Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 6/30/10

Favorable moisture and weather conditions have made this a beautiful spring and now that we're officially into summer let's hope this continues. We've only been blessed with a few hot and humid days and let's keep it that way. The crops are flourishing and we need a good year, especially after last season!

The first crop of lettuce is about to go by and we'll be turning it under before long. The first planting of greens have gone by and, by the time you read this, will have been tilled in. Cucumbers are ripening and summer squash won't be far behind. Peas should be ready this week and some spinach will still be left.

We're busy trellising tomatoes right now; lots of them. I figure there's around 13,000 plants that will need trellising within the next few days. This will be a full time job for the next two months for a couple of people. Once the strings are up then pruning will take much time for the next six weeks or so.

The greenhouses are nearly cleaned out and it's a good sight. We have some flats in two of the houses and some plants in one, but for the most part, the bulk of the plantings have gone out. Now that planting is about finished, all we have to do is take care of our crops. The insects, weeds and diseases keep us busy as does the animal issues and ever changing weather conditions. Other than that we're good.

Although weeds continue to grow, we continue to weed and cultivate. Sunny warm and breezy days are best for killing weeds but we don't have the option to only working those few ideal days. Pulling weeds on rainy, damp and cool days takes a few tricks of the trade to insure we don't have to repull them once the sun comes out - read "pet peeve" here. Weeds pulled and tossed on the ground during a rainy spell will usually regrow so you really haven't done anything to kill them, only slow them down a bit.

The best method of killing weeds in the rain is to toss the weeds onto the plastic in the field. There's no way a weed can live on plastic once the sun comes out. Well, at least this is the rule and the one exception I see right off quick is Purslane. This succulent will continue to grow, blossom and set seed whether it's in the ground or not. But this is the exception; most weeds will simply dry up and die once they are pulled and denied ground contact.

The weeds easiest to kill are also some of the more prolific ones: Redroot pigweed, galinsoga and lambsquarters are in the top five that come to mind right off quick. Both lambsquarters and galinsoga have extensive roots systems so they need to have their roots shaken off to remove soil before they are tossed. This really goes for all weeds, and if you make it a habit it becomes second nature soon.

Flaming weeds can be done in the rain, and although it takes more energy, sometimes you don't have a choice. One year awhile back we flamed four acres in the rain because we had a week of rain and that was the only method to kill them. It was a good save as the weeds would have been out of control had we waited for ideal conditions. Of course with all weed control, the smaller the weeds the easier they are to kill. Wait until a weed is 6 inches high and it not be easily killed by mechanical means. It is by far more advantageous to use mechanical means to kill weeds than hand weeding. Hand weeding is slow and painfully expensive. When I first started here, my boss showed me how to set up the cultivators and gave me a hoe. This was to "go back after you cultivate and get the ones you missed". After a few hours in the heat and broiling sun, you will learn how to set the cultivators up properly and how to cultivate as many weeds as possible before resorting to a hand hoe. Worked then and still works now.

Until next week, keep killing those weeds.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Farmers Markets photos

Farmers Markets are in full swing here in Maine. Here are some photos from local weekly markets in Portland, Brunswick, and Belfast.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Product spotlight, July 2010

July 2010 Product Spotlights


Kohlrabi, once a little-known oddity, is fast becoming a farmers market favorite. With a flavor a bit like turnip and a texture like water chestnuts, kohlrabies are perfect for fresh eating. They can be julienned like carrot sticks for munching or dipping, or they can be shredded for salads.

One of the best kohlrabi varieties for growing at this time of year is the giant 'Kossack'. Unlike most varieties that are harvested at 2-3" in diameter, 'Kossack' can grow up to 8" in diameter and still be sweet and tender. It can be stored for up to 4 months at 32F/0C and 95% humidity and retain its fresh flavor.

'Kossack', like all kohlrabi, should be grown in rich soil with plenty of moisture. Rapid growth and cool weather produce the best flavor. At 80 days to maturity, it is a perfect crop for fall hoophouse or Quick Hoops production.


It's not too late to plant zinnias, and with Johnny's extensive selection of varieties, you can design your own signature bouquets for late summer and fall. The Giant Dahlia Flowered Series produces double, semi-double, and single flowers in nine separate colors or a mix. This series does not contain the high percentage of fully double flowers found in the Benary's Giant Series, but it is considerably less expensive.

For customers who require the highest-quality double zinnias, we still carry the Benary's Giants in 13 vibrant colors and a mix. We also offer the smaller Oklahoma and Sunbow mixes, State Fair mix, and the specialty colors Queen Red Lime, Uproar Rose, and Zowie! Yellow Flame.

Zinnias planted now and given plenty of moisture will grow quickly and be ready for harvest in about 75 days.


Cranberries don't need a bog to produce tart, Vitamin C-rich fruits. All they need is acidic soil, moisture and sunshine. They are perennial in Zones 2-6 (Zone 7 and higher is too hot in summer for them). Johnny's sells 4-year-old, potted 'Howes' cranberry plants, which will be shipped in early August through September.

To prepare a cranberry planting, mark off a 4' x 4' plot for four plants, or a 4' x 8' plot for eight plants. Dig out the soil to a depth of 6" to 8". You can use garden edging to keep weeds from encroaching if you wish. Replace the soil with a 50:50 mix of peat moss and coarse sharp sand. Add one cup each of bone meal, blood meal, Epsom salts, and rock phosphate. Water and mix until the peat is moistened. This requires patience as dry peat moss is notoriously slow to get wet.

Cranberries produce two types of growth: runners, which can spread 2-3 feet per year; and upright shoots, which produce the flowers and fruits. Johnny's cranberry plants come with complete cultivation information.


Johnny's has everything you need to make your own compost:
We also have the best books about making and using compost:

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin
The Rodale Book of Composting by Deborah Martin and Grace Gershuny, editors

Johnny's events calendar - July 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

JSS Advantage July 2010

Marketing your produce

There's never been a better time to be a fresh market grower. Farmers markets are thriving and customers are enthusiastic about locally grown food. This is the year to take advantage of the local-food trend and make more money marketing your produce. In this issue of the JSS Advantage, we'll tell you about the best ideas we've seen for improving revenue at farmers markets, roadside stands, and other direct markets.

