No planting this Saturday

Yesterday we would have normally planted the seedlings Elizabeth and Lisa started a month ago. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has not been cooperating. Overnight temperatures dropped close to freezing several times last week; so there's been little chance for the seedlings to harden off, and the schedule had to slip.

So yesterday was mostly maintenance and get-acquainted conversations with the Garden's four new members: Yue, Susan, Corinna, and Ed.

We did finish placing the new posts on the playground side of the Garden. We added another stone container for one of the more slopey plots, plus repaired our rabbit defense system and finished up the dry well that should reduce runoff from the Garden's spigot.

Meanwhile, the veggie signs stand silently off to the side awaiting their postings.


Opening Day at the Garden April 6 (9-noon)

Greetings patient Arlington gardeners! The unseasonably cold weather has delayed Opening Day at the Garden until April this year, but we won't be dismayed. There is plenty of heavy and light work to be done and we look forward to seeing everyone at 9 Saturday morning at Robbins Farm Garden. Happy spring!

Arlington EcoFest 2013

A big thanks to Alan, Lisa, Steven, Mike and Oakes for their help with the Robbins Farm Garden table at this year's EcoFest. This uniquely-Arlington event is a terrific way to let more people know about the garden and to learn more about what others are doing around Town.

Oakes' trademark tri-fold poster boards with the wonderful array of garden scenes really drew people. The dual-screen slide show Alan put together looked really great -- especially with the Ken Burns-style auto-zoom-in and auto-zoom-out effects. And our supply of garden leaflets held out despite the high demand.

Many people stopped by to find out more about the garden. All were invited to visit and those with children were encouraged to bring them to participate without worrying about membership (allowing kids to get a hands-on experience without the parents having to get their hands dirty).

2013 Annual Seed Party Meeting

The Robbins Farm Garden Cooperative is holding its Seed Party Meeting on Saturday, February 2nd (Ground Hog Day) at the Robbins Library Community Room (downstairs) at 9:30 a.m.. Anyone interested in the crops & varieties we will grow in the garden is welcome. There are spaces left to apply to join the garden this growing season.

White House Kitchen Garden Visit

It was a lovely weekend in October and we happened to be in Washington when the White House held their Fall Garden Tours. The opportunity to see Michelle Obama’s famous Kitchen Garden was simply too wonderful to pass up. We braved the long lines and got such a treat!

The kitchen garden is in a clearing on the south lawn of the White House (circled in red on the brochure). The plan is L shaped, though it has changed somewhat over the years. The plan shown here (sporting the First Family dog, Bo) was from the first year: 2009.

The garden is fastidiously tended and initially, the planting beds were at grade. They’ve since transitioned to raised wooden beds. The pathways are mulched with bluestone stepping stones on the main paths.

Even in October, the garden was going strong! We saw tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, mustard, pac choi, cauliflower, parsley, Brussels sprouts, squash, collards, tomatillos, broccoli, beans, basil, ginger and many herbs. There were also a few things we weren’t close enough to recognize.

A section of the garden is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, with the plants grown from seed passed down through the generations at his home Monticello.

One really can’t overstress the importance of the White House Kitchen Garden. Without this highly influential effort, many community gardens – such as ours – may never have gotten off the ground.




Green Pole Beans - taking sides

We grew two varieties of green pole bean this year: Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake. The winner of the side-by-side test is Kentucky Wonder. According to Michael (our most devoted bean enthusiast), they were earlier and more prolific than Blue Lake.

Next year, we may grow Kentucky Wonder and the Romano pole bean Garden of Eden on the Pea trellis. Instead of standard pole beans, a dried bean variety (that doesn't need to be picked until the end of the season) may work better for the Three Sisters plot.

A Surprise Treasure in our Garden!

While topping the Brussels sprouts* on Wednesday evening, I happened upon an odd, exotic-looking object that was attached to the main stem of one of our plants.  It looked like something that would fit right in on the set of the movie Alien!  However, as I examined it more closely, I realized that it is something that is very good to find in one's garden -- that is, an ootheca, (i.e., egg case), from a mantid!  In our case, (no pun intended!), based on its size and shape, this egg case is from a Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia sinensis). 


Ootheca (egg case) from a Chinese mantid, on a Brussels Sprout Plant

[photo - Susan Doctrow]

The Chinese mantid is the world's largest mantid, often reaching over four inches in length when fully grown.  They are brown, with green or yellow stripes on the sides of their wings, and they are widely sold through garden catalogs and garden centers because they are carnivorous predators that will often feed on other insects and creatures that are garden pests.

See our earlier post for a photo of the adult Chinese mantid that we discovered on our pole bean trellis:

Here's a Chinese mantid creating an egg case:

And here's a mantid egg case actually hatching:


*  We learned, this season, that topping Brussels sprouts and flower sprouts when they are 3-4 weeks from harvest leads to bigger, more-consistently sized sprouts at harvest time.


Carrots: Lessons Learned This Year

carrotsThis year's early-season carrots struggled through an infestation of Asiatic Garden Beetles, a nocturnal garden pest that needed to be painstakingly removed from the soil during thinning and weeding. The early crop took a bit longer than expected to mature, but the beetle-busting efforts paid off with truly lovely carrots.

