Our new and improved site (with the same content as this one, AND MORE! is www.The SharingGardens.blogspot.com/


Friday, April 20, 2018

Happy Birthday Sharing Gardens!

Hi Folks! On April 15th, 2009, our friend Steve Rose broke ground with his tractor at Alpine park marking the birth of the Sharing Gardens. We're nine years old this week!

Here's Chris, forming 'raised beds' with our little 1947 Farmall Cub tractor in Alpine, after Steve Rose had plowed it (April, 2009).
Here's Llyn with the Sharing Gardens' first harvest taken to the Food Pantry, July 2009 - (some of the produce was donated by neighbors with established gardens).
Here are a few highlights from the 2018 season so far. Enjoy!

We've had two service-learning groups from Oregon State University. We have two more scheduled for later this spring.

The February group helped us mulch trees...
...empty our compost bins...
...mulch our blueberries...
...and mix and sift soil in preparation for starting seedlings.
Our second group of OSU students came on April 14th. The ground was too wet to do anything outside so they helped us in the greenhouses:

April, Ema and Anna harvest radishes.
They helped us transplant tomatoes too.
Here's Cody harvesting lettuce in the Sun Ship greenhouse...
...and potting onions to be transplanted outdoors once the ground dries out.
We've managed to host a few volunteer sessions with our local Share-givers:

Chris and Rook mulching potatoes with leaves in the Sun Ship greenhouse (Feb 15).
Rook, Kat and Llyn planting cabbage before the big rains came (March 20).
Here's Kat on April 5th. Even on cool, wet days outside, it's always more pleasant in the greenhouses!
We are so grateful for our two big greenhouses. They allow us to plant many cold-weather crops directly in the ground much earlier than we could outside. Also we can start all the heat-loving seedlings and grow them big indoors so they're ready for outside planting as soon as the last likely frost-date has passed.

Here's a view of the Ark greenhouse on March 15.
Here's that same view in mid-April. Left bed has radishes, and two patches of lettuce. Right bed has radishes, beets and red lettuce in the background. Note fresh grass-clippings in the path. These are very pleasant to walk and kneel on, smell great, and provide food for the worms and other "micro-livestock" living below.
I didn't take many early pics of the  Sun Ship greenhouse for comparison, but here's Chris, on April 18th examining our pea-patch, started in mid-December! It looks like we're going to have a fantastic harvest this year.
We experimented with starting tomatoes and peppers in early/mid February on heat mats with excellent results (late Feb. start is more typical for our region). We had only a few freezing nights once they had sprouted, but the seedlings did fine under plastic tray covers and/or 'floating row cover fabric' with the heat mats left on.
Here are some of those same tomato 'starts' on April 17. Some are beginning to flower already!
As some of you recall, we had a terrible problem last year when our potting soil was contaminated with herbicides (from un-composted horse manure) which killed many of our tomato-, pepper -, and flower-seedlings. No sign of that problem this year; all our seedlings look great!

Great, spring weather is in the forecast and we expect everything will really begin to grow much faster now. Hurray!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

No-Fail Kale: Growing Kale and Saving Seed

"The King of Vegetables; 'Kale' to the Chief!"

Cathy, Danielle and Llyn with "bouquets" of Red Russian kale to share at the Food Pantry.
Early spring in the Pacific NW is a time of joyful anticipation of the coming growing season. We already have hundreds of seedlings started in our greenhouses and, in a few short weeks we'll be able to transplant many early-season crops outdoors. But one of the great culinary pleasures of this time of year is the kale that wintered over from last season. Kale is one of those plants that when touched by a kiss of frost, becomes more sweet and tender than when growing at the height of summer.

Eat your kale for healthy skin, hair, bones and teeth!
There are many articles on-line about the nutritional benefits of kale and recipes for its preparation.  You will not find as many articles on-line about growing kale, using it as a cover crop, or saving your own seed which is what this article is focused on.

But, before we get into growing kale and saving seeds, in researching this post I discovered two important facts: Kale has the densest concentration of nutrients, per calorie, of a wide range of foods tested. (PDF of 72 tested foods) (explanation of chart).

