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

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Onions - Growing from Seed - Using heat mats and shallow pots

Note: This article explains how to start onion seeds using a heat mat and shallow pots. To read about how to start seeds in deep pots, without heat mats, CLICK HERE).

There are literally hundreds of varieties of onions grown in this world, but unless you grow your own you usually have access to only a handful of varieties from the grocery store.  If you rely on growing onions from ‘sets’, (the little onions, about the size of a large grape) your options are often still quite limited.  Growing from 'sets' has other disadvantages too; often they will produce a significant number of ‘doubles’ (meaning smaller onions at harvest-time) or they bolt and go to seed, which makes them tough and unpalatable.
Here is a guide you can follow that will increase your chances of success at growing onions from seed.

Onions going to seed.
Here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (USDA Zone 7b - Link to finding what zone you are in), we do best to grow what are called ‘long day’ varieties which include Cipollini (chip-o-leenie) both red and yellow varieties, Southport White Globe,  or White and Yellow Sweet Spanish. (Choosing Onions-Long or Short Day?) There are many more varieties to choose from; check your seed catalogs or go online to see a greater selection. (Be aware that, if you wish to save your own seed, you must choose Heirloom/Open Pollinated non-hybrid seeds. Those listed above are all Heirloom varieties.)

You will need:
  • Sifted potting mix
  • Sand (optional)
  • Pots: We used to use rather large pots (4" x 6" deep - 25 seeds per pot) but have shifted to using tofu containers with holes drilled in the bottom (see picture below), or jumbo six-packs. These use less soil for the same amount of seeds.
  • Seeds: start with fresh seeds each year; onion seeds lose viability within one or two years. If you wish to save seed, choose Heirloom/Open Pollinated varieties. Choose a variety appropriate to the length of your summer days.
  • Greenhouse or grow-lights
  • Heat mat (seeds will germinate better with a little bottom heat).
  • Plant-mister  
When to start: About eight-to-ten weeks from the time you wish to transplant them into your garden. Usually we get the seeds started around the middle of February but, if we have extra seed, sometimes we experiment with starting a little earlier (this would only work using a heat mat for bottom heat). By late April the seedlings will be ready to set out into the garden.  They are ready when you can see a clearly defined "bulb", 1/8" to 1/4" pushing above the soil-surface in the pot. At this stage, the sooner they get into the ground the larger your onion bulbs will be at harvest time.  It’s always a good idea to have a bed in mind that you’ve prepared during the previous fall since it’s difficult to prepare beds in the spring if you have a long rainy season like we often experience here in Oregon. The seedlings can handle a touch of frost at this stage but its no fun transplanting them in really muddy garden beds. Some people wait until early or mid-March to start seeds and still have plenty of time for the onions to ripen.
Another option, if you have raised beds in your grow-tunnel/greenhouse, is to transplant the 'starts' there - instead of outside). Onions are easy to use to fill in spaces between larger plants, maximizing your raised-bed use. But they need full sun so don't plant them where they'll get a lot of shade later in the season as other plants mature.
When planning ahead for planting, consider also the practice of companion planting as some plants are more or less compatible with onions (LINK).

Pots: If you will need to wait more than 8-10 weeks, to transplant the seedlings into their permanent growing space, follow this guide for planting in 4"x 6" pots. This way you won't run the risk of the onions becoming root-bound before you transplant them.
In recent years, because we have increased space in the raised beds of our greenhouses, we've shifted to using re-purposed tofu-containers with holes drilled in the bottom - (see picture below - approx. 3"x 5"x 2" deep) (we eat a lot of tofu! - if you're local to us and need some of these containers for seed-starting, let us know!). Jumbo six-packs work too.
Tofu containers for seed-starting. We've used them as 'six-packs' too. Though the roots of the 'starts' grow together, it's easy to tear them apart without damaging them. The tofu containers, 3"x 5"x 2" deep, use less soil than jumbo six-packs so we save on potting mix.

