Thursday, September 30, 2010

Photos: Johnny's at Common Ground Country Fair

Here are a few photos from the Common Ground Country Fair. The annual Fair is hosted by MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association). This year's fair was held at the Unity, Maine fairgrounds on September 24-26.
Johnny's Selected Seeds had a sales tent and installed extensive demonstration gardens for customers to try our many tools, including a couple new ones -- the Paper Pot Transplanter and the Jang Seeder. We built a 12- x 40-foot caterpillar tunnel in which more than a dozen varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers were planted. We built a low tunnel from Quick Hoops™ and planted greens, carrots, and onions under row cover. We also planted a beautiful Kale bed, a sunflower garden and put together a nice fall harvest display of pumpkins, squash and gourds.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What's new at the Farm? 9/29/10

We continue harvesting seed productions at a feverish pace. Since my last article we have picked and processed eight tomatoes and a pumpkin. Today finds us picking yet another batch of tomatoes; hopefully three or four varieties. I'd like to be done the small increases by the end of the week and finish the last two or three big picking jobs by the end of next week. As soon as the tomatoes are done we start on small pepper increases and squash and pumpkins.

Last week I talked about the elevator I purchased to use in the seed processing line. Here's a photo of it in action:

Brian's newly purchased elevator sends pumpkins on their final journey, and into the Vine Harvester.
The big, orange machine is the Vine Harvester which I talk so much about during the harvest. It was patterned after a seed harvester, common out west years ago, and built here by a former farm employee. In this picture, the fruit drops into the hopper which grinds the fruit releasing the seed. The broken fruit is then deposited into a rotating drum with perforated holes. The seed goes through the holes into a catch draw and the pulp flows out the back.

A picture of the business end of the Vine Harvester:

The Vine Harvester machine makes quick work of our pumpkin harvest as it separates the seeds from the pulp.
The vine harvester is powered by a Farmall 200, which we use because it has a drawbar that adjusts height hydraulically. This is important to get the correct slope on the harvester. Too little slope and the pulp will get pulverized and go in with the seed; too little and good seed will be lost out the back.

Seed crops we use this machine on include pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and peppers -- basically any crop that is wet seeded. It speeds up the seed separation process considerably.

And lastly, as I was driving back from the sluice area last Friday I snapped this picture below:

Clover, sown between the cornrows, makes a great cover crop.
 This is the sweet corn trial that has gone by. It was undersown with Crimson clover around the fourth of July. We broadcast a couple of pounds of Crimson clover and then worked it in to the soil with rakes and hoes. Once the corn stalks get mowed the clover will really take off. It likes cool and damp weather, so it will thrive in the fall. It will provide a great matt of vegetation to hold and protect the topsoil. Regrowth next spring will depend largely on how the winter is so we may or may not have a lot of regrowth next spring.

Until next week, Brian

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Product Spotlight - October 2010

Totem Forcing Chicory

Belgian endive, also known as witloof chicory, is a gourmet item found in high end restaurants and occasionally in upscale groceries.
The narrow heads of pale yellow leaves, called chicons, have a mild chicory flavor and pleasing crispness.

Belgian endive is not difficult to grow, but it does require extra attention and handling. The chicons are actually the sprouted roots of chicory plants that were grown in summer, then dug up and put in storage for the winter. The roots can be forced as needed from September to January.

The variety Totem should be direct seeded outside in early July. The chicory plants grow all summer until the roots are fully developed and about 1.5"-2" wide at the shoulder. Around October, the plants are dug and the leaves are cut off to about an inch or two from the root. The roots can be stored standing upright in buckets of sand in a root cellar or other cool area. Ideally, the roots should be held right at freezing. To force them, they should be brought into the warmth, watered, and covered with a black cloth or bucket to exclude all light, which is what keeps the leaves white and bitter-free. The chicon will be fully grown in about three weeks.

Flash and Champion Collards

Collards are one of the vegetables that get better as the weather gets colder. They are very hardy and can be grown in warm areas without protection, under row cover or in a hoophouse in cold winter areas. Individual leaves can be harvested throughout the fall and winter, and the same plants will produce new growth for early spring greens.

