Proposal for fence & accessibility improvements

In the fall of 2015, we prepared a proposal to replace the fence and improve the accessibility of the garden. The proposal was developed with guidance from the Town's ADA Self-Evaluation Report on Arlington's public parks and open spaces (prepared by the Institute for Human Centered Design for Arlington's Recreation Department and Park and Recreation Commission).

Our proposal was presented to the Park and Recreation Commission and the Friends of Robbins Farm Park Board in October 2015. The proposal was subsequently included as part of the Robbins Farm Park Field and ADA Renovation Project in the Community Preservation Committee's 2016 Funding Application, approved at the 2016 Town Meeting.

Engineering consultants hired by the Town for the Park Renovation Project are currently developing plans through a series of public meetings. It's our understanding that our garden proposal will be the subject of a separate review of as part of this public process. We hope to begin the work in 2017.

Our Proposal submitted in October 2015 (pdf)
Options submitted with proposal (pdf)


Brussels Sprouts Varieties

We planted two varieties of brussels sprouts this season: Churchill left-over from last season and a new variety Octia which we selected, in part based on a review of brussels sprouts from UNH cooperative extension. As recommended by that review, we topped both varieties to encourage a higher yield.

The mature plants were relatively easy to distinguish because Churchill has a redish tint to the stalks and leaf stems (lower left) while the Octia were pale green (upper right). 

Another difference was the time to maturity.  A few Octia sprouts were large enough to start harvesting in mid-September, while the Churchill sprouts were still very small.  Now, in mid-October, both varieties have some harvestable sprouts, but the Octia has a much larger quantity of mature sprouts ranging from medium sized to very large.  Churchill sprouts are small to medium.  The picture below contrasts the number of Octia (left) versus Churchill (right) sprouts harvested on October 7th.  Octia produced 4-5 times more sprouts than Churchill and some of them were very large. 

One issue that we noticed with Octia at the start of the harvest was that the outer leaves of some sprouts were damaged (dead or possibly mildew?) and stunted growth.  It was a small portion of the sprouts, but those affected by the damage were still edible after removing the outer leaves.

Some of the Churchill sprouts also had an odd elongated pine-cone shape to them instead of a more compact cabbage shape, but they still taste fine and mature to a medium size.

Overall, the Octia seems to be a good variety and is much more productive than Churchill; however, a portion of the sprouts were damaged and remained small.  Another consideration for future brussels sprouts varieties in the garden is that the Churchill variety was not offered by Burpee or Johnny's  Seeds for the 2016 season, so it is not clear whether Churchill will be available for next season.

On another note, we have been very fortunate to have very few aphids on either variety of brussels sprouts this year! Aphids were one of the major challenges we faced with the brussels sprouts in the past two years. 

Celebrating the Garden’s Flowers

There’s a rule at the garden: all the plants we grow must be edible. You might think this would eliminate flowers. Yet, we grow several plants that (though edible) are most cherished for their blooms.

Flowers attract pollinators, welcome visitors and cheer weary gardeners. And too often we forget to mention them. Here are a few of our favorites.


July - a time of transition in the garden

July always feels like a time of transition in the garden. The summer squashes, tomatoes and peppers have begun producing, the spring peas, potatoes and garlic are coming out and the fall brassicas, beans and turnips are going in.

Quite a few of the garden beds are transitioning from one crop to another: peas to pole beans, garlic to turnips, fava beans to cauliflower, potatoes to broccoli, and onions to salad turnips.

There are also succession plantings of the same crop in some garden beds: fall carrots have been seeded between the rows of spring carrots and bok choi has been replanted between the few remaining spring plants.

The least appealing aspect of this time of year is doing battle with the mid-season diseases and pests. Squash vine borers have made their appearance, along with the first signs of mildew.

And this year's drought has increased the wildlife damage to our tomatoes and eggplants. We seriously need some rain!


The Quest for Garlic Greatness

This year's garlic harvest was absolutely our most successful. Like growing onions from seed, our initial attempts ended in varying degrees of disappointment. This post is meant to document what we did this time, so we can repeat - and hopefully, build on - our success.

We ordered Russian Red and Georgian Crystal (both from The Maine Potato Lady). All of the Russian Red produced, with a number of them becoming doubles. Sadly, several of the Georgian Crystal cloves never broke ground and only a few produced large bulbs.

We planted on Halloween. (In the years that we planted earlier, the plants came up a week later. This isn't supposed to happen.) The cloves were planted 4" deep and spaced 6" apart. There were four rows, spaced 8" apart. Compost was added to the soil, but manure would also have been good.

