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.

Spectacular Onions from Seed

For the first time, this year's onions from seed were spectacular -- uniformly big, beautiful and delicious.

We chose intermediate day varieties: Walla Walla (a large, sweet white) and Rossa di Milano (a large heart-shaped red), both from High Mowing Organic Seeds.

We started the seed indoors under lights on March 7th, then transplanted the seedlings into small six-packs three weeks later and planted them in the garden on May 2 (8 weeks after seeding).

The soil was well prepared with compost, manure and organic fertilizer, and the seedlings were planted on 6" centers. (We did not trim the seedlings, as recommended by High Mowing, to increase their size.)

The plants were kept well watered and weeded throughout the growing season, and side-dressed with sifted compost at least once during the summer.

Our first harvest was on July 25th (140 days after seeding, 112 days after planting). These onions have been providing a solid harvest for over a month.

We couldn't be more pleased!


Using Up Many Vegetables at Once

I made this for dinner last night, and it was yummy.  I managed to use up my red cabbage and beets, plus onions, carrots, and garlic from the garden, and thyme and dill from my backyard herb garden.  This is from the newish Cooks Illustrated Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.

Beet and Wheat Berry Soup with Dill Cream

Serves 6


2/3 cup wheat berries (not the quick cooking or precooked kind), rinsed

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped fine

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

8 cups vegetable broth

3 cups water

1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage

1 pound beets, trimmed, peeled, and shredded

1 small carrot, peeled and shredded

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Dill Cream

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup minced fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon salt

1.  For the Soup:  Toast wheat berries in dutch oven over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and beginning to darken, about 5 minutes; transfer to bowl.

2.  Heat oil in now-empty pot over medium heat until shimmering.  Stir in onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in tomato paste and cayenne and cook until darkened slightly, about 2 minutes.

3.  Stir in broth and water, scraping up any browned bits.  Stir in toasted wheat berries, cabbage, beets, carrot, bay leaf and 3/4 teaspoon pepper, and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until wheat berries are tender but still chewy and vegetables are tender, 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hours.

4.  For the Dill Cream:  Meanwhile, combine all ingredients in bowl.

5.  Off heat, discard bay leaf, and stir in vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Top individual portions with dill cream and serve.

2015 Lettuce report

Our lettuce plot has been producing well. We've had some prolonged hot weather recently, but have managed to maintain a continuous supply (see our Perpetual Lettuce post).

This year's new heat-tolerant green leaf variety - Nevada (lower left in photo) is a keeper. We began with Black Seeded Simpson in the spring, but transitioned to Nevada as the season progressed.


New for 2015 - Garden bed plans

We began planting many of our garden beds according to drafted plans this year. The planting plans were developed from our 5 years of cooperative gardening wisdom. They are primarily for 6’ by 9’ beds.

The layouts express our interest in maximizing the number of crops that we grow, along with maximizing our limited garden space. They represent our current best guess at the ideal plant and/or row spacing for most of the crops we grow. They also represent our increasing interest in companion plantings.

Some of the layouts are works in progress. The Three Sisters bed is a great example. We have had a Three Sisters plot in the garden since 2011, and we have experimented with it every year.

This first set of planting plans was possible only because of the extensive photos and other records that we've kept. I am grateful to everyone for contributing to the process.

The complete set of scale bed planting plans for 2015 is available on the 2015 Garden Plan page. We hope they will be of use to other gardeners. They have been quite helpful for us.


My green car is even greener.....

Elisabeth and I have developed a system for the seedlings we start indoors.  She has a cold basement and a shady backyard.  I have a warm basement and a good-sized sunny patch in my backyard.  She starts the cool weather seedlings (like the brassicas) in her basement, and I start the warm weather seedlings (like the nightshades) in my basement.  When the seedlings are ready to go outside, they go first to her backyard, and then to mine.


Today was transfer day for most of the warm weather seedlings, from her backyard to mine.  My car was completely filled (the back, the floors, and all the seats except the driver’s seat) with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatillos.  It did all fit, but barely.

Hot Lemon Peppers

I know that these peppers are very popular with the gardeners (and with me, definitely) but maybe there’s a reason why they’re so expensive when we typically buy them as seedlings.  This year, we’re growing them from seed, and they've definitely been the most problematic of any of the seedlings I've been fostering.

This is a picture of their current state (on 4/29).  I don’t keep detailed records like Elisabeth does (I should probably do that), but we planted the seeds on 4/4.  The largest seedling probably sprouted about 4/13.  The next largest seedling probably sprouted about 4/23, and the 2 smallest seedlings just sprouted yesterday.  Maybe we’ll get some more!


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