How I learned to love lettuce

A head of lettuceI grew up thinking I hated lettuce. Every night my sister and I argued over who had to make the salad- tomatoes that tasted like cardboard, cucumbers (which I still don't particularly like), and iceberg lettuce. I ate it, but I never particularly enjoyed it. Once I got out on my own, I discovered that there was lettuce that was not iceberg, which made salad much more interesting. I still was not a big fan, however. It took a vacation to Hawaii to turn me around. We were visiting friends of ours who lived near Honolulu, and we went to the farmers' market that is right behind Diamond Head. Our friend bought a big bag of arugula, and we went home and made a salad. Just arugula and some oil and vinegar. Wow- I had never tasted anything like it. It turns out that the world of lettuce and greens beyond iceberg is large and varied, and I can now happily eat salad just for the greens, without adding much of anything to cover up the boring lettuce base. I'm still partial to arugula, but there is all kinds of lettuce that is mighty tasty .



Cabbage - First Impressions

I missed planting day, which was last Wednesday.  The seedlings look strong (the first few days are critical to seedlings -- either they take, or they don't, in which case they wilt obviously).  At first I didn't even know they had been planted, as there was a single sign for that bed saying "Cauliflower".  I did think it was a lot of cauliflower, but was later informed that the bed contained broccoli and my adopted cabbage as well.  They sure look alike!  Although one person pointed out, the seedlings with red stems were probably the red cabbage.  I was a bit concerned that we didn't have cutworm collars, which we from the AFC garden used in the past with cabbage, but I had an idea of something I might bring next week to use for cutworm collars.

Planting Collard Greens

Let's start with the soil prep. We started preparing the soil last Saturday, the 17th. That was when Mike and Alan dug up the plot with with a motorized rotary tiller. Then yesterday, to loosen it up still further down --  to about 10 inches or so -- we went at it with our garden forks. Since collards produce tap roots as long 15 to 18 inches, we hope this first 10 inches of fluffed-up soil gives them a good start.

The results from the Ag Center at U Mass Amherst told us the soil was pretty anemic and too acidic. To fortify and sweeten it, we mixed into it a good deal of compost, some dried-out chicken poop and cow manure, plus what seemed like a ton of pelletized lime.

Now the planting. For the collard greens, we planted three rows of seeds. They’re in the center of a 6 x 9 foot section that plays host on one side to Swiss chard and on the other to two varieties of kale, the collards’ closest cousin.

Seeds for collard greens are tiny. We spread them fairly densely along their three rows, with the idea of thinning the less successful seedlings out later.

Then we covered the seeds with about 1/2 inch of dirt and watered each row with a sprinkling can, so as not to disadvantage any of our promising young contenders.

Seeds for collard greens are said to germinate fairly quickly. So we expect to see their sprouts some time next week or the beginning of the week after that.

This type of collards -- Georgia, from Burpee -- is supposed to reach full maturity in about 75 days. That means the first or second week in July.  We’ll start harvesting leaves, though, probably a good month before that.

Speaking for myself, I love collard greens, though I’ve never grown them, never cooked them.  We’ve always gotten our collards, Saturday afternoons, at the basement kitchen of the United House of Prayer for All People, on Seaver Street in Dorchester. Great soul food there.

I look forward to trying my own hand at fixing collards. But I doubt they’ll be nearly as good.

Planting Swiss Chard is easy!

Swiss Chard seeds

Swiss chard seeds were planted in the garden today. Like the other cold-tolerant crops (peas, kale, lettuce and the cabbage family) they could have gone in a few weeks sooner. The wonderful thing about planting swiss chard is the big seeds (almost the size of peas and far less smooth, they're among the few seeds you can plant in a stiff breeze).

We've planted Bright Lights, a variety with a colorful mix of red, white, pink and yellow plants. There's only room for 3 rows in the 6-foot wide bed, which the swiss chard shares with the other leafy biennials (collards and kale).


A Productive Rainy-Day Outing

The weather having prevented a pea-planting Saturday, a number of us instead took the opportunity to visit Waltham Fields Community Farm for their first seedling sale. Besides the crops we won't be starting from seeds at all, like tomatoes and peppers, there are cool-weather crops we knew we could get in seedlings from our Waltham colleagues or other sources to give the garden an early start. Some of these are items we'll also plant from seed in a few weeks, letting new generations of plants succeed the first (succession planting). 

On the way to Waltham we took a delightful sidetrip to Belmont Victory Gardens, a real surprise to most of us. The plots are large and fenced, and many are well-established; some had made use of storm windows to create greenhouses in situ. Garlic was in evidence on many plots, and flowers here and there had us dreaming of a spring Robbins Farm Garden with welcoming color.

The midday at Waltham included sitting in on a bit of Arlington resident and Robbins Farm friend Russ Cohen's "Edible Wild Plants" presentation, accompanied by splendid treats, including pie made with Japanese knotweed! His culinary abilities with invasives are outstanding. We cut the viewing short to attend the seedling sale and were very impressed with the offerings. We came away with ten 6-packs, of various lettuces, cabbage, broccoli, kale and cauliflower. All but the lettuces are ground-ready (the lettuces need a few more days indoors), and our plan at the moment is to convene Wednesday evening to put our first plants in the Robbins ground.


Before the beginning

Some of us (Lisa, Oakes, Alan, Elisabeth, Melanie, Erika and Mike) met today for about 3 hours to plot out the garden and to discuss the strategy for next week's Big Dig.

We figured out where the garden should be based upon distance from the playground and from the street.  We pounded stakes flush with the ground into the 4 corners of the plot, and then marked the garden with spray chalk that Mike had bought. Pounding in the first stake, we woke up a nice fat worm - a good sign!  It seem much smaller than I had remembered it being from the fall!  We also marked where the gate would go.

There was some discussion about modifying the garden layout, and some discussion about maybe making the paths narrower and having a central gathering spot to conduct tours.  Mike gave a demonstration of how a pickax can be used to skim sod off the surface.  There was quite a bit of discussion about what we could do with the sod.  Gordon Jamieson (an abutter) dropped by and talked about how we could fill some of the holes near the fence with the sod- this would also help with drainage issues he and his neighbors have been having.

We then started talking about our equipment rental decisions.  Initially, it seemed like most of us were in favor of not renting the auger to help keep in range of our budget.  To help with this decision, we dug a hole where one of the post holes would be.  We did not have the proper equipment, but we managed to dig down 14 inches without hitting ledge.  We were stymied by a couple of good sized rocks, but our experiment was pretty encouraging.  The soil seemed really nice and workable. We filled in the hole so no one would trip on it.


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