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

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Musings

Winter Solstice was only meaningful to me on a rather "intellectual" basis when I lived in the city. Each year, as Autumn days drew shorter and evening commutes occurred more and more in the dark, I vowed to "pay attention to the seasons" and aspired to live a life in tune with natural rhythms. I was only ever marginally successful. These last two years, since living in rural Alpine, Oregon and growing a garden, the seasonal changes have become very real to me. The sun is setting these days at about 4:30 here, and doesn't rise again till about 7:30. I am acutely aware of just how few daylight hours there are and eagerly await the turning point of Winter Solstice. Even though winter will still have its grip on things  - weather-wise, I know the days will start getting longer and for this I am truly grateful.

I know many of you who receive these posts from Chris' and my garden blog are probably faced with your own winter blues these days. Even if you live in a city with its artificially extended day-light hours, you can't help but be affected by the turning seasons, the dour headlines, economic stress and other challenges of being human.

I send along this slide-show I put together with a song whose lyrics are meant to inspire you to keep looking for simple ways your bliss and gifts can intersect with the world's need. (link below)

"Light is returning,
Even though this is the darkest hour,
No one can hold
Back the dawn." Charlie Murphy

The Forest of a Million Trees

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Food Bank - Christmas Eve

Hello neighbors in the Willamette Valley,

It is a pleasant coincidence that the Monroe Food Bank will be open next week on Christmas Eve. What better time to share from the blessings each of us have been given with those who may be less fortunate at this time. The Food Bank will be open from 10:00 to 12:00  on Thursday, Dec. 24 in the garage and covered car-port behind the big, white Methodist Church in Monroe. Farmers/gardeners, if you have a surplus of potatoes, winter squash or other bounty from your garden, these donations would be welcome. I can't imagine many people's winter-crops survived last week's freeze but greens, beets, carrots or other fresh produce would be a special treat for those at the food-bank, at this time of year.

Canned goods, and dried goods and other commercially prepared foods are all welcome as well.

Thank you for your generosity and may this season of light touch you in miraculous ways,

Llyn and Chris
Alpine Food-Sharing Garden

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alpine Food-Sharing Garden is Done; Food Bank still needs donations

The Alpine Food-Sharing Garden had a killing frost over a week ago. It came on rather unexpectedly and it put an end to just about everything in the garden except the winter crops we planted in early September: kale, brussels sprouts, peas and a few other things. These are quite big enough to bring a harvest to the food-bank.

If your garden is still producing surplus produce, and you'd like to bring it to the Monroe Food-bank, the people there would be very grateful. Though on third Thursdays (tomorrow) the food-bank isn't open till 5:00 pm, you can still bring your donations by at any time in the day. Leave them on the carport behind the big, white Methodist Church on Orchard St. Other weeks the Food Bank is open 10:00 - noon. They are open year-round.

Thanks so much for your support -

Chris and Llyn
Alpine Food-Sharing Garden

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Building a Bean-Tipi

It's difficult to show the evolution of the garden because of its size (80'X 100'). Pictures taken to capture the whole garden just blur into a lot of undistinguished greenery and its easy to lose scale. Here's a short photo essay that shows the progress of one aspect of the garden; the pole-bean tipi that we made and planted in late May.

We began by prepping the soil, fluffing it up with a spade-fork and digging in rabbit manure. Beans don't need a lot of fertilization as they are able to "fix" nitrogen from the air. We mounded the soil into a ring and lay down a heavy bed of straw in the middle (6" thick). Next we chose three stout, straight bamboo poles and tied a knot around them about six feet from the ground. You want to place your knot lower than the height of your shortest other poles as they need to be able to lay in the crotches formed by this tripod. Spread the three tied poles into a tripod with the legs equal distance apart. Lay the other poles in the spaces between these main poles so that you eventually end up with your poles 4-5 inches apart at the bottom. Work your way in a spiral laying a new pole between these original 3 poles in a circular direction. Be sure to leave space for a door. Later in the summer, the tipi provides excellent shade and it's easiest to harvest the beans from within.

Here's the tipi's top after all the poles have been placed:

Plant the beans about 4-5 inches apart. Beans are a large seed so you don't have to groom the soil as much as for small seeds such as carrots or basil.

