Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from Maine; new site coming soon

We'd like to wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Johnny's will be closed on Thursday and Friday, 11/26 and 11/27/2009, in observance of Thanksgiving Day.

Please note: our new website will be going live on Monday, 11/30/09. If you have items stored in your shopping cart, we recommend that you log in and move them to your wish list, as data in shopping carts may be lost. Thank you for your patience with this matter.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Become a fan of Johnny's on Facebook

If you're into social networking, check out the new Johnny's page on Facebook.

We look forward to making new friends on Facebook. We plan to use the new page to communicate with customers and share photos, videos, and promotions. You'll need a free Facebook account to participate.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 11/18/2009

The week before Thanksgiving and the fieldwork is nearly done. 99% of the plastic has been pulled and the fields have been laid to rest for the winter. No more weeds, diseases and insect pests to be concerned about. Now is an excellent time to reflect upon what worked and what didn't; this, the end of the season. I'll call this "Lessons learned in 2009."

2009 will definitely go down as a very difficult growing season. We started out so well with May temperatures in April allowing us to work most of the fields quite early. Then came May with cool and wet weather; then, as I'm sure you know all too well, came a cold and wet summer followed by an absolutely gorgeous fall. And a warm fall too so we got a lot of field work done that otherwise might not have gotten accomplished.

We had to juggle the planting locations of some crops because of where they were scheduled to go was under water, or at least very wet. I didn't want to plant the ornamental pumpkins down next to the woods but it was either there or they weren't going to get planted at all. Where I was going to plant them - well, let's just say it was a bit too wet then, and most of the summer was as well. The squirrels really enjoyed my choice of planting area as did the woodchucks and quill pigs. Lesson learned for this year, although there really wasn't much anyone could have done.

Lesson 2 involved trapping and relocating pests around the farm. Yes, they're all cute early in the season but once they start eating our crops they tend not to be quite as cute as they once were. Next year we'll start trapping and relocating much earlier in the season, pretty much as soon as we see them out in the spring; whilst they're hungry. Trapping them is only a temporary solution as I walked the fields this week, I don't think we affected the population at all; more critters move in as soon as there is an opening.

Lesson 3: Just because, in 27 seasons, we've never had late blight, doesn't mean we won't get it. Be prepared! Have plenty of fungicides on hand, leave spray rows in case you need them, make sure your equipment is up to par and have an aggressive plan just in case you need it. Be ready to jump on a problem like this at all times; be vigilant in field scouting. Have several people trained to spot diseases in the field - more eyes are always better. Set up a schedule so our crops can be scouted three times a week during the month of July.

And finally lesson 4 - There are good people out there that want to farm! I've had the opportunity to work with the best farm crew I can remember since starting here. All have worked hard, in less than ideal conditions, to make our research farm better than in any previous year. We had many challenges this season but the crew all attacked them head on and the results were favorable. Without the hard work, dedication and passion for farming we wouldn't have had the successful year we had. Thanks to all.

Until next week, Brian

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Johnny's helps purchase two farms

Johnny's Selected Seeds donated $40,000 to the Maine Farmland Trust in May. The money was split between two of Maine Farmland Trust's buy/sell/protect projects.

• River Road Farm (now named Stonecipher Farm) in Bowdoinham: The Maine Farmland Trust bought and preserved 100 acres. About 60 acres (including all the farmland) was resold to a young couple (Ian and Tabitha Jerolmack), who are raising vegetables there. MFT raised $100,000 to cover the difference between the property's purchase price and what would be recouped from the sale price. $20,000 came from Johnny’s.

Learn more about Stonecipher Farm

Article on Stonecipher Farm from the Brunswick Times Record

• Charleston dairy farm: MFT bought a 580-acre farm (with 220 tillable acres) in Charleston, which will be leased to a local dairy farmer. The farmer, who recently lost access to other leased land, will use the land for crops and pasture. This property is critical to the farmer’s operation. The farmer will likely buy the land from MFT (as preserved land) in a few years. When all is said and done, MFT will recoup what it paid for this farm, but will accrue costs in the intervening period. Johnny’s remaining $20,000 will cover a portion of those costs. Johnny’s gift made the project possible.

Watch TV news show about Johnny's $40,000 donation

Read about Johnny's Selected Seeds Charitable Giving program

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 11/11/2009

Last week I talked about pulling black plastic; that's about all done now. This week I'm going to be writing about managing organic matter (OM).

As we head into late fall, early winter I pause to give thoughts to how we can improve things for next year. One thing we'll do next year, and have done every year since time began, is to try to increase the organic matter in our fields. Organic matter management begins with a yearly soil test; we prefer to take ours in the fall as the lab has more time and we have ample time to plan for the coming season.

