5 minute video here.
3.5 minute video here.
The book .
4 minute video here.
This was the year we dove head-first into seedling starting. Last year, we got our feet wet with early lettuce and spinach. This year, we took on a dozen more crops for a total of 350 seedlings! Here's what we did… and learned.
We started the seedlings in two main groups: early (sown on March 9th) and late (sown on March 30th).
Our early seedlings were Greens (lettuce & spinach), Alliums (leeks & onions) and Brassicas (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages & cauliflowers). They were first transplanted into 6-packs, then planted in the garden on April 21 (6 weeks after sowing). We had a long cold early spring followed by a heat wave, so the transplants took some time to take hold and have suffered some heat stress. Yet, we've had an excellent harvest of early greens and most of the alliums and brassicas have hung on and are now growing well.
Our late seedlings were the Nightshades (eggplants, peppers, tomatillos & tomatoes), along with okra, basil and a smaller, second crop of lettuces. They went into the garden on May 27th (8 weeks after sowing). Unlike the early seedlings, they required transplanting twice: first into 6-packs and then into 4-inch pots. The tomatillos and tomatoes may have been slightly overgrown (over a foot tall, some with flowers) when planted in the garden. The eggplants and peppers were strong, stunningly perfect 6-9 inch tall seedlings.
We experimented with sowing in soil blocks this year. The lettuces and spinach were planted directly into pressed soil blocks made with a press borrowed from fellow gardener, Donna Kray. It took some experimentation to get the soil consistency and moisture level right (quite heavy and wet). It also took some practice to perfect the pressing technique, but the seedlings did very well. The soil block presses come in graduated sizes – with the smaller ones fitting into the larger ones — so they could also be used for the late seedlings.
The seedlings that weren’t in soil blocks were transplanted into 6-packs 2 weeks after sowing. The late seedlings were transplanted into 4” pots after an additional 2-3 weeks of growth. We made our own planting mix of coir, sterilized compost, vermiculite and sand. Unlike mixes using peat moss, no lime was needed to neutralize the acidity. We increased the amount of compost and decreased the vermiculite in the mix each time the seedlings were transplanted, always making sure to include a sprinkling of organic fertilizer.
Our seedlings began indoors under lights. Three 4' dual fluorescent fixtures were suspended below the upper shelf of a sturdy 4' x 2' x 6' tall shelf unit. Three 18" x 24" trays holding the seedlings were slid in on the shelf below. Two of the bulbs were Ecolux T8 and the others were older Paralite grow lamps.
The lights were run through a simple timer, set for 15 hours a day. The distance of the seedlings from the lights was adjusted by the number of trays (these trays have a 3/4 inch thick rim) and by switching out varying length S hooks made from heavy gauge wire suspending the light fixtures.
The only way we could grow so many seedlings was with the coordinated efforts of our dedicated seedling committee (Lisa, Michael, Mike, Sue and me). We gathered for planting and transplanting sessions, and took on caring for the seedlings at different stages of their development.
The grow lights in our basement made it easy for me to oversee the sprouting and early stages of growth. When it came time for the seedlings to be hardened off and given real sun, Lisa, Michael and Sue took over their care. We were able to spread the work and all reap the rewards — awesome!
3 minute video here.
3 minute video here.
For next spring, we could plant both Tomato beds with Salad Turnips and substitute Radishes in the Sweet Potato bed (because they're faster). We might also try to get all four of the cucurbit (Cucumber, Watermelon, Winter Squash & Pumpkin) beds dug for the early May planting. That way, we can plant twice as long a row of each early crop.
Last year we grew sweet potatoes for the very first time, and had a very successful crop. Sweet potatoes grow from "slips", which are small stems that root from sweet potato tubers. Last year we ordered our slips from Burpee over the web, but the year before we had difficulty acquiring viable slips and didn't end up planting any sweet potatoes. For this year, we resolved to grow our own slips.
Over the winter, I went in search of organic sweet potatoes that had not been treated with a growth retardant. I also wanted to know what kind of sweet potatoes we would be planting. I went to several winter farmers' markets and talked to several farmers. They all tried to talk me out of our plan- they did not grow their own slips and believed it to be very difficult. I finally was able to buy 10 Covington sweet potatoes at the Somerville Winter Farmers' Market from North Star Farm in North Dartmouth. These sweet potatoes were extremely large, and might not have been the ideal sweet potatoes for our experiment.
There were many recommended ways to grow sweet potato slips that I found, and we decided to experiment and try several different growing techniques. The one constant was the recommendation that sweet propagation was helped by heat, so those of us who had heat sources used them. 3 of us took sweet potatoes and attempted to grow them in water, and I took 6 sweet potatoes and grew them in a variety of materials: 3 in potting soil, 2 in coir, and 1 in sand, all on a heating pad. The one thing we didn't try was to cut the sweet potatoes in half before putting them in a planting medium- I didn't discover this recommendation until after the experiment started. I planted the sweet potatoes sideways with the planting medium about halfway up the sweet potato, and the people who suspended the sweet potatoes in water tried to make sure that the root end was down.
At first, it seemed like the experiment was a complete failure. The sweet potatoes did nothing, for weeks on end. I kept them watered, and made sure that they didn't get too much water that would cause them to rot. The people who had them in water reported that there was something of a white fuzz on the sweet potato, but it didn't lead to anything.
Finally, one of the sweet potatoes in potting soil started showing signs of life.
Once the sweet potatoes started sprouting, they just took off. 2 of the 3 that were potted in potting soil sent up small forests of sprouts, and then the 2 potatoes in coir started sprouting. The sweet potato in sand was next, and finally, the last sweet potato in potting soil started sending up sprouts. It seemed pretty clear that the sweet potatoes in potting soil sent up the most sprouts in the shortest amount of time.
The slips got big enough that it became time to twist them off and root them in water. This seemed like a terrifying task that could easily destroy all my hard work, but it was actually really easy. The slips weren't that hard to detach, and if they were (mostly because I had let them grow too tall) yanking them off didn't seem to have any serious side effects. I soon had many slips sprouting in water.
Meanwhile, most the the sweet potatoes sprouting in water were still not showing any growth. Elisabeth transferred her sweet potato to potting soil, and finally had some success.
Michael was the only one who managed to have success with sweet potatoes in water.
For several weeks now, we have been handing out decks of Veggie School flashcards, for youngsters who have yet to learn their basic veggies. This weekend we added sample packets of Crosby Egyptian Beets, for their older brothers and sisters. Each packet contains a couple dozen pods of 4 to 6 seeds each, enough for several containers or half a row in a home garden.
In their day, Crosby Egyptians were one of this country’s most sought after beets among market gardeners. Their early growth cycle, their extended youth, and their ease of preparation for market all brought more money to market gardeners’ bottom lines.
The Crosby Egyptian was first cultivated in the late-1860’s on a farm owned and operated by Josiah Crosby, one of the largest farms in Arlington, located on Lake Street facing east towards Cambridge. The Crosby Egyptian was a much improved version of a beet called the Flat Egyptian, imported from Germany, where beets had been first developed.
The Crosby Beet set itself apart from the Flat Egyptian in several ways that made it a better value proposition for many market gardeners. It liked cool weather; so it could be planted earlier in the growing season and brought to market sooner, when beet prices were higher. It was not as quick to turn tough in its growth cycle. Crosby Beets stayed tender and tasty longer than Flat Egyptians, during most all of the growing season. Finally, the Crosby’s skin was much smoother, which made it easier and more efficient to clean in preparation for market. Altogether, Crosby Beets meant a better bottom line for market gardeners, compared to the Flat Egyptians from which they had been evolved.
Though the owner of one of the largest market gardening farms in Arlington (much larger, for example, than the Robbins Farm), Josiah Crosby was not a seed distributor. He was not set up for that kind of business. So in the early 1880’s he sold the rights to his new beet to James H. Gregory, one of the country’s leading commercial sellers of seeds, based in Gloucester, MA
Gregory added the Crosby Beets to his catalog in 1885, where they became an instant success. In one of his seed catalogs from 1890, Gregory quotes George B. Courtis, “one of our best resident market gardeners” as saying “After trials of many varieties, I pronouce the Crosby’s Egyptian the best for the early market.”
Even today, with their heart-like shape, their smooth crimson skin, and their sweet red flesh, Crosbys are still regarded by many home gardeners as one of the finer beets around.
We had another beautiful day for planting yesterday. We planted a second-round of radish seeds, added a few more lettuce and cabbage seedlings to what we had put in before, and planted first rounds of parsnips, soybeans, salad turnips, and parsley.
Steven watered. Dick weeded. Corinna and Martha thinned our early radish shoots, always a difficult task for tender-hearted gardeners. Susan cleared a plot of winter rye, then planted soybeans at one end, with the help of a young visitor. Elizabeth put in parsley seedlings and a screen to shelter them from too much sun. Several of the guys started in on a watering homunculus that will ring the garden, reduce hose dragging, and bring more flexibility to our watering routines.
The deadline has now passed for signing on for this year’s garden. For the 20 slots available, 15 people paid their $75 and signed up. We’re 10 returnees from last year and 5 new members. If things work out as before, that means we’ll usually have 8 to 12 people working in the garden each Saturday morning and one evening during the week, yet to be decided. Members will also drop by individually when extra watering needs doing or sometimes just to hang out. We welcome visitors whenever one of us is there.
It looks like no rain this week. With seeds and seedlings for 2 dozen different veggies now settling in, that means we’ll be watering every day.
Some plants will be fine with a dousing every second day, but some need a daily slug. These include carrots, beets, arugula, cilantro, basil, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, book chi, salad turnips, scallions, spinach, mesclun and radishes.
