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 $75 in fees covers all of our seeds and supplies.

Using Up Many Vegetables at Once

I made this for dinner last night, and it was yummy.  I managed to use up my red cabbage and beets, plus onions, carrots, and garlic from the garden, and thyme and dill from my backyard herb garden.  This is from the newish Cooks Illustrated Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.

Beet and Wheat Berry Soup with Dill Cream

Serves 6

Soup

2/3 cup wheat berries (not the quick cooking or precooked kind), rinsed

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped fine

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

8 cups vegetable broth

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage

1 pound beets, trimmed, peeled, and shredded

1 small carrot, peeled and shredded

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Dill Cream

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup minced fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  For the Soup:  Toast wheat berries in dutch oven over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and beginning to darken, about 5 minutes; transfer to bowl.

2.  Heat oil in now-empty pot over medium heat until shimmering.  Stir in onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in tomato paste and cayenne and cook until darkened slightly, about 2 minutes.

3.  Stir in broth and water, scraping up any browned bits.  Stir in toasted wheat berries, cabbage, beets, carrot, bay leaf and 3/4 teaspoon pepper, and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until wheat berries are tender but still chewy and vegetables are tender, 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hours.

4.  For the Dill Cream:  Meanwhile, combine all ingredients in bowl.

5.  Off heat, discard bay leaf, and stir in vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Top individual portions with dill cream and serve.

2015 Lettuce report

Our lettuce plot has been producing well. We've had some prolonged hot weather recently, but have managed to maintain a continuous supply (see our Perpetual Lettuce post).

This year's new heat-tolerant green leaf variety - Nevada (lower left in photo) is a keeper. We began with Black Seeded Simpson in the spring, but transitioned to Nevada as the season progressed.

 

New for 2015 - Garden bed plans

We began planting many of our garden beds according to drafted plans this year. The planting plans were developed from our 5 years of cooperative gardening wisdom. They are primarily for 6’ by 9’ beds.

The layouts express our interest in maximizing the number of crops that we grow, along with maximizing our limited garden space. They represent our current best guess at the ideal plant and/or row spacing for most of the crops we grow. They also represent our increasing interest in companion plantings.

Some of the layouts are works in progress. The Three Sisters bed is a great example. We have had a Three Sisters plot in the garden since 2011, and we have experimented with it every year.

This first set of planting plans was possible only because of the extensive photos and other records that we've kept. I am grateful to everyone for contributing to the process.

The complete set of scale bed planting plans for 2015 is available on the 2015 Garden Plan page. We hope they will be of use to other gardeners. They have been quite helpful for us.

 

My green car is even greener.....

Elisabeth and I have developed a system for the seedlings we start indoors.  She has a cold basement and a shady backyard.  I have a warm basement and a good-sized sunny patch in my backyard.  She starts the cool weather seedlings (like the brassicas) in her basement, and I start the warm weather seedlings (like the nightshades) in my basement.  When the seedlings are ready to go outside, they go first to her backyard, and then to mine.

 

Today was transfer day for most of the warm weather seedlings, from her backyard to mine.  My car was completely filled (the back, the floors, and all the seats except the driver’s seat) with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos.  It did all fit, but barely.

Hot Lemon Peppers

I know that these peppers are very popular with the gardeners (and with me, definitely) but maybe there’s a reason why they’re so expensive when we typically buy them as seedlings.  This year, we’re growing them from seed, and they've definitely been the most problematic of any of the seedlings I've been fostering.

This is a picture of their current state (on 4/29).  I don’t keep detailed records like Elisabeth does (I should probably do that), but we planted the seeds on 4/4.  The largest seedling probably sprouted about 4/13.  The next largest seedling probably sprouted about 4/23, and the 2 smallest seedlings just sprouted yesterday.  Maybe we’ll get some more!

Season's first seedlings emerge

With only a foot of the over 8 feet of snow that fell this year still with us, the seeds we planted indoors on March 7th have begun to sprout. (Reasons to be cheerful, parts 1 and 2.)

The broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages are solidly up. The leeks, lettuce, spinach and onions are beginning to sprout and we await signs of life from the celery.

The photo shows green and red cabbage in the foreground, broccoli and Brussels sprouts in the middle, and leeks and onions in the background.

The Great Skeptical Penny-Pincher's Seed Bargain Evaluation (with astonishing result!)

We've all seen name-brand seeds at bargain outlets, and I've always wondered if they were really a bargain. I sort of always assumed that the discount was mitigated by a lower seed count. So this year, I decided to find out, at least with a small sample.

