Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Johnny's board member Tukey produces documentary movie

National activist Paul Tukey brings anti-pesticide movie to hometown; 'A Chemical Reaction' coming to Waterville's Railroad Square Cinema
Watch trailer.

WATERVILLE, MAINE -- On the heels of several sellout premieres across the United States and Canada, the creator of the inspirational, yet controversial documentary A Chemical Reaction announced he will bring his film and mission to the historic Railroad Square Cinema on Sunday, Jan. 10, at 12:30 p.m.

A feature-length film by Maine director Brett Plymale, A Chemical Reaction was described as "rousing" and awarded four stars by the film critics of the Montreal Gazette. Despite winning national awards and drawing large audiences, the film has also drawn the ire of representatives from the billion-dollar chemical lawn care industry, who have have been at odds for years with the film's executive producer, Waterville native Paul Tukey.

Tukey, a former HGTV host and the founder of the U.S. non-profit organization known as, appears frequently on screen during A Chemical Reaction while interviewing key figures in the anti-pesticide movement in Canada and the U.S. Tukey, a Johnny's Selected Seeds board member, said his goal in making the film is to create awareness of the health hazards and environmental degradation associated with lawn care chemicals such as weed 'n feed and Roundup.

"Canadian doctors and the Canadian courts have looked at the toxicity associated with chemical lawn care and have banned these products in much of that nation," said Tukey, a former Waterville resident who went on to become America's Horticultural Communicator of the Year in 2006. "Our hope is that people watch the movie and say, 'Canada has banned these products, why do we still use them in the United States?' This issue is particularly relevant in Maine, where chemical fertilizers and pesticides run off into the lakes, rivers, stream and the ocean."

Much of the movie's story focuses on Dr. June Irwin, a dermatologist who spurred the first town in Canada to ban lawn and garden chemicals pesticides in 1991. When Hudson, Quebec, told the lawn care giant then known as ChemLawn that it couldn't apply its synthetic chemical products within town borders, it set off a chain of high-profile court cases that culminated in the Canadian Supreme Court in 2001.

The town won the case in a landmark 9-0 decision and the chemical ban soon spread to the entire province of Quebec. Ontario enacted lawn chemical restrictions this past Earth Day and hundreds of other Canadian municipalities have also passed legislation.

For the past several years, Tukey has traveled across the United States and Canada in a relentless quest to tell the Hudson story and urge municipalities to follow suit. He said he is proud to bring the film back to the town where he first played baseball, soccer and all sorts of lawn games.

"It's important that our children play in a toxin-free environment and that ought to begin with their home and schools," said Tukey. "Since I've lived in Maine for all of my 48 years, I feel most compelled to share this message here. I'm also proud that all the movie's music, editing and production occurred right here in Maine and is now being shown to an international audience."

The Railroad Square Cinema, is the perfect venue for the film, according to Ken Eisen of Shadow Distribution.

"We're thrilled to be able to bring this important, Maine-centered film to audiences here in central Maine," he said.

ABOUT SAFELAWNS.ORG: is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to reduction in the use of lawn and garden pesticides and synthetic chemical fertilizers. It has produced a series of high-profile campaigns since its inception in 2006.

Contact Brett Plymale at 207-776-8962. To view a movie trailer, visit


The film will be screened at the Railroad Square Cinema, 17 Railroad Square, Waterville. Tickets are $6.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Johnny's 2010 catalog receives glowing review

Maureen Gilmer, a horticulturist, blogger and columnist with the Ventura County Star (Calif.) newspaper, gives our new catalog high marks. Gilmer writes that the Johnny's 2010 catalog is her "top pick, not only for its fine presentation but because it serves as the one-stop shop where you can get everything you need or want".

Read the story here.

Check out Gilmer's MoPlants blog here.

We also received some nice ink from the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal.

Monday, December 28, 2009

USDA to launch Hoophouse pilot study

Feds Announce 3-Year Project To Verify Effectiveness Of High Tunnels In Natural Resource Conservation

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2009 - Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced a new pilot project under the 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative for farmers to establish high tunnels - also known as hoop houses - to increase the availability of locally grown produce in a conservation-friendly way. Merrigan and other Obama administration officials highlighted opportunities available for producers in a video posted on USDA's YouTube channel, which shows high tunnels recently installed in the White House garden.

