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Tuesday, March 19, 2024

And then the rains came!

Well folks, in the past month or so, the southern Willamette valley where we live has been under repeated waves of deluging downpours that have swelled the watershed drainage at the back of the land to a shallow creek over fifteen feet across. In the fourteen years that we've grown food on this land, there was only one other winter with such persistent and extreme flooding. I'm not sure how much extra housework we got done (above) but we are so very grateful for our greenhouse/grow tunnels which have allowed us to get a jump on starting seeds. The other big weather challenge we faced since our last post was a four-night stretch of sub-freezing temps.

This post is about how the food we started to grow in early January has fared and the ways we've mitigated these extremes in the weather. This post also includes many live LINKS to seasonally relevant articles. Enjoy!

Rain is always a challenge here in the winter so, even though this was a rainier winter than average, it hasn't really slowed us down too much; we have hundreds of veg-starts and perennial herb and flower plants already thriving in pots, and hundreds more plants already in the ground. 

Chris planted our first carrot crops on January 5th in the greenhouse raised beds he completely rebuilt in December. They're doing beautifully.

By mid-January, Chris began starting other cold-tolerant crops including beets, lettuce, kale, collards and cabbage. We make all our own potting mix and use re-purposed tofu containers, with holes drilled in the bottoms to germinate seeds and 'pot-up' the seedlings once they're big enough (right).

Chris re-built all our raised beds in our two main greenhouses during December. He managed to save the wonderful soil we'd already accumulated over the years. Every winter we also add more of our amazing home-grown compost, generated right in the greenhouse paths. (LINK: How we grow...Veganic Community-based gardening) Note: Rows of red and green lettuce in the beds behind him and in front of him, and potted seedlings in the path he's crawling along. This pic was taken March 6th.

This pic was taken just four days later on March 10th. Everything is growing so well now! Red Russian kale on left with Four Seasons red and Slo-bolt green lettuce above the kale (LINK: Planting Lettuce (or other cool-weather loving crops) from seed). The dominant seedlings in the GH path are cabbage and more kale plants, primarily for sharing. The white specks in the raised bed to the right are perlite which is a natural material derived from volcanic glass which helps soil drain better LINK: Perlite. It's the only commercial additive we use in making our potting mix. We also mix it into all our greenhouse raised beds.

In between the heavy downpours, we have had a couple of sunny stretches that allowed the land to drain and dry out enough to harvest some grass clippings. Leaves and grass are all we put in our greenhouse paths. These turn to compost over the full garden season and we harvest the compost in the autumn to use throughout the gardens (LINK: Making Your Own "Veganic" Potting Soil in Your Greenhouse Paths - Using Worms )

Though we've had to cancel close to half the Monday share-giver (volunteer) sessions this winter due to inclement weather, we have had two dedicated folks who seem to be just about as crazy for gardening and the fellowship that it brings throughout all the seasons as Chris and I - Donn and Suzanne. I know that all four of us have really looked forward to being together on Monday mornings with our hands and knees and hearts touching the Earth. If you're local and itching to get your hands in the dirt, here's info about joining our share-givers (volunteers) this spring.

Here's Suzanne on Feb. 12th, planting lettuce starts. These are the same ones shown in the pics above. They're really growing fast now. Soon, we'll start harvesting a leaf or two off each one for fresh salads.

We've had two large donations of firewood this season. Here are Donn and Chris splitting oak and cherry which will dry through the summer and be ready to use next season. Donn loans us the use of the hydraulic splitter and helps with the collecting and splitting of the wood and keeps much of the wood to heat his home too.

Winter garden-time often includes wonderful conversations around the wood stove in the Sunship-greenhouse. We use the wood ash throughout the gardens and orchards to mineralize the soil. (LINK: Coffee Grounds and Wood Ash for Soil Fertility)

COLD! Aside from the epic January ice storm that we wrote about in our previous post (LINK: A Love Like That! Historic ice storm...) we also had a severe cold snap a few weeks ago with several nights in a row where temps dipped into the high 20's. This put our greenhouse potato crop at high risk of frost damage.

In 2023 we experimented for the first time with growing potatoes in our greenhouses. We had a bunch of potatoes sprouting from the crop we'd harvested in October of 2022 but it was still too cold and wet outside to plant them. The experiment was a success so we repeated it this winter. 

Potatoes are very susceptible to the cold and, if their leaves get frosted hard enough it can either cause the potato to form a hollow in its center, or even kill the plant outright. So, since the greens have grown above the leaf mulch, on any nights that are even approaching the freezing mark, we have blanketed them in three layers of a polyester cloth specifically designed as an agricultural "row cover"...

...followed by a tarp.

So far, so good! (Image: March 18th)
WET: As I mentioned above, rain is a normal part of a western Oregon winter! We are so incredibly grateful that we have so much of our gardens under the protection of our greenhouses (just under 3,000 sq/ft). The water line that goes from our well to the spigots in our gardens is not, however, cold-proof! At the first sign of a hard freeze (usually in late November) we have to shut off and drain the garden's water lines. This means we must rely on the collection of rainwater for our seedlings throughout the coldest part of the winter.

Chris, setting up a row of rain buckets to capture this free gift from the sky...

The buckets lined up under the drip line of our garden shed roof fill the fastest (above). Those are food-grade soy sauce buckets a friend scored from his work in a deli. The racks above are storing bamboo poles. Bamboo rots really fast if in direct contact with wet ground but otherwise will last for many years (we harvested this bamboo in 2011).

Here's a walk down memory lane! Here's the same side of our garden shed before we built the bamboo racks. Chris made the sign for our original garden site in Alpine (2009/2010).

After collecting water in the buckets we pour it into large trashcans and dip out of these to fill our watering cans. The willow branches (above) are said to add a mild 'rooting hormone' to the water which we figure probably helps all our seedlings to do well.

But, as the saying goes, "along with rain, come the rainbows!" (Actually, I've never heard that saying but it seems a good segue - teehee). Here are a few of our favorite Sharing Garden rainbows from over the years: Enjoy!

The greenhouse pictured is, fittingly, named the 'Ark'!

This picture of a double rainbow is taken from our front yard, looking north. The building behind the gorgeous fall trees is the old Methodist Church which was bought by the S. Benton Food Pantry (one of the charities we donate to) and converted to a community center.

Here's a view of the front of our house.

...and here's a rainbow that appeared over the first greenhouse we built at our current site shortly after we finished it in 2011.

And lastly, here are some seasonally relevant posts for fruit and vegetable and flower gardeners:

For vegetable growers, starting plants from seed:
Starting lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, kale and other cool weather-loving crops - from seed.
Starting Seedlings Directly in Greenhouse Raised Beds 

If you're not growing vegetables but you want to help the pollinators in your area, here's a useful post: Why growing sunflowers is great for bees...and how to grow and process sunflowers for birdseed and sprouts

If you have grape vines and need some tips on pruning:
Best Video on Pruning Table Grapes!

And lastly, a profound and moving Ted Talk video by Peter Owen Jones: Beyond Nations, Ownership and Competition

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