The cycle time for hand watering is roughly 3.5 minutes per 2 gallon watering can (Fill from tap: .5 min, Carry to plot: .5 min, Sprinkle: 2.0 min, Return to tap: .5 min). That’s about 2 hours for the 32 gallons needed for the water-every-day veggies.
Left to one’s self, watering becomes almost a meditation. But when supervisors join in from the playground next door, it shifts to a different realm.
Today was our first comfortably warm day at the Garden. Another new member, Agnes, joined up, bringing with her a wicked fine camera. We were also visited by a half dozen curious kidlets with young parents in tow.
Today we planted eight more veggies: basil, cilantro, arugula, bok choi, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and sunflowers. Avery put the finishing touches on his excellent drywell that surrounds our now-working faucet. Alan, Mike, and Steven started a pea trellis that will strech half the length of the garden. We also added a spindly arbor at the Garden’s front gate with the hope that this summer’s nasturtiums will make it beautiful.
Cold nights and lots of rain have kept us from planting much the last two weeks.
Today we made up for that, getting over a dozen different veggies into their beds.
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.
With temperatures in the mid-30’s, we opened the garden yesterday.
We sorted compost, dug post holes, turned soil, added amendments, and planted seeds for spinach, peas, and fava beans, things we hope to harvest come June and July.
We’re also looking forward to warmer days.
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!
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).
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.
On our last day of gardening
I proposed to compose
a frivolous poem
about a cabbage rose.
Instead of exposing
them all to the snows,
we harvested the rows
before they froze.
Now, in repose,
they silently doze;
destined for coleslaw,
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.
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.
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.
This 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.
Today our bounty included corn from our Three Sisters plot (beans and squash make up the trio). The corn is a popping variety–popping ability still to be tested, but fall beauty not in question.
On 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 http://www.cirrusimage.com/beetles_locust_borer.htm
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!)
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!
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.
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!
We harvested the first few ears of our miniature, multi-colored popcorn today. The bad news is that the summer squash has finally succumbed to powdery mildew.
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.
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.
Today we harvested our first kabocha squash, our first watermelon and our first serious batch of soybeans. If you look closely, you might find the one little sweet juicy delicious slice of watermelon that actually survived the ravages of hungry gardeners to make the harvest photo.
We’ve got a few "tassel-ears" growing in our cornfield. A tassel-ear is a small, fully-formed ear of corn growing out of the top of the plant, without any husk to cover it. Looks a little wierd, but apparently isn’t that unusual. You can find out more about tassel-ears here: http://corn.osu.edu/newsletters/2012/2012-24/201ctassel-ears201d-in-corn. I’m guessing some bird’s going to be real happy to find it.
Common Green Darner (Anax junius)?
I picked 107 pods from this one soy plant – that’s about 321 delicious little edamame beans. I noticed that the roots of this plant were particularly loaded with nodules of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Examining other plants, it was consistent that the largest plants with the highest yield had more nodules on their roots. Do more nodules make the plant healthier, or do healthier plants support more nodules?
Here’s what we harvested today. Can you find the eggplant impersonating a bagel?
We know that summer squash grow so fast that if you miss one during harvest you’ll find a Moby Zuke in a few days. But I’m a left-brained geek who likes numbers, so I planted some reference sticks next to a young Zephyr on Saturday, August 4 and checked it four days later on August 8. It had just about doubled in length and more than tripled in girth, well on its way to blimpness. That’s how fast a summer squash can grow. I picked it immediately before it could scare any dogs or small children.
I love the greens from our garden and, really, never get tired of cooking them in a very simple way. Usually, I saute onions in olive oil, then add the greens (collards, kale, chard, mustard and turnip greens, in whatever combination was available on a gardening day). I saute it all a bit, then add just enough water to facilitate steaming, and steam, covered, until the greens are tender. Usually, I season with just salt, pepper and a little celery salt. It’s perfect! We not only eat it hot with our dinner but, also, I put it cold on my salads for lunch.
But, tonight, I wanted to try something different. I turned to Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” cookbook, my “bible” over the summer when the veggies are fresh and varied. I chose the recipe “Kale and Cannellini Beans” but I used a mixture of greens from the Garden, kale along with Swiss chard, collard greens and some turnip greens (from salad turnips) instead of just kale. I also used a vidalia onion. Otherwise, I pretty much followed the recipe, though I used a bit more olive oil (2 Tbsp instead of 1.5) and garlic (4 instead of 2 cloves). I used organic canned white kidney (cannellini) beans from Trader Joe’s, thoroughly rinsed. I also used dried rosemary from Penzey’s, though it would have been better to have taken fresh rosemary home from the Garden. I was too lazy to drive back up there to take some. I used a very yummy Nobilo New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for the dry white wine. A bit of overkill, I guess, but it was what we had. (I drank a glass while cooking the dish, and it was much appreciated.) Enjoy!
Another very interesting plant that I want to recommend that we grow next season is the Egyptian Walking Onion. They are also commonly called tree onions, top onions, or topsetting onions (Allium cepa var. proliferum ).
A field of Walking Onions
Bulblets forming at the tops of the stems
This hardy perennial onion, unlike most other types of alliums, grows bulblets (small bulbs) at the tops of its leaves. These bulblets can be eaten (they’re very mild), or they can be planted just like onion sets to produce more walking onions. The term "walking" refers to the fact that if the bulblets are left on the plant, they eventually get big and heavy enough to cause the stems to bend to the point where the bulblets come into contact with the soil, at which point the bulblets take root and start new plants. Thus, these alliums can "walk" their way across your garden (if you let them).
For more on this amazing and alluring allium:
Just like my Sue, my sister of the soil, I’ve just made my first-ever batch of sauerkraut, which spent four days on the counter before moving to the well-known "cool, dry place," which in my house is the fridge. Its base was Napa cabbage from the garden, and the secondary ingredients included both carrot and parsnip from the same source.
Honestly, I don’t really like sauerkraut — it’s "sauer!" — but I had my reasons to try it. First, is the locavore reason — what good is a bumper crop if your only choices are to give it to the neighbors or put it into the compost?
Secondly, I was writing a story about natural fermentation, the centuries-old method of food preservation, for the Boston Globe, and wanted to have a feel for what I was talking about. It’s one of the privileges of journalism, to learn and experience more than I would if I didn’t have a need to know.
Anyway, the story was published this morning. Though it didn’t make the print version, the online presentation includes a tips box from Dan Rosenberg, founder and co-owner of Real Pickles, a Greenfield, Mass., company makes about a dozen products using only local produce and natural fermentation.
If remember to, I’m going to bring my kraut to the garden Saturday morning for a tasting. C’mon by!
We are growing sweet potatoes for the first time this season, and we’re learning as we go along. Unlike most of the other plants in our garden, sweet potatoes are NOT grown from seeds. Instead, they are grown from “slips,” or small clusters of leaves that can be made to sprout on mature tubers. For info on how to start your own sweet potato slips, click here.
Sweet potatoes come in either bush or vining varieties. We bought our vining-type sweet potato slips, variety ‘Georgia Jet,’ from Burpee. NOTE: some sweet potato slips that are sold as ‘Georgia Jet” are, in fact, imposters. To tell the difference between the imposter and the Real Thing, watch your plants for blossoms. If you see blossoms, (as in photo, below), then you have the REAL Georgia Jet variety!
Our very own Georgia Jet sweet potato blossoms [Photo by Alan Jones]
We wanted a variety that would do well this far north (slightly north of Boston, Massachusetts), but also have a relatively short time to maturity (90 days). To place an order, click here.
Some important things to keep in mind to Successfully Grow Sweet Potatoes:
1. Sweet potatoes like a slightly acid soil, prefering a soil pH between 5.0 and 6.5.
2. Sweet potatoes do much better in very warm soil, so covering your soil with CLEAR plastic prior to planting your slips will help to capture extra solar energy, thus raising the temperature of your soil.
3. Don’t fertilize your sweet potatoes — doing so will result in lots of foliage, but not necessarily more tubors. Digging in 2-4″ of compost at planting time will supply sufficient nutrients for a good crop.
4. IMPORTANT: Give your sweet potatoes about 1″ of water per week, but, to keep the mature tubers from splitting, DO NOT WATER your plants for 3-4 weeks prior to their harvest date.
5. Be gentle when digging your sweet potatoes — they grow close to the surface. Their skins are tender and can be easily damaged.
6. VERY IMPORTANT: Sweet potatoes develop a much better taste if allowed to cure properly after digging.
For more info on growing and curing your very own delicious and ridiculously nutritious sweet potatoes, see:
Horrible name, beautiful plant.
Managing a cooperative garden is tricky. It’s easy to overlook important, time-sensitive tasks while putzing around wondering what to do next. So we’ve developed a system that lets the Chief Gardening Officers discuss in advance what will be the best use of our limited time at the garden, record it on a whiteboard which we hang from the garden gate at the beginning of the session, and then we can all just work through the list until eveything important has been completed. It saves time, reduces confusion, and makes sure we don’t forget to pick the zucchinis.
I was intrigued by a recent Terry Gross interview with Sandor Ellix Katz about his book “The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World”. Katz explains that fermented foods and beverages have been prepared by humans for over 8000 years. Fermentation is the process whereby cultures of micro-organisms (usually bacteria or yeast), often microbes already naturally present in the food or surrounding environment, are allowed to establish and grow in the food, enhancing flavor and, Katz believes, providing numerous health benefits. (Our own bodies normally contain vast — VAST — numbers of living bacteria and other microorganisms, known as our “microbiome”, though this fascinating topic is way beyond the scope of this post.) As they grow in the fermenting foods, the microorganisms digest carbohydrates and produce byproducts that impart characteristic flavors. (See “glycolysis” in your biochemistry texts.) For example, both wine and beer are fermented beverages, with sugars converted by yeast to alcohol (and carbon dioxide). In the case of some other fermented foods, lactic acid is the product contributing to the characteristic flavor and texture. Lactic acid gives pickles and sauerkraut their sharp sourness, and the extent of acidity can be controlled, for example, by moving the product to the refrigerator to slow bacterial growth.
