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

Friday, June 18, 2021

It Takes a Village...Gratitude and update

It's been a beautiful spring this year. Though much of eastern Oregon is experiencing severe drought, the Willamette Valley, where we live, has been receiving adequate rainfall, spaced nicely apart. This keeps the grass growing (a major source of mulch and compost-building) and has meant that we spend less time hand-watering our outside crops which is especially crucial when they're first sown or transplanted.

March in the Ark greenhouse.

May in the Sunship greenhouse. Scarlet runner beans (left) were seeded in January and now (mid-June) are already loaded with beans!

Though we're in a bit of a lull now between the spring greens (lettuce, kale and such) and summer's bounteous, heat-loving crops, we've still managed to fill six CSA boxes per week, feed ourselves and our volunteers and still been able to donate a surplus of over 180 pounds of vegetables to food charities in our area. Once the summer bounty comes on, the number will go way up!

Chris, transplanting clusters of bunching onions.

Our largest greenhouse, the Sunship, had the honor of hosting a litter of three baby bunnies last month. One of our volunteers was startled by the mulch moving just inches from where he was preparing a bed for planting. They've already left the nest just two weeks after we discovered them. Hopefully the neighborhood cats won't find them. The wild rabbits have never been a problem in our garden as they seem to prefer eating the clover in our lawns to any domesticated veggies we grow.

Three baby bunnies the first day we found them nested in the mulch in our greenhouse.

Three weeks later, we spotted this one near our wood-shed, a week after s/he left the nest. We've seen another one that likes to hide under the scarlet runner beans in the greenhouse where s/he was born.
We have birds and butterflies and other pollinators galore. Our Showy Milkweed patches continue to expand and though we've yet to see any Monarch butterflies (for which they are a host plant), there are plenty of other pollinators (including hummingbirds) that seem to enjoy the flowers' sweet scent.

Milkweed started from seed four years ago is now naturalized in three places on our land and comes back each year. A favorite of many pollinators - including hummingbirds.

There's a saying from African tribal peoples that "It takes a village to raise a child". Here at the Sharing Gardens, it "takes a village," to grow the food, provide habitat for wildlife and a sanctuary to those people who visit here for respite from the hubbub of day-to-day life. It has been our goal all along to demonstrate a model of "mutual generosity",  where "sharing" is an experience of reciprocity; of giving and receiving, but not everyone is in a position to be generous. Though some folks are primarily at the receiving end of the gardens, there are others who primarily give and some for whom the giving and receiving happen more or less equally. By everyone doing what they can do, this keeps the project sustainable over time. (LINK: Overview and Benefits of the Sharing Gardens Model).

As Anne Frank has been purported to say, "No one has ever become poorer by giving." It has actually been our experience that generosity has increased our sense of abundance and prosperity. 


We've received $2,190 in cash donations since our last gratitude-post in February. Thank you to the South Benton Food Pantry (LINK), John and Donna Dillard, Karen and Stan Salot and Cathy Rose.

We are grateful to our small but mighty volunteer crew: Donn and Marilyn Dussell, Jim, Cindy and Adri Kitchen, Rook Stillwater, and Becky Bauer. There's still room for a few more folks on our crew. For more info, CLICK HERE.

Donn, tilling a bed for squash to grow in.

Marilyn loves to mow!
Jim's our other champion mower. Just look at all that luscious mulch!

Llyn and Cindy always look forward to gardening together each week. Here we are planting lettuce and onions.

Adri, dead-heading the calendula flowers.

Rook, digging compost, coffee-grounds and wood-ash into the garden beds.

Becky, starting seeds.

Our collection site for bagged leaves and grass clippings continues to be very successful. This is a clear example of reciprocal generosity: the Sharing Gardens provides free re-used leaf bags and a free site for people to dispose of their yard-waste (which would otherwise end up in burn-piles or the land fill) and we receive as much organic matter as we can use to mulch and feed our gardens. (LINK: Create your own 'veganic' potting mix).

Our collection site for leaves and grass-clippings in front of our wonderful yellow house.

A special thank you to our friend John Kinsey who generated hundreds of pellet-bags of compost for us over the winter and continues to bring us coffee grounds from a local drive-through cafe' every week. Thanks also to Lua who brought us a load of leaf mold (from Harry McCormack at Sunbow Farms - one of the founders of Oregon Tilth and a pioneer in the organics movement) to enhance our garden's fertility.

John Kinsey with garlic "seeds".

Just a fraction of the "tea" John makes from his worm-compost. We use it to feed our plants.

Firewood is our only source of heat, and our primary means of cooking and drying our laundry in the winter. This year we are feeling especially grateful for the community's generosity regarding firewood. We have received donations of wood "rounds" from David and Jo Crosby (who had a couple of oak trees fall down in a bad storm two years ago). Bob and Cheryl Ballard brought us a load of fir to be split. Thank you to the Dussells for the loan of your splitter too!

Chris, splitting firewood.

We are grateful to our five and a half CSA subscribers and to David Roux and Dallice Drake for their $250 scholarship donation which covers most of the second half of the membership to a low-income family who is committed to eating healthy food to stay cancer-free after the Mom contracted an aggressive case several years ago. (She's been cancer-free for over a year now and attributes some of her success to receiving a CSA box last year as well.) Thanks to Catherine Henry who perused our Wish List and keeps finding items we can use.