"There is great potential for high tunnels to expand the availability of healthy, locally-grown crops - a win for producers and consumers," said Merrigan. "This pilot project is going to give us real-world information that farmers all over the country can use to decide if they want to add high tunnels to their operations. We know that these fixtures can help producers extend their growing season and hopefully add to their bottom line."

The 3-year, 38-state study will verify if high tunnels are effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields, and providing other benefits to growers.

Made of ribs of plastic or metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting, high tunnels are easy to build, maintain and move. High tunnels are used year-round in parts of the country, providing steady incomes to farmers - a significant advantage to owners of small farms, limited-resource farmers and organic producers.

Read more and watch video.

Johnny's has many of the tools and supplies needed to help you take advantage of this program.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Product spotlight, January 2010

Cherry tomato 'Black Cherry'

Who would have thought that such a small tomato, in such a strange color, could have such fantastic flavor? 'Black Cherry' cherry tomatoes are sweet and complex, much like full-sized heirloom tomatoes. The color is a dark purplish red, almost black. Because customers aren't accustomed to cherry tomatoes of this color, we recommend that you sell them in a "rainbow mix" of multiple varieties. 'White Cherry', 'Sungold', and 'Favorita' are all approximately the same size and the same 60 days to maturity. Or create your own mixture, with many shapes, sizes, and colors. Encourage people to conduct their own taste tests. We bet 'Black Cherry' will soon be a customer favorite.

'Black Cherry' is an indeterminate variety that should be staked. Johnny's has the supplies you need, including tomato twine, clips and Ty'mup tapeners and tape.

Strawberry 'Seascape' and 'Albion'

Here's a new idea for early-season sales: A strawberry plant that fruits in 50 days in a hanging basket -- the perfect Mother's Day gift! Order 'Seascape' Mother's Day Sales and your plants will arrive in early March.

Plant them right away in hanging baskets in the greenhouse and you'll have baskets overflowing with blossoms and fruits by early May. 'Seascape' (right) is also available for shipping at a later date if you plan to plant in the field. This day-neutral variety yields well, and berries are large and flavorful.

For organic growers, we also have certified-organic 'Albion' strawberry plants. 'Albion' (left) has good resistance to verticillium wilt and phytophthora crown rot, with some resistance to anthracnose crown rot. It yields well all season, with large, firm, uniform fruits. This is a great variety to grow in the hoophouse.

Rhubarb 'Victoria'
Rhubarb is another crop that can round out your organic market offerings early in the season. It is a hardy perennial that produces for six to eight weeks a year and lives for 15 years or longer in the right spot. The tender, rosy-red stalks of the variety 'Victoria' are sweeter and milder than other varieties, and perfect for making pies and jams.

Rhubarb crowns should be planted in early spring in well-drained, fertile soil, in full sun. Crowns should be spaced 3' apart in the row, and 5' between rows. It should not be harvested the first year, and only a few stalks per plant should be taken the second year. After that, all stalks 1" or more in diameter can be cut without harming the plant.

Order rhubarb crowns now and they will be shipped at the appropriate planting date for your location in late March through late April.

DOT Pots™
If you sell plants, set yours apart from the competition with DOT Pots™, which are 100% organic and OMRI-listed. The pots are biodegradable, so they can be planted right in the soil. Your customers will appreciate that they are environmentally responsible as well as easy to plant. DOT Pots™ are made using only two ingredients: 80% wood fiber and 20% peat moss. Binding is achieved through a patented technology. DOT Pots™ are available in strips, square pots, or round pots. There's a size for every kind of plant you sell.

Hoop houses at the White House

From the White House blog...

Planting the Garden

This blog entry, posted by White House chef and food initiative coordinator Sam Kass, includes a YouTube video, shot last week in Washington, D.C. The five-minute clip shows volunteers from the USDA installing hoop houses on the White House south lawn where First Lady Michelle Obama has planted a kitchen garden.

Here at Johnny's, you'll find everything you need to build a similar season-extension structure. Visit our Quick Hoops web page at for more information.