From the home gardeners' standpoint it's a pretty easy solution; add compost, leaves and/or peat moss and you have increased your level of organic matter. I add bedding from the henhouse, ashes from the furnace, leaves from the lawn and crop residues once harvesting has been completed. I've been known to pick up bags of leaves from the curb in local towns. Most anything that will break down in a year or so will do. I divide my garden into two plots; one for the garden next year and one I'll work on for the year after. The plot for next year will get the compost and the other plot will get everything else and a cover crop to boot.

When it comes to having acres and acres and you're trying not to break the budget too bad, well, that's a different story. Keeping up with the addition of organic matter on an acreage basis is more of a challenge; something you must think about as you plan your fields for the season. Growing a crop and plowing it under is often the most cost effective way of adding OM and nutrients on a large scale. If you're going to take a field out of production for a full season, you're going to want the most bang for your buck you can get; that's why it's important to manage it like any cash crop. Let's see: a one or two year crop that's going to add organic matter, bring nutrients up from deep in the soil, add nitrogen for the subsequent cash crop, compete with the weeds and be relatively easy to work with. And the answer is:

Hmmmmmmmmm. What a choice! Should I have two or three crops in one year, should there be one, should I plant a mixture; choices, choices. I need to plant something as early as the ground can be worked that will do everything I want it to do, that will be low maintenance and will perform well in almost any weather conditions that can and will happen. I need to make sure it can compete with early season weeds and grow vigorously throughout the growing season to make the most out of the one year it's going to get to grow unchecked. How much maintenance will it require? Will it perform better if it's mowed once or twice? So picking a cover crop to plant is more than just breezing through our selection and picking one out. It's determining what exactly I want to accomplish, how much time and money I want to invest and what my expected results are at the end of the season and for the next season.

Compared with all the variables, the money is the inexpensive part of the whole process. Anything you do will cost money. If your land stays fallow, it costs to keep the weeds from coming up, if you cover crop it; it costs in seed and expenses, if you seed it down for a couple of years it costs for seed and etc. And just taking it out of production for a year will cost money, so it's something to think about this winter and something to plan on for next spring.

So no matter what you do it's going to cost something. If you do nothing, that also costs as the ground will come up to weeds and become more of a problem down the line. Organic nitrogen is an added bonus if you're looking to add OM. Think about this for a second; once all that OM has been tilled in it's going to take some nitrogen to break it down so, unless you add some supplemental N, it's going to tie up what N you have in the soil breaking down all that carbon so we might as well add some N in the mix. Alas, where does this bring us to now? Picking a crop to seed and a timeline to do it: I think I'll use oats and clover or oats and annual alfalfa and seed it as early in the spring as I can get on the ground. The oats will be a nurse crop - to help the legume to get established. The red clover or alfalfa to add nitrogen, and the reason to plant it early - this mix likes cool weather, in fact it thrives in the cool, spring weather. Once thoroughly established it can take the heat and dryness of a typical Maine summer.

I'll probably wind up planting oats and red clover; it's one of my favorite mixtures. The oats will help the clover get established, the red clover will thrive just about anywhere; it will also vigorously regrow next spring and it will provide quite a lot of nitrogen to next year's crops. The only maintenance that this crop needs in a mowing once the oats reach maturity; this will kill the oats allowing the clover to come up now that it's established.

Until next week, Brian

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Johnny's in the news: Cold frames reviewed; leeks and kale touted

A few Johnny's products were mentioned in a couple of recent gardening articles. It's nice to get your name in print, er make that pixels. This is the web after all. Here are the links:

Winners and losers in a soggy season
Tom Atwell, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald gardening columnist, wrote about the success he enjoyed with our King Richard leeks.

In the Garden: Frames can stretch growing season
This is an interesting article on cold frames from the Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal by Richard Poffenbaugh. The story touts our Maine-built cedar cold frame and the automatic cold frame opener.

We also were mentioned for our selection of kale in the Evansville (Indiana) Courier and Press: Yardsmart: Delectable winter greens.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Photos from Johnny's Farm: Early snow in Albion

We were hit with a surprise snowstorm here Thursday evening. Well, not really a storm by Maine standards. More like a dusting. About 3 or 4 inches of wet snow covers the fields at our farm in Albion, Maine. It will probably be gone by Monday as we're due for a warm and sunny weekend.

One of the many fringe benefits of working here is that we get to glean leftover vegetables from the trial fields. I spent my lunch break picking spinach -- a cold endeavor without gloves on. Spinach is another one of those cold-hardy vegetables that seems to taste a little better after a blast of frost, or in this, snow.