Start with a good organic seed-starting mix.  It doesn’t need to be a premium potting blend, in fact, if you start with too rich of a soil blend you can experience a condition referred to as ‘damping off’ which looks like algae or mold growing on the surface and which causes the young seedlings to rot as they emerge from the soil.  One way to help eliminate this condition is to sprinkle a thin layer of sand over the seeds.  By keeping the soil damp but not too wet and having good ventilation you shouldn’t have this problem. 

Onion seeds can be started in a variety of containers.
Fill the pots with a sifted soil to about 1/2" from the top (tiny seeds find it difficult to germinate in soil with large chunks of material). Level out the soil, tamping it down with the bottom of another pot to create a level surface so that all of the seeds will be sewn at the same depth (otherwise they germinate unevenly). Label each pot with the name of the variety and the date you started them. 

Seeds: You may want to actually count out the seeds the first time so that you can have an idea of what 25 - 35 seeds looks like because that is about how many would be optimal to sew in the tofu-containers or six-packs.  You can adjust up or down depending on the size container you choose.  The idea is to not have an overcrowded condition that would produce weak and unhealthy seedlings.  Place the seeds in the palm of your hand and pinch out a few at a time. Gently drop them on the surface of the soil, distributing them as evenly as you can without becoming too concerned about accuracy.  It’s OK if some seeds are touching each other. Sprinkle a sifted layer of starting mix or sand over the seeds at a depth of about an eighth to a quarter inch.  Tamp it down again and water gently (a planter mister works great at this stage). 

Watering:  Keep the soil moist using either a small spray bottle or water them from below by putting water in trays and setting pots in them (light watering minimizes 'damping off' too). Tiny seeds, until established can be washed away with more aggressive watering techniques. Do not over-water! Soil should be damp but seedlings should never be in standing water. 
Heat mat: A heat mat is helpful for germinating seeds if you are doing so in an unheated greenhouse and nights still are getting cold. Heat mats can cause soil to dry out more quickly than ambient air so cover the seedlings with something to keep warmth and moisture contained.
Then it’s time to be patient, and let Nature do her work.

The seeds will not require sunlight until they have emerged from the soil, usually about two weeks from the time they are sewn, so you can keep them indoors where they will not freeze, on a window sill or in a greenhouse if you have one. Once the greens are up, they will require full sun. If you don't have grow-lights or a greenhouse, be sure to bring them inside at night if it looks like you may have freezing temps.
You will know it is time to transplant when the greens are stout and well-established and you can see a tiny bulb pushing up from the surface of the soil.

Teasing onion-roots apart before trimming.
Transplanting: Each pot of seedlings must be teased apart. You will need to trim back both the tops and the roots before trying to stick these tiny seedlings into the ground. You trim the roots so they're easier to slip into the holes and you trim the tops so that the pruned roots can support the greens above. Don't be too aggressive with your pruning however or it can shock the plants and make it hard to recover.

First, dump the whole pot into the palm of your hand.  Next, separate the clump into several sections (maybe 10-12 seedlings in each clump).  Hold one clump by its 'greens' and gently tap the root ball until most of the soil has fallen away.  Tease the seedlings apart and lay them back in your hand so that the small bulbs are in a line (see picture below). Using a scissors or hand pruner, cut away the tips of the roots, so they'll easily slip into the soil.  Trim the tops to about the same length as the roots. Now set the clump into another shallow container with a little water in the bottom to keep them from drying out while you prepare the rest for transplanting.  Prepare only as many as you are able to transplant in one session. If you end up with extras, surround their roots with some moist soil and keep them in the shade until you have time to get them in the ground.

Trim roots and greens to same length.
If you are going to plant them in rows, open up small holes about 4-5 inches apart. When we plant our onions this way, our beds are 2'-3' wide, with several rows in each bed. 
In recent years we have planted rows on the south edges of the raised beds in our greenhouses and in and amongst other crops that won't shade the onions later in the season (for example, on the south side of tomatoes or peppers), or we plant them among crops that will be harvested before the onions are mature, leaving the onions in full sun (like among lettuce plants).

