Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 5/26/10

Busy, busy, busy!

We're keeping busy planting and transplanting; both in the greenhouses and in the fields. Lots of ground prep activities like chisel plowing, harrowing, rototilling and making beds. One more small field and the fertilizer spreading will be done. And here's what everyone's doing:

Jason has become one with the mulch layer. He has laid approximately 35,000 feet of IRT mulch and has another 50,000 or so to go. Our conversations every morning start with "you'll be laying plastic today". The fields here on the Albion farm get drip tape, but the isolated fields do not, so they go much faster. He'll be at the farm today and tomorrow and at the surrounding fields the rest of this week and all of next week.

Jeff is driving the transplanter as Kelly, Becky and Sonya are transplanting lettuce and endive in the main trial field. Craig, Gordon and Matt are working with Adam on some new tunnels, Nick is making beds at one of our isolation fields, Jill is harvesting strawberries in the poly tunnel Elisa is going from greenhouse to greenhouse, Russ and Megan are planting in one of the greenhouses, Mike is thinning lettuce and I'm mapping fields; hoping everything will fit.

The weather has been warm and dry so we have accomplished much in the past few weeks. This week and next week will see the bulk of the planting and transplanting; then all we have to do is take care of it. Thousands of plants will get transplanted onto tens of thousands of feet of bare ground and also into plastic mulch. Crops to be transplanted include peppers, brassicas, leeks, melons, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and just about anything else you can think of. Direct seeded crops include beans, sweet corn, turnips, greens, lettuces and herbs are all slated to go in.

Although I long to be in the field, it is imperative I get all the necessary planning done. Nothing worse than getting out in to the field planting when you run out of room to plant. There are many factors that can affect how much room is in the field to plant. Wider bed spacing can throw off the bedfeet figures, beds not going all the way to the end of the field and the biggest culprit is: inaccurate math. Figuring bedfeet is challenging at best. With the different spacing of each crop, field conditions and plant loss before we get into the field, figuring out exactly how many feet is needed for each particular crop is challenging.

Fields change over the years. For example, we rent a field down the road from Johnny's. We have rented this field for probably around 15 years or so. When I first mapped out this field there were 3.75 acres in it. It has since shrunk! It now has 1.9 acres plantable ground. And why? Because we stopped using parts of the field: the part that is all ledge - impossible to plow and nothing will grow there because there is no topsoil. We stopped using a small portion next to the woods because of the damage from feathered and furry creatures, we stopped using some of the southern uphill slope due to the tremendous amount of rocks - here again plants can't grow there as there isn't any room for their roots. These ledgy and rocky spots are just too hard on the equipment to grind up anyways. There's a couple of spots where there's ledge poking out of the ground - we eliminated these as well. So the original map shows 27,225 bedfeet and the new one shows 13,833 feet - a huge difference when planning the fields. If I planned on using 20 thousand feet and then went out to plant I would be surprised, and not the good way either. At that time I would have to juggle some crops and fields around or otherwise find some additional ground and ground prep more than I had planned.

So, memo to myself, make new field maps every couple of years and that will help in the planning stages midwinter.

Until next week, this is what it's all about.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 5/19/10

The farm is bustling with activity now as we approach planting season. The greenhouses are rapidly filling up; actually about to be bursting at the seams. All the fields have had their initial field prep done and the direct seeding in the field is on schedule. The fertilizer has been spread and incorporated, the field planning is nearly complete, and next week the full farm crew will be here. What a great time of year!

All the birds around the farm are nesting and many have young ones now. There's much cheeping in birdhouses, around the tops of doors, in the bushes around the buildings and in the fencerows. They grow so fast it won't be much time before the first batch flies away.

I am going to talk about traveling between fields while working today, otherwise titled "What you can see whilst driving tractors". Driving a tractor is slow enough that you have some time to look around; not a lot but some.

Friday last week I was on my way to one of our isolated fields when I spotted a mother Mallard and eight or ten little ducklings following her in an irrigation pond. This isn't something you wouldn't normally see in a vehicle whizzing by. I often see birds or animals in the ditches, at home in their own world but ever so close to the danger of traffic. I see shadows overhead; a bird between the sun and me; probably a lot closer to me. Large shadows are often eagles or turkey vultures, mid-sized ones are crows and ravens, and small shadows are songbirds eager to get on their way.

