Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays to all of our readers! I'd like to apologize for the dearth of blog information nigh these past few weeks. As the webmaster, I've been swamped with getting things ready for our new catalog season (look for your catalog in the mail soon!).

I hope you're all enjoying the busy holiday season, and I hope you can take some time to read and enjoy our latest articles. My new years resolution: to keep up with the blog a little better, and keep you all posted on more doings here at Johnny's.

I hope you all enjoy the holidays, and Happy New Year!

Daria, the Webmaster

Seed Breeding Workshops

Johnny's has several different seed breeding workships annually. Every year we extract seeds from selected hand pollinated fruits That seed is planted next season, and the process is repeated annually.

Pumpkin Breeding Workshop

The flags, which you see in the Pumpkin Workshop picture, are used to mark hand pollinated fruits on the field. We also use onion bags to protect hand pollinated fruits from being eaten by small animals.

Aneta is removing squash seeds from marked fruits, and will label them and save them for next year. They will be planted and tested, and this is how new varieties spring into being.

Extracting Squash Seed

Extracting more Squash Seed

We also have a pepper breeding program.

Extracting Pepper Seed

We also breed other vegetables.

Harvesting Jerusalem Artichokes

What's New At The Farm? 12/17/2008

The recent weather events assure us we're in Maine; if you don't like the weather give it a few minutes and it'll change. It's starting to look more like winter, although just the early stages. No tons of snow like we had last year, but more ice and rain to enjoy. Ice belongs on the lakes and ponds, not the roads and driveways. Lots of trees and branches down last weekend but not as many as the ice storm of Jan. 1998.

Having an ice storm is a good time to find out the generator you had fixed last fall won't start. One worked fine but the other refused to start. Guess which one's headed to the repair shop this week? Luckily Johnny's got the power back in Albion much before we did at home so everything turned out OK. Still, we need two generators when the power goes out to run everything here so we'll get it fixed one more time. I think the biggest problem with that particular machine is that it's not used much. Our greenhouses are wired into the first machine, so if we lose power in the spring/summer that's the one that gets used. The second generator powers the Research building so it doesn't get much use. Time for a new plan.

And now a blast from the past: looking back over the past few years to see what I was writing about mid December in different years; I've written these weekly columns since November of 2003 so I have a few pages of history in which to reference. In 2003 I wrote about Turkey control and the New England Vegetable Conference. In 2004 it was tomato cages, cleaning stockseed and cleaning out the bird houses around the farm. In 2005 it was again the New England Veg. Conference (it happens every other year) and the nutrient management plan coming up for all farms. In Dec. 2006 I wrote two pages about how to trellis tomatoes using the wire and string method and finally in 2007 "What I found whilst cleaning out my truck" was the topic of interest. Pretty racy stuff.

The farm is slowing down for the season. The fields are frozen, the crops are dead and now we've got some time to regroup before next spring. We've got lots of things planned for this winter including: developing a new planting schedule, ordering organic fertilizer based on crop needs and I continue to look for a modern cultivating tractor – something made after I was born. We'll have our plans all in place for what we're planting in the poly tunnel and the fields and when, what greenhouse modifications we need to make before spring and what labor needs will need to be addressed. We'll have a labor plan, a weed control plan, a field planning scheme and a fertilization plan before March. We'll get all our supplies on hand and make sure all our systems are in top notch operating condition before spring planting starts. There's not really much time between the end of the season and the beginning of the next.

Until next week, Brian

What's New At The Farm? 12/10/2008

There's no question now – everything's dead. A few cold nights and all survival has stopped; at least for the plants. I didn't get my beets or mangels harvested and now I don't have to worry about them. The Brussels sprouts are still out there; I'll harvest them if I get around to it.

Johnny's pond froze over last weekend as did several other local ponds. I don't know if the ice will stay or melt off and refreeze later; time will tell. A little light snow here and there has made things brighter as the light reflects off the snow and it seems a bit lighter than before the snow. The cold weeks between fall and the arrival of snow always seem downright dark. Go to work in the dark and go home in the dark. Great!

On the farm, we're wrapping up the final few seed cleaning projects from the 2008 growing season. Nick is picking over the last of the stockseed increases and Jeff's doing some tractor and equipment maintenance before we settle in on some winter projects. I'm working on projects like the financial wrap up for 2008, plans for 2009 and some projects I have been wanting to do but haven't had the time. Elisa's working with Hillary putting seeds away and Susie's doing some last minute greenhouse projects. Greenhouse projects can be worked on, on sunny days in the winter. Sunny days mean warm temperatures in the greenhouse; almost tropical. Cloudy days are cold, warmer than outside, but still cold.

Projects I've got lined up for winter include cost accounting; how much each crop we grew cost us. Things like tomato stakes, plastic, compost, row covers and of course labor all contribute to the overall cost of planting and taking care of a trial. Tomato stakes come to mind quickly as we had a large tomato workshop this year and there were thousands of tomato stakes out there. We can use these figures to determine how much it's going to cost us next year for our trials and seed productions and also what supplies we're going to need. We've already got our compost and our IRT plastic on site and I'm working on organic fertilizer.

Lots of cover crop stuff – potential new crops, research on some of the ones we carry, new vendors, and trial sheets to better track information on that elusive cover crop trial. For the past couple of years I have wanted to have a cover crop trial similar to what the other Product Managers have but on a larger scale. When setting up a cover crop trial, bedfeet requirements are replaced with acreages. Because we own or rent 55 acres of tillable land but only use 12 or 15 acres for crops we can cover crop the rest of the acreage. Having that many acres is an important part of our rotation plan and cover crops play an important part of that plan. It takes a fair amount of planning to have a successful trial and that's a goal of mine this winter.

If you've been reading my articles for any amount of time, you'll know we use a fair amount of mulch hay on our squash and pumpkin fields each year. Last year we raked off a fair amount of the hay amid concerns of the nitrogen tie up once the mulch started breaking down. We had that problem last year: we plowed down the mulch with a liberal amount of compost and planted the field to tomatoes. The tomatoes were shorter than usual in part to the mulch tying up the nitrogen during the breakdown process and keeping it from the tomato crop. I think this spring we'll apply 50-75 lbs of nitrogen to the mulch prior to plowing it under. I plan on using pelletized chicken manure. This will not only add some nitrogen to the soil but lots of organic matter. I'd like to take full credit for this idea, but I must thank Rob for his originally planting the seed of thought in my brain.

Until next week, Brian

What's New at the Farm? 12/03/08

Everything looks pretty dead on the farm, that's what's new. Not really new as we've seen it many times before but new for this growing season.

We're finishing up last minute tasks before the colder weather sets in. I think the field work is done as the ground is frozen in the morning and mud in the afternoon. The crops that are left in the field are at a standstill, not much hope they'll grow anymore.

I've seen turkey tracks, along with squirrel and mouse tracks but no deer tracks. That's good news with the fence we had installed this past summer. This is one year there are a few crops left in the field that can stay there throughout the winter without being devoured by the deer. I look forward to next spring and the absences of deer tracks through what we have just planted.

Planning for the 2009 growing season is in full swing now and for the next couple of months. Kelly measured and mapped out all our fields before she went out and now we can transfer them to graph paper and get an accurate feel for how the field dimensions have changed over the years. Yes, they change. Some get longer from plowing more of the field, some have their shapes changed as rocks or ledge show their faces, some lose space that was wet or otherwise not good land for farming. When planning the fields it's nice to have accurate maps so we can determine exactly how much ground to prepare and how much land certain crops will take. Nothing quite like going into a field to transplant and finding out at the end of the day we don't have enough ground ready.

Since we made field maps last time; probably at least ten years ago, we dropped some fields and added some new ones. We've added the “Wiggins” field and dropped the “Gilberts” fields over the past few years. We've renamed some and will add new ones as they become available. Good crop land is in demand so we've got to get out there and do some active looking; another winter project.

And on the home front, I got lots of things done on my vacation last week. I spent a day at camp getting that ready for winter, a day in the woods getting some wood out for the kitchen stove, a day washing windows before the window washer (me) froze, three days in the henhouse and a day picking up supplies for winter. The hens are pretty much done laying for the season; good thing I got some new hens this spring or I'd be buying eggs now. And yes, I got a big round bale of hay for the goat.

Although I got a lot done around the house I didn't manage to get into he garden for the last little bit of harvesting. I hope the mangels will be OK this weekend and I'm sure the Brussels sprouts are fine. We're still eating them from last year's larder. I've taken my soil test and have the results from the lab; I guess the garden will get those two barrels of wood ashes this weekend. Considering the ground was pasture for many years and then abandoned and left to grow up into goldenrod and milk weed, the garden plot is slowly being improved with compost and other soil amendments. I think next year I'll cover crop half of it and plant the other half in vegetables and flowers.

Until next week, Brian

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's New At The Farm 11/19/2008

After a weekend of rain we're back to working in the fields. We hope to get as much done this week out there as we can as the weather is bound to turn cold shortly. Monday we finished pulling the stakes out of the tomato workshop and trial and have been mowing and pulling plastic ever since. The winter squash workshop is moving right along and we should be done in a couple of weeks. Susie's working in the greenhouses; finishing up some projects before it gets cold.

