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

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

How we grow...Veganic Community-based gardening

The Sharing Gardens is based on the concept of mutual generosity; building relationships through the sharing of time and resources. One of the ways we demonstrate this is through our process of building fertility in our soils.

Since 2020 we have grown all our food "veganically" and without the use of commercial fertilizers. This means we use no livestock manures (cow, chicken, sheep etc) and no animal by-products (blood or bone meal etc) or any products mined or shipped from distant lands (gypsum, bat guano etc.). Being vegetarian, and committed to deriving our food from local sources whenever possible, this way of growing food just makes sense to us!

Most of our garden's fertility comes from leaves...
Our system is simple: the majority of our soil's fertility comes from leaves and grass which we compost in large wooden bins or in the paths of our greenhouses

...and grass clippings.

The challenge is in gathering enough materials. Here's where the mutual generosity comes in! We provide a drop-off site for our neighbors and yard-maintenance companies to bring their leaves and grass. This means they don't have to pay to have these valuable materials hauled away in trash cans, or deposited at the closest municipal-scale composting site (25 miles away). We receive these materials in abundance and are able to extensively mulch and compost our garden beds, create our own potting mix and have enough compost to share with the volunteers in our gardens who have small gardens of their own.
Besides composting yard waste in large wooden bins, we spread it in layers in the paths of our greenhouses which turns to compost beneath our feet. Donn: spreading grass clippings in the SunShip greenhouse.

Compost is scooped up from the paths in the autumn, sifted and bagged for use throughout the coming season.
Craig, sifting compost.
When people drop off their yard waste in plastic lawn/leaf bags
, we hang them to dry on clotheslines in our greenhouses. Once dry, we roll them into bunches of 5-6 bags, twist-tie them together and put them in a covered barrel at the drop-off site for our neighbors to take for free and use for future loads. This helps reduce our community's use of plastic.

Llyn, folding leaf bags for re-use.

We place a sandwich-board sign out on the street, inviting neighbors to bring us their  leaves and grass. Touching up the paint is a winter task...

Barrel on the left holds free bags that have been dried and rolled in bundles for people to re-use. We ask people to leave the bags untied and to turn them upside-down to prevent rain from getting in.

To read a detailed post about our veganic soil-making methods, CLICK HERE.

A small percentage of our soil  fertility also comes from coffee grounds collected from coffee shops by friends of the Gardens and wood ash (left), a by-product of how we heat our home. Here is a LINK explaining the benefits of these free resources.

We're so very grateful to all our neighbors who have participated in this program this year.


Sunday, December 24, 2023

Coffee Grounds and Wood Ash for Soil Fertility

Coffee grounds collected from coffee-shops.
Since we began weening ourselves off the use of animal manures as a source of soil fertility, we have turned increasingly to leaves, grass-clippings, wood-ash and coffee grounds as a replacement. Here is a summary of our "Deep Mulch Method" in which we cover the topic of leaves and grass and other organic materials in our gardens.

Regarding coffee:

Coffee grounds provide generous amounts of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper. They also release nitrogen into the soil as they degrade. When we have it, we spread it about 1/4" thick on beds before we plant. We also layer it into our compost piles. Here's an informative article about using coffee grounds in the garden: The Ground to Ground Primer – Coffee Grounds for the Garden

For some reason, worms love coffee grounds! By sprinkling grounds in your garden beds, you will attract worms to come into your soil and, since coffee grounds also contain many nutrients on their own, we also recommend adding them to your greenhouse paths and compost bins. They will attract worms and speed up the process of decomposition.
We sift both our coffee grounds and wood-ashes. Here are students from Oregon State Univ. performing "service-learning" by sifting coffee grounds.

...and Wood Ash:

Wood Ashes provide all necessary nutrients for plant growth except nitrogen and sulfur.  We use ashes from our wood-stove (that heats our house). We use only newspaper to start the fires and burn pure wood. We don't burn anything with paint; no ply-wood or other man-made products so the chemicals in them don't get into our food-chain. We sift the ashes to remove any big chunks, and use a heavy-duty magnet to remove any screws or nails.  

Be very careful not to use too much! We put just the lightest dusting in our beds. Do not use wood-ash to make a potting soil. It is caustic to worms and will alkalize your soil so use only a little, and wait 7-10 days before planting seeds or seedlings. Do not use around acid-loving plants (like blueberries, or in potato-beds). Here's an article from SFGate's garden-site: About Enriching Soil With Ash, and here are 12 Uses for Fireplace Ashes That Are Suitable for Your Home (beyond its use in the garden).
Heating with wood has many benefits. Here's a wood-stove in one of our greenhouses we made from a barrel-kit.
Here's Caleb - our youngest coffee-spreader!

