Saturday, April 25, 2009

Getting the Gardens Ready!

I know our webmaster thinks she's a bit behind, but not as behind as I am! I am, though, perhaps less behind now.

Today, in the 76-degree blazing sunshine, I de-mossed and de-weeded my two 4' by 20' raised beds, aerated the soil, added half an inch on compost to completely cover each bed, and this evening I will start my tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber, and eggplant seeds. When they get big enough, I'll transplant them into the new cow pots that we're offering in our catalog and on our website. For the last 3 years, I didn't know that cucumber roots should NOT be disturbed upon transplanting. I'll plant my cucumber seeds directly into the 3" cowpots I have, and I'll just toss the whole thing into the garden in 5 weeks. I have learned over the last 3 years, though, that it's a good idea to grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and squashes in single, separate containers before transplanting into the garden. These plants quickly outgrow the space of the 72-cell seedling trays I use (in about 3 weeks) and squashes and cucumbers get tangled up if you don't separate them early.

Tomorrow I will lay down some solar mulch and I will direct seed "Sunny Smile" dwarf sunflower, "Hector" smooth-leaf spinach, "Red Mustard", and "Arugula".

So this year, my two beds look like this:

Bed #1:
2 rows of peas - 'Fiesty' (43 plants in a 4' row with a trellis in between the rows)
10 pickling cucumber plants - 'Diamant' (2 rows of 5 plants with a trellis in between)
8 Jalapeno pepper plants - 'Dulce' (2 rows of 4 plants)
8 Eggplants - 'Nadia' (2 rows of 4 plants)
4 'Ladybug' Hot cherry pepper plants (1 row of 4 plants)
8 'Striped German' heirloom tomato plants (2 rows of 4 plants)
8 'Brandywine' heirloom tomato plants (2 rows of 4 plants)
8 'Valleygirl' red round tomatoes (2 rows of 4 plants)
8 'Bellstar' sauce tomatoes (2 rows of 4 plants)
4 'Sapho' red salad tomatoes (1 row of 4 plants)
8 'Sungold' cherry tomatoes (2 rows of 4 plants)
8 'General Lee' slicing cucumbers (2 rows of 4 plants with a trellis in between)
4 'Plato' green zucchini squash (2 half rows of 2 plants)
4 'Sunray' yellow summer squash (2 half rows of 2 plants)

Bed #2:
2 rows of green beans - 'Provider' (23 plants in a 4' row with a trellis in between)
32 'Red Ace' beets
16 'Touchstone Gold' beets
16 'Chioggia' heirloom beets
4 'Ladybug' hot cherry pepper plants (1 row of 4 plants)
8 'Carmen' sweet Italian pepper plants (2 rows of 4 plants)
8 'Tendersweet' green cabbage plants (2 rows of 4 plants)
8 'Hungarian Spice' Paprika peppers (2 rows of 4 plants)
66 'Golden Coin" mini yellow onion
42 'Olympic' yellow storage onion
46 'Napoli' storage carrots
46 'Purple Haze' specialty carrots
10 'Black Seeded Simpson' green leaf lettuce plants (2 rows of 5 plants)
10 'Natacha' escarole plants (2 rows of 5 plants)
18 'Sunny Smile' dwarf sunflowers (3 rows of 6 plants)
4 'Dulce' Jalapeno pepper plants (1 row of 4 plants)
18 'Red Mustard' greens (3 rows of 6 plants)
18 'Arugula' greens (3 rows of 6 plants)
30 'Hector' smooth-leaf spinach plants (1 row of 30 plants)

I will sprinkle in some 'French Marigold' among the tomatoes and peppers to help with natural insect repellent for these crops. And my husband and I have learned that if you plant rows of hot peppers throughout your garden it serves as excellent insect control - bugs just DON'T like the pepper oil. The sunflowers are being placed mid-bed to help with bees, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators.

So that's the mad plan for this year! I'll also plant some extra seedlings and bring them in for folks at work.

