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

Thursday, April 2, 2020

It's Time To Plant a Garden! and Garden Update.

Dear Adri - planting lettuce.
Hey folks - With so many people being required to stay home for the foreseeable future, maybe this spring would be a good time to grow a garden! For those who are interested, there are SO many online resources that will give you advice specific to your region/grow-zone so we won't go into a lot of detail here. But, below are a handful of links to previous posts you might find helpful if you're just getting started. This post also includes: How the COV is affecting us personally; and a Sharing Gardens update with some beautiful pictures.

By the way, if you're local and would like some of the freshest, nutrient packed, veganically grown produce around, we still have a few CSA memberships available! Click here for more info...

Bella loves kale!
If you're just getting started, and don't have a lot of garden space, here's a post about "King Kale" - how to grow it, how to save seed and why it's just so darn good for you! (It has the most nutrients per calorie of any vegetable, along with collards). There are recipes for how to use it too. No Fail Kale: A guide to growing and eating this highly nutritious vegetable

Scarlet runner bean blossoms
Growing scarlet runner beans on a tipi: In our neck of the woods, it's still too early to plant beans but that doesn't mean you can't begin to get the materials together to build your bean tipi and prep the soil. Scarlet Runner beans are just about our favorite dried bean (great for soups and chili). If you pick them when they're small, the pods are sweet and edible too, and the vining red flowers are beautiful to look at, and a favorite for bumblebees, hummingbirds and other pollinators. If you're local and need some seeds, let us know and we'll share. Grow Your Own Protein: Scarlet Runner Beans 

If you're really feeling inspired, perhaps this is the year that you help get a Sharing Garden started in your neighborhood. Here's a link that will take you to several other links we've compiled on "How to Start a Sharing Garden". Let us know if you start one so we can give you support along the way. And take lots of pictures to send to us so we can share your story!
Oregon State Univ. - Service Learning students - March 2015. Growing food with other people can be FUN! Here's info on starting a Sharing Garden in your community.
People have been asking us how the corona virus has been impacting us so far. To be honest, it hasn't changed that much for me and Chris. We always keep our home stocked with plenty of food, water and firewood (which is our only source of heat and our main way of cooking stove-top dishes in the winter). And, thanks to one of our volunteers, who can never pass up a good deal on toilet paper, we already had many months worth stored away when the big rush began. We already "work from home" - as the gardens are our work. And, because we live 20-minutes from the nearest city, we already were limiting our town-trips to three or four times per month, anyway. So, externally, our lives look much the same.

Llyn and Chris - 2017

Still it wouldn't be honest to say that we're completely unaffected. Chris and I both have people close to us who have either had a COV death in the family, or someone who is actively fighting off a severe case. As we follow the unfolding story online, we find ourselves cycling through the stages of grief and, when we're feeling frustrated, sad or scared, we have to keep reminding ourselves that "This too shall pass". We hope that you, and those closest to you are faring well and that this forced "pause" from life-as-usual is actually helping you to discover what has true value; and giving you time to make some clear, perhaps new choices as to how you wish to live your life, once the crisis has passed.

It seems the COV crisis is bringing out the best in our community of volunteers and other supporters. We've had a real surge of offers to help out. People do want to support what we do, and a garden is a pretty easy place to be "together" but still at a safe distance. Here are a handful of pics from the 2020 season so far.

Rook and Chris planting kale and collards in February.
Donn and Chris planting broccoli.
...and here's Donn giving our roto-tiller a tune-up. We're using the tiller less and less as we develop our soil but it's still useful for some things that need very loose soil (like carrots and beets). Don  also sharpened our mower blades. Thank you, Donn!
Llyn, planting a maple tree for future leaf-mulch!

Potatoes (in boxes) getting "chitted" (a way to prep them before planting) on our front porch. See post on how to plant potatoes.

Grant, in yellow, and Rook, in front - planting potatoes.
Here's Llyn folding leaf-bags for re-distribution. People donate grass-clippings and leaves for our compost. We hang the bags to dry and then re-distribute them for free, so people don't have to keep buying new ones.

Adri and Cindy, planting lettuce.
Adri, dumping weeds in the compost pile. Adri has been coming to the gardens since she was a baby! Now, at almost 9-years old, she's a big help with all kinds of garden-tasks.
Adri's Grandpa Jim, planting lettuce in the greenhouse.
Llyn, drilling oak logs (donated by our neighbor Victor Stone - who has  a small forest on his land, just up the street). Llyn then plugged the holes with Shitake mushroom spawn (donated by Karen J. and Peter S.). With any luck, we'll have a crop of fresh mushrooms by next Fall!

Homemade face-masks made by Karen Salot for the Food Pantry and Gleaner's volunteers. Karen also made a $100 donation to the gardens.Thank you Karen!

Here's a our dear friend John Kinsey and one of  his worm-compost "incubators". John takes sawdust and coffee-grounds, both considered "waste products" and, with the help of thousands of red-wiggler worms, turns them into amazing, fluffy, rich worm castings. He's brought us over twenty pellet-bags already this season and has another batch ready to bring us when we're ready to receive. A huge help!