In his book, Katz cites an estimate that up to one third of all foods eaten by people worldwide is fermented! Some of the most obvious are the foods and beverages mentioned above, and yogurt. Less obvious are cheese, coffee and bread. Think of those beautiful, strong-flavored (“tres fort”) French cheeses laced with colorful, happily metabolizing molds. In bread, the yeast also generate ethanol and carbon dioxide, and the carbon dioxide bubbles help the dough to rise. Katz’s interview made me realize that I already use fermentation routinely in some of my cooking, for example, in sourdough bread. I knew already that the sourdough starter that’s been brewing in my refrigerator for well over a year is a living culture — one that seems to rebel by giving me misshapen bread loaves if I ignore it for too many weeks. But, I hadn’t quite appreciated its connection to beer, wine or sauerkraut.
Yeast breads are good examples of fermented foods, since the carbon dioxide, produced as the yeast metabolize carbohydrates in the mixture, causes the dough to rise. Sourdough breads, like this one, rely even more on fermentation, since the sourdough starter itself is a simmering culture.
So, I decided to try making other fermented foods, inspired by vegetables growing in our Robbins Farm garden. Katz told Terry Gross that sauerkraut is the simplest fermented food for the beginner. Plus, beautiful fresh cabbage is available in our garden and in local farms right now. I followed the basic procedure suggested by Katz in the radio piece. Essentially, veggies of choice are salted to extract their juices, these juices are squeezed from the vegetables and they are allowed to ferment in their own juices in a sealed jar. Katz advises not adding more water unless it is needed to cover the vegetables, because this will dilute the flavor. I did need to add a little water (he said the vegetables should be covered with liquid) but it did taste pretty good, seasoned only with salt and black pepper. I used fresh green cabbage, scallions and carrots. (Because of availability, only the scallions were from our Garden, while the other vegetables were from Busa Farm.) As Katz had promised, it was a simple dish to make.
My first (only, so far) attempt at sauerkraut, using locally grown green cabbage, scallions, and carrots, and the guidelines described by Katz in his radio interview.
Emboldened by my relative success, I decided to next try making kimchee (or kimchi), the Korean staple that happens to be one of my favorite foods. There are probably as many different kimchee recipes as there are for wines and cheeses. Katz didn’t offer a kimchee recipe in his book but I found a recipe online for “Basic Nappa Cabbage Kimchi (Kimchee)” that looked about right. This time, I was able to use nappa cabbage from our Garden. I followed the recipe closely, but used half of all ingredients since it was written for 2 lbs of nappa cabbage. Consult the recipe for further details, but essentially, I began by washing and cutting the cabbage and soaking it in salted water for about 24 hrs, then rinsing and draining it, squeezing out the excess liquid. This leaves it somewhat wilted in appearance. Regarding the other ingredients, I first searched a few Asian markets in the Chinatown area (near where I work) but was concerned that the ingredients, especially the fish sauce and red pepper powder, were not necessarily the Korean style. So, I headed to the amazing, though somewhat overwhelming, H. Mart in Burlington. Here the selection is great, with separate sections for Korean sauces and other items. (And, as it happens, H. Mart carries many types of prepared kimchee, sold in jars in the refrigeration cases, or in bulk by the pound.) To my surprise, even the daikon radish was available in both Chinese and Korean variations, so I took the Korean one. Both are plump and white, but the Korean had a greenish color at the base. Again, the red pepper powder selection was huge, with coarse and fine options and many different brands. I took the one that said “For Kimchi” on it, a coarse grind. While it was produced in China, it was packaged in Korea and, of course, the “For Kimchi” label gave me comfort that it was the right kind.
Shown here are several of the ingredients I used for kimchee. Clockwise from front: Daikon radish (“Korean” according to H. Mart), wild salted shrimp, Korean style fish sauce, Napa cabbage from the Garden (after soaking in salt, draining and squeezing out excess liquid), Coarse ground red pepper powder (marked “For Kimchi”), ginger root. Not shown: scallions
Preparation in progress, prior to adding cabbage and fish sauce to pack into jars.
As I write this, my 1 qt jar of kimchee, after brewing in the basement (a cool, dark place) for a little over 24 hrs, is now fermenting in the refrigerator. Before transferring it to the refrigerator, I opened the lid to release the gases; and, there were gases so we’re on the right track!. To be continued……
Additional tips from my friends who have experience making kimchee: Val Hays has used, and recommends, another Kimchee recipe by David Lebovitz. While similar to the one I used, it does not have the salted shrimp, making it a good vegetarian option. MJ Keeler suggests letting the kimchee ferment in the refrigerator for at least a week, rather than the three days (minimum) suggested by the recipe. As I post this, it’s been in the refrigerator for three days and we haven’t tasted it yet.
Update: We have eaten some of this. It is okay, but I am not thrilled with it. The cabbage is a little tough, and the taste a little bitter. Today (August 11) I got another half cabbage, shared with Dick. I am going to try the other kimchee recipe in this post (David Lebovitz). However, I am slightly concerned that it is our nappa cabbage that is bitter or tough. We will see…..
p.s. Gardeners: I have plenty of the red pepper powder and salted shrimp, as well as extra 1 qt canning jars. Let me know if you want some to try this on your own.
I don’t have air-conditioning at home. Some summers, there are a handful of days where, to sleep at night, I have to run a fan drafting air directly over me from toe to head. Last summer I did, but this summer not yet.
Last summer, our "dwarf" okra grew over six feet tall. This summer it seems resigned to at most two feet. I think it’s the lack of truly hot nights that has held back the okra: it just hasn’t triggered it’s growth spurt. It’s already beginning to flower, so I think now it’s too late.
Plants can "observe" their environment, and integrate (sum up and average) such things as daylight and temperature, by accumulating certain chemicals. When they build up enough, that triggers a change. Quite possibly, okra is observing the average temperature, and nightly lows, in order to decide whether to switch to giant growth mode.
So next year, let’s hope I have a few insufferably hot nights in July, so our smart okra decides it’s okay to be a giant!
A sphinx moth has dropped by the garden once again. That’s the parent of the hornworm caterpillar Lisa found munching last week on one of our green tomatoes.
The hornworm looks like something out of a medieval fairytale. It’s bright green with slanted white stripes and dark eye-spots on its sides and a curved black horn extending out from its rear end.
Because their coloring is so close to that of the plants they visit, hornworms can be hard to spot at first, clinging as they do to the underside of the branches they defoliate. But once you see one, you think you’re looking at a miniature monster.
A hornworm brigade attacked our tomatoes two summers ago. Fortunately, however, right behind them came a flight of parasitic wasps launching a counterattack of their own. They stopped most of the hornworms in their tracks, but not before the little monsters had stripped bare the tops of several tomato plants.
So far this summer, we’ve spotted just one horn worm, and no parasitic wasps.
Curiously enough, this time the hornworm did not go for the tomato plant’s leaves. This time Lisa found him munching on a tomato.
Most of the corn plants in our Three Sisters bed have reached the tassel stage, and some of them have also reached the silk stage. This is important, because corn has both male and female parts — that is, the silk and the tassel.
Alan was nice enough to snap this photo of the golden and red tassels formed on our popcorn plants:
Proper soil moisture, as well as air temperature, are both critical to having both the tassel and silk appear at the same time, and therefore create the proper circumstances for successful pollination. Many of our crop plants are pollinated by insects, (e.g., bees, wasps, moths and ground beetles), but corn is different. The corn plant depends on wind to carry the pollen from a tassel to the silk strands that form at the top of each potential ear of corn.
For more info, click here for the Top 5 Things to Know about Corn Pollination.
When sweet corn is in season — as it is right now — we eat a lot of it.Usually, we are corn purists: just boil it quickly, sprinkle it with salt or Campmix, and eat it right off the cob. Yesterday, though, I wanted to try something different with our sweet corn, fresh from Busa’s Farm.(In the Robbins garden, the corn in our Three Sisters plot is a decorative popping corn so we can’t use it for this recipe.) With the corn, I bought a bunch of gigantic, freshly picked scallions, also grown at Busa’s.
The recipe, Quinoa and Fresh Corn with Scallions is from Deborah Madison‘s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone”.(Highly recommended book, by the way!) A photo of Deborah’s recipe is shown, but I varied it slightly. I used more vegetables: 5 ears of corn and 3 of the huge scallions. Instead of the Tbsp butter or canola oil, I used 3 Tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil and 1 tsp butter. I also sauteed the corn and scallions longer than the recipe recommends, til the scallions were wilted. I used an organic tricolor quinoa from Trader Joes. I thought this would be good, but didn’t think it would be SO good. John (who is really into corn in its “purist” preparation and also does not get very excited about some of the grains I like) loved it! We didn’t even add the cheese that the recipe suggests — it was delicious all by itself, seasoned with salt and pepper. We had it as a side dish with grilled fish. By the way, the beautiful bowl in the photos was made by my friend Amy Goldstein, at Mudflat Studio.
It started cloudy, but as gardeners arrived, the sun came out in full force. Despite being past 9AM, the far left corner still had a bit of shade from the tall trees at the edge of the Park.
