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Thursday, January 17, 2019

How To Make Your Own Potting Soil in Your Greenhouse Paths

Local and Sustainable Soil-Building 101

Here is one of our greenhouses in mid-Spring. Note how the paths are filled deep with straw and other "organic-matter". As we water the plants and walk over the beds, we help the worms and micro-organisms turn this dead plant-material into nutrient-dense compost for next year's soil.
For those of us with greenhouses in which we plant directly in the ground (as opposed to using the GH to protect seedlings in pots, on tables) the necessary pathways between planting beds can seem like a lot of wasted space. Over the years, we've developed a method of composting right in the paths, creating habitat for worms and micro-organisms so that, over the course of the growing season we generate (and then harvest) large amounts of fine, high-quality worm-compost using locally available materials often considered "waste" products. We describe our methods below.

"Veganic" method for creating soil-fertility: Over the last few years we have become increasingly convinced that moving toward a veganic method of farming makes a whole lot of sense from several perspectives. Veganic agriculture is defined as:
...an approach to growing plant-foods that encompasses a respect for animals, the environment, and human health. Also known as "stockfree" "vegan organic" and "plant-based," this is a form of agriculture that goes further than organic standards, by eliminating the use of products that are derived from confined animals and by encouraging the presence of wild native animals on the farmland. (LINK: Intro to Veganics)
For many farmers\gardeners, if not most, fertilizing the soil means adding some type of manure and\or other animal-based products such as bone meal, fish meal, blood meal, feather meal, etc. Here at the Sharing Gardens, we are interested in developing, and demonstrating ways of growing food that uses local materials, gathered in a sustainable way with a gentle impact on the environment.
"Vaganic" agriculture: good for the Earth, good for our health.
Here is our current method of building our soil-fertility - right in the paths of our greenhouses!


Gathering Materials: Our method of gardening requires massive amounts of "organic matter" (leaves, straw, grass-clippings etc). In the many years since we started the Sharing Gardens (2009) we have developed relationships with the people in, and around our small town encouraging them to bring us these materials instead of burning them or sending them to the land-fill.
One of our neighbors brings us many trailers full of leaves each Fall. He used to burn them. Now he uses some to mulch his own garden-beds but still has plenty of surplus to share with us.
Our land is over three-acres. We have left much of it as grass so that we can harvest this valuable resource. (LINK-Grass Clippings and Leaves for Soil Fertility). When we have surplus from mulching our plants, we spread it in the greenhouse-paths to feed the worms and micro-organisms.
A System for Collection: For many years, the only people who brought us leaves and grass-clippings were those we had made a personal connection with. In 2017, a teacher from our town's Grade School approached us about doing a volunteer project with her students to help the Sharing Gardens. We spent a morning with the students and raked up over 35 big bags of leaves around town! (LINK: Yes, Money Really Does Grow On Trees!) In the Fall of 2018, our city-hall contacted us about inserting a notice in people's water-bills encouraging them to bring their leaves to our garden. We estimate this yielded another close to 50 bags of leaves. We imagine that in future years that number will grow as people hear about the program. LINK: Monroe Leaf Drive
Here's the sign we painted and set up along the road in front of our house for the 2018 leaf-drive.
As people donate their leaves, we hang the bags out to dry on a clothes-line in our greenhouse and roll them into bundles of 5-6. We feel strongly about minimizing the use of plastics so any time a bag can be re-used is a real bonus!
We set up this station in our front yard. The trash-can has bundles of leaf-bags for re-use.
In the flier that was mailed to our town, we included these important guidelines:
Please no animal waste, trash or sticks/branches, no holly or roses (too sharp), or black walnut leaves (they can kill plants - LINK). Just leaves and grass 😊.
Spreading materials: Since our method of creating soil is cyclic, we could begin at any point in the process but if you are just getting started, the first step is to spread the materials. We begin this process at the end of Autumn as we are dismantling the tomato-cages, pulling up pepper-plants and weeding the beds in preparation for the following Spring.
Here is a greenhouse path that has been "harvested" of its worm-compost. It is ready for new materials to be added.
After cleaning all of last season's plant material out of the beds, cutting it into small pieces and laying it in the paths, we cover it with layers of leaves or straw, or whatever we have available.

One of our neighbors thatched his lawn and brought all that wonderful grass "hay" for us to use. Here is a college student/volunteer spreading it by the tub-full.
Llyn, spreading fresh grass-clippings on top of straw.

