Monday, June 30, 2008

What's New at the Farm, 6/25/08

Work continues at a feverish pace on the farm. Lots to do: tomatoes to trellis and prune, weeding and cultivating all our crops, cover crops going in and the ever present pests eating their way through the farm. Along with those activities are getting ready for the deer fence to be installed, last minute planting and transplanting and keeping the deer, turkeys and geese from eating what we’re trying to grow.

Last week I wrote about Hairy galinsoga so this week I’ll write about another hard to control weed: Purslane.

While closely related to the purslanes we sell, there are a few distinct differences, namely the ones we sell are bigger, more succulent and don’t make a nuisance of reseeding. Wild purslane in the field is a big nuisance. It forms a prostrate mat that can grow in the understory of our crops. You’d probably not know it was there unless you looked for it. Purslane spreads by seed and by stem pieces, so if you rototill it you’ve created lots more plants. Pulling purslane and leaving it on the soil surface doesn’t work either as it will reroot and/or just grow without any roots being in the soil. If you pull up the plants and toss them on black plastic, they will continue to grow and set seed without any soil.

The best method to get rid of wild purslane is to remove it from the field. It makes a good salad green and animals love it, especially chickens. Composting also works well. Unlike galinsoga, wild purslane doesn’t migrate into the fields nearly as bad. If you only have a few plants, pull them out and get them into the hen yard or compost pile and you will have the weed under control.

So in order to control weeds there are a few basic guidelines which need to be followed:

1. Identify the weed in question – what kind of weeds they are, what is their life cycle and what best to use for control? Will they be easily killed or do they require special attention? No need to kill galinsoga if there’s a frost coming in the next few days – better spend your energy on something else.

2. Kill weeds when they’re young; that’s the easiest time and you can kill thousands quite easily. Good scuffle hoeing will kill thousands of weeds in a relatively short amount of time; much faster than pulling thousands of weed individually.

3. Let no weed mature to the point of setting seed. Pull them out, cut them off or otherwise get rid of them before they set seed. Where you have one weed this year you could easily have a thousand next.

Until next week, I’ll be in the field.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pictures from the farm, 6/19/08

Transplanting tomatoes into the hoophouse.

Putting up the new hortonova as a temporary fence.

Thinning carrots.

Distributing ladybugs for pest control.

Cultivating tomatoes in the field

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What's New At the Farm? 6/18/2008

The planting is 99% complete and now all we have to do is take care of everything. Weeds are an ever present challenge as you well know. Today I will address one common weed and its life cycle and how to avoid getting the weed along with some of the controls used battling it.

Tracking soil or mud from one field to another is a sure fire way of getting new and unwanted weed seed into your garden or field. Be vigilant about keeping equipment clean between fields. If you have your garden tilled for you, make sure the tiller gets a thorough cleaning and washing before it sets down on your garden. Make certain there’s no dirt or mud on the equipment prior to tilling. This may come across as excessive, especially if you till gardens in your spare time, but believe me when I say it’s worth it. Same advice goes with your hand tools and your shoes. I’ve brought galinsoga into my garden and greenhouse by way of my shoes.

I know about moving weed seed from personal, as well as professional, experience. We bought a piece of land several years back which hadn’t been planted in at least 40 years. I thought we would have few if any weeds and, after battling weeds here at Johnny’s so long, would be happy to have a plot without them. My well meaning but unknowing neighbor tilled the garden with a tiller used in a conventional corn field. You could tell by the weed germination pattern exactly where it was tilled. The plant population of lambsquarters, redroot pigweed and velvet leaf was easily noticed. I had seen none of these weeds previously and now have my hands full.

Galinsoga is clearly the worst weed we have. If you don’t have it, don’t get it at all costs.
I quote Weeds of the Northeast “Hairy Galinsoga is one of the most difficult to control weeds of vegetable crops”. Be vigilant in your efforts to not get it. Years ago we didn’t have it here on the farm. One year it appeared in field 11 and the rest is history. It now has spread to every field on the farm and most of our isolated fields.

First the bad news: Galinsoga has small yellow blossoms which hold seed that is mature once the blossom opens. That seed has no apparent dormancy so as soon as it blossoms, it can germinate creating generation after generation rapidly. Several generations per year are common. The plants have a large root system so when pulled out and left on the soil surface, they will often reroot. Each plant is capable of producing up to 7500 seeds so you can see the importance of getting all the plants in blooms out of the field.

Now the good news: Galinsoga seed is short lived. Estimated time of viability is two years in the soil. If you have a plot you can take out of production for a couple of years, you can get some control of this weed. Killing Galinsoga is also relatively easy. If cultivated when small it is easiest to kill. It also is susceptible to flaming and kills easily with organic herbicides. Galinsoga is frost sensitive so will turn black and mushy with the first frost. Timing is crucial in controlling this weed; if you are expecting a frost at a certain time, you can let it grow until then and hopefully you’ll get that frost; if you don’t you’ll have to use some kind of control lest it get out of hand.

