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

Monday, May 6, 2024

15 Years! and Still 'Growing' Strong

Spring's abundance has fully arrived! We're harvesting cart-loads of greens on a bi-weekly basis which we eat ourselves and share with supporters of the gardens. We continue to donate the sizable surplus to food charities. No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown. 

This post shares highlights of what's currently happening at the Sharing Gardens as well as seasonally relevant links. Enjoy! (Pic above: Oregon State University students after a morning of 'service learning' in the gardens. We had a lot of fun with this group! - See more below).

The Sharing Gardens just turned 15! On April 15th 2009 (tax day!) our friend Steve Rose (left) brought his tractor to our original site and broke ground.  It was the beginning of an amazing journey! 

I've had the intention of creating a post with photo-highlights from our previous seasons but we're just really busy at this time of year! Through the years we've made dozens of friends who have helped  in the gardens, had over 750,000 visits to our website and given away thousands of veggie starts and thousands of pounds of incredible, organic produce. We've renovated an 1875 farmhouse which we now live in and this land provides sanctuary to all who come here; human and non-human alike. Perhaps I'll get around to making that photo retrospective next winter!

2024 promises to be another year of abundance. One of the secrets of the Garden's ability to produce comes from Chris' years of experience with 'succession planting'. This means that, as one crop comes out of the ground, it is quickly replaced with another one, so very little of the gardens lay fallow during the peak growing seasons.

Lettuce is a crop that lends itself very well to succession cropping. Here's Jen, one of our newest 'sharegivers' (volunteers) with a head of Slo-bolt lettuce we started back in January. (LINK: Starting lettuce from seed... ) (LINK: Lettuce: Saving Seed
We start our lettuce, first in tofu-containers with holes drilled out of the bottoms (45-60 seeds per container).  Then we transfer each individual seedling into its own egg carton cell.
The advantage of this method is that we just tear off a single plant and plant it directly in the ground without removing the egg carton. The roots of the seedling grow right through the carton cells. This is a good method for any of our sharegivers who are new to gardening (or for kids) because it's so easy to plant the seedlings without damaging the roots.
From January through May, lettuce takes up a sizable proportion of our greenhouse space. All five rows, from left to right, are different varieties of lettuce. As the seasons warm, lettuce gets planted outside and eventually phased out altogether as it doesn't like the full summer's heat. Our greenhouse beds get filled with peppers and tomatoes and other heat-loving crops through the summer and into the fall.
This pic shows a half a week's harvest (late April). About 20% is enjoyed by me and Chris and garden-supporters. The rest goes to food charities. On May 6th we donated 48 pounds of lettuce, kale and beets with greens to Local Aid! (LINK: How it works/Benefits of the Sharing Gardens model)

Suzanne planting celery, April 2024. The large green plants in the upper right corner of the pic are last year's celery's second cutting. Celery is harvested in full by autumn's end and a whole new crop emerges during the winter months. It tends to be a bit more fibrous, but very flavorful so it's great in soups!

Llyn with a summer celery harvest, 2012

Here are two carrot patches, planted about two weeks apart in early and late January of this year. We did our first thinning of carrots that were too crowded in the last week of April. They're really starting to grow in size now.
Imperator carrots, 2023. These are a delicious, sweet and tender variety but they require very loose soil to reach this length. We grow them in our raised beds in the greenhouses.

Potatoes: We've been having greater success with potatoes these past two years. The main reason for this is that we've found we can grow potatoes in our greenhouse raised beds in the winter months when outside, the ground is too saturated and the temperatures too cold.

A bed of potatoes in April.

Donn and Chris beginning to dig that same bed (April 29). It wasn't our highest yield, but the spuds looked beautiful; no scab, no nibbles either from our resident mole population that tunnel all through our land (they seem to prefer eating the worms - of which we have aplenty!). And, if we'd waited till outside conditions were conducive to planting we wouldn't have had any at this time of year.
We have begun, and completed, our first outside batch of potatoes. Here are Chris and Donn digging holes and planting. Each potato 'seed' gets about a gallon-scoop of our premium home-grown compost. Soil is pushed back up in a mound. Grass-clippings are laid on thick in the paths between the potato mounds. Finally, a thick layer of dry leaves (collected last fall from our neighbors and tarped over the winter months) covers the whole bed - see below.