The need for sides on your beds: With this method, it is important that your paths and beds be separated with sides so your soil doesn't mix with the materials in the paths.
Chris has made many of our greenhouse beds with recycled fence-boards held in place with stakes driven into the ground. We have used plywood ripped into six-inch strips too.
Creating worm-compost all season-long: From Spring through late Summer we continue to add organic-matter as it becomes available. By watering the beds and walking on the paths we help the worms and other "micro-livestock" to break down the materials and turn them into soil.
This picture was taken in April. Note fresh grass-clippings in center and right pathways. Straw has yet to be covered with grass on left-pathway. Llyn is watering the bed of lettuce and waters the paths too, to help in the decomposition process.
During the growing season, the worms and micro-organisms are 'digesting' all this material from below. On tours of the greenhouses we often pull back the mulch to show people the thriving colonies of red-wiggler worms that live in our paths. Many times we can show them worm-eggs as well and little worm tunnels they have formed down into the rich, black compost.
Another benefit of this style of greenhouse gardening is that the mulched paths are so pleasant to kneel on. Also, many plant roots (figs pictured here) will reach their roots out into the paths and be fed by this 'living compost' through the growing season. (Pictured: Bella and Adri harvesting potatoes).
Harvesting worm-castings: We stop adding organic matter by late summer. This means there is less material to move out of the way when it's time to harvest our worm-compost. This 'undigested' material is temporarily gathered in tubs, or piles and then returned to the paths after the worm-compost has been gathered.
Here, Chris scoops up the compost with a flat, hand-trowel. We collected fourteen, five-gallon buckets from this one, forty-foot path!
A flat shovel works well too.
Sifting and storing castings:
This homemade sifter works well to remove large material and give the finished product a uniform texture. The screen is made with "hardware cloth", a wire-mesh with 1/2" holes.
After sifting, we often store the worm compost in re-purposed pellet-stove plastic bags. Storing them in this way preserves the material's moisture.
Mixing soil and starting seedlings: In the past few years we have been fortunate to have Used-soil donated from two-different nurseries at the end of their growing seasons. Though the nutrient-content of the soil is mostly depleted, the structure of the soil is still excellent as it is high in organic-matter, perlite and other substances to keep the soil light and fluffy. We are careful to only accept soil-donations from 'organic' growers (no herbicides/pesticides). Our mix-ratio is 'one-part' worm compost to 'two-parts' depleted soil.

If you don't have access to previously-used soil, there are many recipes on-line for making your own. Typically they include coconut coir (a more-renewable resource than peat-moss) and sand or perlite - so the soil drains well, and compost for fertility. Use the worm-compost outlined in this article in place of the regular compost.
Seedlings in our home-grown soil, Spring 2018.
Preparing beds: We also use the worm compost to fertilize our raised beds.
Chris spreading a layer of worm-compost in greenhouse beds. Note last year's tomatoes and other plant material in pathways (before we've added leaves on top). Excellent worm food!
Soil fertility is improved by adding wood-ash and coffee grounds: (LINK: Coffee and Ashes for Fertility)
Spreading coffee-grounds: We have a friend who regularly stops by a local coffee shop and collects coffee grounds for us. Ideally, when we have enough, we sprinkle them about 1/2" deep over the beds. Note: Though coffee-grounds are neither a local or sustainable resource, currently the are free and by using them, we keep them out of the waste-stream.
Spreading wood-ashes: After coffee we add a very light sprinkling of wood-ashes (they are very concentrated and can 'burn' sensitive micro-organisms and the worms' skin and change soil pH). We only use ash collected from natural wood that has no paint or other chemical treatments. Since we heat our house exclusively with wood, this is another 'free' resource.
Through the early winter months, we hand-dig these amendments into the soil. This provides a pleasant activity during inclement weather...
...and a nice time for socializing.


In early Spring, once we begin mowing the grass again, it makes a nutrient-dense mulch directly on the beds. Worms love fresh grass-clippings and will migrate to beds where it has been added.
The cycle starts again - Spreading materials in paths: Once we have harvested the worm-compost, it's time to start the cycle all over again!
Tomato-plants systematically being cut-up into the paths. The fallen tomatoes and weeds in the bed to the left of Llyn will also be scooped out/dug up and put into the path to feed the worms.
Layer, after layer, we build up the organic-matter in the paths.


This includes straw (if we have it) and grass-clippings.