Last Wed. and Thursday Adam, Elisa, Susie and I went on a field trip to Vermont. Wednesday we visited Karl Hammer at Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier, and also Intervale Compost and Farm, and Gardeners Supply all in Burlington. On Thursday we visited High Mowing Seeds, Pete's Greens and made a quick stop at the Cabot cheesery in Cabot.

We originally were going to go in October, but I thought it best to wait until after foliage season. The motel rates might be cheaper and there wouldn't be much traffic. Wrong! The rates were not cheaper and the weather was cold – we about froze! Next year we'll go in October when the weather is warmer and there's more activities going on at t he places we visited. This year, other than composting, there wasn't much if anything going on in the fields and the greenhouses were awaiting a good cleaning before winter sets in.

At least there was some composting going on; both at Vermont Compost and Intervale Compost Company. Both were interesting but totally different. Vermont Compost receives food residue and baled hay amongst other raw materials. It is windrowed on a side hill and moved down the hill as it composts. Karl has 1200 laying hens that do much of the turning. They feed exclusively on the raw materials and produce 1000 dozen eggs a month in the process. His facility is neat, well kept and organized and he produces a top notch product. He's been at it quite a few years and knows the ins and outs.

Intervale Compost in Burlington is composting on a larger scale. They receive leaves and garden/lawn residue from the city of Burlington. While we were there, there was a steady stream of vehicles coming in with leaves. They use leaves, food wastes as well as manures from local farms. They were using a Pay loader to move mountains of materials into windrows. They receive 20,000 tons of materials in a year and sell finished compost locally and bagged.

Compost is such an interesting product. Turning crop residues and manures and other products once considered waste materials into a great soil amendment is key to good agricultural practices. If we put back what we take out and more, we will continue to enjoy success in the gardens and fields producing our food. Compost can be, and is, made from virtually all material that was once living. From dead materials comes life giving nutrients, organic matter and beneficial microbes to enrich our soils, souls and our lives.

Until next week; actually the week after, next week is the week I finish projects around the house and garden before winter comes. Winter will be upon us shortly and I've got a list of things to do. I suppose I'd better round up the last of the firewood and do some last minute harvesting in the garden. The Brussels sprouts and the mangels can be harvested; the sprouts can also be frozen. The mangels will be put in the cellar for the chickens to consume this winter. I've got some insulating to do in the henhouse and a couple of new doors to put on. I'll start on next year's firewood and start up my boiler for this season. And, yes, I've got to spend a day at camp readying things for winter there also and she wants boughs for decorating the window boxes and I've got to get some hay for the goat and so it goes.


What's New At The Farm 11/12/2008

Sorry for the delay in getting Brian's columns up - the new catalog upload took priority. Thanks for your patience! -Daria, the webmaster

Well, it looks like we're going back to seasonal weather for a while at least. While the warm temps were nice, I'd rather have it colder and sunny. Rainy weather is so gloomy, especially in November. The garden looks pretty dead now; the only things left are beets and Brussels sprouts. I suppose I should finish up the harvest and get on to something else.

The leaves are pretty much gone, except for the oaks and the beech, so I can now see what everyone's been up to since the leaves first came out in May. Although I enjoy the leaves immensely, they do block the views. I can see far more countryside now than in the summer. I rode up to Unity on Saturday and the views were spectacular although gray and drizzly.

On the farm we're still tearing tomato trellises down. This week should finish up that project. We'll pull out the wooden stakes and sort them by: Good ones to keep, broken ones to shorten and keep and those to crooked to do anything with except make kindling wood out of. The steel stakes will get sorted into: same length, type of post and crooked ones that can and cannot be straightened and used again. The really crooked ones will go to be recycled as much as old steel has gone before. The tomato twine has all been taken down and the tomato vines will be mowed before the plastic is taken up.

I really don't like pulling plastic this late in the fall; I don't think anyone does. It's cold and wet and muddy; better to do it on a warm and dry spring day. Oh well, what we do now we won't have to do next spring and there's always plenty of things to do next spring.

By the time you read this I'll be in Vermont with a small contingent of my peers. We are going on our annual trip which includes visits to a composting operation, a seed company and a grower of greens and other vegetables. I didn't go last year but thought I would this year. November is such a nice time to go somewhere. The leaves are gone, and it's cool so there are no concerns of mosquitoes. The snow hasn't started up yet and the motels are just waiting for some business. Rates should be relatively cheap now.

Next month I'll go on my usual quick trip to Aroostook. A real quickie; one night and two days. A couple of visits with potato growers and whomever else we decide to visit. I like to go to Aroostook when snow threatens; it's much more challenging to drive in poor conditions. Unlike most people I take route 2 most of the way. You see a lot more and the traffic is usually pretty light; a few logging trucks going 90 miles an hour. Route two goes through all different types of country, from along the river north of Bangor, industrial forest through Macwahoc and farming country beyond that. At Macwahoc you can take either 2A which goes directly into Houlton, or 2 which continues to follow the river into Silver Ridge Township and through Island Falls and comes into Houlton from the west.

Either way you go there's an advantage over going on the interstate. The interstate is trees, trees and more trees. Taking route 2A brings you into Linneus where Matt Williams has a new and operating grain mill; I like to stop and say hi. There's also a great little restaurant there called "Grammies". Huge portions, homemade food and a down home friendly atmosphere. Also some huge whoopee pies!

Route two takes you into more farming country. Starting in Silver Ridge there's lots of canola fields. Pretty wide open country for Maine. Then you're on to Island Falls (nice town) Oakfield and Smyrna, and into Ludlow. Dick York of Full Circle Farm has his packing facility in Ludlow and has farms there as well as other towns locally. Then you're on to Holton; from there everything's "Just plain North".

Until next week, Brian

Monday, November 10, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 11/05/2008

Welcome to November!

The warm summer days are but a memory now and the dark, cold and gloomy days of November are upon us. Oh sure, we'll get some warmth now and then, just a tease to keep us going, but overall there's not lots to look forward to for the next month or so. The gardens are pretty well dead and the harvest is winding down. Lots of field cleanup to do before the ground freezes which may come sooner than we had expected – it's as good a guess as I care to venture.

The geese are headed south in fairly good sized flocks as are the local crows. I saw perhaps 300 crows headed out last Sunday – maybe they know something we don't. I think the majority of the ducks have gone – I saw none in the beaver pond over the weekend and I haven't seen any flying around in the past couple of weeks. I have seen a couple of Blue Herons, fishing unhampered by anything else; trying to get those last few bait fish before their flight south. The ospreys are gone as are the earlier flyers like hummingbirds and swallows.

Besides cleaning up the garden, now is a good time to check out those birdhouses around the property. Might as well clean them out and see what the needs will be for next year. Winter is a good time to churn out some new ones in the workshop as not much else is going on. I think between Johnny's farm and the house I'll need around thirty or so new swallow houses for next spring. Maybe this will be the year I get around to build and install some wood duck nests in the beaver pond.

All summer I noticed bigger woodpiles than usual and bigger gardens. I see people that never had a garden before having on this year. Gardening can be a family affair; I think it's fun, although I seem to be alone in the garden the bulk of the time. That's fine; I enjoy the time alone. It gives me time to watch the world around me and contemplate life in general. The garden is a good place to try out things that might or might not work. At the farm, the farm crew takes exemplary care of the crops, but the garden is different. It doesn't get everything it needs to produce a bumper crop every time.

I think I've perfected the beets and onions – what exactly they need to thrive and not become a time sinkhole. Everyone in the neighborhood has had their share of beets and beet green sthis season. I like beet greens so I planted Big Top. They were right, they have big tops! We put plenty of greens in the freezer and had lots of beets for the cold cellar. I planted a packet of Ace and we ate these all fall and will also have some stored this winter. As for onions, I used plants this year. My patience in weeding tiny onions is limited. I planted Alisa Craig Exhibition for summer use and Copra for winter storage. It was dry when I planted the two aforementioned crops so, and I don't like watering the garden, I dragged two hundred feet of garden hose out and watered the garden.

Good thing I did. Everything took off immediately after watering and it didn't need any more moisture after that, not at least from the well. We harvested sweet onions all summer and into the fall. We pulled the Copras and put them in the greenhouse to dry before bagging them up for storage. An interesting side note here; the sweet onions won't keep any length of time, so when they start to sprout and regrow we place them in a cardboard box in a sunny south window and have fresh shoots for a month or so. Beats throwing them out.

Until next week, Brian

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 10/29/08

The fall work continues in the fall-like weather. We're busy harvesting the last few squashes and pumpkins for seed and also cleaning up where some of the trials were this past season. The 3.5 acres of tomatoes that we had need to have the strings pulled/cut out, the stakes need to be pulled, cleaned and stacked and the plastic can be removed. After all that the ground can be chisel plowed before we get much more rain. This will prevent erosion from taking our soil and depositing it where we don’t want it.