Johnny's events calendar - January 2010

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 12/16/09

I guess field work is done. The pond is frozen over and everything is covered with fresh snow. I think with a warm fall like we had this year, no matter how cold and snowy the winter is, it'll seem shorter than if we had started winter in November. After a poor growing season, I am anxious to get a new and better season started. Well, perhaps not quite yet, but soon; within a couple of months.

The freezer is full and we like it that way! We harvested the last crop just two weeks ago - the Brussels sprouts. Twenty quarts of them went into the freezer and we had some fresh ones to eat right away - delicious! Brussels sprouts are easy to grow, and their incredibly sweet. Yes, I said sweet. If more people ate them fresh they perhaps wouldn't have such a bad rep. We never had them while growing up - broccoli was a reach for many years. My mother at 91 had her first Brussels sprouts and enjoys them very much. The ones from the garden allowed to be frosted several times and harvested and cooked fresh bear little resemblance to what you buy in the supermarket, grown and processed in some far off place, and bitter at best. Typical super market Brussels sprouts need to be slathered in butter and dosed with ample supplies of salt before being eaten. Fresh from the garden and they need no salt or butter, just enjoy them as they are.

One note about growing Brussels sprouts is the need to protect them from cabbage worms. Each year I fail to spray them as much as I should for cabbage worms. I did manage to spray them once this past summer but should have done it a couple more times. The caterpillars feed on the sprouts but worst of all, leave their feces in the tunnels they make. As the sprouts grow the feces (frass) become embedded in the leaves of the sprouts. After the sprouts are picked, and as you sort through them and trim them prior to blanching, you will have to discard, or at least heavily trim, the affected sprouts. This will add hours onto the process making much more work than needed.

I suppose with Christmas being less than 2 weeks away I should go do some shopping. I like shopping; if I can go where I want to. I've got three farm stores, a grocery store and a couple of sporting goods stores on my list. Last year Peg requested cast iron; she got it; I had to shore up the house so the floor wouldn't buckle with all the added weight. I didn't know they made so many things out of cast iron! We like using cast iron, especially on our woodstove. A few years back she got new ice fishing traps; one set one year and one set the next. Now she's got two nice sets and I don't have any; perhaps I can borrow hers.

Shopping for me is far easier; farm and sporting good stores always hold something of interest. New things for the henhouse and the garden are always good. Thinking about what I'll be doing in three months and that adds a couple of trips to the boat and fishing store, new paint for my tractor (yes, I'm getting that running) and perhaps a gift certificate for new asphalt shingles for the barn. See, I'm easy to get for; she, on the other hand would probably be less than thrilled with any of the above and I doubt she be thrilled with a gift certificate for a load of compost either. I'll have to think on this.

No column for the next two weeks; I'm going on vacation. I think, by the looks of the weather, I'll be tending the wood furnace quite a lot. I'd also like to do some snowshoeing with Peg and the dogs. You'd think the dogs would break trail but, no, instead they prefer to walk directly behind us, occasionally stepping on our snow shoes. Makes for an interesting and sometimes quite funny afternoon.

See you next year, Brian

Johnny's 2010 Calendar: 14 months of beautiful photos from some of our customers farms

Watch slideshow...

...or enjoy this musical video

To purchase a calendar visit

What you should know about Basil Downy Mildew

Symptoms underside of leaf
Photo courtesy of Margaret Tuttle McGrath, Riverhead Long Island, Cornell University, Vegetable MD Online

'Fuzzy' Sporulation
Photo courtesy of North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Growing Small Farms, Chatham Co. Center, Debbie Roos

Symptoms underside of leaf
Photo courtesy of Margaret Tuttle McGrath, Riverhead Long Island, Cornell University, Vegetable MD Online

Common name: Basil Downy Mildew
Latin Name: Peronospora belbahrii sp.

Life Cycle: This pathogen is a water mold. It can spread as sporangia blowing on the wind, infected leaves, or seeds. Zoospores emerge from sporangia and have to have water to infect leaf tissue. Mature infections produce more sporangia. With a hand lens, the fruiting bodies resemble small trees with fruit on them.

Plants effected: Basils (unknown at this time if there are other hosts; a different pathogen causes downy mildew in coleus, sage and mint).