And secondly, it is extremely important that, the source of the kale you eat is organically grown.
"The health benefits of kale greatly depend on the source you buy it from. Whenever you shop for kale, make sure to get organic kale, as it’s one of the most heavily pesticide-sprayed crops. Two-thirds of produce sampled in recent evaluations were poisoned with pesticides and non-organic kale ranks among the world’s most heavily polluted crops."(source)

How to grow it: Kale won't grow well in the tropics or arid regions but it's perfectly suited to a moist, temperate climate such as the Willamette Valley of Oregon where we live. There are several varieties available. The main two we grow are Toscana (or dinosaur) kale. With its greyish-green leaves (without many frilly edges) and mild-flavored tenderness, it is perfectly suited to make roasted kale chips (recipe below).


Toscana (or dinosaur) kale
But for ease of growing and hardiness through the winter, our favorite kale is Winter Red/Russian kale. This kale actually has the nickname 'hungry gap', after the period in winter in traditional agriculture when little else can be harvested. We've had stands of it survive through all but the most sustained snow and cold, outside and unsheltered through the winter.

Toscana kale is darker green and its leaves are less frilly (far left). Red Winter kale, hardier and more vigorous (easier to grow through the winter) is on the right.
Sign, we put with kale at the Food Pantry as many people were unfamiliar with eating it.
Typically we grow two main crops of kale per year. The first we start in early/mid-February.  We either start them in pots/six packs and transplant them outside (late March/early April) or we start them directly in beds in the greenhouse. We pick from both these plantings all the way until mid-July when a) the leaves become bigger and less tender and b) there is so much else coming ripe that we prefer to eat! In the heat of summer they also usually become infested with aphids and become inedible for this reason. This is also the perfect time to sow the second crop of the season (more on this below).

We start seeds in plastic tofu-containers with holes drilled in the bottom. We fill the containers mostly full of soil and press the soil down evenly with the bottom of another container. After sowing seeds, cover with scant, even layer of soil. Keep moist but don't over-water. These seedlings above are lettuce plants (to show spacing of seeds).
Once seedlings are large enough to handle easily and they have well-developed roots, but before they are root-bound, gently dump out the batch of seedlings and tease them apart, placing one in each cell of a six-pack.

In a few weeks, seedlings will grow and their roots fill the six-pack cells. They are then ready to transplant into garden-beds (18" apart). (Red Russian kale seedlings shown)
We have also sowed the seed loosely over a whole greenhouse bed in February (ideally the seeds are about 2" apart) and cover them lightly with topsoil. The kale comes up thickly filling the whole bed and grows rapidly in the protected climate of the greenhouse. It is easy to harvest whole clumps at a time with a sharp knife or scissors and, as long as you don't cut below where the leaves generate from, the kale will keep growing back all spring until a) you want to use the bed for something else or b) the greenhouse gets too warm for the cool-loving kale and it succumbs to aphids, or mold or gets too tough to enjoy.

Here, Chris is harvesting kale that was sown directly in a greenhouse bed. Using a sharp knife, he cuts off whole handfuls of kale leaving the node where new leaves sprout untouched for future harvests. The leaves will continue to re-grow for many, many months.
The second main crop of kale (for fall and winter eating) is sown in late July. It can be done in pots and transplanted, or loosely scattered as a thick crop (either inside or outside a greenhouse). It's counter-intuitive that you start these 'winter crops' in the peak of the summer heat but the seeds need enough time to germinate, and the leaves need long enough days to gain some height and volume as they will not gain much in size once the day-length shortens after autumn-equinox (Sept. 21 or so). We usually find it challenging to have enough room in our greenhouses at the peak of summer to grow a large kale crop indoors but, since kale does well outside, except in all but the harshest winters, we've had good luck with growing it outside.

Kale as a cover-crop: Below are some pictures of an experiment we did one year with kale as a cover crop. We sowed it thickly along with fava beans (tried to space plants about 2" apart). This was done by scattering the two varieties of seed and very lightly tilling them in with tiller at shallowest depth-setting. The kale did very well and lasted all through the winter. The fava beans succumbed to a sustained hard-frost and didn't survive till spring. After eating kale all winter-long, we tilled the rest in as a source for 'green manure'. This worked fine but we are now moving away from using the roto-tiller in the spring as it really compacts our clay-dense soil but, if you're still tilling in cover-crops and have a lot of kale-seed, it's a great way to go!