Be first and last
Many growers work hard to be the first in their markets with a particular item. It's a smart strategy because growers who are first to market in spring capture customers early and build loyalty that can last all season. It is equally beneficial to stay active in your markets until they close in fall, or to go even further into winter with home delivery or on-farm pickup. Here are some of the crops that will keep the cash flowing long after summer is gone. . .

Succession crops
If you've got 70 days or more from now until your first frost, you can still plant many heat-loving summer crops, including basil, beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, okra, parsley, peppers, summer squash, and tomatoes. For fall cut flowers, you can still plant sunflowers and zinnias.

Fall field crops
The cool weather of fall improves the flavor of beets, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, radishes, spinach, and turnips. With a low tunnel of Quick Hoops™ and row cover, you can grow most of these crops with a harvest target date up to a month after the first frost. Be aware that plants grow more slowly as the day length declines in fall, so you should add about 14 days to the estimated days to maturity for each variety. For example, a 21-day crop of Johnny's Mild Mesclun Mix or Spicy Mesclun Mix could take 35 days in fall, so count back that many days from your frost date to schedule your final planting.

Hoophouse crops
If you have a hoophouse, you can grow many cool-weather crops for harvest right through December. The trick is to get your crops established before the day length drops below 10 hours; after that, plants won't grow much, but they will tolerate cold temperatures until you're ready to harvest them. Some of the vegetables you can plant in a hoophouse in August or September: leafy greens including collards, kale, lettuce, salad mix, spinach, and Swiss chard; root crops including beets, carrots, kohlrabi, radishes, and turnips; and brassicas including broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

Storage crops
Many vegetables can be held for a long time after harvest, anywhere from one month to six months. If you have appropriate storage facilities, you can grow in sufficient quantities that you'll be able to sell them all winter. One of the biggest trends in market gardening in recent years is the winter CSA, in which members pay for a monthly delivery of storage vegetables. Many farmers markets have extended their open season to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even year-round. Holiday markets also provide additional opportunities to sell storage vegetables.

Of course, it's too late to plant many of the traditional storage crops such as winter squash and sweet potatoes (although you might want to write a note to yourself so you remember to plant plenty next spring). But some short-term crops such as beets, cabbage, cauliflower, and turnips can be grown now and stored for a month or more into winter. Here is a chart of required storage conditions for many vegetables:

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

Display your products with purpose

There's both art and science to displaying produce at a market. A beautiful display catches the eye of customers and brings them to your stand. Then the science of selling takes over and makes it easy for customers to purchase your products. Here are some of the rules of farmers market display that will help you sell more:
  1. Quality, freshness, and cleanliness need to be as good as any supermarket produce.
  2. Quantity creates an impression of bounty that appeals to customers. Don't put out a small amount of produce, intending to replenish it as you sell. Instead, obey the old market maxim: "Stack it high and watch it fly!"
  3. Create blocks of color all the yellow tomatoes in one box, all the reds in another, for example. Masses of color are more visible from a distance. Yellow is the most visible color, so put it out front where it can be seen. Tilt your boxes and baskets toward customers so they can see at a glance what's available.
  4. Take a sprayer with cold water and mist your produce often to keep it fresh and glistening.
  5. Cross-sell products with signs and recipe cards, and by grouping items with suggestions for ways to use them together. For example, put kale next to potatoes with a recipe for Portuguese kale stew. Put basil near the tomatoes, and mint by the radishes. Recipe cards are easy with Growing for Market's Farm Fresh Recipes, which contains 300 ready-to-copy recipe cards for fresh produce.
  6. Put price signs on everything. People hate to have to ask the price. Use volume pricing to encourage larger sales, e.g. $1 each or 6 for $5.
  7. Create a traffic flow by placing bags on one end of the stand, the cash register on the other.
  8. Use signs to help you sell. While you're busy waiting on one customer, start the sales talk with the next customer with interesting signs. Mention flavor, variety names, possible uses, historical facts (e.g., "Thomas Jefferson's favorite grape!")

For more on market displays, pricing, insurance, and related issues, download a free copy of "Selling at Farmers Markets."

Enter Johnny's 'Market Sign Contest'

Do you use signs to help sell your vegetables, herbs, plants, and flowers? Send us photos of your farmer's market or roadside stand display showing the signs that help you sell. We'll choose the most creative, persuasive, helpful, and fun displays as our winners. Each winner will receive a $25 Johnny's gift certificate.

Photos must be digital .jpg images sent by email to Please include your name, farm or business name, mailing address, and telephone number.

Your entry to the contest constitutes your agreement to allow your entered photographs, name, farm or business name, city, and state/province to be used in future web articles, catalogs, and other promotional materials. Photographs become the property of Johnny's Selected Seeds. The person submitting the photos must be the owner of the market stand display or the creator of the signs. Multiple photos submitted by a single farm will be considered as one entry.

Deadline: July 25. Winners will be notified by email by August 7. Gift certificates will be mailed by August 30.

Manage your brand

In the business world, companies spend enormous resources managing their brands. A brand is often a company's most valuable asset -- more important than inventory, real estate, and even products and a solid brand can make a business worth more than its paper assets. The brand is a company's identity and personality; the brand experience is how customers feel about and interact with the business or product. Branding is not limited to big companies with a lot of money to spend on advertising - even the smallest business has a brand that can be managed to increase profits. Although farmers don't usually think of themselves as having a brand, many of the concepts used in brand management in other sectors can be applied to agricultural businesses. Here are some ways to think about developing and managing your brand:

Articulate the identity you want to convey to the world. Describe yourself and your mission. Are you a young, urban farmer dedicated to organic growing? A family with deep roots in the farming community and long experience growing vegetables? A couple trying to create a healthy place to raise a family? A philanthropic organization helping people with disabilities? Let your personality become part of your business image.

