Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 2/24/10

Although the last week or ten days has been unseasonably warm I don't think it's going to last. The temps and weather forecast looks a lot like the tail end of winter is going to be less than perfect. That's OK; we're used to that. It's quite dry for this time of year and unless we get nailed by snow soon we won't have much spring runoff. There's some snow in the woods but not as much as I thought there would be. There's still plenty of ice on the small ponds; I had two feet of ice at camp last weekend. It's definitely odd though; we're shutting down our wood furnace and going back to using the kitchen cookstove - in February no less. I've seen several places with sap buckets on the trees and I continue to see large flocks of blackbirds. Being there's no frost the runoff will more than likely "soak in".

The wildlife report for this week looks kind of sparse. No deer or eagles this week; the pond was all quiet last weekend and I haven't seen any deer. There were several coyotes down behind the barn the other night howling in good shape. I think two or three coyotes a quarter of a mile away sounds like a whole pack right behind the henhouse on a clear night. I assume they're getting ready to mate if they haven't done so ready. Pups will be born about two months after mating. An interesting side note here - there is some speculation that the coyotes are taking a toll on turkeys around here and why not? A tasty, warm meal and there are plenty of them.

The domestic ducks are gearing up for breeding season. The Muscovies would like to make some noise but end up kind of hissing at each other. There's a great deal of head bobbing now as they meet in the yard every morning like they haven't seen each other in years. The geese honk all night; it's as if their goal is to keep us awake. No predator could sneak into our yard with geese around. Between the geese, the ducks and the guineas there's quite a bit of noise in the yard. I picked up three pair of Call ducks this winter and they're pretty vocal too. It should be quite comical once the ice melts off the pond and the ducks get out there for the first time. The people I bought the ducks from, where they had been raised since they were ducklings, didn't have a pond so these ducks and geese haven't had much more than a wading pool to bathe in.

I've been letting the chickens out into their fenced in yard during the afternoons now and, if the weather continues, will start letting them out into the yard afternoons and on weekends when someone is there. We're getting some eggs now; time to sell off some hens and get some new ones started. I think I'll stick with the fancy breeds and leave the egg sales for someone else.

And on Johnny's farm:
The fertilizer I spoke about last week is rolling in this week. 29 one thousand pound bags and a couple of pallets of 50 pounders. I bought the fifty pounders so we could calibrate the spin spreader a little more accurately than "it looks good". If we want to put 350 pounds of Cheep Cheep on field 4 then all we need to do is grab seven bags. The whole warehouse will smell like chicken manure- yum, yum.

The field planning continues; we are looking to use a field we've owned for quite some time but have yet to use to its potential. It has ~ 12 acres of really good soil, no rocks and an almost unnoticeable amount of slope - it's actually about one foot of slope in seven hundred feet. There are some drainage issues; these are the issues to talk about this spring. It's really a nice field and I'd like us to use it more than we do. I'll keep you posted.

Until next week, enjoy March in February.


Product spotlight, March 2010

'Guardsman' bunching onion is a great variety for growers with spring markets. It is the earliest bunching onion we have found at 50 days to maturity, it is a full 10 days ahead of our other varieties. It has a nice flavor, not harsh like some scallions, and is mild enough for fresh eating.


'Guardsman' is actually a cross between a bunching onion (Allium fistulosum) and a bulb onion (Allium cepa). It has the vigor and good flavor of the bulb onion, and the slender shape of the bunching onion.

'Gunnison' is a yellow onion that lasts as long in storage as the old favorite 'Copra'. It achieves a slightly bigger size than 'Copra' in the same length of time, about 102 days to maturity, and is resistant to pink root. 'Gunnison' is a medium-large, round onion with flawless skin and small necks that dry down quickly. It is adapted to 38˚-50˚ latitude.

If you grow onions for long-term storage, you know how time-consuming it is to cut off the tops before storing them. Johnny's now has onion shears, which have 5" spring-loaded carbon steel blades for topping onions.

Is this the year you'll plant grapes? These delicious fruits are not as complicated as many people assume. If you plan now, you can have everything ready when the plants are shipped in spring after the danger of freezing in transit has passed. Whether you grow them for your family or for market, grape vines planted this year will provide many years of fruit for fresh eating, juicing, jams, and even your own wine.

Johnny's offers three varieties of seedless table grapes: the red 'Einset', white 'Marquis', and purple 'Concord'. Plant one of each variety for harvest from summer through fall. We also have the cold-hardy red wine grape 'Marquette' patented by the University of Minnesota.
Our most vigorous variety is 'Edelweiss', an excellent choice for planting on arbors or above patios to provide summer shade. 'Edelweiss' produces flavorful white grapes that can be used for fresh eating, juice, or wine.

After you plant grapevines, get them off to a good start with vine shelters, which create a beneficial microclimate with higher humidity, higher CO2 levels, reduced harmful UV light, and increased beneficial blue light. Vine shelters also protect plants from rodents, rabbits, and wind.