Here's the tipi about three weeks after we built it and planted the beans:

This picture was taken about eight weeks after planting:

Here's Llyn in the door of the tipi almost 10 weeks after planting, in late July (those are buckets of manure tea in the lower right-hand corner):

We harvested beans off the tipi for several weeks and yielded many, many pounds which we took to the food bank. It was relatively easy to harvest the beans because they hung down into the center of the tipi. Next year we're going to grow our cucumbers on a slanted trellis so they will hang down and be easy to harvest as well. This next picture was taken in late September just a week or so before we had a killing frost. Here's Llyn harvesting the dried bean-pods to thresh and save the seed for next year's garden.

Bean pods should be brown and mostly dry to the touch before you harvest them for seed. They won't develop much at all after you pick them and so you want the ripest, fullest bean-pods to ensure the most viable seeds. Here are a few ripe ones. This variety is called "Blue Lake" pole beans. (Blue Lakes also come in a bush-variety that won't vine up the poles.)

This last picture was taken in mid-October, a few weeks after the killing frost. That's a giant artichoke plant in the foreground (started from seed last March! - It had it's roots in a pile of seasoned rabbit manure.) One quarter of the garden is behind the pole-bean tipi and to the left.

Our garden has mostly been put to bed for the winter. We have some winter greens planted, some carrots and beets. We'll continue top harvest and share these as they ripen. The days are getting noticeably shorter and the winter rains have begun to fall in Oregon.

Thanks for following along on our garden adventure.

Llyn and Chris

Friday, September 11, 2009

Saving tomato seeds

One of the missions of the Alpine Community garden is to educate people about the importance of seed-saving and to offer techniques to demystify this process. Today's blog covers the practical steps necessary for saving one of the home-gardener's favorite fruits: the tomato!

In order to save seeds that will "grow true" and produce fruit similar to the one you saved seeds from, you must start with an "heirloom" or "open-pollinated" (OP) variety. Hybrid seeds are artificially created by seed companies to produce plants with unique qualities (early ripening, bug resistance etc). The problem is that they don't "breed true". If you save seed from hybrids, next year's plants may or may not be what you want. If you wish to save seeds, choose seeds or starts that say "open pollinated", OP, heirloom or non-hybrid.

OK, so lets say you have grown some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and you're ready to save seeds. If you have more than one plant to pick from, choose the plant that is healthiest, most robust, earliest to ripen and with the best-tasting fruit. Then, pick one or two fruits that are the best examples of these same qualities.. If there are other people who harvest from your garden, put a twist-tie, or in some other way mark the fruit so no one picks it prematurely. Let the fruit come to fullest maturity possible. It's OK even if it starts to rot a little.

Here are two heirloom tomato varieties we saved for seed this year. We saved them as beautiful examples of color, juiciness and size. That's a Black Krim in the lower-left and a Striped German in the upper-right.

In saving seed, you wish to mimic nature's process. Have you ever noticed what happens to the tomatoes left in the garden after the first frost? They turn to a slimy mush, with the fruit eventually dissolving away from the seed. In the following year, robust little volunteers emerge from where the tomato rotted. The way we mimic this process: Cut open the chosen tomato and put it in the blender with about the same amount of water as tomato pulp. Whiz it in the blender for about a minute, so all the flesh separates from the seeds. Don't about the seeds. They have a protective gel that keeps the blades from harming them. Pour them into a wide-mouth glass jar. Be sure to swirl the blender as you pour the last liquid out so no seeds are left in the bottom. If you're processing more than one tomato variety in a row, rinse the blender well so you don't mix seed varieties. Label the jar so you remember the variety of seeds you're saving.

The next step is to leave them to "rot". Leave them in the open jar for 4-7 days. When it's warm outside, the process will go faster. Stir them once or twice a day with a chopstick to help separate the seed from the pulp. (If fruit flies are a problem, cover the jar with cheesecloth during the fermentation process.) The pulp and non-viable seeds will form a layer at the top. The healthy seeds will sink to the bottom. Look for a nice scum to form on the top. Mold is OK. The picture on the left is of two varieties of tomato seeds in process. The ones on the right were just blended so no layers have formed. The ones on the left have been sitting a few days. The other picture shows the quality of the scum that has formed on the tomatoes once they are ready for the next step. Notice the bubbles which indicate a mild fermentation process.

