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

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Can We Create Social Change Without Money?

We're up to our eyeballs in harvesting and food-preservation so haven't had time to publish something new in awhile. This is a re-publishing of a post from October of 2015. Still as relevant as ever. Enjoy! Llyn and Chris





Here is a video and transcript of a Ted-Talk by Nipun Mehta, a pioneer in 'sharing' and the true gift-economy (giving without thought of receiving). Nipun beautifully articulates the community-building, healing power of generosity. We decided to post this on our Sharing Gardens site because our project is deeply founded in the principles outlined in this video. Enjoy!

Can We Create Social Change Without Money?

--by Nipun Mehta, Oct 28, 2015

Can we create social change without money? I don't have a conclusive answer but just holding that question can raise some very interesting insights.

Since we're talking about money, I thought I'd start with a story on Wall Street. One of my friends was running a venture fund on Wall Street. They had a great year, and his boss calls him in to congratulate him and offers the proverbial blank check, "What would you like?" He looks his boss in the eye and says, "What I'd love is a minute of silence before all our group meetings."

Wow. The boss is thinking, "In a context where people are billing every three minutes, a minute of silence to do nothing? That's like wasting time." He refuses. "No. Anything else?" he asks. No. After sleeping on it, though, the boss comes back to say, "Look, if you really want that minute of silence, fine, I'll give it to you." They start meetings with a minute of silence. That minute turned into two to three to five minutes. Today, they do thirty minutes once a week, and even have their own meditation bell.

What was my friend thinking? On one side he could've asked for a monetary raise, but on the other side was very different kind of capital — mental quiet, connection, trust. He is thinking, "I don't want to meet people in a space of rush. I'd rather meet them with a bit more peace." It changed his relationship to himself, it changed his relationship to other people and certainly with his boss. And it didn't just stop there. It changed how everyone related to each other. It changed the whole culture of their office space. And that was something he valued more than the financial capital.

How do we broaden our lens to include alternative forms of capital? This is a question, this is a possibility, that we all have access to but in our current world today, we're very biased towards financial capital.

In theory, our society is supposed to balance all these biases. We have three big sectors. The private sector is rooted in extrinsic motivations like money, power, fame. On the other end, we have the voluntary sector that is rooted in very intrinsic sort of motivations. Compassion, knowledge, purpose. And then there's the public sector that is supposed to regulate between the two and work on both sides of the aisle.

This is how it's supposed to work in theory. In practice, though, the private sector starts to take over. In fact, it starts to dominate. We do have a public sector, but the public sector is increasingly being controlled by the private sector. There is a small voluntary sector, but these days, in the name of the sharing economy, even that is being commoditized. Courtesy of the "sharing economy", your lawn mower can get you six bucks a day, and you can rent out your Herm├Ęs purse for a hundred dollars a party and your dog for five dollars a walk.

When we have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. If money is the only metric we have, we start to put a price tag on everything.

The problem with price tags is that we start to lose connection with the priceless. We start to lose connection with our intrinsic motivation.

What does science say about all this? Edward Deci at the University of Rochester has been studying incentives for over forty years. After thousands of experiments, he categorically asserts that the carrot and stick model doesn't work. This idea of a contingent reward — if you do this, you will get this — doesn't actually work.

For example, he studied people who loved to solve puzzles. Initially, they would solve puzzles just for the love of it, just for its intrinsic enjoyment. Then he started to pay them to do the same thing. So far so good. Then, at a later point, he stopped paying them. As soon as he stopped paying them, you would think they would return to that original state, right? It turns out, though, that they were no longer interested in solving puzzles at all!

What his research shows is that money desensitizes us. What science is actually telling us is this: Don't show me the money. When you're working with intrinsic motivations, financial rewards can backfire.

At the Max Planck Institute, researchers have been studying 18-month olds. These toddlers are just playing and all of a sudden they see a bunch of strangers who are putting clothes out for drying. In the process, they drop a clothespin and need help getting to it. The toddlers see that a person is in need, and immediately go out to help. They pick up the clothespin and hand it to the strangers. Now, at that age, they haven't yet been taught kindness or compassion but they're still moved to help. They're still moved to cooperate.