Kale and fava beans as a cover crop (planted in Sept., pictured in late October). Kale survived the winter; favas did not (froze). We ate kale all winter and tilled the kale into the soil in the spring as a 'green manure' (for fertility).
The same field of kale in February. OSU students harvesting a tub-full to take home and enjoy!
Springtime bonus: Kale 'raab'
Though there are some annual varieties of kale, most are biennial and set seed in their second season, after wintering over. If you have some kale that has survived the winter, look for the start of flowers forming. The best time to catch them is before the flowers begin to open (below). These kale flowers, called 'raab' (pronounced 'rob') are very tender and have a slight 'sweet' taste. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals.

Kale 'raab' (pronounced 'rob') is the flowers of the plant before they fully open. Tender, sweet and densely nutritious; a springtime treat! (pictured: Red Russian kale-raab) Note: Pick some leaves and stem along with the flowers; they'll still be tender at this time of year.
Here's Llyn picking raab off a Toscana kale plant in March or April.
Bella loves kale, raw from the garden! We prefer to steam it for about 7-min. and eat it with apple-cider vinegar or a touch of butter.
Saving seed: One of the pleasures of growing your own food from seeds is to begin to save your own seeds. With most varieties, it's not difficult and the seeds you save yourself will naturally select/adapt to be more perfectly suited to your local climate and conditions. It also contributes to having a greater sense of local food-security in case there ever comes a time when seeds are not distributed over long distances, or there is a seed-crop failure in another part of the country.

If left to mature, the raab opens up into yellow flowers. Once the flowers open, the plants become more woody and less pleasant to eat.
The flowers are pollinated and become seed-pods. Each plant can produce thousands of seeds! Wait to harvest the seed-pods till they are mostly turning purplish/tan and the pods are drying out (see above).
When ripe, the pods will easily open by rubbing them between your fingers yielding multiple seeds in each.
It's important to find the right time to harvest seed. You want to be sure the seeds are ripe enough that they are fully black and pop easily out of the pods, but don't wait so long that the birds eat your seed, or the pods shatter and spread the seed onto the ground below. Regardless of your best intentions, there are always some seeds that shatter out of the pods so you can anticipate 'volunteer' seedlings to germinate in places you've let kale plants go-to-seed.  We have one place in a greenhouse that has germinated kale plants for a third season in a row since we last let plants go to seed in that spot. That's what we call a 'high-quality problem'!

Mature kale seeds. Each plant is capable of producing thousands of seeds. This is just a small fraction of those saved from one plant.
You need to have some way of catching the seeds as the pods dry and open. After clipping the ripe seed-stalks, slip them gently in a paper-sack and hang in a dry place where birds and other animals can't reach them until the pods are all dry. You can also put them upside-down in a plastic tub or bucket. We have hung them from the rafters of our garden-shed, or on a shelf above our wood-stove, or put them in the greenhouse in a tub, on a shelf, covered by screens (to keep animals from eating them).

Seeds are ready for winnowing (separating seeds and chaff) when the pods are crisp and dry and crush easily by rubbing them between your hands. If it isn't in a tub already, carefully place the stalks of seed-heads into a tub and rub the pods between your hands to shatter them and release the seeds. As each stalk is cleaned, remove it from the tub. In the end you will have a mixture of seeds and dried leaves/pods (chaff). Winnowing is described in the caption below.

Here, Chris is giving a demonstration to Rook and Cindy of winnowing bean seeds (separating the seeds from the chaff). On a lightly breezy day, or in front of an electric fan, slowly pour seeds from one container into the other so the breeze blows the chaff away and the seeds fall into the lower container.
Storing seeds: Often, after winnowing, we continue to dry the seeds on a shelf above our woodstove. It is very important that they be totally dry or they can develop mold during storage. Heat can also destroy seeds so don't dry them any more than is necessary. Store seeds in a cool, dark place (or in your freezer, in an airtight container if you have the room). If you are new to saving seeds, check the plastic bags, jars or bottles a week or two after you store them to check there's no mold growing. We've lost a few batches due to mold which is always a sad thing when you go to check your seeds at the beginning of the next growing season.