Cats, muskrats, rabbits, turtles, the occasional deer and moose, and assorted farm animals are something we often see whilst driving farm equipment. Once, while harrowing a field near Johnny's I spotted movement in the bushes next to the field; it turned out to be a rather large sow pig, obviously escaped from the local pig farmer. I imagine chasing a large sow after work is a lot of fun but the owner didn't share his experiences with me. Horses, cows and the occasional pig have all been seen at one time or another whilst driving equipment around. Animals I've yet to see include lions, tigers and bears.

The first batches of killdeer have hatched out. There are four babies in the main trial field, four in field W-1 and a new nest at the Benton field. I was harrowing W-1 last week; on Wednesday there were four eggs in a nest and the next day they were gone. I was harrowing Benton 1 Friday last week when I spotted a killdeer doing the broken wing thing. I got off the tractor and two feet ahead of my front tire was her nest. I marked it with some field stakes I had with me and will avoid that part of the field until the eggs hatch. Many times through careful searching you can find their nests, but sometimes you just can't. Three nests saved so far this year is pretty good, I think.

Until next week, enjoy all that nature has to offer.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Pest of the Week: Flea Beetles

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Hahn, University of Minnesota Extension

Crucifer Flea Beetle (Phyllotreta crucifera)
Striped Flea Beetle (Phyllotreta striolatae)

Life Cycle: Flea beetles are very crop specific. Discussed in this article will be the two major flea beetle pests on crucifer crops, the Crucifer Flea Beetle and the Striped Flea Beetle. Adults of both species overwinter in edges, mostly thick duff, forest edges, and shrubby areas around fields where host crops are grown. Adults emerge in the spring and immediately begin feeding on host plants. Beetles come out over several weeks. Females begin to lay eggs in the soil at the base of host plants a few weeks after feeding. Larvae hatch and feed on root hairs. This stage of feeding is usually not damaging to plants. Larvae pupate into adults after about a month. There are usually two, sometimes three generations per year in warmer climates and one generation per year in northern climates. Striped Flea Beetles emerge slightly earlier than the Crucifer Flea Beetle. The adult Crucifer Flea Beetle is black and sometimes metallic looking. The Striped Flea Beetle has two light yellow stripes, one on each side of its back.

Photo Courtesy of the North Dakota State University Agriculture and University Extension

Plants effected: Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, radish, daikon radish, pak choi, bok choi, and other crucifer crops including weed plants in the crucifer family like yellow rocket and wild mustards.

Insect Habit: Adults are strongly attracted to crucifer crops. Flea beetles are very powerful fliers and hoppers, jumping like fleas when disturbed. They easily find host plants in the spring; first feeding on weeds, like wild mustards, in field edges and then enticed to younger crucifer crops as soon as they emerge. Feeding occurs on the edges of waxy-leafed crops and as shothole feeding on less waxy crops. Beetles feed heavily during the first weeks of summer. As overwintering adults die off in mid-summer, feeding pressure is reduced. Emerging adults feed before moving into field edges for the winter. Host plant pressure may increase in the later months of the summer, and, in warmer climates, into early fall months. This pressure is not as intense as the early-season feeding.

Control: Row cover is, by far, the best protection against flea beetle pressure. In conjunction, reducing weeds on field edges, rotating crops, and keeping shrubs (reducing thick leaf litter) to a minimum along field edges will help keep flea beetle pressure lighter than it otherwise could be. Planting crucifer crops after overwintering adults have died off is an option but difficult if crucifer crops are desired as an early crop. Row cover placed on crops as they are seeded or at the time of transplant is essential. Flea beetles find transplants and emerging seedlings very easily. Use Agribon+ AG-15 Insect Barrier (#9057, 9051 or 9050 – depending upon space needing coverage). Insecticide options include Pyganic® (#9192, 9532), Liquid Rotenone-Pyrethrin Concentrate (#9336), and for radishes Entrust® (#9068). Read all product labels in full and follow label instructions as specified for that particular product.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ogunquit eatery that was subject of one of Johnny's catalog covers is honored

Arrows Restaurant owners/chefs Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier were recently named the Best Chefs in the Northeast by the James Beard Foundation. Read more in the Portland Press Herald newspaper.

Arrows, located in Ogunquit, Maine, grows most of its own produce, including many Johnny's varieties. One of Johnny's 2009 catalog covers features the eatery's kitchen garden.

Request a Johnny's catalog.

Arrows Restaurant

What's New At The Farm? 5/12/10

The weather is cooperating, so we're busy out in the fields. Becky is finishing up the plowing, Matt has been spreading fertilizer, Craig is making beds and Jason is laying plastic. Nick is showing all equipment operators the finer points of driving and using the equipment. Everyone that isn't operating equipment is busy in the greenhouses, which are filling up fast. 'Tis the season, you know!

This week we direct seeded spring greens so we'll have them to look forward to. We'll also seed beets, roots, radishes and several other small seeded crops as time and weather permit. The calendar says the middle of May and, by the looks of the temps lately, I agree it's the middle of May. It's too early to get many transplants out but it's the perfect time to get the field work done and get ready for the "big push". The "big push" happens around Memorial Day when we want to get all the transplants in as quickly as we can.

Part of the problem with all this transplanting is for many years we only had one transplanting machine. This year we have two transplanters so the "big push" should be easier to handle. We now have the ability to transplant twice as many crops in the same time frame as planting one. Of course we have many more crops this year to transplant, but still, it should go much faster than the previous few years.

It's interesting observing this spring's weather and it's affect on plants and animals. For example the Japanese Knotweed that seems to grow everywhere was hit by frost once and perhaps twice this week. It was growing vigorously, and now it looks like it's close to dead; it will be interesting to see if it recovers or if it sends new shoots up from the roots. That's all I can think of good to say about this invasive weed.

It's quite amazing to see how tall the grass has gotten in the hayfields. I remember growing up on the dairy farm, when June cut hay was early. I'd be surprised if locals weren't cutting any grass now as the field I walked through yesterday was approximately 18 inches tall; very early for here. The weeds are blossoming and setting seed; chickweed and shepherds purse being the two I noticed the best. It's a good time to grind them; before they go to seed.

Not having any frozen ground this past winter allowed many things to overwinter instead of dying. Yes, I'm going to mention ticks again. They're out and about and hungry; I've removed two already. Besides wearing long clothes and tucking everything in (this is really great in hot weather) there are some other things you can do to keep ticks at bay. Spraying your clothes with an insect repellant works, keeping the grass mowed will discourage them and employing ducks, chickens and guinea hens will reduce their numbers. Ticks have only been an issue in the past few years here; we never had them when we were growing up.

I think some weeds overwintered although the spring has been conducive to early season weed control. We're stale bedding much of the farm this year, so we'll have a jump on weed control. The fields we plowed a couple of weeks ago are starting to green up with the first flush of weeds. We'll pick a day that's sunny and warm and harrow them. We'll at least kill a couple of million weeds before the growing season gets underway in good shape.

Our globe artichokes on the farm survived a Maine winter under row covers. I don't think this is something we can count on every year, but at least for this year. We'll split up the plants this week and replant the shoots and wait to see what they're going to do.

Until next week, Brian

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pest of the Week: Snails and Slugs

Photo courtesy of Jack Kelly Clark, University of California IPM

Photo courtesy of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Texas A&M University

Life Cycle: All snails and slugs are hermaphrodites (both male and female organs in one animal); therefore all can lay eggs. They can lay eggs up to six times per year. Snails and slugs overwinter as eggs in most places. In mild climates or areas protected from freezing, adults can survive winter months.

Plants effected: Very wide ranging, from cabbage to strawberries to lettuce. They prefer tender foliage and soft, decaying organic matter.

Control: Reduce shady, wet areas in and around crops. Eliminate ground covers directly surrounding desired crops. Snails and slugs hide in these types of areas during the heat of the day. To trap, dig holes about 6” deep and cover them with a board wrapped in foil. The foil will reflect the sun and keep the hole cool. This hole will attract snails and slugs to hide in during hot, dry weather where they can be collected and dispatched. Barriers to exclude snails and slugs from crops are effective. Copper foil can be wrapped around trunks, planters, etc. Wood ashes are also helpful as a barrier. Ashes or other abrasives must be reapplied frequently, as their efficacy is reduced after they get wet. Encourage native predators like ground beetles, birds, toads, and turtles. These natural enemies, coupled with traps, hand picking, barriers, and baits can help reduce damaging populations. Spread WSDA-listed, OMRI approved Sluggo® (#9207, #9003, #9184, #9208) as a bait on the ground surrounding susceptible crops in the late afternoon or evening hours, just before snails and slugs emerge to feed. In wetter areas, when it is a cloudy day, snails and slugs may feed during the day, too.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 5/5/10