Many frost sensitive crops are standing dead in the field while we wait for the soil to become dry enough to work it. I'd really like to get out there with the mower and make some things go away. It's time, time to close out another season out on the farm. It's sad somewhat but as the weather turns gray and dreary we find other projects that need doing. There's plenty of work to do to the crops we moved into the greenhouses before the killing frosts. Our largest greenhouse is brimming full of winter squash awaiting testing and seed extraction. Our breeding greenhouse is housing the dry and pop corn trials and some pumpkin seed as well.

The polytunnel is waiting on the planting of some fall greens; lettuce and such. We've still got some green peppers in their but their fate is all but sealed with the colder weather approaching. There's a few flowers in there as well.

We're processing the last few squash and pumpkin increases now. We're doing some today and will have only two left which we'll do next week. There's still a fair amount of field work to do before we get any snow; hopefully we'll have time to get the bulk of it done before winter. Once the weather turns colder we'll work in the field on warm days and clean seed on not so warm days. The seed that we produced must be absolutely clean before we send it to any grower for seed production. This usually means a trip over the bean tables.

Never heard on a bean table? A bean table is a small table that has a slow moving conveyor belt. The seed is placed into a hopper and doled out onto the conveyor. As the seed passes by, poor seed, cracked ones, dirty or otherwise unusable seed is handpicked out. The good seed is then deposited into a chute where it goes into a collection bucket. While it's a very thorough method of cleaning seed, it is slow and boring. I think a person could literally go to sleep watching the belt, especially if there isn't much to pick out.

Until next week, Brian

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Indoor gardening

We'd like to thank a new customer who has written about us on their blog. Daniel, thank you for mentioning our herb disk set on your blog, "Your Home Kitchen Garden". He has some great gardening articles, and we'd like to encourage him to keep up the good work!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fatty diet

I am a big fan of Michael Pollan. I've enjoyed reading three of his books, and I appreciate his ideas and his writing style. He has both feet on the ground (er, in the garden), but isn't afraid to explore real ideas about food production in this country. That being said, I always feel a bit guilty after reading anything Michal Pollan has written. I won't lie: I eat my share of frozen dinners, and we do enjoy meat at our house. When I can afford (or find) it, I buy organic and local products (or pretty much anything with Paul Newman's face on it). I grow and can what my backyard allows, as you've seen in previous articles. Sometimes it's not possible to get local organic products, or, in the case of meat, it's ridiculously expensive to purchase, but I do my best. (So if you open my freezer, yes you'll find a bag of Tater Tots and a stack of Lean Cuisines, plus a few frozen meat markdowns, but you'll also find wild blueberries, and strawberries which I picked myself in June, and casseroles made with vegetables from my garden.)

Mr. Pollan has a fascinating new article at the New York Times website entitled "Farmer In Chief". The title made me think of Thomas Jefferson, and made me long for simpler times, when the office of the President was more about leadership than power. But I digress - I'll stay away from politics. Instead he goes to the heart of the matter, based in facts I hope that we can all agree on: America's food system is dependent on fossil fuels, and thus unsustainable. Cheap food in the grocery stores is in some ways a symptom of unsustainable farming (factory farms, feedlots, or big agriculture), and of a system in need of repair.

Repairing the system, to Michael Pollan, means returning to an older way of farming, based around the sun rather than the oil barrel. Modern fields of corn or soybeans, where you can gaze upon the same color, size, and shape of plant for thousands of acres, would be replaced by polycultural fields growing many plants, using sunlight, compost and other natural fertilizers for growth, rather than fossil-fuel based granules. Animals are part of the farm landscape, raised humanely with their by-products going to good use, rather than packed into a feedlot, creating pollution via extreme fattening for the table. A farm could be its own ecosystem, rather than a gigantic assembly line; the output many products, rather than just one. Pollan presents many ideas based in reality for bringing a more sustainable system to bear, and getting people to accept it. I especially liked his idea of putting a second calorie count on every packaged food: one that shows the amount of fossil fuel it took to create the product (everything from plowing to fertilizing to transporting). That would make me think twice about buying that bag of Tater Tots (even with a coupon), and I'm probably not the only American that needs that nudge. He discusses the propensity for current government programs to favor corporate farms, and shares excellent ideas about fixing this problem as well. I do hope you'll read the article and enjoy it as much as I did.

While we've watched the price of oil decline for the past few weeks, we should continue to bear in mind ideas of sustainability and alternative fuels. I seem to recall similar bounces in the price of oil around election time, and it doesn't seem likely that the current economic problems have somehow magically fixed the issues with the world's oil market. I recently read about a food shortage in Iceland, which was indirectly caused by the credit crunch. It's unlikely that Iceland will be the last country affected in such a way. If America is to keep up its strength, it must eat healthfully. We have all read about the detriments of a fatty diet, and petroleum just might be the worst fat upon which to base a diet.

What's New On the Farm - 10/16/2008

Hello faithful readers and new comers, alike. Brian has asked me, Susie Anderson, to write the article this week. Thank you for reading and enjoy your fall. Maine is absolutely enveloped in spectacular fall color…

The Farm Crew at Johnny's is in the throws of harvesting pumpkins and squash for seed extraction. Five to six people swarm around the harvest wagon like gulls around a fishing boat, lobbing pumpkins into the wagon. The air is crisp and the leaves are golden, yellow, orange, red, scarlet, and every color in between. The farm is beautiful and there's excitement as we wind the season down for winter.

Other creatures are readying themselves for winter, too. There's a lot of what we on the farm call "mammal blight” on the fruits we're harvesting. Small animals such as skunks, groundhogs, squirrels, and chipmunks have been feasting upon the fruit of our labor for the past two months. We set out live traps baited with all sorts of tasty treats like carrots, apple slices, and peanut butter on a beautiful flowered paper plate to entice them away. In most instances the fruit that we are trying so hard to protect is the object of their desire and the traps sit empty.

We have caught a skunk or two. One poor soul on the farm crew was unfortunate enough to find a Mephitis mephitis in a trap one morning. Fortunately he had full rain gear on therefore getting spray only on the impermeable that he was donning. The Latin name for the striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis, means, literally, Stench stench.

Skunks are omnivores, foraging at dusk and dawn mostly. This type of activity in mammals is known as crepuscular, active at the beginning and end of the day. They have poor vision, fabulous senses of smell and hearing, and are a primary predator of honeybees. The most famous feature of the skunk is the potential to emit a foul-smelling liquid from two anal glands, one on either side of the anus. This odiferous ooze consists of sulfur-containing compounds that smell like rotten eggs, burnt tires, strong cloves of garlic, or any other description that someone may feel befits the offensive stench. A skunk may hiss, dance, lift its tail, or growl before it sprays due to a limited number of sprays it has in its arsenal.

Most animals know to stay very far from this smell except the skunks' primary predator, the great horned owl. This raptor, like most birds, has a very poor sense of smell making it practically immune to the skunks' defenses. We as humans can smell skunks from almost a mile away if the wind is NOT in our favor! It took many months for the sulfury perfume to wear off the truck bed where our trapped skunk rode the short trip to its release site. Our farm crew member survived, although his raingear had to live outside for quite some time.

The striped skunk will be much less active in the winter, feeding sporadically and spending most of the time in a den in the ground. We gladly say happy snoozing to our striped friend. Amazing to think that some people domesticate this animal and bring them into the home, glands removed, of course! Happy autumn to everyone, including Stench stench!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

River Valley Fencing

This past summer, Johnny's had a fence installed by River Valley Fencing. As Brian has mentioned in his "What's New at the Farm?" updates, we had a severe deer problem, and needed a solution. This fence seems to have done the trick!

Fence details:
  • It took twenty days to build the 8’ high, high tensile fence with fixed knot, black woven wire with 12’ posts of 6” diameter placed every 20’.

  • The wire is specifically designed for commercial vegetable and orchard operations. The bottom squares of the fence wire allow for biodiversity, helping to keep the mice and small vermin population down by allowing small predators through the fence.

  • There are 4 main gates, 24’ wide, and 9 smaller gateways. Gates are 98” high and have a 4”x4” welded galvanized mesh. There are a variety of gate widths based on Johnny’s access needs.

  • Posts were installed using a post pounder that has a rock spike because the ground conditions were especially hard. Although usually able to pound an average of 50 posts per day, we averaged only 30 per day at Johnny’s. The post pounding was the hardest that RVF has encountered all season.

  • Approximately 70 16’ H-Brace assemblies were installed whenever the fence changed direction or there was a gateway. These are required because the wire is stretched at high tension.

  • A 10,000 lb. tracked skid steer with a hydraulic wire stretcher was used to unwind the wire and to tighten the fence to the correct tension. The stretcher allows us to ‘tension’ up to a 1000 continuous feet, and to install up to 4000’ of wire in a day, depending on terrain.

  • All fence materials are designed for agricultural use and have a life expectancy of at least 30 years, with the wire lasting up to 40 years.

River Valley Fencing specializes in fences that are functional and beautiful. Using the finest materials, and the best suited to the client’s needs, this team of experienced fencers will build the fence that protects livestock or crops and beautifies the landscape. No job is too small or too large for River Valley Fencing.