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Gallery of Givers: Highlights from the 2023 Season

This has been a wonderful year at the Sharing Gardens; much bounty, new friendships. Our experiments with Local, Plant-sourced Fertility (LINK: How we grow...Veganic Community-based gardening) continue to yield massive quantities of highest quality soil/compost. Both our seed collection and our wildlife habitat grows with each year. Our lives, (me and Chris) are centered on this land, this project, this lifestyle. We are so fortunate to be able to to give all our focus to our life here at the Sharing Gardens.

And yet, we couldn't have done it without the dedicated help of our wonderful share-givers. Here is a gallery of some of the year's highlights. (That's Joey - above, sifting compost scooped out of our greenhouse paths. Joey joined our crew this summer. He's been such an amazing contribution to the program. He's strong and generous of spirit and always willing to do whatever needs to get done.)

Share-givers typically come once a week for about three hours but we had two gung-ho helpers who managed to come twice a week for much of the summer, Joey and Maddie. Here they are harvesting elephant garlic in June. (Maddie had to go back to school this fall. We miss you Maddie, but we hope you'll come play in the Gardens again next summer and bring some of your young, strong, healthy friends!)

Sometimes we work in small groups:

Chris, Joey and Jim digging potatoes.

Another group potato-dig. This was our best year yet. We harvested just over 400 pounds!

Joey and Donn sift the compost we scoop out of our greenhouse paths. Chris here is bagging it in repurposed bags from pellet-stove fuel. In 2023, we estimate that we harvested about 200 bags of this 'black gold"! This becomes the foundation of our potting mix (which we haven't bought in several years) and is alsso used as a soil amendment in all our garden beds.

Suzanne, Darlene and Chris sifting compost. It's full of worm eggs which then hatch over the course of the winter while still in the bags, or in the garden beds next spring.

Venecia and Michael from OSU's Service Learning program, help Chris gather apples in the midst of a downpour. The light was incredible that day; golden-peachy, coming through the clouds, rain in showers and everything washed clean and bright - including the air. It was a great fruit year this past summer! This is the first year these trees, planted in 2013, yielded significant fruit. And boy did they!

In these next two pics, OSU students from a Sustainability class performed service learning at the Sharing Gardens and received college credit for their efforts.

One of the tasks they performed was to load leaves onto tarps and distribute them in the beds we eventually grew winter squash in. We are especially grateful to the Dillards and Crosby's - two neighborhood households who donate the vast majority of their leaves to our project. They bring them by the trailer-load!
Sometimes it's great just to be in pairs...

Darlene and Sandra - fun in the potato patch!

Suzanne and Darlene cutting up apples for applesauce. Our fruit trees were amazingly productive (as were most trees in the southern Willamette valley of western Oregon where we live.). We canned 49 quarts of applesauce. Lots for us and lots to share!

More autumn tasks...Jim is teasing the sorghum seed-heads off their stalks (Grow Your Own Sorghum for Grain and Flour). Chris is shelling dried beans (we grew over 50 pounds of dried beans in 2023!) Chris and I held back this year's harvest for our own use and distributed all that was left over from last year amongst our sharegivers. (Grow Your Own Protein: Scarlet Runner beans).

Snacking in the celery patch! Chris and Donn with a big harvest on its way to the food pantry.

And here are a few wonderful solo pics:

Here I am, Llyn, with a bouquet of broccoli comprised of three heads bunched together. Our spring broccoli didn't perform very well but this fall crop grew with great vigor and vitality! There's just no comparison between store-bought and home-grown, fresh broccoli. So sweet and tender!

Jim loves to mow - and we are SO grateful!

Cindy, with her many years experience, is a fast and thorough harvester. Here she is with most of our white onion harvest.

Suzanne, threshing sorghum.

Rook has been a champion sorghum harvester. Here he is with a variety called Ba Ye Qi which has a short season so it works well in northern climates. He's dealing with some severe health problems this year so missed much of the summer/fall season. We're holding him in our thoughts and prayers that he'll be able to rejoin us in the spring.

Llyn with part of a day's harvest in the autumn. It's often difficult to find room on all the tables and benches to put everything! Food is distributed first to our sharegivers (including other supporters of the garden such as our neighbors' landscaper, Chuy who brings over all their surplus grass-clippings and leaves) and the copious surplus is donated to food charities.
...and our beloved Cindy who, like the best Grandma, bakes cookies and pies to share with us at snack time in the Gardens (and sometimes she'll make something just for me and Chris!).

We always love having family and past participants come join us for garden fun...

Llyn's uncle Craig always jumps right in to help whenever he comes to visit. Here he is sifting compost.

We had wonderful visits from Cindy's (left) granddaughter Adri (middle) this summer. Adri's 12 now and has been coming to the gardens since a few months after she was born. She's moved to Tennessee now but on her visit she was a great help in the Gardens. That's Judy on the right; Llyn's Mom. We can't thank her enough for her profound support over the years. Our "greatest fan"! And super-helpful too! In this picture we were telling childhood stories at snack time and having a great laugh!

Here's another one of Judy/Mom teasing baby lettuce plants apart for transplanting into the beds. Thanks for everything, Mom!

