Sunday, November 1, 2009

Product Spotlight - November 2009

Product spotlight: Early potatoes

With Johnny's Early Potato program, seed potatoes can be shipped in early February in insulated cartons to protect them from cold. Early potatoes are available for 25-pound orders, and must be booked by January 15. You can reserve on the website right now, and your credit card won't be charged until we ship in February. If you don't need potatoes that early, you can order under the regular potato program for shipment in March and April.

These varieties are available for early shipment: Dark Red Norland and Dark Red Norland Organic; Superior; Red Gold; Yukon Gold and Yukon Gold Organic; Gold Rush; French Fingerling; Russian Banana; Kennebec and Kennebec Organic. (Additional varieties will be available for later shipping.)

Growers in the South will appreciate the early shipping date because potatoes can be planted outside in February. In colder areas, many growers want to get their potatoes a month ahead of planting so they can greensprout them. Greensprouting, also known as chitting or pre-sprouting, is a technique that gives potatoes an early start in spring and can advance harvest by two weeks - which helps avoid late blight, summer drought, and all the other potential hazards that can befall a potato crop late in the season. Greensprouted potatoes will emerge faster, and fewer pieces will die before emergence, which will increase your overall yield.

To greensprout potatoes, bring them into warmth (65-70°F/18-21°C) and light for two to four weeks to break dormancy. Store them in shallow crates or boxes so that air and light reach all the potatoes. In about two weeks, the potatoes will break dormancy and small sprouts will emerge. If you have never tried greensprouting, there's an article on our website that explains the procedure step by step.

Product spotlight: Harvest broadfork

Johnny's 920 Broadfork is designed for quick and easy harvesting of potatoes and other root crops. This broadfork has nine closely spaced tines spanning 20" to loosen the soil around the roots so they can be lifted quickly and with little or no damage. The 920 is one of four models of broadforks designed by Johnny's. With all broadforks, you use your entire body weight, rather than just your back and arms, to push the tines into the soil. When harvesting root crops, you can pull the broadfork handles toward you and lift up one side, then the other, to unearth the crop. With 48" long oiled ash handles, the Harvest Broadfork provides the leverage you need to lift a lot of root crops quickly. It also can be used for general tillage, like Johnny's other broadfork models, to aerate soil deeply without damaging soil structure or mixing layers. This well-designed, well-made tool will be a pleasure to work with for years to come.

Product spotlight: Bouquet dill

If you're growing potatoes, be sure to grow the perfect herbal compliment for them - dill. Fresh dill leaf is a traditional accompaniment to tender new potatoes, salmon and other fish, yogurt-based sauces, and cucumbers fresh or pickled. Dill leaf also is a popular ingredient in salad mix.

Our most popular dill variety for culinary purposes is 'Bouquet'. It provides high yields of leaf and seeds with a good flavor and fragrance. It is available as both organic and non-organic seeds.

'Bouquet' can be direct seeded or started in the greenhouse and transplanted, with plants spaced 2 to 4 inches apart. At the Johnny's research farm in Maine, we find that direct seeding works best. Dill seed can take up to three weeks to germinate, so be patient with it. It will be ready for leaf harvest in 40 to 55 days; to seed harvest in 85 to 105 days.

Product spotlight: Larkspur Johnny's Sublime Formula Mix

Larkspur is one of the earliest and most dramatic cut flowers of spring, and Johnny's 'Sublime' Formula Mix is a superior strain of larkspur with a wide color range. The mix includes all of the individual colors in this 'Giant Imperial' type larkspur: Azure Blue, Bicolor, Bright Carmine, Brilliant Salmon, Dark Blue, Dark Pink, Lilac, Pale Pink and White. 'Sublime' produces 36-48" stems that are excellent as both fresh and dried cut flowers.

Larkspur can be direct-seeded now in most parts of the country. Most growers find that fall seeding produces the longest stems. The seed can be planted with an Earthway push seeder with the radish plate. In mild winter areas, the seed will germinate and grow during the winter, then shoot up as the days lengthen in spring. In cold winter areas, the seed may or may not germinate in fall, depending on temperatures, but will usually come up in late winter. In the North, it can be direct-seeded in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. At the Johnny's research farm in Maine, we find that we get better results from spring direct seeding because we have too much weed pressure if we seed in fall.

Larkspur also can be started in the greenhouse in late winter and transplanted to the field. This generally results in shorter, weaker stems than direct seeding, and is most successful in Zone 4 and north. The plant has a tap root so should not be left in a cell for long, but should be transplanted as soon as the seedlings have a few sets of leaves. Seed should be prechilled for one to two weeks at 35°F/2°C for best germination.

Larkspur is harvested for fresh use when as few as 2-3 florets or as many as 1/3 of the florets are open. If the flowers are to be dried, they should be harvested when all the florets are open but before petals start to fall. They should be bundled and hung upside down to dry in a warm, dark place with good air circulation.

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