Planting in beds and continuing to add organic-matter to the paths::
The process is an endless cycle, creating soil-fertility from local and veganic materials.
Harvest!
This method of growing, yields nutrient-dense, delicious food!

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Great Monroe Leaf Drive!

Our beautiful hickory tree!
The Sharing Gardens is now accepting autumn leaves to help build up our compost piles in preparation for next year's growing season.



Neighbors bringing leaves.





We are blessed to have two "neighbors" who bring us leaves from their oak and maple trees that amount to ten or more trailer-loads full each year. We use them to cover large areas of our gardens so they have time over the winter to compost and feed the worms and other soil-organisms and suppress weeds.

This year, we are very happy to announce that Monroe's City Hall is including a flier about our need for leaves in this month's newsletter which is mailed to all the town's residents in their water bills.

Here is the text of the mailing:

Please bring bagged leaves and grass to:
664 Orchard St., Monroe (bright yellow house behind the big, white Methodist Church) and leave the bags in a pile under the big, hickory tree at the back of the church parking lot.

Please no animal waste, trash or sticks/branches, no holly or roses (too sharp), or walnut leaves (they can kill plants). Just leaves and grass 😊.
Free bags to share...

We have plenty of previously-used lawn/leaf bags to share. They are available in a trash-can underneath the hickory tree.  Please take what you can use.

Please don’t fill bags too full and tie them lightly (so we can re-use them).

We would prefer that you bring the filled bags to the Sharing Gardens but if you have more bags than you can bring in your own vehicle, please save up enough bags to make it worth our trip to come get them. Place them on the curb, up-side-down (so no rain gets in) and give us a call for pick-up. Chris and Llyn (541) 847-8797 (Before noon or after 2:00, please. We take a rest mid-day).

Since we began weening ourselves off the use of animal manures as a source of soil fertility, we have turned increasingly to leaves, grass-clippings, wood-ash and coffee grounds as a replacement. There is a saying that, "for every calorie you harvest out of a farm or garden, you must put at least a calorie back in". In a typical year we harvest and share over four-thousand pounds of produce. We have to replenish a huge amount of organic-matter so our soils don't get depleted!
Each year we must replenish the organic-material to keep our gardens fertile. That's a lot of leaves!


Llyn spreading leaves
We tarp the leaves with various recycled materials to keep them from blowing away. This is called "sheet-composting" or "solarizing" and it has the added benefit of killing many weed-seeds that germinate in early spring which means far less weeding for us later in the season.

There are many materials that work well for solarizing: carpet-scraps, old pieces of green-house plastic (greenhouse plastic is specially coated so it's protected from UV-rays and won't break-down as fast - beware of using regular plastic sheeting because, as it disintegrates it breaks-up into many little pieces which are then polluting for the environment). Black plastic works too.

Another great source of solarizing material comes from lumber-yards. Much of their lumber comes wrapped in a woven plastic "paper". They give this plastic-wrap away for free and it appears that it holds up fine for at least two seasons.

Tarping the leaves keeps them from blowing away and kills many weed-seeds that germinate in early spring.


We use metal fence-posts and pieces of pipe to weight down the tarps/plastic.
Please note that all of these materials we use are re-purposed; most of them were headed for the land-fills and by finding uses for them we extend their life-times.

We weight down the edges of these materials with fence-posts, metal piping or whatever we have on-hand to keep the tarps from blowing away.

Another neighbor collects used-coffee-grounds from a local coffee-shop and brings them to us. We now have over 150 gallons of them stock-piled for the spring! We heat our home exclusively with wood and use the ashes as another source of soil-fertility. Here's a post about the "Benefits of Coffee-grounds and Wood Ashes in the Garden".

Leaves make excellent mulch for trees...

We add leaves to the raised-beds in our greenhouses too...

Here are some links explaining this style of deep-mulch gardening that we practice:


Benefits of Deep-Mulch Gardening

Grass-clippings for soil-fertility!
Grass-Clippings and Leaves for Fertilizer

Mulch We Love, and Why

More on Mulch

Something to be aware of when you're using donated mulch materials...Some materials - particularly un-composted horse manure can contain high levels of herbicides and can pollute your soil and compost piles if you are not careful. Here is a post we wrote about our experience with this:

Herbicide Contamination?




This compost pile was made entirely from leaves and grass-clippings...
...beautiful compost leads to...

...bountiful harvests. Buttercup (green) and Delicata (white) squash.

...and playing in the leaves is just good fun too.



