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

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Give and You Shall Receive - Sharing Gardens update

Co-founder Chris Burns pulls Jim Kitchen and a load of "prunings" to the burn-pile, demonstrating one of our founding principles, "If it ain't fun, why do it!".

Recently we've been blessed with amazing generosity from folks in our support circle. Jim and Cindy Kitchen donated a 2003 Town and Country mini-van which is an answer to a prayer as our 1968 GMC pick-up truck is really difficult to drive! Now Llyn has become the main driver and has driven more in the last month than the previous 10-years combined. This has been really a blessing to take the pressure off Chris to always be the driver.  Karen Josephson and Peter Stoel donated $2,000 for the third year in a row. Wow, that kind of generosity really lifts our spirits! This will be a huge help in keeping the program running. And Catherine Henry, in perusing our Wish List, found a home for a composting toilet she'd purchased but never got around to installing. Once we install it, this will allow us to host larger gatherings and summer-interns/guests without taxing our small indoor bathroom. Thank you so much!

Cindy Kitchen, thinning carrots. Cindy has an amazing capacity for doing the detail-work of gardening: things like picking beans, thinning root crops and weeding tiny seedlings. She's also great at the "big strokes" and can fill our giant garden-cart with weeds faster than anybody! The only problem is trying to get her to stop at the end of a session! We love our Cindy!

Our 2021 season is over (our 13th!). The only veggies left in the outdoor gardens and greenhouses are the cool-weather tolerant crops including lettuce, broccoli, beets, green onions, kale and chard. Our weather has been mild so far and if it continues to be so, these crops will continue to provide delicious and nutritious food for us and the few 'share-givers' (volunteers) who help us through the winter. 

The three months from August through October can feel overwhelming with the time-sensitive, competing demands of harvesting, watering, saving seeds and preserving food. We are relieved to have arrived at the time of the year when Chris and I can follow our own rhythms in tending to our home and the land. It's amazing to realize that everything will start up again in mid-January (albeit at a much slower pace!) with the first crops getting planted in our greenhouse beds. (These crops will include: onions, spinach, beets and carrots.)

We've tallied up our donations to charities and it's been another great year, 2,971 pounds! We keep precise records of our donations to charities by weighing everything before we send it. We derive our other totals through estimates though so you'll just have to take our word for it (though honestly, these numbers are probably low). Everything else: 4,280 pounds.

That makes our Grand total for 2021 somewhere in the ballpark of: 7,254 pounds!

For details of our harvest totals Click Here.

"Give and you shall receive." Though we view sharing as a reciprocal relationship (not just a one-way process where we give and others take), we recognize that not everyone has the same capacity to give. Some people aren't able to give at all due to poverty and physical challenges. We try to follow the practice: "From each according to their ability and to each according to their need." Through our project, no one has ever been denied access to our surplus just because they had nothing to give us directly. We also ascribe to the notion of "Paying it forward," trusting that generosity can have a rippling, multiplying effect as it moves through a community.

But for those who can give directly to our project, it comes in many forms: monetary donations, the donation of materials and through people's time. All of these gestures of support have helped us keep the program alive. 

In addition to the food we grow and share, the Sharing Gardens has become a hub of other forms of generosity. Because we have clean, delicious, abundant well-water we have folks who come weekly to fill water jugs. We have given away building materials, firewood, compost, garden tools, seeds and 'starts' and other materials we have had in surplus to those in need.

We also give freely of our knowledge through hands-on opportunities in our garden and through our website (which has received over 570,900 views in its lifetime - mostly for our 'How-To' posts).

What follows is a "Gallery of Givers"; a photo album of seasonal highlights and some of the people who have helped to make it happen, followed by a list of the many other donors who have blessed the project this year.

Meet our 'sharegivers': The people pictured below are the folks who come to the gardens throughout the growing season (and in some cases right through the winter). They give of their time and energies and share in the camaraderie of doing something meaningful together. They also receive a share in the harvests. We couldn't do it without them!