Develop a brand name, logo, and colors that will become a consistent theme running through all your marketing. Choose carefully and get professional assistance if you feel your own efforts are not creating the identity you want. For example, a homemade logo might be a perfect fit for a rural community, but a grower catering to upscale urban restaurants might want something a bit more sophisticated. Pick something you can live with for a long time, because there's no point in developing a brand if you're going to keep changing it.

Choose the media you'll use to extend your brand. These can include printed materials such as signs, brochures, and newspaper ads as well as websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and blogs. You don't have to be a marketing genius to employ some or all of these media. Farm-friendly web businesses such as Small Farm Central can create a website with as few or as many features as you have time to manage. At the very least, get your farm listed in local, state, and national directories ( is the best-known). If you don't have time yourself, hire a teenager to create a Facebook page for you and update it once a week with information about what you'll be selling at market the next day.

Apply your name, logo, and colors to all your marketing efforts, from the hats your employees wear to the banner on your website. The goal is for you to become instantly recognizable to your customers. When they walk into your crowded farmers market, you want them to be able to find you. When they search for you on the web, you want them to know it's you the instant they click on your website.

Finally, be sure that all your interactions with the public are conveying the right message. Be pleasant, upbeat, and professional in all your dealings and be consistent with quality so that your brand becomes synonymous with great local produce.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 6/23/10

It's raining and wet but the crops like it as do the weeds. As long as it clears off and becomes sunny and warm again we'll be OK. I remember quite well last summer, or should I say what was supposed to be summer. Cool, damp and disease ridden days in the fields of 2009 was one memory that won't be soon forgotten!

While 2009 was certainly an odd year 2010 is shaping up odd as well. With the early season many things that don't normally happen until much later in the season are already happening. Galinsoga is in bloom in places and I've seen redroot pigweed with seed heads already. Many flowers that I typically associate with July have come and gone. The peonies and iris are going by fast and the teasel is starting to bloom; an odd year indeed.

The geese at the pond only have three goslings this year. We saw a mother turkey this morning with a half dozen young poults by her side. Even though they were small, there were experienced flyers; I can see how they could avoid capture by predators easily. Herons seem to be flying around quite a bit lately; they must surely have young ones by now. They are relatively shy as I've never seen one of their nests. I would think it would be interesting to watch a nest up close, like the eagle and osprey cams.

Insects are also early this year. Lots of striped cucumber beetles (SCB) and tarnished plant bugs out although the SCB aren't early; they're just out now. And hungry! We use row covers on many of our crops so we don't have much damage. In some places where the row covers have blown off, SCB can do a lot of damage in a hurry. The size of the plants now is small so any number of beetles will do damage that is quite noticeable. Later in the season, once the plants are well established and growing, the plants can handle some insect pressure without too much damage. Squash bugs are out as well.

We got the planting mostly done last week and are finishing up a few planting projects this week. We are closely approaching the 99% done planting benchmark but we won't be 100% done until sometime in November. The garlic and overwintering crops in the poly tunnels will be the last of the crops to plant, so planting seldom gets "done". Still left to put into the ground is the fall cabbage, another round of kale and collards, and a few more small fall trials like late lettuce and fall radishes. I like radishes, probably one of my favorite vegetables, and hard to get really good ones. Row covers and adequate irrigation makes for good radishes.

Crops that will be ready shortly include lots of lettuce, spinach and over wintered onions. The lettuce field outside my window grows daily and soon the space between the rows will be filled in. The spinach is looking quite lush and tasty; I wonder if they'll notice some missing. Actually we plant what we call guard rows at the beginning and at the end of the trials. These are sacrificial plants in case the cultivators or other equipment is not exactly lined up; these plants will be ripped out before we get into the actual trial plants. If no such "cultivator blight" happens then we can take from the guard rows for our personal eating pleasures.

Until next week, Brian

Twilight crop walk next week at Johnny's Research Farm

Please join us next Wednesday (June 30th) from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Johnny's Research Farm in Albion, Maine for the opportunity to tour our extensive trial fields, connect with other farmers and gardeners, and converse with Johnny's research staff.

We'll be discussing and showcasing onions from our Quick Hoops™ trial, hoop house plantings, herbs, early lettuce and greens trials, mulch trials, and caterpillar tunnel trials. Light refreshments will be served.

Please contact Susan Anderson at with any questions.

The Research Farm is located at 184 Foss Hill Road in Albion. Click HERE for directions.

Pest of the Week: Black Rot

Photo Courtesy of the University of Illinois Extension Integrated Pest Management

Black Rot (Xanthomonas campestris pv. campestris)
On Cole Crops (examples: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)

Life Cycle: Black Rot infects many Crucifer crops and weeds. The cycle can begin with infected plant debris left in the field (more common in warmer climates), infected seed, or infected weeds on field edges. Transmission within a crop occurs from machinery, tools, hands, wind, or rain. The disease can enter plants through wounds on leaves and roots, specialized pores called hydathodes, and insect damage sites. Bacteria grow fast within the plant, clogging the vascular system. This diagnostic characteristic of the disease is displayed as black veins and black vascular tissue in a cross section of the stem. Black Rot favors warm, wet weather and symptoms are readily observed under such conditions. A seedling or plant may still be infected when there is cooler weather present, but symptoms may not be expressed.

Plants Affected: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cruciferous weeds are susceptible to Black Rot. Radishes are less susceptible to Black Rot than other crucifer crops.

Symptoms: Seedlings wilt, turn yellowish, and may eventually die. More mature leaves will show V-shaped lesions that start at the margin and taper to a point farther into the leaf tissue. Leaf lesions will enlarge and turn yellow. As the disease progresses, veins may or may not turn black. The plant will drop lower leaves to expose a discolored (yellowing) stem with a tuft of leaves at the end. Cabbage heads will often be misshapen or stunted. Cauliflower leaves may have tiny black spots when Black Rot is present.