Daniel Maltby, President and owner of River Valley Fencing has been farming for over 20 years and fencing since 1997. He will consults by phone and in person to assess the client’s fence needs. Following a visit, he will provides a written plan, with duration of the work and a cost estimate for the project. When the client is ready, Daniel will schedule the job, have materials delivered, and arrive with his fencing team to efficiently complete the project. Daniel is fully experienced in USDA Equip program grants and has completed many different jobs under NRCS specifications in all New England states.

Surveying for the fence

Setting preliminary posts

Eyeballing the fence post alignment

Carrying posts

Laying out posts

Setting posts in rocky Maine soil

Adding cross posts for stability

Strengthening the fence

Stretching the wire

Stretching more wire

Attaching the wire

Adjusting the wire

More attachments

Monday, October 13, 2008

October surprise

Oh, October! The time of year when so many of us long for summer to last just a little longer. We know winter is coming; we see and appreciate the signs, but we want summer to linger just a little bit longer. We savor every minute of each Red Sox post season game, willing them to keep going, just one more inning, just one more hit, to stretch the season into November. And those of us who garden watch the weather reports intently, taking necessary precautions in case the temperature dips enough to harm our precious plants. Perhaps we even silently plead with the weather reporter to give us a nice stretch of “Indian Summer”, a not-so-politically correct name for pleasant fall temperatures.

After a summer of too much water, my husband plays along as I turn the sprinkler on in the middle of the night, because the thermometer dipped to 35 degrees, to protect my tomato plants. I have too many to cover up conveniently, and our city water is not too expensive. The plants are still alive and bearing, and the past several days of pleasant autumn warmth have increased this year’s so-far pathetic tomato yield. Just cut any black spots off and you have home grown tomato goodness!

If I can get a few of my big beefsteaks to ripen, I’ll be a happy girl. So far we’ve had lots of cherry tomatoes and a few romas and medium-sized ones, but my favorite type, Black Krim, have yet to even show a shadow of their dusky glory. I’m still waiting to have that BLT. As soon as they show any sign of ripening, I’ll pick them and bring them in, setting them near other tomatoes to ripen, and keep an eye on them to ensure that they don’t rot.

Rain, however, is not always a gardener’s friend, even if it comes with warmer temperatures. I was disappointed a couple of weekends back to see that the first melons I ever grew in my garden actually exploded during a 4” deluge one Saturday. Cracked cherry tomatoes and beefsteaks with black holes were among the other “victims” of the rain. I want normal summery warmth, not the excess of water we had this year.

I’m hoping for summer to stretch just a little longer. Ripe tomatoes and the Red Sox go hand in hand in our household! It’s still early to judge the garden’s success this year, and I can’t yet complain. I’ve had plenty of zucchini!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Martha Stewart recommends our Swiss Chard seeds

TV host and magazine publisher Martha Stewart recently wrote an informative piece on Swiss chard in her blog -- the Martha Blog. She gave us a plug and posted a link to johnnyseeds.com. From the photos she posted, it looks like Martha may have used our Bright Lights and Ruby Red seeds in her garden.

Read Martha's blog.

Check out our Swiss Chard varieties

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

What's New At The Farm, 10/08/2008

Janika sent me an email yesterday that she saw a Praying Mantis in her yard, so I thought that would make a good topic for today’s article. Each time I do an article on an insect, I learn a lot more about them. Such is the case here; the life of the Praying Mantis isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I’m sure everyone’s seen a praying Mantis sometime in their life. They are quite unmistakable in their appearance; sort of a miniature warrior in bright green. I’d hate to be an aphid and see one of these guys coming along. Finding them is somewhat like looking for tomato hornworms; once you know what you’re looking for they become easier to spot, although they are much rarer than hornworms.

I‘ve once seen them in my garden but I don’t recall ever seeing them here on the farm. They are commonly released by organic gardeners as predators but there are drawbacks with using them for that purpose. The biggest drawback is that they consume everything. Good insects, bad insects and everything in between. In certain applications they should perform well. We had a huge aphid problem this spring in the greenhouses and wanted to release some mantises, but we were too late to order them and they had been sold out. Next year it would be wise to order some early and keep the egg cases in the fridge until we needed them. Although I think the lady bugs did a great job on the aphids once a population got established. Something to look forward to next year!

Praying Mantises rely on their awesome camouflage to hide from their predators and trick their prey into thinking they’re a stick or stem and not something that wants to devour them. They look exactly like stems or sticks and it takes a sharp eye to spot them. Looking for movement in stems and sticks doesn’t appeal to me as very entertaining.

As for their life cycle, courtship and mating usually takes place in the fall. She often eats him while mating, starting with chewing his head off. The smart males will sometimes wait until she isn’t looking to jump off and run away, to perhaps find another female. She will lay between 10 and 400 eggs in a frothy mass which later hardens to become a protective case. Both parents will die in the winter, leaving the eggs to hatch in the spring. Once the weather warms the eggs hatch out into miniature mantises.

They grow like lobsters, shedding their skin as they grow. All stages look pretty much the same only larger until they become adults with wings. They shed their exoskeletons five to ten times depending on species. Two species were introduced into their US in the late 1800’s. The Chinese which were introduced in 1895 for pest control and the European which was into’d in 1899 in a load of nursery plants, the European which was introduced in 1895 as a predatory insect. The European is 2-3 inches long and the Chinese is up to four inches long which makes the two species identifiable.

Until next week, Brian.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What's New At The Farm 10/01/2008

Tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes!

September is typically tomato month here on the farm. Usually we harvest them all month for seed production, but this year due to not having any tomatoes for seed we're spending our time harvesting and seeding from the tomato workshop. Our tomato workshop is much larger than usual so we're spending more time seeding it out than usual. The warehouse has the distinct odor of rotting tomatoes. Kelly, Elisa, and Mike Bowman are spending their days squishing and sluicing tomatoes.

Elsewhere on the farm we had 3.5 inches of rain last weekend. I guess field work is done for a few days. Luckily we had planted all the cover crops before we got the rain. Well, at least all we could; some fields aren't ready yet and probably won't be before the weather gets too cold. Those fields will get chisel plowed with the contour to help prevent soil erosion. The ridges left by the chisel plow will freeze and keep the snow and rain in the field where it can soak down over time.

We'll harvest the squash workshop – probably next week. We'll also pick the foundation stockseeds in the next week to ten days and bring back to the farm for processing. Not a lot this year; eight or ten different lines at the most. It will take us about three weeks to process these although not three weeks steady. It takes a morning to process one, then a full day to dry it and a half a day to prepare for the next one. It's a decent job if the weather is warm, but it can be done in the rain, so all is not lost. Rain and mud make it more interesting anyways.

We've had only very light frost here at the farm so things still look pretty good. The light frost we did have dropped the leaves on the squashes and pumpkins making it easier to find them.

It's starting to look more like fall around the farm. The leaves are turning and the birds are gathering up for their trip down south. I notice the absence of swallows and hummingbirds first as well as the crows and lots of ducks and geese gathering together. Another two or three weeks and the bulk of the leaves will be gone until mid-May next spring. You know, if you think much about it, we only have leaves for five months. So that's seven months without them. I'm sure you think I'm leading up to something but I'm really not; just an observation. It seems like we have leaves most of the year but we don't. Leaves are associated with warm weather so you can extrapolate from there.

I'll miss summer, I'll miss working in the garden, but I won't miss the humidity. I'm headed out to the garden to see what's left; probably some beets and Brussels sprouts. The bees are working the Black Cohosh hard now; if you don't have any it does well on the north side of a building and blossoms profusely this time of year. The smell is indescribable; really sweet.

Enjoy the cooler temps, Brian.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's New At The Farm - 9/24/2008

The harvest has started and the tomato workshop was about the first big project to start with. The tomato breeding project covered over 2 ½ acres this year; by far the biggest one we have ever had. Kelly, Mike Bowman and Elisa are busy in the Albion lab squishing tomatoes. I wonder if they'll like them after this project is done. The whole hillside is alive with the reds and golds of ripened tomatoes, awaiting the rotovator when their time comes; it'll be a few days anyway.

Kelly and Mike took soil samples last week from all the fields we use; whether we own or rent them. This will help us determine which fields to use for which crop next year. It will tell us which fields are deficient in nutrients and what to add to correct any problems. It will also tell us what the organic matter content is, which in turn, tells us how much nitrogen will be available and what the water holding capacity is. All useful things when growing crops.

Most of the open ground has been planted to cover crops by now and are in various stages of growing now. One field had cowpeas and Sudan grass in it; it looked so bad after a light frost we plowed in under and will reseed it this week to rapeseed. We planted a field down back to rapeseed about three weeks ago and it's thriving. It’s about eight inches tall right now and will enjoy some rain this weekend.