A gathering of many of our troupe: (back row) Llyn, Rook, Cindy, Jim, Chris (front row) Adri, Jazmin and Becky
Here's Sandra, the newest member of our crew - sorting lettuce for distribution.

A typical morning in early September. Here we are planting cabbage.

Rook, trimming garlic and preparing it to be "cured" for long-term storage.

Llyn and Kaylyn processing tomatoes and melons on harvest day.

Adri and Jazmin joined us in the summer months. Here they are picking scarlet runner beans.

Later in the summer they graduated from making concoctions with flower-heads, mud and weed-greens to crafting food that was actually quite delicious from real garden-ingredients. The lettuce wraps with tomato, fig and cucumbers were a favorite once the girls left out the raw garlic garnish!
Cindy tastes a sample of Jazmin's creations. Yumm!
That's Donn Dussell (who comes every Monday) and Chris in front of our newest greenhouse - the Phoenix, made mostly from recycled materials which they built together last winter. Donn will also be helping Chris put a new 'skin' on our larger, 20'x50' Ark greenhouse this winter.
Marilyn Dussell has a passion for running our riding mower! Thanks to her and Donn for their third year as CSA subscribers, volunteering in the gardens and all the other ways they show their support for our project.

Other contributors: In the second half of the year (since our last gratitude post published in June, 2021-LINK) and aside from the $2,000 donation from Karen and Peter mentioned above, we have received a total of $210 from Judy Peabody, Drake Wauters and Suzanne Campbell  - a local who has interest in partnering in wild-life habitat restoration projects.

Thanks to our CSA members:  Catherine Henry, Donn and Marilyn Dussell, Karen Josephson and Peter Stoel, Lilia Parker-Meyers, and Dian Wright. Amongst them, we fed at least 16 people as many of them fed not only themselves but friends and family as well.

Here is art work by Llyn's Mom Judy, showing our "Phoenix Farmhouse".
...and here's the farmhouse in the late Spring of 2021.

 Originally built in 1875 (the second oldest house still standing in Monroe), here is what the farmhouse looked like shortly after we began renovations in 2013. (LINK to photo gallery about Phoenix Farmhouse renovations.)

In October, Llyn's Mom and Uncle came for their annual visit and were super helpful. Thanks, Mom and Craig!

Judy, Llyn's Mom, harvesting tomatoes.

Craig, Llyn's uncle, sifting compost

Other donations: In response to our call for a laptop, many people responded. We kept one, donated by Thorin Nielson for Llyn to use for her writing projects and are passing along another one, donated by Donn and Marilyn Dussell to one of our steadfast volunteers, Rook.

Thorin, Eliza and Rook picking blackberries.

Catherine Henry, donor of the E-Loo composting toilet mentioned above has also donated several high-quality hoses, rain-bird sprinklers on stands, and other watering nozzles

Leaves and Grass and Compost, oh my!  This is the second year that the Sharing Gardens has grown all our food "veganically" and used zero amounts of commercial fertilizers, animal by-products or livestock manures. All our fertility comes from: leaves, grass-clippings, wood-ash and coffee grounds (see: Making Your Own "Veganic" Potting Soil in Your Greenhouse Paths - Using Worms). We are grateful to Jo and David Crosby (no, not the rock star!) who bring us many trailer-loads of leaves from their land each year. Also, our neighbors John and Donna Dillard and Irene and George Daugherty who have also delivered multiple loads of leaves. We also appreciate the city of Monroe (the small town where we live) for posting information about our leaf/grass drop-off site in our front yard for townspeople to bring us their yard waste. (For more info: Click Here - see pg. 4 of Nov. 2021 newsletter or Here for the SG post). 



Gratitude too to our dear friend John Kinsey who, in his quiet way has been supporting the gardens almost from the start. He lives a few blocks away, and retired in 2015 and, to keep himself from "going crazy with boredom," has been making us compost in his worm bins ever since. In the last two years he's easily brought us over 3-4 cubic yards of compost! He also goes to a local cafe  and picks up 15-25 gallons of coffee-grounds per week which contributes greatly to our garden's fertility. Thank you John!