What science is telling us is that it's natural to give, that we're wired to care. In fact, not only is it guiding us to "don't show me the money", but it's saying to not offer any rewards at all. It's just not necessary.

The question we are left with is this — what designs emerge when we don't lead with money? What designs emerge when we lead with something subtler or something internal? We have many examples that offer insight into this inquiry.

Mother Teresa, of course, is an example that all of us know about. Someone purely motivated by intrinsic motivations. One of my friends, Lynne Twist, is a world-renowned fundraiser and author of a book titled, Soul of Money. She knows money. Many years ago, she had a very interesting conversation with Mother Teresa, whom she knew personally. "Mother Teresa, what's your fund raising strategy?" she asked. And Mother Teresa, with her big-hearted compassion, simply replied, "Oh, I just pray. Whatever I get is what I need."

It was simple. Here was a woman who had 400 centers in 102 countries and she's kind of like the CEO of this whole operation and she is saying, "I have no fundraising strategy." Or rather she is saying, "My fundraising strategy is to be rooted so deeply in intrinsic motivation that external security is not even a concern."

We have many modern examples as well. Linux rivaled Microsoft Windows purely with a distributed army of volunteers. Wikipedia did that with Encyclopedia Britannica. On Wikipedia alone, through those micro-edits that volunteers made, hundred million volunteer hours have been donated. CouchSurfing, similarly, allowed strangers to stay on each other's couches and disrupted the hotel industry.

As we look closely, we see an entire spectrum of motivations. It starts with extrinsic motivations on one side and goes all the way to intrinsic motivations. On the extrinsic side, there's money, power, fame; somewhere in between you have things like fun, learning, growth and purpose. Then on the intrinsic end of the spectrum, you have these very profound motivations like healing, forgiveness, inner-transformation and ultimately compassion.

On that extrinsic end, we have thousands and thousands of examples, but on the other side, on the side of intrinsic motivations, we don't have too many. Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is a completely decentralized, distributed, and a never-monetized effort. It points towards the other end of the spectrum, but we have an opportunity to create a lot more examples here.

Back in 1999, we started ServiceSpace that rested squarely on the intrinsic end of this spectrum. It started with four of us, building websites for non-profits. Underneath the work, though, what we wanted to do was to anchor ourselves purely in the spirit of service. Over the last sixteen years, we've organized around three core principles that have kept us rooted in that intrinsic motivation.

The first one is that we are volunteer run. Many people look at that as scarcity of paid staff and ask, "How will you scale?" What we noticed was that we actually had an abundance of social capital. Imagine that you're trying to raise a million bucks. You could get it from one or two people, or a dollar from a million people. Which is stronger? A million people saying, "Yes, I believe in what you're doing. Yes, I care." The cumulative energy of that is profound. It's powerful. That's what we were experiencing with small contributions of time from many volunteers.

Similarly, our second principle is to not fundraise. When you don't ask for resources, you naturally feel a lot of gratitude for all that ends up in your lap. You learn to creatively work with what you've got, and you start to cooperate. Incredible synergies emerge, particularly when working with non-financial capital.

Lastly, our third principle is to focus on small. It wasn't about big things outside, but rather it was about the subtle on the inside. Being in the change you wish to see in the world starts to attune us to the subtle. The resulting awareness, in a very profound way, ignites our deepening understanding of interconnection.

With these three principles, ServiceSpace manages to create lot of impact in the world. We started by building websites for non-profits and we ended up helping thousands of efforts come online. Then we started building portals like DailyGood and KarmaTube. Every year we send seventy million emails, and not a single one of them has an ad -- or even a reference to buying something. It is purely non-financial.

Still, how far can we push ourselves while still operating solely on the strength of these intrinsic motivations?

We started this game of kindness called Smile Cards and it spread to over a hundred countries. In local communities we started these gift-economy experiments like Karma Kitchen where people are redefining what it means to engage in transaction. In living rooms around the world, Awakin Circles started. In all, more than half a million members were co-creating something that was engaging the attention of millions -- all without ever raising a single penny, and moved by love, service and our innate connection to each other.

It's not just that you can do a lot with this. We often take metrics from the extrinsic side of the spectrum to measure the impact on the intrinsic end. That puts a very low ceiling on its potential.

Operating with the power of intrinsic motivation alone fundamentally changes the way in which we relate to each other. It gives birth to a whole new realm of possibilities.

Karma Kitchen is like a regular restaurant, except that at the end of the meal, your check reads zero. It's zero because someone before you has paid for you and you get to pay forward for somebody after you. You are trusted to pay forward whenever you want. When people are just giving for the love of it, it changes the way they interact in that collective space. It's a profound idea that has worked wonders in seventeen places around the world.

What works, though, isn't the intellectual idea -- it's actually the experience. It's actually realizing that when you walk in, the greeter is a volunteer. The person who is waiting on your table, the person who plates your food, the person who's bussing your tables, they're all volunteers. That guy doing dishes in the back, who signed up to be on his feet for six hours, to just do dishes so you can have an experience of generosity, is also a volunteer. When you realize this, it begets a very different kind of generosity in you. A flow of deep compassion emerges. It's very natural.

Minah Jung was a student at UC Berkeley when she first volunteered at Karma Kitchen. She was so moved by the concept that she decided to study it. In fact, her research on Karma Kitchen and other gift economies became her PhD thesis. With eight different experiments, she poured through data with academic rigor, and came out with a seminal paper titled, "Paying More When Paying For Others." If you create a strong context, people respond to generosity with even greater generosity.

Richard Whitaker runs his art magazine in the same way. He was running it for fifteen years with the traditional subscriber model, and then he ran across ServiceSpace and said, "Wow, this is great. This is how I want show up in the world." He offered refunds to all his current subscribers and said, "From now on, the magazine will operate only offerings of gratitude."

Similarly, Thuy Nguyen is experimenting with this pay-forward model at her acupuncture clinic.

I want to end with this story of one of my friends, Uday-bhai. He's a rickshaw driver. By all traditional metrics, he would probably be a UN statistic on one of those poverty charts. He's a humble rickshaw driver but he has another kind of resource. He believes in love, he believes in people. Uday-bhai decided to run his rickshaw on a pay-it-forward basis. You sit in his rickshaw and there is no money meter. Someone before you has paid for you and you get to pay forward for people after you, whatever you moved to offer. He trusted that goodness in people, in the sixth largest city in India. Naturally, many asked him, "Is it working?" He says, "Here's my ledger. Point A to point B, point B to point C. Yes, some paid more, some paid less. On the whole, it evens out."

Then he adds, "Let me also show you this other notebook. This is where I ask people to write down how they felt sitting in my rickshaw." Imagine sitting in Uday-bhai's rickshaw and being completely caught off guard by the generosity of his process. This is not a billionaire doing philanthropy, but an everyday hero putting his entire livelihood on the line -- for love. It moves people to tears, people take vows for life. It's just deeply transformative and you can see that in all the notes.

Uday-bhai didn't have money, but he had a deeper kind of resource. Through that resource, through his belief in our innate generosity, he created a massive ripple that is certainly changing the world. He is redefining what it means to have capital. He's diversifying that portfolio of wealth. When you do that, when you really start saying yes to that idea, you are essentially saying, "It's no longer about the CEO, it's about the everyday Joe. It's no longer about fundraising, it's about friend-raising. It's no longer about price tags, it's about the priceless."

All of this sits on a single idea — what we will do for love will always be greater than what we do for money. May we all lead with love and change the world. Thank you.   


Nipun Mehta is the founder ofServiceSpace.org, a nonprofit that works at the intersection of gift-economy, technology and volunteerism. You can read more of his talks online.    
This video and article were copied from the Daily Good site, a free service that sends out emails featuring inspiring, uplifting news from the world free of charge and with no advertising. LINK



Sunday, August 11, 2019

Saving Tomato Seeds

Striped German - Heirloom tomato
One of the missions of the Sharing Gardens is to educate people about the importance of seed-saving and to offer techniques to demystify this process. Today's blog covers the practical steps necessary for saving one of the home-gardener's favorite fruits: the tomato! If you're new to seed-saving tomatoes are good to start with because of their relative simplicity.

In order to save seeds that will "grow true" and produce fruit similar to the one you saved seeds from, you must start with an "heirloom" or "open-pollinated" (OP) variety (not hybrid). Hybrid seeds are artificially created by seed companies to produce plants with unique qualities (early ripening, bug resistance etc). The problem is that they don't "breed true". If you save seed from hybrids, next year's plants may or may not be what you want. If you wish to save seeds, choose seeds or starts that say "open pollinated", OP, heirloom or non-hybrid.
"Heirloom" tomatoes come in all types: here are large paste-tomatoes called "Long Toms"
OK, so lets say you have grown some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and you're ready to save seeds. If you have more than one plant to pick from, choose the plant that is healthiest, most robust, earliest to ripen and with the largest and/or best-tasting fruit. Then, pick one or two fruits that are the best examples of these same qualities.. If there are other people who harvest from your garden, put a twist-tie, or in some other way mark the fruit so no one picks it prematurely. We often use onion or citrus bags (plastic, stretchy netting) so we can actually cover the fruit, making it clear that it's not to be picked. Let the fruit come to fullest maturity possible. It's OK even if it starts to rot a little.

Black Krim (below) and Striped German
Here are two heirloom tomato varieties we saved for seed this year (right). We saved them as beautiful examples of color, juiciness and size. That's a Black Krim on the bottom and a Striped German on the top.

In saving seed, you wish to mimic nature's process. Have you ever noticed what happens to the tomatoes left in the garden after the first frost? They turn to a slimy mush, with the fruit eventually dissolving away from the seed. In the following year, robust little volunteers emerge from where the tomato rotted. The way we mimic this process: Remove the stem from your chosen tomato and put it in the blender with enough water to fill a quart jar. Whiz it in the blender, at a low speed, just long enough to separate seeds from fruit. Don't worry about the seeds. They have a protective gel that keeps the blades from harming them. Pour them into a wide-mouth glass jar. Be sure to swirl the blender as you pour the last liquid out so no seeds are left in the bottom. If you're processing more than one tomato variety in a row, rinse the blender well so you don't mix seed varieties. Label the jar so you remember the variety of seeds you're saving.

The next step is to leave them to "rot". To minimize fruit-flies secure a piece of cheese cloth over the opening with a rubber-band or canning-jar ring. Leave them in the open jar for 4-7 days. When it's warm outside, the process will go faster. Stir them once or twice a day with a chopstick to help separate the seed from the pulp. The pulp and non-viable seeds will form a layer at the top. The healthy seeds will sink to the bottom. Look for a nice scum to form on the top. Mold is OK. The picture on the left is of two varieties of tomato seeds in process. The ones on the right were just blended so no layers have formed. The ones on the left have been sitting a few days. The other picture shows the quality of the scum that has formed on the tomatoes once they are ready for the next step. Notice the bubbles which indicate a mild fermentation process.













The last step is to dry the seeds. Spoon out the scum and pour off most of the water. The viable seeds will have sunk to the bottom but be careful not to pour them out with the pulp/water. Add more water, allow to settle and continue to pour off excess flesh. Repeat this process till you've removed the majority of the flesh. Then pour the seeds through a fine-mesh strainer and rinse them in the strainer. Let them drip-dry and then tap them onto a piece of tin-foil, a jar-lid or other non-porous surface. We find that the lid to a plastic tub (like a yogurt container) works best as it's flexible and we can "pop" off the seeds after they've dried. Seeds will stick to paper towel or napkins. Transfer your label to the drying seeds and leave them to dry for a week or so. Be sure they are thoroughly dry before storage so they don't mold in the bag, envelope or jar.

Each seed-saver has his or her preference for containers to store seeds in. We use clean, small plastic bags or recycled plastic pill-bottles or other small jars. The most important thing is to keep your whole seed collection in a dry, dark environment with moderate temperatures, in air-tight containers. Avoid freezing or excessive heat. Stored well, tomato seeds can remain viable for many years.

Tomato seeds drying.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Enough and to Spare, To Give and to Share!

Cindy sorting beets and carrots. 

Harvest totals and garden update:

Hi folks - We had a beautiful post almost finished when we lost it to a computer glitch. Arrgh...We'll recreate it soon but the gardens have really kicked into high gear in the last couple of weeks and we've been harvesting and weeding and watering like crazy! Here are the harvest totals so far this year, some pictures of many of the wonderful people who help to grow the food and some recent pictures of the gardens so you can enjoy the beauty and abundance. Much love, Llyn and Chris

So far, we've been sharing produce out of the gardens for 18 weeks. Depending on when the first major frost hits, we could be past the half-way mark of garden productivity but the next 15 - 20 weeks will also be way more productive in terms of how many pounds the gardens will yield. So, we could be looking at a record year! (For those of you who are new to the Sharing Gardens, here's a quick overview of our project.)

Donated to S. Benton Food Pantry: 507#
Donated to Local Aid Food Pantry: 455#
Donated to THIP class being led by our local Health Clinic ("Total Health Improvement Program"): 268#
Shared with Share-givers (volunteers): 284#
Used in canning projects so far: 36#
Potatoes harvested so far (that weren't counted in other totals): 94#
CSA member-boxes: 408

Grand total so far: 2,052 pounds!

Huge thanks to all the contributors who are helping to make this, our 11th season, such a success!

We love it when Cindy and Jim's grand-kids come to The Gardens. Here are Adri, Kaylynn and Jace helping Llyn harvest cucumbers, one of their favorite snacks!
Cindy, Rook and John, weeding. On our volunteer days, we often team up and swarm a whole quadrant of the gardens together leaving no weeds behind! This massive amount of weeds is put in our compost bins where the heat of their decomposition kills a majority of the weed-seeds.
This picture was taken July 31st. The gardens are in full bloom!
Here's Becky, weeding beets. Becky is one of our newest 'share-givers' (volunteers). She brings a friendly and playful spirit.
Jace (left) munching on a carrot, to keep up his strength for the potato harvest. We harvested 30 pounds that day off of six plants and they're looking beautiful. Our best year for potatoes yet (and we still have many more plants to harvest, well into the Fall).
Here's one quadrant of the garden in late July. Provence squash, cabbage, Delicata squash and  four rows of blue corn. All but the cabbage will provide storage-food to get us (and the Food Pantry) much of the way through the winter.
Megan, our youngest 'share-giver' (who also started this year), teamed up with 'young-at-heart' Jim - who's been coming since 2011. Here they are trimming the tops off onions.
With this team of guys, weeds don't stand a chance! Our motto is: "Weed 'em and reap!"
A late-July photo taken of the NE garden-quadrant. From top-left to bottom-right: Blue-corn (dried and ground for cereal and baking), red potatoes, a mixed row of celery/collards/kale, a row of cucumbers and a row of kidney beans which we dry for soups and chili. (Marigolds and Cosmos flowers in the foreground.)
Jim harvesting soft-ball sized Elephant garlic. We filled that wheel-barrow, mounded high, twice.
Adri helps Grandpa Jim and Chris with a potato harvest. Kids love this job because it's like hunting for eggs on Easter; you never know how many you're going to find!
Bean tipi at entrance to garden and Sunship greenhouse. The beans are called Giant Greek White beans and we got the seed for them out of the bulk-food section at our local natural foods store. They had made the beans into a salad for their deli and were delicious! We like them as much as Scarlet Runner beans for flavor and grow to be 2-3 times the size! (LINK to Scarlet Runner Bean post)
Cindy with an early crop of onions and greens. Cindy's been coming since 2010 and never misses a garden-day if she can help it. We love her cheerful, 'can-do' spirit!
Dear Rook, in his third season, has fallen in love with being in the garden (and we've fallen in love with him)! He loves to help people and to serve, and has come to embody the spirit of the Sharing Gardens. "Gee, it's great to be alive!"

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Why growing sunflowers is great for bees...

...and how to grow and process sunflowers for birdseed and sprouts.

Sunflower Pollen - Pro-"bee"-otics for Bees!
This is a post about the varieties of sunflowers we choose to grow, how we grow them and process them for winter use.
 
In reading an issue of National Wildlife recently, we came across an article about the health benefits to bees of sunflower pollen. With populations of many bees on the decline, they need all the help they can get! Apparently sunflower pollen reduces the infections of some varieties of bees from two widespread parasites. Previous research had "linked both types of parasites with slower colony growth and greater mortality rates". Scientists compared the effects of sunflower pollen with pollens from different types of flowers and "none of the other pollens had the same effect".