Make holes: To make the holes you can fashion a planting stick called a ‘dibble’ from a smooth branch or a ¾ in dowel with a point or, just use a ‘Sharpie pen’, or even your finger to make the hole.  Be systematic: make  5-10 holes and then go back and drop a single onion in each hole.  Gently press the roots into the hole and pinch the soil around each one, making sure the part that was under the soil in the pot is covered when you transplant, leaving only the green top and a tiny bit of the bulb showing.  Be sure that all the roots go in the hole and don't "J-root": with bits of the roots poking out from the soil; this will dry out the plant and force it to use extra energy in turning its roots back down into the soil. You’ll get the hang of it after a few tries and be able to transplant hundreds in no time at all!

Onions in a wide bed.
Now the focus becomes keeping the bed weed-free and well watered.  Mulching between the onions with fresh grass-clippings keeps moisture in the soil and fertilizes the plants each time you water through the clippings. Just don't bury the seedlings! Once the plants have become established and the warmer, sunny weather settles in you’ll be amazed at how fast everything grows.  Feel free to thin out your onions when they are immature and be sure to use the whole thing, greens and all. 

If you have planted non-hybrid seeds, hold back a few onions to replant next spring to save seed. Onions are biennial meaning they don't produce seed till their second year. By collecting your own seeds you can begin the process all over again, and saving seeds, dear friends, is one big step toward greater food security!

Link to another post we wrote about onion-growing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Starting Seedlings in Greenhouse Raised Beds

 Last year we experimented with starting seedlings, to be transplanted to other beds, right in our greenhouse raised beds. This worked quite well for several crops including: lettuce, broccoli, kale, collards, onions and cabbage. The are all plants that transplant easily and will germinate in relatively cool soil. These seedlings were started in rows with seeds planted every 1/2" or so.

Chris starting seeds directly in greenhouse raised beds.

The advantage of this, over starting seeds in tofu-containers (LINK) and "potting them up" to larger six-packs or pots is that it's easier to keep the seedlings uniformly watered and their roots are less likely to get overcrowded. The disadvantage is that, without a bottom-source of heat (electric mats), heat-loving plants like peppers or tomatoes may not germinate in the cooler soil. So, we'll still use heat mats for them.

Seedling starts in tofu containers. We drill holes in the bottom for drainage. This is the way we used to start all our seedlings.
With our new method, as long as the soil is warm enough, we save time and effort and the roots of the seedlings have much more room to grow than if they were in tofu containers.

Once the seedlings germinated, and grew large enough, we carefully transplanted them into larger pots, or directly into another greenhouse-raised bed.

Lettuce plants started in greenhouse raised beds and transplanted to another raised bed to grow to maturity,

Over the years, our raised bed soil has become a perfect medium for seed-starting. We can use it to fill pots and transplant starts into those pots to grow them out for later transplanting outside

Our beautiful soil. Every year we supplement it with compost created in the paths between the raised beds, a sprinkling of wood-ash and coffee grounds and, in recent years we've added perlite too to aid in water retention.

Beautiful, healthy broccoli plants, started from seed in raised beds and transplanted into pots using soil from our raised beds.

This year, we are taking this experiment one step further. Chris decided to see if he could germinate some of the same kinds of seedlings, using this same method but in mid-January. (This is about a month earlier than what's suggested in our local planting guides!) So far, things are looking good.

Chris planting seeds on January 13, 2023. He planted: three kinds of lettuce, bunching onions, Sweet Spanish, Burgundy Red and Cippolini onions, Toscana kale, chard and arugula.

Because we're regularly getting nighttime temperatures in the low 30'S F and high, daytime temps have been in the 40's to 50's, Chris experimented by putting black plastic bags over the seedlings for several days before they emerged above ground. This raises the soil's temperature whenever the sun is out, and holds the heat in at night. Seeds need a minimum temperature to sprout but don't need light until their first leaves emerge from the ground.

Arugula seedlings (from seed we saved ourselves!) emerged after just five days. Chris checked the seedlings daily and, as soon as the first leaves began to show he removed the black plastic. The lettuce-seedlings emerged just a few days later.  (As of January 25, everything has germinated except the onions and the chard. Either the soil isn't warm enough or the seed isn't viable. We shall try and plant them again and either wait till the soil is warmer, or use heat mats for bottom heat.)