Control: Healthy plants fight disease more readily than compromised ones. Maintain seedling health by following a proper nutrient and watering program, using disease-free growing media, disease-free seed, and regularly scouting for and roguing out weak or diseased seedlings. Please read the Cabbage culture box in Johnny’s paper catalog or the Growing Information tab for any Cabbage product on the Johnny’s website for more detailed information on this and other Crucifer diseases. Keep damage in the field to a minimum by removing plant debris at the end of the season so the disease doesn’t overwinter. Remove Crucifer weeds from field edges. Work soil and plants when dry. Wet weather perpetuates disease by making it easy for bacterium to spread. Rotate out of Crucifer crops for at least two to three years in a field. Spray Champ® WG Copper Fungicide (#9778) as a preventative if Black Rot presence is suspected. Read all product labels in full and follow label instructions as specified for that particular product.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Video: First day of Summer at the Research Farm

Here's some video footage from a morning walk around Johnny's Selected Seeds Research Farm on the first official day of summer. The video was shot with a tiny Flip video camera about the size of a seed packet. The camera has a microphone about the size of a pumpkin seed. So audiophiles, please excuse the lack of high-quality sound.

This 30-second movie includes short clips of our vegetable trials -- lettuce, onions, brassicas, peppers under a hoophouse, and tomatoes. We threw in some tomato pruning and tractor work for good measure.

We're hoping provide a weekly video clip from the Farm. We promise, they will get better. Stay tuned!

And let us know what you think.

View other Johnny's Selected Seeds videos

Friday, June 18, 2010

Almost Summer!

Now that it's almost summer, it's about time I get some progressive shots of my garden up for you! Of course I started taking these back in April, when I planted my seedlings, so we'll just start from the beginning.

This is the workbench in the basement where I have grow lights and heat mats set up, so I can easily start seeds:

Here is the giant pile of seeds from which I have to choose. You can see I'm an excellent organizer... I have organized the pepper, eggplant, and tomato seeds, but the rest are a free-for-all (literally; many are expired Johnny's packets; not up to our quality standards for sales, but fine for employees to grab before they end up in the compost bin):

Here are the seedlings about a week old:

Tiny pepper plants take a long time to get going. I usually plant them a couple of weeks before tomatoes, but this year I wasn't with it:

You can see my labeling system - very high-tech; I use large popsicle sticks and a Sharpie. I put them in at an angle so that the tray cover would fit on a little better, and moisture would be conserved. I've trimmed the sticks in the past but this year didn't bother, and it worked out fine.

The next two photos were taken on May 6th, so the seedlings are a bit over 3 weeks old. The tomatoes are growing very well:

But the peppers are still just a bit smaller; again, this is why I start them earlier, usually:

On 5/31/10 we planted the seedlings outside (after hardening them off in a cooler corner of the yard for about a week). Peppers are in the background and look quite healthy, and the tomatoes are very vigorous:

I set up the potato cans again this year. I'm planting the potatoes in Johnny's 512 Mix, and I did cut them up. I planted Russian Banana and French Fingerlings this year; fewer per can, in one-eye-per-piece chunks. They were planted on April 24th:

And doing quite well by May 31st:

This year we added a fruit garden on the side - it is 4 feet wide, by about 40 feet long. My husband dug up and transplanted all the grass from the area, put in edging, and tilled in compost. He is tilling the garden in this April 24th shot - something I normally do, but this year we're expecting a baby, so he took over the heavy work. You might notice odd looking white piles in the garden - that's ash from the woodstove - we just till it in in the spring. You'll also notice the tangle of IrriGator in the distance, next to the a-frame trellises - I just picked it up and put it in a box last fall.

We relaid the IrriGator - actually, it was a lot faster to just unwrap and lay it out than it is to take it apart and put it back together. Howerver, one drawback of this is that crops don't get rotated.

And the usual mulch - plastic and paper this year. I thought it would be interesting to try the SRM Red Mulch, made of plastic, and see how the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants fare. I also wanted to test another biodegradable product, so I used our Planters Paper Mulch. We set the mulch out in late April, but didn't get a chance to plant until May 31st. Unfortunately, the wind blew quite a bit and tore up the staples from the edges of the paper.

I had a good idea to fix this - make wide staples from cardboard - I cut squares out and pushed the staples through, and it seems to be holding somewhat better. Traditionally, people bury the edges of the mulch in soil, but I don't want to do any weeding at all. Things are looking good - we build a new tomato trellis from aluminum electrical conduit and zip ties (to replace the old bamboo and zip tie model) and put it in place, and got the seedlings planted. We really lucked out, too, because it rained on and off for about a week after we got the seedlings in - nothing like mild weather to increase a garden's success rate.

And the fruit garden is planted, as well. From front to back, we have a cranberry, three blueberry bushes (with strawberry planters next to them), and 14 raspberry canes (black, yellow, and red). Can't wait until this garden comes to fruition!

I hope your gardening endeavors are going well! I will keep you posted about the new things I'm trying. If you have any questions or comments, I'd love to hear them!

-Daria, the webmaster

Peas please Growing Wisdom's Epstein; see photos

Growing Wisdom's Dave Epstein, who shoots many of Johnny's videos, sent us photos of his pea harvest. Epstein lives in South Natick, Mass. (Zone 6). He planted 2 Johnny's varieties -- Feisty and Maxigolt under hoophouse low tunnels on March 3.

Epstein, an author, meteorologist, and TV host of "Extreme Gardening" at WCVB in Boston, says his pea harvest is about done. He plans to pull up the vines and replant the rows with beans. Epstein's site -- "Growing Wisdom" -- is well worth a visit for gardening tips and recommendations. It contains a huge library of videos on dozens of gardening topics.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 6/16/10

This is the last big push week to get all the transplanting done, or least most of it. We'll put in around ten thousand transplants a day until we're done. And most of these transplants get row covers as well so we're kind of busy.

Insect pests arrived earlier this year; the Tarnished Plant bugs have been out for a couple of weeks. We usually don't see them until well into July. Flea beetles are voracious feeders this year so we're using lots of row covers to save our crops. Striped cucumber beetles and potato beetles have been out for quite some time.

In addition to protecting our crops from insects, floating row covers guard against predation from other pests as well. Deer are always an issue as they relish our tasty crops. Crows like our sweet corn so this crop gets row covers as well and the ever present turkeys cause all kinds of problems.

