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.     

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.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Gardening During Covid-19

New friends in the Sharing Gardens
We continue to have inquiries about how Covid-19 is impacting the Sharing Gardens so here is an update with some pictures to show how things are going for us so far this season. Overall, with only a few minor setbacks, the gardens are thriving and we're feeling very supported.

Mostly the weather in Oregon has been ideal for gardening this year. We have had warmer weather than usual and the Spring rains were spaced so we got just enough to keep the plants from drying out and needing supplemental watering until very recently. We're entering a drier/hotter phase now but our crops are all in the ground and well-mulched so things look good for the rest of the season.

As things shut down due to Covid-19 and people had fewer and fewer options for places they could go and practice "social distancing", we've had steady requests from folks offering to help with garden-tasks. In the beginning we were strict about keeping groups of people separate who came from different families, but have had very little incidence of the virus in our county so now, on volunteer days, we're not as strict about this. Being outside, in the fresh air, it's easy for those who come from different families to stay safe and socially-distanced. 
Our only group of service-learning students from Oregon State University before COV-19 closed schools to in-person classes. (Feb 22, 2020)

OSU students - shoveling compost into buckets.
A bucket brigade of compost!

Each stake got a quart of coffee, a tablespoon of wood-ash and a whole bucket of compost (Feb. 22). In May we planted a winter-squash plant in each mound. Now, in mid-July, the plants are already forming fruit!
Here's the same bed of winter squash in Mid-July (pole beans in the foreground).

We've been harvesting the cool-weather crops for many months now and in the last two weeks our tomatoes, summer squash and cucumbers have begun to ripen in earnest. Nearly all of our meals have at least one ingredient that was grown in the garden (including foods we canned or dehydrated in previous years) and lately we've had several meals that, except for the condiments, are 100% from the gardens. The fact that we are vegetarians helps us to be more self-sufficient in the food we grow. For example, we can grow all the dried beans we use in a year but would need much more land if we were raising animals for meat. (Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans).

Lunch - July 2020 - All, fresh from the garden: lettuce, grated beets and carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, arugula, basil, nasturtium flowers and scarlet runner beans.
We only had one significant set-back this Spring when a shelf holding many of our 'starts' collapsed. Fortunately, the collapse was a s-l-o-w slide and very few plants actually fell out of their pots. We had to re-start all our squash plants as they didn't have big enough root systems and all their soil dumped out. Also, a few of the labels on tomatoes got mixed up but, as Chris likes to say, "They know what varieties they are!". We've planted 110 tomato plants this year!

We replaced the system of chains that were holding up the slatted shelves with saw-horses (seen here). It's a much more secure solution and also, we can remove the shelves and saw-horses if we ever want to plant directly in the beds below. Here we are laying out onions to cure. Our best year for onions yet! (These onions were grown from our own seed!)
Delicious "Tall Top" beets - the 'greens' are as yummy as the roots.
Our core-group of volunteers continue to come on a weekly basis and, as some of them have been with us for many years, they know the routines and can be trusted to take on the tasks at hand with confidence, joy and capability. We've also had a few new people join our share-giver family. Here is a gallery of pictures showing many of the volunteers who have been helping this season so far:

Early in the season, Chris and Donn - planting broccoli. The black collars are made by cutting the bottoms out of pots. We use them to keep the mulch from covering the plants, and to protect from cold winds. Snails and slugs can be a problem so we use an organic product called 'Sluggo' (iron phosphate pellets) to keep them under control.
Adri removes chive-flowers before we bundle them to share. Adri's been coming to the gardens since she was born!
Early May - Cindy thins the beets while Chris bunches chives. Carrots grow along the right-hand side.
Here, in late April, Chris and Rook plant a variety of sorghum known for its sweet, nutty flour - (we have our own grain-grinding mill and have been baking with store-bought, gluten-free sorghum flour for the past year.) Yummy!
Here are the same sorghum plants in mid-July! Variety shown: Ba Ye Qi (LINK: Varieties of Sorghum)
Cindy and Jim put collars and grass-mulch around cabbage plants - early Spring.
New faces: We've had some new faces in the gardens this year. The Covid-19 situation has been a catalyst for more people to want to participate as volunteers than in previous years. Though the majority of garden tasks still fall to Chris and myself, and our core group of 'share-givers' who have been coming for many years, it's been nice to integrate some new folks on an intermittent basis.

Andrea, Peter and Chris weed the winter squash patch.
Christine is a graduate student at OSU and found us through an on-line search for volunteer opportunities in our area.
Christine (at center, in back) then invited her sister, Amy and Amy's girls - Sadie and Marley to join in the fun. Here, they're distributing grass-clippings where summer squash will be planted.
Amy and her girls picking edible nasturtium flowers - delicious in salads!
Along with helping weekly with gardening tasks, Donn has been a big help with equipment maintenance (center - in green shirt)...
...and his wife Marilyn has a passion for mowing! A great combo :-).
Elephant garlic! Lots to share.
During the Spring months, we don't have a large amount of surplus produce to share with the two food pantries that we serve, but once summer is here, our Gardens produce large amounts of veggies. Just in the last two weeks alone we've donated over 100 pounds of cabbage, cucumbers and summer squash!

Grant, with red cabbage 'starts'.
The S. Benton Food Pantry and Gleaners have recently increased their commitment to providing healthier food choices for their customers. They are now gleaning surplus, organically grown produce from the Corvallis Farmer's Market. It is usually more than they can use so the Sharing Gardens bags-up the surplus to share with another Food Pantry - Local Aid. That's Grant (left) who's the new head of the Gleaners. He's also canceled three out of four "gleans" per month from Costco because they were sending so much junky pastries and very little actual bread. Yay, Grant!

Ba Ye Qi Sorghum heads.
We are so grateful for the reduced air-traffic this year as our land is under the flight-path for the Eugene airport. The skies have been just crystal-clear blue (except for when our governor decided the logging industry's burning of slash-piles -all the wood that's left after they harvest the trees- was an "essential service". Go figure!) The skies are so clear that Chris and I thought we saw a UFO the other night. Turns out it was just the star Sirius which twinkles green, yellow and red but it was so uncannily bright! Neither of us can remember seeing such beautiful, clear skies since we were kids!

Unfortunately, as farmers harvest grass-hay to feed cattle, the skies are getting a bit dustier than they were but hopefully, with reductions in so many polluting human-habits (due to the Covid-19 shut-downs) we can resist the urge to return to "business as usual" and be more mindful of which polluting habits we re-adopt as society opens again.
Jim and Chris, pouring compost tea. Love that blue sky!
Chris and Cindy, weeding. May 23, 2020
Wildlife has been thriving in the gardens this Spring! Swallowtail butterfly on lavender - Sharing Gardens - Spring 2020
Though it's been a very busy season at the Gardens, Chris and I have managed to dash over to the ocean for a few trips to relax and take a break. Here we are at Baker Beach in April. With half of the season yet to go we intend to stay healthy and keep the gardens thriving!
We send love to all of you in our garden-community. May this post find you healthy and happy and finding ways to make the world just a little bit better place to live - every day.