Robbins Farm Garden - A Cooperative Learning Project

Robbins Farm Garden is a cooperative community garden project at Robbins Farm Park in Arlington, MA. Since 2010, we've grown vegetables organically as a group, created an educational resource in the community and continued the agricultural tradition of the farm at the park.
We garden Saturday mornings April - November and Wednesday evenings June - September. The project is run through Arlington's Recreation Department. Membership is limited to 20 gardeners and applications close on May 1st. Our annual $85 in fees covers all of our seeds and supplies.

Potato Dividends

As an experiment, Lisa, Shakti and I each planted leftover seed potatoes in pots at home. The results were good!
Single seed potatoes (Yukon Gold, Purple Viking and Dark Red Norland varieties shown below) each produced nearly 2 pounds of nice spuds.
Next year, we encourage others to join in the fun!

Onion trimming experiment

High mowing suggests trimming onion seedlings when they reach 5" to make them grow thicker and stronger.  We did not remember to trim them while they were growing under the lights, but decided to try a side-by-side comparison with some plants trimmed just after transplanting them in the garden.

Many of our transplanted walla-walla onions were very close to the recommended 5" height for trimming.  I selected a 5x5 grid of the onions (out of the 14x5 grid of walla wallas planted) and trimmed the tops.

Below is a picture ot the allium bed before and after the trimming experiment -- rows 3-7 from the back/right edge are the walla walla onions.  Most of the walla wallas near the bottom of this picture were close to 5", so the grid of 5x5 walla wallas on the bottom was selected for the trimming experiment.

Before trimming After trimming

Close up of one of the walla wallas before and after trimming -- the leaf was trimmed from 7" down to a little over 1".


A few of the walla wallas in the 5x5 grid were almost double the height recommended for trimming because they had been seeded a week earlier.  For the sake of uniformity, I trimmed these onions too, but left close to 3" of the onion top as opposed to 1-2" for the smaller ones.  Below is an example of one of the larger walla wallas before and after trimming:


The trimmed onion tops caught up with the untrimmed tops quickly.  By week 4, they were similar in size and it was difficult to tell them apart.

Trimmed onions, Week 4 (May 20)

Untrimmed onions, Week 4 (May 20)

Trimmed onions, Week 8 (June 17)

Untrimmed onions, Week 8 (June 17)

We harvested the onions on July 22.  There still was no strong noticeable difference between the trimmed and untrimmed onions. Both conditions grew well and had good sized onions, but the trimming did not seem to give much, if any, advantage to the onions.

Trimmed onions, harvest day (July 22)

Untrimmed onions, harvest day (July 22)


Annual Seed Selection Meeting - Saturday, January 28

Save the date - we will hold our annual Seed Selection Meeting on Saturday, January 28 in Community Room of the Community Safety Building from 9:30am to 12:30pm.

Everyone interested in the crops & varieties we will grow in the garden this season is welcome. Prospective new members of the garden group are especially encouraged to attend and join the discussion. Bring your seed catalogs and great expectations for the season to come!

You will find the Community Safety Building at 112 Mystic Street. When you enter the building, go directly up the stairs in front of you. Our meeting room is on the left.


2016 End of Season Notes

2016 gardening season image
Our seventh year of gardening year began with the January seed meeting, followed by some excellent research for new varieties in February. March saw the first seedlings started indoors and opening day at the garden. In April, the final 2 (of 12) main garden beds were double-dug, and our first seeds (and seedlings) went into the garden.

In May, we discovered a rabbit's nest in some knee-high winter rye, causing a delay in planting our bush beans. (All bunnies successfully fledged and eventually graduated out of the garden.) For the first time, we started sweet potato slips from our previous-year's tubers and experimented with row cover on the Swiss chard.

Drought was significant for most of the season. Watering seemed relentless, especially in early summer when many young seedlings were getting established. Our carrots suffered, tomatoes were once again a target for thirsty wildlife and (for the first time) our eggplants were targeted.

June saw a bountiful crop of peas, our earliest cherry tomatoes ever, and the best-looking spring broccoli and bok choi to date. Sadly, our okra seedlings struggled... and the seedlings purchased to replace them didn't fare much better. In July, we harvested our best-ever garlic, along with our earliest summer squash and full-sized tomatoes.

August was abundant, and graced us with another beautiful crop of bok choi. Yet, we suffered disappointment when our onions died off before reaching full size. September (always our most productive month) saw the additional payoff of our pelleted seed experiment, with our best crop of parsnips to date.

October saw our last harvests of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, and our first harvests of cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Garlic (reserved from our June harvest) was replanted in November, which also saw the last harvest for most crops. We enjoyed lettuce and arugula (under plastic) through mid-December and hardy collards and kale through the end of the year.


2016 Alliums (end of season notes)

2016 alliums image
Garlic: best ever (see journal post)!
Leeks: did well, despite drought
Onions: less impressive than 2015 (due to drought?) – try mid-season feeding, more compost, increased spacing? Sets did well
Scallions: bad year, poor germination on both plantings – try more vigorous variety? try switching location with Shallots? add nitrogen fertilizer?
Shallots: plants from seed did better than sets – try 2 seed varieties?
Walking Onions: 2nd planting of bulblets did well (1st planting mostly failed), harvest of previous year’s plants tasty

2016 Brassicas (end of season notes)

2016 brassicas image
General: buy more shade cloth to cover late-season broccoli, cabbage & cauliflower transplants
Broccoli: best early crop ever, late crop did great too (especially single plant left in nursery bed) – leave more seedlings in nursery bed next year?
Brussels Sprouts: both varieties strong (see journal post), but hit with cabbage worms and aphids
Cabbages: early crop slower & stunted w/bad cabbage worms, late crop did well, but some savoy didn’t mature – try row cover in spring? transplant savoy earlier in fall?
Cauliflower:  good varieties, but small & late (needs more time than broccoli & standard cabbage) – transplant on 1st week into potato bed next year, leave some seedlings in nursery bed? start in pots?