Slight yellowing on upper side of leaf, often in bands because the pathogen cannot grow through major veins but sometimes subtle, resembling nutritional deficiency. Monitor closely for white, gray or black 'fuzz' on under side of leaf. Small stalks with sporangia, resembling mini fruiting trees, can be seen with a hand lens.

Start with pathogen-free seed. Keep foliage as dry as possible. Plant basil in a sunny location with good air movement and space plants as far apart as possible. Use our 9900 (18 Oz.) or 9804 (2 Oz.) Actinovate as a foliar spray to prevent zoospore infection. This is a new disease to North America (first observed October 2007 in FL). Testing procedure for the pathogen in seed is being developed. If you find Basil Downy Mildew or suspect you have it, call your local extension office or send a plant sample to your state's plant disease diagnostic lab. As we learn more about it we will be sure to update this sheet with new management strategies and control methods.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Johnny's sponsors Farming for the Future conference

Johnny's is one of the "Silver Key" sponsors at the upcoming 2010 Farming for the Future Conference.

The conference, hosted by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, should be interesting, with dozens of workshops on organic and sustainable agriculture methods. It will be held Feb. 4 to 6 at the Penn Stater Hotel in State College, Pa.

Johnny's will be there. We'll have some of our new 2010 products on display. Stop by the Johnny's booth and say hello to Chris Hillier, one of our sales representatives.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Photos from Johnny's Farm: Late autumn chores and scenery

These photos were shot on December 2, 2009 at Johnny's research farm in Albion, Maine. The farm crew has put the fields to bed for the winter and has completed maintenance work on the hoophouses.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 12/09/09

The middle of December and it's looking a lot like winter around here. Fresh snow covers up more of the fall landscape leaving us to plan for next year and reflect on this past season. Otherwise known as what worked and what didn't.

The deer fence worked; haven't seen a deer track on the farm for over a year now. There are lots of them around the farm, on the outsides of the fences, checking to see if we ever leave a gate open. Looking at those white humps out in the field, knowing they're pumpkins covered in snow. Each snow storm gives us an opportunity to observe all the deer tracks in the parking lots; I do believe they come nightly to check things out. At least three of the neighbors feed them during the winter so there are plenty of them around. There's a lot of controversy about feeding deer commercially prepared grain but I don't see any reason not to feed them with special plantings of crops they like.

Like turnips. And beets. And oats as well. I'm thinking of perhaps a mixture of these three; planted in mid-summer and allowed to grow undisturbed through the fall would provide nutritious and tasty grazing throughout the winter. I have a friend whom plants deer pasture mixes solely to watch the deer; perhaps I can interest him in my plan. I also have a couple of fields that we could use just for feeding them that would work. I had a new field this year that I wanted to plant for the deer, but it was so wet I couldn't get onto the ground until well into September. Hope they like winter rye.

In my own garden I planted some extra room to sunflowers. I left them there until about two weeks ago, once the birds and squirrels were done with them. I was going to leave them standing all winter, but they look terrible; like an untended garden looks. One trip over them with the four wheeler took care of them. The mice can have any seed left in the heads through the winter. The bobcats, hawks and owls can eat the mice and so on down the road.............

We're had all three predators hanging out around the bird feeders at various times throughout the winter. Owls are the most frequent visitors although hawks are fairly common feeding on the many sparrows that hang around the barns. Owls sit in the big maple tree over the bird feeders and occasionally drop down on the unsuspecting mouse. Bobcats are somewhat rarer but once in a while we catch them by surprise as they scope out what's hanging around the bird feeders. We see most of these predators when the snow is deep or of we have ice on top of deep snow. There's lots of interest in mice and squirrels in the winter.

And finally, speaking of squirrels, something was making a ruckus in the kitchen the other night. Peg asked what all the commotion was, and in my usual laid back mannerism, I told her there was a flying squirrel on the window sill. Yes, inside of course. Peg and I, two cats and two dogs trying to get a somewhat terrified squirrel out the door. We must have gotten him out as we haven't seen any evidence of his being in the house since. Never a dull moment.

Until next week, Brian

Friday, December 4, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 12/02/09

December already!

I don't know what's new at the farm; I've been on vacation. By looking out my window I'd say not much is new; in the fields anyways. The warm weather this fall has allowed the fall cover crops to grow more than they would usually. Several crops that I thought may have been planted too late look good as we approach winter.

