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.

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.

The Babies are Almost Ready to Leave the House

Some of the seedlings that I'm fostering under lights are almost ready to go outside into the garden. Seen here are several different kinds of lettuce, leeks, spinach, red and green cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.  The cabbage and Brussels sprouts are a bit slower and will probably need another week under the lights.

Angst at the Garden

Waiting in winter, with snowdrifts high and sunlight low, we dream of Spring and Gardening.  We remember weeding in the sun, harvesting delicious vegetables, joy and laughter.  At our January Seed "Party", when we choose what we want to grow, visions emanate from seed catalogs -- we sooo want to start planting!

Then comes the Angst.

I starts with Opening Day.  Or rather, with Which Opening Day.  The forecast:  Friday night 100% chance of rain, a surprisingly no quibble forecast for New England.  Saturday morning continues with a small chance, while Sunday lives up to it's name with nary a cloud forecasted.  Do we get together Saturday, the time we've set aside for Gardening, or do we postpone until Sunday, when fewer of us can participate?  What do we tell the dozen prospective Gardeners who signed up at the EcoFest -- and when can we let them know?  Yes, cooperative gardening has a downside:  we've less flexibility in changing our schedule, since more people are affected.

A decision is made, because it has to be made, and we start with Saturday.  A dreary Saturday, with muddy soil and a foggy atmosphere, and foggy minds as some people are getting up earlier than they have been.  And yet the soil is not soaked, and the precipitation is holding off.  So we dig.  Or dig in some places -- in others, we hit ice.

We are saddened that the kale failed to winter over.  The barren stalks mock us.  But peeking under straw, we find young spinach.  And even that brings angst:  do we uncover it, giving it more sun and air, and possibly overexposing it to freezing temperatures?

To plant or not to plant?  More angst!  There is fear that peas planted in such cold, wet soil will rot (based on previous experience), so we hold off.

Leaves clutter against the snow fence.  Can we use them in the compost piles?  But leaves decompose slowly, need to be mixed with "green" matter to balance, and we won't have much of that for a while.  In July an abundance would be a blessing, but in April it's a space problem.  We move some into a corner that won't be used for a while, and remove quite a bit.  Sigh.  More angst.

Last year, peas shadowed and inhibited the rhubarb in the corner, and we discussed moving it.  But some online reading suggests it may be too young to move, as it's only entering it's third year.  So do we move it to what *may* be a better location now, or do we wait until it's more mature, and hope that it does better unshadowed this year by peas?  More angst.

Forgotten in our winter dreams was the reality of the uncertainty of choices.  Gardening is as much guesswork as it is science, as much luck as it is meticulous planning.  We can but muddle through.  But as a cooperative garden, we muddle through together!  It's an adventure, with paths taken and not taken, complete with surprises, like the harvest of delicious parsnips.

I'm ready for next week!


The Garden is Open - 2014

Not much to look at, we thought...until we looked a little more closely, and found the spinach under salt marsh hay had wintered over pretty well, and the rhubarb was just starting to show.


But the kale didn't do so well.

The garlic is ready to take off, so we lifted the heavy salt marsh hay, puffed it up, and spread it back down more lightly to keep the soil temperature even. We did the same for the emerging spinach.

We covered the bed where the lettuce will go in to help warm the soil. When we arrived this morning at 9AM, the soil was barely above freezing.




And the best surprise was that lots of parsnip kept well in the ground, and should be sweet as sugar. Our first harvest of 2014!





Subscribe to RSS