When our late-season carrots got off to a rocky start, we began to worry. We seeded an area vacated by fava beans on July 7th. Germination was good, the seedlings began growing, but then they all died. All except a few that had been in the shade of the mature carrots at the ends of the rows. We're not certain, but it may be that the seedlings became too dry at a critical period and quickly withered in the mid-July sun. They were replanted and the second carrot crop now appears to be on its way to greatness. But for my part, I'd like to document a few carrot lessons we've learned this year.

1. Favor varieties with short growing seasons. Two crops divides the season into mid-April to mid-July and mid-July to mid-October, giving a generous 91 days for maturity. Yet, carrots grown in the peripheries of the season take longer than the predicted 75 days.

2. Plant the rows close together. The carrots shared a bed with salad turnips this year, dividing one 6' x 9' planting bed into two beds 3' wide. We planted five rows 6 inches apart and the spacing was excellent.

3. Sow plenty of seed. Carrots take their time germinating (1-3 weeks), so they don't allow much opportunity to infill seed bare spots without paying a heavy price in lost time.

4. Keep the newly-seeded soil moist. We used shade cloth after re-seeding in July and left it in place until the seedlings had a good roothold (at about 2" tall). This may be less of a problem for the early crop.

5. Lightly thin the seedlings each week. Successive thinning doesn't take long, and it results in the best seedlings surviving to maturity at the ideal spacing of around 1 inch apart.

Another Beneficial Insect Spotted at Robbins Farm Garden!

Locust Borer BeetleOn Saturday, September 8, 2012, I spotted this unusual insect gathering nectar from our garlic chive blossoms.   At first glance I thought it was some kind of wasp, but upon closer inspection, I decided that it was some kind of beetle.  (This type of visual imitation, by the way, is called biomimicry.  In this specific case, this beetle evolved to resemble a wasp as a deterrent to possible predators.)  After some online research, I discovered that what we had here is a Megacyllene robiniae  --aka a Locust Borer Beetle.  [Photo credit – Alan Jones].

This convincingly camouflaged beetle shouldn't be a problem in our garden, as this native insect only lays its eggs on, and then subsequently damages, black locust trees.  It was on the chive blossoms simply to feed, and, coincidentally, to pollinate.  So, as far as we are concerned, this is another beneficial insect helping to tend our garden!

For more info on this insect, see


This Day in the Garden - September 8, 2012

Our first harvest of sweet potatoes, leeks and rhubarb, and the last of the watermelons. None of the watermelons this year have made it out of the park - it's just too much fun to share them on the spot. Those eight big sweet potatoes were from just one plant! We'll wait a few weeks to dig the rest, after the plants start dieing back.

Michael spotted a special visitor on the pole beans:  Our mantid friend is a Tenodera aridifolis sinensis, aka a Chinese Praying Mantis.


A praying mantis is a voracious predator, (i.e., a "beneficial" insect), and its favorite munchies are insect & bug pests that we don't want in our gardens!  Isn't it nice to know that Mother Nature is helping us out?  (And kudos to Alan for the excellent click!)

Praying Mantis

Mildew Strikes Back!

This past Saturday, the mildew had spread across the patch of summer squash.  While *we* had been careful to avoid watering late evening, to avoid water sitting on leaves not drying off, Mother Nature had no such qualms.  For a week she rained on and off as she pleased, day and night, throwing in a few thundershowers for good measure.  Plus with the high humidity, and therefore a high dewpoint, we surely had leaves soaked in dew every night.

Nevertheless, we benefited significantly from using potassium bicarbonate (couple teaspoons mixed in a few quarts of water -- we didn't add soybean oil because that gummed up the sprayer) to prevent mildew.  Indeed, the cucumber leaves were still free of mildew, and we've had a much more abundant crop of cucumbers this year than last.  The winter squash along the fence showed some mildew encroachment, which by today according to our Thursday waterer had spread entirely over that patch.  Interestingly, the winter squash under the beans and corn was still free of mildew. Perhaps yet another advantage of growing the Three Sisters together!



Fresh-from-the-garden Chili

If you garden, you know the question: How do I make the most of the seasonal selection of vegetables from the garden tonight? In this case, it was finishing up several small Onions, five random Tomatoes in various states of ripeness, a few green Peppers, a half-dozen Tomatillos and some charming little Hot Peppers.

fresh from the garden chili

The answer was Chili. I chopped the Onions, Peppers (green & hot), Tomatillos and skinned Tomatoes, adding them sequentially to a sauté pot with a small amount of oil. When the veggies were all in, I added a standard can of rinsed beans (in this case, butter beans), whole cashews and some chili seasoning. The result was three very hearty servings of my best chili ever!

Boffo bush beans

Somehow, I gravitate toward harvesting our bush beans, and a couple of weeks ago, I thought I noticed that they were slowing down, and might be done for the season. 

I mused likewise out loud, suggesting to Elisabeth, one of our chief gardening officers, that perhaps we should pull them and get something else out of the raised plot before it was too late.

Purple, yellow, and green string beans.

Boy, was I wrong. Saturday, I spent more than an hour in that bed, harvesting plump, robust yellow, purple, and green string beans. Yellow has been the star by far this year, IMO, producing the most and the prettiest beans of the trio. Purple seems to produce a lot, but not of great stature, and the greens have just been so-so.

I don't know how much longer they have to go — my recollection is that they kept producing last year even after our pole beans began bearing fruit. If so, we probably have a few more weeks, since the latter are climbing, but I haven't noticed an flowers yet.


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