Last fall, we mulched the garlic with 3-4 inches of mulching hay from our local Agway. It worked very well as a thermal buffer over the winter and did not become matted or rotten in spring. (In previous years, we used about 6 inches of salt marsh hay.)

We did not remove the mulch and side dress the rows with fertilizer in the early spring. However, reliable sources on garlic culture say that we should have.

Removing Scapes
The scapes appeared in mid-June. Once we noticed them curling upward, they were removed and enjoyed as a culinary treat. (Apparently, this is the one thing we've done correctly all along. Removal of the scape sends more energy to the bulb.)

The garlic bed was watered normally (with the rest of the garden) through the fall and spring. Then, we stopped watering 2 weeks after the scapes appeared to allow the bulbs to begin curing before harvest. (This was also done in the last few years.)

We harvested earlier this year, when only the 3 bottom leaves on the plants had turned brown. (When we allowed all the leaves to turn in previous years, the outer wrappers degraded.) After loosening the soil from below with a garden fork, each bulb was lifted out and gently brushed off. (We had made the mistake of rinsing in previous years.)

Storing Seed Bulbs
The best 6 bulbs of the crop were set aside for this fall's seed garlic. We will leave the plants inside (out of direct sun) for 2 weeks. Then we will lightly trim the stems and roots and continue storing them for replanting this fall.


Rock & Roll

The last two beds to be "double-dug". After this morning, all of the main garden beds have been loosened and cleared of big rocks to a depth of about 18".

We spread half-made compost and bamboo trimmings 12" deep, which will decay and add to the organic content of the soil.




Yeah,it was work.


Annual Seed Selection Meeting - January 30, 2016

Save the date - we will hold our annual Seed Selection Meeting on Saturday, January 30 in the 4th floor meeting room of Robbins Library (700 Massachusetts Avenue) from 9 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!


2015 End of Season Notes

2015 was our 6th year of gardening, growing and learning at Robbins Farm Park. After the record-breaking snow of the winter, we enjoyed our largest membership to date, had our most successful seedlings and participated in several local events.

We have also begun planning for the transition of our tired snow fence and salvaged gate to a more accessible and less temporary structure. Look for more information as we coordinate with the Town's efforts to upgrade Arlington's parks.


2015 Alliums (end of season notes)

Garlic: mostly produced small heads, planted too early in 2014, new varieties planted 10/31 this year

Leeks: another excellent year!

Onions: our best year yet
From Sets: did well, yellow more productive and popular than red and white varieties
From seeds: awesome! grow same varieties next year

Scallions: broadcasting worked, a bit difficult to harvest, try creating shallow trough and distribute seed @ every ½ inch then cover and tamp bed – or – plant @ ¼ inch apart in short drills @ 1-2 inches apart

Shallots: did well in both locations

2015 Brassicas (end of season notes)

All late season seedlings stressed by hot weather after transplanting & needed more shade cloth than we had

Broccoli: early crop: yield okay but discolored again; late crop: wonderful, produced some side shoots by end of season

Brussels Sprouts: grew well, spacing good, sprouts smaller than usual, plant on shady side of bed next year, keep up with the aphids!

Cabbage: early season: green did great, red good, though inconsistent & slower. Late season: did well though some in shade of Brussels sprouts, savoy variety – perfect

Cauliflower: white heads were smaller than we would like, purple heads were tiny and many never matured – try a specialty variety with fewer days to harvest

2015 Carrot Family (end of season notes)

Bulb Fennel: grew well, tasty though not very large, find a bigger variety for next year

Carrots: nice carrots from both plantings, good varieties (try settling on just 2 orange varieties?), good schedule, should have been thinned better

Celery: good overall, about the right amount, lost one seedling early and a few more plants later, blanch earlier next year?

Parsnips: added (maybe too much) sand to the soil, another bad year for germination – even second seeding, some leaf damage (by beetles?), overrun by sweet potatoes, a few were split or stubby, try to improve for next year

2015 Flowers, Grains, Herbs, etc. (end of season notes)

Basil: awesome, again!

Borage: self-seeded plants transplanted into tomato bed failed – those not transplanted were fine

Cilantro: basically did well, not the best germination, try planting half in April & half in June

Nasturtiums: did great, needed some aphid treatment

Okra: good variety, planted all 13 seedlings & lost several, try using black plastic to warm soil before planting then remove, try planting 6 in front & 5 in back for spacing

Rhubarb: doing better in new location, producing well

Sunflowers: move next year, use Serenade

Three Sisters bed: move to another location next year
Corn: germination problems, lovely ears, not very productive, need better support
Beans: nice variety, reasonably productive
Squash: compact habit good, but produced very few, very small squashes – new variety next year

2015 Greens (end of season notes)

Arugula: awesome planted w/zucchini, plant using on a 6-week schedule, dividing the bed into 3 sections planted every 2 weeks (alternate with lettuce)

Bok Choi: 4/25 planting produced good heads in 7-8 weeks, try seeding more heavily to take some plants and only leaves from others or replant in July

Cress & Mustard: tasty varieties, produced more than enough, plant in April, June & August

Kales & Collards: did well, try to find a larger-leafed dinosaur kale, go back to old curly kale?

