Thursday, January 28, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 1/27/10

This week I'll talk about what is going on at the farm this time of year and what we're planning on for the upcoming growing season, and also some tidbits of info someone may find useful.

Earlier this week, Monday morning to be exact, the 25th of January, it was 44 degrees outside and raining. Now it's cooled off which is good. The days are getting noticeably longer and I can get my chores done in the last light of the day and not under the lights; I'm sure the hens like that as well as I do - they don't have to get up on the roosts twice a day!

The snow banks were high but the ground still isn't frozen. Chances are it won't freeze now anyways; it would take a unique set of circumstances to freeze the ground now and I just don't see that happening. There's good and bad about the ground freezing; the best thing is when the snow melts the water will percolate down through the soil and the ground will be workable early on the spring. We like working the soil as early as we can; getting everything fertilized and plowed early in the spring frees us up for other activities associated with running a research farm. There's always plenty to keep us busy and being the first ones on the ground locally instills a certain amount of pride with us. That is, being on the ground early and not doing any damage just to be in the field first.

Most farmers in our area are dairy farmers whom don't need to get on the ground early. We are blessed with well draining soil on many of our plots; ones without much clay. Many of our fields can be worked in April before the big planting "push" is on. I like to stale bed many of our fields and getting on the ground early assures we can. Stale bedding is the practice of making beds long before they are needed , then concentrating our efforts on killing off a few flushes or early weeds before we plant. This greatly saves time as when we do plant or transplant, many of the weeds have been killed. This practice is best when we can get on the fields early enough to kill off two or three flushes of weeds. This doesn't work in a wet spring.

Another advantage to working the soil early is in establishing cover crops early in the season when it's still cool. Clovers like cool weather so planting them as soon as the ground can be worked makes sense. There isn't much competition from weeds when the soil is cool; not as much at least as once the soil warms.

Of course the bad thing about the ground not freezing is the lack of pest control as many species will simply overwinter instead of being killed by the cold temps. The insect that comes to mind first and foremost are ticks. If you have dogs you will have ticks; nasty little blood sucking devils that they are. Unless they die off in the winter, they'll start right up again in the spring. The age old question is how to kill ticks without killing everything else. I have of read many people using a broad spectrum insecticide to cover their yards to eliminate ticks. I, however, must protest as I see this method killing everything in the yard including ticks. On the other hand, I prefer to use an easier and "just as effective" method of tick control: chickens, ducks and guineas. I think Guineas are the best insect eaters with chickens coming in second and ducks coming in third. Of course this is just my opinion. There are some things we can do to keep the pests at bay including keeping the grass mowed short, cutting the tall grass down next to the pond where the dogs lay, and be ever vigilant to looking one's self over for hitchhikers. And of course adding more guineas to the home flock.

Until next week, I'm going to thumb through the poultry catalogs.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Video: How to make soil blocks; Save 10% on seed-starting supplies

We have everything you need to start your seeds, including soil block makers. If you use soil block makers and trays, your annual cost for transplants will only be for potting mix. This is a good time start seeds and save money. Now through Feb. 28, 2010, save 10% on seed starting supplies. If you're shopping online, use offer code 10-1054 during checkout. Visit Johnny's website to learn more.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Product Spotlight: Container gardening favorites; herb discs; seed starting; eggplants

Container plantings that mix vegetables, herbs, and flowers are all the rage right now. There's no better summer vegetable for mixed containers than ornamental peppers. Two of our favorites are 'Black Pearl' and 'Sangria', which bring sophisticated colors to containers and gardens.

'Black Pearl'
has dark green foliage that matures to black, and shiny, round, black peppers that mature to red. The peppers are very hot, so use caution around young children. Besides being a container ingredient, it also can be used as edging in a garden or as an intriguing filler for bouquets. This unusual and beautiful plant was a 2006 AAS and Fleuroselect Quality Mark winner.

'Sangria' is child-safe, as the colorful peppers are not hot. Clusters of 2-3" purple peppers stand tall above the green foliage and turn red as they ripen, so there is a long period when both colors are visible on the plant.

Another good container vegetable that also can be sold in packs, or grown for pepper harvest, is the colorful sweet pimento pepper 'Apple'. This heart-shaped pepper matures to red in 77 days and has a sweet, fruity flavor. The fruits are 4" long and the medium-sized plants yield well in diverse climates. In the garden or in a pot on the patio, 'Apple' is an attractive and delicious pepper.