Here is a slideshow from the farm today. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's New At The Farm? 11/4/09

This week we've been involved in pulling miles and miles of plastic. What more can I say? Well, I suppose I can elaborate on this subject somewhat. Over the years we have increased our use of plastic to the point that most of our crops are grown on it. This means we have lots to pull in the fall, before the ground freezes. Peppers, tomatoes, melons, squash and pumpkins get planted on plastic as well as cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant and okra. The crops do better and weeding is generally reduced by using plastic. This also means we have to buy, install and pull up more poly than ever before. It's important to get all the poly; often strips are left in the field which clog up cultivators and other field equipment in subsequent years.

Pulling plastic up is never a fun job. If I had my druthers I would prefer to pull it in the spring. The weather is warm as is the soil. Add a gentle breeze and you have the recipe for a good day in the spring when you'd rather be nowhere else. However, if the spring is wet and cold and field work may be late, pulling plastic is just one more task we don't really have time for. In the fall it is the final task that is accomplished after a long and tough growing season.

Over the years we've tried many different methods of pulling plastic; to speed up the project while getting all the poly out of the field. The first method was pulling by hand; this method basically sucks. It's fine if you have only a few hundred feet but we're talking thousands of feet. The next method was to use the rockpicker with the gate open. The rockpicker will pull up the poly, run it up the conveyor and deposit it out the back. Better than pulling by hand but it had its drawbacks too. Often it wouldn't go up the conveyor smoothly and instead land in a big bunch of plastic, soil, weeds and plant matter in the field - lots of fun pulling that apart.

Next we bought a plastic puller. This was a three point hitch apparatus which operated by pulling two shears through the soil lifting the poly up and depositing on top of the soil; that was the theory anyways. More often than not it would leave large amounts of soil and plant material on the plastic as well so it wasn't much better than the first method.

While in Aroostook several years ago, talking with a grower, he mentioned he used a potato digger to pull plastic. I had always wanted one for digging potatoes and Jerusalem Artichokes. I found one locally for the right price and purchased it. After installing a new bed chain, we're off and pulling poly. We can now pull 5-6 acres (that's upwards of 45,000 feet) of poly a day without too much of a problem. The digger pulls all the poly up, including the strips and the drip tape, and lays it on the soil surface where the field crews simply walks along and gather it up. Once the poly is pulled and piled up on the ends of the field, it is picked up with the loader and dumped into the dumpster. Much better! The only issue is the occasional breakage of the bed chain but we've become experts at fixing this in a hurry.

After pulling plastic our last task of the year is chisel plowing the fields. It's too late to plant cover corps now so we chisel plow following the contours of the fields. Chisel plowing makes deep furrows in the soil preventing winter erosion. The field is left with these deep ridges until next spring. Once they freeze they won't allow water to run down the hills, but rather hold the water allowing it to permeate the soil. It's not as good as having a lush cover crop planted there but does keep erosion to a minimum.

The last of the crops are being harvested now. Leeks, Brussels sprouts and the last of the onions are being evaluated and harvested. The Kale and Collards will stay in place for harvesting through the winter. The poly tunnel has been planted with lettuces and mixed greens and will sprout and grow some this fall, then really take off next spring; nothing better than fresh greens in March and April to get the season off to an early start.

Until next week, Brian

Monday, November 2, 2009

Johnny's retail store garden still growing strong in November

Thanks to an easy-to-build low tunnel, our raised bed garden in front of the catalog store is full of vegetables (Swiss chart, chives, radishes) that thrive in the colder temperatures. We used the Quick Hoops Bender to construct the hoops from ordinary half-inch conduit and covered them with Agribon row cover. We used sandbags and miscellaneous clips to secure the fabric, which helps protect the plants from both frost and pests. See photos below.

If you're interested in learning more about extending your growing season, check out Eliot Coleman's new book – 'The Winter Harvest Handbook'.
Visit the catalog store in Winslow for a first-hand look at the Quick Hoops low tunnel.
Store hours: Monday through Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Store Phone: 207-861-3999
Map and directions

View Larger Map

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.

JSS Advantage - November 2009

Thanks to the local foods movement, many people want to buy locally-grown vegetables long after the first frost, even after farmers markets close for the winter. In response, many market farmers are finding ways to sell produce throughout the winter. CSA winter shares, home delivery, and indoor winter markets are potential venues for cold-season sales.

