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

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Growing Abundance! Sharing Gardens update - June 2023

Hello Folks - Well, we've got everything planted except some of the flowers. The veggies, grains and beans always take precedence since they'll be feeding us and the circles of people our garden supports but the flowers won't be far behind. Their beauty sustains our spirits (one cannot live by broccoli alone!) and we wouldn't want to neglect the wildlife that the flowers support either. Our spring-time harvests are coming on strong...lettuce, beets, carrots, green onions, celery, and more!
After a cool, wet La Nina winter and early spring, temperatures suddenly soared into the 90's F. Records were broken in many sites in the Pacific NW where we live. After that, our weather mellowed into one of the most beautiful springs I can remember. Temps in the mid-70's to low 80's and nights in the 40's and 50's. Very comfortable. The main challenge has been record-breaking grass-pollen counts and a dearth of rain. We are incredibly grateful for our deep, sweet well water so we can keep our crops watered.  

Our Ark greenhouse with tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and kale - May, 2023.

Sunship greenhouse - early June - onions, potatoes and scarlet runner beans. So much food!
This year we've scaled-back production of summertime's favorite vegetables
(tomatoes, peppers, cukes etc). Our intention with those is primarily to feed ourselves and the people who directly support the gardens. We'll still have surplus - which is being shared with local food-charities but not as much as in previous years. After 14 seasons, Chris and I need to reclaim a bit of the summer-season for recreation and other creative projects and not be so completely wedded to the Sharing Gardens. In our greenhouses, we're still growing 44 tomato plants and 22 pepper plants, and beets, carrots lettuce and other greens. We've experimented with growing potatoes inside too. I'm not listing everything we're growing but you get the idea. It's still a big garden, just not as big as previous years.

Tremendous Imperator carrots (from seed we saved ourselves)

Waltham broccoli. After cutting the first, large, center head, the plant will continue to produce side-shoots for several months.

Our third, smallest greenhouse - with lettuce and celery in the center and potatoes down the sides. The flowers are nasturtiums - both the leaves and flowers are edible and the bees love them!

We have finally, successfully transitioned away from using any manures or animal by-products and commercial fertilizers! This year, we made all our own potting soil out of the compost generated in the paths of our greenhouses (made from leaves and grass), wood-ash, coffee grounds and perlite (our only purchased amendment. It comes from volcanoes and aids in water-retention and lightening up the soil).  Making Your Own "Veganic" Potting Soil in Your Greenhouse Paths - Using Worms

Our seedlings/starts were robust and healthy (grown almost entirely from seeds we saved ourselves). We grew enough to share extensively with our volunteers (and their families), Luckiamute Valley Charter School, Lilliputopia Farm and the Food Pantry that shares our parking lot. It's gratifying to see how many people are growing their own food in our area. We gave away over 450 'starts'!

We grew 484 veggie and flower starts, shared in the community for free! Here are 72 tomato starts given to Luckiamute Valley Charter School (flanked by lettuce to the right).
In our outside beds, we're shifting to a greater focus on storage crops: beans, grains, potatoes, onions and winter squash. Typically, these take less effort to maintain between planting and final harvest and they'll continue to feed our little Sharing Gardens community through much of the winter.  Here is a post with LINKS to info on growing scarlet runner beans, building a tipi/trellis, growing blue corn and recipes for winter squash. Three Sisters - Winter Storage Crops and How to Grow Them

Llyn with some of the Hooker's blue corn we grew to dry, grind and use for hot cereal and baking
Here is a general post about the Sharing Garden's gradual shift from an emphasis on crops eaten fresh (cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce etc) to storage crops including: dried corn, beans, sorghum and winter squash. "Squashes and grains and beans, oh my!"...a shifting focus on what foods we grow...