Flash has smooth, dark green leaves and is 55 days to maturity. Champion has long, wavy dark green leaves and is 60 days to maturity.

Pumpkins and gourds
From left: Knucklehead; Champion; Speckled Hound; Daisy; Lunch Lady.
 Fall decorating is growing in popularity every year and Johnny's has a huge variety of pumpkins and gourds to fit every need. Customers are looking for specialty pumpkins, jack-o'-lanterns, and gourds from September through Thanksgiving. A selection of orange, white, and multicolored pumpkins dresses up a porch after summer flowers are done. Small gourds make beautiful tabletop decorations. And some of the more exotic specimens are great for kids' crafts.

Here are some of the newest varieties for fall decor:

Champion is a big jack-o'-lantern, usually 30 lb. or more, deep orange and well ribbed, perfect for carving.

Knuckle Head is an orange pumpkin averaging 12-16 lb. with cool, creepy warts all over it.

Speckled Hound is a small, flattened pumpkin weighing 3-6 lb., with splotches of orange and green.

Daisy gourd is a colorful, small-fruited mix, perfect for little hands, with a pattern on the top of each gourd that looks like a flower.

Lunch Lady is a collection of giant gourds, 5 to 20 lb., in different colors and patterns and all covered with warts.

JSS Advantage - October 2010

Even with the change of seasons, there's still work to be done. You can plant certain vegetable and flower seeds now to overwinter for an extra-early harvest next year. Garlic needs to be planted in fall. And you can extend the season of your current crops by being ready for the changing weather ahead.

Get ready for frost

For some of you, the first frost is fast approaching. If you'd like to buy time to extend your harvest season, be prepared for the autumn ritual of pulling row cover over your plants. Here's some advice on how to make it easier.

Row cover is available in different weights, which determines the amount of frost protection it provides. Heavier weights provide more protection, but also cost more. So figure out how low the temperature is likely to go before you can get your crop harvested, and purchase the appropriate weight.

If your fall crops are grouped into a single area, consider buying one big piece of row cover that you can pull over multiple beds. It's available in sizes as large as 50' x 1,000'. Be sure to anchor it carefully so the wind can't get underneath and carry it away like a big kite.

For light frosts and low-growing plants such as spinach and lettuce, you can lay the row cover directly on the plants. Heavy frosts, however, can freeze plants where they touch the row cover; to prevent this, put hoops over the crops to hold the row cover above them.

Upright plants can have their growing tips damaged by abrasion of the row cover. Suspend the row cover above those plants with hoops or posts.

Spreading row cover is best accomplished with at least two people. While one person unrolls or unfolds the row cover and lays it on the crop, the second person should be following with weights to hold the edges down.

Row cover will last many years if handled carefully. As soon as your crop is finished, roll the row cover back up and put it in a barn or other building. If you worry that mice will get into it during the winter (they love to nest in it!), put it in a bag and suspend it from the building's rafters.

Overwintering crops

With the proliferation of hoophouses and low tunnels on farms, many growers are trying a new strategy to extend the season: planting seeds in fall to get the earliest possible harvest in spring. Southern growers and others with mild winters routinely use this strategy with many cool-weather vegetables. In the North, Quick Hoops™ with row cover and greenhouse poly moderate the cold and allow for successful overwintering. Spinach is often produced by fall seeding, resulting in harvest a month before spring-seeded crops. Many other crops are good candidates for overwintering, though there are few definite guidelines yet, especially given the wide variations in temperatures that are possible from one location to another. Here are some results of other growers' trials that may help inform your own efforts to get extra-early spring veggies.

At Johnny's Research Farm in Albion, Maine, we conducted overwintering trials under Quick Hoops™ last year. Spinach was direct seeded in early October; it germinated but stayed dormant until March and was ready for harvest around April 1. The flavor was remarkably sweet. Mache was direct seeded and it grew very well during the fall but bolted quickly when the weather started to warm up. This crop should be harvested either during the winter or very quickly in spring. Lettuce was seeded in mid September and transplanted to the Quick Hoops™ in mid October. Heads were harvested the beginning of April and, again, the flavor was good with no bitterness.