What an exciting time of year - the weather is finally warming up, my kitchen windows are open and the curtains are fluttering, the Red Sox are playing (and they beat the Yankees last night!) and it's seed-planting time!!!

Alisa - Marketing Manager @ Johnny's

Friday, April 17, 2009


It is definitely that time of year! I got my pepper and eggplant seeds started two weeks ago (probably late, but poorly timed illnesses threw off my schedule), and I'll get the tomatoes started this weekend. They should be big enough just in time for planting at the end of May, as my gardening zone (5B) safely dictates. I am on vacation this week, and, if this gorgeous weather holds, I am going to get my garden set up and ready to go. I will even be able to plant some hardy seeds - lettuce, spinach, peas, etc.

I have seed potatoes ready to go, too. I'm going to try the "trash can" method of growing potatoes this year. You put drainage holes in a tall container, add growing mix and your potatoes, and keep covering the plants with the mix as they grow, watering and fertilizing as necessary of course. (Google for more info). I'll keep you posted! Last year I grew some fine potatoes in my compost pile, so I'm hoping these potatoes will grow well in composted manure (with some acid components, yet undecided upon, added to prevent scab).

You have probably seen or heard ads from the big box stores advertising their plants. I've grown plenty of big box veggies and flowers in my day, and I'm sure that they are quality plants, and will grow fine. However, hearing the ads in my area makes me worry. It is way too early to plant tomatoes and other tender plants in my zone, and we're still getting frost at night, which will kill tender plants. The money they claim you'll save on produce goes right out the window if your little plant dies!

If you are a new gardener, I recommend that you read up on your growing zone - Google again is a great tool, just type in "growing zone" and you'll come up with plenty of sites where you can enter your zip code and find out what that is if you don't know. has tons of great ideas for new gardeners, and excellent forums where you can chat with lots of folks at various expericence levels. Of course you can always give us a call at 877-JOHNNYS and speak to one of our friendly customer service representatives, who are always happy to help!

I hope you all have a great week. I'll enjoy my garden-cation (and throw a little fishing-cation in, to boot!)

Daria, the webmaster

What's New At The Farm? 4/15/09

Hard to believe April is half over. Spring seems to creep up faster every year. Seems like just yesterday I was fussing about the ponds still locked in ice and today I could take my boat out. The birds are pretty much all back; swallows should be here this week and I saw my first turkey vulture last week; looking for a winter killed lunch. Raptors, ducks, geese, killdeer, robins and blackbirds are showing up in droves now. About the only thing I haven't seen yet are woodchucks but I expect they'll be out this week. Lots of deer moving around now; I see them most mornings on my drive into work.

The planting continues in the greenhouses. Monday we ground up what was left in the polytunnel and will replant shortly. We've time to get some greens growing before tomatoes go out there. Last week we planted lettuce, leeks and lots of flowers in greenhouse number 3 and this week will see more peppers, lettuce and still more flowers.

For field work we start those projects we didn't get done last fall like pulling plastic. We also are starting compost application and ground prep on some of our earlier fields. The fields have dried out really nice this spring and field work starts as I write this. Last years' crops are still in the field but they are dead, drying and generally look bad. Once called surface trash; now referred to as crop residue or surface residue these spent crops will be turned under to start the process all over again.

The cover crops that we planted last year, the ones that died, become organic matter turned under to feed our soils. The covers that we planted, that are now regrowing in anticipation of warmer temps and adequate rainfall, do not perceive the ever looming plow and will give their lives to further enrich ours soils and feed our crops.

Probably the saddest looking crops are last year's cabbages. Not only did they freeze and die, they smell like it; I'll be glad to turn them under. The onions don't small very good either. The best smell will be the newly turned soil; that's the best thing about spring.

The fields are filling up fast here this year. Fields 9 (where the peppers were last season) and field 13 (pumpkins in '08) will be all tomatoes this year. Field 11 (tomatoes in '08) will be the pumpkins and melons will go up across the road, along with some of the flowers. The field that is outside my office window will not get sweet corn; too high, I can't see out from mid-summer on. Although I'm sure the farm crew appreciates that.