Sunday, September 30, 2018

Thanks Giving

Hi friends - Last week we featured our many share-givers (volunteers) in our gratitude post. This post is about expressing gratitude to the folks who support the Sharing Gardens in a variety of other ways.

Jessie is new to our garden "family". We met her when she was making a donation of diapers to the Food Pantry that her one-year old baby had outgrown. She brings a ray of sunshine wherever she goes!

Jessie - such a beautifully generous spirit!
Over the summer she has volunteered at the gardens many times on the weekends, and helped with planting and weeding tasks. A few weeks ago, she came bounding into the gardens with her big smile and a bigger envelope with these words on it:

New Glove Fund-Raiser from Pegasus Farms

Jessie had noticed that we'd had "gloves" on our wish-list all summer and decided to do "crowd-funding" at her partner's farm. She put an envelope up on the company bulletin board that she seeded with $20 from Sean ("cause he's a big softy, and I knew he'd contribute") and left town for a long weekend. When she got back, everyone else on the farm had added to the envelope for a total of $160.00! Thanks to Q, Dan-the Solar Man - Twan, Sean, Dom and Andrew. That will provide us with a great selection of gloves heading into next year's season (and more).

Janeece and Dave Cook - generosity personified.
Janeece wears many hats in our small town of Monroe, Oregon. She is the director of the South Benton Food Pantry (LINK) that is located directly next-door to the Sharing Gardens; she serves on several boards, works for Strengthening Rural Families and seems to go to every meeting in town that relates to community-issues! She is also cooking vegan recipes for the free, weekly class on Healthy Life-style Choices offered by the Monroe Health Clinic and Dr. Kyle Homertgen - our local, vegan doctor (LINK). Dave is an amazing support for all that Janeece does and also helps a lot with our local Gleaners group, picking up donated baked goods and other groceries when the Gleaners need help.

They fostered two young girls for over a year and bought a swingset for them to enjoy. When the girls were able to return to live with their Mom, the Cooks donated the swing-set to the Sharing Gardens. We have it set up right next to our main garden-shed so that, when people bring their children to our volunteer-sessions, the kids have something to play on. Much thanks!

Here's Bella - one of the foster children, helping us with the kale harvest.

John Kinsey: "Kinsey" has been coming to the gardens since 2011; he lives just a few blocks away. He's been a great contributor over the years. Here's a list of some of his contributions:
  • volunteering in the gardens
  • donating Elephant garlic bulbs to get our patch started
  • donating worm-castings and worm-castings-tea from his worm farm
  • collecting lawn-clippings and leaves from his neighbors to build our compost piles
  • building produce-display-boxes out of scrap lumber - both for us and for the South Benton Food Pantry
  • volunteering at the Food Pantry

John Kinsey with garlic 'seeds'. His contribution of garlic 'bulbs' has grown to our current patch with over 200 plants planted for the June 2019 harvest. One of his early nicknames was 'Garlic John'.


Our deep-mulch method of gardening uses tons of leaves and grass-clippings. John, who's now retired, gathers these materials wherever he can and donates them to the project. Here's a LINK to our post about using leaves and grass-clippings for soil fertility.

John, with a big load of squash-vines for the compost pile.
Coffee-grounds that John picked up from a local coffee-shop. Since coffee is not a local product and must be shipped in from thousands of miles away, it is not a sustainable resource. But since the grounds are currently considered a waste-product, we feel good knowing that we are keeping them out of the garbage. (LINK to coffee-grounds as fertilizer).



Sifting the coffee-grounds and removing trash that's mixed in is one of the favorite jobs of our OSU student-volunteers. The grounds sure make our greenhouses smell nice!


Chris and John - building a compost bin. He sure is a big help!
There are a few donors we don't have pictures of:

Fay and Erik - donated plastic tubs that are great for weeding, and storing or displaying produce.

Becky Lynn -  donated carpet, seed potatoes

Valerie P. - For the last two months, Valerie has been making a $10 donation to the project. We've never met Valerie but are grateful for her support. You too can make a donation through PayPal by clicking on this link:

Drivers: Though some of our CSA members pick up their own boxes, we have members in Eugene and Corvallis who rely on the services of our delivery-people.

Cathy Rose delivers to Eugene. Cathy has been with the gardens since 2010 and been a huge supporter. We love you Cathy!

Here's Sabine shelling walnuts. She was our delivery-person to Philomath this summer.

Jim Kitchen...


...Adri and Cindy Kitchen deliver our Corvallis boxes after spending Wednesday mornings helping in the gardens.