There's still time to order 'Seascape' strawberry plants and have hanging baskets of blossoms and berries for Mother's Day. The pre-cooled plants will ship in March. Plant them in hanging baskets or other containers in the greenhouse and within two months you'll have a great product to offer your customers. 'Seascape' is a day-neutral variety that bears fruit all summer. It fruits on unrooted runners that cascade over the sides of the pot or basket. The fruit is large and flavorful when left to ripen on the plant. 'Seascape' plants are also available at a later shipping date for planting outside. Strawberry plants are priced by the bunch, with 25 plants per bunch.

Back by popular demand, the four-row pinpoint seeder! This seeder makes direct seeding fast and easy. It is designed for small to medium-sized seeds for example, pelleted carrots and smaller and you can select from four seed hole sizes. It comes with a long handle so you can walk alongside the bed, pulling the seeder and using the angle of the handle to determine seed depth. It plants four rows 2 1/4" apart, two rows 4 1/2" apart, or two rows 6 3/4" apart.

The four-row seeder is one of many innovative seeders that will help you speed up planting in the market garden. There's a seeder for every application: a six-row seeder; a single-row precision seeder that can be pulled by hand or mounted on a Glaser wheel hoe; a European push seeder; a jab-type seeder; and a seed stick planter. We also have the Earthway seeder and accessories, plus several types of hand-held and broadcast seeders.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Workshops slated for high tunnels; tomato grafting

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension is holding a pair of interesting early spring workshops at the university's Highmoor Farm on Route 202 in Monmouth, Maine.

High Tunnel Field Day will be held on Monday, March 29. This is an all-day affair from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Participants are asked to bring their own lunch.
Registration is $20 and includes program materials and snacks.
To register, visit the Extension website and click on High Tunnel Field Day under Waldo County News & Info or call 1-800-287-1426.

Here's a breakdown of the schedule and speakers:
  • 8:30 to 9:00 Registration Welcome. NRCS program introduction
  • 9:00 to 10:00 Site selection and construction basics (Mark Davis)
  • 10:00 to 11:30 Crop production basics -- soils/fertility; rotations; tomatoes; mulches row covers (Mark Hutton)
  • 11:30 to 12:00 Drip irrigation in High Tunnels (Mark Hutchinson)
  • noon to 1:00 Lunch On your own
  • 1:00 to 1:30 Cut flower production (Barb Murphy)
  • 1:30 to 2:15 Fruit production in tunnels (David Handley)
  • 2:15 to 2:45 My experiences with high tunnels (Doug Chipman, Chipman Farm, Inc., Androscoggin County)
  • 2:45 to 3:15 Winter season growing (Rick Kersbergen)
  • 3:15-3:30 Questions
Tomato Grafting Workshop

A two-hour tomato grafting workshop is slated for Friday, April 2 at 2 p.m.

David Colson, of New Leaf Farm in Durham, and Mark Hutton, University of Maine Cooperative Extension Vegetable Specialist, will describe the benefits and drawbacks of using grafted tomatoes in commercial hoophouse production. Workshop participants will have the opportunity to make up to 30 grafted tomato plants for their farm. The grafted plants will be grown at Highmoor Farm and be available for transplanting approximately the first week of May, 2010.

Pre-registration is required to attend the Tomato Grafting Workshop. The cost is $30 per person to cover supplies. Please register by March 25, 2010. Registration limited to 30. For more information, visit the Extension website.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mache thriving in hoophouse

Here's a set of photos from the Johnny's Selected Seeds Research Farm in Albion, Maine. We've recently removed the row covers from the mache (pronounced "mosh" as in posh) and spinach crops in our hoophouse. The plants are doing well as you can see from these photos.

Mache and spinach are two of the earliest crops available to harvest for growers in the northeast. Both crops love cool temperatures. The mache in our hoophouse is about ready to eat. Mache, also called Corn Salad and Lambs Lettuce (by the British), has a mild, almost nutty/minty taste. Its silky leaves practically melt in your mouth and are the perfect green to enhance a spring salad.

We currently carry two varieties -- Vit and Jade. We're trialing about 30 new varieties now and hope to offer an organic Mache soon.
Mache is easy to grow as long as you have cold temperatures. You can sow it with spinach in late October as you put your garden to bed for an overwintering crop. Or, you can plant Mache in cold frames and hoophouses for a late winter harvest. It can be sown in the spring (as soon as the soil can be worked) for a late spring harvest. It will not do well in warm weather so the sooner you can plant, the better.

A recipe for Mâche and Avocado Salad with Tortilla Strips
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 6-inch-diameter corn tortillas, each cut into 3 x 1/2-inch strips
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
10 cups (loosely packed) mâche or baby spinach
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick strips

Heat 1/4 cup oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry tortilla strips until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.

Whisk lime juice, shallot, and honey in small bowl. Whisk in 3 tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool strips completely and store in airtight container at room temperature. Cover and chill dressing.

Place mâche and avocado in large bowl. Add dressing; toss. Season with salt and pepper. Top with tortilla strips.