And finally...We always try to make time for snacking in the Garden! Here's Chris and Joey enjoying our delicious home-grown apples. (Joey moved to Portland at the end of the season...We miss you Joey!).

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Full Circle Generosity - some examples...

The Sharing Gardens is a unique kind of community garden: Instead of many separate plots that are rented by individuals, the garden is one large plot, shared by all. All materials and labor are donated. Share-givers (volunteers) typically come one to two times per week (at scheduled times) to help in all aspects of farming from planting, through harvest and seed-saving. The food we grow is shared amongst those who have contributed in some way as well as with others who are in need in our community through food pantries and other charities. (Overview and Benefits of the Sharing Gardens) 

The Gardens operate on the principle of mutual- or full-circle generosity, finding ways to help each other in the community in which we live. 

Here are two actual examples of how this works:

The Garden's fertility comes primarily from leaves, grass, wood ash (we heat entirely with wood and save the leftover charcoal and ashes) and composted fruits and veg from our own table scraps and the food pantry which shares our parking lot. This was the fourth season that we grew our crops without use of commercial fertilizers, store-bought amendments, livestock manures or any animal by-products; in other words: veganically. (LINK-Introduction to veganics). We've written extensively about our veganic methods in previous posts. Here's a LINK to Locally Sustainable Gardening in the Face of Supply-Chain Shortages.

Much of the Garden's fertility comes from yard waste and food scraps from our own kitchen and produce "past its prime" from the food pantry that shares our parking lot. Worms absolutely love apples and other sweet fruits. The pile above was layered with the 'scraps' alternating with leaves and compost that wasn't fully finished. We mounded it up over 3-feet high and covered it with a tarp. it will be finished and ready for use by early spring.
Full-circle Farming: It is said that "for every calorie that leaves a farm, at least a calorie must replace it". This means that if the Sharing Gardens were to continue to give away as much produce as we do, and do nothing to replace the organic matter/bio-mass that this represents, that our soil would not only diminish in terms of fertility and minerals but each year we would actually have physically less soil. We have addressed this challenge by creating a drop-off site for neighbors to bring us their grass-clippings and leaves that would just be a waste-product if they had to keep it on their own land. (We have no yard-waste pick-up in our small town and residents are not allowed to burn yard-waste during summer months due to fire danger). So, by providing this drop-off site, it keeps these precious materials from going into the land-fill or polluting the air.

Here is the donation drop-off site for leaves and grass in front of the Sharing Gardens. The trash can is full of plastic bags we've dried, rolled into bunches of 5-6 and make available for free re-use.

We are especially grateful to our neighbors, the Dillards who send us their substantial surplus of leaves and grass-clippings (their home sits on 3-acres). Here's the corner of the Sharing Gardens that shares their fence line.

We have another 'neighbor' (up the road) who also donates massive amounts of leaves each fall. Here's David (left) and one of his helpers donating a load of leaves with his dump-trailer.

The leaves and grass-clippings are donated. This keeps them out of burn-piles or landfills. It contributes to garden fertility. We grow vegetables and give them to those who have contributed in some way and donate the surplus to food charities. Full Circle! (left; Llyn, assembling the harvest for distribution to our share-givers/volunteers and food pantries.)

Firewood and wood ash: We heat our home entirely with wood (left). As we mentioned before, wood ash is another source of garden fertility (LINK: Coffee Grounds and Wood Ash for Soil Fertility). Though this year we purchased the majority of our firewood, we also received a large donation of seasoned madrone tree 'rounds'. Madrone trees produce a super-dense hardwood that burns slow and hot. Our friend Steve Rose calls it "the closest plant-source to burning coal"! The madrone was donated by the warehouse manager of Local Aid - a food pantry that receives a majority of our donations (though the wood came from her personally, not the pantry). Our dear friend and long-term garden volunteer Donn Dussell brought his wood-splitter and helped us split the wood. We kept half, and donated the other half to a family in-need.

We receive donations of firewood. Donn donates the use of his splitter and his time splitting the wood. We burn the wood (and share some with a family in-need). The ashes create fertility in the Gardens. We have surplus veggies to share in the community. Full Circle!

Our dear friend Donn. He comes weekly to help in the Gardens and also finds so many other ways to contribute as well. A true gem!

Friday, November 17, 2023

Dried Tomato Pesto - Recipe

Last year we had a fantastic abundance of a type of tomato called "Ropreco". It's a rather small fruit that's acorn-shaped. It's the perfect variety for making dried tomatoes. Here's a delicious recipe if you have that "high-quality problem" of too many dried tomatoes!
Dried Tomato Pesto
2 cups dried tomatoes
1 cup coursely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup dried basil (or a few tablespoons basil pesto)
4 cloves garlic -chopped
2 Tablespoons balsamic or other good vinegar

Puree all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Add a little water if it seems too sticky, but it should remain thick enough to spread on a slice of bread.

This and other delicious recipes are available here: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver