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.

We're ahead of the curve with our growing of popcorn

This from the September 30, 2014 NY Times about the new wave of artisanal popcorn:

"The reward, however, is popcorn with a better nutritional profile, and hulls — the bits that stick in your teeth — that seem to all but disappear. The flavor can be subtle but complex, mixing toast and sweet corn, delivering in taste what the aroma of popping corn has always promised."

And this from our own blog post of September 15, 2012:

Today our bounty included corn from our Three Sisters plot (beans and squash make up the trio). The corn is a popping variety--popping ability still to be tested, but fall beauty not in question.

Jewels from the Three Sisters

And yeah, it does pop great and taste great! (This is Johnny's Miniature Colored Popcorn.)

The NY Times article also has instructions for cooking heirloom popcorn in a pan, which in summary is:

  1. Put a few tablespoons of oil (coconut, corn, canola or olive) in a pan over high heat with a few kernel.s
  2. When the kernels pop, add the rest of the kernels and optionally some butter.
  3. Cook over medium-high heat, covered but letting steam escape, shaking the pan every 10 seconds, and cook until there's only one pop every couple of seconds.
  4. Dump it out of the pan into a bowl, salt to taste, enjoy.

Visit the website of the Popcorn Board for more info than you ever wanted to know about popcorn.


Mason's Line

We've liked using cotton mason's line to outline the borders of the beds in the garden, because it's nice white and visible, and it doesn't stretch. Unfortunately, after a few months in the weather, it just comes apart, and we've been spending a lot of time replacing it. I think next year we'll be using sisal binder twine or something else that will last the whole season. We can still use the mason's line for row markers, which don't have to last more than a few weeks. Garden and learn!


Technology to the Rescue!

You may have noticed a curious addition to our tomato beds this week: compact discs. They are an experiment to try to deter the birds from eating our tomatoes.

The trouble started when our first full-size tomatoes ripened. We showed up at the garden expecting to pick ripe tomatoes, only to find all the ripe ones already partially eaten.

We suspected squirrels, raccoons or bunnies. Then we began to wonder if the ever-present birds might be the culprits.

The presence of birds is generally a delight in the garden. Yet, we definitely draw the line at deeding them our tomato crop.

We're not the first to keep birds from their garden with CDs dangling from strings. It's generally acknowledged that their movement in the breeze and reflectivity can make birds uncomfortable enough to stay away from adjacent food crops.

At the very least, they should make for interesting conversation.

Update 8/28: The CDs have made a noticeable difference. A few additional tomatoes have been damaged, but the remainder of the crop has been beautiful!

To life!

[Oakes Plimpton is a founder and now member emeritus of the group. He still comes by on some afternoons to open the garden to visitors, as he did Tuesday.]

Amazingly, it turns out Coyotes are feasting on watermelons out there in farm country, and on occasion even corn. One knew about raccoons, but coyotes?

I agree on birds being the culprit respecting our tomatoes, looked that way especially on one tomato.

With 3 kids, I held a raffle (number between one and ten) for a cherry tomato. Gave them another one to split. Showed two young cucumber fans our tiny cukes. Lots of honey bees on the herbs, some kids afraid.

People from everywhere: Korea, Ukraine, Greece (kid showed me the Greek X), Mexico, grandparents from Larchmont, L.I. Everyone interested in the garden and how it works.

Mexican woman lived near the Sea of Cortez, so I told her about my journals, and she knew about Maria Sabina, the Currendera! To market my book now, I'm renting it for a dollar 1957 Expeditions Journal iUniverse 2013, so let me know if you're interested.

Picking up cigarette butts walking back by the viewing oval, thought to ask a Vietnamese man counting beads what he was up to. "Meditating." he said, "Do you?" "Well, I take Yoga classes." I replied. Then he showed me a number of a.m. Yoga exercises!

To life -- Oakes

Today's Harvest - July 26, 2014

First cukes, all of the spring broccoli, an amazing harvest of gorgeous carrots, and the last of the 2014 garlic. Lots of onions, more potatoes, okra and cabbages and the usual abundance of greens. The bush beans and summer squash have slowed down from their early surge but will probably bounce back after a short break.


Pea-picking confusion

Picking peas last night, I found it difficult to distinguish the mature flat-podded snow peas from immature shell peas, because they are right next to each other and are roughly the same height - the line between them is fuzzy. The sugar snaps are reliably taller than the other two, so next year I suggest that we plant the snap peas in the middle, and simply note on the garden plan if the snow peas are on the left or right of the snaps.

What's with the red plastic?

Q: Why did we plant the tomatoes through red plastic mulch this year?

A: It's an experiment. According to a UMass Extension report on the use of plastic mulches "Researchers at the USDA and Clemson University noted that certain crops performed better when grown in red mulch as opposed to black mulch: tomatoes, which yielded 20% more fruit; basil, the leaves of which had greater area, succulence, and fresh weight; and strawberries, which smelled better, tasted sweeter, and yielded a larger harvest. Penn State researchers found yield increases for tomatoes and eggplants on red mulch compared to black. Anecdotally, gardeners in Berkshire County saw marked increase in overall plant size, fruit size, and yield of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers when plants were grown in red mulch as opposed to straw mulch."

We have noted that weeds are growing under the mulch, which might be a problem later in the season.

The particular perforated product we are trying is "Better Reds", by Dalen Gardener, about $8-10 for 8 3'x3' sheets.

The Great Three Sisters Experiment


This is our "Three Sisters" plot, which demonstrates the traditional method of planting corn, squash and beans together. This year as an experiment, in the left half we turned the bed over as usual before planting, but on the right we only aerated the soil (stuck a garden fork in the ground to its full depth and just wiggled it a little, every six inches or so) and left most of the clover cover crop that wintered over. The seeds were all planted on the same days and as far as we know nothing else is different between the two sides. The right side is so far doing noticeably better for one reason or another, or maybe both, or maybe luck. To be continued...

Today's Harvest - June 21, 2014

Today's firsts were peas, peppers, basil, cilantro, baby potatoes and garlic scapes, and we harvested the winter rye a little early so we could get the nursery bed going. The lettuce rotation continues to provide a good harvest, but the radishes are just about through for this spring. Plenty of greens keep coming.

We got our first okra flower, which is early, and may be the result of warming the soil with black plastic.

And Lisa found one of these on the fennel (a juvenile American Black Swallowtail caterpillar).


Perpetual Lettuce

For years, we’ve put up with uneven lettuce harvests -- too much some weeks and none at all on others. We knew that the key to a continuous harvest was to plant more regularly throughout the season, so we decided to schedule our lettuce space.

We divided the space in 4 beds (based on an 8 week seed-to-harvest schedule). The first plantings were sown indoors in March. In April, we began transplanting the indoor seedlings and planting seed in the garden. The plan is to harvest from each bed for 2 weeks, then immediately replant the bed and begin harvesting from the next bed.

Our first lettuce harvest was on May 24th and it’s looking like we’re on track to keep the plan going for the rest of the season. Voila, perpetual lettuce!

Special thanks to Dick for providing the post title.


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