Thursday, May 22, 2008

What's New At The Farm? 5/21/08

We received a little bit of rain this week, but not enough to do any good. It’s getting quite dry and we’ve been irrigating for the past couple of weeks. Mostly the fine seeded crop like carrots, beets and onions but also some transplants, namely flowers and lettuce. The crops are really growing fast with the ample sunshine and the water they’re being given. Field work progresses at a steady pace and we continue to stay ahead of schedule.

We seeded down four acres of organic ground last Friday with Johnny’s Spring Green Manure mix. I’d like to see some rain on it to get it started but won’t go to the expense of irrigating it. Once the peas start to blossom, if the deer leave it alone, we’ll mow it and let the hairy vetch take over. Hairy vetch will add lots of organic matter along with an ample supply of nitrogen for next years crops. We’ve had field 14 in crops for many years; now and it will be good to rest it and let it rejuvenate.

With our decrease in seed production this year, we’ll be able to put more acreage into cover crops. It would be ideal to have enough land available so each year we could cover crop at least one third of our ground. Crop rotation is important to help break weed and disease cycles. Let’s say we have a particular pest in one field this year and next year we plant a cover crop the particular pest won’t have anything to eat. It will either move on or die.

I finally managed to get out into my garden last week and do some much needed planting. Now that I’ve got a fair amount planted how about some rain? My garden is clay on top of ledge. It was for years a pasture for cows, hayfield for a while, a pasture for sheep and an un-mowed hayfield for the past ten years or so. The farmer whom owned it sold it to a developer and he subdivided it. As there were two house lots directly across from where I live, we bought them to prevent close neighbors. So, now with the addition of plenty of materials from my henhouses and leaves I pick up here and there, we have a large garden spot for our summer, fall and winter vegetable needs.

The past two seasons I rototilled the garden but this year decided to plow it. Mistake – perhaps – but plowed it none the less. I managed to pull up some rocks, roots and more clay but was able to plow under a large amount of organic matter from the chicken houses. I am unable to buy large amounts of compost to apply to my garden ( too expensive), but have chosen to use animal manures and cover crops to enrich my soil. The south end of the garden will get sweet clover this year as the soil is compacted and just generally poorer than the rest of the plot.

Using cover crops will enrich the soil and break up hardpan naturally. No chisel plowing, rototilling or other field work needs to happen other than preparing a good seed bed for the greenmanure to get established in. Once planted and growing I need only to mow it a couple of times per season to help it build a strong root system. Next year I’ll till it in before it gets too much growth on it in the spring. Here at JSS I would allow it to bloom then till it in, but at home I don’t have the necessary equipment and rely heavily on my walk behind tiller for crop incorporation.

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Perfect Sunday

It is so nice to stay home for one day on the weekend to catch up on all of those things that need doing in the garden. After spending Saturday at a family party, we came home to a pile of work on Sunday, which we started promptly after brunch. I didn't get everything on my list done, but my little fruit trees are planted, and I got a bunch of seeds in the ground, and did some weeding in our big perennial bed.

I am very lucky to have a recently deceased elm tree in my yard. I know it sounds odd, why would anyone want a dead tree? Well, I'm lucky that it has been infected with the fungus that produces morel mushrooms! I know, I sound crazy for eating mushrooms I found growing in my backyard, but I did my research, and apparently I've lived to tell the tale. (NOTE: I am not encouraging the reader to go out and willy-nilly eat wild mushrooms you might find. Please do some research!) I sauteed several morels in butter and we had those with our comforting Sunday supper of cube steak, twice-baked potatoes, and salad. They were absolutely heavenly! There are a few morels in my crock pot right now, simmering with a nice pot roast, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and fresh herbs from the garden. There isn't much better than coming home to dinner all ready to eat.

This week I need to divide my tomato, eggplant, and pepper seedlings, and pot them up for planting and sharing. I have some more seeds to plant, and some strawberry plants, as well as potatoes. I'm afraid the taters won't be planted in their special wire container until next week. Aaah, Memorial Weekend, time for some fishing! Hope you all enjoy it!!

