Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween from Johnny's

Here's a treat (no trick): A few photos and a video from our pumpkin breeding program. It's not too early to think about next season's Jack-o-Lantern crop! We have a great selection of seed for growing mid to large-size pumpkins.

Video: Walk around pumpkin patch

Friday, October 29, 2010

What's new at the Farm? A warm fall

What a difference a year makes!
A year ago at this time it was cold and wet. I had just returned from a week’s vacation in northern Maine where the highs and lows were in the 20s and 30s. Wednesday’s high was 67. Last year we had had repeated frosts and were irrigating the peppers for frost protection. This year we have had one killing frost and haven’t irrigated at all.

We are ahead of last year for several reasons. The two biggest ones are a more dedicated crew and beautiful fall weather. This week last year we were thinking about taking down the tomato trellises and this year they are down, put away and the ground has been seeded down. Last year we were finishing up processing squash and cukes. This year we are as well, except we had five cucurbits in 2009 and 17 this year.

The farm is starting to look a lot like fall.

We’ve been working on seed saving from the pepper workshop; there are hundreds of plants to save the fruit and extract the seeds from.  This is a full time job right now for four to eight people. A couple of days of rain and we’ll at least catch up a bit.

The last cucumber gets harvested this week and we’ll process three or four squashes. We’ll wrap up processing next week and all will be left is miles of plastic to pull up from the fields and some fall projects we like to do before winter. The sluice area is going to get a thorough cleaning, all the equipment needs to be steam cleaned and most of it gets stored for the winter. The irrigation pipes, valves and pumps can be brought in and winterized, and any parts or pieces we need can be listed so I can order them during the winter.

Other fall projects include: taking inventory of greenhouse supplies and listing wants and needs. We'll need new flats, potting mixes, fertilizers, pesticides and pots. We'll take stock of watering supplies, which includes hoses, nozzles, watering cans, turn-off valves, water timers and filters. We need to determine which greenhouses will get new plastic next year. I think number three is due. We’ll also try to get some planting plans ironed out for next spring and the labor to cover these plans.

There are a few fall crops left to harvest. Fall carrots come to mind along with some lettuce and greens. There’s still fall spinach right outside my window -- a green contrast to an otherwise dead and dying flower trials field. A few other root crops remain, but that’s about it. The poly tunnels are all but bare except for a few flowers. We’ll plant some overwintering crops in them shortly.

Until next week, enjoy the temps.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Johnny's expands to Fairfield

Johnny's Selected Seeds is opening a new office across the Kennebec River in Fairfield, Maine. The move is almost complete. Exciting news!

Read story in Morning Sentinel.

JSS Advantage -- November 2010

Winter's slower pace allows time for chores that just couldn't be done during the frenzy of the growing season. In this issue, we'll cover three projects that will help recharge your batteries and make your farm more efficient next year.

Post-season assessment

Autumn is a good time to sit down with your records and analyze your successes and failures, while the past season is fresh in your mind. Then, when the new seed catalogs begin to arrive, you'll be better prepared to analyze new varieties and crops in the context of what worked and what didn't on your farm.

So gather up your records, in whatever form you have kept them, and go through each crop from A to Z. A good place to start is with your seed orders, which you should have either on paper (such as packing slips) or in a spreadsheet.

If you haven't yet created a spreadsheet for your crop records, this is a good time to do it. Even the most basic data collection can benefit from the sorting capability of programs like Excel and Numbers.

Here are some of the fields you can set up in a spreadsheet, even without knowing how to use formulas (although some of these fields can be auto-calculated if you input the correct formula):
  • Variety name
  • Seed source
  • Amount of seed purchased
  • Amount of seed used
  • Date of first harvest
  • Date of last harvest
  • Amount harvested
  • Amount unmarketable
  • Amount sold and unsold
  • Revenue from sale of the crop

Your assessment also should include a field for notes, which can include personal preference and observations, such as "a real pain to pick" or "the sweetest I have ever tasted."

If your record keeping also includes labor and other input costs, you can go deeper into financial analysis of each crop. In his book, The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook,  vegetable farmer Richard Wiswall offers detailed advice on how to capture and use information about your costs of production.

One of the most helpful features a spreadsheet offers for your crop assessment is the checkbox. You can add columns with checkboxes for anything you want to know at a glance: For example, you could have a column that says "Reorder same amount"; another labeled "Try a different variety"; another that says "Grow more" and so on. Once you have checked the appropriate boxes for each crop, you can sort by each column to create a comprehensive picture of the crops that worked well and those that need some tweaking. You can also sort by multiple fields to create useful lists, such as all the seeds you want to reorder from Johnny's.