Here's a LINK listing all our other posts about saving your own seed.

Delicious and nutritious, spring "greens": Toscana and Red Russian kale flanked by "Red Sails" lettuce.
Kale is easy to prepare and eat. We mainly use it steamed with a little apple-cider vinegar or lemon juice sprinkled on top, or a little butter but it it also good in smoothies (recipes), fresh in a tossed salad (recipe) or baked into chips (recipe). There are many great recipes on line. Always rinse well before using.

In the spring, when plants are small, the ribs will be tender and can be chopped right in with the rest of the leaves. As the plants mature, the ribs become more woody so best to slice them out and compost them.

Kale is incredibly nutritious. A 3.5 oz. serving (100g) gives you 7% of an adult's protein needs for the day as well as 5%- 15% of several vitamins and minerals. It is also very high in fiber.

(LINK: Health Benefits of Kale)

This 'ANDI' chart (below) lists 72 foods, rating them by their concentration of nutrients per calorie. Kale is #1! They're not suggesting that you rule out the foods that are higher in calories and less dense in nutrients (healthy bodies need high-quality fats, carbohydrates and protein) but most of us are deficient in the micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals etc) and fiber, that are essential for all our metabolic processes and optimal health. (LINK: Aggregate Nutritional Density Index - note, kale is #1) (LINK to one-page, printable ANDI chart).

'Rob' with kale 'raab'

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Crumb-free Whole-grain Corn Bread

Autumn Beauty sunflowers at harvest time
Here are two adaptations of a sweet cornbread  - one, a whole-grain traditional cornbread to serve as a side-dish and the second is more like a corn-cake/dessert. We make a big batch of the dry ingredients for both these recipes and keep them on hand for last-minute guests, potlucks or a yummy breakfast treat. Just add the wet ingredients, pop them in the oven and they're good to go.

Crumb-free, Whole-grain Corn Bread


Makes enough for five 9" x 9" square pans, five round pie or cake pans; or ten batches of six muffins or ten - 4"x 7.5" mini bread pans


3 cups Corn Meal (all yellow or half blue/ 1/2 yellow)

3 cups Corn Flour
1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour

1 1/2 cups Whole Wheat flour (use regular or bread  flour, not pastry which has less gluten and will make the bread less spongy)
1 1/4 cups Brown Sugar - packed
1/3 cup Baking Powder
2 1/2 tsp Salt
1 cup flax seeds (grind them in a coffee grinder – this will make your corn-bread spongier and more nutritious)

Mix flours together first. Mix other four ingredients together in a separate bowl and add to flour. Mix all dry ingredients thoroughly. This will assure that all your ingredients are evenly distributed. Since you'll be using the mix for multiple batches, you don't want all the salt (for example) in one batch and none in the others.

To Bake Batches of the bread/muffins: 

Makes one  9" x 9" square pan, pie or cake pan
Preheat oven to 375

In a mixing bowl whip together with a fork:

2 eggs
1 cup soymilk (vanilla or plain) or milk 
1/4 cup (4 TBS) light cooking oil

If you are adding other ingredients, mix them with 'above'
(optional: dried fruit, veggies, nuts, cheese - see below)

add 2 cups of dry mix

Gently fold in the dry mix. Stir just enough to moisten all ingredients and remove any big lumps. Baking powder works by making bubbles and if you mix too briskly, you release the bubbles and your bread won't rise as well. Consistency should be thick like a batter.

Pour into a well oiled 9 x 9 inch baking pan or spoon/pour into muffin tins (oiled or lined with papers).

Allow to stand on counter for about five minutes while the baking powder begins to form small bubbles.

Bake 30-35 min. till top is springy, lightly golden and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out mostly dry.

Variations: Southwest variation: add canned corn, diced peppers, little cheese cubes.
Dried fruit and chopped nuts is yummy too!

Veggie Corn Pot-Pie - in a well-oiled casserole dish combine cubed potatoes or yams, carrots, onions, celery, peas or green beans in the bottom. Pour corn-bread batter on top (1/2 batch). Bake at 375 for 30-35 min. (till bread is done).