Eliot Coleman writes in his book -- "The Winter Harvest Handbook" -- about his ongoing experiments with seeding or planting in fall in Quick Hoops™. Spinach and lettuce direct seeded or transplanted in fall are ready a month earlier than spring transplanted lettuce. Overwintering scallions are ready five weeks ahead of spring-planted scallions. In considering other crops to overwinter, Coleman writes "we are just beginning to tease out the possibilities." Arugula, beets, carrots, and peas will germinate in February or March in the hoophouse, so why not in the field in Quick Hoops™? He intends to continue to trial crops and varieties to find the best timing for fall seeding or transplanting.

Fall-planted flowers

In the southern half of the United States, fall is the best time to plant hardy annuals that will bloom next spring. Some of the best hardy annuals used as cut flowers include agrostemma, bachelor buttons, bupleurum, larkspur, and nigella. Any other flowers that normally self-seed in your garden are also good candidates for fall seeding. Some will germinate in fall, grow into small plants, and then go dormant. Others won't germinate this year, but will sit in the soil until the chilling requirement is fulfilled and the weather warms. Larkspur is a good example of a cut flower that is much stronger and taller when direct seeded in fall.

The area where larkspur should be fall seeded is generally Zone 5b and warmer, except in parts of the Pacific Northwest where fall seeding is not advised because rainy winters may cause seeds to rot. Larkspur seed needs 14-21 days of soil temperature below 55˚F (13˚C) to germinate. Once the seeds germinate, the seedlings will grow through the fall and form small rosettes of lacy leaves. The plants will remain green until the coldest weather of winter, when they will start to look bleached out and dead. They will just be dormant, though, and will green up and start to grow again as soon as the coldest weather is past.

Larkspur seed can be planted with a precision seeder or by hand at a rate of .3 oz. per 100' of row. The seed should be covered completely because darkness aids germination, and watered in well if the weather has been dry. The rows should be clearly marked because the beds will need to be hoed once or twice before spring. Cool-weather weeds such as henbit can choke out a bed of emerging larkspur if not controlled.

The best flowers result when the plants have experienced six weeks of temperatures below 55˚F (13˚C). By planting in fall, growers with mild winters are more likely to capture the amount of chilling required.

In the North, however, longer, cooler springs allow for adequate chilling when the seeds are planted in spring. Larkspur can be direct-seeded as soon as the ground can be worked. Or it can be started from transplants, after the seed is chilled for several weeks in a refrigerator, and grown at 55˚F (13˚C).

Planting garlic

Seed garlic from Johnny's is shipped in October so that you can plant it at the best time for your climate. The goal is to get good root growth to anchor the bulbs before winter, but no top growth. Depending on when the ground freezes in your area, it can be planted from the first frost through November. Until you're ready to plant, store it in a cool, dry place, 50-70F (not in the refrigerator).

Garlic is a heavy feeder and will produce the biggest bulbs when the soil has adequate nutrients. Compost is best, as it provides fertility, improves soil organic matter, and increases drainage. Garlic does not compete well with weeds, so prepare your beds, allow weed seeds to germinate and then cultivate shallowly to make a clean seed bed without disturbing new weed seeds.

Separate the cloves from the bulb and plant them 6" apart, with about 2" of soil on top. As soon as the soil freezes, mulch the bed with 4-6" of hay, straw, or grass clippings to prevent the bulbs from heaving.

For more information about growing garlic, see our Tech Sheet.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Johnny's at Common Ground Country Fair this weekend

Join us at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine on Friday September 24th to Sunday, September 26th. Our booth is near the Rose Gate entrance in the northeast corner of the fairgrounds. We're located across from the amphitheater.

Visit our fair tent for great deals, tool demonstrations, Eliot Coleman book signing, and more! You can also get a 10% off coupon for future use!

