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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Crocuses, Onions and Peas, Oh My!


First crocuses of 2014
The last of the fourteen inches of our February snow have melted though rivers are still running high from recent heavy rains. Here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, it still feels like winter is hanging on a bit but just in the last few days we noticed crocuses blooming in our yard; always a sign of spring's approach.

Another sign of spring's arrival includes getting peas and onions started in the greenhouse which is what we did last week.

Here are links to articles we have written about the techniques we use to get a jump-start on pea and onion growing.

We continue to plug away at the old farmhouse renovations. Still lots to be done but we hope we can begin moving in by late-March. Here are a few pics:

An upstairs bedroom. All exterior walls have been retro-fitted with rigid foam insulation and 1/4" paneling. Should be very cozy! Painting begins soon.

We're creating our own kitchen cabinetry out of second-hand drawer-units and old solid-core doors for counter-tops. We're installing our own plumbing but have hired a great guy to re-do all the electric. Don't want to take any chances with faulty wiring.
We're re-sheathing the whole outside as the original siding is over 100 years-old and, in places, showing signs of extreme wear. The upright poles are framing for our wood-shed. We'll be heating exclusively with wood. All windows and doors have been replaced with double-paned glass.
Gratitude to Steve Rose for grape and basket-willow cuttings; Courtney Childs for grape cuttings and his sunny disposition! If they all root, it looks like we'll have plenty of canes to share--let us know if you're interested in starting some grapes in your own garden. And thanks as well to Al and Arlene Looney for their donation of walnut/laminate flooring; it will really tie things together nicely at the old farmhouse.

If you're local and would like to come join the fun, be sure to let us know! Here's a link to our volunteer (share-givers) info-page.

We hope that signs of spring are showing up in your neck of the woods!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Giving is Growing - Peak Moment Video

 Here's a beautiful video about the Sharing Gardens, just released by our friends at Peak Moment TV. Filmed in July 2013 with the garden's bounty as backdrop, we explore the philosophy that is at the root of the gardens: simple-living, gratitude and giving without accounting. Enjoy!

Our deepest gratitude goes out to all of you who have supported this project in any way, from distant well-wishers to those of you locals, rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands in the dirt side-by side! All of us together have made this expression of 'sharing' possible.

Here's the video (watch it here on our site by clicking on the image below, or click the icon in lower right-hand corner of image to view on YouTube):


 To watch it on the Peak Moment site, or view their other excellent programs, Click Here.

If you've enjoyed it, and feel so inclined, please pass it along to your network of friends and family. Much love, Llyn and Chris - The Sharing Gardens

Part of our massive beet harvest - 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Putting Down Roots--The Sharing Gardens Has a Permanent Home!

Chervena Chuska sweet peppers
Hello friends and supporters of the Sharing Gardens, near and far -

We realize it's been literally months since we've posted anything new on our site. So much great stuff has been happening that we've been feeling too overwhelmed to write! What follows is the really big news. We promise we'll fill in details and share photos and highlights from the 2013 growing season as soon as we can, but for now...

The most exciting development is that we're buying the land we've been gardening on for the past four years in Monroe! The property is about three and half acres (we've been growing food on about 2/3 of an acre up till now). It has two existing sheds and a farmhouse built in 1875 (it's the second oldest house in Monroe). There's a deep, strong well that produces delicious abundant water and an artesian spring that brings water right to the surface. The farmhouse is two-stories high and will need a lot of work (it's been unoccupied for about seven years and heavily vandalized.) But it's "bones" are solid and it's got great soul. We've already begun renovations and it's going to be a sweet place to live.

The 1875 farmhouse.
Back side of farmhouse
The majority of the land has been pasture/grass. Now that we know we can stay, we're preparing ground to put in fruit and nut trees and berry bushes. Our local friend and supporter, David Crosby (not the rock star!) has been helping us find nursery stock to get us going. Eugene Wholesale Nursery is providing us with 33 trees, 6' to 8' tall (apples, pears and plums) at three dollars apiece! They're the "seconds" so some may be shaped a little funny till we get them pruned up right. David has also helped us connect with Fall Creek Nursery who specializes in blueberries. These folks have made an outright donation of three dozen bushes, specially selected for our growing conditions (that will be three, fifty-foot rows). We also want to plant figs and seedless grapes. Please let us know if you have a lead on where we can get some cuttings locally and we'll root a bunch to share. (Please see our complete wish list to see how your cast-offs can become Sharing Gardens treasures.)

Most of the original square nails are still holding the farmhouse together!
Some of the plans for the land are still developing... There's a low part of the land that might be perfect to grow cane-willow (for basket weaving) and bamboo (for various purposes). Our neighbor has been encouraging the native Camus lily to re-establish itself on his wetlands and we too want to encourage native species to regain a foothold. We've started a hedgerow of Rosa Rugosa - which will provide giant rosehips for both humans and wildlife and we've managed to establish five American chestnuts (endangered on the East coast). Chestnuts also provide food for people and our animal friends.

Tree planting--a sign of hope.
We are very grateful to the Crowson family (the previous owners of the land). Chester (the patriarch of the clan) was the one we first approached about using the land for free. He really loved our project and gave us his full support--even paying to have a new pump installed in the well and paying the power-bill to keep the pump running for these past four seasons. When he passed away in the winter of 2012 we were a bit anxious about whether we would be allowed to stay but his grown children were happy to carry on with the original agreement. We always knew that the land was for sale and that, if it ever sold that we would have to leave at the end of that year's growing season. That's why we never planted fruit trees or invested much in permanent improvements to the land or buildings.

At first, when oldest son, Jerry Crowson told us that the family had to get serious about selling the land, our hearts just fell. The original asking price was way beyond anything we could afford. But then he told us that they were dropping it by about 2/3 and it suddenly was within our means! Much thanks too to Llyn's Dad, Bob Peabody who made the finances available for us to purchase the land.