One bad thing about this warm weather is the fact that ticks are still out and about. We don't treat our dogs with flea and tick killer so finding them is nearly a daily event. Peggy is really good at pulling them off completely and destroying them by incineration or sending them into that whirlpool the flush makes. The hens and the guineas get most of them off the lawns but I think the dogs pick them up in the tall grass next to the pond. One good freeze and they'll be just a memory until next spring. Next year I think I'll increase my guinea flock, from the current five to twenty five or so. That should help keep the numbers down some. Keeping guineas is an acquired taste.

Lots of rain last week and it's a good thing we had so many cover crops planted and growing. On my weekly walk around the farm, I saw little evidence of soil erosion. There is lots of standing water in some of the fields, but that's to be expected with all the rain we've had lately. And the pond is full; all the water we used in fall frost protection has been replaced.

The field work is done for this season; a season we are all anxious to put behind us. Weeds, weather, insects, critters and diseases are all things we can relax about now. Not forget, but relax. Part of successful farming is always keeping these issues in mind and thinking about them throughout the off season. We'll definitely have plans in place for next season for unexpected surprises like late blight. And what plans can we make now for the possibility of a late blight issue next season? The biggest plan we can make is to leave spray rows. And the second biggest plan is to plant our tomato productions in fields closer to home; that will save us some travel time. This year we had to put them in fields we could get on as we had very wet conditions and had to jockey crop locations around a bit.

We've got time to do a few more projects outside as the weather has been warm and the ground is still not frozen. We cut some bushes a couple of weeks ago and still need to pick up the brush. We've got a popular tree broken nearly off and perched to land on our new deer fence; we'll have to get rid of that one today. There are some more branches to trim; they seem to reach out and whack the tractor mufflers. With some mufflers costing over five hundred bucks trimming them back can save us some major money.

The pumpkins are melting nicely in the field now. After repeated freezing and thawing they melt; they rot and flatten out. In the spring they're just like Frisbees. The turkeys and squirrels will spend the bulk of the winter digging them up to glean the seeds. I hope this helps them to survive through the winter; it seems like such a waste to waste them. To many people leaving crops in the field seems like a waste of resources, but after many years I've come to realize we're not wasting the resources but rather recycling them. The nutrients simply get recycled back into the field season after season.

Until next week, Brian

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hassle-free aerators: Johnny's Broadforks touted in The Washington Post

Johnny's Broadforks were mentioned in The Washington Post today in an article about the importance of aerating your soil.

The Post article, "Gardening Success is in the Air", was written by the gardening columnist Barbara Damrosch, the author of "The Gardening Primer".

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Johnny's joins Twitter, Flickr

Johnny's has recently joined the micro-blogosphere. We're on Twitter now. If you have a free Twitter account, you can "follow" us. We'll be posting news about goings on at our research farm, information about releases of new products, and upcoming events. You can even have our tweets sent to your cell phone or wireless gadget. Tweets are Twitter messages. They can be no more than 140 characters in length, hence the microblog label.

We're also on Flickr, Yahoo!'s cool photo-sharing social network. If you're a photography buff, Flickr is the network for you. To use Flickr, you need a Yahoo! account, also free. We've posted a few photos from our booth at September's Common Ground Country Fair and from our research farm in Albion, Maine. We welcome you to join our Flickr group and share your gardening photos with us. Hopefully, you've enjoyed success with Johnny's products. We'd love to hear your stories and see your gardens.

Diva Cucumbers thrive in Vermonter's hoophouses

Joseph McDonald, of Mount Holly, Vt., sent us photos of his hoophouse gardens this week. Joe had great success this growing season with our seedless Diva Cucumber as you can see in these photos. The cucumbers hang from a cleverly designed trellis, which was fabricated from plastic snow fencing. Diva is a delicious Johnny's-bred variety and an All-America Selections winner. That does well in greenhouse settings.

Joe, who owns a refrigeration repair business, also reported his EarliChamp Melons thrived under the hoophouse. He used a unique hammock method to support the fruit, which can grow to 6-plus pounds.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Johnny's Events Calendar - December 2009

Johnny's December 2009 Events Calendar - click to enlarge:

Or download our PDF here.