Speaking of cover crops that like cool weather, we have several patches of turnips planted around Albion this year. Three local farmers are testing the turnips for winter grazing for the resident deer population. Turnips are one of the best foods for attracting deer. And, yes, it's legal. It's legal to plant crops for deer and then hunt those crops but it is illegal to bait deer, i.e. placing apples or acorns in piles in the woods, or tossing pumpkins out into a field for the sole purpose of attracting deer. Deer feeding is becoming increasingly popular. Many people buy pellets to feed the deer in the winter, when they could just as easily grow turnips for them. We'll see how it works out; at least we should get some good pictures.

We've got a couple of really light frosts here on the farm now. One last Thursday night dropped the leaves on the pumpkins and damaged some of the basil. The frost was real spotty and we probably didn't have to irrigate, but we did anyway. We had 30 degrees here on the farm and 27 degrees at one of isolation fields; that dropped some leaves! Basil and Sudan grass are really susceptible to cold temps so we use them as indicators of how cold it actually was. Cowpeas are another crop that is very susceptible to the cold as well.

Until next week, enjoy the sun and warm temps, Brian.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What's New On The Farm 9/17/2008

The hint of fall is in the air; what with the temperatures cooling down, the leaves starting to turn and everybody’s working on their woodpiles. The remaining crops are bearing fruit like crazy and harvesting them will soon be in full swing. Hillary has started harvesting some of the tomato breeding workshop and also some “animal blighted” squash. Even with the fence some critters continue to get through and feed on the squash; mostly squirrels I think.

The fall colors of the leaves are similar to the colors in the tomato workshop. The palate of reds and yellows from a distance looks like leaves in the field. Blight has dropped many of the leaves of the tomatoes so about all you can see in places are the thousands of fruits waiting for their fate.

The Common Ground fair is this weekend; I don’t plan on going this year. I don’t go every year anyways and I went last year but I think I may go and help set up. I’ll get a chance to look around a bit and see if I see anyone I know. It’s so busy at the fair that if I see someone to talk to they don’t have time anyways. I’m going to do what everyone that’s not going to the fair is doing; I’ll be on firewood detail.

It’s been quite a summer! I’m kind of sad to see it go despite the hot and dry days that made it hard working in the field. Of course three weeks of rainy, crappy weather didn’t help matters. Most of the crops did well despite the weather, most except the melons. They were poor at best; too much water when they’re setting fruit and they become pale and tasteless. We plowed them under well before we usually do.

One of the best things about fall is the food. Yes, freshly harvested root crops, squash and the last of the greenbeans and summer squash make for pleasant eating this time of year. The onions and garlic have been harvested and are awaiting the pot. The Brussels Sprouts, chard, beets and a few potatoes are some of the only things remaining in the garden. The poly tunnel is getting a crop of salad greens planted so we’ll have some for the staff lunch in October. So, now is the time to gorge ourselves before the frosts of autumn reduce our gardens to a pile of black and rotting vegetation. Picture this and then picture a garden tilled in with a cover crop planted on it; your choice.

Until next week, Brian.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 9/10/2008

We’ve got some rain; just about time as things were getting a bit dry. We received two and a half inches at the farm over the weekend. I thought it was a nice warm rain as I decided to fix the gutters on the house about the time it started raining really hard. That’s one of those things you never think about until it needs to be done right there and then.

Farming continues here on the farm. The squash are ripening and the pumpkins are turning yellow. The peppers and tomatoes are also ripening at an increased pace now. Mike Bowman sprayed the tomatoes this week; it’ll probably be one of the last times this season.

The turkeys are still getting in. I saw a family group of about 12 and six jakes Monday morning on my weekly walk around the farm. We didn’t put 2 bys under the gates because we don’t know exactly where they’re getting in. Had we out 2 bys in it would have prevented the foxes and other small animals from getting in as well. The turkeys won’t do any damage now and pretty much stay down back, feeding in the cover crops we have in the ground. I think they’re flying over the fence anyways.

Speaking of animals around the farm I was thinking the other day of what I have seen around the farm in the past 25 years. Saw a moose once; it was around 1990; a cow moose standing on Rob’s front lawn mid-morning. Rob and the directors were having their weekly meeting on Rob’s office with the door closed – it was well known at the time that this wasn’t a good time to interrupt. I did anyways. Everyone came out and watched the moose amble down along the fence row until it was down over the hill and out of site.

Although we used to see a lot of deer sign around the farm – before the fence- we seldom saw any deer. Sometimes early in the morning we’d see one or two feeding in the pumpkin patch but not often did we see them in the fields; too much activity I guess.
We had a couple in field nine some year back that would stop tractors by standing there watching us. They’d move when they got around to it; no hurry.

We’ve had a catch and release program for many years now and have caught all the usual animals including skunks, raccoons, porcupines, squirrels and the occasional cat . All have been released unharmed somewhere in Albion or another neighboring town, except of course the cat which was released at the place we caught him. He didn’t waste any time hanging around to thank us once we opened the cage door. I’ve taken many squirrels and chipmunks home over the years but they don’t seem to hang around. I have red squirrels out back and I don’t think they all get along that well.

Until next week, Brian.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The good, the bad, and the ugly

For the sake of pleasantry, I will start with the bad and ugly, and leave you with the good.

In the next picture, you can see both the adult form and the larva of the black sheep of the ladybug family, the Mexican Bean Beetle. Originally from the central plains of the United States and Mexico, these beetles have clearly adapted just fine to the Maine climate. Clearly I didn't get my organic beetle control spray on in time, and they took advantage of my lenient nature. Notice how the leaf they are on has been reduced to the lacy veins. I ended up buying beans to make my annual supply of dilly beans.

From bottom left to right, adult and larva of Mexican Bean Beetle.

Now on to the good! At least, it's good to me. I planted some fennel last year, and it never did much of anything, so I left it and it regrew this year. Of course, since it is biennial, it flowered and did not form the large delicious bulb for which I grew it. The flowers did attract something though: black swallowtails. I had four caterpillars on my two fennel plants at one point, and I am hoping the three I could not find when I took these pictures wandered off to form crysalises. These caterpillars will feed on most plants in the carrot family (aka Apiaceae). Why I never see them on the Queen Anne's Lace I let grow wild in my perennial bed is a mystery, but I'm glad they are enjoying the fennel. If you don't mind letting a few veggies go, these pretty butterflies are nice to have in the garden.

Caterpillars like licorice too!

Some more good... the Super Chile plants I started from seed back in late March seem to be fulfilling their name quite well. If they are as tasty as they are prolific I'll be all set!

My pepper plants haven't looked like this before!

And one more picture... of pending tomatoes. Will they come to fruition? Well, at least I can enjoy the picture.

Here's hoping for a late frost!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What's New At The Farm - 9/03/2008

I'm back………………….

All is well on the farm; the remaining crops look good, pests and weeds have been controlled and now we advance on to harvesting.

I went for a tour (self guided) Tuesday morning upon my return from vacation. I could find little that needed to be done but still found a page and a half of what I called "Fun things to do around the farm". Well, in reality, many of them aren't fun, but they're not that bad either. Mostly things to do that fit in the "If we had time" category. Things like:

Installing padlocks on the fuel tanks – with the price of fuel this is probably a good idea.

Seeding down grass on the area they dug up for the well and to run the water pipes

Stenciling the greenhouses with numbers so everyone knows which greenhouse we're talking about when we say Greenhouse 3. And by stenciling the corresponding numbers on the fuel tanks we can track how much it costs to heat each house. The fuel delivery companies can put the greenhouse fuel tank number on the bill instead of getting a fuel bill marked "Greenhouse behind house"; we have none there now.

We're going to install pressure treated planks under some of the gates to discourage the turkeys. I saw at least a dozen on my walk around the farm yesterday. They sneak in under the fence where the gates are. They were sampling melons when I happened upon them. I don't think they're intelligent enough to fly over the fence to get in, not at least a whole flock anyways.

There's a little bit of seeding down to do although I must say Kelly and crew did a tremendous amount of cover crop seeding last week. They seeded around thirty acres in my absence. A few more acres and about everything we have that could be seeded will be seeded.

The next couple of months will have us doing more projects like the ones above, then we'll move on to more fun things; harvesting, pulling plastic, and grinding spent crops. A few more fields to seed and we'll be closer to laying the farm to rest for another year.

Until next week, Brian

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What's New at the Farm - 08/27/2008

New Water Line, Anthracnose on Melons and Fall Weather

First I would like to say that this is Susie Anderson writing this week's column, not Brian. I am not near as eloquent as Brian so bear with me while I give the low down from the farm. Next I'll say that I'm flattered that he asked me to write the column. I have looked forward to reading this column every week during my first season here and I am proud to be able to contribute. Thank you, Brian.

A new well was dug near the back of the barn and Rob and Janica's house. This line will feed greenhouses #1 and #2, as well as Rob and Janica's house. The spigot between the shade house and the gourd house will stay in use for those houses as well as the inflation buster and act as back up for #1 and #2 greenhouses should anything happen with that well.

Kelly Martin, our Assistant Farm Manager, received results from Bruce Watt at the Pest Management Office that we indeed have anthracnose on the melon trial again this year. She is thinking about next season's crop and what actions to take to quell this disease.