The beauty of keeping records in a spreadsheet program is that you can keep expanding it. As you add more data, you'll think of even more ways to use it to make your farm more profitable.

A better packing shed

For most crops, what happens after harvest is just as important, or even more so, than how they are grown. Postharvest handling, packing, cooling, and transportation have a big effect on the quality of your produce when it reaches the consumer. On the farm, good postharvest facilities can dramatically improve speed, efficiency, health, safety, and employee morale. We're not kidding; your packing shed really is important.

The term "packing shed" can encompass a wide range of facilities, from a wash tub and table in the shade of a tree to a dedicated building with an automated packing line. Whatever the size or shape, all have certain features in common:

Ergonomics: Workstation heights should suit the workers. According to the Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project at the University of Wisconsin, the most efficient work table height is halfway between wrist and elbow, measured when the arm is held down at the worker's side. For heavier items, it is slightly lower.

Work flow: The most efficient layout for the packing shed avoids extra steps and crossed paths. It also moves produce in the direction of the worker's leading hand (left to right for right-handed people). The Healthy Farmers project suggests these considerations when designing the work flow: Do all crops need to be washed? Do some need to be sprayed and others to be dunked? Could you run side-by-side task lines into a shared workstation where boxes are packed? Or circular work stations that intersect at the shared workstation. Could you use some sections of roller table?

Water: Wash water must be potable (safe to drink). The Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) standards for produce farms recommend dunking produce for one to two minutes in water chlorinated with 50-200 ppm chlorine in order to kill pathogens. So far, that's just a recommendation designed to improve food safety, but growers trying to get GAPs-certified may be required to use disinfectant in wash water. For more information about using chlorine in wash water, see this University of California-Davis publication.

Organic rules also address the issue of wash water, stating that the final rinse water must not have more than 4 ppm residual chlorine, measured downstream of the product wash. This rule seems to conflict with the GAPs recommendation. To clear up the confusion, USDA's National Organic Program office has just released a draft proposal that suggests higher levels of chlorine are acceptable, as long as a final rinse meets the 4 ppm standard. NOP is accepting comments on the proposal until Dec. 13; a final rule will be released later, so certified-organic growers are urged to ask their certification agency once the issue is resolved.

Read more about packing sheds in Growing for Market.
The Healthy Farmers, Healthy Profits Project at the University of Wisconsin has numerous tip sheets that can help you create a more efficient postharvest workspace.

Your tool shed

The place where you store tools and supplies is probably the least glamorous part of your farm, but getting it organized can save time and money during the busy season.

Going for a tool and finding it missing is both frustrating and time wasting. If you have more than one person working on your farm, you need a clearly designated place for tools and a rule that every tool gets put away when its work is done.

One of the best systems for organizing tools is a wall covered with pegboards, either the common wood pegboard or newer metal pegboards. You will find a huge assortment of hardware to hold everything imaginable on your pegboard. Some people label the pegboard or even draw tool outlines so they can tell at a glance where a tool belongs.

Besides the obvious hooks for tools such as hoes and spades, you can add small baskets to hold the stuff you often need when working with those tools. For example, hang a knife on the pegboard and a bucket beneath it and you're more likely to scrape the soil off a tool before you hang it up. Or put a sharpening stone next to a hoe, so you won't forget to touch up the blade before you take it outside.

Plastic buckets are a free solution to the problem of where to store all the little pieces, such as connectors for drip irrigation, hose nozzles, greenhouse repair tape, screws, gloves, and so forth. Get a permanent nursery marker and write the contents of the bucket on the side so you don't have to waste time rooting around looking for things.

Big plastic totes with sealing lids to keep out rodents and insects are essential for protecting food-contact items such as plastic bags and twist-ties. They can also be used for pest control products and fertilizers that need to be protected from moisture. However, if you have young children around the farm, you should get a locking cabinet for pest controls and other toxic materials.

If your shed is a cluttered, unpleasant space, figure out what you can do to make it more inviting. Lighting is important. If you don't have good daylight in your structure, or if you work at night, you need ample lights. ATTRA has a recently updated publication on farm lighting that will help you choose the most energy-efficient fixtures for the job.

A heater, fan, radio, doormats: these are all items that will make you want to linger long enough to keep your tools and supplies clean and ready for the next job.

Product spotlight - November 2010

Cabbage and eggplant

Caraflex: Cool cone shape
Cabbage is one of those vegetables that appreciate in value in fall and winter. It's a customer favorite in many comfort foods such as soups and casseroles. And cold weather improves its flavor.

