Sickly Seedlings

Last Saturday we pulled two seedlings, one cabbage and one cauilflower, that we felt were too sickly to survive.  We closely examined their roots and the surrounding dirt, looking for the cause, and in particular for cutworms.  The base of the stem of one of the seedlings did look like it had been partially eaten-through, which might be due to a cutworm; although, a real cutworm would have eaten entirely through the stem.  The other seedling had no rootlets -- the fine root hairs branching off the main root -- as if something had eaten them; although cutworms don't attack a seedling that way.  In both cases, we saw no cutworms or any other pest in the soil that could be responsible for the damage.  We were puzzled.

Onions standing tall

It looks like the onions are winning the early race for the tallest seedlings.  I suppose this is because onions are generally planted not from seed, but from onion "sets", which look like little baby onions. This must give them a head start.  The greens certainly look good enough to eat already!

Collard Greens' Sprouts - On Schedule

The collard greens’ tiny sprouts have broken through, on schedule, as have those of both their neighbors, the Swiss chard and the kale.  The Swiss chard's two seed leaves are elongated, like little green bananas. The two seed leaves for the collard greens and kale, their close cousin, are quite circular, more like Mickey Mouse's ears.

There are lots of those tiny shoots poking their heads up out of the soil. They look adorable. And the kids who walk past the Garden on the way to school seem to take delight in them. 

We'll start thinning these seedlings pretty soon. We don't want them crowding each other. So the Reaper comes soon. We’ll thin them out, saving only the most promising, leaving the survivors spaced maybe just an inch from one another. That's just the first thinning. There will be more. As soon as leaves come close to touching, out comes the weaker-looking of the two.

If I understand this right, at some point we'll end up with collards standing as much as 2 feet from one another.

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.



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