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

Monday, December 21, 2020

Cocoon Time

Found in our gardens.
Chris and I have been asking ourselves lots of "meaning of life" questions this year. There's so much in this world that is frustrating and saddens us. Most of it seems beyond our control. But what we do have choice over is where we put our attention. There is much in the world to feel grateful for, and inspired about too.

Some people feel a calling to stand up and fight what they see is wrong with the world and, if that is their calling, who are we to say that they are wrong? For us though, we're more inspired by building the new. This Buckminster Fuller quote says it beautifully:

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

It's cocoon-time again. After months of lightened restrictions of our daily activities, most of us are being asked to curtail our freedoms in the world once again. Perhaps this time holds a hidden blessing. If we each use this cocoon-time to slow down and bring love and grateful attention to the simple day-to-day tasks that comprise the majority of a lifetime,  collectively we can lift the consciousness of the planet and heal our relations with each other, and the natural world of which we are an inextricable part.

We like to think of our selves as cells in the body of the planet, and humanity as an organ. This metaphor helps us realize that when we are generous and caring, we're actually only giving to our Self! Imagine if the cells in our hearts thought that their function was more important than that of the brain so they began hoarding all the nutrients that flow freely through them for themselves?

Something is going on on Earth these days that is much larger than any of us can fully comprehend
but we believe that Life can be trusted. Let's use this next period of cocooning to connect with a deeper sense of purpose and actively choose the projects and people and elements in life we wish to encourage and cooperate with. And, let's also ask ourselves, what shall we stop doing? What are those activities and relationships that were absorbing our attention before the cocooning that we may wish to gracefully release?  

If you have any doubts about the power of cocooning, check out this 4-minute video about a caterpillar turning into a moth. You will be amazed!


Monday, October 26, 2020

Autumn Leaf Drive

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

Neighbors bringing leaves.

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

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

Here is the text of the mailing:

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

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

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

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

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

"Veganic" Agriculture: 
 (For a full post on "Making Your Own "Veganic" Potting Soil in Your Greenhouse Paths - Using Worms" CLICK HERE).

Since we began weening ourselves off the use of commercial fertilizers, animal manures or animal by-products (bone-meal/blood meal etc) as a source of soil fertility, we have turned increasingly to leaves, grass-clippings, wood-ash and coffee grounds as a replacement. There is a saying that, "for every calorie you harvest out of a farm or garden, you must put at least a calorie back in". In a typical year we harvest and share over six-thousand pounds of produce. We have to replenish a huge amount of organic-matter so our soils don't get depleted!
Each year we must replenish the organic-material to keep our gardens fertile. That's a lot of leaves!
Llyn spreading leaves
We tarp the leaves with various recycled materials (such as lumber-wrap) to keep them from blowing away. This is called "sheet-composting" or "solarizing" and it has the added benefit of killing many weed-seeds that germinate in early spring which means far less weeding for us later in the season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Deep-Mulch Gardening

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

Mulch We Love, and Why

More on Mulch

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

Herbicide Contamination?

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

...beautiful compost leads to...

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

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

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Making Pumpkin Pie from Scratch - Recipe

Sugar-pie pumpkins; a variety bred for sweet, smooth flesh.

Making pumpkin pie from scratch is truly a labor of love! How much easier it is just to open a can of puree. In the spirit of the slow food movement, we start making our pies back in April when we first plant the seeds! The small vines are transplanted into mounds of compost we've made ourselves, mulched, watered and weeded through the summer and harvested by the hundreds of pounds after they get their first kiss of frost.

This year, because of the tremendously hot and dry summer, almost all our winter-squash (the types we use to make pie-filling) finished ripening well before the first frost so we harvested them anyway. They're not as sweet as when they've been frosted but every bit as nutritious.