Turtles - well, what do we do about turtles - not a whole lot. Chasing them out of the fields doesn't work very well. They don't scare so bird balloons don't work. Row covers - they bulldoze through and I really don't like the fencing idea as I'm concerned the would become entangled and die there - not a good way to go. I guess we'll just plant some extra plants to make up for what they destroy.

Deer usually won't tear up the row covers to get at early season crops and we don't use them once the crops get big. Deer are smart - they get used to things, like fencing, scare tactics and row covers. And while deer are smart - they're not the smartest animal out there that eat our crops. Ground and grey squirrels and rats are far smarter than deer and much harder to keep out of our crops. In one of our breeding squash fields we have constant problems with rats and squirrels. They really like our crops and the mulch we put down for them to live in. They live in the fields under the plastic mulch and have their meals right outside their front doors. They have everything at their front door most of the season so why should they move on?

Mice are seldom a problem of cultivated field crops here. We sometimes see them in the field when we are harvesting but they have yet to cause any problems. They don't have many places to hide in most crops and I imagine the hawks take care of many of them. Birds don't bother us much except for crows in the spring and sometimes blackbirds in the fall.

Groundhogs (woodchucks) present us with challenges as we try to trap and relocate them whenever possible. It's just hard to convince them to go into a trap to get iceberg lettuce when they have a smorgasbord within their reach at all times. We have one large one living in close proximity to one of our tomato plantings - he'll be a challenge to get moved.

And on the home front, I bought two Pawpaw trees that I will plant out this week. I also bought a couple of walnut trees I think will be nice for shade someday; probably long after I'm gone.

Until next week, enjoy the season.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Scenes from Albion: Fields greening up

A misty morning at Johnny's Selected Seeds Research Farm.

The Chinese Cabbage is looking healthy and ready to eat.

Chives in full bloom.

Lettuce trials: We carry more than 100 varieties.

Thinning the greens.

Now is the time to get a jump start on the weeds. Johnny's carries many of the tools and supplies to help make weeding pleasant and fast.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 6/09/10

We continue planting this week with lots of squash and pumpkins; and I mean lots as in acres and acres. We've got around 7 acres of breeding and trials, and around 5 acres seed production. All plants get transplanted and we install row covers on them immediately. We like to exclude the striped cucumber beetles (SCB) from the plantings as they'll prey upon the seedlings at a critical time in their life. Newly transplanted seedlings may succumb to the beetles if left unchecked. Floating row covers are the best way to combat them. We'll leave the covers on until right after the fourth of July; by then the first and biggest flush of SCB have come and gone and the plants will be strong enough to withstand some damage from the ones that are left.

Insects in the field are early this year; probably due to having no frost this past winter. Tarnished plant bugs have shown up already; we don't usually see them until much later in the season. Flea beetles have been ferociously feeding on the greens and the brassicas elsewhere, and without row covers we wouldn't have any crop left. A few potato beetles are out but not in full force yet, or at least we haven't seen many but then again we use lots of row covers.

Cultivation is in full swing right now. The Allis Chalmers "G" is cultivating many direct seeded crops as well as some of the smaller transplanted crops like lettuce and onions. The Farmalls - the AV and the 200 are both out cultivating plastic and the Ford is holding the wire winder unwinding wire for the tomato trellises. The small weeds are being taken care of with the Lely weeder where we can use it. Weeding and thinning by hand is being done in the greens and radishes. Lots of activity going on outside my window now.

Two deer were standing in the road out front of the house this morning; I think they were on their way to check out what I have planted in my garden. Fooled them; haven't planted anything yet! Probably won't. I've got to take care of the blueberries and grapes I planted and a few minor crops like onions, Brussels sprouts and summer squash so that's enough for this year. Sorry deer - no time.

Turtles are out in force; I've seen many painted and snapping turtles in the past few days. No squished ones yet but I wonder how they avoid being a casualty as they stand ever so defiant in the road. I suppose some of the older ones have been traveling the same routes from before there were so many cars to contend with. Think about it: The lifespan of a snapping turtle is around 50 years, and fifty years ago there weren't nearly as many cars so they could travel as they pleased. Now there are lots more cars and more people driving them and everyone is in a hurry except for the turtle. Even his shell won't protect him from cars as it has protected him for the last few thousand years.

Until next week, keep planting and avoiding the turtles.


Pest of the Week: Sunflower Pests

Sunflower Pests

The following are pests of sunflower crops for flowers and for seed. The information for sunflower pests include their range, damage done to crop, and recommended controls:

Carrot beetle (Ligyrus gibbosus) - Found throughout the continental US, southern Canada, and northern Mexico. Adults are reddish brown, ½" long, and feed on the roots, lower leaves, and stems of sunflowers, dahlias, lilies, and iris. Sunflower plants may look stunted or ‘hungry’ and may wilt or die from compromised root systems. Controls include attracting adult beetles to light at night to collect or kill, attracting or encouraging native predatory ground (carabid) beetles, or attracting vertebrate predators. Insect sprays are not extremely effective due to this pest's ground-dwelling nature. Click here to see an image.

Sunflower beetle (Zygogramma exclamationis) – Found throughout the continental US and southern Canada. Adults are about ¼ to a ½” long, have creamy colored elytra (wing covers) with four black stripes (the stripe on the outer edge is reminiscent of an exclamation point), and red-brown heads. Adults overwinter in soil and feed during the day on newly emerged sunflower seedlings. Larvae feed at night, hiding in terminal buds during the day. Natural predators include carabid beetles, lacewing larvae, lady beetles, damsel bugs, stink bugs, and pirate bugs. This pest is susceptible to pesticide sprays that are applied during active larval feeding times. Recommended OMRI-listed pesticides include: Monterey Garden Insect Spray (#9107, #9481, #9484) and Pyganic® (#9192, #9532). Read all product labels in full and follow label instructions as specified for that particular product.