For more information about the fair, including directions and tickets, visit the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association fair site.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What's new at the Farm? 9/22/10

This week finds us picking more tomatoes. And pumpkins. And still more tomatoes:

We start the week by picking Black Cherry for seed. Lots of tomatoes means lots of seed. I figure it will take the whole farm crew a day and a half to pick and process it and two days to sluice it. At least it's a nice field to work in; the big, new field that is. I think I mentioned in a previous article how fields got their names; I asked Kelly to name this field hence the "Big, new field". It's a nice field, about 5 acres in size, with a southern exposure. Its history includes being in continuous conventional corn for 25 years or so, then hayfield and now we use it. It's kind of funny that I'm farming the same field I did 30 years ago but organically now.

Video of sluice.

We're also picking Cherokee Green tomatoes on Thursday this week, along with some small increases during slow periods of our work days (ha-ha). And other than harvesting, we don't have a whole lot pressing; of course we're eye-ball deep in harvesting.

A couple of weeks ago I purchased a hay/grain conveyor from a local farmer:

It is a John Deere grain elevator with a "3" for the serial number. Once we got it home, no small feat in itself, I let Jeff know what I wanted to do with it and "have at it". It started out at 52 feet long and now is 32 feet. Besides shortening it we had to change its power supply from 230-volt electric to a gasoline powered motor. I think it will work really well, and if it doesn't, well, we've have a conveyor to use for conveying something.

We're going to process a pumpkin this week before the squirrels do any more damage. We get to use our new conveyor (new to us) for processing this one. That's one of my bright ideas for 2010. Usually we toss pumpkins up into the Vine Harvester but I dislike this method. It takes several people and as the ground becomes wet and slippery, it makes a hazardous site to work in. Mud and ice make for slippery walking. Using the conveyor will enable us to load the pumpkins at a safe distance from all the moving parts of the process.

Using the conveyor will also enable us to feed the fruits into the vine harvester at an even pace. Instead of getting lots of fruit all at once, we can pace ourselves so the timing of fruit being loaded can facilitate the machine having time to properly separate the seed from the pulp. I'll let you know how it all works out in a future column.

Signs of the changing of the seasons are all around us; wood stove smoke, geese and crows joining into flocks. The swallows and hummers are gone and a steady procession of birds migrating over the next couple of months. Killdeer must have left as I haven't seen any in a while, lots of ducks flying around and rat/squirrel holes around the buildings as they prepare to spend the winter near their food supply. Fall is definitely here.

Until next week enjoy the season, Brian

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stevia: How sweet it is!

If you've hit your favorite local coffee shop lately for a caffeine fix, you've probably noticed little green packets on the condiments counter near the soy milk, half and half and sugar. Most likely you're looking at a natural, herbal sugar substitute known as Stevia.

Sweeter than sugar!
In its powder form, Stevia more than holds its own vs. artificial, chemical-based sweeteners in coffee or tea. It's not just for hot beverages, however.

The leaves of Stevia may be used fresh, dried, or as a liquid to sweeten just about any food. The plant, a native of South America, produces leaves that are said to be 15 times sweeter than sugar.

Here's an excellent article about Stevia from Mother Earth News. It covers the history of Stevia, nutritional and dietary aspects of the herb, and concludes with several recipes.

You can easily grow your own Stevia. It's a good herb for containers. Last winter, one of our international salesmen successfully grew several Stevia plants under a grow light in his office.

Here's some information about growing and enjoying Stevia from Johnny's Grower's Library:

STEVIA Stevia rebaudiana

Stevia plant at Johnny's Research Farm.

Description: Stevia is a tender perennial hardy in USDA Zones 9 and 10, or where temperatures do not fall below freezing. When grown as an annual, it reaches a height of 18-24 inches with bushy sideshoot growth. A native of South America, Stevia has been used as a natural sweetener for over 1,500 years. Today, the remarkably sweet leaves are used as a sugar substitute throughout the world. Virtually calorie free, sweeteners made from Stevia do not raise blood sugar levels, and are generally safe for diabetics.

Parts used: Fresh and dried leaves.

Culture: Recommended indoor planting method: Start seeds 6-8 weeks before last frost date. Sow shallowly in a well-drained soil mix in flats at a temperature of 68-75ºF (20-24ºC). Transplant to 3" pots when seedlings are large enough to handle. Do not over-water. For bushier plants, pinch back growing tips every few weeks for the first 1-2 months after germination.