Provence, Buttercups and Sweetmeats.
When you're planning your garden for next season, consider sketching out enough space for plenty of winter-squash. Winter squash are the varieties that have a harder skin and store well for enjoyment all through the winter.  "Pumpkins" are just a variety of the larger category of "squash". Pumpkin pie filling can be made from sugar-pie pumpkins, or any kind of sweet, golden-meat type of squash. Delicata, Buttercup and Sweetmeat are all good varieties. If you don't have room in your garden next year, look for these varieties at your local market. Sometimes we combine two types of squash/pumpkin to make one batch of filling. Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are not good to use as they are not bred for sweetness and the meat can be quite stringy. Our current favorite is the Provence pumpkin, an heirloom variety that has the sweetest meat we’ve found. It tends to grow quite large so it provides filling for many pies but, because they tend to be so big, they're not often grown commercially (most people can't use that much squash before it goes bad) so, if you want a Provence, you'll probably have to grow your own.

We make many batches of filling at once and freeze them. If you’re going to mess up the kitchen, you might as well make it worth it! Be sure you have plenty of all the ingredients you’ll need on hand. Or, you can also bake the squash and freeze it in 2-cup batches plain, using it much like you'd use a can of store-bought puree.

To bake the squash: 
The Provence is one of our favorites for pie.
Preheat oven to 400
Wash pumpkin/squash and dry skin 
Cut it open: Use a stout, sharp knife on a table or counter low enough that you can use the weight of your upper body to quarter the squash.  Doing it on the floor might even be easiest. 

Use a strong metal spoon to scrape out seeds and loose pulp/strings. You can put the seeds and pulp outside to feed birds and squirrels or separate the seeds, oil, salt and bake them. You probably won't want to save the seeds for planting, unless you're certain that they haven't "crossed" with other varieties. 

Cut into smaller pieces: Though it can be quite a challenge to cut these large, winter squash into smaller pieces for baking, you’ll be rewarded with a much shorter cooking time.

Orange, sweet flesh, yum!!
Place squash with skin facing down in a baking pan that has sides that are at least a two-inches deep. Many squash give off quite a lot of juice and can make a mess in your oven if the juice spills over the side of the pan. A roasting pan is ideal.

Bake squash/pumpkin for one hour, or until a fork pokes easily, deep into the flesh.

Once done, allow to cool. If you’ve chosen one of the juicier squashes, you’ll have best results by putting the pieces in a large colander over a bowl to drain any excess juice. The juice makes a delicious soup stock. I used to peel off the skins but found that they can be food-processed and taste just fine.

If you baked more squash than you’re prepared to deal with, you can freeze it and thaw to make filling at a later time. Freeze in 2-cup batches.

Sydney w/ a Provence

Yummy Natural Pumpkin Pie Filling 
YIELD: Filling for one, 9” pie.
Preheat oven to 365

In a food processor (a blender will not work), combine:

2 eggs (sorry, we haven't perfected a vegan version yet...)
2 cups squash/pumpkin

2/3 cup brown sugar
2 TBSP powdered milk (or soy protein powder*)
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp salt

½ cup soy milk, cow’s milk, almond or coconut milk

Begin with eggs, alone. Mix thoroughly.
Add squash. Puree till smooth. Check to be sure there are no pumpkin lumps.
Add milk and all dry ingredients making an effort to distribute spices evenly. Mix in well.

* (not soy-flour).

Pour into your favorite pie shell and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour at 375 or until the pie is golden-brown, the middle is reasonably firm (it will get firmer as it cools) and before the crust gets too brown. Cool on wire rack before eating. Cover and chill to store.

To freeze filling for later:

Combine everything except the eggs. Make one batch at a time. Each batch is a little less than a quart so you can put it in your favorite freezer-containers. We use qt-size plastic zip-lock bags. Label them with blue, painter’s masking tape (it won’t come off in the freezer and you can peel it off after you empty the bag, wash the bag and re-use it.) I always write a reminder on the label to add two eggs. Lay the bags flat and you can easily stack many of them in your freezer.

When you want to make a pie, thaw the filling, add the eggs and use a blender, a mixer or food processor to mix it all well. By mixing in the eggs right before baking, you’ll have a fluffier, more pudding-like pie. Bake as above.