Once up, the seedlings need light but also appreciate protection from cold nights. Here we've covered them with re-purposed plastic lids found at the recycling center!

So far, our early-planting experiment seems to be working well. It's always a gamble getting seeds started this early but, since we have plenty of seed, if even a fraction of the plants grow to maturity, it will be worth it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Why We Grow and Eat "Organic" Food

Organics - Better for Health!
Here we are at the New Year 2023; time to commit to new Resolutions. If you've been wanting to increase the amount of
organically grown foods in your diet this article is for you! Here are many reasons including the beneficial effects on the environment, the people who grow and harvest our food, the animals raised to provide food and your own health. Thank you for taking this important step in your life.

Chris and I eat almost exclusively organically grown foods when we're at home. At 73 and 60 years old respectively(Feb. 2023), we are both very healthy. We take no prescription medications and, in fact had a bottle of aspirin pass it's expiration date in our medicine cabinet once because we were too slow in using it for occasional muscle soreness or headaches! We each have had three colds in the last 16 years but no other illnesses that caused us to be bed-ridden for even a day. Our food is our medicine (along with other healthy lifestyle habits including meditation, stretching and exercise practices and a generous lifestyle geared towards service) and we feel strongly that a societal shift towards an organic, whole foods, plant-based diet would have significant positive effects both on people's personal health and the health of the natural environment as well.
Image credit: Maria-Marlowe
We are at an advantage over most people as our large gardens provide a high percentage of the foods we eat but for many years we have made it a priority to let our food-budget reflect our values and we only buy groceries that are organically grown. The only times we don't eat organic are when we eat out at restaurants or are visiting friends, which amounts to two or three times per month.

This post offers an overview of what we feel to be the most important reasons to shift to an organic diet. For those readers who have the financial means to make this shift entirely, we encourage you to jump into an organic life-style whole-heartedly. We also encourage you to cultivate relationships with local farmers through shopping at farmer's markets and co-ops that feature local, organic foods or joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). See also: Seven Tips for Shopping at a Farmer's Market

We realize that, for many people who are living close to the edge financially, that committing to buying all your groceries organically-grown may be impossible at this time. If that is the case, consider making smaller incremental changes such as committing to only buying organically and humanely produced animal products (where farm chemicals become most concentrated) or only buying organic "treat foods" (whatever that means for you). Their higher prices may encourage you to eat less of these items which will be better for your own health and  for the health of the planet.

Another option to increase your intake of organic garden-produce is to start your own garden, or start or join a community-garden. LINK: So, you want to start a Sharing Garden.

We like to remind ourselves as we adopt new lifestyle choices that "it's a direction, not perfection." Be gentle on yourself as you make new changes and, if sometimes you decide to eat something on your "no-no list", do it consciously, do it with joy and then re-commit to following your chosen dietary guidelines once again. Happy eating!

Image credit: Enki quotes.com
So, here are some of the top reasons we feel it is important to eat organically grown foods.

Healthier for you: Ingesting farm chemical residues isn't good for your health. Many of these chemicals can build up in one's tissues over time so, even though we may only eat small amounts with each meal, their accumulated amounts can be significant over a life-time. Also, children tend to be more susceptible to environmental toxins as they are building new tissues at a faster rate than adults.  LINK-Pesticide Action Network
Any farmer who grows "organically" may not use herbicides, pesticides or fungicides - unless they have been approved by the organic-certification agencies.
Slow-grown food is more nutrient-dense.
More nutrient dense? The truth is, most organic-farmers struggle under the same competitive conditions as farmers who grow using conventional practices. This means, they need to invest the least amount of money in fertilizers and other soil amendments, and grow their produce as fast as possible, to get it to market ahead of their competitors to make the most profit. These practices lead to more "water-weight" and less nutrient-dense foods. This means that the vitamin/mineral content may not vary much between organic and conventional farmers.  On the other hand, some studies suggest that, on average, organically-grown produce is consistently more nutrient-dense and lower in pesticides and heavy metals. Nutrient Levels in Organic vs. Conventional Foods