The sweet corn can go in field 5 which is right in Rob and Janika's back yard. It will be interesting to see if the new deer fence alters the behavior of the sweet corn predators. Probably not but it might anyways.

Until next week, enjoy the spring. Brian

Friday, April 10, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 4/08/09

Spring has sprung! The birds are back and the ice is on its way out. A couple more days and the ice will be gone. New signs of spring are popping up daily and it’s great to see. Peepers are out. The tulips and daffodils are pushing their way up as is the rhubarb and the buds are swelling on the trees. Another week will bring more rakers out as the ground dries up even more.

We have six geese at the farm pond this year; I don’t know if they’ll nest here this year or not. They usually have a nest on the neighbors then graze on us but with the new deer fence coming between I don’t know what they’ll do. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. Doesn’t hurt my feelings one way or the other.

We planted peppers on Monday this week, in greenhouse # 3. Also on tap to be planted this week is lettuce, Chinese cabbage, eggplant and radicchio. It’s nice to get some stuff planted and growing; it’s been such a long winter. The spinach in the poly tunnel is just about gone by as is some lettuce out there. We’ll grind it up this week and replant some salad greens.

The fields are greening up slowly; the winter rye has some color in it now and with the rain scheduled for this week it’ll green up even more. Everything else looks pretty dead. Oh, yeah, there’s some other things greening up like the red clover we planted in the sweet corn last July and the chickweed: a true harbinger of spring and some lawn grass on the sheltered side of the buildings. We’ve got to get the lawn raking done before the grass gets very tall or it won’t be any fun at all; not that it’s a whole lot of fun anyways, but one job that is better with short grass and without blackflies.

The ice is getting thin on our irrigation pond. It’s gone around the edges and getting pretty thin in the middle. I saw a bass lurking in the shallows last week trying to get some warmth going, I imagine. They’ll be spawning soon, or at least start the building of their nests. Spawning usually takes place in May here; once the water warms up. Of course that’s when we’re the busiest; trying to get everything into the ground. There’s some controversy about fishing for bass on their spawning beds, but I doubt in a farm pond it makes much difference, and their definitely easy to catch.

We’ve plenty of seed production here at the Johnny’s farm this year. We didn’t have any last year but have at least ten tomatoes this year; that’ll keep us busy. Usually we harvest tomatoes for seed in September but as we didn’t have any last year, we had some time on our hands. If it doesn’t move paint it and if it does move put it somewhere. Everything that wasn’t nailed down got a coat of paint. Some things, just little projects that we never seem to get to do got done: the greenhouses and their matching fuel tanks got stenciled with numbers. Now we can track how much fuel each one uses. The fuel tank got a new coat of white paint; we can actually see it now. The fuel tank also got its own roof to keep out the weather. Glad we did most of those projects last fall; we won’t have extra time this year.

Until next week, Brian

What's New At The Farm? 4/01/09

The snow is leaving Foss Hill in a hurry with the only remnants of winter being a few snowbanks and some snow where the sun doesn't hit it; like the south ends of fields 11 and 13. Field 13 is where we had the pumpkin workshop last year. With the new deer fencing, there were no deer to eat the pumpkins last winter, so now there are hundreds of very flat fruit in the field. The turkeys and squirrels have been busy eating the seeds but there are only so many they can eat. The blue jays have also been in the pumpkin field as are what I'm sure are tons of little critters enjoying the seed feast.

More signs of spring appear daily; flocks of geese and ducks, blackbirds, and lots of movement by non- migratory animals and birds. I've seen lots of deer moving around; with the grass peeking up they should be able to regain some weight they lost this winter. The coyotes have been howling up a storm most every night; perhaps they're celebrating the coming of warmer weather. They sound like they're right out behind the henhouse; although I'm sure they're not quite that close.

Here on the farm we fire up greenhouse number three this week. Greenhouse three is our newest greenhouse and by far the more efficient for heating. It's also our smallest greenhouse so it's the easiest to heat. We'll start some flowers this week and veggies next week. On a sunny day temps will reach 90 degrees in the morning in the greenhouses - what a great place to work!