If you have cabbage as a fall crop right now, you can protect it with Quick Hoops™ and row cover to extend the season, or you can harvest it and store it for sales at winter markets. Ideal conditions are 32°F (0°C) with high humidity.

The best variety for long term storage is Storage No. 4.

In the South, you can grow it over the winter; in the North, you can start it in late winter and have sweet, delicious cabbage in early spring. Mini cabbages are growing in popularity among fresh market growers.

Gonzales is a round mini cabbage that will be ready for harvest at 4-6" in diameter when grown on close spacing (8-12" in the row and 12-18" between rows). Despite its small size, it has dense, uniform, sweetly spicy heads. 66 days to maturity.

Caraflex is a cone-shaped mini cabbage that is extremely uniform, with good wrapper leaves for insect and sun protection. The tender, rich leaves are great for fresh eating in slaws and salads. 68 days to maturity.

Farao is another great cabbage for winter production in the South or early spring in the North. Just 64 days to maturity, Farao has attractive deep green heads that are resistant to splitting. The cores are densely filled with thin, crisp, peppery sweet leaves.

As you look ahead to next year, consider the eggplant. This crop is available in a diversity of shapes, colors and sizes that makes it one of the most beautiful in a market display.
Rosa Bianca

At Johnny's, you can find long, slender Asian varieties in lavender, purple, and white, or specialty varieties such as the small, round, green-and-white fruits of Kermit. The Italian types are the most widely recognized in the U.S.; here are some favorites:

Beatrice is a bright violet color. It's a high yielder and only 62 days to maturity.

Clara is a striking white with green calyx. Fruits are 6-7" long by 4-5" wide. 65 days to maturity.

Rosa Bianca is an heirloom variety with white and violet streaks. Plump and ribbed, it is renowned for its mild, creamy taste. Rosa Bianca is best suited to areas with warm nights.

Also coming at the end of the month -- a fantastic new variety called Barbarella. It will pair beautifully with the aforementioned varieties.

Flowers: Mixes
Northern Lights Mix

Johnny's specialty flower mixes take the guesswork out of naturalistic landscape plantings. Flower varieties are carefully chosen for their performance in specific situations and blended with crushed corn cobs to aid distribution of the seeds.

Northern Lights Mix is a carefree wildflower mix for areas with short summers and harsh winters. It includes 14 perennials and reseeding annuals in a range of heights, colors, and flower types. Blooms from spring to fall.

Butterfly and Hummingbird Mix contains a dozen varieties of self-seeding annuals to provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. This mix requires full sun for best bloom. Plants reach 3 1/2' and create a meadow effect.

Shady Woodland Mix contains about a dozen flower varieties adapted to lightly shaded areas such as woodland edges.

Tools: DOT Pots and CowPots
CowPots: Made of Cow Manure!

If you sell plants in spring, you know you have to differentiate your product from the flood of plants available at the big box stores. Here's a great way to elevate your plants to sustainable status: DOT Pots and CowPots. Both are fully biodegradable pots that your customers can put right into the ground with the plants in them. There's no plastic waste and no transplant shock. Gardeners will love the convenience and the successful results.

DOT Pots are OMRI-certified for organic transplants. They are created using only wood fiber and peat moss, bound together, without glues, using a patented technology. Johnny's offers a wide range of sizes for every application, and in quantities for both small and large growers.

CowPots were invented by two Connecticut dairy farmers using fully composted manure so they are almost completely odor free. Although they last for months in the greenhouse, they biodegrade quickly when planted and release nutrients into soil, resulting in better root growth and healthier plants.

Johnny's 2011 Calendar will adorn your wall with beautiful photography from customers' vegetable, herb, and flower farms. The 14-month calendar shows holidays and lunar phases, plus interesting agricultural events, tips and planting charts.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gardening journalists mention Johnny's

Below are some links to some recent stories we thought you might enjoy.

The Atlantic Monthly magazine had a great story -- "The Vegetable Express: A Way to Sell Produce to Those in Need" -- about a Vermont farmer's innovative way to market and sell fresh vegetables. In a setup similar to your neighborhood ice cream truck vendor, Hilary Martin uses a 1988 delivery van as a roving vegetable stand to reach customers in Burlington, Vermont neighborhoods. We were pretty excited to learn Martin was wearing a Johnny's baseball cap during her deliveries.

From the Portland (Maine) Press Herald: "Maine Gardener: Want to extend next year’s gardening season? He’s got you covered" This article, published Oct. 24, discusses season extension and mentions some of our tips and products.