Bon Appétit
August 2007
Melissa Clark

Some other mache culinary tips:

  • Pairs well with dressings that are nut oil based (walnut oil very nice), always dress immeadiately before serving or leaves will wilt.

  • Traditional French preparations include Salad Lorette (Mache with julienned beets and celery in a vinaigrette) and Salade de Mache (Dressing of salt, pepper, olive oil, and sherry vinegar with some thinly sliced shallots. Gently toss whole rosettes in dressing and serve.)

What's New At The Farm? 2/17/09

The weather continues to improve with temps reaching the mid to upper thirties on a daily basis now. Little pockets of melting ice everywhere; driveways, fields and on the lakes. This weather seems more like March than February but we'll take it. After so many days below freezing, anything above freezing feels like spring. The signs of an early spring are around; you just might have to look a little harder for therm. I saw a couple of flocks of blackbirds last week; perhaps they know something I don't.

Planning for the upcoming season continues. I ordered 31,000 pounds of dehydrated chicken manure last Friday. Sounds like a lot and it is; it comes in 1000 pound bags, two to a pallet. It will get stored in the warehouse until we take it out into the field. Much of it will get applied in April and May; the bulk of it anyway. This chicken manure comes from egg layers so it's pure manure with no bedding. A couple of advantages of using this type of fertilizer is the cost and the ease of application. Using a spin spreader one can easily spread two to three acres in a morning, then harrow it in in the afternoon.

Compost on the other hand, while a great spoil amendment, is getting quite expensive. In the first ten to fifteen years I worked here we had loads of raw materials close by to make our own. There were several chicken houses and dairy farms local and straw and sawdust were easy to get and cheap. Not so today! The nearest poultry manure is an hour away, and while there are still plenty of dairy farms, sawdust and straw are prohibitively expensive. Sawdust is up around $ 100.00 a cord, ( it was 20.00/cord when we used to make our own compost) and straw is upwards of six bucks a bale.

Getting compost delivered in the spring was always a challenge. There's a short time span between when the fields were dry enough to get on and when the heavy loads posters went up. Once they went up we couldn't get it delivered until mid May and that was pretty late for us. We now get what we use delivered in the fall; we can spread anytime in the spring we want to now. We do however need to cover it most years, adding expense.

We got out of the compost business perhaps ten years ago. It was hard to make up the volume, the cost was a big issue and having one person dedicated to making compost strained our already busy farm crew. We used a loader and manure spreader to mix our raw materials and the wear and tear was catching up to us. Making 500 yards of compost means we'd start out with a thousand yards of raw materials. Turing the raw materials say an average of five times, means we'd run nearly 4500 yards of materials through the manure spreader. In a normal year the manure spreader would get maybe 500 yards run through it whilst spreading it. You see where I'm going with this.

When we started buying compost there were several companies making it. Locally. I think in the area now there are but three left. We have found a supplier with an adequate supply and a reasonable price. His compost looks like potting soil, has no weed seeds, is screened and delivered, and at a good price. No, we're not getting it for fifteen dollars anymore but that was the good old days. A test for good quality compost is leaving some in a pile to see if weed seed sprouts; if they have you know the compost wasn't heated up enough during the cooking period. This amounts to adding weeds to your land; something we all have enough of.

So anyway, dehydrated chicken manure is easier and faster to spread; it is also less expensive. Spreading an acre of land with compost costs about 1800 dollars; an acre with chicken manure - 360 dollars.

Nothing will replace compost, and we do use it some, just not for everything anymore. I like to use it on field that have low organic matter. We'll use it on four or five fields here at the Albion farm that are lacking in OM; we use it on our organic production fields as well. We have a field that we want to start using in a couple of years and this will take lots of compost to get it fertile enough for our purposes. It's about ten acres and the OM is pretty low - it tested at 4.3% and should be between 5 and 8. We planted red clover on it last year and when we plow that down this summer, should add some OM to the mix.

Until next week, Brian

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Quick Hoops, other Johnny's tools on Martha Stewart show

The Martha Stewart Show today will feature the new Johnny's Quick Hoops Bender, an innovative tool to help extend the growing season. Quick Hoops Benders are used to create economical low tunnel hoops from galvanized electrical conduit.

Martha has also invited Barbara Damrosch, co-owner of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, and author of "The Garden Primer", to discuss her favorite Johnny's tools. Damrosch will demonstrate the Bed Preparation Rake; Row Markers; Right Angle Trowel; Collinear Hoe; Long-handled Wire Weeder; Spring Tine Cultivator; TubTrugs; Highbush Blueberry Rake; Shockproof rain gauge and Trap Wire Compost Bin.

Martha's show on Quick Hoops and other Johnny's tools will be available to watch online later this week. We'll also have the shows available on our video site.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Webmaster's Garden Redux

First, let me apologize for my paucity of posts. I never wrapped up last summer! We implemented a new website here, and things got a little busy for a while. They're still busy, but it's getting to be the time of year where we all think about getting our gardens started, so I thought I'd better finish up my 2009 garden first!