Monday, May 19, 2008

What's New At The Farm 5/14/08

We’re busy, busy, busy!

Spring is upon us and we’re planting and preparing fields like there’s no tomorrow. Last week we transplanted lettuce along with seeding carrots and onions. Sweet peas are in and the trellis is up – first time for that in a while. We’ll be planting some spring covers crops and will probably have them in the ground before you read this. That’s my plan anyways. Two greenhouses are full and the biggest house has been fired up and is filling up with seedlings.

The weather has been advantageous to us this year. An early spring means we performed much field work before May rolled around. This early season work helped us in that we don’t have our work all bunched up at once. All the fields have had at least some initial field prep and many are nearing completion of the work necessary before transplanting commences. We’re working on tomato and pepper ground this week; making beds and laying plastic. Next week we’ll be preparing ground for squash and pumpkins.

The next few weeks will be a busy time for everyone, not only at Johnny’s but at home for everyone as well. Lots of planting to do as well as garden work, lawns, and the ever present animals to tend. Let’s see; all I’ve got left to do is finish planting the garden, finish transplanting all the trees I bought. I’ve got one bush left to plant and 100 chickens coming any day. And finally if there’s time, I’ve got to get my boat into the water soon.
Piece of cake.

Fine with me; I like to keep busy. If you have a long list, you don’t need to find something to do. Last winter all I seemed to do was shovel snow and feed the wood furnace. The spring work seems to hit at the best possible time for fishing. So, I guess I’ll have to prioritize my list.

I’ll be in the field or in my boat, Brian.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gardening in Maine shows signs of growth

This is a great article from the Portland Press Herald, discussing gardening. Our General Manager, Mike Comer, is interviewed.

High food prices and concerns about pesticides
and global warming fuel a planting revival.

By JOHN RICHARDSON, Staff Writer May 15, 2008

The family vegetable garden is making a comeback.

Mainers who haven't had dirt under their fingernails for years, if ever, are turning soil and planting vegetables, according to suppliers and extension agents. And experienced green thumbs are expanding, sometimes even into the front yard.

"I think it's kind of the return of the Victory Garden," said Diana Hibbard, home horticulture coordinator at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension office in Cumberland County.

While Victory Gardens were a mark of patriotism during World War II, plots of homegrown veggies have become far less common in the age of supermarket produce aisles filled year-round with vegetables and fruits from around the world.

This year, however, seed dealers have been surprised by a surge of orders, community gardens have started waiting lists, and gardening and canning classes are filling up.

"We're getting a lot more calls. People want more information," Hibbard said. "I think a lot of people are going to try their hand at growing, freezing and preserving."

Hibbard and others attribute the revival to concerns about pesticides and contaminants, global warming and energy use, and rising food prices and financial belt-tightening. Some also said that good weather has energized would-be gardeners.

"It's kind of a coalescence of a lot of different factors," said Elizabeth Radliff of Fedco Co-op Garden Supplies in Waterville. Fedco's seed sales jumped about 20 percent this season, the biggest increase since 1999, when the Y2K scare had people worried about computer malfunctions and economic disruptions, she said.

Coast of Maine Organic Products has seen a 30 to 40 percent jump in sales of its Quoddy Blend, a compost mix made from lobster waste that's a favorite for vegetable gardens, said Carlos Quijano, president of the Portland-based company.

The University of Maine Soil Testing Laboratory, which offers $12 soil tests that are recommended for new gardeners, has had a 43 percent increase in test requests so far this year, said Bruce Hoskins, coordinator of the program.

At Yarmouth's Community Garden, coordinator Marjorie Stone squeezed in several more plots and has started a waiting list.

"Now I have 134 plots. This is the biggest year we've ever had," Stone said. "I don't think I've ever gone over 125 before, but people kept calling. Last year, I had plots left in June, and this year, I was scrambling to find plots in April. We've never had a waiting list before."

Kerry Gallivan and his 5-year-old daughter, Shanti, planted their first seeds -- a row of peas -- at the community garden on Wednesday.

For Gallivan, the new garden is the ultimate way to eat local, organic food and spend quality, educational time with his family. "Shanti was just getting to the age where she was wanting to go gardening," he said.