If you run out of any ingredients, before you've used up your squash, just freeze bags of the plain squash puree' and add the other ingredients right before baking. Freeze in 2-cup batches so you can thaw them, one pie at a time.

James and Jaye holding Buttercups; a drier, sweet, golden squash.

Flaky Rolled Pie Crust – YIELD: Two 9” pies without top shells

1 ¼  cups unbleached pastry flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup coconut flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup sunflower oil (chilled is best)
1/3 cup ice water

Mix the flours and salt. Pour the oil and water into a cup but don’t stir. Mix with the flour. Press into a ball. Cut into halves. Place between two sheets of 12-inch waxed paper. Dampen a tabletop to prevent slipping. Roll out until the circle of dough reaches the edge of the paper. Peel off top paper and place the crust face down in a pie tin. Peel off the other paper and fit dough into tin. Freeze extra pie crust, in a pie-tin, in a plastic bag for later use.

Llyn, with Sugar-pie pumpkins.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

West Coast Fires - Garden Update

Morning skies - 9/8/2020
Hello friends - As most of you are probably aware of, for the past week, the west coast has been suffering from intense wildfires and their associated smoke. We've had some requests for an update on how we are being affected, so here you go:

Monday Sept. 7th, 2020 (Labor Day) was a bit warmer than average but skies were clear.  Some time around sundown, all that began to change as sustained, dry, hot winds began to blow from the north and east - directly opposite of where we get our normal, prevailing winds - bringing smoke from the fires in the Cascade mountains - pouring into the Willamette valley, where we live. Periodic wind gusts exacerbated the problem and exploded the wildfires rapidly. Fortunately there were no significant fires in our immediate vicinity and so no threat that our 145 year-old wooden farmhouse would catch fire. The easterly winds were so hot and dry that some flowers and grassed on the east side of our host were browned and withered overnight!

Looking into our front yard. The day never got brighter than twilight. 9/8/2020
Sharing Gardens - Tuesday Sept. 8, 2020
We slept with windows closed but still we woke to dangerously smoky air-quality within our house and eerie, orange skies. Outside air-quality levels quickly shot up to hazardous levels and the smoke was so dense on Tuesday the 8th that we had to use lamps all day since light-levels never got stronger than twilight. Fortunately, Llyn's Mom sent some info on how to make a low-tech indoor air-filter using a box-fan which we began doing soon after.

Box-fan/air filter with wet towel. Really works! Here's a LINK - with info on how to make your own fan-air filter and other disaster preparedness tips.
Day two of the smoky deluge. Skies are a tiny bit clearer/ 9/9/2020
We briefly lost electric power on the first night but were fortunate that it came back on before the morning.  Others in our valley were not so lucky and spent over sixty hours without electricity during the worst of the smoke. For those who get their water from wells, this meant no running water. They lost refrigeration and the ability to cook food and had no power to run fans or air-conditioners to clear the air in their homes. Very stressful!

Air quality on Sat. Sept 12. No longer orange but still very hazardous! There are apartments less than 100 yards across the street, out this window that were completely invisible to us that day.
One of our wildlife gardens (food and flowers for birds and pollinators) - Sat. 9/12/20. usually we can see the neighboring school's athletic field out this window...
Everything outside became covered in ash. On the first day of the smoke we ran sprinklers on much of the gardens to rinse the plants' leaves, so they could continue to breathe and grow, even though sunlight was so heavily blocked for many days.

For many of us farmers, these fires couldn't have come at a worse time. Most everyone who grows vegetables in our valley was just heading into peak harvest time. The air-quality made it dangerous to be outside for very long to do necessary harvesting and all the Farmer's Markets got closed both on Wednesday and Saturday which meant there was nowhere for the harvests to go even if farmers could get food out of the fields!  

A sample of our harvest the previous week - before the fires came. Many vegetable farmers in the valley were just heading into peak-harvest time, ourselves included!

The gardens in peak production - picture taken late August 2020.
The ash got so thick on our greenhouses that it made them downright shady inside! We also had some concern that the ash might be caustic and contribute to the plastic's degrading so Chris got out there with a hose on Thursday and rinsed off the bulk of the ash.