Here are some Nastirtiums from last October. Color - don't we miss it this time of year!

Here is my garden through the season, from May through October.


Mid May 2009










10/11/2009 - Before Harvesting

10/11/2009 - After Harvesting

You can see the progression of a few months - how everything explodes into life in late July and August (VERY late July this year, with all the rain), and how things start to diminish and grow stale into October.

Of course, with all the rain, I had my share of late blight.

Late blight on Eggplant

A perfect looking Kellogg's Breakfast tomato - ready to slice onto that BLT...

Except when you flip it over, yuck! Luckily, we were able to salvage a good portion of this tasty tomato - sadly, this was the only one that ripened.

And so it was with tomatoes late into September - we'd get a few small ones (cherries and 1.5 inch varieties like Black Prince, the mystery volunteer plant) but the big ones pretty much just went bad before they ripened. So no home-canned salsa for us this year.

Other things turned out much better. As you recall, we harvested onions and garlic in mid-September. They hung out in the warm garage for about a month, curing, and I spent an afternoon cleaning them - wiping off the dirt and dead skins and trimming the tops. We ended up with quite a haul!

Garlic harvest 2009

Onion harvest 2009

Shallot harvest 2009

We still have plenty of these allium crops left - I'll have shallots to plant in May, and I should make a big pot of French Onion soup one of these days. The onions are small but tasty. I'm going to experiment with better spacing this year, and see if I can't get more size out of the onions. I definitely can't complain about the garlic harvest!

Our big harvest happened on October 11th, and none too soon - we had a killing frost a couple of nights later (then no frost for about a month, darn it!), and it would have compromised the quality of things like squash, and ruined many other vegetables.

We did well with squash, too! I planted Honey Bear and Waltham Butternut and got good yields.

Honey Bear squash in a basket

Waltham Butternut lined up by the woodstove

I put the butternut squash by the woodstove to cure, because it still had green lines. We had to harvest it a little earlier than optimal; it didn't grow as long as it should have, as it took so long to get going in July. But it's still good in the kitchen, and very tasty!

Eggplant (made into a parmesan casserole, put in the freezer), Baby Bear pumpkins (barely lasted until Halloween), the ubiquitous beans (got 25-30 pounds last year!), and Wonder Light tomatoes

The pepper crop was pretty good this year.

Most of the peppers now reside in these jars of Hot Pepper Jelly - if you've never made it, you should. It is fabulous on crackers with cream cheese, or baked with brie. The recipe is in the Ball Blue Book.

I love tomatillo blossoms - they are just so pretty and interesting looking.

As the fruit grows, it looks like little balloons. They slowly fill up with nice round tomatillos, and you peel the husks to get the sticky fruit out. These are husk cherries, and they grow in a similar manner, except that they are much smaller.

We did very well with the tomatillo crop this year!

I believe I ended up with about 16 pints of Tomatillo Salsa (I use the Ball Blue Book recipe).

The sweet potato harvest was OK - I'd never grown them before so I didn't know what to expect. Unfortunately, the vines I tried to keep ended up dying. They are piled up on top of the potatoes in this picture.

I'll definitely try the sweet potatoes again - I need to consider a better place to put them, and think about how they spread and that the vines like to dig into the ground.

Potato harvest - about a quarter-bushel.

The potato harvest is another story. The plants were beautiful, but the amount of potatoes in the converted garbage cans was a bit disappointing. I was hoping for a whole bushel! Next year, I need to:

1. Cut the potatoes up so there is one eye per piece. I have a terrible habit of not cutting potatoes, and I hear that's the worst thing you can do for your potato yield.
2. Plant fewer potatoes in each barrel. I again went overboard and crowded them. To prevent that, I ordered only 2 varieties this year.
3. Use a less rich soil. The compost was convenient, but the potatoes were scabby.

Of course, the potatoes were delicious, and we just ate the last of them in a beef stew a couple of weeks ago - I stretched them to make them last.

All in all, I'd call the 2009 garden a success. Potatoes and tomatoes were disappointing, but beans were amazing, tomatillos were excellent, peppers did well, and squash was a surprising front runner. I think the only thing I would not grow again are the Red Noodle beans - they took way too long to ripen, and I just didn't like the texture of them cooked. I am sure they have their place; it just isn't in my garden or kitchen. I got to can and put up a lot of yummy home-grown food (I don't have pictures of dilly beans and zucchini casserole, but the cupboards and freezer are still full), and we had lots of fun gardening, as always.

Here's to a successful garden in 2010 for everyone! I'm itching to get those seedlings started, but I know I need to wait a bit; too soon and they'll be leggy. More on that later!

Signs of life in the dead of winter

These photos were taken yesterday at Johnny's research farm in Albion, Maine. Here’s how things looked on our Quick Hoops trial field after a lengthy January thaw.

For more information about Quick Hoops including the best crop selections for Quick Hoops visit

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Update on Feds' high tunnel program

NRCS high tunnel program update -- February 10, 2010

Details about the NRCS hoophouse program have become available through the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Here are the answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Is my state participating?