When potatoes begin to sprout, we take them out of the dark and put them on our front porch which gets indirect, northern light. This process, called 'chitting', causes the sprouts to become stout and the potatoes to store up solar energy (they get uniformly green under the skin). Using this method, we've found we can delay needing to plant the potatoes for several months till the ground and weather are more conducive to potato's growth. (LINK: Sprouting potatoes, What to do?)
Service Learning:
This year (2024) marks the 11th year we've been hosting 'service learning' students from Oregon State University. This is an excellent aspect of OSU's curriculum in which students in selected classes (in this case, Soil Science) receive a significant part of their grade from volunteering for four hours in the community. In late April, we had a group of five students from OSU join us for a Saturday morning. These young people were a particularly great bunch; asking tjoughtful, relevant questions, and really putting their backs into the projects we had for them to do. Here are  a few pics from their time with us:
Here, Belle and Trinity from OSU gather leaves to spread on our potato patch.

They got our potato patch completely mulched with leaves!

Adam, Allie and Julia - from OSU - loading the huge compost pile (that's been sitting under a tarp since late fall) into 5-gallon buckets. We estimate that the students filled and distributed about 70 buckets!

Chris drove the buckets out to the fields where he and Adam spread them on tilled ground for summer crops.
The rains threatened all morning but we only had a few misty-sprinkles. As seems to be our lucky pattern on service-learning days, the rains held off in earnest till the young people loaded back into cars to head home.

Here's a photo taken last July, from the same angle as the pic above. By clearing away the giant leaf and compost piles at the entrance to the gardens, the students made way for us to erect our iconic teepees on which we grow our favorite bean for drying and winter storage: the scarlet runner bean. (LINK: Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans ) - (LINK: How to build a bean teepee)

Wildlife patches: When we first began gardening on this land in 2010, most of the three acres was overrun with tall grasses. The only big trees were a white oak, a yellow plum and a very neglected and overgrown golden delicious apple tree. One of the first things we did when we bought the land in 2014, was to begin planting trees. Not only did we plant fruit and nut trees, but we planted large amounts of aspen in groves. These were to break up the monotony of the grass, add to our supply of leaves (for composting) and to begin to provide some habitat for wildlife. Over the years we've added shrubs and wildflowers and allowed the grasses to fill back in between them.

Here's one of the original aspen groves. The aspens are 10 years old. This view, looks north (yellow farmhouse in the background, blue/grey workshop to the right).  There are some wild hazelnut bushes to the right, within the grove. We just planted yellow-willow and gooseberries in the strip of leaves in the foreground *that we grew from cuttings we'd rooted).

This is a similar view taken in 2010, the first year we gardened here. The dilapidated shed in the foreground was the pump-house for our well (it's been replaced). The grey shed behind it is the blue-grey workshop shown above. The greenish shed to the right became our garden shed. The aspen grove is now, what would have been the center of this picture.

Recently we've begun learning about the concept of food forests or guilds. These are patches of perennial plants with multi-levels (flowers, shrubs and trees) that fulfill multiple functions of feeding humans and providing habitat for the non-human kin that share this land. Here's the latest 'food forest guild/wildlife patch' we've begun this year. We've laid down a woven synthetic 'cloth' called 'road carpet' to kill the grass (salvaged from a retired nursery; not purchased new). We're covering it with leaves. After a year, we'll remove the 'cloth' so weeds and grass don't permanently root it into the ground. Currently, there are five blueberry bushes already planted there. We'll add trees, other shrubs and perennial flowers after the road carpet is removed.

Jen - carting leaves to fill in our new food forest/patch.

Suzanne removing leaves from the aspen grove shown above so it will be easier to plant the yellow-willow and gooseberry plants we grew from cuttings we started in previous seasons. After planting, we put the leaves back for mulch.
As we were clearing leaves to plant the perennials in the old patch, we were thrilled to discover the first salamander we've ever seen on our land! There are no year-round creeks nearby (for reproduction) and we're not sure how this little one came to be on this land but we're happy that, for now, we're providing sanctuary.

Relevant, seasonal links:

Wish List: Here's our latest wish list (updated in January). The most needed item is a digital camera that takes decent pictures, that has rechargable batteries and will slip easily into a pocket.

Making Your Own "Veganic" Potting Soil in Your Greenhouse Paths - Using Worms: Growing food without the use of animal by-products, manures or commercial fertilizers is core to what we do. This post provides step by step instructions for our methods.

If you're excited about growing native plants, providing habitat and re-wilding the planet, here's a link for you: Good news about Re-wilding Our Planet or: Sharing the Gardens with Wild Critters