2013 Greens (end of season notes)

Arugula: did well in shady spot, needed 3 plantings this year
Basil: started indoors and from seed in garden, all did well
Bok Choi: first planting did well, subsequent plantings did less well – one planting next year?
Cilantro: did well, needed 3 plantings (only got 2), not very popular – less next year?
Kales, Collards & Swiss Chard: seeded in garden, excellent spacing and productivity
Lettuce: need to plant every 2 weeks for continuous harvest – try new butterhead & romaine varieties?
Mesclun: did well, but not terribly popular – plant less or use space for lettuce next year?
Spinach: success! great germination and beautiful early & late season plants (left to winter over) – repeat next year?

Flower Sprouts: Kale and Brussels Sprouts Announce a "Love Child"

Chief Gardening Officer Mike Smith recently made us aware of Flower Sprouts, called the first new vegetable in 10 years, a cross between Kale and Brussels Sprouts.  (See Mike's post).  At Mike's suggestion we decided to try them in the Garden this year.  


Flower Sprouts thriving in the Robbins Farm Garden, with proud parents Kale and Brussels Sprouts (not shown) close at hand.


Reportedly, the Flower Sprout was developed by Tozer Seeds, a family-owned business in Surrey, UK and was first introduced in 2010.   Both an owner and a senior plant breeder from Tozer expressed pride to the press over this first new vegetable in a decade.  Apparently, this enthusiasm is not shared by everybody in the UK, with the Daily Mail announcing "A New Vegetable for Your Children to Hate".  Even the BBC Surrey reporter interviewing the Tozer Seeds representatives seemed to be trying to overcome her timidity over veggies to faintly praise the Flower Sprout "... although Dr Frankenstein probably thought the same about his little project, the Flower Sprout is different. Far from being some sort of hybrid monster, it has been developed over the last ten years using traditional breeding techniques........ It has a Brussels sprout-like growing habit with its tall stem and rosettes forming all the way up to a frilly-leaved top. A bit like one of the more imaginative hats you see at Ascot Ladies Day.  And its appeal may go further than just the aesthetic. Brussels Sprout haters around the world could possibly be won over by its milder, sweeter flavour. But for those of you who, like me, are of a nervous disposition and get easily frightened by funny shaped vegetables, be warned!"


"Funny-shaped"?  We would take issue with that description, but, of course, we Robbins Farm Gardeners are particularly enthusiastic and welcoming to our veggies, be they "old standbys" or exotic newcomers.   As the reporter notes, Flower Sprouts grow in a stalk like Brussels Sprout, but the "sprouts" remain open, forming small curly leaves like Kale. And, they're a lovely deep green and purple.  Many of us are excited for them to be ready to harvest but we hope you will come visit them in our Garden first.

Greeting Spring

It's the middle of March -- the perfect time to begin the gardening season. Unseasonable warmth is bringing everything quickly back to life. The Garlic is up, and last fall's Kale and a few Spinach seedlings have survived the winter. The Perennial Herbs are greening up as well. The soil is still a chilly 42° F, but it digs nicely. Next Saturday we'll officially open the garden and begin planting!

Kale Chips -- crispy, salty, good for you, and easy to make!

 As of a few days ago, we still had some greens in the garden, particularly kale.  Recently, I -- a bit of a "gourmet" potato chip fiend -- learned of kale chips as a healthy way to satisfy our cravings for crispy, salty snacks!  There are many, many recipes to be found online, most calling for oven baking, with a few instead calling for a food dehydrator.  I experimented a bit with the oven methods, since many people don't have a dehydrator and, also, I figured that baking was likely to give more flavor.  

The first step is to cut the heavy stem out from the kale leaves.  While some recipes I found suggested using a sharp knife, it turns out that you can tear the kale away from the stem readily.   Tear the kale into pieces that will be "bite size" once they're dehydrated.  About a 3 to 4 inch dimension seems to work fine. 

I washed the kale pieces thoroughly in water, and dried them as well as possible.  I used a salad spinner and then blotted them with a towel. 