States had until Jan. 29 to sign up to participate in the three-year pilot program. As of the deadline, 39 states and the Pacific Islands had chosen to participate. The states that did not sign up to participate include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, Oregon, and Texas. In Utah, the program is limited to growers in the Great Salt Lake Resource Conservation and Development area and Utah Tribal Lands.

How big does the hoophouse/high tunnel have to be?

NRCS clearly states that the tunnel must be at least 6 feet tall at its highest point. No low tunnels will be funded. Length of the tunnel is not specified.

Are heated greenhouses eligible?

No, NRCS says the tunnel must be used only to grow crops in the ground and must be unheated. In response to questions from growers, NRCS has stated that electric heat and ventilation are not allowed, even if the electricity is from solar, wind, or other renewable source, and even if the farmer pays for it.

Can the high tunnel be used in winter?

NRCS originally said the tunnel cover would have to be removed in winter, but has now clarified that the cover may remain on if it can withstand wind and snow loads. "However, if wind or snow loads damage the structure, then the producer would be expected to restore the functionality," NRCS said.

When is the deadline to sign up?

The money for the high tunnel cost-share comes from the EQIP program, which has a continuous sign-up process, although the first round of applications are currently being ranked and contracts awarded. Some states have extended the deadlines and may have additional funds later in the year. Some states also are using the EQIP Organic Initiative program, which has an enrollment deadline of March 12. Because there are so many variables, you are urged to contact your state NRCS office to inquire about cut-off dates.

For more information:
Read the full NSAC article.

Read the NRCS conservation practice standard "Seasonal High Tunnel System for Crops."

Growing for Market has a list of additional resources on growing in high tunnels.

Read original USDA announcement and learn how to extend your season with Johnny's Selected Seeds' seeds, tools and supplies.

Article by Lynn Byczynski

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 2/10/10

This week's view doesn't look much different from last week's, although I think it's a bit warmer. The days are getting longer now and there's more heat in the sun. The woodpile has gone down quite quickly since that warm, rainy spell we had and it looks like we'll clean out the woodshed again this year. With the weather getting warmer, we're getting down to our camp more now; last weekend I was there both days, all day. Our camp is located on a local pond which gets much fishing activity in the winter but not much goes on the rest of the year. It is 329 acres in size and surrounded mostly by woodlands and swamp; so there's usually lots of wildlife around.

The wildlife report for this week includes a bunch of eagles and a few deer. The neighbors feed the eagles and ravens so I see many on my way to work each day. There are both mature and immature eagles that congregate in his field along with many, many ravens. I also see some down to camp keeping an eye on what the ice fishermen leave behind. If they're hungry, they're not too shy about taking fish off the ice, but usually don't take the ones right near a hole, but rather the ones we've put out away from the fishing traps. After we pull our traps they'll land nearby and feast on dead bait and fish left on the ice.

Deer sightings were all on Thursday last week. I had left my laptop at home so I had to go home and retrieve it around eight o'clock Thursday morning. Coming back two does crossed in front of me about half way back to the farm and another one about a mile closer to the farm. They looked pretty good for this time of year. A lot of people feeding them this year - a practice controversial at best.

Lots of animal tracks on the way to camp this weekend; mostly squirrels, rabbits and partridge. Some fox tracks; I suspect they're looking for the before mentioned snacks. A porcupine ate the extension cord that goes to the generator. Lots of tracks of something living under the camp; guess we'll leave him undisturbed.

We used to keep a logbook of the days we went to camp, lots of important information like: who was there, who showed up to visit, what the weather was, how the fishing was and what we were eating for meals along and the wildlife report. We kept this log for nearly 15 years, up until someone broke into our camp in November of 2008; that was one of the only things they took. I suppose they read it and tossed in into the woods somewhere. Oh well; we can remember the good times anyways.

So, anyways , what's happening at the farm right now is that we're gearing up for planting season. The potting soil has been ordered and it's here; 22 yards should be enough. I'm working on fertilizer requirements and ordering of such. Kelly's cleaning seeds and working on the field plans for 2010. The fields are mapped out onto separate sheets and all pertinent information is recorded like field orientation, acreage, number of beds and what is going on in neighboring fields. Once we have a list of the crops we're going to grow this year, we plot their locations on these field maps.

There's a contingency plan is case we get a wet year, or some other crisis develops. There are notes attached to some of the fields like they're wet, or unfertile, or need some work before any amount of planting takes place. Some crops just do better in some fields; it's as simple as that. Some fields tend to frost earlier than others so we adjust our crop locations for that - some crops don't mind getting frosted but others may be highly susceptible.