This is why it is important to know your farmer so you can confirm that their food is slow-grown and that the farmers are replacing the minerals that get depleted in their soil from harvesting crops.
Adding compost-tea to our gardens is one way we replace many of the nutrients that are depleted through harvesting.
GMO versus organically-grown:  There is still debate about whether foods produced from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) are a health risk to humans. We are strongly opposed to them because of the compelling research pointing to the possibility that eating GM plants, or livestock raised on GMO feed can lead to leaky-gut syndrome and a whole slew of health problems including severe food-allergies, learning disabilities and autism-spectrum disorders in children. Autism and GMO's LINK Institute for Responsible Technology-a GMO watchdog group. Genetically Modified plants and animals have the potential of interbreeding with plants and animals that were not genetically modified, with unforeseen consequences. Some GM plants (corn and soy) are specifically bred to be resistant to Round-up and other herbicides meaning large amounts of these chemicals can be used to grow them. This leads to well-documented cases of super-weeds that have become resistant to herbicides and require ever stronger chemicals to keep them in check. LINK: The Dangers of Round-up Ready Foods, LINK-GMO Health Risks  Also, GM corn and soy are used extensively in livestock-feed so you can imagine how these farm-chemicals concentrate in their tissues.
We feel strongly that it is important to avoid eating any genetically modified plants. We feel it is especially important to avoid eating animal-products (meat, dairy, eggs) from animals fed on GM feed.
Sharing Gardens - 2019
But what about just eating non-GM foods? Well yes, this is a step in the right direction but just because something is non-GMO does not mean that it's grown without farm chemicals. Industrialized farming uses plenty of chemicals in growing the food. Did you know that it is also a legal practice for farmers to use Round-up as a desiccant (which causes withering and drying in plant tissues) to artificially dry crops if conditions are too wet for the crops to fully ripen in the field? LINK-Wikipedia, LINK-EcoWatch.
By definition, organic farmers are not allowed to grow Genetically Modified crops, or feed them to their livestock.
Better for the environment. Anyone following the news knows that our environment is under attack from all sides. Industrial farming is one of the biggest culprits.

Pollinators are under siege from the practices of growing "mono-crops" (all one variety) for thousands of acres, offering no variety in their diet of pollen, and many farm-chemicals are damaging to their health as well. LINK - Why growing sunflowers is great for bees.

Honey-bee on tansy. We let some weeds flower in our garden intentionally as they provide important pollen-food for beneficial insects. Here's some good news: Grassroots bee petition in Bavaria forces greener farming practices: 
Soil health: Industrial farming - through over-tilling and depleting soil of organic matter makes soils void of all life and destroys the structure of the soil itself which no amount of added fertilizers and chemicals can restore.
Healthy soil means healthy soil-organisms. Eight-year old, Ricardo holds an earthworm found in our gardens.
Industrial farming is a major source of water-pollution. Industrial farming has negative effects on the world's water for many reasons. Here are a few: Heavy Metals build-up; Algae Blooms, Dead-zones and Acidification; Nitrates; Pathogens and Over-use of water reducing water-levels in our aquifers. (LINK-How Industrial Agriculture Effects Our Water)

Many bird species have a hard time finding enough insects to feed their young. Farm chemicals tend to concentrate in the tissues of animals, the higher-up you go in the food chain as Rachel Carson so famously proved in her landmark book from the 1960's titled Silent Spring.

Thorin, Eliza and Adri harvest cabbage, 2018.
Be aware too, that this principle of chemicals concentrating in tissues applies to foods raised for human consumption too. The accumulation of these chemicals in our own bodies will therefore be less with a plant-based diet. The more meat, dairy and eggs one eats, that are not organically-raised, the higher concentrations people have in their bodies of these chemicals. Bear in mind too that the quality of life for livestock animals grown organically is more humane as well.
Organic farming practices keep our air, water and soil healthier and can even contribute to the increase of viable habitat for wild plant and animal species.
Organic farming is better for the farmers and farm-workers who grow our food. Sharing Gardens volunteers digging potatoes 2018.
Healthier for the farmers and farm-workers: When we use our purchasing power to make a statement about our values, we are directly contributing to healthier lifestyles for everyone involved in the food-growing community. LINK - Agricultural Chemicals and Human Health
In this complex world of competing dietary studies which often offer contradictory results it can be difficult to know who to trust and which dietary practices will be best for your health and the health of the environment on which every living things depends.

