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

Monday, February 28, 2022

Mason Bees - The Friendly Pollinators

Mason Bees appear like a big house fly with a greenish black shine to them.
(Guest writer: Linda Zielinski) Did you know that Mason Bees (Osmia lignaria) are one of the most common hole-nesting bees? They are wonderful pollinators, especially for apples and pears. Researchers claim they can be up to 90% more efficient at pollinating than honeybees due to the fact that Mason Bees will forage in light rain and at cooler temperatures than honeybees and other pollinators. If you are worried or concerned about getting stung then this hard working little Mason Bee may be just what you and your flowers and vegetable gardens are looking for. Mason Bees are not aggressive since they are a solitary bee and are not defending a queen. They are considered quite docile. 
Linda's nesting boxes are hung under the eves, on the southeast side of a shed so they get sun and are protected from prevailing winds/rains. Insets show other styles of nesting boxes.
Nesting boxes for Mason Bees:  I have quite a few nesting boxes. My nesting boxes are hanging under the eaves of my pump house facing towards the southeast so they can be warmed by the early morning sun and protected from direct rain.  Mason bees are easy to care for. You can make new nesting boxes by using a drill press and a 5/16 bit and blocks of UNTREATED wood. You may also purchase nesting straws. I have found the straws at the WildBirdsUnlimited store in Corvallis. For right now I have placed 2 new nesting boxes and a package of straws for the ladies to use as new homes for their eggs. As these begin to fill up I will continue making new boxes. Last year the girls were so prolific that I had to make several new nest blocks 3 different times.
Chris hangs nesting boxes at the Monroe garden
Mason Bee life cycle: This year, my Mason Bees began emerging in early April. The males hatch out first once our temperatures get above 55 degrees for 3 days in a row. The females seem to understand that it is important to lay female eggs at the back of the holes and lay the male egg at the front of each hole. This assures the survival of this species as it only takes one male to mate with several female Mason Bees. Once the weather begins to warm and the males emerge they then wait around for several days for the females to chew through their cocoon and then chew through the mud wall that divides each egg cell until they reach the end of the nesting hole and crawl out to live their short productive life in our wonderful Willamette Valley. The males then fly around chasing the females in a mating dance.
 
Once the males have mated their job is complete and they die. The females immediately begin gathering pollen and laying eggs. They do not excavate holes but look around their environment for a 4-6 inch-long space that is approximately 5/16 of an inch in diameter. They are often seen crawling up under house shingles. No need to worry though. They do not damage your siding but are merely looking for a safe, dry place to lay their eggs. After she has gathered pollen she will return to the nesting tubes/boxes, fly into the holes and turn circles inside which helps the gathered pollen fall off her body as she wiggles her way to the end of the tube. 
Mason Bee larvae with pollen-ball for larval feeding.
There she will lay her tiny egg and put a pollen ball on top of that. She will leave about a 1 inch space and she then make a 1/4 inch mud plug to wall off that egg, hence the name "Mason" Bee. For the next 8-10 weeks these busy ladies continue gathering pollen and nectar. Sometime towards the end of June their life's work is over and they die. During the summer months the eggs develop into larvae. The larvae feeds on the pollen and nectar and develop into pupae. The Mason Bee pupae develop into bees protected inside a cocoon. They hibernate over the winter and emerge sometime towards the end of March or early April to start this marvelous life cycle over again. 
 
HappBee Gardening. Linda Zielinski
 
Linda Zielinski is an avid Mason Bee 'farmer' who lives in Philomath, Oregon. She generously provided the "Sharing Gardens" with a starter house of bees which we hope will multiply so we can spread them around the valley and help other gardeners get them established. Thank you, Linda, for writing this article about the bees for us to post on our site.

Note: This was originally published on this site, April 13, 2012. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Re-Purposing Things

(Re-posted from 2011) Most people have heard of the terms: Reduce, Re-use and Recycle. I just heard of a new term for something I've been doing for years and that is to "Re-Purpose". This means that you find a new purpose for things than they were originally intended, thereby keeping them out of the waste stream. Gardens provide fantastic opportunities for re-purposing. Below are some pictures of some of our re-purposed items.

Seedling starts in tofu containers. We drill holes in the bottom for drainage.



Cut a hook-shape off the ends of plastic coat-hangers. These make great hooks to keep soaker-hoses in-place.


Twist-ties have hundreds of uses in the garden. Here we are fashioning a pole-bean trellis out of bamboo.



Here in the country, bailing twine is plentiful. We clip the bails close to the knots and then tie the twine end-to-end and wrap it around pvc-pipe for use in staking out rows etc. (A great rainy-day project or when it's too hot to be in the garden and you need an excuse to sit in the shade for a bit.)



Lastly, ever wonder what to use empty soy-milk containers for? We rinse them out really well, and pull them out flat (open up the folded corners and they flatten easily). You can cut them with scissors or, if you have access to a chop-saw, you can cut the ends off ten or more at-a-time.



When we first transplant young seedlings of lettuce or kale or any tender, young plants that are susceptible to cut-worms, slugs, bunnies or intense weather, we use the containers as a collar around the plant.

Check carefully to remove any slugs or unwanted bugs from around the base of the plant. Also pull away any clods of dirt or leaves they may be hiding under (you don't want to trap the pests in with your tender seedlings!) Open the container and  slip it around the plant and pin it in place with slender stakes, bamboo branches or some other narrow sticks at two corners. Make sure the collar comes in contact with the soil to keep insects from crawling underneath.  This technique also provides a micro-climate for your seedlings, protecting them from high winds. The foil liner of the containers reflect sunlight so the plants receive plenty of sun while they're small.


Soon they'll be peaking over the top and you can gently slip the collar off. Milk cartons work too. Milk cartons are also excellent to save for freezing applesauce and other liquid/semi-liquid foods. Because of their shape they are a very efficient use of freezer-space.


We'd love to see and share your ideas. Send us a photo and a short description and we'll share your ideas with others through our website. Just drop us an email: ShareInJoy@gmail.com -- Our website is http://www.TheSharingGardens.blogspot.com/

Below is a link to an interesting article about a guy who gave me the idea for the term: re-purposing. He has built a sail-boat out of soda and water-bottles (called "Plastiki"). He's using it to bring awareness to the environmental problems posed by single-use plastic bottles.
http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=3717

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Winter at the Sharing Gardens

Though the Sharing Gardens doesn't typically get a lot of snow, we did get about 5" in late December 2021. Here are our bird feeders overlooking our fruit and nut orchards to the south of our farmhouse.
Greetings dear friends, the worst of winter is probably over for us here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (Zone 7b). Chris and I have had a restful time since the hubbub of fall harvests, seed and food preservation and garden-clean-up are behind us. Here is a photo essay showing how our winters are spent in preparation for spring's promise in the new year.

Late fall: Sandra sifts the compost that the worms produce in our paths while Chris harvests it. To learn more about creating soil-fertility using local materials, CLICK HERE.

Winter is the time when we begin adding wood-ash and coffee-grounds to our greenhouse beds and paths. The wood-ash is from our wood-stove (our only source of heat). Coffee grounds are a 'waste product' that our friend John Kinsey collects weekly from a coffee-shop. Worms love them! LINK-Coffee grounds and Wood-ash for fertility

Spreading coffee.
Spreading ashes.
Donn and Chris loosen the soil in our greenhouse raised-beds and dig in the ashes, coffee-grounds and worm-compost so beds are ready for spring planting.

It's early February and we already have planted carrots, beets, spinach and lettuce directly in our greenhouse beds. This picture is from 2021 but shows how we dig up onions that have over-wintered and replant them for green-onions we'll eat in early spring.

Now is the time to re-plant bulb/root crops to grow seed crops. Beets, carrots and onions are biennials. This means they produce seeds in their second year and then die. Because our ground can be so wet and cold through the winter, we often dig up these root crops and store them in a plastic bag or clam-shell container with dried leaves or straw so they stay moist (but not too moist) till we're ready to replant them. Below are pictures of beets (left) that have wintered over and are beginning to sprout leaves and root hairs. These we plant into pots with soil. On the right is a picture of a row of potted root crops that are developing enough roots and sprouts to then be planted again in the ground so they can mature and set seeds. Note: seed-saving can only be done with heirloom/non-hybrid varieties.


Our oldest greenhouse, the Ark, was ready for re-skinning this winter. The special UV-protected greenhouse plastic is guaranteed for four years but this skin actually lasted seven! We timed the removal of the skin for a few days that were forecast to be mild and with minimal wind. Donn came by after we got the skin off and the three of us got the new one secured in place with lathe in just a few short hours. LINK: Carport-Frame Greenhouse Design

The Ark with no "skin".
Chris and Donn screw down strips of cedar lathe.
That's the newly covered Ark on the left and last year's greenhouse project, The Phoenix, on the right.

The Phoenix: spreading mulch and coffee (buckets in foreground) for a new season.

Winter is the time for organizing our indoor spaces, sorting seeds and labels, pruning perennials and planting new ones...

After sorting seeds into categories, we put them in zip-lock bags (freezer bags) inside tightly fitting old peanut-butter jars (so they won't get dehydrated) and put them in our chest-freezer.

Llyn, sorting plant labels.

Keeping our garden supplies sorted and stored out of the weather...

Since we shut down our irrigation lines in the winter, we collect rain-water in buckets so we don't have to turn the lines back on till springtime.

Winter is time to care for our perennial plants: trees, shrubs, vines and flowers. Some need pruning. Some need mulching and our new ones need holes dug so they can live in their 'forever homes'.

Potted perennials protected from cold, north winds behind the house and under bags of leaves for insulation. These will get planted in the ground soon.
We're just days away from beginning to plant seeds in pots for next season's crops. 

May this be a fruitful and abundant year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Posts you might be interested in:

Planting Cool-weather crops:
Reprinted from February 2021: Since we have several greenhouses, February is the time for starting the cool-loving crops like lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli, collards, celery, parsley, onions and peas. Here is a post with links to some previously written articles about how to start some of these crops in your own garden.

No-Fail Kale: Growing Kale and Saving Seed

 
 

 





Lettuce: From Seed to Feed - Part 1: Planting

Red Iceberg Lettuce - a summer rose!
Here in the Pacific NW, we start our lettuce seed in a greenhouse in late February and then transplant the starts out in April or May when conditions allow. We're vegetarians and end up with a lot of those white, plastic, square tofu containers. We've found they make great tubs to start small seedlings. We drill holes in the bottom for drainage, fill with a good potting mix (using the bottom of another tofu tub to pack the soil firmly and make a flat surface for the seeds).

After misting the soil so it is good and damp, we sprinkle the lettuce seeds with our finger-tips trying to have a 100 or so seeds per tofu tub.  Lastly we gently sprinkle a thin lay of cover soil over the seeds and lightly mist to settle the seeds. They must be kept moist but not overly wet or the seeds and starts may rot. Lettuce seed germinates best in a cool soil so don't put it on a heat mat or under a lamp to get it to germinate.

Lettuce seedlings in a tofu container. Using a pen to make holes for transplants.
When the seedlings are about 1/2" - 1" (2 cm) high, they are ready for transplanting. We put ours in regular or "jumbo" six-packs. We use a basic, organic potting soil and add our own fertilizer. To each wheelbarrow of soil we add about two cups of all-purpose organic fertilizer and about a half-gallon of sifted rabbit manure . When germinating tiny seeds (such as lettuce), we sift the soil before adding amendments so the seedlings don't have to push past un-composted bits of bark or wood-chips in the soil. For transplanting, we don't bother to sift the soil.

Transplanting seedlings
For the Sharing Gardens, where we might grow 1,000 or more lettuce plants per season, transplanting is done in large batches. Being systematic in the nursery will save you time and materials and you will have much better results. Have labels ready so you keep track of the varieties you are transplanting. Fill a flat of six-packs and mist it with water and soak the seedlings too. Wet soil is less shocking to transplanted roots than dry. Cupping your hand over the whole tofu-tub of seedlings, flip it over and tap the bottom, catching the whole clump of soil and seedlings in your hand. Gently flip it back over and place it on a tray to catch the loose soil as it drops off.

