Robbins Farm Garden is a cooperative community garden project at Robbins Farm Park in Arlington, MA. Since 2010, we’ve grown vegetables organically as a group, created an educational resource in the community and continued the agricultural tradition of the farm at the park. We garden Saturday mornings April – November and Tuesday evenings June – September. The project is run through Arlington’s Recreation Department.
A sign has been posted at the garden with guidelines for gardeners to follow in order to grow our food and keep everyone safe during this health crisis. A pdf of the sign is available here. The text appears below.
TO DO OUR PART TO STOP THE SPREAD OF COVID-19
WE ENCOURAGE GARDENERS TO:
• Stay home if you or those you live with are not well or not sure.
• Maintain physical separation of 6 feet or more.
• Avoid clusters (of more than 10), schedule gardening at different times.
• Use your own tools and take them home.
• Don’t leave things outside the fence while you’re working.
• Ask visitors to stay outside the garden fence.
• Use gloves and sanitizer to keep your hands clean.
• Cloth masks are (required).
• Sanitize commonly-touched surfaces: gate, locks, water spigot, hoses, storage bin, seed box, fertilizer bags.
We left the smaller parsnips in the ground last fall and harvested them today.
The ground was already pretty workable, probably due to lack of rain, but still pretty cold.
The artichoke and allium seeds we planted on February 22 are off to a strong start. The front row has 1 pot of Tavor artichokes & 3 of Walla Walla onions; the middle row has 2 pots of Rossa di Milano red onions & 2 of Conservor shallots; the back row has 2 pots of Megaton leeks & 2 of New York Early storage onions. Next week, we move on to seeding our first brassicas and greens.
We’ve been making our own seedling soil for a decade. Yet, this is the first time we’ve attempted to document it as a recipe. For germinating seeds, like the leeks, onions and shallots we started yesterday, we use a light, less nutrient-rich mix.
- Coconut Coir – 1 brick (rehydrates to 0.33 cu ft)
- Compost (sifted & sterilized ) – 12 cups
- Vermiculite – 3 cups
- Sand (rough builder) – 3 cups
- Garden Tone fertilizer – 2 TBS
- Wood Ash – 2 TBS
- Limestone (ground) – 1 TBS
For transplanting the seedlings into 6-packs and small pots, we shift the mix closer to fertile garden soil by increasing the compost and nutrients.
- Coconut Coir – 1 brick (expands to 0.33 cu ft rehydrated)
- Compost (sifted & sterilized ) – 24 cups
- Vermiculite – 3 cups
- Sand (rough builder) – 3 cups
- Garden Tone fertilizer – 4 TBS
- Wood Ash – 4 TBS
- Limestone (ground) – 2 TBS
About the ingredients:
The coir is made from ground coconut shells, and is a pH-neutral, sustainable alternative to peat moss.
The compost is all vegetable-matter based, from a home compost pile and from the ones at the main garden.
The Garden Tone organic fertilizer is rated at 3-4-4. For our eggplant, pepper and tomato seedlings, we often substitute Tomato Tone.
The wood ash is collected from a home fireplace, sifted to remove charcoal chunks.
The limestone buffers the pH of the compost. We use pure ground limestone. (Our garden soil tests high for magnesium, so we’re wary of adding more.)
Save the date – our annual Seed Selection Meeting will be on Saturday, February 1st in Community Room of the Arlington Police Headquarters from 10 am to 1 pm.
Everyone interested in the crops & varieties we will grow at Robbins Farm Garden this season is welcome. Prospective new members of the garden group are especially encouraged to attend and join in the discussion. Bring your seed catalogs and great expectations for the season to come!
The Arlington Police Headquarters is at 112 Mystic Street. When you enter the building, go directly up the stairs; the community room door will be on your left.
- Many of the seedlings were affected by putting too much Coast of Main fertilizer in the potting soil – some peppers and lettuce died, some eggplant and onions were stunted, tomatoes were okay.
- Several crops were affected by rodent predation: corn, eggplant, tomatoes, watermelons and, to a lesser extent, both winter squashes.