Sunny days in the bean patch
Now we can really put down roots and expand our rural arts school--offering hands on, practical experience in growing food organically, canning and other forms of food preservation, vegetarian cooking, basket-weaving and all the other aspects of our Mission Statement. The Sharing Gardens will continue to thrive and grow providing a common-ground gathering place dedicated to the cultivation of generosity.

A great year for carrots...and kids!
Thank you for all your support and help to encourage us along the way.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Saving Tomato Seeds

Striped German - Heirloom tomato
One of the missions of the Sharing Gardens 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! If you're new to seed-saving tomatoes are good to start with because of their relative simplicity.

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 (not hybrid). 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.
"Heirloom" tomatoes come in all types: here are large paste-tomatoes called "Long Toms"
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 largest and/or 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.

Black Krim ans Striped German
Here are two heirloom tomato varieties we saved for seed this year (right). We saved them as beautiful examples of color, juiciness and size. That's a Black Krim on the bottom and a Striped German on the top.

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: Remove the stem from your chosen tomato and put it in the blender with enough water to fill a quart jar. Whiz it in the blender for about a minute, so all the flesh separates from the seeds. Don't worry 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 or a lid 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. The viable seeds will have sunk to the bottom but be carry not to pour them out with the pulp/water. Add more water, allow to settle and continue to pour off excess flesh. 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. We find that the lid to a plastic tub (like a yogurt container) works best as it's flexible and we can "pop" off the seeds after they've dried. 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.

Tomato seeds drying.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Grow Your Own Protein - Scarlet Runner Beans

by Chris Burns
Just like snow flakes, you'll never find two that look exactly alike,  attesting to Nature's infinite variety of expression!
Have you ever seen these beautiful beans for sale at any market?  Would you even know what they were if I didn't tell you?  Don't they look like some kind of 'Magic Bean' that Jack of 'The Beanstalk' fame might have planted?  If you haven't guessed by now, I'll tell you. They're Scarlet Runner Beans and they're called that for two good reasons.  One, they have the most intensely scarlet red flowers, and Two, they 'run' up any pole, tree, fence or trellis that happens to be close to where they are growing.  If you've never grown them then maybe it's time to consider giving them a place in your garden.

I've grown them many times before, but up until recently I always considered them to be strictly 'ornamental'.  Don't know why!  Perhaps it's because they were described that way in the catalog from which I ordered my first seeds.  As you can see in the pictures posted with this article, they add exquisite beauty to any garden patch. It wasn't until 2011 that I sampled them as cooked, dried beans and discovered their beauty is only rivaled by their delicious flavor!
Scarlet Runners vining up the bamboo trellis. We grew a 70-foot row last year and are doubling it in the 2013 season.
These beauties grow steadily to a dramatic height of 10-12 feet (or more) and need a sturdy trellis of some sort to support the weight of their generous profusion of bean pods (we used bamboo poles tied to a wire pulled taught between t-posts).  The pods are deliciously sweet when they are young and tender (about 3-4 inches long).  So sweet, in fact that it was the first thing our two teen-age garden-helpers would seek out and munch on whenever they came to the gardens.

Bean pod-loving teens!
If it's mainly green beans that you're looking for though, it's probably best to grow another variety like 'Blue Lake' or 'Contender' which provide you with more of a volume at each picking.  These Scarlet Runners tend to produce pods steadily over a longer season but they become tough and stringy if they aren't picked on the small side.  The reason they probably aren't grown commercially for dried beans is that they must be hand-picked. At the Sharing Gardens we've turned this limitation into an asset as the weekly bean-picking was a task that folks with back and knee-issues could accomplish easily standing up. After a few days laid out on screens in the greenhouse the husks were dry enough to split open easily by hand. This was a task that many volunteers (share-givers), who weren't able to do more strenuous tasks,  found fun and relaxing; it also provided an opportunity to sit in the shade and chat with new found friends. These beautiful beans are rather large --about the size of a fat Lima bean-- and therefore yield enough to make a pot of soup-beans in a short time. If you're serious about growing your own protein-source, Scarlet Runners make an excellent choice.

For those who enjoy attracting pollinators to your garden, you'll likely find (as we did) that the flowers regularly attract hummingbirds and many beneficial insects. But the best kept secret of all is just how delicious the dried beans are. They have a mild flavor and, unlike Fava beans, their skin is thin (not even noticeable) and they have a velvety texture.

A bamboo tipi provides a trellis for beans and beautifully frames our garden helpers.
To cook these beans for eating, soak them over night just like you would any other, with about 1/3 beans to 2/3 water in a stainless or cast iron pot.  Pour off the water the next day; rinse the beans with fresh water and put them back in the pot. Add fresh water until the level is about 2-3 inches over the beans.  Don't add any salt because it won't allow the beans to absorb the water as they cook and they'll never soften.  I like to cook them on the woodstove in the winter.   These beans stay very firm when they're finished cooking but can be easily mashed and used as refries, or made into a hearty chile with tomatoes, onions, peppers and Mexican spices.  I cook up a large pot at a time and, once rinsed and cooled, I pack them into smaller zip-lock bags which I stack in the freezer to add to stir-fried kale and leeks with potatoes all winter long. Instant dinner!

Be creative! Sometimes just a plain ole' bowl of beans with olive oil, soy sauce, finely chopped onions and grated cheese is all you need to get you in the mood to go outside and brave the winter elements.

Anyway, if you want to enjoy these wonderful and versatile garden gems, the time to plant is NOW! (late May or first week of June in our region)  If any of our local readers need seed  please let us know and we'll get you started, and you can save your own for next year.  Happy Gardening!