Thanks to Communities Magazine and Chris Roth, editor - for publishing our article on Veganic Soil Fertility with Local Materials - in their latest issue on "Ecological Culture" Whatever your living situation, whether in a large community or small household, you can adapt these methods to grow food with a lighter footprint on the planet. (LINK to order a copy of the whole issue on Ecological Culture ($5.00 for digital copy. $10 for digital copy and hard copy mailed to you in the USA - see drop down menu) LINK to Global Ecovillage Network - USA - publishers of the magazine.

And last, but not least: thanks to all our unsung partners in garden abundance: the pollinators, bug- and slug-eaters (birds) and the billions of microbes and soil organisms for whom without their contributions, the gardens would soon cease to exist.

If you feel inspired to leave a comment, please do so below so everyone can enjoy it. Thanks.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Lettuce: From Seed to Feed - Part 2: Saving Seed

By Llyn Peabody 

If you grow your own lettuce, as the weather warms, it's not uncommon to have some of it "bolt" (try to go to seed). Saving lettuce seed is fairly easy and a good entry-point for those new to the process. Here is a re-publishing of a post we wrote back in 2011 but the information is just as relevant today. Happy seed-saving :-).

Saving your own seed is an important aspect of developing local food self-reliance. Relying on commercial seed farmers may become increasingly unreliable as climate change disrupts weather patterns and seed crops falter. Growing your own seed slowly modifies your plants to be uniquely suited to your micro-climate and growing conditions. Networking with other seed-savers in your area builds a sense of community. LINK: Locally Sustainable Gardening in the Face of Supply-Chain Shortages
 
Lettuce flowers - close-up.

Seed-saving can seem intimidating at first. I know I felt that way. Many vegetables will cross with their neighbors yielding inconsistent results. There are many questions that must be answered before moving forward. For this reason I definitely recommend Suzanne Ashworth's "Seed to Seed". It is a comprehensive manual that covers all aspects of seed-saving. I am also grateful to my husband, Chris, for all he has taught me from his 40+ years of gardening. He's helped me translate the book knowledge into experiential learning. Saving seed appeals to the outlaw in me, I guess. Like treating illness with herbs I grew myself, there is something empowering about developing skills usually left to "the experts". As it turns out, it's not really that difficult at all.

"Red Sails" lettuce - blooming.

Saving Lettuce Seed: Like most things in gardening, a bit of forethought goes a long way. Ashworth recommends 12' - 25' separation between types of lettuce to prevent cross-pollination (the farther the better). Plan your plantings (and harvesting) to leave sufficient distance between the flowering plants. Though you may have enough time to bring a Fall crop of lettuce to seed, we usually do our seed-saving with the lettuce we plant in the Spring.
 
Note: Be sure there is no wild lettuce that is forming seed near the varieties of domesticated lettuce you are saving seed from as it can cross. The plants that grow from these crossed seeds tend to be more bitter and course. There are several varieties of wild lettuce; this one is named Lactuca Serriola LINK.

Lettuce bolting - Black-Seeded Simpson

 Lettuce is an "annual" crop. This means that the plants will produce seed in one season (without over-wintering). As the weather gets hotter and drier you will notice on romaine or "leaf" lettuce a definite lengthening of the plant. ("Leaf" types form a loose rosette of leaves but not a tight "head). When it lengthens, it is starting to "bolt". Lettuce that is bolting gets noticeably more bitter (probably nature's way of protecting the plant in this important phase of its reproduction). On "head" lettuce (such as Iceberg), Ashworth says it can be helpful to slit the head, forming a cross-cut with a sharp knife, making it easier for the flower-stalk to emerge. She says some gardeners strike the head of the lettuce with the palm of their hand thus breaking the leaves away from the stalk. Without some effort to free the flower-stalk, head-rot from heat and humidity may kill the plant before it can go to seed. So far we have saved seed mainly from "leaf" lettuce. This summer we will experiment with our red and green "head" lettuces to see what works best for us and report back.

Lettuce marked for seed with bamboo.

As we are gardening with a group of people, we have found it essential to clearly mark the plants that we are saving for seed, so they are not harvested by accident. We have made small tipi's with bamboo sticks, tied a red ribbon around the plant or put a small sign on a stake and driven it in nearby. Even a plant that is obviously past an edible stage for harvest is not safe as a well-meaning fellow-gardener may assume the responsible thing to do is weed out your seedy lettuce plant and toss it on the compost pile!

Staked lettuce - the flowers get heavy.

As the flower stalk grows it will produce a big head of flowers. You may need to tie it to a stake so it doesn't fall over. Seed production occurs 12 - 24 days after flowering. Ashworth says you can harvest seeds daily by shaking the stalk over a large paper sack. The ripe seeds will fall into the bag. The method we have used is to wait until the majority of seeds are ripe and to cut off the whole flower head and place that in a paper sack. Leave the sack open in a warm, dry place (like the top shelf your tool shed) until the flowers are thoroughly dry. Be sure to label the bag with the name of the lettuce variety. If mice are a problem and you have the space, try hanging the open bag from rafters.

To winnow the seeds, roll the flowers between your fingers and the palms of your hands to free them . Lettuce seed is challenging to separate because the seeds are not much heavier than the chaff. Patiently drop small amounts of the seed/chaff over a tray, from a height of a foot or two while blowing gently. The seed should drop and the fluff blow away. Some people run the seed through screens but we have not tried this method. Commercially available seed-sifting screens are another option. They have different sized holes.

Put ripened lettuce flowers into a paper bag to finish drying.
Lettuce seed will remain viable for 2-3 years if kept in a cool, dark place, in an air-tight container.


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