Nearby, Joanna Moody, another first-timer, laid out her plot for herbs and peas, some of which she plans to freeze.

"I love peas," she said. "Right now, I'm on a tight budget and I can't buy fresh vegetables."

Moody and others said they also like the community part of the town gardens, including socializing, picking up pointers and helping to grow vegetables for food pantries and families in need.

Jill Richardson and her boyfriend plan to start planting lettuce and onions in their new plot this weekend.

"I think it's better for me, health-wise and for my wallet, and probably just fresher," she said. "I think it does pay off in the long run. Organic food is really expensive."

But more than saving money, she said, "I work 8 to 5 all day in an office and I'm looking forward to getting outside."

Experts warn that vegetable gardens don't necessarily save money, especially new gardens. But experienced gardeners who put in a lot of time and sweat certainly can come out ahead financially.

Roger Doiron lives on a third-of-an-acre house lot in Scarborough but grew six months worth of vegetables in the backyard last year for $85 in seeds.

"Pretty much from June on we were just eating our vegetables," he said.

Now, he's expanding and planning to dig up part of his front lawn for another small vegetable garden.

"There is a little bit of a front-yard garden movement," he said.

Doiron is happy to see the gardening resurgence and has even started a Web-based campaign to re-establish a vegetable garden on the White House lawn, in the tradition of Eleanor Roosevelt's Victory Garden.

His idea, posted as "Eat the View," is rated the most popular suggestion on

"It suddenly makes sense again," he said.

While it's clear that more people are planting more vegetables this year, it's an open question how many new gardeners will stick with it after a season of weeding, watering and fighting pests.

"There are going to be some that find out it's harder work than expected, and there's going to be some that keep right with it," Hibbard said. "It becomes a fever when you get into it. (Gardens) are very therapeutic."

Next year, at least, suppliers will be ready.

"It was pretty much a surprise. We didn't plan for it," said Mike Comer, general manager of Johnny's Selected Seeds in Winslow. "We'll plan for it next year."

Comer attributes much of this year's demand to fears about the food supply and reports of a global food crisis. It's hard to guess if that will be a factor in a few years, he said.

"As long as the food supply remains safe and stable I'm a little bit concerned about how long the enthusiasm for gardening will last among people getting into it for the first time."

But, Comer said, he expects some will stick to it. "We're increasing our production for the next two to three years, so we're expecting this to continue."

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

Copyright © 2008 Blethen Maine Newspapers

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Not enough time in the day

Well, they say that the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. Will I end up in that hot place for not having planted my garden on time? I did get the onions and shallots into the ground last week, but I haven’t had time to plant any of my seeds. I’m definitely breaking the “plant your peas by tax day” rule – the IRS may give extensions, but Mother Nature typically doesn’t. I had plenty of free weekends all winter long, but when spring shows up, it’s time for graduations and their related parties, family get-togethers, fishing trips, etc., etc. ad infinitum. I do hope that I’ll have a free minute after Memorial Day to plant my tomato seedlings. I plant 40 tomato plants, all of which I started from seed back in March, and most of them are different heirloom varieties (there are a couple of hybrids in there, and a couple of duplicates; Black Krim is my favorite so I plant two of those).

So tonight after work I’m going to get some seeds in the ground. It’s another beautiful Maine day and there’s no reason not to! I also picked up a few perennials to put into a couple of small gardens I have around the yard. I am so tempted by those poor lonely pots at the nurseries, I have to bring them home. I will probably have to dig holes for them with a crowbar; I’m definitely guilty of overcrowding the beds.

Yesterday in the mail I had a surprise – the tree saplings I ordered from the Arbor Day society arrived. (You can get some wicked deals on trees there – membership is around $15 a year, and the trees are cheap. This is my first experience with them so I will pass along updates as my trees grow.) I got a few dwarf fruit trees: peaches, cherries, and plums. That’s another task for this weekend, if I’m home during any daylight hours. I’m very glad that my husband is willing to dig holes when he isn't fishing! I am a canning fool, and the thought of home-grown fruit for my various canning recipes thrills me to no end. Ah yes, but the trees have to grow to produce fruit. Which means I have to find time to plant them.