If you sell container herbs in spring, you will love the ease of Johnny's herb disks. The biodegradable disks have seeds embedded at the perfect spacing to create lush 6" pots of herbs. No transplanting is needed. New this year are Greek oregano and marjoram herb disks, bringing to nine the number of varieties available in this convenient form. The number of seeds per disk varies by herb variety to ensure compact, full plants.

Greek oregano disks contain Johnny's special strain of true Greek oregano, with a strong flavor popular in Italian cooking and used medicinally in tea for digestion. Marjoram disks contain sweet marjoram, which has a fragrance like oregano but sweeter and more balsam-like, used in cooking and aromatherapy for its calming properties.

To use herb disks, fill a 6" nursery pot with potting mix and place the 4" herb disk on top. Cover it lightly with potting mix or vermiculite and water gently. Place the pots on a heat mat or other warm spot. Water as needed.

Johnny's has a full line of greenhouse supplies. You'll find convenient quantities of trays, flats, and pots in sizes for every use. We also have our own formula germinating mixes that will give your seedlings a strong start. Grow lights, heat mats, hand seeders we have everything you need in stock and ready to ship today.

Eggplant is one of the most beautiful vegetables and 'Dancer' is one of the prettiest eggplants. The semi-cylindrical fruits are a shiny, deep pink with a fresh green calyx. Grow 'Dancer' with several other colorful eggplants and mix them together for an eye-catching display. Johnny's has 20 varieties of eggplant in shades of white, green, and purple and in shapes ranging from small and round to long and cylindrical. Eggplant is popular in many ethnic cuisines, so grow several types and expand your market.

'Dancer' is extremely popular in Puerto Rico. The fruits are mid-sized and mild in flavor. Plants are strong and high yielding.

Eggplant should be started eight weeks before it can be planted outside. Don't rush it, as cool weather weakens the plants. Space plants 18-24" apart. Row cover and mulch film help keep the air and soil warm during the cool early season. Eggplants may be pruned and staked like tomatoes to keep the fruits straight. Picking the fruits regularly encourages further production. It is important to be mindful of over-fertility of eggplant. Too much nitrogen often results in large bushy plants that produce only one small set of fruit.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 1/20/10


Yes, this week's topic is bees. I'm not going into specifics about bees as there are many experts and as many articles about them. A quick internet search will give you reading for a couple of days anyways.

We all know how critical to our food supply bees are, but bees are also fun and interesting to watch. So what does one do short of going into bee keeping in order to help the bees and educate ourselves at the same time? The easiest way to enjoy bees is to attract wild bee populations and watch them. We can start by doing a few simple things that will insure we have ample opportunity to attract and keep various wild bees around our gardens:

  • Understand their biology. Find out the different types of bees, their life cycle, what they need and the timeline for when they need it and their housing and feeding requirements. Indentify the distinct differences in various species. Get a good book that clearly identifies bees and wasps and spend some time out there watching at them.

  • Restrict our use of pesticides. Most pesticides have varying degrees of toxicity to bees; this includes organic pesticides. We need to read the directions and warnings on pesticides to determine if they are dangerous to bees before we purchase or use them. Many pest issues can be dealt with by using row covers and not pesticides. Row covers can be used over and over, with some care, and are always there preventing insects from eating our crops. We needn't wait until we see damage to attempt to control the insects with pesticides when using row covers. If pesticides must be used, try to get the lowest toxicity that will work on the target pest and then spray in the evening when bees aren't out.

  • Give bees and pollinators a place to live. Homes can be built for Mason bees, undisturbed areas can be left for Bumblebees, and beneficial gardens can be planted to attract all of them. If you know where ground bees live, make sure to leave them undisturbed, so they can complete their life cycle. Look around at suspect places for bee and pollinator homes; check under eaves, in buildings exposed to the weather, in wormholes in wood and in attics. If you find an active nest, mark it and come back in the coolness of the early morning, before they become active. If you are still and quiet you'll have a great view watching them as they start their daily activities. Distance is important; I would probably stay 3-5 feet away from bumblebees and at least 15 feet away from yellow jackets.

  • Beneficial gardens provide nectar to sustain beneficials insects and bees when other food sources aren't available. These gardens can be located in our gardens or just on the outside of our gardens. At Johnny's we have them outside of our greenhouses. Small beneficial gardens can be made from large plant pots and kept in the garden or in the greenhouse. Sweet Alyssum is often used to attract beneficial insects. We also offer a beneficial insect mixture which we often use here on the farm. Beneficial gardens can be organized plots of land or simply designated areas which grow highly sought after crops.