Each crop has a estimated number of bed feet; this is the number of feet a crop will take, the beds being six feet wide. The bedfeet of the crop will be compared with the bedfeet of the field we want to grow it in. Say we have 300 bed feet of onion trial we'll have two 150 foot beds in field 1 (field 1 is 165 feet long so we'll have room for the trial and also some extras on the ends). We'll map that out and then we know that two beds in that field are spoken for. All this information goes on an Excel spreadsheet and then it is printed onto a large sheet. It is then posted for all employees to see; if there's any question about what goes where, or what is planted where then this chart tells all. This also plots out exactly how much room we need in each field so we can plant early season cover crops in the unneeded plots.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned one of my least favorite insects: the tick. Actually they're not insects; they have too many legs. They are arachnids; they have eight legs and no antennae; insects have six legs. Had an interesting talk with a local vet last week - thought I'd share it. Seems that in a normal winter the adult ticks will die with the cold, freezing weather. This year however, the ground didn't freeze so the ticks won't die. Once the weather warms they'll be active and hungry! Be especially vigilant in looking on your pets for them; their numbers should be right up there this spring. Here's a good excuse to add more guineas to the flock.

In less than a month we'll be planting in the greenhouse; we'll start onions and flowers in a couple of weeks. In a month we'll be seeing lots more signs of spring, and in two months we could be in the field. Each day brings us one step closer to planting time.

Until next week, Brian.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cabbage considerations

Whether you're planning your spring garden or your next winter-comfort meal, cabbage is a good vegetable to consider in the dead of winter.

If you grew a proven storage variety, like our 'Storage No. 4' or 'Kaitlin', hopefully you're able to pull a head or two from the root cellar for fresh cole slaw and a mid-winter blast of Vitamin C.

Maybe you're fortunate enough to have a friend or co-worker, like us at Johnny's, who makes a blazing hot Kim Chee from a Napa-type Chinese cabbage to warm you up on frigid February nights.

We got to thinking about cabbage after reading a wonderful post on Martha Stewart's blog about this versatile Brassica -- Cabbage 101.

An excerpt from the blog entry:
"Cabbage is as happy in a casserole as it is atop a hot dog or in a stir-fry. And if you're daring enough to experiment, those leaves will also excite the palate."
Martha describes cabbage's adaptability to many climates and conditions. The post also includes a few recipes and touts cabbage's nutritional/medicinal benefits.

She recommends our seeds, which is always nice. We offer Fresh Eating, Storage, Savoy, and Red cabbage, as well as Chinese cabbage; 19 varieties in all.

Our cabbage criteria:
  1. Delicious, sweet, juicy flavor and crisp texture
  2. Small to medium-size plants suitable for close spacing
  3. Extra short cores for more usable cabbage and less waste
  4. Densely packed interiors, even near base
  5. Very good resistance to splitting

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 2/03/10

The "Buy Local" movement applies to more than vegetables and food products; it will improve our economy and keep small businesses in business thereby keeping a wide diversity of opportunities available.

Odd thing happened last week; I took Peg out for lunch at a local, not overly well known diner and got real carrots for a veggie; not canned or frozen, but fresh and peeled by hand and, yes, this is going somewhere.

I quote a friend awhile back whom said: "If you're going to talk the talk then walk the walk." He was talking about Johnny's quarterly staff meetings which typically include lunch for the staff. We should buy locally prepared food with an emphasis on organics since that's what we do here. I agree. We shouldn't be buying food from huge chains that import their food from hundreds or thousands of miles away, prepared by people simply "doing their job" and sending our hard earned money to some corporate office halfway around the world. We should, and do, buy locally prepared foods, prepared by actual people we may know, that care about what they're doing, with ingredients grown locally and organically if possible.

So, as I walk down through he aisles at the local grocery store, I look for organics, sustainable and local foods. Always some organics but not much for local foods; I'll visit the farmers markets and have my own garden for local foods. At a farmers' market you can talk to the grower and find out all about the wares that he is selling; at a supermarket you've got to be informed at what different labels mean: is Wild Harvest actually harvested in the wild? Do some research before you assume the meanings of words on food packaging.

Another quote I like is "Vote with your food dollar". As I ponder the selection of yogurt in the grocery store, should I buy the organic even though it's twice the price of conventional? I know both organic and conventional dairy farmers - there are good farmers on both sides of the fence. It's times like these when I ponder the question of: Does my dollar really count, in the global way of thinking, in the food supply? Probably not, but it's a drop in the bucket. I can send a small, read very small, message to the organic growers that I support them. I know firsthand what it takes to produce a crop organically and know their dedication to producing it. I am also sending a message - again, read very small - to industrialized agriculture saying what I do and what I do not want from them.

It's hard to turn down some things from industrial agriculture. Take pork for example; It's inexpensive, uniform in appearance and taste, and widely available. Most people like pork. I've raised pigs in the past and have never been totally satisfied with what I came back from the butchers' with: too little bacon, sometimes salty hams and way too much salt pork. At the market I can get exactly what I want and it will be uniformly good. I've had homegrown pork that was delicious and I've had it so tough I couldn't chew it. But supermarket pork is always the same. I'm not defending factory farming at all but it will take some definite change for both the farmer and the consumer to reverse the trend with industrial agriculture as it applies to pork.

