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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Locally Sustainable Gardening in the Face of Supply-Chain Shortages

Seeds from the bulk-foods section
According to this article on: Staying Ahead Of The Shortages: What To Stock Up On For The Coming Year (link below), one of the categories that may be in short supply are commercial fertilizers, as the majority of these are produced abroad and shipped from countries that will also be facing supply-chain challenges. They say:
"A lot of people are gardening and that has led to a big run on fertilizers. While there is still plenty available, that might not always be the case. It takes high amounts of energy, and people to make many of the commercial fertilizers on the market. Many people are stocking up on the organic varieties in particular. The smaller organic fertilizer companies are not used to this type of demand and they could struggle to meet it in the near future." (LINK: Staying Ahead Of The Shortages: What To Stock Up On For The Coming Year)
For years, the Sharing Gardens has been anticipating shortages, and higher prices on fertilizers and soil amendments. This is why we've been developing and perfecting our methods of creating soil-fertility from locally available materials such as leaves, grass-clippings, wood ash and coffee-grounds. (See links below).

Fertility without fertilizers (commercially-made ones that is...). Sharing Gardens - July 2019
Sharing Gardens - late July - 2019
This year we didn't purchase or use any fertilizers or amendments (including livestock manures) and we created our own potting mix from the worm-castings we harvested from our greenhouse paths, mixed with a courser compost our neighbor produced from hard-wood sawdust, coffee grounds, leaves and grass clippings (with a lot of help from his worms!). Here are articles about this "veganic" method we are using with great success.

Lovely compost!
Making your own "Veganic" (no animal manures) Potting Soil

Grass Clippings and Leaves for Mulch

Coffee Grounds and Wood-Ash for Fertility


We noticed in the article on Stocking Up that they didn't mention stocking up on seeds. We have seen many headlines this season about vegetable-seed shortages. If you would like to learn about saving many of your own seeds (the majority of seeds we use, we saved ourselves!) here is a post with info on saving many kinds of seeds in your own garden for use next year.

Saving squash-seeds
Family Heirlooms: Saving Your Own Seed

Please keep in mind that sustainable gardening practices at a local level will be far more successful if you build cooperative relationships with your neighbors instead of trying to do it all alone. Here is a link to many resources about how to start a Sharing Garden in your own community.

Gardening with a group! Many hands make light work...

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans

by Chris Burns
Just like snow flakes, you'll never find two that look exactly alike,  attesting to Nature's infinite variety of expression!
Have you ever seen these beautiful beans for sale at any market?  Would you even know what they were if I didn't tell you?  Don't they look like some kind of 'Magic Bean' that Jack of 'The Beanstalk' fame might have planted?  If you haven't guessed by now, I'll tell you. They're Scarlet Runner Beans and they're called that for two good reasons.  One, they have the most intensely scarlet red flowers, and Two, they 'run' up any pole, tree, fence or trellis that happens to be close to where they are growing.  If you've never grown them then maybe it's time to consider giving them a place in your garden.

I've grown them many times before, but up until recently I always considered them to be strictly 'ornamental'.  Don't know why!  Perhaps it's because they were described that way in the catalog from which I ordered my first seeds.  As you can see in the pictures posted with this article, they add exquisite beauty to any garden patch. It wasn't until 2011 that I sampled them as cooked, dried beans and discovered their beauty is only rivaled by their delicious flavor!
Scarlet Runners vining up the bamboo trellis. We grew a 70-foot row last year and are doubling it in the 2013 season.
These beauties grow steadily to a dramatic height of 10-12 feet (or more) and need a sturdy trellis of some sort to support the weight of their generous profusion of bean pods (we used bamboo poles tied to a wire pulled taught between t-posts). For those who enjoy attracting pollinators to your garden, you'll likely find (as we did) that the flowers regularly attract hummingbirds and many beneficial insects. (If you have cats, best not to grow the runners as we've heard sad tales of hummingbirds being caught and killed by those furry, domestic predators).

Bean-trellis made with bamboo poles wired to a cable.
Scarlet Runner Beans will grow in a greenhouse too. Just be sure to leave enough vents open to allow pollinators to come and go.
Plant beans 4"-6" apart and 1"- deep. Soil can be course and should stay moist but not too wet as seeds germinate. Often we will pre-sprout the seeds by keeping them between wet towels for several days till they germinate. Be very careful when planting as the sprouts are fragile.
The pods are deliciously sweet when they are young and tender (about 3-4 inches long).  So sweet, in fact that it was the first thing our two teen-age garden-helpers would seek out and munch on whenever they came to the gardens.

Bean pod-loving teens!
If it's mainly green beans that you're looking for though, it's probably best to grow another variety like 'Blue Lake' or 'Contender' which provide you with more of a volume at each picking.  These Scarlet Runners tend to produce pods steadily over a longer season but they become tough and stringy if they aren't picked on the small side.  The reason they probably aren't grown commercially for dried beans is that they must be hand-picked. At the Sharing Gardens we've turned this limitation into an asset as the weekly bean-picking was a task that folks with back and knee-issues could accomplish easily standing up. After a few days laid out on screens in the greenhouse the husks were dry enough to split open easily by hand. This was a task that many volunteers (share-givers), who weren't able to do more strenuous tasks,  found fun and relaxing; it also provided an opportunity to sit in the shade and chat with new found friends.

Pods, any bigger than this and they're too tough to eat green.
If it's dried beans you want, don't pick the pods until they are evenly tan and dry. If picked too green, beans won't store well, nor will they be viable for planting next year's crop. Once the frost hits, beans will no longer ripen much more. Pull up the whole vine and let the beans finish ripening in a green-house or warm, dry place before picking them off the vines. When they are as dry as they're going to get, shell these partially ripe beans and use them first as they won't store as well as fully cured beans.

These beautiful beans are rather large --about the size of a fat Lima bean-- and therefore yield enough to make a pot of soup-beans in a short time. If you're serious about growing your own protein-source, Scarlet Runners make an excellent choice.
Harvest beans once their pods are tan and dry. OSU-students shelling Scarlet Runner Beans.



Shelling beans from their pods is a fun activity for all! Jim and Adri shelling kidney beans.
But the best kept secret of all is just how delicious the dried beans are. They have a mild flavor and, unlike Fava beans, their skin is thin (not even noticeable) and they have a velvety texture.

A bamboo tipi provides a trellis for beans and beautifully frames our garden helpers.
Recipe: To cook these beans for eating, soak them over night just like you would any other, with about 1/3 beans to 2/3 water in a stainless or cast iron pot.  Pour off the water the next day; rinse the beans with fresh water and put them back in the pot. Add fresh water until the level is about 2-3 inches over the beans.  Don't add any salt because it won't allow the beans to absorb the water as they cook and they'll never soften.  I like to cook them on the woodstove in the winter.   These beans stay very firm when they're finished cooking but can be easily mashed and used as refries, or made into a hearty chile with tomatoes, onions, peppers and Mexican spices.  I cook up a large pot at a time and, once rinsed and cooled, I pack them into smaller zip-lock bags which I stack in the freezer to add to stir-fried kale and leeks with potatoes all winter long. Instant dinner!

Be creative! Sometimes just a plain ole' bowl of beans with olive oil, soy sauce, finely chopped onions and grated cheese is all you need to get you in the mood to go outside and brave the winter elements.

Such beauty!
Anyway, if you want to enjoy these wonderful and versatile garden gems, the time to plant is coming up soon! (late May or first week of June in our region)  If any of our local readers need seed  please let us know and we'll get you started, and you can save your own for next year.  Happy Gardening!




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