Friday, May 22, 2015

Update on Our New Asparagus Planting: Part II

Update on Our New Asparagus Planting: Part II 

May 2015,

From our last post you’ll recall that we planted a new bed of asparagus crowns at Johnny’s Research Farm in Albion on May 4th. Prior to planting, we dug an 8”-deep trench, but following planting did not fill the trench back up to the soil line. Now that the spears have started emerging from the soil, it’s time to add another layer of soil.


This is a fairly simple process. All you need to do is use some sort of gardening tool — a rake, a stirrup hoe, a small pitchfork — and gently add soil to the furrow. We used a collinear hoe (see image below). Do not cover the spears all of the way; leave the top of the bud still showing above the soil.

Do Not Totally Cover Spears

The furrow still won’t be completely filled in at this point; you are only adding one more layer of 2–3” of soil. In another week or so, after waiting for the spears to emerge again, you will need to add more soil back into the furrow. Repeat until the amount of soil in the furrow is even with the soil line. 

Collinear Hoe
Although you’ll be eager to begin harvesting, establishing an asparagus bed requires patience. It is not until a full year after planting that the spears will be of harvestable size. Even then, your first harvest will be short. The reward for waiting, if you maintain the asparagus bed properly, is it will continue to produce well for upwards of 15 years!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Putting in a New Bed of Asparagus Crowns — Part I

By Lindsay Spigel, R&D, 
Johnny’s Selected Seeds

May 2015 

Following the late arrival of spring here in Central Maine — and hopefully the last few weeks of frosts — we were able to put in a new bed of asparagus crowns for our Research trials. Many of you have likely already received your crowns and planted them, but for those still waiting on the weather to break, now’s a great time to prepare the bed. Here’s a walk-through, with some tips for success.

How we made our bed: 

May 2015 Asparagus Trial
The first step in planting asparagus is to ensure that the site you've chosen meets all the requirements
to keep the plants healthy for many years to come. If you chose a location that is less than ideal, there are workarounds to improve the site, but in the long run it will be more work.

Choose a location that receives full sun or part shade. As you can see in the pictures, our asparagus trial is out in the open, with little shade from nearby trees. It is best to check your soil pH the fall before you plant; you’ll be able to apply any amendments at that time so it can reach the ideal pH of 7.0 for spring. Proper bed preparation in the spring is key — it is much easier to rid the area of weeds before you have planted than to fight weeds throughout the life of the asparagus bed.

After you ensure that your planting location is weed free, dig a furrow 5–8” deep. If your soil is heavy, a shallow furrow is better, to prevent the crowns from becoming waterlogged. We have well-drained soil at our Research farm, and you can see here that our furrow is about 8” deep.


Planting our crowns 

The crowns will look dry when you pull them out of the box, but that is completely normal. Because we had our crowns before we were ready to plant, we opened the box and removed the band from the bundle of crowns to inspect them. Mold that sometimes forms during shipping is easily wiped off with a damp cloth, and shouldn't affect the health of the crowns. If they appear to have dried out during shipping, sprinkle the crowns with a bit of water. After inspecting the crowns, we placed them loosely in the box, then loosely closed the box and placed it in a standard refrigerator. We checked on them every few days to ensure they remained healthy until we were ready to plant.

Asparagus Trial Spacing
When the timing is right — 3–4 weeks before the last average frost — and your furrow is dug, it’s time to plant. Our planting date this year was May 4th. Place the crowns 12” apart in the furrow. If you’re planting Purple Passion (F1), the in-row spacing should be slightly closer, 6–8” apart, to avoid overly thick spears. Splay the roots out as best you can while keeping the crowns upright time to plant.

Although the furrow is deep, at this time you will only cover the crowns with 2–3” of soil. Water the crowns until the soil is damp, and keep them moderately moist throughout the establishment period.

Cover the Crowns with 2-3" of Soil
Gradually Fill in the Furrow

Now you wait — it can take a couple to a few weeks for the crowns to become established and start growing. As spears appear, you will gradually fill in the furrow as they grow — check back in a couple of weeks to see images of how our new asparagus bed is growing!

Check Back This Friday for
An Update!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Johnny's Donates to FoodCorps

FoodCorps members are making a huge difference nationwide to revitalize garden space; from September through March of the 2015 school year, they have built or revitalized the equivalent of 8.6 NBA basketball courts worth of garden space!

Our Charitable Giving Committee recently partnered with FoodCorps to supply their members with pre-made kits of easy-to-grow seeds.

We can’t wait to see the outcome of their seed kits!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Visit to MOSES Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin

By Andrew Mefferd, Johnny's Selected Seeds

DAY 2 — MOSES 2015 Conference

Johnny's booth at MOSES
Johnny's at MOSES 2015
The next day I headed to the MOSES (Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services) Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I had packed my plaid, since I'd heard that was the thing to wear to the MOSES conference. And, indeed, there was a lot of plaid being sported. Though it’s hard to say if there was more than any other gathering of farmers.

The first thing that really impressed me was the size of the conference. Organizers said there were more than 3500 attendees over the three days. Besides the sheer number of participants, I was impressed by their positive energy and enthusiasm. There were a lot of good ideas and sharing going on, both at the trade show and at the many workshops scheduled for the conference.