If you have been feeling on the fence about whether to make the commitment to eating more organically-grown foods, we hope this post has helped you make that shift. Just remember that wise saying, "You can either pay your farmer now, or pay your doctor later." We think this is good advice.

Get to know your farmers! Chris and Llyn in the Sharing Gardens, your friendly, neighborhood "farm-acists".

Bella loves kale!
Other relevant LINKS:

Organic diet intervention significantly reduces urinary pesticide levels in U.S. children and adults - Science Direct 

What the pesticides in our urine tell us about organic food - The Guardian

The States in America That Use the Most (and Least) Glyphosate - Zero Hedge

What's in standard 'fast food'?

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Kale joins the "Dirty-Dozen' list: and How to Grow Your Own Kale

Kale - a generous plant!
Every year, the Environmental Working Group publishes the findings of their analysis of concentrations of farm-chemicals in popular produce. This CNN article goes into more detail about this year's study. Unfortunately, kale and collards - two of the most nutrient-dense foods available, have made it onto the list again.
Below is a  a re-post of an article we published back in 2019 with other useful links on the topic of farm chemicals in food and some tips on growing your own garden-greens. If you're local and have some garden-space to add some kale, chard or collards, let us know soon so we can start some "starts" for you.

The re-post:
In recent weeks (April 2019) we've seen several headlines announcing that kale has made it onto the "Dirty Dozen" list for the first time in ten years.  The "Dirty Dozen" list is compiled each year by testing thousands of samples of fruits and vegetables from different sources to see which have highest concentrations of herbicides and pesticides LINK. And the farm chemicals are not just showing up on the vegetables themselves, studies have shown that, people being tested have increasingly been found to have these chemicals show up in fluid samples such as blood and urine (see links below). 
It is unfortunate that kale has returned to the "Dirty Dozen" list as, in the past few years, it has shown a surge in popularity. Its recent following is not surprising as it tastes similar to broccoli and it is at the top of another list - The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), that rates foods by their nutrient density. Kale (and collards) have the densest concentration of nutrients, per calorie, of a wide range of foods tested. (PDF of 72 tested foods) (explanation of chart). On the positive side of things, people who have switched to an all-organic diet have been able to reduce these chemical residues by as much as 90% in as little as two weeks (see links below).

Kale is the most nutrient-dense plant tested! (PDF of 72 tested foods)(explanation of chart)
So, if you'd like to incorporate more organically grown kale into your diet  and you're on a budget (we've noticed that prices for organic kale have really risen in the past few years...) perhaps you'd like to try and grow your own!

Kale is very easy to grow! Here's our POST on growing kale.
Grow your own kale: Kale is super-easy to grow and 2-4 plants will easily keep a family fed over the course of the summer. If your climate isn't too harsh you can grow a second crop that will produce food through the fall and winter too (though at a much slower rate). Here's our POST on growing kale.
Home grown veggies, freshest and best!

How we grow our food at the Sharing Gardens: Because we are not a commercial farm, all our labor is provided by volunteers and we are under no pressure to produce food on a forced timeline to get it to market ahead of the other farmers in our area, our food is slow-grown, with less water-weight and hence more nutrient-dense. We fertilize primarily with compost derived from leaves, grass, weeds and food scraps, wood-ash from our wood-burning stove and with worm castings we harvest from the paths of our greenhouses LINK. We do not use commercial fertilizers. The wood-ash and the composted tree-leaves both provide re-mineralization of our soils because the tree-roots pull up minerals from deep within the soil. Without forcing our plants to grow fast with high-nitrogen fertilizers, or animal manures, they are more resistant to diseases and insect infestations that are caused, in part, by the thinner cell-walls of plants forced to grow unnaturally quickly.
Sign posted at the Food Pantry to encourage more kale-eating.
Related links:

"Squashes and grains and beans, oh my!"...

