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

Monday, August 28, 2023

Wow, SO much Food!

It's time for another garden update at the Sharing Gardens. For gardeners who do a lot of food preservation, mid-to-late August, here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, is like cresting to the top of a giant roller coaster hill; you can see everything that's coming but you haven't begun to slide, excited of course (but with a slight feeling of panic!) into the big downhill rush of harvesting and food preservation that's to come. (left: OSU students showing enthusiasm for gardening! Here's a fun, short video about the SG made by Trent Tony, far left: SG video - 2015).

We've got a great crew this summer; nine folks who come once or twice a week to assist with whatever needs doing. We look forward to these Monday and Friday sessions of learning, food production and community spirit. (LINK: Volunteering at the SG)

At this time of year, the first hour or so of garden-time with our sharegivers (volunteers) is spent in harvesting the ripe crops of the day. It's a joyous, bounteous time! Donn, Chris and Suzanne: picking tomatoes.

Llyn, harvesting Red Russian Winter kale. That whole row of plants extending behind her (12-13 plants) started out as volunteers in various places in our greenhouses in March and April. We carefully dug them up and transplanted them into this row and have been harvesting gobs of kale since late May!

We're getting better and better at succession cropping. We try to always have something ready to go into a space shortly after it's been emptied from a previous crop's harvest. Here, Donn and Chris are transplanting baby lettuces.

Stupice tomatoes (an Heirloom variety originally from Czechoslovakia) are a staple favorite in our gardens. They start producing early and continue producing late in the season and provide a small, but classically tart, flavorful fruit.

Darlene carrying a tote of weeds out of the greenhouse to be composted. (Note: hedge of Toscana kale to the left of Darlene). Suzanne, harvesting Stupice tomatoes on the right.

Late August...All those Toscana kale plants on the left in the picture above have been pulled out and processed. Chris and Joey then added compost and wood ashes and dug them in. We'll probably grow lettuce and spinach and cilantro in this bed.

This year, we're devoting more space than in previous years to root crops for winter storage: these include beets, carrots and potatoes.

We've had a fantastic harvest of carrots this year. Chris has been re-sowing them in succession so we've hardly had a break between harvests.
Lots of beautiful beets too!
Cindy, with an abundant onion harvest.

 Compost is another significant "product" of the Sharing Gardens:

In addition to the dozens and dozens of 5-gallon buckets we harvest from our greenhouse paths, starting in November when much of the greenhouse produce has completed its growth cycle... - LINK: How we grow...Veganic Community-based gardening

...we also have three large wooden compost bins right by our front gate. The biggest one (closest in the pic) is layered almost exclusively with weeds, leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste.  Sometime in the winter, this is pitch forked out into a huge steaming pile and tarped. This provides a coarse, rich compost for use in cucumber and squash mounds in the spring. The other two compost bins, in addition to the yard waste, have kitchen scraps layered in. These bins produce a finer, richer compost that we either sift, or distribute directly into whole beds and roto-till in to create fertility ahead of planting. 

Joey spreading the fine-grade compost from Bin #3 to improve this bed's fertility.

Joey and Chris putting buckets of compost where we planted our succession crop of cucumbers (heavy feeders). Maddie, in the background is mulching newly-planted cabbage plants with dry grass mowed from our extensive lawns. The mulch keeps the soil around the plants an even temperature and they don't need to be watered as often.
Jim, harvesting yellow Bantam sweet corn in late August (another heavy feeder!). Jim's about 6' tall, Note how tall the Kassaby sweet sorghum stalks are in the back! It looks like we'll have a great harvest of this delicious grain to grind and use in our hot cereal mix.

June and July are the months for garlic harvesting and curing:

Joey and Maddie, harvesting garlic. In 2022-23 we grew over 200 bulbs. Garlic gets planted in mid-late September, winters over and is harvested in June.

Garlic must be laid out to 'cure'. We put it in our greenhouse and lay a cotton sheet over the bulb-end (so they're not in direct sun) until the greens have all dried down.
Jim, cutting the greens off garlic, and trimming the roots so they're ready for storage.

Rook, prepping the Elephant garlic for storage. Elephant garlic, while not a true garlic, has a milder taste but because of the size of the cloves is much easier to cook with.

We're growing a much higher proportion of winter-storage crops this year. This includes beans and grains to dry for winter use. The beans we're growing are kidney and scarlet runner beans. The grains we're growing are: Kassaby sorghum (a long-season, sweet variety), Golden and Hopi Red Dye amaranth and two kinds of corn - Hooker's blue and sweet Bantam. All of these will be dried, ground and combined to make a delicious and nutritious hot cereal (which we also share with our sharegivers through the winter).