Barbara Damrosch, who writes the "A Cook's Garden" column for the Washington Post, had this Oct. 21 piece on fall crops: "Mind your peas and their cues".

Johnny's Farm Manager Brian Milliken was interviewed by the web portal iVillage for an article/photo slideshow on saving flower seed -- "10 Plant Seeds to Save Right Now".

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Photos from Johnny's Fall Crop Walk and Field Trials

Here are a few photos from Johnny's Fall Crop Walk. We hosted our third and final crop walk of the 2010 growing season on October 20. We had 12 guests join us to take a look at several of our trials, including pumpkins, leeks, onions, root crops, spinach, Quick Hoops™ low tunnels, and gourds.

We hold crop walks 2 or 3 times per year at our Research Farm in Albion, Maine. Crop walks give guests the opportunity to tour our extensive trial fields, connect with other farmers and gardeners, and converse with Johnny's research staff. Check out our calendar for more Johnny's events and seasonal tips.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What's new at the Farm? 10/20/10

Harvesting continues yet another week, but at least we're done with the tomatoes. Picking tomatoes provides us with plenty of work from mid August through September, an otherwise slow time of year. Not that it's ever really slow around here, but some time periods aren't quite as busy as others. We're processing squash and pumpkins this week with two under our belt already. We'll do another squash and a small cucumber before this week is over.

We've yet to have a hard frost but have had several light frosts. We brought the squash in last week as shown below:

This is about half of what we brought in; the rest is in the warehouse. The squash looks much better in here than it would in the field.

Another picture of the farm is below:

This shows the pumpkin workshop in field 9 and the Brussels sprouts trial in the foreground. To the right of the Brussels sprouts is the parsley trial. The light green in the left and left center is a cover crop of oats and brassicas we planted where the melon and watermelon trials were. We try to get as many crops tilled in as soon as we're done with them to get some cover crop planted before cold weather sets in. Our last planting was of winter rye last week; we'll see if it does anything this fall. My preference is to seed cover crops by mid September so they get appreciable growth before winter.

The Brussels sprouts will be harvested later in the season after a hard frost or two. Frost generally sweetens the sprouts, otherwise they can be bitter. They can be left in the field very late in the season. I usually don't harvest mine until Thanksgiving weekend. Same goes for rutabagas. There is no comparison between fresh Brussels sprouts and rutabagas and those frozen boxed veggies in the supermarket.

The signs of the changing of the seasons continues. I saw my first large flocks of geese on Sunday whilst on one of my last fishing trips of the season; last because of the cool weather and the fish aren't cooperating. In a couple of months, we could be ice fishing so I'll do some projects around the house until then. Among the chores: get the wood in; clean up the flower beds; winterize the henhouses; and get the bird feeders out.

Until next week, enjoy the fall.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Visit Johnny's Trial Fields tomorrow evening: Twilight Walk October 20th, 3:00 to 5:30 p.m.

Please join us at Johnny's Research Farm in Albion 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:
  • New Quick Hoops™ Trial
  • Root Crops, including Kohlrabi, Radish, Turnips, Fennel, Celeriac, Parsley, Parsnips, Chicory Root, Carrots, Scorzonera, Salsify, Burdock
  • Fall Ornamentals
  • Onions
  • Winter Squash
  • Regular and Sweet Potatoes
  • Leeks
Please contact Peggy Huff at with any questions.

The Research Farm is located at 184 Foss Hill Road in Albion. Click here for directions to Johnny's Research Farm.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Photos: Autumn harvest at Johnny's Farm

It's autumn harvest time here in Maine. That means there is plenty of work to be done at the farm. Read all about it in our Farm Manager Brian's weekly blog.

Here are some shots taken this week at Johnny's Research Farm.

2010 flower trials nearing their end in the front field.

Pumpkin field.

Pumpkin breeding program.

More pumpkins.

A bountiful squash harvest.

Fall foliage nears its peak in central Maine.

More autumn leaves. Not many places are prettier than New England this time of year.

Crates are full of squash for seed processing.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's new at the Farm? First frost

This week finds us with the first frost of the season; not a hard frost but enough to know we've had one. Galinsoga is an excellent indicator of frost. It's highly susceptible and it's everywhere! Basil is another good indicator as is summer squash. Squash often gets the top leaves frosted and they then turn black while the rest of the plant gets to live a while longer. This year we've got summer squash just setting fruits in a poly tunnel so we'll see how they survive the frost. I doubt it got cold enough to damage them much.