Chris and John loading wood-chips in a wheel-barrow for distribution.

Here's a pic of about 3/4 of the firewood that was donated this year. Thanks to the Crosby's and the Ballards for donations of unsplit 'rounds' and to the Dussells for help with the splitting and use of their splitter. We are cozy and warm this winter, thanks to you!

Gratitude to our pollinators and wild pest-controllers: the birds, insects and other wild critters that call the Sharing Gardens "home". Here's the latest post about "Rewilding at the Sharing Gardens and good news about the West Coast Monarch species".

Jazmin, with a tree frog she caught in the gardens. At the beginning of the season she was afraid to pick them up and by the end, she and Adri were catching up to ten in a day and making little oasis/habitats for them before letting them go at the end of the morning.

and remember, as a wise Vulcan once said...

Sharing Gardens-Harvest Totals - 2021

We've tallied up our donations to charities and it's been another great year, 2,971 pounds! We keep precise records of our donations to charities by weighing everything before we send it. We derive our other totals through estimates though so you'll just have to take our word for it (though honestly, these numbers are probably low). Everything else: 4,280 pounds.

That makes our Grand total for 2021 somewhere in the ballpark of: 7,254 pounds!

Here are the details:

Total pounds donated to charities: 2,971 pounds

South Benton Food Pantry: 1,539 pounds

Local Aid Food Pantry: 1,231 pounds

Stone Soup Kitchen: 201 pounds

Additional food harvested and distributed from the Sharing gardens: 4,280 pounds:

Weekly CSA boxes, Share-givers/Chris and I: 3,460 pounds

Canned/dehydrated food/storage crops, over and above the weekly distributions: (including, but not limited to: dried corn, beans and sorghum; 14 qts of applesauce, 60 qts of V-8 juice, potatoes, winter squash): 490 pounds

Small Axe Peppers: 330 pounds (a hot sauce company that enlists community gardens to grow hot peppers as a fund-raiser). 

All of this using "veganic" methods of farming! (See here for more info).

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Rewilding at the Sharing Gardens...

...and Good News About the West Coast Monarchs

Hi folks - Here's great news about the Western Monarch butterfly population:

Substantially More Monarch Butterflies Have Arrived in California to Overwinter Bringing Hope For Species - Nov. 2021

Monarchs in Pismo Beach, CA by Steve Corey, CC license

Those of you who've been following our Blog know that the Sharing Gardens is dedicated to fostering habitat for the flora and fauna that call this place "home". We've had several successes in the insect realm:

Last week we discovered a preying mantis in our celery patch - left. We haven't ever noticed any baby mantises though they're super-tiny so it's not surprising, but we have noticed several egg cases each year. They like to lay them on wood or metal surfaces. 

Preying mantis egg-case
We found another adult a few years back too. They're such intelligent, conscious, engaging creatures the way they cock their heads and look right into your eyes.

Preying Mantis - Sharing Gardens - 2017
We have also been very happy to see increasing numbers of Swallowtail butterflies on our land. When purchased the land in 2014, one of the first things we did was to plant groves of various trees to provide us with a source of leaves for mulch and compost, and to provide wildlife with a greater diversity of habitat. We selected sycamores and aspens because both are fast-growing trees and don't mind having their roots wet in the winter when our land sometimes gets deeply saturated. We didn't know it at the time but aspen trees are one of the natural host-plants for swallowtails! (A host plant provides food, and/or a place for butterflies to attach their cocoons). Each year we see more and more of these colorful beauties.

 A Swallowtail butterfly on  one of our marigold patches.

We found this Sphinx moth on the end of a bamboo pole in August.

I (Llyn) have been developing my skills at propagating Showy Milkweeds - a host plant for Monarchs. We now have three established patches that self-sow and return yearly. Though we've yet to see any Monarchs (we're at the very northern-most reach of their migration-range), each spring, when the milkweeds are blooming, they are just covered with other kinds of pollinators: butterflies and bees of various kinds. Here's a post I wrote about our Milkweed/Monarch program.