  • Educate others of the importance of bees and why we shouldn't indiscriminately destroy them. I once saw an employee spraying a nest of ground living bees with wasp killer "because they might sting someone". Their entrance was under a wheelbarrow and we had watched them all summer. Luckily I caught him before he could do too much damage. You would have to really aggravate bumblebees before they would sting you. I've been stung by honeybees and Yellow Jackets but never by a bumblebee. We used to catch them as kids and watch them in a jar, and still we never got stung.

Looking out the window today, I'm sure the bees and wasps are sleeping and dreaming about spring; I wonder if they dream when they sleep. February 2nd is the traditional half way mark of winter; the days are getting longer and temps look good for a week out anyways.

Until next week, Brian

Maine Community Supported Agriculture Fair slated for February 28

Get your share of the Maine harvest at a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Fisheries (CSF) Fair in your community on Sunday, February 28th.

With CSA's and CSF's you commit to purchasing a share of the coming harvest before the season begins. The benefit? You get to support local farms and fishermen while getting your locally grown and harvested food direct from the producer at a fair price.

Come to one of the twelve fair locations statewide to: learn about buying a share; become acquainted with local seasonal foods; meet your local farmers and fishermen; and discover how you can grow a relationship with them. Community Supported Fisheries may not be represented in all locations.

The event will take place on Sunday, February 28, from 1 - 4 p.m. at the following locations:
  • Auburn, First Universalist Church, 169 Pleasant St.
  • Bangor, Beth El Synagogue, 183 French St.
  • Belfast, Unitarian Universalist Church of Belfast, 37 Miller S.
  • Brunswick, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 27 Pleasant S.
  • Damariscotta, Great Salt Bay School, 559 Main S.
  • Farmington, Fairbanks School Meeting House, 508 Fairbanks R.
  • Hallowell, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, 18 Union St.
  • Norway, Christ Episcopal Church, 35 Paris St.
  • Portland, Woodfords Church, 202 Woodford St.
  • Rockland, First Universalist Church, 345 Broadway.
  • Sanford, Location TBD
  • Waterville, Barrels Community Market, 74 Main St.
This event is co-sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association (MOFGA), the Maine Council of Churches, and local organizations at each site.

Admission is free. Each location will have it's own local "flavor". Additional highlights of the event to look forward to include: local produce and other products from the farm available for sale, light refreshments featuring local seasonal foods, a Seafood Throwdown cooking competition with local chefs, and more!

For more information, contact MOFGA's Organic Marketing Coordinator Melissa White Pillsbury, 207-568-4142,

Friday, January 15, 2010

Veggie and flower photos from Washington's Skagit Valley

These beautiful harvest photos come courtesy of Katherine Lewis and Steve Lospalluto, owners of Dunbar Gardens, a small farm in the Skagit Valley in northwest Washington state.

Johnny's varieties in Steve's slideshow include:
Steve says he and his wife, Katherine, "have been growing here since 1994. We have been farming for more than 25 years, and we've been satisfied Johnny's Seeds customers for most of them!"

"These days we have scaled the produce growing down to a market garden selling locally. Willow basketry has become the focus of our business. We grow selected varieties of basketry willow which we cut, dry, sort, and later soak for Katherine to weave into baskets. We sell baskets through our website, farmers markets, and arts & crafts shows. We also offer basket-making classes and willow cuttings for sale. But I still have a fondness for the vegetable growing, and Johnny's is a part of our garden."

Read Steve's blog for more information about the farm.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Quick Hoops trial photos: Low tunnels holding up under snow cover

Above is a Flickr slideshow of our Quick Hoops trial at Johnny's Research Farm in Albion, Maine. These photos were shot last week after a snowstorm.

Quick Hoops are used to extend the growing season for cold-hardy crops with a very late season harvest or overwinter them for the earliest possible Spring harvest.

These Quick Hoops were installed over beds by inserting them into the soil about 10” and then covered with Tufflite Greenhouse film.

For more information about Quick Hoops including the best crop selections for Quick Hoops visit Johnny's website.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 1/13/09

I think last week I mentioned Bees would be this week; I think I'll stray a bit from bees to trees... It rhymes anyways.

This time of year, with a stack of seed and plant catalogs on my desk, I start to thinking about planting trees. Last year I planted one tree; a red crab apple, in a new and small flower garden next to our vegetable garden. In 2008 I planted somewhere around 550 trees; 500 which were Norway Spruce, 500 in 2007 also NS and before that was raspberries and strawberries, pears, plums and shade trees, and even before that was a lane of flowering crabs; mostly for the partridge which roam our woods. So what will it be this year?