Upper Midwest Territory Sales Rep,
Ken Fine shares some of the finer points
of Johnny's pumpkins
My first stop was the Johnny’s booth, where our upper Midwest sales rep, Ken Fine was manning the booth and talking to customers. One of the best things about trade shows is the opportunity to spend time at the booth meeting our customers. I learn more about growing by talking to customers, and finding out what their challenges and questions are, than any other way.

Though of course there were many other, more formal ways to learn as well. MOSES had organized many educational workshops for growers both days of the conference, plus a pre-conference “Organic University” for those who really wanted to go in-depth.

Sandy Dietz, whom I had visited the day before, gave a good presentation along with her husband, Lonny, about how to transition out of off-farm jobs and into farming full time. They speak from experience, as they both have made the transition.

I also went to an excellent presentation by Adam Montri of Michigan State University, called “Are You Making Any Money in Your High Tunnel?” He pointed out how even though almost anything grows faster and bigger in a high tunnel, profitability is not assured. He presented some practical strategies farmers can use to track expenses and set prices to make sure they are profiting off their high-tunnel produce.

This was a great conference that I would consider attending again in the future. The food was great, and MOSES made every effort to source the food from local farms whenever possible. The other learning and networking opportunity was the huge tradeshow, which took up the entire floor of a basketball court and spilled out into the arena. I headed back to Maine exhausted and at the same time energized by the people I had met and all I learned, ready to put it to good use this coming season.

Sometimes a great conference is just what I need to get ready for another season.

Learn more...
  • Visit our Commercial Sales hub to learn more, meet your territory sales representative, or view our upcoming tradeshow calendar »

Read Andrew's Day 1 Minnesota Blog Post • Visit to Whitewater Gardens' Geoexchange Greenhouse in Altura, MN »

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Visit to Whitewater Gardens’ Geoexchange Greenhouse in Altura, Minnesota

By Andrew Mefferd, Johnny's Selected Seeds

DAY 1 — Whitewater Gardens’ Geoexchange Greenhouse, Altura, Minnesota

Earlier this year, I flew out to La Crosse, Wisconsin to attend the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) annual conference. On the way in to the conference, I stopped by to visit with Sandy Dietz at Whitewater Gardens Farm in Altura, Minnesota.

I was interested to see the farm because they are incorporating a number of cutting-edge greenhouse techniques in order to grow vegetables in short-season Minnesota as efficiently as possible.

While they have several other greenhouses plus areas for field production (all under a blanket of snow at the time), what I was really there to see this visit was their brand new 46'x126' geothermally heated greenhouse.

Altura, MN in Winona County
This greenhouse represents the wave of the future when it comes to energy efficiency. The entire perimeter of the greenhouse is protected by a frost wall extending 4' down into the ground. This wall minimizes the amount of cold that penetrates through to the greenhouse, a worthwhile measure for reasons that were obvious on the freezing day that I visited. Insulation laid 4' down under the floor further reduces the amount of cold that seeps through the ground into the greenhouse.

One of the most unusual features of this greenhouse is that geothermal energy is the primary source of fuel for its heating system. Ground-loop geothermal heating is a technology that takes heat from the earth and builds it up to usable levels with a heat pump (also known as a ground source heat pump, or GSHP). The water is heated and then circulated through tubes in the floor, which literally heats the greenhouse from the ground up.

(Equally notable is that geoexchange technology allows for excess heat to be transferred back into the ground — or, for cold air to be pumped to a cold-storage area, for example — as well as for heating.)

When more heat is necessary than the geothermal can provide, a forced-air propane backup system kicks in to make up the difference. What I will be interested to learn after a few seasons of operation is what proportion of the required heating the geothermal can provide versus how much the propane backup system will have to supply.

Whitewater Geothermal Greenhouse
To date, there are very few geothermal greenhouse systems in the United States. But based on the fact that energy is the second-largest cost for many greenhouse growers after labor, I would be surprised if we don’t see more growers following the Whitewater Gardens lead.

Another innovation Dietz is pursuing is to install Solawrap greenhouse covering this spring. Most heated greenhouses using flexible plastic coverings have two layers of plastic inflated by a small fan. The air between the layers of plastic provides a layer of insulation, greatly increasing the heat-trapping properties beyond a single layer of plastic.

Instead of using a fan to inflate the layers of plastic, Solawrap uses two layers of plastic with bubbles in between to form the insulative layer. It looks like a giant sheet of bubble wrap. The advantage is that it maintains the air layer, without having to constantly run a fan to keep it inflated. The product is from Europe and not widely used in the US at this point.

I look forward to checking back in with Sandy in the future to see how all these innovations are working out on her farm. I really enjoyed the visit and am always impressed with the things I can learn about from our customers.

Learn more...

Check back for our next blog entry —
Day 2 of Andrew's Trip to Michigan & Minnesota

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day 2015 from all of us here at Johnny's! 

How are YOU celebrating today? Leave a comment under this post and let us know.

Ever wonder how Earth Day started? This observance arose from an interest in gathering national support for environmental issues, from San Francisco activist John McConnell and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Enter Our Farm Dog Photo Contest


We want to see photos of your farm dog! A lot of our customers have 4-legged companions on their farms, so we've teamed up with Planet Dog to give away dog toys from their Orbee-Tuff® Produce Line.

Click the photo below and follow the instructions on how to enter:

Contest ends April 27th, good luck!