Sunflower Beetle
Photo Courtesy of the University of Minnesota, Radcliffe's IPM World Textbook

Sunflower Stem Weevil (Cylindrocopturus adspersus) – Found throughout the US and southern Canada. Adults are about a ¼” long, gray-brown, and feed on leaves and stems. Adult females lay eggs in stem tissue at the base of a plant. Larvae emerge and feed on the stem tissue and, as they pupate, begin feeding on the soft, spongy center of the stem (pith). They eventually make their way to the crown where they create a place to overwinter and emerge as adults the following spring. Damage can be extensive if large populations are present, resulting in lodging of plants in the field. Delayed planting is recommended where populations are known to be high. Foliar sprays at about the 10-leaf stage are also effective in controlling this pest in the adult stage. Once the larvae are in the stem, insecticides are not effective. Recommended OMRI-listed pesticides include: Monterey Garden Insect Spray (#9107, #9481, #9484) and Pyganic® (#9192, #9532). Read all product labels in full and follow label instructions as specified for that particular product.

Aphids (several species: Macrosiphum spp., sunflower aphid (Aphis helianthi) and melon aphid (Aphis gossypii)) – The ability to produce many generations per year make aphids a significant pest if pressure is high. Damage presents as overall plant decline due to the aphids sucking sap from leaves. Natural enemies are easily attracted with beneficial insectaries, try our Beneficial Insect Attractant Mix (#1832), planted nearby. These insectaries attract green lacewings, hover flies, parasitic wasps, and lady beetles. If populations reach levels that warrant intervention, we recommend the following pesticides: Monterey Garden Insect Spray (#9107, #9481, #9484), Pyganic® (#9192, #9532), Safer® Insect Soap (#9370), Golden Pest Spray Oil™ (#9534, #9535), and Liquid Rotenone-Pyrethrin Concentrate (#9336). Read all product labels in full and follow label instructions as specified for that particular product.

Sunflower Moth (Homoeosoma electellum) – Found throughout North America, but more common in southern regions. Adults are small, shiny, buff- to grey-colored, and lay eggs on the open face of the flower. Larvae hatch to feed on pollen, pollen in the disk flowers, and on the ovaries of the flower, successively in that order as they pupate. Webbing is seen across the face of the flower where larvae are present. Damage done by feeding larvae can cause empty seeds and make plants susceptible to Rhizopus Head Rot. They overwinter in a cocoon and emerge as adults the next year. This pest is best controlled with insecticides, the best being: Dipel® DF (#9713). Read all product labels in full and follow label instructions as specified for that particular product.

Sunflower Moth
Photo Courtesy of the University of Minnesota, Radcliffe's IPM World Textbook

Other pests worth noting (some of these pests are specific to certain regions in the US):

Sunflower Bud Moth (Suleima helianthana)
Longhorned Beetle
(Dectes texanus)
Tarnished Plant Bug
(Lygus lineolaris)
Red Sunflower Seed Weevil
(Smicronyx fulvus)
Sunflower Headclipping Weevil
(Haplorhynchites aeneus)

For more information on these and more sunflower pests and how to control them in your area, refer to your local cooperative extension office, a service of your state’s land grant university.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Florida customer's harvest photos

Captain Bob Dykes, a charter fishing boat skipper from the Florida Panhandle region, sent us some photos of a recent harvest. Captain Bob planted several Johnny's summer squash varieties, including Magda, Zephyr, Flying Saucer, Sunburst, Floridor, Raven, Eight Ball, Starship, and Peter Pan. He said the Panhandle experienced a much hotter than normal spring.

Captain Bob also enjoyed a bounteous harvest of bush beans. He said he's had 3 pickings from 19 plants and expects at least one more.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Photos from the Research Farm

May was a busy month at Johnny's Research Farm. Check out this photo slideshow of some of the recent activities.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 6/2/10

The activity at the farm continues with a flurry of plantings going on. In the past week, we have planted and transplanted many crops into the field including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons and several crops in the Brassica family. The melons get row covers for extra heat and insect protection and the peppers get them to prevent unwanted cross pollination of the different breeding lines. The brassicas get row covers for protection from flea beetles and woodchucks, and the corn get them for protection from crows. Lots of row cover out and many feet more to go.

We're working on finishing up laying poly for the year; so far we have laid approximately 120,000 feet and have a few thousand left to go. We'll wrap this up this week and move on to other exciting activities. Lots of cultivation for the next month and lots of thinning and weeding too. The tomato trellises are going up and tomato pruning will start shortly.

Most of the crops we planted are up and growing; a feat in itself as it's been quite dry. We've irrigated the main trial field three time so far, but with this week's rain we pulled the pipe so we can do some cultivating today and tomorrow. The weeds never stop growing. I did some cultivating last week, on the newer Ford, but I still prefer the Farmall 200; it's the tractor I started out cultivating with and still find the best, for my tastes anyways. I find the newer tractors to have comfy seats but not a lot of legroom like I need. Many of the older tractors weren't built for operator comfort but had a longer wheelbase and had plenty of room.

The birds are all back now; most have nests and many a chirping noise is heard wherever I walk. A robin has built her nest between the meter boxes on the side of our office/warehouse building - about 4 feet off the ground - but she doesn't seem to mind us being around her. Phoebe and swallows are busy with their broods as are sparrows and starlings. I know, I've heard it before about starlings but as a friend said once "they've all got to live somewhere". I have three nests of starlings under the eaves of my henhouse and we watch them every night. They are the industrious ones whom make steady trips out to get fresh food for their young ones.

I've had a few turtle sightings; a couple of snapping turtles laying their eggs in the sand on the side of the road, but mostly I've seen painted turtles. Two painted turtles at our pond hanging out and quite a few walking across the roads; most make it I think. I'll stop sometimes and relocate them to a quieter pond than let them take their chances crossing busy roads. I've seen other people shielding them from traffic letting them get across the road without being hit.

The water in lakes, ponds and streams seems mighty low for this time of year. The flow of area streams looks a lot like August and not the first of June. Some of the lakes I fish have low water levels for this time of year and I wonder what they'll look like in mid-summer. Hopefully the weather will hold and we won't have a summer like last year.