Is anybody out there as far behind as I am? Where do you get stuck this time of year? Is there anything (besides time) that would make your life easier in the gardening department?

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Trip to Highmoor Farm - May 3rd, 2008

by Adam Lemieux, Product Manager

I was invited by Dr. Mark Hutton to speak at the University of Maine Co-op Extension's workshop for Commercial Vegetable & Berry Farming: Getting Started in Maine being held on Saturday, May 3rd. I went down on the Monday before and met with Dr. Mark Hutton, Mark Hutchinson, and Dr. David Handley to discuss content and pick out the tools they would like to have shown at the seminar. They asked me to present tools that help in soil preparation. seeding, weeding and harvesting - in that order. They sold out with an attendance of 50 people, that were split up into two groups. Here's the brochure.

What a nice place.

I came down on Friday and set up in the red hoophouse on the right.

Inside, half the house had overgrown overwintering crops and a lot of weeds.

Here's the final set up on Saturday, just before the talk. The Highmoor crew had cleared out quite a bit of the overgrown stuff.

Christina Howard, who recently came to Johnny's from Highmoor, was signed up as an attendee. She very graciously agreed to help me with my presentation.

A Soil Health and Compost lecture taking place in the neighbooring hoophouse.

Highmoor's mulch and row cover display. This tractor accessory can install irrigation tube while it lays mulch. Dr. Hutton also demonstrated how to apply mulch and row cover by hand.

Some very nice Italian-made tiller equipment used on the farm. They were demonstrating the different attachments they had for these machines and how versatile they were.

This tiller had a vertical auger-like attachment.

Dr. Hutton showed the tilled soil between the two types of tillers and demonstrated how different equipment like this vertical tiller didn't completely churn up and damage the living soil, because it leaves larger pieces of undamaged substrate.

From left to right, Highmoor farm manager Greg, Dr. Mark Hutton, and U-Maine Extension Educator, Mark Hutchinson. Greg had just finished laying a section of mulch, and that gave Chris & me an idea...

Chris went to get the Hatfield Transplanter and some seedlings that I had brought for demo. The group jumped right in and tried it out.

I think they really liked this product.

Back in the other hoophouse, I started the talk with soil preparation. I put down some Vermont Compost Plus and worked it into the bed with the Tilther.

Volunteers were again easy to come by with this group.

Then on to aerating the soil with 520 Broadfork.

While I was on broadforks, I harvested some baby carrots with a 920. I think that was received pretty well.

The Bed Preparation Rake was used a lot.

After soil preparation, on to seeding. Showing how the Seed Stick operates.

The Easy Plant Jab-Type Planter. Chris had a lot of experience with this unit as it is used extensively at Highmoor. In fact, this was one of theirs.

The Glaser Seeder in operation. We were actually planting seeds too. Thanks to Steve Bellavia for the extra seeds.

Running the Earthway Seeder through its paces.

The European Push Seeder.

The Sembdner Four-row Pinpoint Seeder that our Six-row Seeder was mostly modeled after. This is one that Mark had brought.

It pulls backward like the Glaser and doesn't turn easily in fluffy soil like this.

Showing how the Six-row Seeder works and all of its components.

The Six-row in action.

On to weeding...Chris did a great job reading from my less than perfect script. I'm really glad she was there. Thanks, Chris!

Wire Weeder demonstration.

Tearin' it up with a Stirrup Hoe.

The Stirrup Hoe's older sibling...the Wheel Hoe.

Three-tine Cultivator attachment on the Wheel Hoe.

Seeder Conversion Kit installed on another Wheel Hoe.

And finally, on to harvesting...

The group seemed impressed with the Greens Harvester.

It's hard not to be. It really works well.

And that's it. Thanks to Dr. Mark Hutton and the staff at the Highmoor Farm. Special thanks to Christina Howard for all her help in the presentation and to Tori Lee Jackson, a U-Maine Extension Educator, for taking many of these pictures while we presented.