...a shifting focus on what foods we grow...

Over the last few years, we've noticed that our donations of fresh vegetables have been less needed by the food charities we serve (see: News from the Gardens Jan. 2023).

While we celebrate the abundance of produce being provided to our food-insecure neighbors through other channels, it has caused us at the Sharing Gardens to make some shifts in which crops we wish to emphasize and how best to use our garden space and the volunteer help provided by our share-givers.

In addition to the staple annual crops (tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage etc) that were shared amongst the share-givers (volunteers), in 2021 and 2022, we began dedicating a higher percentage of our garden space to corn, sorghum, beans and winter storage squash.

Sandra harvests sweet, yellow Bantam corn which we dry and use for cereal and baking.

Rook harvests Ba Ye Ki sorghum, a fast growing variety. Not as sweet as Kassaby but is better for shorter growing seasons (we had a cool, wet spring). (Cindy harvests broccoli on the right. The yellow flowers are broccoli purposely going to seed which we saved to replant and share with other gardeners.)

Rook and Chris with sorghum harvest.

Giant Greek white runner beans (on left tipi) in front of our largest greenhouse, the Sunship. (Scarlet Runner beans and this white variety easily cross).

We always grow a long wall of runner beans inside the Sunship too. Here they are at the end of the season, turning brown (best to harvest them as dry as possible for better ripeness and storage. (Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans)

Jewells and Jenny harvesting runner beans.

The grain and bean crops are all hand-processed with the help of our share-givers. Shelling the beans, husking and shucking the corn and removing the sorghum seeds from their stalks are all coveted tasks in the autumn as share-givers sit around in the shade of our garden-shed-awning or, on cooler days, circle the cozy wood-stove in our Sunship greenhouse. These hand-tasks can be very relaxing and satisfying and even fun to do as a group and yet would be daunting and time-consuming for a solo farmer or farm-family.

Chris and Donn, shelling runner beans

We grow kidney beans as a bush-variety. Once ripe, these are cut off at ground level, leaving the roots in the ground (less mess and the worms like the dead roots) and laid on a tarp to dry.

Chris and Jim threshing kidney beans on a tarp. After the beans are good and dry, we thresh them with wooden broom sticks or other tool-handles.  This shatters most of the pods and the beans fall out onto the tarp. Some beans must still be shelled by hand and then they're winnowed in the wind.

We grind the dried grains in our Diamant grain mill which Chris hooked up to a re-purposed electric motor. We then mix the grains together to make a delicious and nutritious hot cereal, or use them in a baking mix for corn cake (LINK - Crumb-Free, Whole-Grain Cornbread Recipe ). The Hooker's blue corn we grow has been found to have 30% more protein than regular corn (LINK - Grow Your Own 'Blue Corn' ) and is sweet and hearty!

Blue Hooker's corn, dried, husked and shucked. Ready for grinding.

Our motorized grain mill.

Bantam, blue corn, sorghum and polenta in our pantry. All grown at the Sharing Gardens!

35 pounds of scarlet runner beans in 2022!

We continue to expand the amount of land we dedicate to winter squash too. Our winter squash harvest was excellent this year. We grew Delicatas and Sweet Meats (both delicious, moist varieties). We had enough to share with our share-givers to get them through the winter, with plenty of surplus for the S. Benton Food Pantry and the Stone Soup Kitchen.

Just a fraction of this year's Delicata and Sweetmeat squash harvest. Yum!

So, the gardens are morphing from their original emphasis on providing food for food charities to a model which provides a significant amount of food to those who are helping to actually grow it. While at first we were concerned by this shift, we now see it as a natural progression and are happy that the food charities are so well stocked during the summer months of peak garden production and that the share-givers are SO appreciative of receiving the Garden's highest quality produce. This new trend frees the Sharing Gardens to continue to demonstrate a model that builds community using local resources for fertility while encouraging mutual generosity. (For info on other community-supporting projects we've already implemented, or intend to cultivate in the future, see: A Wintery Summary).

We'll always have room for the brassicas: Donn and Chris prep beds for cabbage , collards and broccoli.