But, "while sunflower pollen may provide (the above mentioned) medicinal benefits, it is low in protein and some amino acids," say researchers in Scientific Reports. They conclude that sunflowers should be supplements rather than the main source of the insect's diet. "Bees do best," the scientists point out, "when they have access to a variety of flowers". *Source below.

A border-row of Mammoth Russian sunflowers.
Sunflowers are one of our favorites. They're beautiful and easy to grow. They provide wonderful pollen for insects and home-grown bird-seed for our feathered friends. And, the seeds can be used to grow delicious, nutritious sprouts for winter greens.

Planting Sunflowers - direct seeding: Sunflowers can be directly sown, a few weeks before the expected last hard freeze (a light frost won't bother them). Push them into soil about 1/2" - 1" deep. If you have jays or crows in your neighborhood, you might need to cover the starts with row-cloth or some other protector until they're rooted as birds do love the seeds and, if they watch you planting, they may wait till you're not looking and dig them up (we've had this happen to us in the past). In order to avoid this problem, we usually start our sunflowers in pots and transplant later.

We've had young children help us plant large patches of sunflowers. It's a fun garden activity that's hard to get wrong. You may need to thin out your patch after they germinate so each plant has enough room to grow (3'- 4' between each plant on the tall varieties!).
Planting Sunflowers - transplanting from pots: We usually start our sunflowers in pots and transplant them out. This way they can have a strong head start. We plant two seeds in each 3" pot, at opposite corners and, after they germinate, either pinch one off, or carefully re-pot them so there's just one plant in each pot. Plant seeds about 1/2" deep. If you're going to divide and re-pot, don't wait too long as sunflowers have extensive root-systems and you risk damaging the plant if the two starts' roots become intertwined. Keep plants in a place protected from wind and full sun for a few days while they adjust to their new pots.

When you are ready to transplant outside, put plants outside your greenhouse for 5-10 days so plants are "hardened-off by exposure to wind and cooler nights before you put them in the ground.
Plant 'starts' in the greenhouse. Zucchini plants in foreground.
The tall varieties of sunflowers we grow need full-sun, wide spacing (3'-4' between each plant!) strong staking - so they don't fall over and shouldn't be over-watered.

Placement: If you plant a whole row of them, keep in mind that they will shade smaller plants, and block overhead sprinklers for watering. We almost always plant ours along the edges of garden beds so they get watered along with our other crops.

Watering: Sunflowers, if planted early enough that they can follow the water-table downwards through the summer, they can do well without much supplemental watering. Beware of over-watering as they can grow too fast, get top-heavy and fall over.

Staking: The tall varieties of sunflowers will almost certainly need staking.

Sometimes we'll drive an individual stake in the ground next to them; a 4'-6' metal stake is best. Drive it deep into the ground. Tie sunflowers to stakes with cotton strips.

Sometimes we'll erect a bamboo tri-pod and tie two, to three sunflowers to each one.

We've also grown sunflowers in long rows between tall stakes with heavy wire run between them. Attach wires at 3' and 6' heights and tie sunflowers to them with cotton strips.

Sunflowers can also be tied to fences with cotton strips to keep them from toppling.
This is a trellis we made by stretching strong wire between two fence posts. Here, Cindy is tying up bamboo poles to trellis bean-plants but this same kind of trellis would work for a row of sunflowers. For sunflowers, stretch two wires; one at about three-feet above the ground, and the other at about 6'. Tie plants to wires with cotton strips.
A bean-tipi (with scarlet-runner beans) and Mammoth Russian sunflowers growing beside it. They are each tied to a separate 4-foot wooden stake.
Varieties of sunflowers we like: Most years we just grow two varieties of sunflowers: Mammoth Russians and Autumn Beauties. The Mammoth Russians make good bird-seed for bluejays and other large seed-eating birds, and they are also great for growing sprouts, a delicious and nutritious source of winter "greens" (LINK to post on growing sunflowers sprouts). They can get extremely large (10' or higher) and will usually require staking so they don't topple in the wind when their heads are heavy with seed.