As I wander through the produce and fruit section in the local grocery store I envision a few Asian pear trees to go with the pear trees I have now. I think I'd better put in some apples as well. Perhaps this is the year to build a new raised bed for new rhubarb plants and add ten or a dozen blueberry bushes to my berry patch. Well, this sounds like a super busy year again so what will I cut back on or put off so I still have some free time for me? (My boat is feeling sorely neglected).

For starters the garden is going to be reduced by 75% this year. No more peas; I like frozen ones well anyways. Don't need quite so many potatoes, even though I really like growing them. Don't need 900 feet of beets for two people, we'll skip the sweet corn (can get from the neighbors), greens and lettuce mixes will go in the new raised beds I built and most of the garden will benefit from a year off with a good cover crop planted. On the crops that we do plant, we have three options for controlling weeds: plastic, mulching and cultivation.

In 2009 we planted some cool weather crops on plastic and they did as well as bare ground plants did. These crops included Brussels sprouts and broccoli. I think I'll plant some of my crops on poly; at least the ones that are in the ground quite a while like brassicas and cukes and zukes. I think I'd like to try some onions on poly along with sunflowers and castor beans - perhaps I'll use the biodegradable poly and grind the whole thing at the end of the year. Perhaps I'll try some glads on poly and mulch the rest of the gladiolas patch. Most flowers thrive on poly and that cuts down on weeding.

Mulching with bark will work for the fruit trees and the newly planted blueberries; I should probably mulch the Norway spruce as well because I doubt I can count on another wet year, nor do I want to. Does anyone know what I should mulch my fruit trees with - would bark be alright or should I use something else like wood chips or?

This year I'll have my tractor running so I'll be able to cultivate my garden. This should help cut down on the hand weeding. Last year I bought a 1941 Allis Chalmers "C" and with the help of a couple of friends, and a 1949 parts tractor I bought some time ago, we will have something up and running to cultivate with. It's due to go into his shop this month, get tuned up, swap front ends and get a fresh coat of Persian Orange paint. I know if it goes into his shop it will get done; if it goes into my shop it will sit there until I need the room then out the door it goes. I've got a full set of cultivators that I bought; the guy I bought them from didn't know what they were. Add an AC umbrella and I'll be golden! Once completed this tractor will be very much like the cultivating tractor we have here at Johnny's - the 1952 Farmall 200 that I learned to cultivate on.

My neighbor has a Farmall A he beautifully restored so he and I can go cruising on some of those hot summer nights. Yippee.

So, in review, if it can't be mulched, planted on plastic or cultivated it won't go in the garden this year. I'd like to work on adding organic matter and adding soil amendments so my gardens in the future will produce more and better produce. I'd like to also address a weed issue (galinsoga) before it gets out of hand.

Maybe next week will be Bees.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What you think of the new Johnny's site?

On December 1, 2009, we redesigned the website. The new site has been online a little over a month. Now we're looking for some feedback.

Tell us what you think of the new site by taking a quick four-question survey on our web site. Thanks!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 1/07/10

I'm back...

With the weekend storm the landscape is looking pretty desolate. Over a foot of snow last weekend and I guess we're officially into winter. Although there's plenty of snow out there the temps have been relatively warm so far this season so we're saving on some heating right now.

In the ever growing stack of reading materials on my desk are many catalogs that extol the benefits of "All Natural" or "Organic" insect control. One of these controls that really peeves me is traps for hornets and yellow jackets. While I'm sure some people get stung from them, and yes some are allergic, I see no reason to trap and kill a beneficial insect such as a wasp unnecessarily.

So this weeks column will focus on some of the highlights from the world of wasps. There are over 100,000 species of wasps in the world and the majority predatory. This means they lay their eggs directly into a host, which then hatches and eats the host until they pupate or when they emerge as adults. Not a great way to go for the host! Wasps are either social or solitary; social wasps live in colonies and solitary wasps live alone. Wasps that build large nests with many individuals living there (yellow jackets) are social whereas wasps that build small individual nests (like mud daubers) are generally solitary.

Adult wasps generally don't feed, and if they do they confine their appetite to nectar; hence this is why nectar producing plants are often the main ingredient in beneficial insect mixes. Having an abundant supply of nectar handy will entice the various wasps to stick around, therefore they'll be there to attack a parasitic host insect.