Outdoor planting:
Stevia generally does not tolerate temperatures below 45ºF (9ºC). After all danger of frost has passed, transplant outside 12" apart. Stevia is also an ideal plant to grow in containers as a houseplant, or in the greenhouse. For container growing, choose a pot that is at least 14" across, and provide soil that is well-drained. Maintain even soil moisture, and provide shade in extreme heat.

Light/Soil/Water Requirements: Stevia performs best in average, well-drained soil in full sun. Avoid overuse of nitrogen-rich fertilizers, as they cause the plant to produce large leaves with little flavor. Do not over-water, especially when being grown as a container plant or when transplanting. In extreme southern areas and when growing in containers, afternoon shade may be need.

Pest/Disease Problems: Carefully watch for any signs of insect damage to the leaf. Whiteflies and leafhoppers may pose problems.

Harvest: Pick in the morning and before flowering occurs for highest sugar content. Leaves may be harvested throughout the season once the plant has become established, with the main harvest occurring in September or October. Fresh or dried leaves are delicious in salads, sauces, and beverages. To dry, hang small bunches of stems in a well-ventilated, dry area out of direct sun. Dried leaves may be ground into powder for storage. Fresh leaves can be used to make a liquid sweetener by steeping one teaspoonful of dried leaves in one cup of boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What's new at the Farm? 9/16/10

Today I'm going to cover harvesting cucumbers for seed. We grow several varieties of cucumbers here on Johnny's farm for seed including Northern Pickling; this is what we harvested this week.  We start the seedlings the middle of May and transplant into the field once the weather is warm in June. They get planted on IRT mulch with floating row covers for added heat and for insect control. The biggest pest is of course, the striped cucumber beetle. Although cukes aren't their favorite meal they'll attack them if there's nothing else. Once the cukes start blossoming the covers can come off and the vines allowed to grow out into the aisle creating a canopy which stops most weed growth.

We don't pick the cucumbers like we would in the garden so they'll set fruit, mature the fruit and die. Often they get a late season disease like downy mildew which kills the leaves but doesn't affect the maturing of the cukes. As long as there are roots and vines the fruit will mature and we can harvest the seeds from them. A ripe fruit with mature seed will be fat  and brown and getting very close to being rotten.

Cukes are usually harvested late in the fall; up until they freeze to insure the seed is mature. We've harvested them as early as September and as late as November; it's best to leave them until they are nearly impossible to pick up and put in a bucket. You can't have them over ripe; they just don't get too ripe. They can, of course, lose their shape and become dried and flattened which them makes it nearly impossible to extract the seed on a large scale but we pick before they come to this stage.

Once we determine the seeds are ready to be harvested we pick them into 5 gallon buckets and deposit them into a machine we call the Vine Crop Harvester. This machine (more on the actual machine in a later column) grinds the fruits releasing the juice and the seed. This mixture of juice, seed and crushed fruit drops into a rotating screen with perforated holes which separate the seed and juice (now called slurry) mixture from the pulp. The pulp goes to the compost pile or back onto the field and the slurry mixture gets put into barrels:
Slurry mixture ready for phase 2.
This mixture sets overnight and then is ready to be sluiced. Sluicing separates the good seed from the juice, seed coat and fruit pieces, and leaves clean seed. We sluice many wet seed crops here and cucumbers and melons are the most fun to do. They separate quickly and the seed comes out very clean.
This is a picture of the sluice way here at the farm; it is filled with cucumber slurry and the foam is from the fermenting that occurred overnight.


The slurry mixture is slowly added to the sluiceway and seed separation occurs:
Seed ready to be dried.

As you can see here the clean seed is sitting on the bottom of the sluice waiting to be removed and dried.  Once the water is drained the seed is taken out of the sluiceway and placed on the drier in the greenhouse. We use a drier in a greenhouse to harvest the large amounts of free heat generated in there this time of year.