Mammoth Russian sunflowers can grow huge! You can see why it's important to stake them so the don't fall over when they're heads are full of ripe seeds.
Autumn Beauties also make great bird-seed for smaller seed-eaters and their range of colors from yellow through orange to a russet-brown make a beautiful border "hedge". They have many heads on one plant that ripen over the course of the season and though their individual flower-heads are quite a bit smaller than Mammoth Russians (6" vs 12" - or more) the plants themselves can get as tall as the Mammoths and will also require staking. They too need three to four feet between each plant. Autumn Beauties also make great cut flowers if you have a heavy, deep vase but beware, they drop a lot of yellow pollen on whatever surface they rest upon.

Autumn Beauty sunflowers...So beautiful against a blue, autumn sky! A favorite for bees and birds alike.
Saving seed: Sunflowers easily cross pollinate. If you want to save seed to plant next year's sunflowers, be aware that they are quite prone to cross-pollinating with other varieties. So, if you were to grow both Mammoth Russians and Autumn Beauties nearby to each other, the seed you save would have a high probability of being a mix of the two varieties. Though we've had good luck with growing pure Mammoth Russian seed, the Autumn Beauties (even if they don't cross with other varieties) tend to become less colorful with each generation. For these reasons, we usually just buy fresh seed each year.

When to harvest seed: If you're just growing the flowers for their beauty and you don't care about saving the seed, you can leave them standing for as long as you like, well into the winter. Birds enjoy them for winter perches and will happily eat the seeds right off the heads. But, if you wish to save seed to feed them later in the winter when natural forage is harder to find, here's how to do it:

Processing the seed: As autumn approaches, it is important to regularly monitor the ripeness of the seed. Sunflowers ripen from the edges in towards the center. Periodically pull a seed out and crack it open to see if the seed inside is fully formed. Notice if the birds are starting to eat them. If the birds are starting to eat them but they're still not ripe most of the way to the center, we sometimes cover the heads with a paper sack or a mesh onion-bag.The onion-bag is preferable because it allows the pollinators to continue to have access to the less-ripe seeds and more of them will be pollinated.

Onion-bags are great to protect seeds you're saving from being eaten by wild-life, or fruit from being harvested before the seeds are ripe. (Pictured: green-peppers ripening for seed).
Processing Autumn Beauties: Once the seeds are ripe, we cut the heads off and lay them on shelves in our greenhouse and turn them up-side-down or cover them with screens (to keep the birds from getting to them). We leave the Autumn Beauty heads to dry completely without removing the seeds. Then, over the course of the winter we place the dried heads outside for the birds to enjoy.

Llyn, laying Autumn Beauty sunflower heads face-down (to protect from birds) to dry.
Processing Mammoth Russians: The Mammoth Russian seeds we remove right away. This is easier to do before the heads dry. Remove the ripe seeds by rubbing them free with your thumbs. We usually use gloves as it can be a bit rough on the thumbs!

To remove seeds from head, use your thumbs to rub them into a tray.
Another reason to process the seed soon after harvest is that the seeds can mold due to the high moisture content of the flower heads. If it will be awhile before we can process them, we often cut off the fleshy backs of the flowers heads. By the way, this is a very relaxing process and a favorite autumn task for share-givers (volunteers) to enjoy while sitting around in the shade at the end of a busy morning out in the gardens.

Processing sunflower seeds is a favorite autumn task. (Crates of Delicata squash in the background.)
Even young people enjoy this quiet meditative task.
The Mammoth Russian seeds will almost certainly need more drying after they've been removed from the flower head. Be sure they are thoroughly dry before storage or they will mold and be ruined. Small quantities can be dried in a food-dehydrator. If the air is not too humid in your greenhouse at time of harvest, spread the seeds on screens or in shallow card-board boxes but be sure to protect them from birds and rodents while they dry with screens on top too. We've also put the seeds into shallow baskets and dried them on shelves above our wood-stove.

Feeding the birds: Autumn Beauties: Just put whole heads out on your table-feeders, or string them on a wire between two posts or trees.

Mammoth Russians: We buy millet in the bulk-food section and mix it with the sunflower seeds and put it on a table-feeder or directly on the ground.
Chickadees love sunflower seeds!
(Photo credit: www.wallpaperup.com/45606/sunflowers_1920x1200_wallpaper_Animals_Birds)
Growing your own sprouts: Here is a post we wrote about growing your own sunflower sprouts.