Several species of wasps are used for insect control in agriculture: this is called a Biocontrol. Probably the best known is the trichogramma wasp; one whom preys on moth and butterfly whose larvae are garden pests. Insects attacked include tomato hornworm, cabbage worm, corn earworm and a long list of other caterpillars.

Another species used to control garden pests is Bracoid wasps. They are tiny, barely recognizable, ranging from 1/16th to 5/16th of an inch long. They primary targets include aphids, tent caterpillars and armyworms. And, last but certainly not least are the Ichneumon wasps; long and slender wasps that range from 1/8 inch to 1½ inches. They commonly feed on cutworms, corn earworms, white grubs and various other caterpillars.

Other than parasitic wasps we use in agriculture, other wasps have their place here as well. Mud daubers usually capture spiders, paralyze them and stuff them into their nests with a single wasp egg. Once the wasp hatches he has a live and relaxed meal awaiting him. Each species of mud dauber have a preferred spider list - you wouldn't want to get one that doesn't taste good. I think mud daubers are certainly one of the most interesting wasps to watch; we've had them at our camp for many years, but no one has yet to be stung. They are generally only aggressive if they're being handled.

Yellow jackets are certainly well known, but how much is really known about them. From working in the fields here at Johnny's we know the following things: First of all they like sweets and yeast. A sunny day in the melon field and we're sure to spot lots of them feeding on cut or split melons. And yeast; when we ferment tomatoes, cukes and melons for seed production we used yeast. There's always a few getting drunk in the bottom of the yeast pail. They also can be fairly aggressive if their nest is disturbed; I've seen them disturbed in mulch hay piles and I was glad I had a tractor cab to protect me. On the positive side they consume insects and spiders but also have a fondness for sweets hence they are often nuisances at picnics. Unlike honeybees they can sting multiple times and have a strong venom.

Black faced hornets are not hornets but wasps. They are perhaps one of the more aggressive wasps, but they are really only defending their home. Years ago I had a nest over a door in the barn; it was interesting to watch the progress. At first, when only the queen was building the nest, progress was slow but steady. As more workers were added the nest grew in leaps and bounds; you could see progress every day. At the end of the season it was perhaps the size of a basketball. All season it was there, I stood there often and watched them, I opened the overhead door daily as this part of the barn housed my pigs, and I never got stung. Everyone who saw it advised me to take it down but I'm not partial to destroying something for "something" that might happen. I'm also not partial to be told what to do.

I have nests in the attic of my garage, under the eaves of the henhouses and also at camp both inside and out. We have them at work; although I must admit we do destroy some of these nests here. Most of the nests we have are from paper wasps. They don't seem very aggressive which is a good thing. They do work their way into the house during the fall and come alive in the spring once the weather warms up. One learns not to leave the your work clothes on the floor the night before or you may get a nasty sting in the morning. Not a great way to wake up; stung somewhere you'd rather not be stung at some early time in the morning and a volley of colorful language to follow which wakes the entire household up.

Next week - Hornets.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Catalog extras: Tips to make the most of your crops

Have you received your Johnny's Selected Seeds 2010 Catalog?

Maybe you're poring over the pages right now.

You're looking at photos of fresh herbs, ripe veggies, fresh flowers, and mouth-watering fruit. You're thinking spring.

You're trying to decide which new vegetable, herb, or flower seeds to plant, or which tool to add to your gardening shed.

Perhaps you want a little more information - some tips on how to improve your crops or extend your growing season. You may have noticed that in addition to 180 new products, we've added some new features to the catalog this year. At the beginning of each product section, we've included an article to help you make the most of your crops.

The articles are written by Lynn Byczynski, editor and publisher of Growing for Market magazine. Lynn, who has grown organic vegetables and cut flowers for market near Lawrence, Kansas since 1988, is the author of several books about market farming, including The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers; The Hoophouse Handbook; Market Farming Success.

Check out our "Catalog Extras" section on the website to read Lynn's latest article. We'll be posting more articles and photos in the coming weeks.

Friday, January 1, 2010

JSS Advantage - January 2010

Get the greenhouse ready

The ideal way to spend a sunny day in winter? Go to the greenhouse and soak up some Vitamin D while you get organized for transplant production. Your goal is to inspect, clean, repair, and take inventory. Go prepared so you won't have to keep running back to the house or the shop. Fill a bucket with rags, sponges, cleaning solution, a can of spray lubricant, silicon sealer, greenhouse repair tape, duct tape, electrical tape, scissors, notebook and pencil, screwdrivers and wrenches, and anything else you can think of that you might need. Take a ladder. Bring along a radio or iPod (in case you feel inspired to sing). Then, starting from the top...