The last step is to dry the seeds. Spoon out the scum and pour off most of the water. Add more water and stir them to loosen any remaining flesh and carefully pour off the excess water. Repeat this process till you've removed the majority of the flesh. Then pour the seeds through a fine-mesh strainer and rinse them in the strainer. Let them drip-dry and then tap them onto a piece of tin-foil, a jar-lid or other non-porous surface. Seeds will stick to paper towel or napkins. Transfer your label to the drying seeds and leave them to dry for a week or so. Be sure they are thoroughly dry before storage so they don't mold in the bag, envelope or jar.

Each seed-saver has his or her preference for containers to store seeds in. We use clean, small plastic bags or recycled plastic pill-bottles or other small jars. The most important thing is to keep your whole seed collection in a dry, dark environment with moderate temperatures. Avoid freezing or excessive heat. Stored well, seeds can remain viable for many years.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How Does Your Garden Grow?

It's been awhile since we've reported on the progress of Alpine's Food Sharing Garden. We've been as busy as nut-burying squirrels - harvesting the garden, sharing the harvest with the local food-bank and canning and drying some of the surplus. Just last week we began planting our fall/winter crops of greens, cabbage and brussel sprouts.

On average we take a well-mounded wheel-barrow full of produce to the Monroe Food Bank each week. Chris and I (Llyn) still do most of the garden's tending but the word has gotten out that Thursday is harvest day and we have volunteers showing up most weeks to help with the harvest and assist with other projects as they arise. Here are a handful of pictures that show our harvest and volunteers at "play".

Llyn Peabody with our first week's harvest:

Eva Riedlecker harvesting beans inside the tipi:

Steve Northway and Chris Burns planting fall crops:

We love growing food for people and we're already preparing for next year's garden. We'll have the luxury of having beds prepared and the fence built. We now know which produce is most popular at the food-bank so we're planning the garden around this information. Here's an overview of one of the lushest areas of the garden. That's the pole-bean tipi on the left and to the right is the 50' x 25' NE section of the garden with tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes, kale, collards, chard, raspberries and sunflowers. The picture was taken a month ago so things are even lusher now!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Harvest Time - Thursdays 9:00 - 10:00

We are grateful to our new Alpine-ian friends Eva and Jesse for their volunteer help in the garden. Here's a picture from last week of Eva harvesting beans inside the bean teepee.

The garden is coming on strong now. We still have lots of greens: mainly kale and collard and the 80 tomato plants are all in various stages of ripening.

We have a request for those of you who are picking from the garden for your own needs: please let us know if you have needs for large quantities of anything, or if you wish to pick something other than tomatoes and greens. Some of the plants are being saved for seed and some of the bean varieties are meant to dry on the vine.

You can reach us at 847-8797
Llyn and Chris
Garden Coordinators

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

3rd Thursday - Food Bank open 5 - 7:00 pm

The Monroe Food Bank is open from 5:00 - 7:00 pm this Thursday - August 12. Thank you to everyone who has been bringing their surplus garden produce to the Food Bank. You can drop it off any time during the day. Leave it under the carport behind the Methodist Church in Monroe.

Llyn and Chris
Alpine Garden Coordinators

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Monroe Food Bank - Thurs. 10:00 - 12:00

Thank you to those of you who have been bringing your surplus garden produce to Alpine Park and directly to the Monroe Food Bank. It's a wonderful feeling to see the eyes of the recipients light up when we arrive with bags full of farm fresh goodies!