Sunflower sprouts for winter "greens". You'll need a sunny window or greenhouse but their delicious, sweet, nutty taste and high nutrient-content are worth it!
Herbicide contamination: Sunflowers are very susceptible to certain herbicides (see our post about herbicide contamination from un-composted horse manure).

Hopefully this post will inspire you to add some sunflowers to your summer garden. These glorious plants have given us much pleasure and they're sure to please you too!

* Source: National Wildlife - Feb/March 2019, p 8.

Friday, April 26, 2019

"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! Greenhouse full of plants in mid-April. Chris spreading grass-mulch in paths.
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).
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
Making your own potting soil in greenhouse paths
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!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Kale joins the "Dirty-Dozen' list: and How to Grow Your Own Kale

Kale - a generous plant!
In recent weeks we've seen several headlines announcing that kale has made it onto the "Dirty Dozen" list for the first time in ten years.  The "Dirty Dozen" list is compiled each year by testing thousands of samples of fruits and vegetables from different sources to see which have highest concentrations of herbicides and pesticides LINK. And the farm chemicals are not just showing up on the vegetables themselves, studies have shown that, people being tested have increasingly been found to have these chemicals show up in fluid samples such as blood and urine (see links below). It is unfortunate that kale has returned to the "Dirty Dozen" list as, in the past few years, it has shown a surge in popularity. Its recent following is not surprising as it tastes similar to broccoli (a favorite on American plates) and it is at the top of another list - The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), that rates foods by their nutrient density. Kale has the densest concentration of nutrients, per calorie, of a wide range of foods tested. (PDF of 72 tested foods) (explanation of chart). On the positive side of things, people who have switched to an all-organic diet have been able to reduce these chemical residues by as much as 90% in as little as two weeks (see links below).

Kale is the most nutrient-dense plant tested! (PDF of 72 tested foods)(explanation of chart)
So, if you'd like to incorporate more organically grown kale into your diet  and you're on a budget (we've noticed that prices for organic kale have really risen in the past few years...) perhaps you'd like to try and grow your own!

Kale is very easy to grow! Here's our POST on growing kale.
Grow your own kale: Kale is super-easy to grow and 2-4 plants will easily keep a family fed over the course of the summer. If your climate isn't too harsh you can grow a second crop that will produce food through the fall and winter too (though at a much slower rate). Here's our POST on growing kale.
Our CSA provides delicious, nutritious food May to November. More info HERE.
Or,  if you live in our area, you can join our CSA and receive a large box of delicious organic produce on a weekly basis - including copious amounts of green-leafy vegetables. We still have some CSA "shares" to offer. Over six-months of vegetables and fruits for $700. More info HERE.
How we grow our food at the Sharing Gardens: Because we are not a commercial farm, all our labor is provided by volunteers and we are under no pressure to produce food on a forced timeline to get it to market ahead of the other farmers in our area, our food is slow-grown, with less water-weight and hence more nutrient-dense. We fertilize primarily with compost derived from leaves, grass, weeds and food scraps, wood-ash from our wood-burning stove and with worm castings we harvest from the paths of our greenhouses LINK. We do not use commercial fertilizers. The wood-ash and the composted tree-leaves both provide re-mineralization of our soils because the tree-roots pull up minerals from deep within the soil. Without forcing our plants to grow fast with high-nitrogen fertilizers, or animal manures, they are more resistant to diseases and insect infestations that are caused, in part, by the thinner cell-walls of plants forced to grow unnaturally quickly.

Or, if you live in our area and would like to eat the kale we donate to Monroe's Food Pantry, you can shop weekly for free at the South Benton Food Pantry (some income-criteria required).

Sign posted at the Food Pantry to encourage more kale-eating.
Related links:
Kale rejoins the list of Dirty-Dozen list as one of the most contaminated with pesticides:

Not-So-Superfood! Pesticide residue found in 70% of U.S. produce & 92% of kale

What the pesticides in our urine tell us about organic food - The Guardian

Organic diet intervention significantly reduces urinary pesticide levels in U.S. children and adults - Science Direct 

Researchers reveal organic diet can remove pesticides residue in the body by 60% in just one week!

Now, doesn't that look yummy!