Rook and Chris, harvesting Ba Ye Ki sorghum which we dry and grind and share with our core group for use in cereal and baking.
So far it looks like we're going to have an excellent year for fruits: pears, apples, plums, grapes and quince. Our apple trees are so heavy with fruit, we actually had to thin it this month so the remaining fruits will grow to full-size and we don't break branches.

Apple blossom: we had fantastic pollination this year! We even had to thin some of the fruit.
Oregon State University reinstated the Service Learning Program (after their pandemic hiatus). This is an excellent program offered in a handful of classes where students earn college credit for volunteering in the community in projects relevant to their course-work. In our case we received six healthy, gung-ho young women who brought a spirit of cheerful, willing enthusiasm and curiosity. They managed to complete everything we'd staged for the day in less than the four hours allotted so we sent them home early.
Students spreading leaves in our squash patch.

Students weeding the garlic that had over-wintered.
Lua Siegal, (the coordinator of the Luckiamute Valley Charter School we've been supporting this spring) brought us a full truck load of well-composted leaves on the day of the OSU Service Learning project and stuck around for much of the morning helping us unload it.  

OSU students unloading Lua's pick-up truck full of leaf-mold (composted leaves) which she purchased and donated.
Lua is an amazing person...so dedicated to giving the children in her care a positive introduction to gardening, connecting with nature and healthy eating. When we visited her at one of her two campuses to deliver 'starts' we'd grown, her director shared with us that many families decided to enroll their children at LVCS specifically because of the program Lua's created there. LINK - LVCS Facebook
Sign posted at the Luckiamute Valley Charter School. We appreciate them so musch for the values they are instilling in their children.

In late May we had a wonderful visit from Tree (and Angie, his wife, and Jocelyn, their friend). Tree is a soft-spoken man, just a few years older than Chris who paralleled Chris' time in the Bay Area in the late 60's/early 70's during the height of the idealism that characterized that time and place. Both men have continued to try to live by their ideals and leave the world a better place for them having been here. Tree is the founder, and steward of the Free Farm Stand in San Francisco (founded in 2008, the year before the Sharing Gardens was born).  

Llyn, Chris, Tree and Angie.
Their project is similar to ours...They:

"...grow as much food as we can in San Francisco and distribute it for free at our Free Farm Stand. We act as a gathering place in the Mission to encourage community growth and involvement. This effort revolves mostly around gathering surplus food from neighborhood gardens, various farmer’s markets, community gardens, public and private fruit trees,  and hosting a space where this bounty can be shared with all." they also:

  • Help empower people who have the space to grow their own food and become more self-reliant.
  • Promote good nutrition and health.

The Free Farm Stand is powered through volunteers every Sunday in a park in the Mission District. They redistribute thousands of pounds of produce per year.

We have been in online communication with Tree since 2009 and talked once on the phone but never met in person till now. In Tree we found a kindred spirit; someone with an equal passion for growing and distributing healthy food to those in need.

Here's what Tree had to say about us: "...visiting them in person was such a thrill. Llyn and Chris are the most beautiful and generous people and doing amazing gardening work (I would say more like farming work) on 3 acres of land...Their whole scene is so inspiring and we felt a heart connection; sharing a philosophy of how to grow food and how to share it once it is harvested."

To read Tree's full post and visit The Free Farm Stand website go to: Free Farm Stand, San Francisco, CA - Garden Glamour Queens

Free Farm Stand, in San Francisco, distributes free produce they've gleaned from gardeners, farmer's markets, public and private fruit trees and community gardens.

Our core group of share-givers (volunteers) has returned from their winter hiatus, and we have one new friend who's joined our circle. We could probably use one or two more people if you've been thinking about joining us. We have two sessions per week: Mondays and Fridays - 9:00 to noon. We need folks who are physically capable and who can make the commitment to come once a week for most of the season. For more information, follow this LINK and drop us an email

Cindy, sifting compost...

Jim, drying blue corn.
Llyn and Maddie, snapping greens off carrots.
Rook and Jim, harvesting sunflowers (for winter bird seed). 