The snow is mostly gone from the fields; exposing what we didn't get dome last year; lots of plastic out there to pull. I don't think I'd classify pulling plastic as a great job; not even a good one but in the spring it's not a bad job either. In the fall once the crops are done with, pulling plastic entails lifting wet and nasty plastic from "frozen soil in the morning to mud in the afternoon" fields. Rotting fruit covers the plastic; it's a cold, wet and miserable job anyway you cut it in the fall. In the spring however the weather is usually cooperative. A warm day with a light breeze makes all the difference in the world. The plastic pills easier and dries almost instantly. The fruits is gone or at least dried and flattened and the vines are pretty rotten so they break apart easily. Just do it before the blackflies come out.

Two or three weeks should see us into the field getting ready for spring planting. I don't think there's any frost in the ground; the snow seems to be melting and draining nicely this spring. April will be a good time to plant really early cool weather cover crops for the 2009 growing season. I've got some new peas to try and a possible new clover. I've also got some mixes in the back of my mind I'd like to do this year; mixes are very popular. I rarely plant one cover crop but usually use mixes; oats and clover, oats, peas and clover, soybeans and buckwheat and you get the picture.

I think I'll plant some peas for the local deer again this year. I planted about a quarter acre last year and they never got more than a few inches tall before the deer mowed them off; they like peas. I'll plant early this spring and then till under what's still there in early August and plant some turnips. I think I'll plant the turnips two to three weeks earlier to see if we can get more bulb size before cold weather strikes. Planting turnips for deer is not quite as refined as planting them to eat. Deer turnips seldom get weed or insect control, never get irrigation water and are at the mercy of the elements and we still expect them to grow and make bulbs that are going to freeze and die over the winter. Doesn't sound like much fun to me, but then again I'm not a turnip.

Until next week, Brian

What's New At The Farm? 3/25/09

I'm back.................. Hopefully for the duration.

What a difference two weeks makes! The snow is melting slowly so we should have no flooding this spring. I don't think there's much frost in the ground so we should be able to get on the ground at least as early as we did last spring.

Signs of spring abound; I saw two killdeer on Monday and some ducks on Saturday. The next five or six weeks are my favorite time of year. The birds are returning, buds are swelling and no black flies yet. As March winds down the threat of snow showers diminishes considerably as does the chances of a killing frost. Seems like only a short time ago I was harvesting in the garden and now it's time to start planning for this season.

Not quite so many potatoes this year; two people don't need four hundred pounds to get through the winter. More peas though. I dislike growing peas; too much work, but I must say I enjoyed them all winter, so, yes; I'll plant more this year. Not quite so many beets; beet greens don't freeze up very well and to tell you the truth I'm getting a little tired of them right about now and we still have 20 quarts left. Harvesting the Brussels sprouts this year should be a priority; more salad mixes and perhaps some staggered plantings of summer squash and zucchini.

More plastic mulch and more row covers this year. I think I'd like to plant some peppers and freeze them for winter time use. Not a lot; just enough though.

I think I'll build a new raised bed for a new patch of rhubarb. The old raised bed has rotted away and the chickens have taken over the rhubarb patch. Raised beds are nice for rhubarb because it comes up and thrives with the warmer temps more so than being on the ground. I've got to replace the raised beds around the house; the old ones are the better part of twenty five years old. The original ones were cedar but I think I'll use railroad ties this time around: use what you have you know.

Things here on the farm are gearing up for planting season. Lots of prep work in the greenhouses as planting is right around the corner. The warehouse is soon to be loaded with all kinds of planting goodies: potting mixes, fertilizers, row covers and plastic mulches. I need to do some ordering: planting stakes, tomato trellis supplies, irrigation needs and planting flats and the cover crop seed, at least the bulk of it will be ordered shortly as well. The field planning needs to happen soon; where all the crops are going to be planted this year. And finally, I've got to finish hiring crew for the 2009 growing season.

