Annual Seed Selection Meeting - Saturday, January 28

Save the date - we will hold our annual Seed Selection Meeting on Saturday, January 28 in Community Room of the Community Safety Building from 9:30am to 12:30pm.

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 season to come!

You will find the Community Safety Building at 112 Mystic Street. When you enter the building, go directly up the stairs in front of you. Our meeting room is on the left.


2016 End of Season Notes

2016 gardening season image
Our seventh year of gardening year began with the January seed meeting, followed by some excellent research for new varieties in February. March saw the first seedlings started indoors and opening day at the garden. In April, the final 2 (of 12) main garden beds were double-dug, and our first seeds (and seedlings) went into the garden.

In May, we discovered a rabbit's nest in some knee-high winter rye, causing a delay in planting our bush beans. (All bunnies successfully fledged and eventually graduated out of the garden.) For the first time, we started sweet potato slips from our previous-year's tubers and experimented with row cover on the Swiss chard.

Drought was significant for most of the season. Watering seemed relentless, especially in early summer when many young seedlings were getting established. Our carrots suffered, tomatoes were once again a target for thirsty wildlife and (for the first time) our eggplants were targeted.

June saw a bountiful crop of peas, our earliest cherry tomatoes ever, and the best-looking spring broccoli and bok choi to date. Sadly, our okra seedlings struggled... and the seedlings purchased to replace them didn't fare much better. In July, we harvested our best-ever garlic, along with our earliest summer squash and full-sized tomatoes.

August was abundant, and graced us with another beautiful crop of bok choi. Yet, we suffered disappointment when our onions died off before reaching full size. September (always our most productive month) saw the additional payoff of our pelleted seed experiment, with our best crop of parsnips to date.

October saw our last harvests of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, and our first harvests of cauliflower and sweet potatoes. Garlic (reserved from our June harvest) was replanted in November, which also saw the last harvest for most crops. We enjoyed lettuce and arugula (under plastic) through mid-December and hardy collards and kale through the end of the year.


2016 Alliums (end of season notes)

2016 alliums image
Garlic: best ever (see journal post)!
Leeks: did well, despite drought
Onions: less impressive than 2015 (due to drought?) – try mid-season feeding, more compost, increased spacing? Sets did well
Scallions: bad year, poor germination on both plantings – try more vigorous variety? try switching location with Shallots? add nitrogen fertilizer?
Shallots: plants from seed did better than sets – try 2 seed varieties?
Walking Onions: 2nd planting of bulblets did well (1st planting mostly failed), harvest of previous year’s plants tasty

2016 Brassicas (end of season notes)

2016 brassicas image
General: buy more shade cloth to cover late-season broccoli, cabbage & cauliflower transplants
Broccoli: best early crop ever, late crop did great too (especially single plant left in nursery bed) – leave more seedlings in nursery bed next year?
Brussels Sprouts: both varieties strong (see journal post), but hit with cabbage worms and aphids
Cabbages: early crop slower & stunted w/bad cabbage worms, late crop did well, but some savoy didn’t mature – try row cover in spring? transplant savoy earlier in fall?
Cauliflower:  good varieties, but small & late (needs more time than broccoli & standard cabbage) – transplant on 1st week into potato bed next year, leave some seedlings in nursery bed? start in pots?

2016 Carrot family (end of season notes)

2016 carrot family image
Carrots: difficult year due to drought, early crop slow, stubby & multi-rooted, fall crop needed 2 plantings, many didn’t mature – try pelleted seed next year
Celery: best ever!
Fennel (bulb): first seeding failed, second seeding plants small again – try slow-bolt or heat-tolerant variety? try replacing with celery root?
Parsnips: best crop to date, timing good, pelleted seed rules! – thin better next year

2016 Flowers, Grains, Herbs, etc. (end of season notes)

2016 flowers etc image
Basil: another strong year, but with some leaf predation
Cilantro: not a good year – try a better planting schedule, more robust variety? rotate into a main bed (with arugula)?
Nasturtiums: nearly wiped out by aphids, some recovered later
Okra: seedling problems (due to transplanting and/or watering?), bought seedlings didn’t thrive either
Rhubarb: did well, except for leaf damage (by beetles?)
Sunflowers: healthier plants, less mildew, but not enough – try in new or additional location (Philosopher’s Stone)?
Sweet Clover: transplant into tomato beds worked well, collected seed planted in fall (more for spring)
Three Sisters plot: did well, pretty good balance, very good corn, good beans, squash small and leggy – try larger squash variety w/bushier habit & borer-resistant?