Lettuce: mostly perfect, varieties & schedule good, one planting developed some type of rot in the heat, start planting Nevada earlier, leave more space for planting board, last planting was a bit late

Spinach: spring crop: bad leaf miner on plants seeded in garden – not on transplants from indoors, Shelby germinated better indoors – same as Verdil outdoors. Fall crop: Verdil germinated well though many plants died off, those that survived did great

Swiss Chard: bad leaf miner early in season, broadcasting worked better than planting in rows, find a bigger variety for next year, try not picking one plant to see how big it gets, try row cover

2015 Legumes (end of season notes)

Bush Beans: grid planting okay, leaves affected by some disease (rust?), shorter harvest season

Fava Beans: best crop & best looking plants to date, yet still not very productive

Peas: all did well (both early & late), check source of Sugar Snap (better in 2014)

Pole Beans: purples did better on trellis – those at gate were diseased (rust?), Romano type smaller & less bountiful – check source for seed, greens didn’t do as well as in previous years

Soybeans: good crop over reasonable harvest window, some damage to leaves (beetles?)

2015 Nightshades (end of season notes)

Eggplant: seedlings slow to get started in garden, Italian variety (Galine) perfect, white type did well, Ping Tung Long plants stayed small – try more productive variety?

Peppers: all varieties (including many new ones) did great, stake plants earlier next year, check seed source for poblano – not quite right, try Hot Lemon & Thai Dragon in pots next year?

Tomatoes: Heirlooms / disease-resistant Hybrids ratio good, Serenade experiment worth repeating – get a new sprayer
Cherry types: Sun Gold good, Matt’s Wild Cherry too small - go back to Super Sweet 100s next year
Sauce types: Juliet good, Tiren odd – try a different variety or just grow Juliet
Standard types: Most did well, Bolseno & Ramapo best, Cherokee Purple was bad, Green Zebra was lackluster

Tomatillos: crop survived and produced lots of small fruit, seedlings savagely attacked by 3-Lined Potato Beetles – move next year & use row cover on newly-planted seedlings

2015 Root Crops (end of season notes)

Beets: uneven timing, though all eventually produced nice beets, but bad leaf miner early in the season & some diseased leaves (rust?), plant radishes afterward next year

Jerusalem Artichokes: good harvest, though hit with aphids & mildew, move next year

Potatoes: all varieties did fine, Purple Vikings rule

Radishes: early crops did fine - might be better in main beds, late crops did poorly due to lack of sun, try planting earlier or in main beds

Sweet Potatoes: black plastic technique not great, all 3 varieties produced good vines, lost 2 Georgia Jet plants – replaced with Beauregard slips, yields of 3/plant not great, try using black plastic to warm soil – then remove

Salad Turnips: early seeding in perimeter beds had lots of root damage, plant in main beds only. Late seedings should have been planted a little earlier and thinned better

Turnips: did well, needed to be thinned better

2015 Squashes (end of season notes)

Not a great year for squashes, lots of squash vine borers, kaolin clay somewhat effective, possible damage from potassium bicarb treatment, try starting in pots 2 weeks before planting

Cucumbers: slow to get started, generally poor showing for both varieties, mildew problems, several small misshapen fruits

Pumpkins: sad showing, possibly due to borers and potassium bicarb treatment, possibly due to variety

Summer Squashes: zucchini wonderful, yellow squash bombed – find disease resistant variety

Winter Squashes: slow getting started, better yet not perfect, still had mildew and vine borer problems, label varieties next year

Watermelons: poor germination, replanted

Robbins Farm Park Field Day 2015

picking carrots on Field DayFrom Steven:

I want to thank everyone who showed up for Field Day; we had a very good turnout of Gardeners this year!

We also had a very good turnout of visitors, tons of children, so many that we ran out of carrots for them to pick! But there was still sage and parsley, lemon balm and fennel seed, edible nasturtiums, the not-ginger Jerusalem artichokes, the purple cauliflower to find, questions about tomatillos and sweet potatoes, and even one demonstration of compost extraction and mulching. And more I'm forgetting at the moment!

It was a great outreach event for us, attested to by the smiles of the many children.


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