Product spotlight - December 2009

Product Spotlight: Red Pearl Grape Tomato

Red Pearl is a new grape tomato from Johnny's breeding program. It has been a standout among the dozens of grape tomato varieties we have trialed in the past few years. It has resistance to Fusarium and intermediate resistance to late blight.
Red Pearl Grape Tomato
Red Pearl is nearly seedless and has exceptionally tender skin. It is sweet like most grape tomatoes, but has a more complex tomato flavor than many varieties. Compared to Red Grape, the fruits are slightly larger, and yields are similar.
The fruits resist cracking and hold well on the vine, even when ripe, which reduces the need to harvest every day. Picking is easy, though, because the tomatoes are visible and accessible on the tall, open plants. Red Pearl is an indeterminate variety and a good choice for hoophouse and greenhouse production. 58 days to maturity.
Seed was produced on the JSS research farm and is certified organic.

Product spotlight: Echo Blue Lisianthus

A new addition to our cut-flower seeds for 2010 is Lisianthus Echo Blue. The color is a rich, deep blue that is useful in bouquets and arrangements. Echo Blue is fully double, giving it a rose-like appearance that is a magnet for customers. Its vase life is an extraordinary two weeks with proper
Echo Blue Lisianthus care. Florists are accustomed to paying top dollar for lisianthus from the wholesalers and will be eager to buy them locally grown when they see the vibrant color of fresh-picked lisianthus. Grow Echo Blue along with Echo Champagne, a peachy pink color, and you will have an elegant flower for every floral design
Lisianthus is a great crop for the hoophouse because it can be planted when the weather is still cold, and it will tolerate extremely high summer temperatures under plastic. In windy areas, growing it under protection is essential to producing long stems. The plants can get to 3 feet tall and need to be supported; we recommend Hortanova mesh erected horizontally over the bed.
Because lisianthus is very slow growing, it needs to be started in a greenhouse at least 13 weeks before you want to plant it outside. The Echo series, one of the earliest varieties, will bloom 20 to 24 weeks from sowing. The seeds need light to germinate, so should be covered only with a light sprinkling of vermiculite to hold in moisture. Start the seed on a heating mat set to 75°F and provide good air circulation. Applying T-22HC Plantshield is recommended to provide protection against root pathogens during the slow early growth of the seedlings. After emergence, the temperature should be reduced to 60-75°F. Do not allow the plugs to become rootbound, as this can permanently stunt them. Plant on 4" x 6" spacing. Echo Blue petals show water spots, so avoid overhead watering and harvest when two or three of the flowers on a stem are beginning to open.

Product spotlight: Soil Block Makers

In his book The New Organic Grower, Eliot Coleman writes: "Soil blocks constitute the best system I have yet found for growing seedlings."
We couldn't agree more. They produce a much better plant that establishes quickly with no transplant shock. Soil blocks also eliminate the expense, waste, and storage issues of plastic pots. Once you have purchased soil block makers and trays, your only annual cost for transplants will be for potting mix.
Johnny's soil block making system has everything you need to make soil blocks for all your vegetable, flower, and herb transplants. Johnny's 512 mix and Vermont Compost's Fort Vee mix are both good choices for soil blocks because they will hold together well when compressed into blocks.
We also have a new propagation tray with a flat mesh bottom that provides good drainage for soil blocks. It is a standard 10'x20" size, so it can be used with our leak-proof trays and acrylic domes.
Another new addition to the line is a potting tray that lends itself well to soil blocking, allowing you to compress the soil mix tightly by pushing down and twisting the blocker back and forth. It even has an optional shelf for holding seeds, markers, and other supplies.
The block makers themselves are available in several sizes, as hand-held or stand-up models. Many growers use a 3/4" mini blocker to maximize the number of seeds they can germinate on a heat mat. Then they transplant the mini blocks into larger blocks where they are grown on until it's time to transplant them outside. Optional square dibble inserts that make depressions the exact size of the mini blocks are available for all the larger blockers, allowing for easy transplanting.
The hand-held block makers are available in three sizes: the 3/4" square mini blocker for germinating seeds or for small transplants such as lettuces; a 2" square for all vegetables, large-seeded flowers, and herbs; and a 4" square for large plants or late transplanting.
Commercial stand-up models are easy on the back and make multiple blocks quickly. They are available in three sizes, and all make small depressions in the tops for seeds.