Chris and Llyn will be at the garden this Thursday morning (July 30) between 9:00 and 9:45 to harvest. If you have surplus, you can bring it there, or take it directly to the foodbank behind the Methodist Church in Monroe.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bring Your Surplus Garden Produce to the Food Bank

Monroe Food Bank Hours:
10:00 - 12:00 am on 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Thursdays
5;00 - 7:00 pm on 3rd Thursdays

If you have surplus garden produce, or other contributions you'd like to make to the Monroe Food Bank, and you can't deliver them yourself, please bring them to the Alpine Park Wednesday evening or Thursday morning before 9:45. If we're not in the garden, just leave them on the picnic table under the picnic pavilion, in plastic bags. We'll make sure they get to the people who need them. (You can also take food donations directly to the Monroe Food Bank, in the garage behind the Methodist Church on Orchard St. This Thursday it's from 10:00 - 12:00 am) Llyn and Chris

Thanks to Dorothy and Evelyn for your help in weeding the perennial bed at the park. We've laid down clear plastic to "solarize" the weedy grasses. This will kill the grasses and their seeds so we can till them in and start fresh, planting perennial plants in the fall. (Let us know if you have plant "divides" you want to share with Alpine Park.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sharing the Harvest

If you have surplus garden produce, or other contributions you'd like to make to the Monroe Food Bank, and you can't deliver them yourself, please bring them to the Alpine Park this Thursday before 4:00 pm. If we're not in the garden, just leave them on the picnic table under the picnic pavilion, in plastic bags. We'll make sure they get to the people who need them. (You can also take food donations directly to the Monroe Food Bank, in the garage behind the Methodist Church on Orchard St. This Thursday it's from 5;00 - 7:00 pm) Llyn and Chris

Last week we took our first harvest down to the food-bank. We want to thank Evelyn Lee for sharing potatoes, peas and cukes from her garden too. People were so excited when they saw us coming and flocked around us to pick from our boxes of produce. Thank you to everyone who has contributed time, money or materials to the garden. It's working! Below, is last week's harvest.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Potluck and Garden Tour

What: Potluck and Garden Tour
When: Sunday, July 19th, 2009 6:30 - 9:00
Where: Alpine Community Garden - across from the old Alpine Elementary School
25114 Alpine Rd. 97456
Bring: Potluck offering, serving spoon, dishes, cup and flatware
Questions: Chris and Llyn 847-8797

We're having this gathering at the request of the Corvallis Oregon Tilth Gardening Club. They are a group that advocates for organic gardening and donated $250 to help us get our project growing. It should be lots of fun! Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sharing the Harvest

Well, we're harvesting form the garden now! Hard to believe it's only 12 weeks since we broke ground. We're eating lettuce (though some of it is already bolting due to the heat-wave we had last week), kale and collard greens. Zucchinis are just coming on and yesterday we spotted the first ripe tomato. (We won't be eating it though...each year we save the first tomato for seeds so we're selectively harvesting for the earliest crop. We'll let you know how to save your own tomato seed in a future blog.) Soon we'll have more tomatoes than we know what to do with! The raspberries that we transplanted from Evelyn Lee's garden are absolutely thriving and produce about two handfuls a day (Just about enough to feed whoever shows up to help with the garden on a given day). New, dark green leafy canes are coming up from the roots of the plants. Next year's harvest looks to be exponentially larger!

The intention for the Alpine Community Garden is to provide food for those people who contribute time, money or materials and for the surplus to be donated to the Monroe Food Bank. A few of us got to talking and realized that many folks here in the Alpine area have times when their gardens are producing more than they can possibly eat themselves. Chris and Llyn (the focalizers of the garden) have decided to do a harvest each week on Wednesday evenings, and to take the garden's surplus over to the Food Bank on Thursday mornings.

If you have surplus garden produce, or other contributions you'd like to make to the Monroe Food Bank, please bring them by on Wednesdays before 7:00 pm. If we're not in the garden, just leave them on the picnic table under the picnic pavilion. We'll make sure they get to the people who need them.

Thanks in advance!

Chris and Llyn

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Garden Update

The garden is growing exponentially now!

Steve Rose broke ground with his tractor on April 15th, 2009. Here's a picture taken on May 12...

And another on June 13th, of basically the same view, a week ago...

Here's the bean tipi we built and planted on May 22...

And here's a close-up taken June 16, 2009. The beans are really thriving from the rabbit-manure tea we feed them once a week or so. The straw-mulch keeps the soil warm and moist which they like too.