We purchased packets of organic Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce and conventional Cherry Belle radishes from both Burpee on-line and the same varieties off-the-rack at Ocean State Job Lots in Medford. Burpee makes it difficult to compare prices directly, because the packs purchased on-line are sold by seed count, while the retail packs are sold by weight. Until today, I had no idea how many radish or lettuce seeds are in a gram.

If you want to skip the details that follow, the astonishing result is (drum roll)...the Ocean State seeds really are a bargain - by a lot!

The Burpee BSS bought on-line (left, above) sells in packs of nominally 1000 seeds. We weighed the seeds at about 1.15g. At a price of $4.95 (with free shipping), the price based on the nominal seed count is 50 cents/100 seeds.

The Burpee packet bought at Ocean State retails for $3.19, or $1.91 after the discount, with an advertised weight of 1.5g, which we measured at closer to 1.6g. Extrapolating from the relative weights, we're estimating 1400 seeds, which is consistent with the relative sizes of the little piles. The result is about 14 cents/100 seeds, less than 1/3 of the cost of seeds online. Even without the discount, the retail cost is less than 1/2 of online.

The Burpee Cherry Belle radishes (conventional) bought on-line is packaged as nominally 500 seeds, which we weighed to be 4.55g, priced at $4.95, or 99 cents/100 seeds.

The nominally 4g packet bought from Ocean State actually weighed 4.5g, so nominally the same 500 seeds, for a discounted price of 27 cents/100 seeds, almost 1/4 the price from Burpee on-line. Even without the 40% discount, the retail seed would be less than 1/2 the price of on-line.

So the conclusion from these two data points is that Burpee seeds purchased from local discount retailers are significantly less expensive than those purchased on-line directly from Burpee. Ocean State has a pretty good selection of popular varieties of Burpee vegetable and flower seeds, including many organics, but only a fraction of the selection available on-line. I don't think they carry any other brands.

This is pretty much a straightforward apples-to-apples comparison with very conclusive results, but of only two seeds from one supplier. We also don't know at this point how well each will germinate, how well they were handled, or other quality factors. They were both packaged for 2015, but it's possible that the cheaper seeds were actually 2014 seeds which passed germination tests and were repackaged for 2015 - or not - we have no way of knowing (that's me being skeptical again). Three of the seeds were grown in the USA, but the retail radishes were grown in Italy. The BSS seeds purchased on-line came in a foil packet, the other three in paper only.

Even at full retail price (like at Mahoney's or Russell's), the Burpee seeds packaged for retail would be significantly less expensive. In the future, I'll be looking for comparisons of other brands when I find them. For example, I think Verrill Farm sells some High Mowing Seeds that I should be able to compare. If you see anyone selling Johnny's, High Mowing or Baker Creek off the shelf, let me know.

 

About: 

Annual Seed Selection Meeting - January 31, 2015

We will hold our annual Seed Selection Meeting on Saturday, January 31 in the second floor meeting room of the Community Safety Building (112 mystic Street) from 9:30 AM to noon. 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 coming growing season!

2014 Alliums (end of season notes)

Garlic: harvest & varieties good, planted slightly less & closer together in fall
Leeks: excellent variety, spacing and hilling good – start all seed @ March 7
Onions: sets were excellent, seeds better than plants, red better than yellow – start seed @ March 7, try new yellow variety?
Scallions: broadcast early in onion bed (not with tomatoes)
Shallots: did fine with sets around tomatoes

2014 Brassicas (end of season notes)

Broccoli: early crop good (though oddly colored), late crop did well (especially in Potato bed) though seedlings weakened in hot weather – spray seedlings daily in heat, transplant @ July 19th for best yield
Brussels Sprouts: start extra seedlings, spray @ first signs of aphids, plant farther apart (3 rows: 3,4,3 plants per row)
Cabbage: generally excellent – replace Red Express with Mammoth Red Rock in spring, repeat fall varieties, transplant @ July 19th for best yield
Cauliflower: best yet, grew fall crop only, orange variety smaller & prone to aphids – transplant @ July 19th for best yield

2014 Flowers, Grains, etc. (end of season notes)

Borage: self-seeded plants did well between tomatoes – grow with tomatoes
Herb Beds: generally a good season, uprooted plants survived replanting – tweak plan & crops
Nasturtium: early aphids did a lot of damage – give less space & treat aphids asap
Okra: great variety: good yield, flavor & length of season, black plastic good – top plants for branching?
Sunflowers: good crop, hit by rust or fungus (but less than last year) – remove affected leaves asap
Three Sisters bed: better plan than last year, more room for squash – add structure, plant corn in grid (9”)
Rhubarb: transplanted to sunnier location in spring, more productive than last year