We continue harvesting seed productions on the farm. Last week found us doing a cucumber seed production. This is what the farm crew faced early Thursday morning last week:

Cukes lie ready for Johnny's seed processing crew.

The picture doesn't do the field justice; it took the full farm crew from 7:30 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon to pick and process this cuke. And it took a full day for two people to sluice it. But it was worth it, we got nearly three times what we expected; an excellent yield considering how dry it was this summer.

This week we do another cucumber and we'll also finish the tomatoes. We'll hammer away at the few pepper increases we have and get as much fieldwork done as we can. There are still some fall trials to plant so we need to get ground ready for those as well. We'll also process at least two cucurbits and get our winter squash breeding fruits in. Sounds like a lot for this week and it's scheduled to rain on Friday.

The fall migration continues many of the birds we view all summer are gone. The ducks and geese are flocking and feeding; getting ready for their long fall flight. I've seen lots of small flocks of geese but no large ones; I suppose that will change with the cool weather we're experiencing now. We have a resident Blue Heron at the house; here's a picture of him last week standing on top of the greenhouse:

A Great Blue Heron enjoys the view from atop Brian's greenhouse, er make that woodshed/boat storage facility.

You can just pick him out on the right side of the greenhouse. I couldn't get any closer as he flew off when I tried. He's getting smarter and more wary of me. He only comes a couple of times a week and hangs out with our ducks and geese.

And speaking of greenhouses; this is something I always wanted and we finally bought one.

We've had this for at least ten years. We bought it used, tore it down and brought it home where we spent a month putting it back up and making modifications that we needed to. We grew seedlings for several years, grew trellis tomatoes and finally wound up growing hanging baskets filled with cucumbers and flowers for our own use. Most people, us included, don't realize the amount of labor it takes to operate a greenhouse plus work full time. After much thought of what we wanted to do with its primary purpose now is to house some of my firewood, my wood splitter, lawn furniture, and the lawnmower. I also put my boat in there for the winter,  my four wheeler and trailer, and assorted pool supplies. It makes a great storage building and is nice and warm in the winter.

Perhaps someday we'll go back into growing our own seedlings.

Until next week, Brian.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What's new at the Farm? 10/6/10

This week sees us nearly done picking tomatoes for seed. We've one more large picking and we will be done. Green Zebra is left and I estimate that will take us a full day to pick and process it. And then all we have left is cucumbers, squash and pumpkins to pick and process and a couple of tons of Jerusalem Artichokes to dig. And of course there's lots of fall farm cleanup to do.
Fall is a good time to start on next spring's workload.

Yes, I said next spring – harvest isn't done and I'm preparing for next spring in October. I bought 925 yards of composted manure last spring and had it delivered last month. We spread it in two applications over about 10 acres. Here's a picture of Becky using the Kubota and the manure spreader to apply it to our field:

Becky spreads a layer of composted manure.

We applied a liberal dose, got some rain and then applied the rest of it. This field is in need of large infusions of organic matter and this compost was just the ticket. The crop growing here is red clover we seeded last summer with a few sprigs of annual ryegrass that overwintered. Next spring we'll plow this down and plant some squash and pumpkins and perhaps some soybeans. Soybeans don't need any additional fertility other than the plow down clover. We've used parts of this field for several years now and I look forward to using more of it.

I have ordered and received our compost for next spring's application. Our compost comes from Little River Compost in Lisbon Falls, Maine. The Goddards make really good compost and their delivery schedule is the best so this is the second year out of what I perceive as many years that we get our compost from them. I get it in the fall of the previous year so there are no issues with posted roads when we want to spread our compost.

One of the biggest things we can do to speed things along next spring is to thoroughly clean up all the fields, pull all the stakes and plastic and inventory all the supplies we have on hand to determine what we'll need during the next growing season. All the trellises needs to be taken down; the plants cut down, the wire wound up and the posts pulled out and stacked on pallets. The plastic needs to be pulled and the ground seeded down before the weather gets too cold. That's a lot of work when you think about the fact that we have three-plus acres of field tomatoes, and then there's two poly tunnels full of tomatoes, and mulch trials of tomatoes on plastic, and more tomatoes in pots and so on.

We've got miles of plastic to pull up and dispose of. And of course there's lots of little projects like picking up all the drip irrigation lines, mowing crops once they've been frosted and chisel plowing the fields that didn't get seeded with a cover crop. Late fall is an excellent time to clean up the flower beds, clean out, sweep and organize the greenhouses and get everything ready for planting next spring. Everything we do now in prep for next spring; well, we just won't have to do it next spring.

Until next week, Brian