A white board of to-do activities, prepared by the planners, organizes our work. It’s harvesting time! Lush eggplant of both the long Asian and the fat Italian varieties are joyfully picked. Bush beans of all three colors –green, yellow, purple– are available, but the soybeans are not yet ready. Some summer squash, several cucumbers. A debate ensues over how much lettuce to pick, as what we may leave behind may bolt or turn bitter in the hot weather. Our next generation of seedlings were only planted last week, so are not ready for transplant to take the place of the picked lettuce. We also planted more lettuce today. Collard greens are plentifully abundant, although many gardeners prefer the swiss chard.
There is much promise of more to come. The tall corn displays purple and golden tassels. Immature pumpkins and watermelons hide in the trellis of leaves. We added more support (netting them with plastic mesh) to some of them. The winter squash has plenty of flowers, and the Jerusalem artichokes are blooming. The sunflowers seemed to have shaken off the early-season leaf eaters, and are climbing high. And even the weeds are prospering, encroaching from the paths even as the vegetables encroach onto the paths. We’ll have to do something about that.
We applied a spray of a small amount of potassium bicarbonate mixed with water to the squash and watermelon plants. Unlike the last two years, we’ve seen no mildew, so getting an early start at prevention seems to have worked. We did a pH test of the soil near the tomatoes, and added some lime. We’re watching closely for signs of blossom end-rot.
Given yesterday’s rain, the compost was deemed too wet to sift and extract, even though one pile is clearly ready. Instead, we turned both piles, to feed them air.
Water, water, water, says one of the garden planners, who says the fruiting plants (e.g. tomatoes and eggplants) especially want it. No one saw any pests, like the tomato horn worm of last week, and we have some bees buzzing around our flowers.
Not everything picked is 100% perfect. One tomato did not pass the eat-me test. Some parsnips decided to stop growing down after they encountered some rocks.
The biggest surprise of the day was the lack of visitors. Normally we get about twenty, divided between adults and children.
As the white board gets all checked off, people gather for tea, and we start the divvy-up process, a mix today of some things in piles and other things (like greens) taken in turns. Herbs like rosemary and chives are taken separately by those who want them.
As we finish near Noon, the sun decides to go behind the clouds again.
When we expanded the garden between years one and two, we added a parcel with a drop in elevation that was evident the day we paced out what our request to the Rec department would be.
It turns out that the drop is about 16 inches, as measured early this season by Alan Jones and I (mostly Alan). We weren’t seeking data for its own purpose, but to assess how high to stack stones to make a level bed in our southeast corner.
We found the rocks, it should come as no surprise, while double-digging other beds (which may well be my next blog-post topic). Just for this one bed, whose walls fade away to nothing about two-thirds up the slope, we used not only most of the big rocks we excavated this year, but reclaimed some we’d relocated along the park perimeter.
The stacking is as rudimentary (skill-less) as you can imagine. Steven Lee and I put the biggest rocks in the corners, the next largest along the bottom row, and for the rest, tried to match shapes that “interlocked” as best we could. We can say that, so far, the rocks are still standing.
One reason we wanted to try the raised bed is that last year, downhill flow during a rainstorm actually washed away some garlic we’d planted. By making a level planting field, we thought could mitigate, or redirect, any such future torrents. And, it looks nice, in a rustic, New England sort of way.
Holy basil, or Tulsi, (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is a plant that I would like to recommend for growing in our garden next year, both as a culinary herb, and as a medicinal.
Holy basil is used for treating the common cold, influenza (aka”the flu”), H1N1 (aka “swine flu”), diabetes, asthma, bronchitis, earache, headache, stomach ache, heart disease, fever, hepatitis (viral), malaria and tuberculosis. It is also used to reduce stress, to treat mercury poisoning, to promote longevity, as a mosquito repellent, and to counteract snake and scorpion venoms.
Note: Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) should not be confused with the more commonly grown basil varieties such as Genovese (Italian), Purple, Cinnamon, Nufar, Pistou, or Sweet Thai, (Ocimum basilicum), Lemon (Ocimum basilicum citriodora), or Lime (Ocimum americanum).
(See Johnny’s Selected Seeds)
For more info on Holy Basil:
Re: Acidity, Asthma, Blood Circulation, Bronchitis, Cancer, Constipation, Dyspepsia, Gall Bladder, Gall Stones, Gallstones, Gastric Problems, Headache, Headaches, Insect Bites, Jaundice, Kidney, Kidney Disorder, Kidney Infections, Leucoderma, Liver, Nausea, Obesity, Piles, Respiratory Problems, Skin Care, Skin Infections, Skin Problems, Sore Throat, Urinary Tract, Weight Loss
Radish, the well-known salad ingredient, is a juicey root crop, pungent or sweet in taste. Radishes can be white, red, purple or black, long-cylindrical or spherical in shape. They are eaten raw, cooked or pickled. The oil obtained from the seeds is also used. The other parts of radish which are consumed are the leaves, the flowers, the seed pods and the seeds. The scientific name of radish is Raphanus Sativus, which belongs to the Brassicaceae family. Radish is also known as Daiken in some parts of the world.
For the huge health benefits of relishing radishes, click here.
On Saturday morning, July 14th, I discovered this 1/4-inch long, light-orange colored bug on the basil. It proved difficult to photograph, since it really didn’t like to stand still. However Alan, being very patient, finally captured these two shots — one for close-up detail, and the other with my hand for scale.
After many hours of searching the internet, I am now convinced that what I found is the nymph stage of a type of Stink Bug — the Spined Soldier Bug, Podisus maculiventris. While many types of Stink Bugs are exceedingly damaging to many food crops in the U.S., this particular bug is actually beneficial because it’s a predator. It kills other insects by literally sucking the life out of them!
So, this is one of the good guys! It’s a good thing that we don’t need to get rid of this bug, as stink bugs are very difficult to control, both organically and conventionally!
For more info on Spined Soldier Bugs:
Chief Gardening Officer Mike Smith recently made us aware of Flower Sprouts, called the first new vegetable in 10 years, a cross between Kale and Brussels Sprouts. (See Mike’s post). At Mike’s suggestion we decided to try them in the Garden this year.
Flower Sprouts thriving in the Robbins Farm Garden, with proud parents Kale and Brussels Sprouts (not shown) close at hand.
Reportedly, the Flower Sprout was developed by Tozer Seeds, a family-owned business in Surrey, UK and was first introduced in 2010. Both an owner and a senior plant breeder from Tozer expressed pride to the press over this first new vegetable in a decade. Apparently, this enthusiasm is not shared by everybody in the UK, with the Daily Mail announcing “A New Vegetable for Your Children to Hate“. Even the BBC Surrey reporter interviewing the Tozer Seeds representatives seemed to be trying to overcome her timidity over veggies to faintly praise the Flower Sprout although Dr Frankenstein probably thought the same about his little project, the Flower Sprout is different.
Far from being some sort of hybrid monster, it has been developed over the last ten years using traditional breeding techniques…….. It has a Brussels sprout-like growing habit with its tall stem and rosettes forming all the way up to a frilly-leaved top. A bit like one of the more imaginative hats you see at Ascot Ladies Day. And its appeal may go further than just the aesthetic. Brussels Sprout haters around the world could possibly be won over by its milder, sweeter flavour. But for those of you who, like me, are of a nervous disposition and get easily frightened by funny shaped vegetables, be warned! “Funny-shaped”? We would take issue with that description, but, of course, we Robbins Farm Gardeners are particularly enthusiastic and welcoming to our veggies, be they “old standbys” or exotic newcomers. As the reporter notes, Flower Sprouts grow in a stalk like Brussels Sprout, but the “sprouts” remain open, forming small curly leaves like Kale. And, they’re a lovely deep green and purple. Many of us are excited for them to be ready to harvest but we hope you will come visit them in our Garden first.
Garden fabric, aka row cover or floating row cover, can be very handy to have on hand in your garden, as it can serve many purposes!
Garden fabric can . . .
* slow evaporation from a plant and its surrounding soil
* act as a thermal barrier, protecting plants from the cold and the wind
* help to shade the plants, protecting them from overheating
* prevent insect damage, by keeping munching insects away from the plants
* stop birds and other critters from helping themselves to your harvest
* control pollination, in case you want to try very specific cross-pollination experiments
Available in different thicknesses, the heavier garden fabrics are better in the colder months (for heat retention), while the lighter fabrics are a much better choice when the weather gets hot.
Also, remember that many vegetable and fruit crops require cross-pollination and, since the fabric will limit access to the plants’ flowers, pollination must be done by hand, or the fabric must be removed for an hour or two each day to allow pollinators to do their job. Once pollination has taken place, the row cover may be left in place to protect the maturing crops.
In some cases, garden fabric should be cut into strips, and the strips wrapped around the stems of plants to protect them from boring-type insects. E.g., most types of squash are susceptible to attack by the squash vine borer (SVB). As the name states, the SVB (in its large caterpillar form) bores its way into the main stem of squash plants, and then eats its way through the stem, usually until the plant wilts and dies. This attack may be prevented with a garden fabric wrapping of the stem. The best time to apply garden fabric in this manner is before a seedling is put in the ground. Start wrapping the stem about an inch below ground level, and wrap it all the way to the top, avoiding the side branches as you go. As the plant grows, more fabric may be added, and the fabric already in place may need to be loosened to avoid restricting growth of the stem. In this way, the stem is protected from vine borers, but the entire plant does not have to be covered, thereby using much less fabric.