2014 Greens (end of season notes)

Arugula: sad 1st planting, later plantings (including zucchini bed) better – more sun next year, grow as mesclun?
Basil: awesome on all counts, seedlings & placement perfect
Celery: overall success, worked well with Beets, blanching was helpful – focus on improving flavor & texture
Chard & Bok Choi: harvested from same plants all season – broadcast on ends of bed
Cilantro: 3 sections well-timed – give less space & replant first section for 4th planting
Kales & Collards: great again, but hit with aphids late in season – spray @ first sign of aphids
Lettuce: mostly perfect (Little Gem, Black Seeded Simpson, Red Salad Bowl, Pirat & New Red Fire good) – try a green salad bowl variety, leave space for planting board, transplant into Bush Bean bed again, seed more evenly & thin better
Mesclun: not working for us again – just say no or replace with arugula, mizuna & mustard
Mustard: great variety & amount – grow as part of a mesclun mix?
Spinach: Emu not available, varieties grown were less reliable, fewer productive plants – try to get Emu

2014 Nightshades (end of season notes)

Slow, shaky start for seedlings due to cold conditions – start seedlings in warmer place

Eggplant: slow with low yield – find early prolific varieties (Mangan, Galine), fertilize more, black plastic?
Peppers: most did well, despite vandal damage – grow greater variety of types
Tomatoes: best yield to date, good mix of types, resistant varieties did best, red plastic and CDs worked well – consider taller, better support structure next year, don’t plant sickly seedlings
Cherry types: grow Sun Gold & Super Sweet 100 again, possibly grow Green Grape again
Sauce types: probably grow Amish Paste & Verona again, grew well, but some had a hard interior
Standard types: grow Ramapo, Red October & Bolseno again (2 plants each), maybe grow Pink Beauty (sweet & productive, but crapped out early) & Druzba (productive, but one plant hit by disease)
Specialty types: Green Zebra & Red Zebra did badly, again – find a resistant variety
Tomatillos: purple and green varieties did well, slightly smaller fruit – grow just green?

2014 Root Crops (end of season notes)

Beets: did better this year, but still not big enough, some leaf minor problems, second harvest a bust
Carrots: excellent early crop (rows were farther apart), late crop didn’t have time to mature – consider replacing second planting with a faster-growing crop?
Jerusalem Artichokes: very attractive and productive – reduce space allotment
Parsnips: most did well, some uneven germination, transplanted seedlings grew but split, overwintered small plants – overseed and thin successively
Potatoes: green sprouting worked great, Purple Viking was worth the wait, Yukon Gold underperformed, lost a few red & gold plants to rot
Sweet Potatoes: received ½ order (supplier shortage), slow start due to cold, disappointing yield (both varieties) – try new vendor and/or varieties?
Salad Turnips: did well, wormier than last year – try not growing near fence in late season
Turnips: did well after garlic, less grub damage – thin more aggressively

2014 Squashes (end of season notes)

Squash Vine Borers and Mildew still problematic – frequent surgical intervention and overplanting (to compensate for plant loss from borers) and focus on productive, mildew-resistant varieties

Cucumbers: pickling type did better – try different standard type
Delicata Squash: Sugar Dumpling more productive, standard variety squashes small
Kabocha Squash: serious mildew issues, disappointing yield – try resistant variety
Melons: uneven germination, transplanted, major mildew, difficult to tell when ripe – failed experiment?
Pumpkins: unimpressive germination and yield, produced wide range of sizes
Yellow Squash: shorter season & more mildew than zucchini – try Success PM (mildew resistant)
Watermelons: uneven germination, transplanted, low yield
Zucchini: excellent variety: mildew resistant, early, productive and very hardy
Zucchino Squash: poor germination, 7 seeds = 1 plant w/1 huge squash, mildew killed plant before ripe

2014 Legumes (end of season notes)

Bush Beans: Dragon Tongue & Rocdor great – try new green variety
Fava Beans: poor yield, hit hard by aphids (spray at first sign) & rust or fungus – try different variety?
Peas: all 3 early varieties triumphed, poor germination for late variety – position snap peas in middle next spring, try Sugar Sprint in fall
Pole Beans: perfect planting time, excellent harvest – plant purples & make structure all reachable
Purple Pole Beans: excellent on archway – plant some between other types of pole beans
Soybeans: short harvest window this year – try another variety?

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