Local Folks Mark Your Calendars: Third Sunday of July, July 19th, 2009 -- 6:30 The Corvallis Chapter of Oregon Tilth is hosting their monthly potluck and garden tour at the Alpine Community Garden.
This is a chance to meet other organic gardeners in the area, make connections and share gardening tips. We'll share food together, tour the garden and have a campfire in our new fire-pit! Children welcome. There are picnic tables at the park. you can also bring fold-up lawn-chairs or a picnic blanket.

Gratitude to Margi Willowmoon for the purple potato fingerlings. We've got almost 50 feet of them planted! And to Vicki Thompson for the green pepper and jalapeno starts. We found good homes for all of them. Thanks to any of you who came and picked up tomato starts. They're all gone now. We've got about 80 tomato plants in the garden itself; all different varieties. That oughta keep the Alpine-area real saucy come harvest-time!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Re-Purposed materials

Most people have heard of the terms: Reduce, Re-use and Recycle. I just heard of a new term for something I've been doing for years and that is to "Re-Purpose". This means that you find a new purpose for things than they were originally intended, thereby keeping them out of the waste stream. Gardens provide fantastic opportunities for re-purposing. Below are some pictures of some of our re-purposed items.

Seedling starts in tofu containers. We drill holes in the bottom for drainage.

Cut a hook-shape off the ends of plastic coat-hangers. These make great hooks to keep soaker hoses in-place.

Twist-ties have hundreds of uses in the garden. Here we are fashioning a pole-bean trellis out of bamboo.

Here in the country, bailing twine is plentiful. We clip the bails close to the knots and then tie the twine end-to-end and wrap it around pvc-pipe for use in staking out rows etc. (A great rainy-day project or when it's too hot to be in the garden and you need an excuse to sit in the shade for a bit.)

Lastly, ever wonder what to use empty soy-milk containers for? We rinse them out really well, and pull them out flat (open up the folded corners and they flatten easily). You can cut them with scissors or, if you have access to a chop-saw, you can cut the ends off ten or more at-a-time.

When we first transplant young seedlings of lettuce or kale or any tender, young plants that are susceptible to cut-worms, slugs, bunnies or intense weather, we use the containers as a collar around the plant.

Check carefully to remove any slugs or unwanted bugs from around the base of the plant. Also pull away any clods of dirt or leaves they may be hiding under (you don't want to trap the pests in with your tender seedlings!) Open the container and  slip it around the plant and pin it in place with slender stakes, bamboo branches or some other narrow sticks at two corners. Make sure the collar comes in contact with the soil to keep insects from crawling underneath.  This technique also provides a micro-climate for your seedlings, protecting them from high winds. The foil liner of the containers reflect sunlight so the plants receive plenty of sun while they're small.

Soon they'll be peaking over the top and you can gently slip the collar off. Milk cartons work too. Milk cartons are also excellent to save for freezing applesauce and other liquid/semi-liquid foods. Because of their shape they are a very efficient use of freezer-space.

We'd love to see and share your ideas. Send us a photo and a short description and we'll share your ideas with others through our website. Just drop us an email: AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com -- Our website is http://www.AlpineGarden.blogspot.com/

Below is a link to an interesting article about a guy who gave me the idea for the term: re-purposing. He has built a sail-boat out of soda and water-bottles (called "Plastiki"). He's using it to bring awareness to the environmental problems posed by single-use plastic bottles.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lets Do It!

Here is a short (5 min.) inspirational video about how the country of Estonia cleaned up all the garbage that had been dumped in its forests and wild-lands, in one day!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One Cannot Live by Bread Alone...

It's time again for the Bread for Life program and Art at the Community Center.
First Thursdays of the Month - 3:30 - 6:00 in the Library in Alpine.
The next one is this Thursday, June 4, 2009.

Bring a portable project (knitting, small painting, jewelery-making
etc) or use the materials that are down there (paints/colored markers,
pencils, collaging, etc), or just come for the company and to see what
others are working on.

I'll have the library open for people to pick up bread from the Bread
for Life program. If the weather's nice, Chris Burns will probably be
gardening in the park across the street.

Young people of all ages are welcome as long as they're well-behaved
and pick up after themselves. :-)

If you have any questions, email me at AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com

Llyn Peabody

Alpine Garden in the News

We had a reporter and photographer come out to the garden last week and do an article about the Alpine Community Garden for the Gazette Times, the Corvallis daily paper. The article was featured on the front page and nicely outlined the garden project. Thank you Kyle, for the story and Casey, for taking pictures.