Showy milkweed in bloom.

Happily, many frogs have taken up residence on our land as well. We love to sleep with our windows open on summer nights and hear their chorus of croaks as they commune with joy. Here's Adri with a pair of them she carefully caught on a volunteer-day.

And our sunflowers, and Birdseed Millet-patches provide plenty of food for many kinds of birds in our neighborhood. Some of the plants we leave for them to enjoy in the field while some of them we harvest, dry and store so we can distribute the seeds throughout the winter. (That's Jazmin - right - with a Mammoth Russian sunflower head).

And here's an article that describes how, in England, hundreds of land-owners of relatively small plots (churches, houses, city parks) are contributing to a massive movement of "re-wilding" that now amounts to about 600,000 acres! So, every little bit helps!

Monday, November 1, 2021

How to help the Monarch Butterflies

Monarch, ready to be released. Image credit.
Perhaps you've heard the sad reports recently about the drastic reduction of monarch butterflies found in their California, winter nesting sites (only 2,000 counted in southern California in January of 2021). LINK-Western Monarch populations
There are ways you can help their plight. Here's some great information from the National Wildlife Federation on how to benefit birds and butterflies. When you're planning your garden this coming spring, think of the monarchs!  Check out Xerces Society and Monarch Joint Venture for more information on national efforts and ways you can help. Monarch Watch and Journey North are two citizen science groups that record monarch  and milkweed sightings. For an interactive map that tracks seasonal migration, try Journey North There are monarch butterflies in the Willamette Valley, but we need more citizen science reporters!

Ways you can help right now?
1. Plant native milkweed: In Willamette Valley, that's showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) and narrow leafed milkweed (Asclepias fasciculatis)2. Provide nectar
3. Don't use broad spectrum pesticides (https://monarchjointventure.org/monarch-biology/threats/pesticides)
4. Reduce your lawn size
5. Support local efforts by educating others, advocating for different practices in your community, or become a citizen scientist
This post is about our experience growing milkweed at the Sharing Gardens with tips on how you can do it too.
Adri's instructions
Last spring, when grade schools were first shut down in Oregon, our dear little friend Adri (who's been coming to the Sharing Gardens since she was a baby in a back-pack) arrived at our weekly volunteer-time with a small packet of showy milkweed seeds and instructions for planting them that she'd carefully hand-copied from her teacher's instructions. She was wondering if we'd be willing to grow some out in our gardens as she doesn't have a sunny enough yard at home. We said, "Sure!".

Showy Milkweed in bloom
We've been growing "showy" milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) since 2018. To begin with, someone gave us a few "starts" and a hand-full of seeds to experiment with. The variety we grow is native to the Pacific NW - where we live - and well- suited to our site (full sun, moist soil). (If you live elsewhere, you might wish to research what varieties will do well for you). Also, whatever variety you decide to plant, there seems to be some evidence that butterflies prefer native species to their hybrid cousins, so choose accordingly (LINK).
We had tried several different ways to germinate the seeds but they were only moderately successful. We did establish a patch of about a dozen plants that wintered over and began producing flowers themselves (summer 2020) but the method Adri brought to us has been the most successful so far. Here's what to do: Wrap the seeds in a damp paper-towel (squeeze it out thoroughly so it's just lightly moist), secure the seeds in a sealed freezer bag and put them in your refrigerator for 30 days. This simulates a cold, wet winter that the seeds need to break from dormancy. Plant in soil (about 1/4" deep) being very careful not to damage the tiny emerging root. Place in a sunny window, or greenhouse and water from below. They should emerge from the soil in about ten days.
This is what seedlings should look like after placing the seeds in a damp paper-towel inside a zipper bag and refrigerating for thirty days.

To grow seedlings bigger, arrange in potting soil...

...and cover with about 1/4" soil. Be very careful with their fragile roots.