Anthracnose is caused by the fungus Glomerella lagenarium (Colletotrichum orbiculare). The lesions begin as water-soaked areas becoming brown, roughly circular, about ¼ to a ½ inch. The disease has distinct pinkish spore clusters in moist weather. It depends upon wet, humid weather to spread. The recent stagnant weather pattern that has given us many inches of rain and many, many days of humid weather has not helped our melon trial. Anthracnose can be seed-borne so it is imperative to have clean seed. Getting seed that has been produced in an arid region will help keep diseased-infected seed to a minimum. Crop rotation and minimizing overhead irrigation is very important, as well.

The chilly nights have begun. But will they stick around? I think we'll have a few more scorchers before all is said and done but I plan to enjoy these colder nighttime temperatures for now. With this change in weather the farm is preparing for harvest time. Lisa Robbins is readying the breeding tomatoes. Potatoes and onions are being weeded and lots of cover crops going in the ground. Jeff Young is busy finishing the last elements of the water line installation and fixing/maintaining machinery left and right! Tizian, Elisa, and Mike B. are ridding the farm of more weeds by spraying Matratec AG. Clove oil is in the air! Hoop house cucumber harvest is finished and vines are being removed. A fall determinate tomato trial is in the inflation buster, battened down from these cooler temps.

The farm here at Johnny's is beautiful this late August, 2008, with the flowers and herbs looking lovely, the tomatoes ripening, and fresh soil turned for burgeoning cover crops to sprout. Thanks to all and we'll talk next week!

Monday, August 25, 2008

What's New At The Farm 8/20/2008

Last week I talked about earwigs; today I'll go back to what happening out here on the farm.

The weeds are under control as the growing season winds down and the harvest season gears up. Most crops have spread their leaves out covering the open spaces between the rows so the weeds won't grow there. There are of course a few weeds out there but we'll get most of them before they go to seed. I have a pet peeve for Galinsoga at home as I have very little of it and hope to keep it that way. As far as the fields at Johnny's the weed seed bank is very high in many fields, so we are more apt to kill the small weeds in hope that eventually the bank will be reduced in size. A weed seed bank is the term used for the number of viable weed seed in the soil. The higher the number of weed seeds the harder it is to achieve control of them. A key component of total weed control is preventing weeds from setting their seeds. It's easy to spot the weeds in the trails that are going to seed, and it's easy to remove them but weeds often grow in places you'd think they would not. I was walking through a field of Sudan grass last week and was mildly surprised to see the amount of purslane growing in the understory. I guess we'll mow and till that field this week, we'll plant something else like oats and peas, or oats and clover there.

We have one tomato to harvest this fall for seed. We processed on Tuesday, sluiced on Wednesday and when you read this it will be on the dryer. Mike Brown raised Washington Cherry this year and delivered it to Johnny’s on Monday this week. We presented the processing on Tuesday's crop walk. Our next harvesting and processing will be the squash and pumpkin line and stockseed increases. Those will start late next month. All we have other than those above to harvest is Jerusalem Artichokes, a decent job on a warm fall afternoon. We'll dig enough for sales, some to replant and take the rest down to Highmore Farm for winter storage. Hopefully we'll have some decent tubers to send out to the customers whom need a spring shipping date.

We haven't seen any deer tracks on the farm since the deer fence crew got done; that's a good thing. I have seed a couple of turkeys wandering around. I don't see them as much of a problem anymore; I don't foresee the large flocks we once had. I really haven't seen much wildlife out my window this summer anyways. It could have something to do with moving my office and the corn trials grown higher than my window, blocking my view.

This is a slower time on the farm than usual because of the lack of seed productions this year. Normally we would be harvesting tomatoes for the whole month of September, but without them we have managed to catch up on a lot of projects and have accomplished a few we didn't plan on doing. The fields have been trimmed around, we pulled some stumps out and, if it ever stops raining, we'll get our open ground seeded down. There's still time to plant oats and red clover, at least for a week or two.

Next week I'm on vacation so Susie's doing a guest column.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Garden slowdown

The Webmaster's Garden, morning of 8/5/08

The webmaster’s garden has been a pretty quiet place, lately. Sure, some of my veggies have been growing and maturing – I have pulled my shallots and most of my garlic, and I am starting to pull onions. We’ve had a side dish of green beans for dinner once, and there are a few more beans waiting to be picked. Unfortunately, my late start planting combined with the cool weather and torrential rains we’ve been having for the past month or so has not been conducive to plant growth. My tomato plants are smaller than normal and the splash back from the rain has done a number on their bottom leaves; my squash is coming along, but not quite as fast as I’d like it to grow; and, well, I just don’t want to talk about my puny cucumber plants.

Puny cucumber plants under the trellises. (Next year: hills!)

Amazingly, my peppers and eggplant are blooming and looking fairly lush. I think there’s a sweet spot in the garden where I planted most of those – the tomato plant nearest them is also quite vigorous. (So I’ll end up with an abundance of Schemmeig Striped tomatoes – which are hollow like peppers. Maybe I should fill them with bacon, shredded lettuce, croutons, mixed with a little mayo, and enjoy fresh BLTs that way.) I planted a few peppers on the other side of the garden and they just aren’t as big – it’s very odd. Next year: more compost, and somewhat fewer thunderstorms (please). It has been a great year for rainbows.

Busy bee pollinating a squash blossom

Thankfully this week some warm, sunny weather is forecasted – just in time for my vacation. I really hope it gives my tomato plants the jumpstart they need – I usually harvest the bulk of them from September into October anyway (for the past three years, my yard has not received a hard frost until mid-October, and last year it was on Halloween!). So, ever the optimist, I am still hoping for enough heirloom tomatoes so that I can make a big batch of canned salsa. Sure, they take a month to ripen, and right now I probably have enough greenies to make a few capresce salads when they ripen, but my plants will set more fruit.

Leeks, swiss chard, and peppers

OK, so maybe I’m being too optimistic. But that’s why I’m very lucky to work here at Johnny’s, where we have a farm and do product testing that often results in plenty of extra produce. Even though my home cucumber crop will probably be a bust (whatever my internal optimist says), I have been able to bring home enough cukes to fulfill my pickling obsession and fill my cupboard with enough homemade canned goods to last until next summer (even when I give some away as gifts).

Eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, oh my!

I made 19.5 pints of bread and butter pickles last weekend, and have received even more cukes to make dill pickles and probably another batch of B&Bs. Homemade sweet pickles are the way to go – bread and butter pickles aren’t as sugary as the store bought type, and have a wonderful flavor that always makes me think of summer. They’re sweet and sour, with sugar, vinegar, turmeric, mustard seed, onions and peppers melding with the cucumbers to create a sublime delicousness. Opening a jar of those in the winter and using them to liven up hot dogs and beans, or adding them to tuna salad (I know, it sounds crazy, but it is really yummy), or just nibbling a few out of the jar is one of life’s little pleasures. My family’s (secret) recipe is very similar to the Ball Blue Book of Canning recipe. I also use a couple of different dill pickle recipes from the BBB – it’s tough to go wrong there. Having a book on home canning is very handy, and having an up-to-date one is important, as canning techniques have changed over the years.

Bread and butter pickles, yum yum.

Well, another bright side of having vacation next week is that the garden is growing slowly, and I shouldn't have to deal with any pesky harvesting. Once I can the rest of my cucumbers, I can spend the week at the beach. I sure hope the rain stays away!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What's New At The Farm 8/13/08

Today I’m going to talk about earwigs and bean hole beans. First the earwigs:
Most everyone knows earwigs. They like cool, damp and moist areas and have pinchers, called forceps, on their posterior end. Now a few things you probably might not know. The common earwig is the European earwig, accidently introduced in the early 1900’s from Europe. To start the life cycle the female lays around 30 eggs two to three inches below the soil surface. After the eggs hatch the mother takes care of the young until they have their first molt; molting like a lobster where the old exoskeleton is shed and a new larger and soft shell covers them. Once the molt has taken place they leave the nest in search of food and a place to reside.
They feed primarily on dead organic matter, mites, small insects, plant shoots, corn silks and aphids. While they may do some damage to growing plants, we’ve all seen them on Marigolds, they’re an important predator of many small garden insects. They variously feed on aphids so killing them is often not needed.
Control is mainly through physical controls. ‘Physical controls’ means controlling their environment so they are not attracted to the garden. Removal of weeds, vines, leaves and anything else that creates a damp and dark environment will often reduce their numbers considerably. Don’t let vining perennials grow near the vegetable garden and keep the leaves in the compost pile a few feet away from the garden.
Toads, birds and other predators like them so they play an important role in biological pest management. Chickens and Guineas also will devour them so, again, control is often not needed.
Last weekend I decided to replace the weed whacker guards on my plum trees. I made some new guards out of black drainage pipe. I removed the old guards, those plastic spiral ones, and found the mother lode of earwigs. They had moved in because the guards held moisture and provide darkness. There were large ones and midsized ones. I left the guards off and pulled the grass back away from the trunks so I imagine they will find other homes.
And finally, no they don’t bite humans. They look like they could and would. Their forceps are used primarily for defense and in courtship. Their appearance certainly startles most people. We’ve found them in the barbeque grill and in the mailbox recently; it’s about the last thing on your mind when you’re going to use the grill or get the mail. This weather recently has been ideal for them so plan on seeing a few. If they get in your house, don’t become too alarmed. They will die shortly from lack of food.