JSS Advantage - December 2009

Choosing varieties

When your Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog arrives in the next few weeks, the first thing to catch your eye may be the varieties identified as "NEW!" Johnny's has more than 100 new seed varieties in the 2010 catalog. It may seem a bit overwhelming how do you sort through all the new varieties, compare them with old varieties, and make your selections? If you're a beginner or trying a completely new crop, where do you even begin? Here is a systematic way to go about choosing varieties:

  1. First, make a list of everything you grew last season. Highlight the varieties that did well, and mark those for reordering. In the unlikely event that one of your varieties is missing from the catalog, start reading descriptions to see if anything is named as a replacement. If you don't see any mention of your star variety, give us a call. If seed is available, your sales rep can special order it for you. If there was a crop failure, however, and it's just not possible to get seed, you'll have to look for a replacement variety.

  2. Next, think about the crops that didn't do well for you last season. Analyze the problems you had with each disease, low yield, too quick to bolt, sun scald on the fruits, and so on. Go back to the catalog and read descriptions carefully to find varieties with traits that may address your problem. Johnny's catalog descriptions use objective criteria to help you understand the differences among varieties, but if you are unsure about anything, call us. Pick at least two varieties to test.

  3. At this point, you are well-positioned to repeat your successes and overcome your failures from the past. Now you can think about adding some new crops, whether they are new in the catalog or just new to you. We recommend that you make a cup of tea, find a comfortable chair, and start reading the catalog from start to finish. If a variety description appeals to you or stimulates marketing ideas, check it off for further consideration. Look at those identified as "NEW!" to see if you want to give them a try.

  4. If you're like most growers, your wish list will be bigger than your garden and you will have to refine your selections. Check out a few forums online to see what other growers have said about varieties you are considering. Cornell University has an online vegetable variety-rating project with more than 5,000 varieties listed. Growers from all parts of the country contribute to the project, so you may find information about varieties that do well in your area.

  5. If a crop is completely new to you, find out if your state Cooperative Extension Service has any recommendations on varieties. Check with other states in your region, too. Varieties that have been tested and performed well, even if they are not the newest varieties, provide a good starting point and can be used as a basis for comparison.

  6. Think about extending your season with hoophouses and row covers in winter or shade cloth in summer. Look for special symbols in the catalog that denote cold tolerance, heat tolerance, and greenhouse production. You will be more successful at season extension if you choose the right varieties.

  7. Set up variety trials so that they produce useful data. See the Johnny's website for information on how to conduct a variety trial.

  8. Finally, keep good records. Record information about planting dates, harvest dates, yield, insect and disease problems, appearance, and market acceptance. Next year, when it's time to start variety selection again, those records will make your work much easier.
What to plant where
Planning your field or garden layout is one of the most challenging aspects of vegetable production because multiple goals must be accommodated in the plan. Rotations, planting dates, time to maturity, duration of harvest, and microclimates all have to be considered. You also need to know recommended crop spacing so you can calculate how many plants will fit. It's a complicated exercise, especially considering that it should change every year, so you need to design your next planting plan with an eye to the future. Experienced growers find it helpful to divide their farms into "management units" as a way of reducing the complexity. A management unit on a large farm might be an entire field. On a small farm, it could be a block of beds. In a garden, each bed might be considered its own unit. The overall goal of your design is to reduce work and waste while providing the best possible growing conditions for each crop. Here are some considerations that should guide your planning:
  1. Figure out how much you want to grow of each crop, based on your market expectations and past experience. Then calculate how many plants you need to produce that quantity and how much space you need for that number of plants. Johnny's has several resources to expedite these calculations, such as the yield chart in the catalog and a new seed calculator online.

  2. Crop rotations over time are extremely important in vegetable production success. Rotating crops breaks up insect, weed, and disease cycles and helps to balance nutrients across the farm. The first element of crop rotation should be based on the botanical families of your crops. Don't grow plants in the same family on the same piece of land for at least three years; four or five years is better. Ideally, crops can be rotated through your management units, so the best system is to have four or five units for a long rotation.