For more info on this very versatile tool, see: www.gardeners.com/Row-Covers/5111,default,pg.html
A newcomer this year to our herb garden is unexpectedly boisterous and intriguing: The herb borage joined one of our two herb beds at the end of April, when we redug and redesigned them. It’s already a hearty bush, about three feet tall and right now in heavy bloom. Known also as "starflower", its blooms appear on the plant in both blue and pink versions–apparently younger and older flowers. The honey bees are enjoying the plant immensely; the plant is known for producing good honey, and we’re always happy to see pollinators in the garden. We’re just learning about borage, since it isn’t commonly found in North American herb gardens. It’s a probable native of North Africa that has spread across Europe, Asia Minor, the Mediterranean, and South America. Borage is apparently easy to grow from seed, but we acquired our plant from Mahoney’s; it’s an annual that is said to reseed itself easily, so we won’t need to shop for it next year.
We might have made more of the plant’s role in companion planting, had we known: it repels tomato hornworms if planted with tomatoes–and cabbage worms when planted with brassicas (hurray!). The plant debris is also a helpful mulch; it contains high levels of calcium and potassium which help the setting of fruit for all fruits and vegetables.
The whole plant is edible, the leaves having a cucumber flavor (I can vouch for that, though the fuzziness of the leaves is a little odd on the tongue), the blooms somewhat honey-sweet; the flower is often used to decorate desserts as it is one of very few truly blue-colored edible substances. It can be used both as a fresh vegetable (in salads and soups) and as a dried herb (in tea).
Beyond its kitchen garden uses, the plant’s seed oil is a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 fatty acid found chiefly in vegetable oils. This fatty acid is found as a dietary supplement said to treat inflammation and auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, borage is a traditional garnish in the Pimms Cup cocktail, the expected beverage at your neighborhood polo match or Wimbledon.
A quality we will not test, though it would have been timely on the 4th, is due to the plant containing nitrate of potash; when burned, the plant throws sparks with a tiny explosive sound.
Grieve, M. (Maud) (1931). Borage. In A Modern Herbal. Retrieved from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/borage66.html
Klein, Carol (2009, January 23). Star Turn. Retrieved July 9, 2012, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/jan/24/carol-klein-borage
Borage. (2012, June 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved23:31, July 9, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Borage&oldid=499739160
A living organism that can be used to control pests and/or diseases is called a “biocontrol.” The following web sites all sell (or have a list of sellers of) Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, a parasitic nematode (microscopic worm), that enters and destroys the larvae of the cucumber beetle. It is effective against some other larvae, as well.
And for more info on insect parasitic (i.e., “beneficial”) nematodes: http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/nematodes/
Buying beneficial nematodes can be a bit pricey, especially for a smaller-sized garden, so you may want to try buying them and sharing the expense with other gardening neighbors, (which is always a good idea, anyway, since this helps to eliminate the pest from your entire neighborhood, not just your yard !), or you may want to try a different, less expensive solution first, e.g., the Burpee cucumber beetle trap. However, these nematodes will eliminate some other pests besides the cucumber beetle, while the traps (I believe) are very target insect-specific.
Note: Nematodes and other treatments that control the Striped Cucumber Beetle are equally effective against the Spotted Cucumber Beetle.
Spotted Cucumber Beetle (adult)
[See journal entry, below, for more info regarding the Cucumber Beetle.]
FYI, last week, while examining our potato crops, I found a 1/4-inch long, yellow and black striped beetle — the Striped Cucumber Beetle — on one of the leaves! This chewing insect can devastate a crop if allowed to munch and reproduce unchecked. Besides the obvious leaf damage that they do, (which compromises a plant’s ability to photosynthesize, i.e., create food), these insects can oftentimes be vectors of plant diseases such as bacterial wilt and cucumber mosaic virus. The adults feed on squash family plants, beans, corn, peas, and blossoms of many garden plants, often killing the plants. Larvae feed on roots of squash family plants only, killing or stunting the plants. Adults overwinter in dense grass or under leaves, emerging in early-spring to early-summer. Eggs are layed at the base of target plants, and hatch in 10 days. Larvae burrow into the soil to feed on roots for 2-6 weeks, pupate in mid- to late-summer into 1/2-inch, white grubs with brown heads, then, in 2 weeks, emerge as adults to feed on blossoms and maturing fruit. One to two generations per year.
NOTE: Besides the adult beetle’s description, the above information regarding the Striped Cucumber Beetle also applies to the Spotted Cucumber Beetle. See above journal entry for photo of the Spotted Cucumber Beetle.
Striped Cucumber Beetle (adult)
For more info on the Cucumber Beetle, and to see a diagram of the Life Cycles of both the Striped and the Spotted Cucumber Beetles, click here.
To control: Remove and destroy crop residues where adults overwinter. Use floating row covers to protect seedlings and plants, and hand-pollinate (using cotton swabs) the squash family plants. Pile salt marsh hay or straw deeply around plants to discourage beetle movement amongst plants. Apply kaolin clay to uncovered plants, using special care to coat the undersides of leaves, too. Reapply after rain. Hand-pick or vacuum adults, and/or apply parasitic nematodes, (Heterorhabditis bacteriophora), weekly to soil to control the larvae. If all else fails, pyrethrin (a plant-based insecticide), may be applied to beetles seen feeding on pollen in flowers.
Most plant fertilizers usually include the three main plant nutrients: N (Nitrogen), P (Phosphorus), and K (Potassium). This journal entry is about the first nutrient, Nitrogen. Nitrogen is available in different forms, and these different forms may lead to different results, where your plants are concerned. Since the different forms of Nitrogen may have different effects upon your soil’s chemistry, your plants’ abilities to take-up various nutrients (not just Nitrogen!) may be adversely effected.
For more info on the different forms of Nitrogen, and how these different forms may react in your soil, see: www.greenhouse.cornell.edu/crops/factsheets/nitrogen_form.pdf
A Pizza Garden Starter Kit
To help support activities of its Green Initiatives Group, students and parent volunteers from the Brackett Elementary School sold "Pizza Garden Starter Kits" in early June. The Group began this project, assisting third grade teacher Jenny Brown, by reclaiming a greenhouse at the school that had been used for storage. With help from the children and staff of the Brackett After School Program, BASP, USDA certified organic seeds were planted in pots (using organic potting soil) in late April and cared for over the next 6 weeks. Each kit consisted of 4 seedlings including a cherry tomato, basil, oregano and sweet pepper plant, marked with individual artful hand-made signs. Also part of the package was a note with care instructions and sauce recipes. (The seeds were from Botanical Interests).
The Robbins Farm Gardeners were delighted to purchase a Pizza Kit and to give it a home in the Garden. We hope that the students and parents who gave these plants their start will visit the Garden to watch their progress!
The Green Initiatives Group at Brackett Elementary School fosters projects including composting and recycling to raise awareness within the school community about our impact on the environment and to promote more ecologically sustainable practices. The Green Initiatives Group anticipates, through its current school year efforts, diverting 10,000 pounds of cafeteria waste from the waste stream, and saving 500-1,000 large sized trash bags. The Group is interested in more growing projects for the school and wider community next school year, including another pizza garden project.
The Brackett volunteers report that 45 Pizza Kits were sold, raising approximately $540 dollars to support these programs. If you’d like to help support the Green Initiatives Group at Brackett, or to help form one for your school, contact the group through email@example.com. (Thanks to Kim Kapner, Erika Riddington, and Robin Varghese for their contributions to this post.)
"Green and Red" pepper plants, growing in the Brackett Elementary greenhouse. (This variety produces green peppers that will eventually turn red and sweeter.)
Several Pizza Garden Starter Kits, ready for sale
Our Pizza Garden Starter Kit, planted in the Robbins Farm Garden and covered with a shade cloth to protect the young seedlings from the hot sun.
For the second season in a row, our bok choy is bolting, putting out flowers and seed heads instead of developing into the semi-celery-like stalks I’m used to seeing in the market.
After clipping the flower shoots, I tasted one of them and it was pleasing, both tender and tasty — as opposed, say, to the mustard greens stalks, which were way too reedy to eat. Still, it wasn’t bok choy like I’m used to seeing in the market.
I don’t know what, if anything, we can do for these guys, but I would like to put it on our futures list that we investigate: more shade, different variety, lots of gentle encouragment?
As I discussed my concern with a couple of garden mates Saturday, Lisa confided her antipathy for bok choy, and I was glad to have a balance for her beet mania. I love bok choy.
The weather forecast says hot and sunny for the next week, with no rain. According to conventional wisdom, a vegetable garden needs an inch of rain a week. A good, soaking rain will provide 1/4" or more, so a few days a week sufficiently waters a garden.
Without rain, a vegetable garden needs supplemental watering. In sunny weather particularly, the soil will rapidly dry out. First, do the finger test: poke a finger down to the second knuckle. If it comes out dry, the soil needs watering.
Second, consider the maturity of the plants. Young seedlings do not yet have deep roots, and so depend on moisture at the top. They need watering more frequenty — at least every other day. Mature plants ought to have deeper roots, so as to need watering less frequently. However, unless they get some un-watered days, they don’t have incentive to root deeply. Plants adapt to the watering they are given, so watering every day means you’ll have to continue watering every day.
For our garden mid-season, we have a mix of maturing plants and seedlings. This comes from rotating crops — for example, when the peas came out Saturday, the pole beans went in — and from staggering plantings, so that we get multiple generations of things like carrots and lettuce. So this forces us, in the absence of rain, to water at least every other day.
We prefer to water in the morning, to reduce loss to evaporation in the hotter and sunnier part of the day, and so that the leaves don’t stay wet overnight and acquire mildew. We also prefer to water by hand, with watering cans, to put the water where we want it, and not just throw it up in the air with a sprinkler.
How many watering cans-full do we need to apply? Just how much water does 1-inch a week mean?