Over the past few years we've begun shifting our focus towards more storage crops. Here, Chris and Jim are threshing kidney beans. The bean pods were left on the plants till they began to dry (but you can't wait too long or the pods will shatter during harvest and all your beans will end up in the field). We cut the plants off at ground level (leaving the roots in the ground) and lay them on a tarp in the sun for several weeks while the beans continue to dry. Threshing is done by whacking the plants with a broom stick and tossing the plant material in the air so the beans are freed from their shells. Lastly, we wait for a windy day and pour the beans and chaff from one container into the other so the lighter chaff blows away.

Jim, with part of a previous year's harvest. We are now growing all the beans Chris and I need for the year (We're vegetarian, so that's a lot of beans!) and enough so that our sharegivers (volunteers) can each prepare several meals through the winter with their share of the harvest. It's a great feeling to know that, if we had to, we could expand our gardens to grow enough beans to feed quite a lot of people.
Scarlet runner beans. Aren't they beautiful?! (LINK: Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans

Here, Joey is planting scarlet runner beans at the base of a tipi in early June of this year.
This tipi is showing the beans starting to grow up from the base, two weeks later.
Here are those same tipis, eight weeks from when we first put the seeds in the ground. Most plants are slow to get started but once they get a root system established, growth becomes exponential.

We grow a lot of our Scarlet Runner beans inside our largest greenhouse too, the Sunship:

The scarlet runner beans reach ten or more feet in the air (as high as they can go on our trellis!) They provide rich pollen for bumblebees and hummingbirds, and a lot of food for us humans!

Growing Golden Amaranth: Our increase in winter storage crops this year also includes grains (amaranth, sorrghum and blue and yellow corn - all to be dried and ground for a delicious hot cereal mix we eat ourselves and share with our helpers too). Though we've grown Hopi Red Dye amaranth for several years (and now it volunteers all over the garden!) this is the first year we've tried Golden amaranth. Though the Red amaranth is edible, it's primarily grown as a fabric dye - as its name suggests. The Golden amaranth is specifically cultivated as a food crop. It's quite beautiful too, don't you think?

This picture shows the front area of the Sharing Gardens (the entrance gate is at the far back of the picture). Those rust-colored plants in the center are Golden amaranth. This is a new variety we're trying this year that's supposed to be very tasty. Once harvested, dried, winnowed and ground, it will be a great - high protein - addition to our morning cereal.

A closer view of the Golden amaranth. Each plant grew 6'-7' tall from a tiny seed, in just four months! We love it when the healthy food we grow is also beautiful to look at.

A close-up of Golden amaranth the seed heads.

We clip the seed heads once they're ripe (and before the goldfinches and chickadees find them!) and lay them out on tarps to dry in our greenhouse. The seeds are then dislodged by rubbing the seed heads between our hands. We then sift out the remaining chaff using a sieve (just a regular household metal strainer with appropriate-sized holes).

At a time when our focus on mass-production has been decreasing, our call to be educators and mentors has slowly been increasing. Our Sharing Gardens website recently passed the mark of  645,000 all-time visits and we currently are averaging about 100 visits a day from all over the world. The vast majority of visits are to the 200+ 'how-to' posts on our site. But quite a few people are also interested in the more philosophical posts about the value of sharing and generosity in healing the world's ills (just a reminder: we don't have membership fees for our sharegivers or charge money for any of the food we grow. - LINK: How it works) And, not to toot our own horn excessively but we get quite a lot of thanks from our sharegivers for the valuable lessons in gardening, and the feeling of sanctuary our project provides as well.

Chris and Llyn, enjoying a little 'down-time' in between the harvests.

And lastly, though as humans, we often place much higher value on what we can get out of nature, here at the Sharing Gardens it is profoundly important to us too to give back as well. Slowly, over the years, both the cultivated gardens and orchards, and the outer, wild edges of our 3 and 1/2 acres have become host and home to an ever-increasing refuge for wildlife. 

Birds, insects, reptiles and small mammals find a respite and sanctuary from the pressures of the consumer society and domestic pets pressing in all around us. Just the other day, one of our regular visitors, who likes to take long walks around our small town said, "There's no other place around here where I see so many butterflies and bees and varieties of birds; or snakes or frogs or bunnies." It gives us a really good feeling to be cultivating a haven for all these little ones. (LINK: Making Room for Animal Voices)