2016 Carrot family (end of season notes)

2016 carrot family image
Carrots: difficult year due to drought, early crop slow, stubby & multi-rooted, fall crop needed 2 plantings, many didn’t mature – try pelleted seed next year
Celery: best ever!
Fennel (bulb): first seeding failed, second seeding plants small again – try slow-bolt or heat-tolerant variety? try replacing with celery root?
Parsnips: best crop to date, timing good, pelleted seed rules! – thin better next year

2016 Flowers, Grains, Herbs, etc. (end of season notes)

2016 flowers etc image
Basil: another strong year, but with some leaf predation
Cilantro: not a good year – try a better planting schedule, more robust variety? rotate into a main bed (with arugula)?
Nasturtiums: nearly wiped out by aphids, some recovered later
Okra: seedling problems (due to transplanting and/or watering?), bought seedlings didn’t thrive either
Rhubarb: did well, except for leaf damage (by beetles?)
Sunflowers: healthier plants, less mildew, but not enough – try in new or additional location (Philosopher’s Stone)?
Sweet Clover: transplant into tomato beds worked well, collected seed planted in fall (more for spring)
Three Sisters plot: did well, pretty good balance, very good corn, good beans, squash small and leggy – try larger squash variety w/bushier habit & borer-resistant?

2016 Greens (end of season notes)

2016 greens image
Arugula: hedge planting worked well, planting schedule good – try starting 2nd planting 2 weeks earlier
Bok Choi: best ever, timing & variety good, second planting transplants into open spaces did great
Collards: did well – try one fewer row (for an extra row of Swiss Chard)
Cress: good crop, late planting did well – rotate with mustard next year
Kales: aphids & cabbage worms late in season for both types, curly type germination slow – find dinosaur type with larger leaves? find earlier curly variety?
Malabar Spinach: some seedling problems (due to transplanting and/or watering?), beautiful on entry arbor
Lettuce: most varieties did well, poor germination on (heirloom) Tennis Ball – find new green variety? try new red variety?
Mustard: good crop, late planting did well – rotate with cress next year
Spinach: early crop produced, but hit with aphids, fall crop had bad germination & stunted plants – try under row cover in spring, give up on fall crop?
Swiss Chard: row cover made a big difference (especially with drought) – plant an extra row next year (less collards) – reorder rows to stage height of bed?

2016 Legumes (end of season notes)

2016 legumes image
Beans (bush): yellow and striped varieties good – try new green variety
Beans (pole): timing good, Garden of Eden Romano did well, Northeaster Romano produced faster, but had a short season & stringy beans, Kentucky Wonder and Trionfo Violetto not very productive – try new green variety?
Fava beans: germination and spacing good, bad timing with aphids and flowers, be vigilant next year
Peas (spring): all early varieties did well (Sugar Snap had second wind)
Peas (fall): variety excellent, produced well and late into season – use shade cloth for summer planting to keep seed cool & provide support
Soybeans: did well

2016 Nightshades (end of season notes)

2016 nightshades image
Eggplants: early critter predation (due to drought), staking important, Italian variety excellent, Orient Express quicker to harvest and larger plants, but less cold hardy than Ping Tung Long
Peppers: too many hot types (more sweet types, lose Anaheim & Jalapeno?, try Padron?, bigger Thai variety?)
Tomatillos: not as productive as usual, possibly due to following (alleopathic) Jerusalem artichokes, no beetle damage
Tomatoes: seedlings planted too far from stakes (try 4-5”), Garden Gem did poorly, Juliette did very well, Green Giant was strange

2016 Root Crops (end of season notes)

2016 root crops image
Beets: damage by leaf minor – use row cover next year, try starting some indoors
Jerusalem Artichokes: did great in new location, less mildew & aphids – reduce space next year?
Potatoes: decent harvest on all types, no loss of plants, some scab on purple variety (look into causes)
Radishes: both varieties (early and late crops) did well
Sweet Potatoes: all slips did well (from our tubers), simple planting in rows also worked – very good, do again
Turnips (cooking): did well, but some seed dried out – try covering seed with shade cloth?
Turnips (salad): spring & fall crops did well – plant more carefully & thin better next year

2016 Squash family (end of season notes)

2016 squash image

General: grow winter squashes in rows next year; groups of 3 harder to check for borers, try interspersing with other crops in perimeter beds to reduce spread of diseases
Butternut squash:  our most productive variety, did well relative to other squashes
Cucumbers: both types better w/mildew, but hit hard with bacterial wilt, volunteer plant in pepper bed held out the longest – try 2 plantings & early varieties?
Delicata squash: tasty variety, but only 1 squash per plant
Pumpkins:  bad borer (borers hid inside stems) and mildew damage, best variety so far (bush type, grow on ground)
Watermelons: good year, volunteer plant also produced
Yellow Summer squash: less robust than zucchini, destroyed by borers early – try second planting? Try cousa type?


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