Cut the recipe in half for mini bread pans or six-muffin trays.

Yummy Sweet and Crumb-free Corn Cake

Mix thoroughly in a large bowl:
3 cups All Purpose Flour or Bread Flour 
2 cups Whole Wheat flour (use regular or bread  flour, not pastry which has less gluten and will make the bread less spongy)
2 cups Corn Flour
2 cups Corn Meal - medium courseness (all yellow or half blue/half yellow)

In a smaller bowl, mix thoroughly:
1/2 cup coconut flour
1 1/2 cups firmly packed Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Baking Powder -  Baking pwd. loses freshness over time, especially if exposed to moisture. Add more, if needed to get proper rise.
2 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup Flax Seeds - start with 1 cup whole seeds and grind in a coffee grinder  - they will expand with grinding. Very important as they will add sponginess and delicious fiber.

Mix flours together first. Mix other four ingredients together in a separate bowl and add to flour. Mix all dry ingredients thoroughly. This will assure that all your ingredients are evenly distributed. Since you'll be using the mix for multiple batches, you don't want all the salt (for example) in one batch and none in the others.

To bake separate batches of the cake/muffins, follow directions for corn-bread above.

Variations: 
Pancakes - thin the batter with a splash of soy-milk, milk or water. Great with homemade apple butter, yogurt and honey or your own favorite topping!
Add your favorite dried fruits, nuts, coconut
Ismael in the corn-patch 2011


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

"Sharing Gardens" for Local, 'Plant-Based' Food Security

 A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance while building stronger communities.
Sharing creates abundance!
We've been watching the dramatic weather world-wide: floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves and record snows! In recent years, every country that grows food has experienced repeated significant crop-failures. Pests, weather and super-weeds are all taking their toll. It seems more important than ever for people to learn to grow, at least some, of their own food. At the Sharing Gardens (MAP), we demonstrate a style of gardening that builds soil fertility using locally-generated, renewable and sustainable materials - like leaves and grass-clippings - that are commonly considered waste products. This model also fosters trust and a sense of community at the neighborhood level; relationships that can be called upon in times of social, or environmental stress. It by-passes "business-as-usual" in that it generates a bounty of "organic" fruits and vegetables feeding far more people than it takes to run it and no money ever changes hands. We call it a "Sharing Garden".
Sharing the bounty - garden helpers "shop" for their week's vegetables. 
What makes these Sharing Gardens unique is that, instead of many separate plots, that are rented by individuals, we all garden together. All materials and labor are donated. The food we grow is shared by all who have contributed in some way. All surplus is donated to local food-charities (like Food Banks and Soup Kitchens). No one is ever charged money for the food that is grown.
Lettuce and other vegetables being donated to a local food-charity.
This model is easily replicated anywhere there are vacant lots with a water-source, and people with enough gardening experience to oversee the project and does not require a large input of money to make it work. It can be adapted to many different scales of gardening; from a few families who live and garden on the same block, to a multi-acre production farm. "Sharing Gardens" help keep materials out of burn-piles and the land-fill (garbage dumps) through re-using, re-purposing and encouraging people to share their surplus.

Overview of the Sharing Gardens
Benefits of a Sharing Garden 
Harvest Totals - 2012
Using Leaves and Grass-Clippings to Create Soil-Fertility
Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans
Grow Your Own 'Blue Corn'
 Wish List - To Donate

To view videos about the project, LINK including the the Peak Moment video: The Giving is Growing.
To read articles about the project: Click Here
 
Volunteers from our local university help the gardens thrive!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Yes, money really DOES grow on trees!"

Did you know that the average-sized deciduous tree can provide fertilizer for your garden worth about $50.00? This article outlines a few ways to utilize this mineral-rich resource, primarily through composting.
Greetings friends, here in our part of the world, we're headed into winter; the Gardens have (mostly) been put to sleep and we have time to reflect on this past season and share with you in a deeper way. Here's a post about  our new "budding" relationship with our local Grade School, and their help in gathering leaves for the Sharing Gardens.
 