  3. Group crops by production practices such as cultivation practices, row covering, days to maturity, lines of drip tape needed, nutrient and water demand, and pest control. Keeping crops with similar requirements together will expedite tasks and give the field a neater appearance later in the season. For example, it might be quickest to plant lettuce and onions in the same bed because they can be planted at the same time in spring. But lettuce will be harvested within 45 days, whereas storage onions might be in the field for 100 days or more. The bed for the onions will need to be weeded and watered long after the lettuce is gone. Try to group crops that are planted and harvested at approximately the same time.

  4. Locate crops according to harvest requirements. Some crops such as watermelons and sweet corn are so heavy you'll need a tractor or vehicle to move them out of the field. Others such as salad mix can be carried in a tub. Think about these and other access issues in planning your fields. With all these nuances in mind, you can start mapping. Some growers use spreadsheets. Others use index cards, with one crop on each card. Others map out the next season on graph paper, then cut the units apart and reassemble them for the following season. However you do it, it takes considerable skill and vision to create a multiyear planting plan. But once accomplished, your plan will be a tremendous asset to your farm.
Plan for next year's holidays
In this season of gift-giving, you'll find stores stocked with food baskets, herbal gifts, and other products from the garden. If you're like most gardeners, you'll think, "I could have made that!" And you know your friends and family would much rather have homegrown, homemade gifts than something mass-produced in a factory far away. So make a resolution to plan for next year's gift-giving. Now is the time to survey stores for product ideas that you can incorporate into your 2010 growing plans. Pick one or two specific products and decide what you will need for ingredients and containers. Remember that presentation is important with food gifts, so keep your eyes open for attractive bottles, baskets, or other containers. With a little planning, and perhaps a little extra planting, you can have everything you need to create memorable, personal gifts. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about gifts to grow next year:

  1. A winter vegetable basket. Set aside onions, garlic, carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squash as you harvest them, and assemble mixtures into brand-new baskets. Tuck in a few of your favorite recipes for inspiration.

  2. Garlic braids. Grow more than enough garlic for your markets, and be sure to cure the bulbs sufficiently to provide the best shelf life. Softneck varieties are easiest to braid. Weave in some bunches of fresh herbs, and tie on a raffia bow.

  3. Herbal vinegars are pretty as well as useful. Here's a detailed instruction sheet on making herb vinegars.

  4. Hot pepper jellies require time at the stove, but their jewel-like colors make them perfect gifts. Attach a tag suggesting an easy appetizer of cream cheese smothered with hot pepper jelly, served with thin slices of bread or crackers.

  5. Herb mixes. Dry culinary herbs thoroughly, then crush them with a rolling pin between sheets of wax paper. Mixtures of herbs can be used in all kinds of products. You can put them in small cellophane or plastic bags (check in the candy-making section of hobby stores for supplies) and staple them closed with a tag suggesting the herbs as a rub for chicken or fish, a dip mix, or to sprinkle over roasting vegetables. Add them to dried beans for a soup mix. Or mix up the dry ingredients for biscuits, attach a recipe for herb biscuits, and decorate the package with a biscuit cutter.

  6. Herb salts and sugars. Wash fresh herbs such as sage, thyme, rosemary, and basil, and dry completely on a towel. Put a 1-inch layer of kosher salt or sea salt in an airtight container, and then make several layers of salts and herbs. The salt will absorb the flavors of the herbs, and can be packaged into small, decorative jars for gift-giving. Sugar can be used the same way, though you might want to use herbs such as lavender, mint, and lemon balm, and attach a scone or sugar cookie recipe.
Winter study

As your outside work winds down, you may want to spend some time learning about a new growing practice, investigating a new crop, or just catching up on what's new in the world of market gardening. We invite you to visit Johnny's website and explore the videos, articles, and technical sheets that are waiting for you. Go to and follow the links to the video library for short videos of the tools and techniques we use at the JSS research farm. For technical information sheets, go to a product detail and click on the "More Product Information" tab for a list of related resources.

Food safety issues are heating up

Market growers may soon be affected by federal food safety legislation and regulation. Some wholesale buyers are already requiring food safety certification for vendors. These are issues that could change the way you farm and market your produce. Growing for Market, the magazine for market farmers, is following food safety issues closely and publishing regular updates on its website.