Garlic: very good, do again
Leeks: be more careful in planning for raised bed later in season, otherwise very good, do again
Onions: Sets did well. Seedlings suffered from over-fertilization of potting soil, most did well
Scallions: did fantastic in crappy soil, try rows @ 2” apart next year
Shallots: did well, but didn’t have two full rows of seedlings due to over-fertilizing potting soil
Walking Onions: did well, provided beautiful scallions in spring, transplanted bulblets over several weeks
Broccoli: early crop very good – fertilized when heads begin to form. Late crop did well too, good number of side shoots after main heads
Brussels sprouts: no aphids this year, some sprouts stayed small, but overall good. Plant on north side of bed next year to keep from shading bed
Cabbages: early crop did well, except some had rot at the base (disease?). late crop didn’t mature well, lots of cabbage worms – two types and late into season, also shaded by Brussels sprouts
Cauliflower: early crop was very good, do again. Late crop was the best yet, but plants had signs of Black Rot on the leaves (look into seed supplier and succession planting in beds)
Kohlrabi: fantastic, do again
Carrots: single crop of different varieties worked, most did well (Mokum not as good) a fair number of split roots this year
Celery: late (seedlings had to be replanted), but all were stocky and healthy, didn’t lose any to disease
Parsnips: good germination & thinning, but not as perfect – some stubby and with nodules – research
Basil: lost some seedlings to over-fertilized soil, plants that survived were okay, some dark spots (disease?)
Cilantro: both plantings were excellent, even though second planting began while shaded by squash leaves
Herbs: Chives all did well, divide in spring; Lavender old growth died over the winter but sprouted tons of new growth in spring; Lemon Balm did great, divide in spring; Rosemary that Steven wintered over was awesome; Savory did great, divide or root prune in spring; Tarragon was sad as usual (research), Thyme doing great (replaced English thyme plant in spring)
Nasturtiums: best ever, dense & productive without the mid-season die off, caught spring aphids early; no fall aphids
Okra: new variety a winner: didn’t lose any seedlings, pretty, uniform, vigorous, productive & tender when oversize. Try pruning early in season to make plants bushier
Popcorn: great germination on new variety, very pretty but tops of ears munched by caterpillars and entire patch was attached by some critter (rats or raccoons?) before all could be picked, thin to 1 plant per space if we grow again
Rhubarb: did okay, some leaf damage – beetles?
Sunflowers: 3-4 germinated and produced well, lower leaves eaten by Asiatic and Japanese beetles
Arugula: very good, do again
Bok Choi: early crop bolted, late crop didn’t germinate well, transplants did better than those left in place
Collards: not as robust but did okay, some leaf damage, check variety and seed source
Kales: did fine (dinosaur did better than usual), some leaf damage, try Redbor next year?
Lettuce: first several crops did great (except for over-fertilized 2nd indoor planting), some rot on denser plantings, thin better, try some disease-resistant varieties next year
Malabar Spinach: not stellar, can’t compete with nasturtiums
Mesclun: did okay in poor real estate, wasn’t reseeded, so became Red Russian kale bed later in season
Mustard: did well, reseeding well scheduled, green lasted longer than red
Perpetual Spinach: germination not great, but did okay in poor real estate
Swiss Chard: did okay, well thinned, research if more fertilizing and/or changing soil pH would help
Beans (bush): Dragon’s Tongue did great, Maxibel were very productive and attractive, Antigua not nearly as good, chicken wire protected bed from bunnies
Beans (dried): weren’t productive (maybe shaded by dense corn plants) bunnies kept away with chicken wire fencing when seedlings were young
Beans (pole): purple did great, try to find Garden of Eden seed again, Kentucky Wonder & Blue Lake did better than Kentucky Blue (beside Philosopher’s Stone)
Fava Beans: did great – productive, no aphids or wooly bear caterpillars
Peas: spring crop productive, Tall Telephone germinated poorly (next to Philosopher’s Stone), Sugar Snaps didn’t seem right – check seed source. Fall crop was highly productive, planted at the right time and covered with shade cloth to keep soil cool
Soybeans: did very well, but needed to infill plant twice, some Japanese beetle damage to leaves
Eggplants: failed to thrive – Orient Express & Japanese White Egg produced better, Black Beauty way too slow (try different variety next year), JWE & BB fruits had lots of small holes – insects (research)
Peppers: not a good year – disease? nutritional problem? over-watering? Potted plant experiment was inconclusive – pots were shaded and plants were from nursery. Lunch Box did better. Corno di Toro and Cheyenne did less well.
Potatoes: very good, do again
Tomatillos: always take too long to produce fruit, fertilize more?, mysterious picking happened mid-season, topped plants when Brussels sprouts were topped to reduce # of smaller fruits
Tomatoes: beautiful plants, excellent productivity, good fertilizing & pruning, Actinovate used in soil before planting and every few weeks for most of summer, lots of hornworms! Also serious rat predation – inflatable snakes helped late in season, maybe try chicken wire? Topped plants near end of season to put energy into ripening fruit. Place taller cherry tomato bed on north side of other bed. Consider non-wood stakes to limit soil-borne disease. Ramapo plants were strange – check seed supplier. Randy Boys not as vigorous or productive as others.