Friday, May 9, 2008

What's Growing On? May 2008

Dear Johnny's Catalog Store Customers,

Spring has finally arrived. At my house it came on April 17. When I left for work in the morning, the pond out front was still half covered with ice. When I came home in the evening, the ice was gone and there was a heron standing on the edge of the pond. That night I heard the spring peepers and frogs for the first time this year. The cacophony was absolutely glorious. Maine weather never ceases to amaze me, just when I have all but given up on getting a garden in ...instant spring.

May is one of my favorite months. The daffodils and tulips are in bloom and the gardens are starting to come to life. Every time I go out in the garden, it is like meeting an old friend as more and more plants are making their appearance. Then there is the vegetable garden. The weekends have been great - knock on wood - for planting peas, fava beans, spinach, lettuce, greens, beets, carrots, and many others.

Here at Johnny’s we have had a busy spring. More and more people are feeling the pinch of what has been termed a "global food price crisis" and are planting a vegetable garden this year. This, combined with a movement to eat locally-grown food, is making people think more about the food they put on the table. The movement has grown so fast that "locavore" was named the 2007 word of the year by the Oxford University Press. For those of you who would like to eat locally-grown food but don't have time or space to plant a garden, many of the local farmers' markets will be opening this month.

For more springtime activities and ideas, please read this month's issue of "What's Growing On?"

Happy gardening,

Joann Matuzas

Johnny's Selected Seeds Catalog Store
955 Benton Ave.
Winslow, ME

What's New at the Farm - 5/07/08

5/07/08 BLM

The weather is cooperating so far, but more wet weather is forecast so we’ll see. If we’d have a few sunny days with a light breeze we could get back into the fields and do some ground prep. Luckily we did quite a lot last month so we’re still in good shape. We plowed most of the Albion farm that we’ll have in crops this year and some we won’t. We also plowed one isolation field and hope to get on the others soon.

The farm crew was busy on Tuesday pulling the last field of plastic that we didn’t get to last fall. That was down to Jack’s field, but it now commonly called Dave’s field. Seems Jack sold it to Dave hence the name change. There was a family of foxes watching all the activity with some interest in what was going on in their field. Usually there are several families of woodchucks out down there. I bet they’ll be shier this year than last!

To continue on from last week’s column about isolated fields I’ve already told you about Jack’s, ah Dave’s field that we rent. I rented that field the year of the summer drought; perfect location; away from people with gardens, has water available for irrigating and sandy soil that has no rocks in it. I could drive right to it without any problems getting stuck. Well, all that’s changed now. There’s standing water in much of the original field and no, you can’t drive through it now. Nor will you be able to until the middle of the summer once the hay is cut and removed from the balance of the field. It is a great location however and the landowners are pleased that we are using it. Johnny’s has a good reputation for their wise land use with the people of Albion.

We also use the “Higgins” field which used to be owned by the Higgins but now is not. We still call it the Higgins field anyways. This field is 3 ½ acres close to Johnny’s farm. It’s good soil with a few rocks and some ledge but is close by and a nice location to work in. You can watch the traffic go by while you’re working in this field. There’s a small pond nearby so we can irrigate if we need to.

There are still a few fields I haven’t mentioned but that will have to wait. The sun is out, the breezes are blowing and I’m headed out to the field.

Until next week, Brian.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

the webmaster's garden

Tonight after work I’m going to start planting my vegetable garden. This will be my fourth season gardening at my own home. For most of my life I have gardened in some capacity. Sometimes I’ve only had houseplants, but as a kid I often helped my parents weed and harvest their huge vegetable garden. I’ve planted bulbs, trees, and perennials with my mom, and one of my earliest growing experiences was planting a tiny vegetable garden (using leftover seeds) at the end of the dirt driveway at age 6, with my little sister. Needless to say those seeds sprouted and that’s about it.

When I learned about vegetables (besides peas) that you can plant early in the season, I was very excited. We always put our whole garden in around Memorial Day, but I’m very happy to know that I can get a jump on things and enjoy early season veggies. We’ve already had homegrown salad here at Johnny’s; the farm folks brought some beautiful, delicious greens, radishes, and pea shoots to our last team lunch. I don’t own a farm though, and spend my days in front of a computer, so my garden is a little behind. Thank goodness I planted garlic last fall or there wouldn't be anything green in there!