Storage vegetables are an important component of winter marketing. More than a dozen types of vegetables can be held for 30 days or longer - some as long as six months - given appropriate conditions. Four factors contribute to storage life:

  1. Variety selection. In every vegetable category, some varieties are best for fresh eating, and some are best for storage. Pay attention to catalog descriptions when ordering seed and grow some varieties to use at harvest and others to hold and use throughout fall and winter. For example, among the cabbages, 'Tendersweet' is best for fresh eating; 'Kaitlin' is recommended for mid-term storage until December or January; and 'Storage No. 4' is recommended for long-term storage into spring.
  2. Quality. Only the very best vegetables should be put into storage. A damaged vegetable won't hold up, and the injured tissue may produce ethylene that will spoil other items in the storage space. As you pack vegetables for storage, check each one for bruises, splits, insect damage or other signs of problems that will only get worse.
  3. Temperature. Some vegetables like cold storage, around 32°F/0°C but others are damaged by cold and should be kept warmer.
  4. Humidity. Vegetables, even those we think of as dry storage vegetables, need some moisture in the air to keep from getting dried out.

The best storage conditions

Environmental conditions for storage vegetables fall into four categories: cold and moist, cold and dry, cool and moist, or cool and dry. Here's a chart summarizing which vegetables go in each type of storage:

Optimum conditions for vegetables with 30+ days storage life
32°F/0°C and 90-100% humidity32°F/0°C and 65-70% humidity40-50°F/ 4-10°C and 90% humidity55-60°F/13-15°C and 85-90% humidity50-55°F/10-13°C and 50-70% humidity
Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Leeks, Rutabagas, TurnipsGarlic, OnionsPotatoesSweet PotatoesWinter Squash

Storage facilities

Commercial coolers are the first choice for long-term cold vegetable storage (below 50°F/10°C) because the temperature can be adjusted for the specific crops that are being stored. Coolers dehumidify the air, so it's important to add moisture to the storage area regularly. This can be accomplished by spraying the cooler if it has a concrete floor and a drain, or by placing buckets or trays of water near the fans. Some growers put wet newspapers above crates of produce, or hang wet towels.

Root cellars are a good choice for cool storage vegetables because they maintain stable temperatures. Root cellars can be dug outdoors into a hillside or they can be in the basement of a house.

A third option is to use an insulated room in a garage or other outbuilding. Depending on the weather outside, a single light bulb burning may produce enough heat to keep the temperature inside above freezing. Small electric heaters also can be used to keep the space at 50°F/10°C.

It's important to note that potatoes will suffer chilling damage below 40°F/10°C, with the starches converting to sugars that give a bad flavor when the potato is cooked. Temperatures much above 40°F/10°C will reduce the storage life and cause the tubers to sprout sooner.

In all storage scenarios, it's important to monitor temperature and humidity as the weather changes over the winter. A digital thermometer/hygrometer can be purchased for less than $20.

"Storing" in the field

Carrots, leeks and spinach can be stored in the ground and harvested throughout the winter as needed. They should be covered with hoops and row covers to keep them from freezing solid. Although it's important to anchor the row cover securely to keep it from blowing off, think carefully about whether your anchoring system will allow access to the vegetables in the coldest weather. For example, it's not a good idea to bury the edges of row cover in a climate where the soil freezes because you won't be able to lift the row cover without tearing it. A better solution would be to hold down the row cover with bags of sand or rock, or even big rocks. T-posts or other poles laid along the edge of the row cover will work if the location is not extremely windy.

Pest of the Week: Tobacco and Tomato Hornworms

Figure 1 Tobacco hornworm larva
Courtesy of University of Kentucky

Figure 2 Parasitized larva
Courtesy Clemson University - USDA Cooperative
Extension Slide Series,

Figure 3 Tomato hornworm larva
Courtesy of Colorado State University

Common name: Tobacco and Tomato Hornworms

Latin Name: Manduca sexta (Linneaus), Manduca quinquemaculata

Life Cycle: Two or more generations per year in warmer climates, one generation per year in cooler climates (check local extension information for specifics on life cycles by region); adult moths lay eggs mostly on undersides of leaves, eggs hatch within about five days, larvae generally move through five instars to reach full size, overwinter as pupae in the soil and emerge in the spring as adults who then mate and begin the process again.

Plants effected: Tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, other Solonaceous crops and weed species.

Insect Habit: Adults emerge in spring (first generation) or summer (second and subsequent generations, depending upon climate) to mate and feed on the nectar of deep throated flowers; larvae feed upon foliage of Solonaceous crops and weeds. As larvae mature, large frass is produced and quite evident under and around effected plants even though the actual pest may not be observed. Tobacco hornworm has seven white lines on both sides and curved red horn on last body segment, tomato hornworm has v-shaped white lines on both sides and a straighter, blue-black horn.
Control: Remove larvae as they are found, till soil just after crops are finished for the season (very effective in ridding the soil of overwintering pupae), natural populations of paper wasps and yellowjackets will kill and feed larvae to their larvae, lady beetles and green lacewings will eat eggs1, larvae of the Cotesia congregatus wasp will parasitize hornworm larvae and, if found, should be left alone to complete their life cycle to build up natural enemy populations1 (Fig. 2), Bt products are effective against smaller larval stages.