Beets: excellent crop, resilient and productive
Jerusalem Artichokes: flourished in same space as previous 3 years
Radishes: early crop did fine. Late crop okay too
Rutabagas: excellent – good germination and thinning – one was the size of a softball, a few were tiny
Sweet Potatoes: did great, good yield, had more Murasaki than expected
Turnips (cooking): very good, do again
Turnips (salad): early crop was incredible – best ever. late crop never fully matured – not good real estate
Butternuts: high yield, biggest came from 3 sisters plot. Try fertilizing more, maybe grow new super-tasty variety next year?
Cucumbers: good yield, the right ratio of slicing/pickling (4/2), slicing type did better than pickling, mildew not as bad, one plant ended up in 3 sisters plot
Delicata: produced well, planted more this year (fewer pumpkins), vine borers were a problem & were in actual squashes this year
Pumpkins: did well, produced 1-2 per plant (better than previous years)
Watermelon: much better this year, yummy and big, soil-borne disease took half the seedlings after planting, plant twice as many seedlings again next year, rat predation on later fruit
Zucchini: green did better than yellow, fewer borers, second crop didn’t reach full potential again
While I was watering the other day, I was wondering how long to keep the hose on each bed. Of course that depends on many factors, but I’m looking for a rule of thumb.
First I need to know how much water comes out of the hose:
With the water on full and the nozzle on “shower”, it took almost exactly 1 1/2 minutes to fill a 5-gallon bucket. So that’s 3 1/3 gallons per minute.
Our garden beds are about 6×9 feet, or 54 sf = 7,776 sq in. So 1 inch of water on the whole bed is 7,776 cubic inches. There are 231 cubic inches in one gallon of water. So it takes 33.6 gallons (evenly spread) to get one inch of water onto the bed. At 3.33 gallons/minute, that’s about 10 minutes.
How much “rain” does a vegetable garden need? According to numerous sources (like this one), about one inch per week, total. That’s convenient – 10 minutes of hose time per bed per week, evenly spread, if it never rains.
Of course, that’s a very broad guideline. Mature plants with deep roots could probably be watered with the whole inch once or twice per week. Newly planted seeds, seedlings, and transplants need to get water probably every day, because the roots are so shallow and the little plants have no capacity to store moisture.
Too much watering can be almost as bad as not enough. Soil around mature plant roots needs to dry out so the roots can get oxygen. Sometimes yellow leaves indicate too much water. A number of sources say that watering tomatoes too much compromises the flavor (like the discussion in this article about “dry farming”, which claims that stressed tomatoes taste better).
Wilting in the hot sun is a natural reaction by the plants to slow transpiration, so doesn’t necessarily mean that the plant is water-starved. Dig a little hole and see if the soil is really dry before getting worried.
So the answer to my question obviously depends on what I’m watering (mature plants with deep roots – or not), when the bed was watered or rained on last, and the forecast for rain or watering. Therefore my rule of thumb will be never more than 10 minutes on any one bed, usually probably only a few minutes – especially if the soil is already moist a few inches down – and maybe slack off a bit on the tomatoes.
The first piece of the garden’s accessibility improvement project went up on Saturday: a custom-made garden gate. Though it appeared in one day, it had been planned for years and constructed over the course of months. Later this season, we will be constructing raised garden beds flanking the gate and replacing the fencing, starting with the entry side of the garden. See more drawings here.
Funding for this project was made possible through the Community Preservation Act as part of the Robbins Farm Park Improvement Project implemented in other parts of the park last year (which also included a stone dust path to the garden from Eastern Ave). Accessibility issues were identified through a Town-wide study of Arlington’s public parks conducted in 2014.
We are grateful for the opportunity to make these improvements to the garden and hope to have them completed within the next few years.
Finally, they are here – our first lettuce and spinach! The spinach has done particularly well this year. It’s a new variety: Regiment from High Mowing Seeds.
We harvested some lovely young Egyptian walking onions today. They were a delight to take home at the end of a full day of seed planting. These onions have thrived in some of the garden’s least desirable real estate and we’re grateful for their easy reseeding each year.
Mark your calendars with a big squash blossom star for Opening Day at the Garden on April 6th from 9AM to Noon.
Weather permitting, we will be cleaning up the garden, possibly planting early seeds and seedlings, turning the compost, checking the overwintered crops and harvesting parsnips.
Come join the fun!
Picking up lumber for the new accessible front gate and raised beds.