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