soil light and fluffy. We are careful to only accept soil-donations from 'organic' growers (no herbicides/pesticides). Our mix-ratio was 'one-part' worm compost to 'two-parts' depleted soil.

If you don't have access to previously-used soil, there are many recipes on-line for making your own. Typically they include coconut coir (a more-renewable resource than peat-moss) and sand or perlite - so the soil drains well, and compost for fertility. Use the worm-compost outlined in this article in place of the regular compost.

Always mix soil thoroughly so the different materials are evenly mixed and do a few tests with fast-germinating seeds (like radishes) to make sure you have a good mixture.

Update October 2019: This year we have not had any used soil donated and our worm-compost harvest has greatly increased from last year so we will probably be starting our seedlings next Spring in pure worm-compost. Chris has done this before in previous nurseries, with great results. The only reason we didn't do it last year was that we had the pre-used soil donated and we didn't have as much worm-compost.

Pure worm-compost has great drainage due to all the organic-matter within. It's just that it contains more nutrients than young seedlings require so, if you have other material to mix it with, that doesn't cost you anything, it's a good idea to mix it and stretch it out.
Seedlings in our home-grown soil, Spring 2019.
Preparing beds: We also use the worm compost to fertilize our raised beds.
Chris spreading a layer of worm-compost in greenhouse beds. Note last year's tomatoes and other plant material in pathways (before we've added leaves on top). Excellent worm food!
Soil fertility is improved by adding wood-ash and coffee grounds: For some reason, worms love coffee grounds! By sprinkling grounds in your garden beds, you will attract worms to come into your soil. Coffee grounds also contain many nutrients on their own so, we also recommend adding them to your greenhouse paths and compost bins. They will attract worms and speed up the process of decomposition. (LINK: Coffee and Ashes for Fertility)
Spreading coffee-grounds: We have a friend who regularly stops by a local coffee shop and collects coffee grounds for us. Ideally, when we have enough, we sprinkle them about 1/4" deep over the beds. Note: Though coffee-grounds are neither a local or sustainable resource, currently the are free and by using them, we keep them out of the waste-stream.
Spreading wood-ashes: After coffee we add a very light sprinkling of wood-ashes (they are very concentrated and can 'burn' sensitive micro-organisms and the worms' skin and change soil pH). We only use ash collected from natural wood that has no paint or other chemical treatments. Since we heat our house exclusively with wood, this is another 'free' resource.
Through the early winter months, we hand-dig these amendments into the soil. This provides a pleasant activity during inclement weather...
...and a nice time for socializing.

In early Spring, once we begin mowing the grass again, it makes a nutrient-dense mulch directly on the beds. Worms love fresh grass-clippings and will migrate to beds where it has been added.
The cycle starts again - Spreading materials in paths: Once we have harvested the worm-compost, it's time to start the cycle all over again!
Tomato-plants systematically being cut-up into the paths. The fallen tomatoes and weeds in the bed to the left of Llyn will also be scooped out/dug up and put into the path to feed the worms.
Layer, after layer, we build up the organic-matter in the paths.
This includes straw (if we have it) and grass-clippings.
Planting in beds and continuing to add organic-matter to the paths:
The process is an endless cycle, creating soil-fertility from local and veganic materials.
This method of growing, yields nutrient-dense, delicious food!
The Sharing Gardens is a registered 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 small donation through PayPal. (Click button below.)