A standard bed in our garden is 6′ x 9′. 54 sqft x 1-inch = 4.5 cubic feet of water per bed. 1 cubic foot = 7.5 gallons. Thus, our beds each need 4.5 x 7.5 = 33.75 gallons of water per week. With 1.5 gallon watering cans, that’s around 22-23 full watering cans. That means, when watering, we should water each bed with at least 3 full watering cans — and probably more, since we don’t want to water every day.
Our entire garden is 2000 sqft, with about 60% for growing plants (much of the remainder is used for paths for visitors as well as ourselves). 1200 sqft x 1-inch x 7.5 gallons/cuft = 750 gallons = 500 full watering cans. Watering five times a week means 100 full watering cans each.
This sounds like a lot of water! But compare to how much water you use to shower yourself. A typical modern showerhead has a flow of 2.5 gallons per minute. So the water we need in our garden per week is about the same as showering for 300 minutes. How many showers do you take per week?
Growing multiple varieties of vegetables is the tradition at Robbins Farm Garden. So it is with our Peas. This year, we grew three types: Snap (Sugar Snap), Snow (Mammoth Melting Sugar) and Shell (Alderman).
The Sugar Snap Peas performed well enough last year to justify a repeat performance, covering our 7-foot high bamboo trellis which also serves as the platform for the late season Pole Beans. Yet, the bush-type Snow and Shell Peas we grew last year were not the best use of vertical space.
The search for a tall Snow Pea was easy. Mammoth Melting Sugar is an heirloom variety, considered one of the largest and finest flat pod peas on the market. They grew, not unexpectedly, terrifically well in our garden. A tall variety of Shell Pea was more difficult to find. We decided upon Alderman, a variety marketed by Thompson & Morgan.
Alderman is a later pea (85 days to maturity vs. 70 for Sugar Snap & 68 for Mammoth Melting Sugar), but it did not disappoint. The plants grew as quickly — and as tall — as the other Peas, and the production was every bit as good. Fresh from the pod, they rival snap peas for flavor and sweetness. One warning: they require very little cooking, and they lose their flavor if over-cooked.
The Pea plants were pulled today and Pole Beans planted in their place. Overall, I would have to rate this year’s Pea crop as outstanding, with a solid month of harvest.
We’re implementing a new compost arrangement: three bins instead of two. In the past, we used two — a square wire frame, and a cylindrical black plastic. However, with being able to keep the compost pile over-winter, as well as the huge amount of winter rye at the beginning of the year going into the compost this spring, we exceeded our capacity.
So I decided to have us use three cylindrical plastic ones, because they are deformable, and so can be squeezed into the space allocated for composting. Three bins will facilitate turning. With just two bins, we were forced to turn one into the other even while adding new matter, or else not turning to keep new matter separate from more decomposed matter.
With three bins, one bin will be emtpy, and we can alternate turning one of the other compost piles into the empty bin, or even turn both. New matter will go into one of the piles, so that the older pile can more completely mature into good compost. When the older pile is ready for compost extraction, the newer pile will then become the older pile, and we will start a newer pile.
We harvested Swiss chard Saturday, one of the garden’s most colorful vegetables.
Lots of what people believe about Swiss chard turns out to be wrong. Here’s just one example: It’s not Swiss. It’s Sicilian.
Overall, the chard family goes back thousands of years to Iraq. Some chards were grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The family’s most colorful member got its start in Sicily, a big island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy.
Back in the mid-1800s, however, chard was not all that popular of a crop in Europe. So seed sellers decided to see whether they could spice it up a little bit, give it a bit more cachet. They decided to call it "Swiss." After all, this variety does look kind of knickknacky Swiss–colorful, shiny, kind of hard, like a souvenir you might bring home from the Alps.
The growers hit paydirt. Seed sales jumped through the roof. The rest was history. Chalk one up for Madison Avenue.
Thanks to the Landreth Seed Co. for the following info:
This is a ‘heads-up’. It is not meant to alarm or frighten. The intent is to educate and inform.
During the 2012 gardening season, blight is going to be a problem. Early season, mid season and late season blight are going to be a problem for tomatoes and potatoes and possibly eggplants. The moisture that inundated the United States east coast with Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee and the extraordinarily mild winter have combined to create an unusually comfortable environment for the proliferation of blight spores.
Blight is a fungus transmitted by spores which can lay dormant in soil and be carried by the wind as much as 50 miles in a day. Under ideal conditions spores can germinate in ½ hour. The last great outbreak was in 2009, but 2012 may also be a record year.
For those of you who intend to grow tomato, potato or eggplant plants, you MUST take precautions early even if you are organic gardeners. Landreth suggests that you use copper fungicide, a fungicide approved for organic farming. Use the powder form of copper fungicide. Copper fungicide is sold at most garden centers. Dust the soil where you are going to plant your tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants and till the dust into the soil. On the day you plant your seedlings, dust the seedlings, and repeat this dusting every two weeks, for two more dustings.
If you observe signs of blight later in the season, (a spotting of the lower leaves and stems), dust the plants immediately and repeat the dusting in 5-7 days. Copper fungicide is very effective. If you follow the suggested protocols your plants will probably be okay. If you do nothing, or if you wait until late July or August to address this issue, you may lose your entire potato, tomato or eggplant crop.
Unfortunately, we did not know to take the above precautionary measures at the beginning of our gardening season, but it now appears that we may have late blight hitting our potatoes. A few of the plant stems have rotted and collapsed, so we removed them from the garden and destroyed them. We then dug to see what, if any, potatoes may have been formed on the diseased plants. Our gold potato plant yielded only two small (1-2") tubors, while our red potato plant yielded a few small tubors, and eight very small (less than 1") tubors. Many of the remaining plants are showing signs of blight — brown spots on their leaves, and major wilting, so we will begin dusting with copper dust fungicide.
Photo of Late Blight on Potato: plantdiagnostics.umd.edu/_media/client/diagnostics/fullsize/late_blight_potato_l.jpg
For more info on Late Blight: www.ag.ndsu.edu/extplantpath/plant-pest-alerts/potato-tomato-late-blight-start-monitoring-early
For info on using copper dust to control early or late blight, or other plant diseases, go to www.bonide.com/lbonide/backlabels/l771.pdf
You may find the Landreth Seed Co. at: www.landrethseeds.com/
We have three varieties of potatoes: russet, yukon gold, and red. The russet potatoes are doing great. The yukon gold looked like they were suffering: the leaves were yellowish, and the plants weak. Mike dug up a few potatoes to see if there was anything in the soil (like a nasty critter) responsible, but couldn’t find any culprits. As a desperate experiment, I applied a fair amount of compost to the yukon gold plant on the end, to see if that would make any difference by next week.
Comment by Alan
Steven, you may be mistaking maturity for disease. Yukon Gold matures about 65 days after planting – the potatoes were planted April 7, so day 65 was June 11. I harvested one full-size Gold last night (7/3 – and it was delicious!).The russets on the other hand are 80-90 days, so maturity should arrive this week. It should be a nice staggered harvest – maybe half the fast spuds this week, half next week, then start into the russets in late July.
There is no sign of mildew in our Garden. We try to have people water in the morning if possible, as there’s more water lost to heat and evaporation mid-day, and water in the evening can linger on the leaves overnight, which can result in mildew.
I checked the sunflower leaves, which last week were getting eaten badly. They looked about the same to me, and new leaves had little munching upon. So maybe applying potassium bicarbonate did give the leaves enough of a different taste to whatever was eating them. Or maybe they just moved on for other reasons. Or maybe the planted adapted by changing it’s own chemistry. So many possibilities; it’s hard to know what works.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make arrangements with the person who has the sprayer, and he was on vacation today, so I didn’t apply any potassium bicarbonate today.
(This is a repost from John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds….)
Late to the Garden Party: Vegetables You Can Plant in July
For most gardeners in the northern tier of the U.S., the customary time to plant vegetables is May and only May. How this tradition began is anyone’s guess, but we say “phooey.” Planting vegetables in mid-summer is brilliant. When September rolls around, you’ll be picking tender heads of Lettuce, baby Beans, Carrots, Peas, Beets and little Summer Squash. In October, you’ll dine on flawless Asian Greens, crunchy Kohlrabi, frilly Frisee and Radishes. And in November, you’ll be eating garden-fresh Scallions, spicy Arugula, Broccoli, Mâche, Peas, Spinach, Broccoli raab, Kale, Salad Greens, Turnips and Swiss Chard.
There’s something really wonderful about tending a fall garden. The panic of spring is gone and the heat and bugs of summer are history. Fall brings cool days in the garden and cool evenings in the kitchen, with the time and energy to satisfy those autumn cravings for deep green vegetables and sweet root crops. So how can you get in on the fun?
Pull Some, Plant Some. As soon as you’ve picked the last of the Peas, and the early Lettuce and Spinach are past their prime, pull them out and send them to the compost pile. Fork over the soil, add a little finished compost and replant. We like to fill a little box with seed packets that are ideal for second plantings, and keep it right in the tool shed so we can sprinkle a few seeds whenever a bare spot opens up. For mid-summer planting, our box always contains Bush Beans and short-vine Peas, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, Kale, Scallions and some heat-resistant Lettuce varieties such as Tintin Baby Romaine, Rouge Grenoblois Batavian and Danyelle Red Oakleaf. By the end of August we’re planting seeds for cold-tolerant crops that will mature in 60 days or fewer: Radishes, Spinach, Lettuce, Asian Greens, Turnips and Carrots.
Screen the Sun. The trickiest thing about planting in mid-summer is keeping the soil surface consistently moist. If the soil dries out during this initial 2 to 3 week period, the seeds either won’t germinate, or the newly sprouted seedlings may die and you will need to start over. Sowing the seeds just a little deeper than usual can be helpful. The best strategy is to just water the areas daily until the new plants get established. Note that many cool-weather crops, including Lettuce, will not germinate in soil temperatures above 80 degrees F. To create cool, relatively moist growing conditions, cover the area with a piece of shade netting or take advantage of the natural shade from a trellis or tall plant. Another option is to start your second crops indoors under grow lights.