Until next week, enjoy the fall. Brian

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Customer's photos: Watermelons and lettuce

Anneli Velt, a customer from Estonia, sent us these photos of her watermelon crop. Anneli says she enjoyed a great harvest of Sunshine, a yellow-fleshed variety, and Sweet Favourite. One of her Sweet Favourites topped 27 lbs. (10.4 kg). Conditions in Estonia were favorable for melon growing this season. Estonia, located in the Baltic Sea region of Northern Europe, had a warmer and sunnier summer than usual, she said.

Spencer Carter, of Campbell, N.Y., sent us this photo of All-Star Gourmet Lettuce Mix.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What's new at the Farm? 9/10/10

The harvesting started last week with three lots of Swiss chard and a tomato. The swiss chard was planted early last fall in Oregon, grown through the winter and selected for desirable traits in March. In early April it was transplanted here in Albion on plastic and had row covers installed to increase the available heat. As soon as the chard pushes up the row covers, we remove the covers and basket-weave them like you would tomatoes. The middle part of August they start to drop seed so they were cut and stacked in the field like you see here.
Jeff and Becky threshing Swiss chard with our Cecoco thresher.

After a couple of weeks drying (we had perfect drying weather this year), we run them through the thresher as above. Once the seed is separated from the stalks and leaves, it is bagged and placed in our controlled atmoshpere storage until mid-fall when we start seed-cleaning operations.

We're also harvesting tomatoes last week and this week and probably every week for a month and a half or so. We harvested a cherry tomato last week; I figure there were between 150 and 450 thousand cherry tomatoes in that field. After doing this a few years we have become adept at harvesting cherry tomatoes quickly and efficiently so it only took us a full day to pick them.

Let's see: Let's say we had 300,000 tomatoes to pick, we had 10 farm crew members and it took us 8 hours to pick and crush the fruit. In theory each person picked an average of 4,688 tomatoes per hour or 1.3 fruit every second for 8 hours straight. Of course that's not what happened, but when you are picking thousands of tomatoes in a seemingly endless row with no end in sight, then you have some time to play around with numbers. Case in point (this is from some years back) if each of those 300K tomatoes were 4 inches across (average hamburger size) you would have enough to go about 19 miles, or from Albion to Augusta. That's a lot of burgers!

Speaking of hamburgers I bought a cow over the weekend. Well, actually a half a cow, well actually a half of a half of a cow. My neighbor raised three beef cows over the past two years and had a half to sell so I bought it. We were talking about raising cows last Sunday morning and how the cattle yards out west looked; crowded, dirty and generally not how I want my beef handled. Growing up on a dairy farm we always had lots of beef to eat; we didn't think much about it. Off the farm for thirty years I have bought my beef in a local butcher shop or occaisionally in the grocery store. I remember as a kid it was common for someone to raise a few beef animals and sell them to friends and neighbors. I wonder what ever happened to this. Well, at least right now, and in my neighborhood, it's back. The farmer wants $ 1.50 hanging weight and the local butcher gets 75 cents for his part so I'll wind up with around 150 pounds of beef at $ 2.25 a pound across the board. 

We put 24 pints of sweet corn in the freezer over the weekend. I bought six dozen ears from a local farmer and Peg and I blanched it and removed it from the ears and froze it. This will last us pretty much all winter. Along with the beef, and chickens we put in the freezer earlier, we should have a decent supply of food on hand before cold weather comes. I do hate going to the store every night.

Until next week, enjoy the coolness of September. Brian

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pest of the Week: Gray Wall/ Blotchy Ripening

Blotchy Ripening

Gray Wall/Blotchy Ripening of Tomato

Life Cycle: Gray Wall or Blotchy Ripening is a physiological disorder that can be caused by several environmental factors. Extreme high heat, high humidity, temperature fluctuations, low light levels during high temperatures (potentially from dense vine coverage, or from fog or clouds during hot weather), high nitrogen, low potassium, low boron, bacterial/fungal infections, TMV (Tobacco Mosaic Virus), or excessive soil compaction can all potentially contribute to gray wall/blotchy ripening. Some of these causes seem contradictory, but the disorder is believed to be caused by many different factors contributing to the symptoms listed below.

