bee in poppy2_9307   butterfly sage1_8593

Beneficial bugs abound in our gardens and you can create a diverse garden ecosystem to encourage them! You can attract not just pollinating insects, but also the insects that will eat pests. The soil, too, is alive with billions of organisms that help to create a fertile soil.

On Saturday, April 5th, from 10 am – 12 noon learn about the

  • amazing web of life in our soil and how to nurture it
  • pollinators that are essential for our gardens, and our community
  • predators and parasitoids that keep our garden ecosystem from becoming unbalanced
  • flowers and herbs we can plant to attract beneficial insects, and when to plant them
  • garden practices to help our garden ecosystem become diverse and thrive

This Growing Groceries class is taught by Cary Peterson, and is held at the Whidbey Island Community Education Center at Bayview Corner. More details HERE.

ImageOn February 7, instructors Tom Murphy and Erin Ryan returned to Chinook with a hardworking crew of students from Edmonds Community College’s Learn and Serve Environmental Anthropology Field (LEAF) School.

The team spent the morning touring the Good Cheer Food Bank and Garden with Cary Peterson, learning about food justice, sustainable growing, and the compost cycle. They then came to the Whidbey Institute to work with Maggie Mahle to learn about the fertility cycle and soil building. The planned activity—flipping beds—was deferred due to frozen ground, so they discussed pine blister rust at the site of the felled white pines and then engaged in a service project by clearing small and large wood debris from the open forest area near the heart of Chinook. This material will be composted for use in the Hügelkultur tradition, which employs rotted wood to create nurselog-like conditions in the garden bed. They also moved gravel in to the greenhouse floor via bucket brigade, then closed with reflections in the Sanctuary.We offer our thanks to the students and instructors for their effort, assistance, and learning! We are grateful for our ongoing partnership with LEAF.

A big thank you to John Baumgardner, Justin Brooks, Kahte Culevski, Muriel DeKlerk, Daryl Douglas, Stephanie Frank, Erin Haley, Kymberly Hoyle, Sylvia Lin, Hubert Ly, Alec Meade, Chelsea Rabourn, Mac Repman, Sierra Rudnick, Hannah Siebart, Al Tidmore III, Erin Gamble, Christopher Shipway, Laurie Ross, Erin Ryan and Professor Tom Murphy!

Photos by Cary Peterson.


 Whidbey Institute new logo  swsd logo 14nov13 copy

Community Gardening Leadership Training 2014

The Good Cheer Food Bank, the Whidbey Institute, and the South Whidbey School District are partnering to offer a training in community gardening and leadership skills.

We are seeking motivated individuals who wish to gain skills for future leadership positions in the field of sustainable community gardening. The training will combine hands-on, practical growing skills in small-scale food production with the leadership skills needed to initiate and manage community gardening projects, to coordinate volunteers, and to implement education and outreach programs. Apprenticeships start March 1st and continue through Oct. 31st.

Housing and food provided. Details and application below.

Community Gardening Leadership Training DESCRIPTION 2014

Community Gardening Leadership Training APPLICATION 2014

For more information and to apply, email Cary Peterson goodcheergarden@gmail.com
Exceptional applicants will be considered on a rolling enrollment basis through February. Early application is highly recommended.

The garden is completely put to bed for the winter now. We have a few overwintering crops of chard and kale, but the other beds are tucked away under lush beds of green cover crops, or sleeping under thick blankets of brown leaves. With a little more time to spare, we’ve been having lots of fun getting crafty during our weekly classes with the 3rd grade Waldorf students! A favorite project has been dyeing wool with natural dyes. During one class, we harvested nettles around the garden to make a batch of dyed wool, and used a large bag of yellow and purple onion skins for another batch.


Harvesting nettles on a cool day.

The wool turned out beautifully!


On the left is yarn dyed with nettles. On the right is wool dyed with onion skins. The raw wool on the right is comes from a local farm, where the 3rd graders learned about shearing sheep!

We used some of the wool to weave into the Waldorf loom that is located in the garden. We hope that birds will peck at the seeds and use other bits for building their nests in the spring!


Here is a simplified version of the recipe that we used, adapted from a favorite herb book. Make sure to use gloves when handling the alum!

1/4 lb of wool
2 oz of alum
1/4 oz of cream of tartar
1 gallon of water

We packed our onion skins or nettle up to the water line of our pot.