Don’t Delay. Summer-planted crops typically mature more slowly than spring-planted crops (as the days shorten, plant growth slows). Using the days-to-maturity figure on the seed packet, add an extra 14-days as a "low-light factor". Find your first frost date on the NOAA website: Use this date and then count backwards to get the latest planting date for frost-sensitive crops like Beans and Summer Squash. Frost-tolerant crops such as Broccoli, Kale and Lettuce, will grow more and more slowly as the days get shorter. It’s important to get these crops to a good size before mid-September. After that, most can be harvested as late as Thanksgiving, but they won’t be putting on much new growth.
Hang Onto the Warmth. When cold weather arrives, you can protect your fall garden from frost and cold by covering the plants with garden fabric or a cold frame. It’s fine to lay the fabric right on the plants; the closer the fabric is to the ground, the warmer it will keep the plants. If/when temperatures drop into the teens, add another layer so your crops are covered with a double thickness of fabric~or add a layer of fabric right on top of the plants inside your cold frame.
Healthier Bodies, More Delicious Meals. We all know that at least half of the food we eat every day should be fruits and vegetables. How much easier and more enjoyable this is, when much of that food comes directly from our own garden. What will you make with these fresh vegetables that you’re still harvesting in September, October and November? Oh my! Well how about Chard Stems with Golden Onions and Fresh Bread Crumbs? Or Radicchio Salad with Parmesan-Balsamico Vinaigrette and Broccoli Raab Penne Pasta? An autumn favorite we never tire of is Beet Salad with Apples and Walnut Oil Vinaigrette. It almost makes us long for fall. But not yet~there are weeks of glorious summer days still ahead.
We share our best-of-the-best recipes so you can feed your family and friends well without feeling frenzied, and practical, hands-on horticultural tips to demystify gardening with seeds (it need not be tricky or difficult. Truth be told, it is a bit more like easy magic.) If you need help with anything, our office hours are Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (860) 567-6086. Lance Frazon, our seed specialist, is happy to help you in any way possible. He loves to talk seeds.
Call us at (860) 567-6086: we will help you in any way we can!
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds
23 Tulip Drive * PO Box 638 * Bantam, CT 06750
Phone: (860) 567-6086 * Fax: (860) 567-5323
© 2001-2012 John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds. All rights reserved.
Yesterday we harvested some really beautiful red beets–Chioggias, from Italy–one of four varieties we’re growing in the garden this year. These were planted just over two months ago, on March 21.
Cut in two, a Chioggia looks a lot like a bb target with its red and white rings. For people who like beets, it makes a colorful addition to a salad.
Not everyone likes beets, however. While many love them, many also hate them. President Obama and the First Lady, for example, both count themselves among the thumbs-down-to-beets segment of the population, roughly a third of the country. That’s why there’s not a single beet growing in the White House’s kitchen garden.
Why do some folks not like beets? For most, it’s because of their bad luck in the genetic casino. They ended up with a set of genes that make them especially sensitive to the scent of geosmins, bacterial debris that give fresh dirt its fresh smell, but that also (for these poor souls, at least) make fresh beets taste like dirt. (Google "beets" and "taste like dirt" and you’ll see how widespread this phenomenon is.)
Beets are not the only veggie that puts off certain segments of the population. Cilantro does, too. About 10% of the country thinks fresh Cilantro tastes like soap. Fresh tomatoes, too. For a very small slice of the population, sliced tomatoes taste gross, like totally icky.
All because of unlucky draws from the gene pool.
Our hearts go out to these poor souls; but this also means all the more for the rest of us (!).
Help Save Heirloom Seeds and Keep Monsanto Out of Your Garden
Monsanto is literally trying to take over agriculture. To this end, they are buying out seed companies. You can help save one that’s pledged to organic, non-genetically-modified (GM) seeds.
This is a very scary proposition, and you can help fight Monsanto’s take-over of the seed industry by buying organic, non-GMO seeds, AND by saving your own seeds from year to year.
2 years ago, we planted cabbages and they were essentially a failure, attacked by insects and really poor performers. Last year the yield was better- we were able to harvest several cabbages and we tried a successful experiment where we left the cabbage plant after we harvested a cabbage and benefited when it produced more cabbages.
This year- cabbage nirvana. We have both green and red cabbages that are doing really well. On Saturday, June 23 we harvested our first monster cabbage.
We harvested our third variety of peas yesterday. This year we are growing three types: tall snows, sugar snaps, and tall shells. This time it was the tall shells, reaching up 6 feet on the garden’s tallest trellis.
These peas took about three months to grow that tall. They were among the first veggies planted in the garden on March 24th.
Why are peas sorta geeky? It’s because of roles they played over the years in important advances in science and technology. In the mid-1800’s, peas were central players in research done by Gregor Mendel, now regarded as the father of heredity science and modern genetics. In the 1920’s, they were early contributors to the work of Clarence Birdseye in developing the technology for the fast freezing of fresh foods, work done here in Massachusetts and still used widely today.
In our previous seasons, we’ve had mildew on primarily squash and cucumber leaves, although last season it was sufficiently bad that is spread to other plants. This year, we’re trying an early start to suppressing mildew, applying a preventative even before we see any mildew.
Last season, we used a mix of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and soybean oil (vegetable oil), a couple tablespoons of each per gallon of water. The active preventative is the sodium bicarbonate; the soybean oil makes it stick to the leaves.
This season we’re using potassium bicarbonate instead, which is a little more expensive, as one of our garden experts was concerned about adding sodium to our soil. The instructions for the potassium bicarbonate fungicide said only to mix it with water, and not combine it with anything else, so we didn’t combine it with soybean oil. We’ll check later to see how that works out. It was also noted that the oil gummed up our sprayer.
As an experiment, we applied this fungicide to the sunflower and turnip leaves, which were terribly munched upon. In theory, this shouldn’t help, because we suspect the culprit is some insect (although we didn’t see any on the leaves). However, maybe that particular insect won’t like the new taste.
We harvested our third batch of radishes Wednesday. This year we’re growing radishes in three colors: red, pink, and white. Wednesday it was the big, plump red ones.
Radishes are the fastest growing root vegetable in the garden. These were planted just over a month ago.
Back in the times of the pharaohs, wealthy Egyptians took such a liking to radishes that they had tiny gold figurines made of them, to serve as good luck charms.
A lovely time of year!
“With this particular tomato, Ramapo, it is on the acid end of the range — the way most people would perceive that is, it has zing to it or it’s tangier. It also is in the moderate to high moderate range when it comes to sugars. The balance of acidity and sugar gives it an intense flavor.”
Our first crop of 2012!
Patriot’s Day weekend is a terrific time to plant the bulk of the spring seeds and seedlings (at least, here in Massachusetts). We were fortunate to have fantastic weather, and a 57.5° soil temperature.
We planted seeds of Arugula, Bok Choy, Carrots (a rainbow of varieties), Collards, Kale (green & dinosaur), Leeks, Mizuna, Mustard, Onions (red, white & yellow), Radishes, Scallions, Swiss Chard and Turnips (salad & cross types).
We also planted seedlings of Broccoli, Cabbage (green & red) and Spinach. Cauliflower seedlings would have been planted as well, but they weren’t yet available from our local farm supplier.
The seeds and seedlings from previous weeks are growing fast. The Lettuce seedlings are particularly colorful!
Alas, our water supply remains unavailable, requiring the transport of dozens of gallons of water to the garden to give all the new seeds and seedlings a drink during the recent dry spell.
We knew we were in for a treat when our CSO (or Chief Signage Officer) arrived this morning. Bearing at least a passing resemblance to St. Nick, Dick had all the garden’s new and remade signs in a satchel slung over his shoulder.
These lovely handmade wooden signs are a hallmark of Robbins Farm Garden. Not only are they handy for remembering what’s planted where, they also act as garden ambassadors for each of the different crops — from Amaranth to Zucchini — 24/7.
In this article from The Salt, NPR’s food-focused blog, we learn that community farming often doesn’t work. (One piece of evidence cited: 70 years of hunger and spare harvests in the Soviet Union.)
Among the complaints of cooperative communities farmers such as ourselves is that in the hotter weather, work crews dwindle. “Our experience is, it’s an unequal participation, and an unequal sharing,” says Judy Elliott, who’s the Education and Community Empowerment Coordinator for Denver Urban Gardens.
The way we get around that is to link work and share: If you don’t produce, you don’t get the produce.
Meanwhile, the story does say that if members get beyond that problem, the community that develops is even more valuable than the food.
Last week we puttered around a little, but today was Opening Day for Robbins Farm Garden 2012! A big "thank you" to Arlington’s Parks & Recreation for letting us leave the garden in place over the winter so we didn’t have to waste today putting the fence back up.
Lisa and Elisabeth started the day moving 3 yards of Bob & Guy Lalicata’s excellent "black gold" (compost), distributing it among all the beds. Later we spread it out so that we wouldn’t smother the winter rye, which can keep growing until we’re ready to plant the crops. This could be the happiest winter rye in Arlington.
"Rock Star" Michael tackled a bed that had never been properly dug.
A few hardy spinach plants survived the snowless winter, so we’re giving them a chance to enjoy the cool spring weather. The soil temperature was 50 degrees.
Melanie organized the cilantro volunteers that are sprouting all over the place and Sue got the fava beans (Windsor from Johnny’s) into the ground nice and early this year.