On the other hand we can use some things from industrial agriculture and grow them more to our liking. Here's where the modern broiler comes in. I grow our own broilers every year for the freezer. Yes, I buy chickens that were bred specifically for fast growth and are short lived by nature. I can grow a decent sized chicken in 6-8 weeks and have it in the freezer before the fourth of July. I could buy chickens that take 12-20 weeks to mature but I don't. We find the flavor, texture and certainly their growing conditions to be far better than those crammed into semi-lit henhouses by the thousands that is typical of industrial ag. So we use broiler chicks from industrial agriculture, but raise them to our standards and with a degree of caring not found in the factory farming of today. I'd be interested in anyone reading this to whether you use broilers, old fashioned heavy breeds or another breed like Freedom Rangers and why.

I'm rambling.

My original intent with this weeks column was to talk about local foods. To start where I left off would be with taking Peg out to lunch. Instead of going to one of the local chain restaurants we decided to visit this small, diner type restaurant where it's homey and comfortable. It's off the beaten path; on a side street in Waterville. Perhaps on a busy day it would hold thirty people. During the week it's mostly the same, local crowd that comes in. The staff and cooks are friendly and helpful, the food is wicked good and it's just a nice place to have a good meal. We got fresh carrots - yes, I am impressed. The whole meal, tip included was twenty four dollars, for two of us. We had enough leftovers for two additional meals too.

I'll remember this restaurant in the future when someone wants to go out for lunch. I will not patronize the place I had frozen seafood, slow service and limp French fries. But, yes, I will remember this place, if only for the ambience. The friendly people cooking on grills just outside the kitchen door, the 88 year old woman rolling grape leaves at a table - for that evenings' dinners and for just being there, for being friendly and cheerful and caring people.

There's a shortage of good places to eat out. This is from someone whom eats out maybe twice a month in the winter and much less in the summer. Many of the diners where you could get two biscuits and a bowl of chowder are gone. In my younger (and single) days I knew of several spots to get lunch for 3 bucks, tip included. I know now of only three diners in a twenty mile radius. I don't want to sit in front of a TV blaring out sports scores, nor do I want to drink beer at lunch, nor do I want to spend two hours and fifty bucks on lunch; I'm looking for a good meal at a reasonable price, served by caring people in a homey atmosphere and in a timeframe that allows me to go there on my lunch hour.

There's some good local places around; you've just got to look for them.

Until next week, Brian

Handy calculator to help you determine seed-starting dates

We've added a couple of new tools to help growers plan when to start seeds inside and when it's safe to set seedlings outside for transplanting.

To check out these tools, visit the Johnny's Selected Seeds home page. At the top right, you'll find links to download a seed-starting date calculator, and a soil temperature chart. You'll need a copy of Excel, or similar spreadsheet software to open and use the calculator. You can also import the calculator into Google Documents.

The information was provided to us by Lynn Byczynski, editor and publisher of the "Growing for Market" newsletter and author
of several books, which are available in Johnny's online bookstore:
The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers; The Hoophouse Handbook; Market Farming Success.

We've also added a soil temperature/germination chart.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Watch slideshow to see how easy it is to use soil block makers

Johnny's soil block makers are the perfect tool to help growers produce a better plant that establishes quickly with no transplant shock. Soil block makers also eliminate the expense, waste, and storage issues of plastic pots. Visit our site to learn more about these innovative tools. And you can enjoy a 10% discount on soil block makers, and our other seed-starting tools, from now until the end of the month.

Monday, February 1, 2010

JSS Advantage - February 2010

Sale on seed-starting supplies
Johnny's has all the seed-starting supplies you need, and we have them available for immediate shipping. This month only, all seed-starting supplies are 10% off. Stock up for the rest of the season! Click here to learn more.

A quick crop of vegetables

Desperate for something green after a long, gloomy winter? Hungry for something fresh and home-grown? You don't have to wait for the outdoor gardening season; now is the perfect time to grow a crop of micro mix for sale or your own table. Micro mix, also called microgreens, is a mixture of tender gourmet vegetable seedlings cut at the first true leaf stage and blended together into a colorful confetti.

Commercial growers produce micro mix in heated greenhouses, using a combination of varieties that they select to create a signature product. Johnny's has dozens of varieties that can be grown for micro mix; the key is to choose varieties that germinate at the same time, and to keep seed costs in line with the prices you can charge for the finished product. You'll find a chart listing both fast-growing and slow-growing varieties in the catalog or on the website. Additionally, you can download instructions for commercial micro mix production there.

For personal use, growing micro mix is a fun and nutritious way to use up leftover seed or experiment with new flavors. The tiny plants are a vitamin-rich, flavorful addition to salads, sandwiches, and other dishes. You can grow a tray of mixed seedlings in a greenhouse, under grow lights, or even in a sunny window. Micro mix can consist of many kinds of vegetables, including amaranth, beets, broccoli, cabbage, pac choi, mizuna, arugula, mustards, kale, radishes, and any of the tender annual herbs such as basil, fennel, and cutting celery.