My goal for this evening is to plant onion sets and shallots (which I bought here at Johnny’s), and to direct seed one or more of the following: peas, radishes, beets, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and pak choi. It’s tough to drive home after work and then work some more, but it is a beautiful day and I do love my garden. Maybe it won’t rain this coming weekend and I can get some more done, but I’m not going to bank on that. I’d better get it done while the weather’s nice. I’d work in the rain but I don’t want to compact my soil, nor do I enjoy getting muddy.

The weather is still chilly at night for tender plants, but perennials are well on their way out of the ground. In my neck of the woods, my tulips are just starting to bloom, and the first daffodils are going by already. My oregano, sage, chives, and thyme came back and I used some of them in a nice meatloaf on Sunday. The rhubarb is on its way up, and I can’t wait for that first pan of rhubarb crisp. I may even have enough to put up some rhubarb jam or sauce.

I am so glad that spring has come to central Maine. We had so much snow this winter, and with the price of heating oil, nice weather couldn’t arrive soon enough. Now I have to bide my time for planting tomatoes and other warm weather garden plants, but if I can stay motivated to do some work tonight I’ll have a great start.

Daria Walton, Webmaster

Monday, May 5, 2008

What's New at the Farm - 4/30/08

4/30/08 BLM

We’ll it’s wet. Very wet.

It’ll probably be the first of next week before we get back into the field. We’re going to plant onions next week along with sweet peas and lettuce gets transplanted too.

Last weekend I plowed my garden and did one of our isolation fields as well. This field is one that we’ve rented for quite a few years and I’ve never been able to plow there until late May. It’s what we call a “late” field. Late in that it’s a clay soil that stays wet well into the spring and then dries out to be like concrete in the summer. When we first started renting the field it had been continuous conventional corn since I can’t remember.

The organic matter in this particular field is really quite low, it’s a late field, it has no water available, and getting to it can sometimes be a challenge. Other that that, and the fact it isn’t the best isolation we’ve ever had; it’s a pretty nice field. Its close by but you’d never know it was there. The deer aren’t too bad either. So, you’re probably wondering why we continue to rent what is probably viewed as a marginal piece of land. Because we’ve never had a bad crop on it. Never, and I mean never, no matter if it’s droughty, wet, insect infested or anything, we always have a great crop of whatever we have there.

We rent several other fields around Albion and Benton. Most are on the small side; two to five acres or so. Isolation refers to the distance between these fields and anyone growing vegetables in the same family of what were trying to produce seed to. For example, if we are growing an acorn squash (a pepo) for seed we need at least a mile of pepo free space to maintain the varietal purity that we desire. This means anyone that has a garden and grows those crops must be asked not to grow them. Most people are pretty accommodating as to helping us out.

I’ll continue on isolations next week, Brian

Friday, May 2, 2008

Pictures from the farm

Here are some pictures by Pete Nutile, Johnny's Photographer. Pete will be sharing pictures of the farm as the seasons go by.

These pictures are from April, just when things are getting started outdoors. As you can see, our greenhouse always has plenty going on.

Aneta Jacobs performs breeding trial work.

Kelly Martin plows one of the fields for seed trials.

Lisa Robbins waters seedlings in a greenhouse breeding trial.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Welcome to Growing Ideas!

Welcome to the Johnny’s Selected Seeds blog, Growing Ideas. We at Johnny’s have created this blog to provide information about our company and the farm, as well as to provide growing assistance and ideas for using your crops.

Our blog will not be used to sell products, but if you have a question about our products, please feel free to ask away. Above all, we want to keep people informed and interested in what we’re doing. We’ll ensure that your questions are answered as soon as possible. Comments are more than welcome, too. We’d love to hear from you!

Please visit us often! We expect to post new articles a few times a week. We hope you enjoy this peek behind the scenes.

Thank you for visiting, and come again!

Daria Walton
Johnny’s Selected Seeds