The kale from last fall still looked good, but we had to get the peas in the ground right where last year’s kale bed was. (We ate some for dinner tonight, and it was the sweetest, tenderest kale we’ve ever had.)
Three varieties of peas went in: Alderman heirloom shell peas (Thompson & Morgan), Mammoth Melting Sugar snow peas (Burpee), and Sugar Snaps (Johhny’s). We planted them by the "Crockett" method: dug a wide trench about 4" deep, spread the peas an inch or two apart, and covered with 1" soil so we can slowly fill the trench in as the peas grow, keeping their roots down deep where it’s cool. We’ll be eating the first peas by the end of May.
It was a perfect day at Robbins Farm Garden thanks to this great early spring and having the privilege of getting back to work with our friends. As I’ve said many times before, gardeners are some of the best folks around. Come see us next Saturday at the EcoFest, then come on over to the garden.
It’s the middle of March — the perfect time to begin the gardening season. Unseasonable warmth is bringing everything quickly back to life. The Garlic is up, and last fall’s Kale and a few Spinach seedlings have survived the winter. The Perennial Herbs are greening up as well. The soil is still a chilly 42° F, but it digs nicely. Next Saturday we’ll officially open the garden and begin planting!
It’s the latter half of February and most of our seed orders have arrived — right on schedule.
The largest order was from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (Albion, ME). We ordered onion sets, sweet potato slips and other seed from Burpee (Warminster, PA) and a few special items from Thompson & Morgan (Lawrenceburg, IN).
Well before we start planting, our 2012 crops list is already looking presentable.
The seed companies continue to expand their organic selections, so we were able to get an even higher percentage of organics for the garden this year. Another reason to be cheerful.
We’re also experimenting with a more complete botanical reorganization of our seed box.
Visit us at EcoFest 2012. We’ll have information about Robbins Farm Garden and how to join. It’s likely that there will still be open slots left for a few local gardeners.
Today I turned our two compost piles. Unfortunately, the piles were cold. I had hoped to show the visitors — we had about eight, mostly adults — steam from the center. But evidently I waited too long; next year, I’ll try a December turning. Cold piles means that the decomposing bacteria have run out of fuel (carbon matter) near them, and have depleted the oxygen. Composting is like a slow fire, and needs oxygen to breathe. Turning both mixes up stuff, so that bacteria are relocated next to fuel, and refreshes the supply of air.
Both piles had reduced since November, when they were overflowing, showing that some decomposition had happened. The top halves of each pile had the least decomposition, so I set those aside. I then combined the bottom portions of the two piles into a new pile. There was significant dirt in those bottom portions, so I’m hoping we can get some garden-usable compost out of them by late April. I then combined the set-aside halves into a new pile, which is really going to need summer heat to decompose. And the thick sunflower stalk pieces may just take too long for us.
Very little was frozen, except at the bottom on the north side of the wire mesh bin. Comparing the two bins, I’d say the black bin had somewhat more decomposed matter than the wire bin. This may be due to the black plastic keeping the pile somewhat warmer, by absorbing more sunlight. Or due to less exposure to the cold winter air and winds. Or maybe I just preferentially put the better stuff (less stalks) in that bin in November.
Next turning sometime in March!
Vermicomposting, (the “official” name for using worms to do your composting), is a great alternative to outdoor composting, especially during the colder, winter months. Using red worms in an indoor compost bin, you simply layer any plant-based scraps with some shredded paper (e.g., newspaper, but avoiding glossy paper and colored inks), wet with some water that has been allowed to sit uncovered over night (to off-gas any chlorine), and then cover the bin and let the little red wigglers do their thing. I’ve been composting all of our kitchen scraps and indoor plant trimmings this way for over three years now, and it’s very easy & low maintenance, especially with one of the commercially available bins.
Vermicomposting produces “castings” (aka, worm manure) which is great for both outdoor AND indoor plants. Vermicompost has NO smell, offers great organic matter to improve soil texture, contains excellent, readily-available plant nutrients, and contains beneficial microbes that should be a part of any healthy soil. There are some great web sites that explain how to get started. (Google “worm composting”)
This is the worm composting bin that I highly recommend. It’s called “Can-O-Worms“. This bin even has a tap which allows you to drain off any excess water, which itself makes a great liquid fertilizer!
You should also consider getting a book or two on vermicomposting. Worms Eat My Garbage was extremely informative and helpful when I got started. For the best price I could find, go to www.discountbooksale.com and search on the book’s title.
Have fun with your worms!
On January 28th at 10 AM, the Robbins Farm Gardeners will gather at the Community Safety Building (112 Mystic Street) to begin the gardening season by selecting seeds and crops. From artichokes to zucchini, all are invited to share in our excitement about what we’ll be growing (and eating) this year!
Sadly, the lovely rosemary we grew in the garden isn’thardy in Arlington. So we potted the plant before the first hard freeze and are keeping it indoors for the winter. The progress, so far, is good.
The plant needs as much light and water as it can get in a New England home in winter. It’s in a south-facing window and is checked for water every few days. We’ve also made a point to trim the leggy stems, which make fine additions to many recipes.
Let’s hope we can keep it going until spring!
As of a few days ago, we still had some greens in the garden, particularly kale. Recently, I — a bit of a "gourmet" potato chip fiend — learned of kale chips as a healthy way to satisfy our cravings for crispy, salty snacks! There are many, many recipes to be found online, most calling for oven baking, with a few instead calling for a food dehydrator. I experimented a bit with the oven methods, since many people don’t have a dehydrator and, also, I figured that baking was likely to give more flavor.
The first step is to cut the heavy stem out from the kale leaves. While some recipes I found suggested using a sharp knife, it turns out that you can tear the kale away from the stem readily. Tear the kale into pieces that will be "bite size" once they’re dehydrated. About a 3 to 4 inch dimension seems to work fine.
I washed the kale pieces thoroughly in water, and dried them as well as possible. I used a salad spinner and then blotted them with a towel.
Then, I placed the kale pieces in a bowl, and added some extra virgin olive oil (at least I hope it was EVOO — mine was from Trader Joes). I massaged the olive oil into the leaves, so that all were as evenly coated as possible. Then, I seasoned them generously with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. The coated kale looks like this:
I then spread the kale in a single-thickness layer on a baking sheet. Some of the videos stressed that the layer must be only one leaf thick, warning that if the kale is piled up, it won’t become crispy. (I chose not to test this theory, so have only tried the single layer.) Before baking, it will look like the photo below, and will shrivel up considerably and darken in color, as described below, as it bakes.
I baked the kale in an oven set for 350 degrees F. Some of the recipes said that only 10 min was needed to get them fully dehydrated and crispy. I tried the recipe in two ovens, and one took at least 15 min and the other took 20. (Both ovens were set on convection, which automatically sets the temperature to 325 degrees. This may have been the issue.) It’s a good idea to just watch them and make sure that they do not burn. They should reach a fairly uniform dark green color, and appear curled up and considerably smaller than the original pieces.
After they’re fully crisped up as described above, the kale chips can be very gently blotted on paper towels to remove excess oil.
These are incredibly delicious and crispy straight from the oven! Whatever you do, do not store the uneaten chips in a sealed container. This makes them lose their crispiness. If there are any leftover, I would suggest storing them in an open bowl. The finished kale chips, with their dark green color, are shown in the third photo, below. The moistness you see on the chips is residual olive oil. These are definitely finger food, but you will want some napkins handy.
While of course this is best with local, fresh-from-the-garden kale, if you crave this snack "off season", I found that a Trader Joe’s bag of precut and washed kale works great. One bag will fill two large baking trays.
By the way, this is by no means the "perfect recipe" for kale chips. If anybody has variations to suggest based on their own kale chips experiences, please add them in the comments section. I’m also curious about other seasonings, as well as other greens that might also be used to make chips.
To help save money when buying vegetable seeds, check the viability of seed varieties and order larger packets of seeds that are long-lived.
Assess your remaining seeds from last season. If you liked a particular variety, continue to use the seed. Because seed can remain viable for years, if properly stored, it is often economical to buy larger packets at reduced prices.
Here is a general list of seed viability for some common vegetable crops:
Short-lived seeds (1 – 2 years)
Medium-lived seeds (5 years)
Long-lived seeds (over 5 years)
* brussel sprouts
To help us plan what we’d like to cultivate next season….
Here’s a list of the Top 10 Heirloom Tomatoes for 2012:
Please vote for your top 3!
I just received my 2012 catalog from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and in it they offer this new cross between Brussels sprouts and kale, called Flower Sprouts! The first new veggie to be developed in about ten years, this sounds like it could be fun, educational and tasty to try!
This is a scan of the catalog page:
Some related videos:
For more cultural info, go to http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-8665-kaleidoscope-mix-f1.aspx and click on the “Growing Info” tab.
If it’s November, it’s time to harvest the Brussels Sprouts. They’re one of the slowest crops in the garden — but worth the wait. They’re exceptionally cold hardy. In fact, they were growing so vigorously in late October that the snow didn’t even stick to them!
If it’s November, it’s time to harvest the Brussels Sprouts. They’re one of the slowest crops in the garden — but worth the wait. They’re exceptionally cold hardy. In fact, they were growing so vigorously in late October that the snow didn’t even stick to them!
The last of the Scallions, Leeks, Collard Greens and Tatsoi were harvested this week. (Sadly, the Leeks never fully matured.) We’re still picking small Broccoli florets (amazingly, from the seedlings we planted in April) and some of the sweetest Kale I’ve ever tasted. The Arugula and Broccoli Rabe also continue to produce. A few tiny Lettuce and Spinach seedlings remain, along with our marginal late-season Cabbages.