Until next week, Brian

Pest of the Week: Squash Bugs

Photo Courtesy of the University of Minnesota, Veg Edge

Squash Beetles (Anasa tristis)

Life Cycle: Squash bugs are ‘true bugs’ in the Order Hemiptera. They overwinter as adults in the soil and duff on field edges and emerge when weather warms. Eggs are brown to red, and are laid in midsummer on the undersides of leaves. Eggs get darker in color as they approach hatching. Nymphs go through five instars to get to the adult stage. Nymphs have a red head, green abdomen, and black legs in early instar stages. The head turns to black in later instars, and the body and abdomen turn gray-green with black legs. Adults are about 5/8” long, gray to black in color with brown and orange stripes on the sides of the abdomen. Adult Squash bugs are sometimes confused with Stink bugs, as they look similar and both emit a foul-smelling odor when crushed. There may be a partial second generation produced in one year, depending upon climate and weather.

Photo Courtesy of the University of Minnesota, Veg Edge

Plants effected: Cucurbits. Squash Bugs prefer squash plants over other cucurbit crops but can be found on all of them.

Control: There are natural enemies to Squash Bugs. A tachinid fly, Trichopoda pennipes, is a predator of several species of true bugs, including the Squash Bug. Adults have a bright orange abdomen and velvety head and thorax. Adult females ‘hover’ over cucurbit plants looking for a host to lay eggs on. She lays one to several eggs on the underside of the bug. When the egg hatches the larvae burrows directly from the egg into the host’s body. Only one larvae survives to infect the host. The maggot exits the host's body and drops to the ground where it pupates into an adult fly. The host bug dies shortly after the maggot has exited. There can be multiple generations per year of this natural enemy. A maggot may overwinter inside the host body to emerge the following spring. A parasitic wasp that lays eggs in the eggs of the Squash Bug is also a natural enemy. Neither of these predators is available commercially. Encourage native populations by avoiding pesticides. The pink-spotted lady beetle, Coleomegilla maculata, is widely distributed throughout the mid-Atlantic, southeastern, midwestern, New England and southern Ontario regions of the United States and North America. It has a wide range of prey, including Squash Bug eggs. Be aware that it’s diet also includes pollen.

If a population explosion of Squash Bugs occurs and pesticides are called for, then the following can be used: #9370 Safer® Insect Soap and #9336 Liquid-Rotenone Pyrethrin Concentrate (only for use on nymphs). This pest is very difficult to control with pesticides in the adult stage. Pesticide controls are best used when early instar stages are present. In small infestations, handpicking is the best method for control.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

JSS Advantage June 2010

Got weeds?

We've updated the portion of this 2010 newsletter addressing the subject of WEED MANAGEMENT for SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE and copublished it on our website, alongside a new article from expert weed ecologist, Dr. Eric Gallandt, of the University of Maine's Sustainable Agriculture program.

Scouting for pests and diseases
One of the fringe benefits of weeding is that while you are out there hoeing or hand pulling weeds, you can monitor crops for any signs of damage from pests or diseases. Turn over leaves and look at the undersides, as that is where many insects lay eggs and where diseases first appear. If a plant is wilted, pull it up and look at the roots to see if they are stunted or rotting. Unless you are familiar with a specific insect and know that it's going to harm your crop, do some research before you take action.

Many insects are beneficial and you should learn what they look like in all their life stages so you don't inadvertently kill these allies. Likewise, learn the life cycles of pests that are common in your area so you can watch for them even before they start to do damage. We highly recommend the book Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw. This is a huge (656 pages), comprehensive book about insects that are likely to be found in vegetable and fruit fields and gardens. Insects are categorized by the type of damage they do, which makes it easy to narrow down the potential culprits when you spot a problem.

Another essential reference is Identifying Diseases of Vegetables from Penn State University, which includes concise descriptions and large color photos of common diseases.

In addition, there are many online resources to help you identify problems. Check with your State Extension Service to see if it has an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program for vegetables and fruits. If so, you might find information that will be targeted to your area. If not, do an internet search for "IPM vegetable" and pick the site from the state nearest yours. Many of these IPM sites have excellent photos.

Once you know the nature of the problem you're dealing with, you can turn to Johnny's chart of physical, biological, and botanical controls for all the most common pests and diseases of vegetables.
The chart lists multiple strategies, from row cover to inexpensive repellents to certified-organic insecticides.

Keep records of pest and disease outbreaks. Write down the dates you noticed the problem and took action on it; the plant's stage of development; the temperature and general weather conditions. Review your notes at the start of next season, and you'll be better prepared to catch problems before they become serious.

Taking care of tomatoes

If you're like most growers, tomatoes are one of your most important crops, either because you make the most money from them or because your customers demand them. Such an essential crop deserves special treatment to enhance flavor, appearance, and yield. The best way to improve your tomatoes is to prune and train them. Here's why.

Pruning tomatoes
First, please note that this information applies only to indeterminate tomato varieties. Determinates should NOT be pruned because pruning will reduce yield.

Indeterminates, however, will grow until killed by frost, always dividing their energy between vegetative growth and fruit production. Appropriate pruning reduces vegetative growth to the minimum required for plant health, thereby increasing the energy available for flowering and fruiting. Pruned tomatoes produce larger fruits that ripen earlier, sometimes by as much as two weeks. Pruning also helps prevent foliar diseases because it reduces crowding and touching of leaves. Too much pruning, however, can result in fruits with sunburn, catfacing, and blossom end rot.

Indeterminate tomatoes are vining plants with many branches. Pruning reduces the number of branches to one, two, or several main branches or "leaders" which will ideally be about the same size. This is accomplished by removing side shoots or "suckers" that grow in the leaf axils between leaves and the stem. Here's how it's done:

1. If you want just one leader, remove all the leaves and side shoots below the first flower cluster. As the plant grows, continue to remove all suckers from the leaf axils.

2. If you want two leaders, which is often recommended in case the main stem is damaged, leave one sucker directly below the first flower cluster. Prune all other suckers that grow on both stems.