1. Wash the wool with warm water and soap.
2. Bring the plant matter to a boil in a large pot, then simmer for an hour.
3. Strain out the plant matter.
4. Add the alum and cream of tartar.
5. Allow the water to cool, until it is lukewarm.
6. Add the wool and slowly bring to a simmer for an hour. Stir occasionally.
7. When the wool has reached the desired color, pull the yarn and rinse in baths of successively cooler temperatures until the water is clear.
8. Hang to dry.

Again, this is a simple recipe, and you may find one in more detail in books or online. Have fun — and if you dye some yarn, we would love to know which plant you used and how it turned out!

We’ve had a fantastic summer!

The Westgarden has been a huge success this year, offering us hundreds of pounds of produce for the South Whidbey community. About a third of our produce (fresh, local, and organically grown!) went straight to the Good Cheer Food Bank, improving access to quality, healthy foods. Another part of our produce made sure that every group that came to the Whidbey Institute for a conference, festival, or gathering had produce from the Westgarden in their meals. Fresh vegetables and fruits also went towards feeding volunteers at our work parties and during service learning classes.

We grew a great variety of vegetables and fruits, and they produced abundantly with the love and care of our volunteers. Along with a new beehive, a new chicken coop and flock of chicks, and some greenhouse renovations, the garden is looking better than ever.


Here are a few highlights of the year!

Many, many beds were flipped and repaired…


Hundreds of seeds and starts were planted…


Many hours were spent tending and weeding…


And we were rewarded with a beautiful, bountiful harvest.





Our biggest tomato this year weighed a whole pound!

A deep and heartfelt appreciation to everyone who made this year possible.


See you back in the garden in the spring!

With the cooler weather and shorter daylight hours, the garden’s vegetable production is slowly coming to a close. However, the work is not yet done! It’s important to put the garden to sleep for the winter. The students from the Learn and Serve Environmental Anthropology Field (LEAF) School from Edmonds Community College came to the Westgarden to learn about ways to prepare the garden for the next season.

A great way to prevent weeds from germinating, to prevent soil erosion, and to restore nutrients in the soil is to plant cover crop seed. Earlier in the summer, we had planted buckwheat, an excellent bee forage plant as well as a fast-growing, reliable warm weather cover crop. The plants were mature, so we collected the seed to plant again next year!


While some were collecting seed, others were flipping the compost pile. We added a biodynamic compost starter to add beneficial bacteria and fungus to the pile. Turning the decomposing plant matter onto the fresher plant matter speeds up the composting process, so that it will be fully decomposed and ready to use in the spring!


Next, we weeded, edged, and flipped three garden beds to show the different ways to prepare a bed for the winter.

With the first bed, we planted garlic in worm castings, and mulched the bed with straw.


In the second bed, we sowed a mix of cover crop seed, including nitrogen fixing legumes Austrian field pea, fava bean, hairy vetch and crimson clover, along with winter rye, a hardy grain. Then we put row cover on the bed to keep birds from pecking out the seeds. Soon, the bed will be a lush and green. The plant roots will hold in the soil and add nutrients needed after a good productive growing season!

In the third bed, we mulched the bed with comfrey leaves, an excellent source of nitrogen and potassium that breaks down rapidly. A thick layer of comfrey leaves a few inches high will break down in just a few weeks and add to the soil’s organic matter.

Voilà! Three garden beds prepped and ready for the spring.


Many thanks to LEAF students Jo-Ann Fjellman, Erin Gamble, Keegan Artz, Kymberlye Hoyle, Kelson Mcconnell, Megan Taylor, Scott Noll, Tyler Smith, and professor Tom Murphy, for helping winterize the garden!

We’ve been growing a beautiful crop this summer. Any guesses on what plant this is?


If you guessed some kind of legume, you’re right! This is a chickpea plant, a middle-eastern variety which produces black peas.


Phases of maturity of the chickpea: from soft and green to dry and black

Once the plants are completely dry, you can pop open the pods and collect the dry beans. For processing copious amounts of dry beans, most farms use a threshing machine. For small amounts, you can do it by hand… or by feet! This week with the Waldorf 3rd grade, we threshed the chickpeas with a little bit of dancing.

Check out our process in this video!

The chickpeas are hard enough that even a good stomping won’t break them. After we had jumped on the plants, we took away the plant matter to reveal a tarp full of little black chickpeas! What a quick and fun way to harvest!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.