Seedlings "hardening-off".
Using your finger. a stick or some other object, make a generous hole in each of the cells of the six-packs. Pull off a clump of seedlings and, holding them by their leaves, tease apart a single plant with its roots. On a cool, overcast day you can lay a large number of the seedlings alongside their holes before dropping them in and squeezing the soil around them. If the day is hot or the sun is strong, work in smaller batches so the seedlings don't get shocked. It is very important that all the roots go down into the soil and are covered. If they stick out from the surface, this is called 'J-rooting' and  will often kill the plants as they dry out too easily. This is why you want to dig a generously-sized hole so the rootlets don't catch on the sides as you lower them in. after pressing the soil in around each seedling, water them in gently to settle the soil. Label the tray and move onto the next.

Transplanting peas and lettuce
Depending on warmth and sunlight, and the size of the six-packs you use, your lettuce will be ready to plant in the soil in six to ten weeks. If you stagger your plantings it will mean your lettuce doesn't all come ripe at once. Ideally you wait until the root ball has filled the six-pack cell enough to hold the soil as you pop it out, without being totally root-bound (roots coming through the bottom of the six-pack). A week or two before you transplant into your garden, bring the starts outside and begin "hardening them off". Put them where they will get plenty of sun but not too much wind. They will withstand a light frost but if it is going to get very cold, or doesn't warm up in the day, bring them back into the greenhouse till conditions improve. During this hardening-off period, prepare garden beds so they are ready to receive transplants. In our "deep-mulch/minimal till" gardens, we pull a row of mulch over to the adjacent path (with a pitchfork) and, with a trowel dig a small hole just the size of the lettuce's root-ball. This leaves worm holes intact and lettuce seems to thrive without any roto-tilling needed.

Several weeks after transplanting. Picking individual lettuce leaves for salad.
Here in our area, slugs can be a real problem in the spring. Follow this link for ideas on how to re-use milk cartons or soy-milk containers to thwart off their feasting. Re-Purposing Things We don't find that additional fertilizing is necessary for lettuce plants. They receive enough nutrients from the soil. We hold off on mulching them because we want the sun to warm up and dry out the soil and mulch provides habitat for the slugs. Sometimes, after the lettuce is well established and the soil is warmed up, we mulch with a few inches of grass clippings around our plants. Let the clippings dry out for a few days on a tarp or in a bin. Fresh clippings, if piled thickly, can heat up considerably and burn your plants.

Chris Burns with beautiful lettuce harvest! 2011
We plant our lettuce spaced about 6" - 8" (12 - 15 cm) apart. We harvest them intermittently giving the remaining lettuce room to grow. In the early stages, before the heads are fully formed, we harvest one to three leaves off each plant, rather than clipping whole heads. As the heads become full size we harvest by cutting them off at the root with a paring knife, leaving the roots in the ground to feed the worms.

Fall Crops: Give yourself 45 - 60 days (before hard freezing) to grow your fall crops of lettuce. You can assist your lettuce in germinating if you begin the process in a shaded area so the soil isn't too warm. Once seedlings come up, they will need sunlight to grow but do this outside of the greenhouse so they don't get too hot. Heat triggers the plants to "bolt" (go to seed) even when the plants are very young.

Favorite varieties: Everyone who eats out of our gardens seems to prefer green lettuce to red, or at least to have some green to mix in with the red. (This even includes the bugs who seem to devour the green lettuce much more voraciously!) Our recipients also seem to prefer head lettuce to the "leaf" lettuce. We don't know why this is (maybe just habit...) but we take this into consideration when we plant out our gardens. There are hundreds of varieties of lettuce to choose from. The most popular ones we grew this year were:

Buttercrunch
Chartwell's Romaine
Green and Red Iceberg (home-grown Iceberg lettuce is much more nutritious than store-bought).
Four Seasons (a red Romaine-type lettuce)

LINK: How to Save Your Own Lettuce Seed

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

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.


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