Until next week, Brian

Webmaster's note:
For more information on Hairy Galinsoga, as well as some pictures, Virginia Tech's weed identification guide website is a good resource.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Corn and cucumbers, so far

Whoops, time got away from me! When summer showed up last weekend and really drove the garden guilt into high gear. The tomato plants have been patiently waiting for me during this time, and are now hardened off and ready to go in the ground. After my hectic weekend I was exhausted, and just happy to come into work and sit under the air conditioning vent and mouse around doing my job. I also used every muscle in my body to excess (note to self: wait for husband to get home before you move the chest freezer or other heavy appliances) and needed a little rest. Going home in the heat after work did not preclude getting out into the yard, I’m afraid. Finally, last night, after some more reasonable spring weather arrived, I got some direct seeding done in my own garden. Also, weeding was completed, last year’s tomato plants torn up (with the help of my husband), and cucumber seeds and some corn seeds were planted.

Last Saturday I helped a friend put in her garden, and we had a wonderful time hanging out for the rest of the day. Sunday I had a lot of household stuff to do in preparation for visitors at my house (happy birthday sis!), so I never got to any work in my own garden. During the “lets hang around outside” phase of the birthday party I did get the irrigation system hitched up (it’s set up underneath my “I don’t have time to weed” garden fabric, and rows are set up along it so every plant gets plenty to drink right at root level, to prevent fungus growing on wet leaves. I know its a little OC…). Luckily, it had only come apart in a couple of spots, and it was a pleasure to fix the geysers on such a hot night. I set my automatic timer to water it nightly, which may seem excessive, but our soil has super drainage and the onions have grown quite a bit this week alone.

I sure hope that no relations of the pesky chipmunk who made our garden home last summer show up this year. That chipmunk systematically ate every squash, cucumber, and corn seed I planted, and dug up the beans and left them on top of the soil because they weren’t tasty enough, apparently. He is now in chipmunk heaven, and I hope that none of you think less of me for it. I tried bribing him first with some delicious sunflower seeds, but apparently his appetite was insatiable. I finally figured out what was going on and got all of my seeds replanted in mid-July, and had to buy cucumbers to make my pickles. This year I don’t want to have to do that.

So goals for tonight and tomorrow (before I head south for familial obligations) I want to get more seeds planted (squash, beans, and more corn), and get tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in the ground. I am probably deluding myself in thinking I can get 80 seedlings planted tomorrow, but I can try!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 6/11/2008

Transplanting, that’s what’s new. Well, not really new, but we’re pretty busy doing it right now! Tuesday we did the pumpkin trial and workshop and part of the winter squash workshop and put floating row covers on the fields. Today we’ll finish the winter squash workshop, put row covers on and start on foundation line increases. By Friday we should be about 95% done planting; all we’ll have to do then is take care of all the crops we have in the ground. And plant the cover crops, and trim the trees around the farm fields, and do some work at some of the isolation fields, and so on.

The deer are currently eating the tomato trial so we’ll have to fence that in this week. We’ll use eight foot tall posts with Hortonova stapled to them. This will work for a while, hopefully until we get our new fence installed. Haven’t heard? Johnny’s has decided to have a deer exclusion fence installed around the farm. River Valley Fence Systems from Deerfield, Ma. will be here on July 7th to start the installation process on 5500 feet of eight foot high steel fence around the farm. The deer have given us headaches for years; eating our trial crops, destroying our breeding workshops and eating our seed productions.

The deer fencing is a permanent solution to a long standing problem. The estimated life span of the fence is at least 30 years. Pressure treated posts are used along with painted, galvanized woven steel fence. Deer have been a hot topic here for as long as I can remember and it will be nice not to have to spend any more time on this project. Well, not too much more. We still have bushes to cut and trees to trim, a small section of stone wall to move and I need to flag exactly where the fence is going to go. Probably should do that first.

The fence company will take 3-4 weeks to install the fence. They will be staying locally for a couple of weeks at a time.

Until next week, we’ll be in the field.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Succession Planting Guide

Ben Wilcox in Customer Service has provided this wonderful succession planting guide. This reference will help you keep your garden providing for you as long as possible!

Succession Planting Guide

To expand the harvest season from your garden it is important to keep planting new areas of varieties that will ripen sequentially. With fast maturing vegetables it is also possible to follow one crop with a second in the same area. It is important to utilize varieties that can withstand lower temperatures and possible frosts when double cropping at the beginning or end of the season. Shorter day length and low sun angles in the northern states make leafy vegetables the most successful candidates for this type of cropping.