Plants affected: Tomatoes

Symptoms: Tomato fruits look as though they have uneven ripening. When still green, areas of gray wall/blotchy ripening may appear gray or brown from the outside. As fruit ripens, it will have blotchy green or yellow areas. Yellow shoulders are another symptom that can be observed with or without other symptoms listed here. Upon cutting the fruit open, there may be areas of yellow, brown, or white tissue in the fruit wall, denoting uneven ripening. There are varying degrees of symptoms involved with this disorder.

Control: Keep plants healthy by providing a well-rounded nutrient and irrigation program. A soil test on a yearly basis where tomatoes are/will be grown is recommended to assess what soil nutrient requirements will be. Keeping tabs on the weather is important. If hot cloudy or hot foggy weather is predicted, then removal of the leaf blade above ripening fruit will allow more light to penetrate the canopy. Be aware that too much canopy removal and high light levels can cause sunscald. It is important that the plant has adequate potassium levels in the soil. Grow varieties that are resistant to TMV.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Crop walk video: Basil and Baby Leaf Greens trials

At this week's crop walk, we looked at our basil trials and baby leaf greens for salad mixes. It's been a hot summer in Maine. The heat caused our basil to flower earlier than normal. The plants aren't quite as large as they were last year at this time.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What's new at the Farm? 9/1/10

The first of September is here and harvesting is cranking up. Hopefully with the change of the calendar the weather will change as well. While it's been a great growing season the hot and humid weather is becoming a bit old at this point. Cooler, dry weather will be welcome after this latest stretch.

Did I say harvesting? Yep, seed crop harvesting begins this month with Swiss chard and tomatoes. Hopefully by  the time you read this we'll have the swiss chard seed crop harvested and drying in small seed storage – well, actually I don't think it will need any additional drying as it's pretty dry in the field now. We cut the plants off last week and they've had the past week to dry so threshing will be relatively easy now.

I plan on threshing Tuesday this week and harvesting tomatoes Wednesday this week too. Looks like a busy week!

The tomato seed crop we are harvesting is a small gold cherry. We have 1,500 plants and each plant has at least a hundred tomatoes, so we have a minimum of 150,000 tomatoes to pick this week; hopefully in one day as we have other projects that need doing as well. There are around 400 tomatoes in a five gallon pail and it takes about 20 minutes to pick a pail so it's a big time consuming project. It would take the farm crew of 8 people at least two full days just to pick this crop let alone process them. After doing a tomato like this one last year, we should be able to pare the time down to about a half of a day, with some harvesting shortcuts we have developed over the years. We'll see.

The summer squash and cucumber trials are done now and the eggplant will be soon. Tomatoes are ripening full bore now and everyone has far more than they need. I think the melons are about half done, the spring carrots are done as is the summer broccoli and the bush beans; done and gone and soon to be planted to a cover crop to get some growth before winter.

The swallows have gone south or at least I haven't seen any around. I expect the hummingbirds will be next. The young ospreys are flying with their parents and, I assume, are hunting on their own now, or will be shortly. Turkeys are everywhere in all different stages of growth. Goose season has started; September again this year to thin out some of the local geese. I remember when seeing geese were a rare thing and seldom did you see them nesting in central Maine; now they're pretty common here and everywhere in Maine. Lots of them in Aroostook also.

Time now and for the next few weeks, for the agricultural fairs around the state. I think we'll plan on going to Windsor this week. We like to go in the mornings to see the animals and displays without the throngs of people. The midway has lost something over the years, and yes now, the vegetable exhibitions mean a lot more. It's interesting to see so many of Johnny's varieties displayed in the exhibition halls. 

The advantages are in for us not having a garden this year. Although I miss working in the garden I find I have more time for other projects and I have plenty of them. I'm still trying to get the bark mulch put around my blueberry bushes, and I still need to build the arbor for my grapes. It's just really hard after working in the hot and humid weather to do more of it when I get home. Plan for next year -- do everything I can before May because once May hits I don't have much free time right through October. I suppose if I took the time I spent thinking about the blueberries, and applied that to putting the mulch on, I'd be long done, but you know how that goes.

Until next week, enjoy the last hot spell of the season, Brian