Early in autumn, we were approached by the science teacher for 12-13 year-old students at the school that shares our back fence-line - Monroe Grade School. Marie-Louise has a classroom window that looks out on our gardens and had been curious for many years about a way to partner with the Sharing Gardens on a mutually-beneficial project. Her class was doing a unit on "Sustainability" and needed to find a way to perform "community service" (volunteering) that was related to living a sustainable lifestyle.

It's challenging enough to keep a small group of college-age students focused and busy so we needed a project appropriate to a large group of 12-13 year-olds!
We knew, from our experience coordinating "community service" projects with Oregon State University that it can be a challenge to focus the attention of even a small group of college-age students for an extended period of time so we had some concerns about bringing much larger groups of 7th-graders to help us directly in the gardens. After brainstorming for a few minutes, Chris had a great idea when he suggested we coordinate a leaf-raking project in our small town of Monroe, Oregon.
Llyn and Chris presenting info about mulching and compost.
In order to provide a context for the leaf-raking, Chris and I visited Marie-Louise's classroom with some samples of leaves and grass-clippings in various stages of decay to show the students how the leaves turn into soil-fertilizer. We explained that, at the Sharing Gardens, we no longer buy fertilizer from stores but create soil-fertility primarily by feeding the worms and micro-organisms in our soil. (We also use wood-ash from heating our house). The fertile soil then grows the nutrient-packed vegetables that we share in the community with those in need. (If you want to know more about how the Sharing Gardens work, click this LINK.)

We brought compost in various stages of decay...
A week later, the two classes of 16-18 students each, took a short, walking 'field-trip' to the Sharing Gardens. We toured the grounds in two smaller groups so they could continue to make the connection between raking leaves, and growing food, and living more sustainably. We were happy to see some of the young people show a real interest in what we do and how we live. One girl asked, "What's it like to be a vegetarian?". Another asked sincerely, "How do you cook anything without a microwave oven?". One young man found a moth that had landed on a plant and wondered if it would be alright if he picked it up. "Sure," I said, "as long as you're gentle. The insects are our friends in the garden." I watched him gingerly pick up the moth and shepherd it around for the rest of the tour, placing it gently on another plant as he left.
Garden tour: "Wow, compost!"

Garden tour: Everybody loves shelling beans!
We decided to make the leaf-raking itself - truly voluntary - so we wouldn't have a lot of students dragging their feet and resenting being required to do it. We set aside two Saturday mornings (and later picked one) in hopes of having good weather, and to assure that enough leaves would have fallen to make it worth everyone's time. Chris and I rode our bikes around town the afternoon before the Leaf-Raking Day in order to map out the route to rake the most leaves. Marie-Louise had her students make a few posters which they hung on community bulletin-boards so people would know we were coming. We also made fliers to distribute on the day of the raking that explained the project and told people how to donate more leaves, if they were interested.

It's easier to fill bags if you work as a team.
We picked a day after the leaves had really begun to fall in quantity.
We had a beautiful day to do the raking with crisp, sunny weather. We had eight or nine students come help with the raking along with four parents. We raked for about two hours and collected 37 giant bags of leaves. One of the parents had also done some raking with her two children at home and brought another nine bags!


Someone had heard we were coming and piled up all her leaves so all we had to do was bag them.

 
It takes a lot of leaves to mulch our entire garden, the orchards and greenhouses! So far, we've never had too many leaves but this year, we just might get close!
Leaf-raking isn't all work; here's one girl jumping in the raked pile.
Special thanks go to:
First Alternative Food Co-op - $30 gift certificate to buy organic apple juice and popcorn for snacks
Monroe's United Methodist Church (our neighbor) - who provided bathrooms for the rakers to use before and after the project
The parents who chaperoned
The students who helped with the raking and especially to Marie-Louise for reaching out to us and for doing all the extra work of getting permission-slips signed, buying the snacks and all the other steps that made this a successful project. We look forward to continued collaborations in the future!
Here is an article that we wrote about using grass-clippings and leaves as fertilizer.

Feel free to pass this post along to the teachers in your life. Raking leaves can be a fun and meaningful way for students to be of service in your community. We'd be glad to share our experience and provide templates for permission-slips and fliers.