3. For plants with three or four leaders, leave the first sucker or first two suckers above the first flower cluster. After that, prune off all new suckers.

The suckers should be removed when they are 2-3" long. In most cases, they will snap off when bent, although if the plant is wilted they may need to be pruned off with pruners or a razor blade. Pruning should be done about every week to 10 days to stay ahead of sucker development. If this task gets away from you and suckers get too long, you should pinch or cut off the growing tip of the sucker, leaving a few leaves behind, rather than trying to remove the entire shoot, which would create a wound close to the main stem and make it more vulnerable to disease.

For more information, see Johnny's video "How to Prune Tomatoes."

Training systems

Opinions vary about the best way to prune and train indeterminate tomatoes, with four primary strategies used by commercial growers:

Sprawl or ground culture involves neither pruning nor staking. Plants are left growing on the ground or on plastic mulch.

Cage systems involve pruning the plants to three or four leaders and confining them inside a cage.

Stake and Weave or basket weave requires plants to be pruned to one or two vines, and supported by twine strung between stakes beside every other tomato plant.

Trellis systems require plants to be pruned to two leaders that are tied to twine hanging from a wire stretched overhead.

Each system has advantages and disadvantages. Oklahoma State researchers compared the four systems and found that trellis culture, with the plants pruned to two leaders, resulted in the earliest and largest tomatoes and the best pest control. However, fruit cracking and sunburn were problems. Cage production resulted in the largest marketable yield, but ranked lower in earliness, fruit size, fruit cracking and rotting, and pest control. Ground culture was the worst in almost all measures. The system that seemed the best balance between yield and quality was Stake and Weave.

For more information, see "Training Systems and Pruning in Organic Tomato Production" by Oregon Tilth.

For information, read article on training hoophouse tomatoes in the Catalog Extras section of

Better tomato flavor

For a long time, growers have assumed that tomato flavor depended on the variety, with some influence from the weather that year. But recent research shows that flavor may be enhanced by growing practices and soil amendments. Growing for Market recently reported on three strategies reputed to improve the flavor of tomatoes. So far, there's no conclusive research about these practices, just interesting ideas that might be worth trying yourself on a few plants. You can read the article here.

Johnny's events calendar - June 2010

Product spotlight, June 2010

Costata Romanesco Squash
'Costata Romanesco' is an heirloom Italian zucchini famed for its flavor and texture. Flavor is of gourmet quality and much sweeter and nuttier than modern hybrids. The fruits are green with lighter flecks, and they are ribbed, which makes attractive scalloped rounds when sliced. This is a wonderful variety, well-known by gourmet chefs. But it does have its flaws. Primary among them is the size; it has huge, sprawling plants that take up a lot of space. Yield is only half that of many hybrid varieties, and it is susceptible to powdery mildew which can cut short its productivity. Still, many growers find that Costata Romanesco is well worth the trouble because it is so distinctive and delicious. 52 days to maturity.

Want to stand out from the competition among sunflower growers? Try growing these branching varieties with unusual colors that will generate excitement among your customers.

'Peach Passion' has fluffy yellow petals suffused with hints of peach, surrounding greenish yellow centers. It's a heavy producer, too, and blooms in just 55 days.

'Buttercream' has pale, delicate petals that contrast dramatically with the dark brown centers. 50-60 days to maturity.

'Chocolate' is the darkest brown sunflower, with petals that are absolutely velvety. 60 days to maturity.

Branching sunflowers tend to not be as long-lived in the vase as single-stemmed sunflowers, so they should be picked just as the petals are lifting off the face of the flower. Use extremely clean buckets, clippers and water and, for non-organic growers, flower preservative to extend vase life.


As the article about weeding in this issue points out, you should choose the right tool for each kind of weed problem. Johnny's has a great selection of hoes for just about every situation you might encounter. The Long-Handled Wire Weeder is designed for precision weeding among closely spaced seedlings such as salad mix, carrots, and onions. A Collinear Hoe allows you to stand up straight and slice weeds off just below the surface. Watch video of Eliot Coleman using the Collinear Hoe.
Stirrup Hoes are designed to handle bigger weeds quickly, using a push and pull motion that is made even easier with the optional mushroom grip. The Trapezoid Hoe has a sharp blade for skimming across a bed of mid-sized weeds, and sharp corners for digging out stubborn roots. The Cobrahead® has a powerful steel blade that can be used to sweep away small weeds, dig out big ones, make furrows, and much more, depending on how you turn the blade. For close hand work, Johnny's offers a half-dozen styles of short-handled cultivators.

The Glaser Wheel Hoe is the most efficient way to weed larger areas, like the footpath and just to either side of it. It has optional accessories that can be attached to the frame for other tasks such as hilling and seeding.

Johnny's Broadfork is an amazing tool that lets you aerate the soil without using a tiller or bringing up a lot of weed seeds. You just push the tines into the soil, stand on the cross bar, and rock backwards. Pull it out, move back 6-8", and repeat. It's fun, easy, and kind to your soil. It's especially useful in the close confines of a hoophouse. It comes in three widths, and there's even one for harvesting root crops.
Watch video about Johnny's Broadforks.

Disease control
As the weather warms, plant diseases begin to take their toll on vegetable crops. Johnny's has the newest, most effective products available for controlling diseases organically. Here are three that are OMRI approved and WSDA listed for use on certified-organic farms:
  • Actinovate® contains beneficial bacterium in a water-soluble powder that can be used as a soil drench against pythium, rhizoctonia, fusarium, and many other soil-borne diseases. It also can be used as a foliar spray against airborne pathogens such as powdery and downy mildews, botrytis, and alternaria.
  • Champ® is a copper fungicide for the control of early and late blight, leaf spot, bacterial blight, and many other diseases. It can be used as a preventative or at the first sign of disease.
  • Oxidate® is hydrogen dioxide that can be used for the prevention or control of plant pathogens, as a pre-plant dip, soil drench, foliar spray, and surface disinfectant. It can be alternated with Champ or other copper fungicides to prevent the development of tolerance.

For details on which products are effective against specific diseases, please see the chart in the Grower's Library on our website.