The following tables illustrate the best choices in the northern half of the United States for early, mid, and late-summer plantings of vegetables with rapid maturity.

Spring to Early Summer Plantings
Many of these vegetables will withstand light frosts. The factor limiting initial planting dates is the ground temperature of 50-55 degrees F necessary to initiate germination. In northern states the first dates the soil can be worked varies from year to year. An open winter with little snow cover can result in deeper frosts, which delay drainage of the surface water until the soil thaws completely.

Beets 35 days greens, 50 days mature
Broccoli transplants 60 days from trans.
Cabbage transplants 60 days from trans.
Collards 50 days
Greens Mix 25 days baby, may be cut again
Lettuce 60 days mature, 30 days from trans.
Lettuce Mix 30 days, may be cut again
Mustard Greens 21 days baby, or 45 days mature, may be cut again
Napa Cabbage 70 days, or 50 days from trans.
Peas, Snow Peas, Snap Peas 60 days
Radish 25-30 days
Scallions 65 days
Spinach 30 days baby, 45 days mature, may be cut again

Mid Summer Plantings
June - July
Most crops have a picking window which is quite short and benefit from succession plantings at two to three week intervals to allow a continuous harvest.

Beets 35 days greens, 50 days mature
Cabbage 60 days from trans.
Carrots 70 days
Cucumbers 60 days, frost sensitive
Lettuce 60 days, or 30 days from trans.
Lettuce Mix 30 days, may be cut again if weather cool
Rutabaga 95 days, very frost hardy
Scallions 65 days
Snap Beans 60 days, frost sensitive
Swiss Chard 30 days baby, 55 days mature
Turnips 40-50 days

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

08.11.06 B. Wilcox

Johnny's founder getting reward for growing great seeds

From the Kennebec Journal editorial pages, 6/09/2008.
We're all thrilled for Rob to receive this well-deserved reward!

On Thursday afternoon, Rob Johnston Jr., will shed his work clothes, pull on what passes for a set of fancy duds and head south from Albion to Wellesley, Mass., where the veteran seedsman will receive a coveted award in the world of horticulture, the Jackson Dawson Memorial Award from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

Johnston is the founder and chairman of Johnny's Selected Seeds, which he started in 1973 and led from $7,000 in sales in those early days to its current sales volume of $17 million.

He has done this almost as an accidental businessman -- "I've never been motivated by money," he says. Rather, his interest is in the rarified world of plant breeding, what he calls "a big test in delayed gratification, a very disciplined and mostly tedious affair."

Well, it may be tedious for Johnston, or at least a tedious process, but what his own personal interest has led to is real delight for the rest of us.

From a wildly popular new kind of colorful swiss chard he developed (think sherbet colors) to the Bon Bon buttercup squash he bred (which merits eating for its name alone, but the taste is great, too), Johnston's perseverence has meant a richer world for gardeners, farmers and those of us who sit down to dinner every night.

And with his work -- now carried on by the employees who own Johnny's -- he has proven that good taste and beauty can be good business, too, especially if it begins in good Maine dirt.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What's New at the Farm? 6/04/2008

6/4/08 BLM

Planting season is in full swing on the farm. Last week we transplanted peppers, tomatoes and eggplant. We also direct seeded dry corn and did quite a lot of ground prep in preparation of the upcoming plantings that we have to do. It is with much appreciation that we had some help from the Winslow crowd on pepper planting day. That was Wednesday. Peppers are always challenging as there were eight thousand five hundred fifty plants to put in, hoops to go every six feet and row covers to be installed the same day.

Friday we planted the tomato breeding workshop. There were six thousand nine hundred twenty plants to transplant into the field. Monday this week we did the tomato trial which consisted of one thousand one hundred and eighty plants. Pepper trial also got planted with one thousand eight hundred and seventy plants. And the eggplant was 345 plants, so that’s nearly 19,000 plants transplanted in five days. Pretty good I think.

This week we will get the ground ready for the squash and pumpkin trails and workshop. These two projects will cover about five acres. That, along with field prep for the foundation line increases, extras for Outbound, ground for grow outs and maintenance of the crops we already have in the ground should keep us out of trouble for the remainder of the week.

Last week we were also kept busy setting up irrigation. The peppers and tomatoes needed irrigation as soon as they were planted. The soil under the plastic was dry – too dry so we set up the drip irrigation and pumped water for a couple of days. The drip system puts water exactly where we want it so there’s no watering of the weeds and areas that don’t need water. Drip irrigation also uses far less water than overhead does. It’s also fairly easy to set up – once it’s set up, it’s set up for the season; no moving pipe around. The biggest problem with drip irrigation is the plastic pipes run just about everywhere and you have to make sure you don’t snag one with a piece of equipment. Luckily you can run over them just as long as you don’t catch one and tear out a few lines rather quickly.

Until next week, Brian