To grow micro mix at home, start with a seedling flat, a salad clamshell box, or other shallow container with drainage holes, with a solid tray below it to catch water. Fill with an inch or two of pre-moistened potting mix. Spread seeds across the entire surface of the flat, as thickly and evenly as possible. You may mix varieties together or plant them in separate sections in the tray. Press the seeds gently into the soil, then sift a thin layer of soil on top to lightly cover the seeds. Mist with a spray bottle, cover with an acrylic dome, and put the tray on a heat mat or in a warm place. As soon as the seeds start to germinate, remove the cover and provide strong light to the seedlings. Keep the soil moist by spraying or bottom-watering. Within one to two weeks, your seedlings should have their first set of true leaves, which means they are ready to harvest. Cut them with sharp scissors and enjoy.

What to start in the hoophouse
When day length is less than 10 hours, as it is during the depths of winter in much of North America, most plants stop growing because of the lack of light. But in early to mid February, the days are long enough again for plant growth to resume. If you have a heated greenhouse or an unheated hoophouse, you can get an extra-early start to your season. Here are some ideas for plants to start now through April.

In an unheated hoophouse, you can start direct seeding cold-tolerant plants including beets, carrots, cilantro, radish, salad mix (mesclun), scallions, spinach, and turnips. By Feb. 15, it is generally safe to plant these anywhere in the U.S. inside a hoophouse. In very cold areas, you may also need a low tunnel inside the house to provide extra protection. At the same time, you can start transplants in a greenhouse or under grow lights for planting into the hoophouse in two to three weeks. Plants that are better transplanted than direct seeded include chard, Chinese cabbage, head lettuce, onions, and radicchio. Be sure to transplant in a timely manner to avoid stunting or premature bolting.

Choose varieties best suited for the weather you expect one to two months after planting. In the North, where cold weather will continue into April and May, choose cold-tolerant varieties. In the South, where the weather will be hot in a month or two, choose those marked as heat-tolerant, because they will be less likely to bolt.

Prepare your soil by removing any plant debris from last season, and spread compost or a fertilizer such as alfalfa pellets. Aerate the soil with a broadfork and hoe or rake the top inch or two to create a good texture for direct seeding. If the soil is frozen, put hoops on the bed and cover it with row cover. A sunny day will heat up the soil under the low tunnel and soon it will be warm enough to plant. You should also bring a hose into the hoophouse so that it warms up during the day and can be stretched to the water source for irrigation. You won't need much water in the cold days of February, and you may even have enough soil moisture without irrigating.

Once your beds are prepared, calculate how much of each crop you can use at the expected maturity date. If you have a farmers market or other place for early spring sales, plant optimistically. Hoophouse growers report that their products are immensely popular in early spring, when people are starved for fresh, local produce. If you won't have a market until May, you can still plant now for your own table, and schedule your market plantings for later.

Succession planting in the greenhouse
Succession planting is one of the more challenging aspects of commercial vegetable production because there are no prescriptions or shortcuts. You have to work out your successions to fit your own marketing schedule, climate, and crops. And then you have to refine your plans every year, as you learn how specific varieties perform for you. Good record keeping and analysis are essential to successful succession planting. Here are some general rules to keep in mind for scheduling your greenhouse transplants.

Heat mat space and bench space are two limiting factors for transplant production, so try to plant only what you need. Check the germination rate on the seed packet to determine how many seeds will give you the required number of seedlings. Add 10-20% to account for possible losses. Avoid the temptation to plant far more than you need because, if all goes well, you will be faced with the even bigger temptation to grow more than you wanted just to keep from throwing out healthy seedlings.

Plants grow more slowly in the shorter days and cooler temperatures of late winter, even in a heated greenhouse. It's possible that plants seeded a week or two later will catch up with an earlier planting. Keep careful records about seeding dates to determine if this is the case.

Days to maturity printed in the catalog and on the seed packet can be used as a guideline for scheduling your successions. But it is highly accurate only when optimum temperatures are provided, so pay attention to recommended temperatures. Johnny's catalog includes detailed growing instructions for every crop.

You should know the earliest dates you can plant groups of crops, based on the average last frost date for your area. Count back the average days to maturity of a variety to determine when to seed the first succession. You should also figure out the latest date you can expect to have crops, and count back the days to maturity to determine when to seed your final succession. For example, you may be able to plant cold-tolerant crops such as broccoli in early April, two weeks before final frost. If your summers are extremely hot, you might have to set a date in June as the time when broccoli starts to decline. Count backward from both dates to determine your earliest and latest possible seeding dates.

Choose several varieties of each crop to provide a longer season. Start the season with a cold-tolerant variety, then switch to a heat-tolerant variety for summer harvests, then switch back to the cold-tolerant variety for fall.

With all these variables in mind, create a calendar of seeding dates to keep in the greenhouse. Get yourself in the habit of starting seeds on a specific day of the week. You will have a much better likelihood of sticking to your schedule, and having multiple successions of transplants to keep your crops producing all season.