Here is a link to the article:

We've had some help getting the garden planted from some of the youngest members of the community. A few weeks ago preschoolers from across the road ventured over to the garden to poke sunflower seeds into the warm, waiting soil. As many of you know, who are following the blog, we grow sunflowers for their food value, as well as their beauty (they make delicious sprouts). We have two rows of the plants coming up from seeds we saved from previous gardens. We started ten plants of the Mammoth Russian variety too, from store-bought seeds. This variety can grow 8-10 feet tall and has the giant heads that can be a full foot across carrying hundreds of large seeds in each one. Sunflowers grown in the same garden can cross-pollinate, so if you want to have seeds that stay true, you have to only plant that one type.

We planted several varieties of pole-beans at the base of the sunflowers. We gave the sunflowers several inches head-start so the beans have somewhere to grow. These will be pretty and productive partnerships between the plants. (Below: pole beans coming up next to the bamboo tipi.)

We've got over half the garden mulched with at least a minimal mulching. Thanks to Lori of Alsea, OR who donated 3 tons of spoiled hay! We were only able to pick up one ton of it so far (due to our old funky 1968 GMC...we have to borrow a stronger truck if we're going to get the rest). Karen Finley - of Queen Bee Honey - turned us onto a big stash of dried grass clippings behind the baseball field across the street from our park. Also Rachel Unrein rescued some huge bales of rotting hay from her grandpas farm and brought those down to the garden. The moldy, rotten stuff, though not much fun to work with, is fantastic for the garden. Because it's already decomposing, the nutrients in the grass are more readily available to the garden. Also, the mold and rotting makes the grass seeds no longer viable which means less of them will sprout as weeds in bare patches of your soil. (Below: Our heavily mulched garden. Each hay "flake" is 4-5 inches thick. We lay them down side-by-side in the rows.)

The garden is almost totally planted now. We still have a few rows to fill in but the bulk of the planting is done. We want to thank Steve Rose again for contributing a box of starts to round out our garden. He gave us some hot pepper varieties, and early-bearing Stupice tomatoes (they're already setting fruit!). It looks like we've got the beginnings of some yummy salsa growing in the garden.

Just a reminder: For those of you growing your own gardens this year, it's not too late to plant a little extra to take and share with Food Banks and other support services in your area. Consider growing winter-storage crops such as squash and potatoes as these will 'keep' long after the last killing frost in your garden.

Here again is a link to the article: http://tinyurl.com/n64wwb

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mulch-es Gracias

Alpine Community Garden - May 2009

The Alpine Community Garden is off to a great start! We've got all but about five rows of the 80'x 100' plot planted, and the fence (mostly) in place. If you live nearby, c'mon down to see the progress we've made in the last month. Remember, the Alpine Community Garden is growing food for the Monroe Food Bank, the Senior Lunch Program in Monroe and others in need in our community. "Give what you have, receive what you need." Contact us by email at AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com if you have donations, comments, would like to volunteer or would like to be added or removed from this regular blog-update. Also, if you are local and know of anyone with mulch materials who may not get this blog, please forward it, or give them our number. Thanks. Chris and Llyn 541-847-8797

Today's blog is about the benefits of mulching your garden. We are in need of significant quantities of mulch. Ideally we prefer bedding straw (either baled or raked out of animal stalls), spoiled hay (maybe you have some bails that are moldy or otherwise unsuitable for feeding to livestock that we could use in the garden), leaves from last fall (it's probably too late to rake them from under trees but if you've got a big pile we could collect, we'd be interested.) or grass clippings (either in a pile, or drying on your lawn, so we can rake them up) . Ideally, we'd love to have mulch-materials delivered to the garden but let us know what you've got and maybe we can come collect them from your home or farm.