2016 Greens (end of season notes)

2016 greens image
Arugula: hedge planting worked well, planting schedule good – try starting 2nd planting 2 weeks earlier
Bok Choi: best ever, timing & variety good, second planting transplants into open spaces did great
Collards: did well – try one fewer row (for an extra row of Swiss Chard)
Cress: good crop, late planting did well – rotate with mustard next year
Kales: aphids & cabbage worms late in season for both types, curly type germination slow – find dinosaur type with larger leaves? find earlier curly variety?
Malabar Spinach: some seedling problems (due to transplanting and/or watering?), beautiful on entry arbor
Lettuce: most varieties did well, poor germination on (heirloom) Tennis Ball – find new green variety? try new red variety?
Mustard: good crop, late planting did well – rotate with cress next year
Spinach: early crop produced, but hit with aphids, fall crop had bad germination & stunted plants – try under row cover in spring, give up on fall crop?
Swiss Chard: row cover made a big difference (especially with drought) – plant an extra row next year (less collards) – reorder rows to stage height of bed?

2016 Legumes (end of season notes)

2016 legumes image
Beans (bush): yellow and striped varieties good – try new green variety
Beans (pole): timing good, Garden of Eden Romano did well, Northeaster Romano produced faster, but had a short season & stringy beans, Kentucky Wonder and Trionfo Violetto not very productive – try new green variety?
Fava beans: germination and spacing good, bad timing with aphids and flowers, be vigilant next year
Peas (spring): all early varieties did well (Sugar Snap had second wind)
Peas (fall): variety excellent, produced well and late into season – use shade cloth for summer planting to keep seed cool & provide support
Soybeans: did well

2016 Nightshades (end of season notes)

2016 nightshades image
Eggplants: early critter predation (due to drought), staking important, Italian variety excellent, Orient Express quicker to harvest and larger plants, but less cold hardy than Ping Tung Long
Peppers: too many hot types (more sweet types, lose Anaheim & Jalapeno?, try Padron?, bigger Thai variety?)
Tomatillos: not as productive as usual, possibly due to following (alleopathic) Jerusalem artichokes, no beetle damage
Tomatoes: seedlings planted too far from stakes (try 4-5”), Garden Gem did poorly, Juliette did very well, Green Giant was strange

2016 Root Crops (end of season notes)

2016 root crops image
Beets: damage by leaf minor – use row cover next year, try starting some indoors
Jerusalem Artichokes: did great in new location, less mildew & aphids – reduce space next year?
Potatoes: decent harvest on all types, no loss of plants, some scab on purple variety (look into causes)
Radishes: both varieties (early and late crops) did well
Sweet Potatoes: all slips did well (from our tubers), simple planting in rows also worked – very good, do again
Turnips (cooking): did well, but some seed dried out – try covering seed with shade cloth?
Turnips (salad): spring & fall crops did well – plant more carefully & thin better next year

2016 Squash family (end of season notes)

2016 squash image

General: grow winter squashes in rows next year; groups of 3 harder to check for borers, try interspersing with other crops in perimeter beds to reduce spread of diseases
Butternut squash:  our most productive variety, did well relative to other squashes
Cucumbers: both types better w/mildew, but hit hard with bacterial wilt, volunteer plant in pepper bed held out the longest – try 2 plantings & early varieties?
Delicata squash: tasty variety, but only 1 squash per plant
Pumpkins:  bad borer (borers hid inside stems) and mildew damage, best variety so far (bush type, grow on ground)
Watermelons: good year, volunteer plant also produced
Yellow Summer squash: less robust than zucchini, destroyed by borers early – try second planting? Try cousa type?

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!



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