And now for bean hole beans:
I used to eat a lot of canned beans; I never understood the deal with home baked beans until later in life. There’s nothing better than beans I grew myself, slow cooked all day in the ground, for supper on a cool and damp day. We are on our second pit which we dug a couple of weeks ago. We dug a hole about 28 inches wide and 36 inches deep. The digging was really nice as we are blessed with blue clay for our subsoil. The hole needed to be 28 inches wide to accommodate our 55 gallon drum, cut in half, for the pit and to have some room around it for the sand we put in. We placed rocks and sand in the hole to a depth of six inches. We then lowered the barrel into the hole and filled between the soil and the barrel with rocks and sand. I added another eight inches of rocks and sand to the inside of the barrel giving us around 16 inches of depth in the barrel.
I built a fire in the pit Sunday morning. I used hardwood slabwood and some soft (read rotten) hardwood I had kicking around. After 4 hours we had about sixteen inches of coals. Once we had plenty of coals I dug about a foot of coals out and went in search of the beans. Peggy parboiled a pound of beans and placed them in a Dutch oven with all her secret ingredients. On top of the beans she placed a nice piece of steak, and then covered in it tin foil and put the cover on. More tin foil and some wire to hold the lid on and into the bean pit it went. I covered the pot with coals and then 3 or 4 inches of soil and left it alone for six hours.
Just before supper time we dug up the pot and brought it into the kitchen. The reason we use two layers of foil and wire the cover shut is to keep out any coals or ashes from inside our bean pot. The beans were great and the steak was tender and delicious. While it takes four hours or so to get everything ready I’m usually around the yard or garden anyways so it’s not a nuisance at all. Peg loves it as supper is ready six hours after we bury the pot and it’s done, period. We’ll try corned beef next week and do more beans the week after so you know where I’ll be.
It’s a real easy process and pretty darn good too. I like my home raised beans the best but also use local beans once mine run out. I think there are many different dishes we could and will try with our new bean pit; chili comes to mind.
Until next week, Brian.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Succession Planting Reminder

From an earlier article by Ben Wilcox...

Late Summer to Early Fall Plantings
Aug - Sept
Late July and early August are the time to begin plantings that will mature during the cooler fall months. Light frost sweetens the flavor of many greens, and cool temperatures enable some to re grow after cutting the first harvest.

Arugula 21 days baby, 40 days mature
Broccoli Raab 40 days, may be cut again
Broccoli transplants 60 days from trans.
Cabbage transplants 60 days from trans.
Cauliflower transplants 60 days from trans. frost will damage heads if not protected
Cilantro 50 days, will survive light frost
Collards 30 days baby, 60 days mature
Daikon Radish 60 days
Greens Mix 21 days baby, may be cut again
Kale 30 days baby, 60 days mature
Lettuce Mix 30 days, may by cut again
Napa Cabbage 70 days, or 50 days from trans
Mustard Greens 21 days baby, or 45 days mature
Snap Beans 60 days, must be protected against frost
Spinach 30 days baby, 45 days mature, may be cut again
Turnips 40-50 days

Friday, August 8, 2008

What's New At The Farm 8/06/2008

Unlike most articles I have written over the past few years, I’ll not mention a lack of water. We’ve had plenty this summer and irrigation is but a distant memory. The crops are thriving so all we need now is some sunshine and heat.

We’re picking cucumbers three times a week and summer squash twice a week. I think we’re done picking green beans, at least I hope so. There are many crops that have gone by and have been tilled or are waiting to be mowed. Field work has slowed considerably as it’s too wet to get in most fields. Hopefully it will dry out soon so we can get some cover crops seeded before long.

The garden at home has grown to almost giant proportions since we’ve received all this rain. We’ve managed to freeze peas, snap peas, green beans, Swiss chard and beet greens. I think we’re about done freezing for a while although I may do some more Swiss chard; kind of festive in the middle of the winter.

I had some extra poly leftover in my garden so I planted it all in zucchini and summer squash. We’ve got plenty now for us and the chickens. I’ve got more weeds than usual in the garden and have been concentrating on getting them before they go to seed. The goat likes weeds so he gets most of them. The galinsoga goes on the stone wall or into the burn pile and the chickens get the purslane. Everyone’s happy.

August is typically the calm before the storm type month. The planting and crop maintenance has been done and we’re awaiting harvest. We’re getting the harvesters ready and all things associated with seed harvesting. This year we only have squash and pumpkins so that will be relatively easy. Relatively is the word to look out for. We hope, if the weather cooperates, the fall will go smoothly and we can get all our field work done before the weather turns too cold. That’s the plan anyways.

Until next week, Brian.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Helping Feed Family and Friends

This weekend was the official start to canning and preserving! I spent 2 hours in the garden this morning pruning tomatoes, removing dead and moldy foliage, winnowing yellow crookneck squash leaves to let the bees in, and I harvested 3 heads of Sylvesta butterhead lettuce, 6 Red Ace Beets, 11 Olympian cucumbers, and 18 pickling cukes. When all was said and done, I processed 9.25 quarts of pickles and 1 quart of pickled beets. Not bad for 5 hours worth of work! And as I type, I'm hearing the satisfying "pop!...pop-pop!" as my ball jars seal tight.

And the bees!!! I don't ever remember so many bees! While I was out in the garden, there was a steady, loud (yes, it was loud!) buzzing hum as the bees took nectar and pollinated the very many squash, tomatillo, tomato, and cucumber flowers. I think I'll have to tell my husband we should consider an apiary. There were about a 50 bees (or more) in and amongst all my plants this morning.

I sent my kids to the neighbors house with a head of lettuce and 4 cucumbers.

I also gave my kids one peeled, sliced cucumber (5 minutes off the vine) each to snack on. There is nothing quite so charming as my kids tasting the first cukes of the season and saying "mmmmmmm mmmmmmm, thanks, Mama, for growing cucumbers!!" And I have more for dinner....and lettuce!!!!

It looks like I'll need to visit the garden every other day at this point. I have many yellow crookneck squash growing, and about a bazillion pickling cukes. Which means I need to stock up on pickling supplies...

I buy my pickling spices from Penzey's Spices. They have a great selection to choose from. For pickling, because Johnny's plants produce so voluminously, I usually buy 5 lbs of dill seed, 2 pounds of multicolored peppercorns, and a few others while I'm at it. I buy Morton's pickling salt and fresh garlic from the local supermarket.

Here's my pickling recipe, should anyone be curious (I'm told I make some pretty tasty pickles!)

For 8 quarts of pickles:

  • 7 cups water
  • 7 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 9 TBSP pickling salt (can use kosher as a sub)
  • 32 cloves of garlic
  • 2-2/3 cups of dill seed
  • 48-56 2-3" pickling cucumbers
  • 16 TBSP of black or mixed whole peppercorns
  • 2 pot holders
  • Pair of tongs
  • Soup ladle
  • Permanent black marker or Sharpie
  • Fan or a husband with a large palm leaf

I start by cutting the garlic into 1/8 inch (yes, I'm that precise) slices. I use 4 cloves per jar. Feel free to reduce or increase the amount of garlic to your taste. I think I was bottle-fed garlic by my Italian grandmother, because I like LOTS if it! This takes the longest, so it's good to get it out of the way.

Next, I sterilize my jars in roiling hot water for 15 minutes. Remove jars, and add all ingredients to the jars. Per quart jar I add: 4 cloves of sliced garlic, 2 tbsp peppercorns, and 1/3 cup dill seed.

Next, add your pickling cukes. I seem to fit 5-6 per quart jar. If you find a monster pickling cuke or two that you forgot last time you picked, cut these into spears or into hamburger slices for a bit of a twist. Wipe the top rim and the outer ridged areas of the jars with a clean cloth or sponge when you're done.

Next, combine your water, vinegar, and salt (brine) and bring it to a light boil. Keep it covered as you heat it up or you'll experience a lot of evaporation. While this mixture is heating up, add your jar lids and cap tighteners to a pot of water and bring to a boil.

If you can, have 2 other pots half-full of water and bring them to a boil.

It's probably getting hot in your kitchen with all this boiling going on. Have that fan or palm-leaf-holding husband at the ready!!

When the brine is nice and hot, ladle 5-6 scoops into your jars and bring the liquid level to just below where the cap ridges start. Give the top a quick, clean swipe with your cloth or sponge, and then using tongs, first retrieve a flat sealing lid (set it on top of the jar) and then retrieve a cap. With a pot holder on your hand, grab hold of the jar and tighten the cap as much as you can. Repeat these steps until all jars are filled.

Now add all your filled, sealed jars to the half-full pots of boiling water and "water bath" your jars for 15 minutes.