Lots to do; well, that's spring.

Until next week, enjoy the spring, Brian

What's New At The Farm? 3/04/09

The first of March brings promise that the unwavering changing of the seasons is upon us once more. Whilst we got belted with snow earlier this week, we know winters' back has been broken and spring is right around the corner. Oh sure; we'll have some spring storms; but that's just what they are - spring storms. No matter how hard they hit us we know they're here only for a short time. And speaking of time, I don't wish away time in anticipation of warmer temps and the sunny days of summer, but rather enjoy watching and being a part of the changing season. It's not so much about the temps and the long dry days of summer, but more about the changing that occurs around us. Winter can be a bit long, what with the endless storms and the short days (by far the worst thing about winter in Maine) but I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Well, not at least for now.

The subtle signs of late winter are evident around but you may have to look a little harder than in mid-spring. Some of the things that I notice this time of year include ice fishing shacks being removed from the lakes and ponds, the channels and rivers opening up with a few hardy ducks occupying them and last year's wood piles are severely shrunken. The skunks are out and I've seen a few robins. Late last week I saw a woodchuck sitting on a snow bank looking somewhat bewildered. I look forward to a "normal" spring after somewhat of a "normal" winter.

As you might remember from last spring, we didn't have any frost in the ground so once the snow starting melting it was immediately absorbed. I don't see that happening this spring but I don't think there's much frost in the ground this year either. That's not my prediction for an early spring. Last year we plowed one particular field weeks before we could ever plow it; I'm not that optimistic this year, but Spring: It'll come and we'll be ready.

On another note, I went grocery shopping over the past weekend. Not a big deal, I know, but we seldom go. Between what we raise and store/freeze for winter we don't need to spend much time in a grocery store. There are however things we needed, so once in a while we make a trip of it, albeit a quick trip. Was I in for a surprise: prices have changed since I was last there! 200 bucks and the cart wasn't even full. Time to rethink my strategy for the garden this year and maybe make some changes around the ole homestead.

While searching for some frozen tofu (don't ask) that was on sale, I was amazed (perhaps shocked is more accurate) how much of the frozen food is already prepared; freezer to microwave to table; easy as that. The "need to cook" section was pretty small, mostly vegetables. Is everyone out there so busy they can't cook anymore? We enjoy cooking: using fresh or fresh frozen veggies, home grown chickens and eggs, and local wild-caught seafood.

I grew up on a dairy farm in central Maine and was blessed with large meals of meat and potatoes and plenty of home cooking. We didn't have a microwave, but we did have an electric stove, modern fridge and even a dishwasher. At one time there were my folks and three of their sons working the farm so we ate plenty. Often people would stop in at lunchtime as it was a good time to catch my father before we went back out into the fields; lunchtime was often a social event. Extra hands helping out in haying season also shared our table. Did I mention the home cooking? Lots of beef; we had our own supply, fresh veggies from the garden and homemade desserts like old fashioned apple pie - yes, all homemade.

The word "homemade" has been seriously overused and abused. I bought a chicken pie last year that was "homemade". I never had a homemade chicken pie like that. You could make a hundred pies out of one chicken. I'd say the first ingredient was water and the second was a thickener to thicken the water into something that resembled gravy. Chicken is relatively inexpensive so why skimp on it? And don't call it homemade unless it is - call it something like "about as far away from homemade as you can get". My next chicken pie came from a combination of the garden and the henhouse. That's homemade.

So, anyways, the trip to the grocery store got me thinking about raising an assortment of veggies this year and not relying on the sheer volume of certain crops. We don't need 50 quarts of green beans or 40 packages of beet greens. We need a diverse group of crops in which to pick from. We have carrots, beets, potatoes and onions in the root cellar; I think I'll add some cabbage and rutabagas. In the freezer we have Swiss chard and beet greens, green beans and shell and snap peas. There aren't a whole lot more veggies I can think of to put in the freezer that we like.

Next week: What about fresh greens in the winter and what to plant in the garden in 2009.