Inspect the greenhouse fans. Look at the fan belts to see if they are cracked or split and, if so, plan to replace them. Same for the wiring. Clean the fan blades, front and back, because even a few ounces of dust can reduce efficiency by as much as 30%. Clean the fan housing and shutters. Lubricate the fan bearings, motors, and shutters and make sure they are operating properly.

Look for gaps around fans, shutters, doors, and other openings. Seal any that you find. Air leaks greatly reduce heating efficiency.

Test the heating system, using the thermostat. Be sure it's calibrated properly. You may want to have it professionally maintained for greatest efficiency.

Inspect the greenhouse glazing for cracks or holes, especially where two pieces of glazing come together, and seal up any spaces.

Go outside and cut down any weeds that are growing near fans or shutters. Make sure there are no other obstructions to limit the flow of air in or out of the greenhouse.

Plug in the heat mats or germinating chamber and make sure everything is working correctly.

For more details on checking equipment, see Maintenance Guide for Greenhouse Ventilation, Evaporative Cooling, Heating Systems.

Wash down surfaces as necessary. If you had disease problems last year, pay particular attention to cleanliness. Check under benches for weeds and pull them out because they may harbor pests.

Gather your flats and plug trays and inspect them to see if you need new ones. Wash those that you plan to re-use. This University of Massachusetts publication, Cleaning and Disinfecting the Greenhouse, has details about various sanitizing products that can be used on plant contact surfaces, including recommendations for certified-organic production.

Sanitize other seed-starting supplies such as tubs where you mix soil, hand tools, hose ends, automatic irrigation systems, soil thermometers, and knives.

Inventory your supplies

This is a good time to order supplies such as potting mix, fertilizer, and pest controls. Review your records from last year to see how much you purchased, then subtract what is left over to determine how much you used. If you keep good records (or have a great memory), you will know what problems cropped up last year in the greenhouse. Fungus gnats, whiteflies, aphids, and damping off are examples of greenhouse problems you should anticipate. If you purchased products to deal with pests or diseases and have some left over, check the expiration date because some pest controls lose efficacy. RootShield, for example, is a beneficial fungus that helps prevent damping off in the greenhouse, but it needs to be ordered fresh each year.

Inventory your seeds

Before you order seeds, take a look at what you have left over from previous years. A few guidelines will help you decide which seeds are still good and which should be discarded.

Of primary importance is the way seeds have been stored. Exposure to moisture causes seed viability to decline, so seeds should be stored in a dry place in an airtight, watertight container. Zipper freezer bags, glass jars, plastic containers, and metal boxes can be used if they seal tightly. Buckets with tight lids also work for larger seeds like beans and corn. In humid climates, a desiccant such as silica gel or dry milk powder can be placed in the container to absorb moisture. Seed also should be kept cool, and can even be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

If seeds have been stored properly, and are not pelleted or otherwise pre-treated, this is the number of years you can expect them to remain viable:

  • 1 year: onions, parsnips, parsley, salsify, scorzonera, and spinach;
  • 2 years: corn, peas, beans, chives, okra, dandelion;
  • 3 years: carrots, leeks, asparagus, turnips, rutabagas;
  • 4 years: peppers, chard, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, basil, artichokes and cardoons;
  • 5 years: most brassicas, beets, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, muskmelons, celery, celeriac, lettuce, endive, chicory.

Do your own germination testing
If you are in doubt about the viability of leftover seeds, don't take chances. You can test the germination easily. Moisten a coffee filter or piece of paper towel and place on it a specific number of seeds, such as 10 or 100. Fold the moistened paper over the seeds and put it in a plastic bag in a warm place. Take the paper out and inspect the seeds twice a day, spraying with water as needed to maintain moisture around the seeds. After the usual number of days required to germinate that variety, count to see how many have germinated and calculate the percentage of germination. Compare it to the germination rate on the Johnny's label; if it's close, your seeds are fine to plant. If germination is much lower or slower than expected, order new seeds.

Order early
Demand often exceeds supply for certain plants and seeds. This is particularly true of leeks, onions, and potatoes, so place your order soon. If you want potatoes in February for early planting or greensprouting, the deadline for ordering is Jan. 15. We've found an insulated carton that will get them to you in top shape, even if it's freezing here in Maine, at your farm, or somewhere in between. Specific varieties are available in 25 lb. increments. Reserve on the website right now, and your credit card won't be charged until your potatoes ship in February.