When you take them out, give the cap a firm twist and then set them aside to cool.

About 15 minutes after you set them aside to cool, give all the jar caps another firm twist.

Within an hour or so, you should hear your jars start to pop.

Finish them off by recording the day you jarred them on the lid with a permanent black marker.

I love this part of summer. It's just amazing to me, and so rewarding, to see all the fruits of my efforts, literally, appearing from all the labor I started in February with starting my seedlings. I never get tired of this yearly labor of love. And my kids appreciate the fruits, too. Hopefully, in a another year or two, I'll have them helping me! I'm considering giving them their own little 4' by 4' section of my raised beds next season so they can experiment, weed, and feel the reward of their own efforts. Next generation of gardeners, here they come!!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 7/23/08

We got rain; two and a half inches but a little too fast for my taste. There was some erosion around the farm but it was minimal at best. Having cover crops in place and the fact that it was so dry helped the rain to soak in. I also held off grinding some crops we are done with until we can grind and reseed the same day.

The fence is progressing well. They finished putting the posts in last week and will start putting wire up this week. They should be all done by the end of next week. Just in time as the deer are starting to eat the pumpkins. A couple of weeks ago we had to put floating row covers on the green bean trial or we wouldn’t have anything to evaluate. Beans and peas are on the list as deer’s favorite foods.

The farm looks really good this year; the weeds are under control, insects are kept in check and crop maintenance is on schedule. The tomatoes are worth the trip out here just to see them. All of field 11 (the field behind the pond) is in breeding tomatoes this year; the trial is in field 10. The squash and pumpkin fields look good with the mulch all laid out and few weeds visible. The corn is growing by leaps and bounds and everything else looks good as well.

We sprayed galinsoga at the ends of several fields last week with Matratec AG on Thursday last week. Matratec is an organic herbicide with the active ingredient being clove oil. It is an OMRI approved herbicide that kills on contact usually within 24 hours. We sprayed one of those brutally hot days and damage was visible with a couple of hours. It’s hard to hoe or otherwise eradicate the weeds at the ends of the rows as there are water pipes, valves and drip hoses from the irrigation lines there. Spraying is quicker and more efficient on a hot day than hoeing. The best weather to use an organic herbicide is on a hot day; the weeds really take a beating then.

On the home front we’ve frozen peas, Swiss chard and beets greens. We spent the bulk of last weekend picking, shelling, cleaning and blanching them. This week we’ll put up green beans and more beet greens. They’ll sure be good in the middle of the winter! We planted Big Top beets this year and they really do have big tops; nice big and tall tops that are easy to clean and easier to grow. We’ll definitely put these in the garden next year.

Until next week, Brian.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 7/16/08

The hot and humid weather from last week is gone but the crops certainly liked the heat. The corn outside my window is tall enough that I can’t see the farm. I’m sure the crew likes that. It looks like it grew a foot in the past few days.

On the insect front the Mexican bean beetles and Japanese beetles are back. We’ll start spraying for them as well as onion thrips this week. Floating row covers have again prevented much damage from striped cucumber beetles on the cucurbits. Colorado potato beetles have been introduced to Entrust and the aphids are feeding lots and lots of ladybugs and their larvae.

Weeds are somewhat under control; the ever present galinsoga continues to challenge us. The squash and pumpkin trials and workshops have had the hay mulch placed between the rows so weeding there is complete. The isolation fields will get their final cultivation this week so we can concentrate on some other projects around the farm. Like what????

Like seeding down cover crops, picking rocks and crop maintenance of what we have planted. Lots of irrigating to do as we haven’t had any rain in a couple of weeks. Tomato trellising is always a popular activity. Thanks to Lisa Robbins for coming back solely to work on tomatoes this summer. If you haven’t seen them by all means stop by they look beautiful this year. And there’s lots of them.

Scouting for insect damage now is another popular activity here on the farm. Susan Anderson is starting an insect collection and now is a good time as we have lots of insects to collect. I saw Japanese beetles and squash bugs so far this week and am sure I’ll find more specimens. There are still some fat and sassy potato beetles that would like to spend an eternity in an alcohol filled glass jar.

Until next week, keep the bugs at bay, Brian.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hacking into the Irri-Gator

Every once in a while, my husband accidentally runs something over with the lawn mower, usually because the grass has grown so long we’ve both forgotten what might be under it. Earlier this year he got a little too close to the corner of the garden, and my Irri-Gator pressure regulator ended up under the blades. Thankfully I had a spare one. I kept the remnants of the broken one because one never knows when such things will come in handy. And handy it was!

Before I worked at Johnny’s, I purchased the Irri-Gator system from them, and in my few years of gardening I’ve enjoyed using it. I’ve laid out my garden with it in mind, so all of the rows have tubing along them and all of my plants can get enough water. It is under my black landscaping fabric, which protects it from the UV rays. Watering hasn’t yet been an issue this summer, but it is starting to get hot and we don’t always get a thunderstorm, so I’ve started using it intermittently.

One thing that I like about the Irri-Gator is that I can use my hose timer to just “set it and forget it” (to quote a certain infomercial). One thing that’s always made me wonder, though, is whether there is a way to get the Irri-Gator to distribute liquid fertilizer throughout my garden. Other watering systems offer this option – Johnny’s offers a fertilizer injection system that you can attach to a sprinkler, for example, but the low water pressure used by the Irri-Gator is incompatible with it. So that got me searching on the web. I did find a system that can be hooked into the Irri-Gator or similar systems, but I’m pinching pennies this summer (we’re buying a woodstove and chimney plus cord wood, so we can stop using oil as our sole home heating source) and the $50 plus shipping just seemed like too much for such a simple thing. So I got to thinking – there has to be a way I can fashion such a thing cheaply at home.

I did consider that all of the fertilizer might stay close to where I have the Irri-Gator connected to the hose. I can live with giant onions if that is the case, and I can always reconfigure the attachment to better accommodate other areas of the garden. Other liquids disperse pretty well in water, and I think that the fertilizer will be spread out pretty well through the garden.

A couple of Sundays ago, I wandered my local Agway for a while and found a hose end sprayer which appeared to be made up of component parts that I could separate. The one I chose has a dial on top to regulate the ratio of fertilizer-per-gallon of water that passes through, and it sucks the fertilizer into the water going through the sprayer, rather than mixing the two within the container. I purchased two, just in case I could splice parts and end up with a hose end on both sides, and I also purchased a female-to-male hose adapter, so I could hook it to the system if that worked. I hoped that I could just change some parts around, attach the fertilizer sprayer between the hose and the Irri-Gator’s pressure regulator, and go.

Fertilizer Sprayer, converted

Alas, that did not exactly work out according to plan.

The sprayer I purchased was injection molded plastic, and, while I could get it somewhat apart, the hose attachment end and the sprayer end were firmly attached as one solid piece. However, I found another way as I took it apart. The sprayer nozzle opening, behind the adjustable attachment that allows you to vary the spray, is the perfect size to connect a piece of aquarium air tubing, of which I have plenty for my fish tank. I attached that and dug through my box of Irri-Gator spare parts. I found the broken regulator, which had a male end, which could fasten to the pressure regulator, and had nothing blocking the way for water to flow through in reverse. The broken female end held snug one of the Irri-Gator’s tee connectors, but it did pop back out with little coaxing. To the air tubing I tightly taped a piece of Irri-Gator tubing (sans irrigation holes), and connected that to the other end of the tee. I blocked off the side connection on the tee, as it was unnecessary (I just didn’t have any straight connectors – a straight connector would be perfect for this application, too).

Air Tube Connection

And then I tested. Things went pretty well. I filled the sprayer vessel with TerraCycle’s worm poop liquid fertilizer, which I had left from last summer, and set the sprayer to it’s highest fertilizer:water setting. I turned on the hose and it started going. It worked – but there were a few bugs to work out.

Tee Connection

First of all, the heavy hose tipped the sprayer vessel over when I turned on the water. That was an easy fix – prop it up with some rocks. Then there were some leaks. Water was spurting out from around my tee joint to the broken regulator connection, and also coming out of the broken regulator through a small hole in its side, which probably adjusted for pressure when the regulator was whole. So back to Agway I went.

I returned the extra sprayer and adapter, and picked up a tube of silicone sealant/caulking and a roll of Gorilla Tape. After allowing my Frankenstein sprayer to dry, I caulked the tee into the broken regulator, and caulked the small hole in the regulator. I shortened the length of the Irri-Gator tubing that I’d connected to the air tubing, and re-taped that connection. I let everything dry for a couple of days and tested again.

Connection to the Irri-Gator

It worked pretty well. I adjusted the fertilizer to a lower setting but the uptake wasn’t quite as thorough – there was still quite a bit left in the vessel at the end of my test. Also, the taped connection leaked quite a bit – obviously the tape isn’t the best solution. Next I am going to try caulking that connection and see how that works. There are a few more steps to be taken to perfect my device, but I’m excited – my theory worked, and so far it’s only cost me about $15 plus some old spare parts. And I can forgive my husband for running over the Irri-Gator with the lawn mower.