Seedlings after several more weeks...

Though theoretically, you could transplant the seedlings into the ground at this point, they will have a much better chance of surviving if you pot them into larger pots and plant them into the ground once they have bigger root systems. With Adri's seedlings, we re-potted them two times through the summer until they were in half-gallon pots. These, we wintered-over by clustering the potted plants in a sunny spot in our yard, protected from cold, north winds under a blanket of fall leaves.

Adri and Kaylynn with milkweed plants at about 120 days from putting seeds in fridge. Two plants per pot.

Milkweed plants wintered over two years in pots. Ready to get into the ground!

This coming spring, we'll transplant them into a sunny spot. Aside from propagating from seeds, the roots also send out runners and start new plants. We have a patch of milkweeds that grew as volunteers from underneath the pots we'd wintered-over in a previous season!

Milkweed is a perennial plant. Under the right conditions, it returns year, after year. But plants don't begin flowering till their second or third year so be patient!
The showy milkweed is well-named as it has beautiful, pink flowers but its real contribution to a perennial garden is its rich fragrance. Very much like an Asian lily! Though we've yet to see any monarchs on our plants, during their blooming season last year, our plants were covered in many kinds of other pollinators including bees, both wild and "honey" bees.

Life-cycle of the monarch butterfly (by Adri Kitchen).
Milkweed is a "host" plant to the monarch because adults enjoy the nectar produced by its flowers (though they seem to enjoy other nectar plants too LINK). But, as far as is known, they only lay their eggs on milkweed plants as these are what the larvae eat. Milkweed has a mild toxin in it which builds up in the bodies of the larvae and makes them bitter for their predators to eat. This toxin remains in the bodies of the adult butterflies too also giving them protection from predators.

People who raise cattle have tried to eradicate milkweed because it can be toxic to their livestock. Since we're vegetarians and have no grazing animals on our land, we're happy to provide this host plant for the monarchs and other beneficial insects who enjoy its nectar.

Studies show that a mixed stand of wildflowers seems to be beneficial to monarchs (and probably to other pollinators too). In other words, it's not ideal to grow milkweed alone. Llyn with crocosmia (red) and tansy (yellow - a volunteer "weed" that, though reviled by horse-owners is beloved of bees! Super fragrant too!).
Recent studies suggest that monarchs have a higher reproduction success-rate if the milkweeds are growing in a stand of mixed wildflowers LINK. We didn't know this when we established our first plot so they are growing alone. But this next spring, when we plant Adri's plants, we will grow some other wildflowers amongst them. That should be really beautiful!
Be sure to plant at least a dozen plants in a patch. If the larvae emerge from their eggs and begin munching their way through the leaves of the plant and should fall off for some-reason, they need to have multiple options for plants to climb back up on. Also, adult monarchs are far more likely to find a large patch of milkweeds than a small one. 

Plant at least a dozen milkweed plants together. This will help monarchs find them.

Milkweed seeds, ready for harvest.
The cycle of planting milkweed is complete when they begin producing flowers and seeds (in their second or third year). We have some extra seeds if you're interested in growing some milkweed in your yard. Or, if you're local and would like us to grow out some "starts" for you, let us know (shareinjoyATgmail.com).

Honey bee on tansy.
Here are some other links with info you may find helpful and inspiring as you begin your butterfly garden:
These findings suggest that the efforts of individual gardeners to plant milkweed, either wild-type native plants or native cultivars, can be helpful in supporting the declining populations of both monarch butterflies and other insects. 
"For example, the diversity of plants in a garden, the specific plants that are used and their arrangement — all of those things matter for how the butterflies are able to locate the hosts and move from one to the next."
Finally, some good news! Conservationists have successfully reintroduced previously extinct large blue butterflies to the UK, with the creatures populating parts of the country for the first time in 150 years. 
Image credit: Llyn Peabody - 2020

Great news! More monarch habitat in Wisconsin - LINK

July 2022: Monarch butterfly now an endangered species - LINK