Autumn Leaves Mulching the Broccoli and Peas from a Previous garden

The next big step for the garden's health involves a heavy mulching on the pathways between the rows. The method of organic gardening that we're doing focuses on feeding the soil and nourishing a healthy environment for worms, beneficial insects and micro-organisms. Soil is composed of sand, clay and decomposing plant/organic material (bio-mass). If these components are out of balance, crops will suffer. Mulching adds bio-mass to the soil, helps retain moisture (so you don't have to water as much) and, along with worm castings, compost and the small amount of organic fertilizer were adding, literally feeds your mini-livestock (worms, bugs and micro-organisms). They in turn correct the acid/alkaline balance in the soil, dig little tunnels that provide easy pathways for the plant's rootlets to grow into and digest the mulch thereby making all the nutrients locked into the bio-mass available to your garden, (worm poop (or castings) is like vitamins for your soil!) . Mulching also blocks weeds from getting sunlight so they can't grow, which cuts down on the need for weeding.

As we have prepared the garden this first year in Alpine, we dug soil out of the paths and heaped it in mounded rows. This makes the soil deeper and looser in the rows, making it easier for plants to grow. We will mulch heavily, primarily in the paths where we walk. Though we've got exceptionally good soil for a first-year garden, it seems that it has more clay than is ideal. The mulch we add in the paths between rows will decompose from sun and rain and worms and micro-organisms and make next-year's garden even better because of this added plant matter.

Many people don't realize that a plant's root system may reach out well into the pathways. Another advantage of mulching is that you make the soil less likely to become compacted in the pathways, and it's also more pleasant to be on your knees when weeding, or harvesting plants.

Here are the kinds of mulch we prefer, and why:

Bedding straw:
Straw is from the stalks left standing after grains are harvested (wheat, barley, rye). It consists just of the lower stems of the plant. We prefer the straw because it doesn't have as many seed-heads (which means less weeding for us). We can use straw straight out of the bale, or raked out of animal stalls. The benefit of used straw is that it contains urine and manure from the livestock which functions as fertilizer for the garden. We can also use spoiled hay. (Pictured at left) (If you are using straw or hay to build your compost piles, or deeply mulch your garden, please read our post about Herbicide Contamination of Compost, Manure and Mulch)

Autumn Leaves: Leaves from maples and fruit-trees are some of our favorites. In the fall we either put them directly in the garden rows so they will decompose over the winter or rake them into big piles and cover them in plastic for use in the spring. Not all leaves are beneficial. Walnut leaves (for example) are toxic to many plants and will retard their growth or actually kill them. (Below: A big load of autumn leaves diverted from the landfill/burn-pile)

Grass Clippings: Some people like to leave grass clippings on their lawns/fields because they act as a mulch and fertilizer for the growing grass. Other people have collection-bags on their mowers and pile their grass clippings in one place. Grass clippings make an excellent garden mulch and fertilizer as they are easy to spread and compost readily making the nutrients easily available to your plants. We don't recommend bagging up your lawn clippings because they will become a stinky, gooey mess if they decompose in an airtight container or bag. If you wish to save grass clippings for later use, either leave them in the lawn/field for a few days in the sun and rake them after they've dried or use your bagger-mower to collect and then spread them just a few inches thick on a large sheet of plastic, in the sun, and they will dry quickly. Then you can store them in bags for use at a later time. (Below: Spoiled hay mulching on a lawns-to-gardens project. Cox Lane Garden)

In this 'full-circle' style of gardening, we are always looking for ways to pull materials out of the waste stream (taking up room at the land-fill, or being burned in burn-piles) and save money by re-using and recycling. In the garden, "one man's trash" can truly be "another man's treasure". Let us know if you have any of these mulching materials available, so we can take them off your hands and turn them into 'garden treasure'. Chris and Llyn: 847-8797 AlpineCoGarden@gmail.com
Thank you to Gary Weems for donating time and materials to get the toilet working again at the Alpine Park. Thanks to Steve and Beatrice Rose for housing our tomato-starts in their greenhouse this spring. Thanks to Patty Parsons for writing the grant and to the South Benton Foundation for awarding our project $350 (this means that cash donations have now surpassed $1000.) Thank you to Dorothy Brinckerhoff for being our treasurer (and all-around go-to gal!). We also appreciate Phil Hawkins and Emily Smith for the picture spread and article that featured our Alpine Park clean-up day in the Tri-County news.

Fun in the leaf pile!