Sandra, harvesting corn for us to dry and grind and use for cereal and baking.
Chris, spreading grass mulch in greenhouse paths.
A special thank you to Donn Dussell, who came almost weekly, all through the winter

to join us for whatever needed doing in the gardens. I know that all three of us really looked forward to those Monday morning sessions as an inspiring way to begin the week.

Donn and Chris processing firewood donated for us to share in the community.

I try to include at least one inspiration post about other projects happening around the planet that align with our Sharing Garden principles. We have two this month and a micro-dose of cuteness from the world of moths):

Swallowtail butterfly photographed in our garden.
This is an amazingly inspiring video which features a program in Oakland, California that provides hands-on job training for people coming out of prison to learn how to propagate and care for perennial plants (11 min.). Oakland Permaculture Heals The Hood!

...and, closer to home, a 'sharing'-type garden in Eugene, Oregon, which grows food for a local free-pantry and herbs for herbalists to use in their practices. Enjoy! Eugene neighborhood getting a community garden 

...and for those who need 36 seconds of moth cuteness...Click here.

Llyn, smelling the tansy we let flower in certain parts of our land. it smells like buttered honey and the bees and other pollinators love it. It's also the host plant to Cinnabar moths.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Saving pea seeds - a low tech method to prevent 'pea weevil' damage

 To save pea seeds, grow them to maturity and leave the pods attached to the pea vines until they are starting to turn tan and shrivel. 

Strip the pods from the vines and place them in a warm, dry place to finish drying. If the weather is sunny and dry, we lay them out on nursery trays on the top shelf of our garden shed for about a week. If the wet, cool weather of autumn has already begun we put the drying pods in baskets or cardboard boxes on shelves above our woodstove. Once we are sure they are thoroughly dry, we pop the peas out of their pods, place in freezer-bags (properly labeled with variety of seed and date) in the freezer, way in the back (or bottom) -- in the coldest spot. Be sure the seeds are sealed in an airtight container as if exposed, the dry freezer-air can dry out your seeds and make them less viable. Leave them there until you're ready to plant next year's cycle.

To prevent pea weevil damage to your seeds: Here in the Pacific NW, and in many other parts of the world, varieties of an insect called the Pea Weevil (Sitona lineatus) can destroy the peas you are saving as seed crop. As the peas mature in the pod, the weevil lays an egg in each pea. If you store these pea-seeds as-is, by spring time each one will have a tiny hole bored by the larvae, from the inside out, destroying the seeds' ability to sprout and grow. A year ago, we had a whole stash of our pea seeds destroyed from these weevils and we didn't want it to happen again.

Signs of pea weevils
An on-line search revealed no low-tech solutions for seed-savers. We read about research to create genetically modified seeds (GMO's) and super-cold flash-freezing done with dried ice - neither of which will help the small-scale seed-saver. The dry-ice idea got Chris to thinking so we decided to experiment. 
A low-tech solution: We took our whole stash of pea seed (about six cups) and put it in an air-tight zip-lock bag, in a regular freezer, way in the back corner, and left it there from August to January (four and a half months). The seeds were fully ripe and dry when we put them in the freezer. (There was evidence that the weevils had already laid their eggs as virtually every seed had a small, brown spot--a sign of their entry point.)
Pea weevil cycle

In early January, we conducted a germination test. We wrapped about 50 seeds in a wet paper towel and kept them moist in a dish for five days. At that time, we counted how many had begun to sprout (about 40) which means they have a germination rate of at least 80%. This is excellent! 
Then, to be sure that there weren't any pea weevil larvae still dormant in our seed stock, we put about 30 in a tightly sealed plastic bag and left them out at room temperature for two weeks to see if any would hatch. None did. Though it appears we have killed the larvae, we're not taking any chances and we're leaving the pea seeds in our freezer till it's time to start plants this spring.

If you have comments or anything to add to this post, please do so directly below so everyone benefits from your experience.