Chris rinsing ash off the Ark greenhouse - Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020
Chris rinsing ash off the Sunship greenhouse. Air-quality was still very bad.
The Sharing Gardens canceled most of our CSA orders (members who receive weekly boxes of food) and, because very few people were venturing out of their homes during the worst of the smoke, two of the food charities we provide produce for had to put a limit on how much food they could receive. Much of the produce, once harvested and refrigerated is stable for awhile but our 110 tomato plants were just coming into peak production and they are very perishable. What to do? Fortunately, one of our friends and volunteers - Cindy Kitchen - who was aware of our plight began calling around and discovered a drop-off site for fruit and vegetable donations for victims of the fires, who had been forced to flee their homes. Cindy also found a food pantry in Corvallis who was running low on their fresh vegetable supply so we were able to send them some food as well.

Cindy arrived on Thursday afternoon to help us with the harvest. The skies were still quite smoky but had lost their orange hue. Outside air-quality was still dangerous so we used face-masks while harvesting and boxing the produce.

That's Cindy - on the right (with husband, Jim - Sept. 2014) who helped harvest and find homes for our produce this past week.
A sample of the harvest we sent to those in need during this past week of fires.
At the end of the week, when we tallied up all the fruits and vegetables that had been harvested and shared, it was our largest weekly total of the year - 534 pounds! (This compares with the three previous weeks of approximately 300 pounds each). We were so happy that all this great food didn't go to waste!

Meanwhile, being forced to stay indoors, Chris and I moved forward on food-preservation projects, which is always a big part of any September's activities. Our friend/volunteer Becky came over and helped us shell walnuts from last year (to store in the freezer) and brought some prune-plums to share - which we cut up to dehydrate. We also made raisins from our own grape vines.

Grapes we harvested to turn into raisins. Don't they look like jewels?
The smoke is finally starting to lift. The winds are shifting and bringing relief from ocean-breezes. Some of the fires are reaching containment (though it's likely that many won't be fully extinguished until the rains begin to fall in earnest later in the season).

It's hard to believe how much cleaner the air was just a few months ago. This view is taken of the gardens just as you come in the front gate. July 17, 2020
The Ark - greenhouse - July 17, 2020. Full of ripening tomatoes!
Our nearby town of Corvallis is doing an amazing job of providing food and shelter for some of those being evacuated from the fires. Some people are being housed in vacant hotels/motels; others, who have their own recreational vehicles, have been welcomed to the fair grounds. We discovered, the day after we made our food donation to the evacuees, that SO many locals had made donations of all kinds of food that, at least temporarily, the evacuation center could receive no more food donations!

Corvallis' Sustainability Coalition organized a partnership between local restaurants and farmers and volunteers to prepare thousands of delicious, complete meals both to evacuees being housed in motels and those who had ended up at the fairgrounds. If you would like to support their efforts, here's a LINK to their site.

Our much-used birdbath.
The wildlife are experiencing real challenges this week too. We have a shallow birdbath made from a terra cotta plant tray and, prior to the fires we only needed to refill it once a day but during this past week it's getting so many visitors - both for bathing and drinking - that we've been refilling it three and four times a day. I wonder if the ashes are irritating to their skin?

Wildlife needs extra help, now too.
The deer have been finding their way past the deer fences that totally surround three acres of our property. We've had to herd them out for the past three mornings. They're probably thirsty too, and tired of eating food that tastes like ash! Still, we can't let them roam free in our gardens and orchards because of the damage they can do to plants.
Everyone we talk to knows someone personally who has had to evacuate or actually lost property in the fires. Some are still waiting for permission to return to the site of their homes to see if anything still remains. We pray, wherever you are, that this message finds you safe and with the support and resources you need to get through these challenging times. And, if currently you are in a position to help others less fortunate than yourself, we encourage you to do so...
...especially those who aren't in a position to help themselves. Llyn with baby bunny who got scared out of his nest and couldn't find his way back home - Spring 2020.