Then, I placed the kale pieces in a bowl, and added some extra virgin olive oil (at least I hope it was EVOO -- mine was from Trader Joes). I massaged the olive oil into the leaves, so that all were as evenly coated as possible.  Then, I seasoned them generously with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.  The coated kale looks like this:

I then spread the kale in a single-thickness layer on a baking sheet.  Some of the videos stressed that the layer must be only one leaf thick, warning that if the kale is piled up, it won't become crispy.  (I chose not to test this theory, so have only tried the single layer.)  Before baking, it will look like the photo below, and will shrivel up considerably and darken in color, as described below, as it bakes. 

I baked the kale in an oven set for 350 degrees F.  Some of the recipes said that only 10 min was needed to get them fully dehydrated and crispy.  I tried the recipe in two ovens, and one took at least 15 min and the other took 20.  (Both ovens were set on convection, which automatically sets the temperature to 325 degrees.  This may have been the issue.)  It's a good idea to just watch them and make sure that they do not burn.  They should reach a fairly uniform dark green color, and appear curled up and considerably smaller than the original pieces. 

After they're fully crisped up as described above, the kale chips can be very gently blotted on paper towels to remove excess oil. 

These are incredibly delicious and crispy straight from the oven!  Whatever you do, do not store the uneaten chips in a sealed container. This makes them lose their crispiness.  If there are any leftover, I would suggest storing them in an open bowl.  The finished kale chips, with their dark green color, are shown in the third photo, below.  The moistness you see on the chips is residual olive oil.  These are definitely finger food, but you will want some napkins handy.  

While of course this is best with local, fresh-from-the-garden kale, if you crave this snack "off season", I found that a Trader Joe's bag of precut and washed kale works great.  One bag will fill two large baking trays.

By the way, this is by no means the "perfect recipe" for kale chips.  If anybody has variations to suggest based on their own kale chips experiences, please add them in the comments section.  I'm also curious about other seasonings, as well as other greens that might also be used to make chips.  

November Harvests: Brussels Sprouts and other Cold-Hardy Crops

If it's November, it's time to harvest the Brussels Sprouts. They're one of the slowest crops in the garden -- but worth the wait. They're exceptionally cold hardy. In fact, they were growing so vigorously in late October that the snow didn't even stick to them!


The last of the Scallions, Leeks, Collard Greens and Tatsoi were harvested this week. (Sadly, the Leeks never fully matured.) We're still picking small Broccoli florets (amazingly, from the seedlings we planted in April) and some of the sweetest Kale I've ever tasted. The Arugula and Broccoli Rabe also continue to produce. A few tiny Lettuce and Spinach seedlings remain, along with our marginal late-season Cabbages.  

Alan harvests Brussels sprouts

Mike, Melanie and Sophia prep the sprouts

mid-June harvest and growth

A smaller crew this morning at the garden, but plenty of visitors (particularly very young ones, we hope they lay down some fundamental memories of their visit).

The harvest was still mostly thinnings (kale, onions, arugula that was bolting) plus the last of our seedling-origin lettuce, and with a foray into radish research. Pulling out a monstrously huge one both to give its neighbors half a chance and to see what was happening: it showed signs of insect invasion as well having odd and giant growth. Divvying the insides up for tasting revealed some radishy heat but not bad flavor.

We decided to let the radishes be for now rather than harvest. A few rain drops fell as we were leaving, but we watered the new grass leading from the street to our water spigot as well as in the garden.

Kale — emerging forms

KaleOur homegrown seedlings are one month old as of last Saturday. We planted two types of kale as seed and a third as already grown seedlings from Waltham Fields.

The first packet of seeds filled almost two rows which are growing the more familiar green kale. Whereas at three weeks its small leaves were looking certainly lobed, within another 9 days the distinctive ruffled edges are starting to positively billow.

The second packet of seeds (also from Seeds of Change) yielded two full rows of plants. This, the lacinato, is also known as dinosaur kale. In its fourth week of growth the leaves only hint at its Paleolithic appearance to be.

Curly kaleKaleLacinata kale

Red Russion Kale 
The third type, Red Russian, that went in as small plants had 'party fronds' to begin with and is waving them higher every day. I can imagine these leaves would make a fine plume for a turn-of-the-century milliner if they weren’t so perishable and tasty.


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