Here's a picture of the only OSU Student-Learning group of volunteers we've had so far this year. They came on Feb. 22nd, before the pandemic had become obvious in the United States.
We will have no more volunteer-groups from the university this spring as all classes have been shifted to on-line. In informing us of the university's decision, we received a beautiful note from Deanna Lloyd, one of the Service-Learning project coordinators. In her note she said:
"We want to thank you for all you do for our community. We know you are still engaged and active through this trying time – the garden still needs tending, people still need food, invasive plants still need to be removed, and systemic inequities still need dismantling. We greatly appreciate you, your continued partnership, and the work you are doing to create a more resilient and equitable community." Deanna Lloyd
Deanna, we thank you, and all the others who, through their work are helping to make this world a healthier, more sustainable place...for people and the natural world that supports us all.

Chris and I have a saying: "Wherever you are in the Spring, plant a garden!" Is this the year, you get one started in your yard? Image Credit: Llyn Peabody

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Do I Need to Buy Seed Potatoes or Can I Just Grow Potatoes from the Grocery Store?

Buying seed potatoes from a nursery catalog can be pretty pricey and its not really necessary. The only real advantages are that they sort them for uniformity of size (not a big deal), you know that they're ready for planting (see the discussion about dormancy below) and you can find some exotic varieties. We just use potatoes we saved from last year's harvest or buy them straight out of the produce section at the grocery store.   

The term "seed-potato" can be misleading. Potatoes do, on occasion produce seeds, but growers do not grow their crops from them. Instead, they grow them from small sprouting potatoes. Any potato, with sprouting eyes, that's at least the size of a chicken egg has the means to yield up to five pounds of fresh potatoes (Generally speaking, the smaller varieties of potatoes grow to maturity faster but yield less harvest.)

These green spheres in Chris' hand contain actual potato seeds but rarely do people grow potatoes from seeds
Potatoes are unique in that their growth cycle is not determined by length of day (as so many other plants are.) Potatoes have an internal clock that requires them to be dormant for a prescribed amount of time--different lengths for different varieties of potatoes. They won't sprout until their dormancy cycle has been reached. This is why some potatoes are better storage potatoes, because they won't start sprouting before you've eaten all the ones you want to eat.

When we want to plant more potatoes than we've saved from the previous year's harvest, we start looking for seed potatoes at the grocery store in late January (mid-winter in northern latitudes) and continue to buy them through till mid-spring. Many of the potatoes that have been in storage for the winter start to sprout in the warehouses at that time and you can get them for better prices. When selecting potatoes to plant, look for ones that already show signs of budding/sprouting from the eyes as this way you know they are viable for growing. Choose the variety you like best. Potatoes do not "cross pollinate". This means that, if you plant a russet, by golly you'll get a russet. (Note: one of our favorites is the Yukon Gold. They last a long time in winter storage and we like the flavor/texture too.)

Ideally, seed potatoes should be about the size of a chicken-egg. Larger potatoes can be cut and skinned over before planting. be sure you have at least three "eyes" per potato.
Potatoes need 70-90 days from planting to maturity so count backwards from your first frost date, or when you wish to begin eating your harvest! The exotic potatoes that come into the markets, and the small, egg-sized, common varieties are usually quite fresh; as they don't keep a long time in storage. They too won't be ready for planting till they naturally go through their dormancy cycle—four to six months. We haven't tried this but I read that you can hasten the dormancy by storing the potatoes in a cool, moist place for a few months and then putting them in a dryer, warmer (but still dark) area.
It is important that you buy organic potatoes because many of the commercially grown ones are sprayed with a "sprout-retardant" which gives them a longer shelf-life and this can delay their sprouting until the potato actually rots.

If the potatoes you have are only just starting to sprout and the buds aren't very long, keep them in the dark to encourage more sprouting. Once the buds are at least 3/4 of an inch long, it's time to "chit" them. 
How many to get? Each plant will take up about 12 - 16 inches of row space. If stored well, they will last for up to six months before starting to sprout again. Figure on 3-5 pounds of yield per potato you plant.  

What size should you get? Ideally you will find them that are about the size of a chicken's egg. Larger potatoes can be cut and allowed to skin over so they won't rot when you plant them.

What if they aren't already sprouting? If you can find potatoes that already have "eyes" that are budding, so much the better. This way you know they are viable for planting. As long as you buy organic potatoes (that have not been sprayed with sprout retardant), and allow 3-4 months time for them to begin to sprout, they do not already need to be sprouting.

When is it time to plant potatoes? Here in the S. Willamette Valley, unless you have raised beds, you need to wait to plant them till the ground dries out a bit. We planted them in early-April one year, when things were especially cool and wet and they just rotted in the ground. Depending on the variety you plant, they take 13 to 17 weeks to ripen. You may wish to plant them in succession so you'll have some potatoes to eat fresh and, the later harvests will last longer through the winter.

If you buy them in a plastic bag, transfer them into a cardboard box or paper sack so they don't rot before you get to them. Keep them in a cool, dark place, with good air circulation until they sprout. Layering them in a tub with leaves or straw, or sawdust works too. Just be sure to keep them from freezing.
Potatoes stored in damp layers of damp leaves. These had already begun to sprout and this storage protected their sprouts from breaking off, or the potatoes from drying out until we had the right conditions for planting.

Links to our other potato blogs, go to:

Sprouting Potatoes? What to do.

The Sharing Gardens is a registered non-profit and tax-exempt organization. We exist primarily through donations. If you have found benefit from our project or our site, please consider making a small donation through PayPal. (Click button below.)