The first of May brings us unusually warm weather; the eighties and nineties are fairly uncommon for the first of May and don't we know it! I'm not used to this heat and it slows me down considerably working in the garden. Yes, I know I said no garden this year but I had a few things I had to put in. I brought home fifteen blueberries from Johnny's and Peggy brought home three grapes. I set aside one bed on the west edge of the garden and had just room enough for them along with 25 asparagus plants and 3 rhubarb crowns. I also left a bed to the east of the blueberry bed to access it from; this will be seeded to a grass I can mow. I can use my four wheeler cart to haul bark mulch in as needed.

The blueberries will get a generous amount of pine chips for mulch. In the summer of 2008 we had deer fence installed around the farm. We seized that opportunity to cut down some pasture pine that shaded a small field. We hauled the trees out into the open and chipped all the branches. I figure there's at least 5 pickup loads of chips there and will make ideal mulch. As soon as I remove them from where they are, we can plow up that field. They'll keep the soil around the blueberries moist and acidic. The blueberries bed covers 300 square feet, so each year I will need to apply a layer about two inches deep; this will take approximately 2 cubic yards yearly.

The rhubarb and asparagus beds will get a liberal amount of compost added and tilled in. I may put some cedar logs around them so I can mound them up a bit; I have some out in the "back forty". Cedar will last many years and is all natural of course. I built raised beds around the foundation of the house twenty years ago, and they finally need replacing now. Not bad for longevity I'd say! The location I have chosen for these plantings should be ideal for maintaining the plants and for optimum and undisturbed growth.

Left to plant in the garden are some potatoes I picked up for new potatoes, a short row of green beans and a couple of rows of Gladiolas. The glads are for fresh cuttings; we cut them and put them in a galvanized bucket to place on the porch. The smaller stems get put into a bouquet and taken to my mother to brighten her house. Add a couple of dozen Brussels Sprouts plants and the garden is complete.

The first raised bed I made is about to yield its first crop of greens; what a treat after a winter's worth of supermarket greens. Another raised bed is getting devoted to onions and one more (I have yet to build), is going to be summer squash, zucchini and cucumbers. I've used sterile potting mix in the raised beds so far but I think I'll use a hefty amount of garden soil along with compost on the third one. I used potting mix to avoid the weed seed issues, but it's getting expensive.

At the farm this week we start our first of many transplanting jobs. This week onions, stock & snaps, and Chinese cabbage will go out. With the warmer than usual weather this spring, everything is bursting at the seams to get outside and get growing. Looks like cooler weather for the end of this week; more seasonable. Much of the ground prep has been accomplished and we're making beds and getting ready to start laying plastic. Most of the fertilizer has been spread and tilled in, 95% of the plowing has been done and what cover crops are left are growing rapidly before they get turned under. The turkeys are breeding; the males are strutting around like they're quite something. The tree swallows are building nests now; there's one outside my window looking in; must be wondering why I'm inside on a gorgeous day like today. Two of the greenhouses have received new plastic. One has received a new cement floor and the bench frames are in and put together. The bench tops - well - we're waiting for them. I hope they get here before we need them but I don't think so. Greenhouse 1 & 3 are filled to overflowing so we'll have to start using greenhouse 2 by the end of this week.

It's quite dry for this time of year; I am concerned it is going to be really dry this summer. After last year's rainy and damp summer, I'm already fussing about it being too dry. We'll just have to watch the weather and have all the irrigation equipment ready to go. We usually start irrigating the small seeded crops directly after we plant them; to give them optimum growing conditions and to prevent crusting of the soil while they germinate.

Until next week, enjoy the spring.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

JSS Advantage May 2010

Planting time has arrived, and the seedlings you grew so carefully inside, then hardened off gradually outside, are ready to go into the field or garden. Your goal is to keep them growing rapidly through the transition. That entails avoiding transplant shock, providing the right kind of fertilization, and having irrigation set up so you can water from Day 1.

The phrase "transplant shock" refers to the setback in growth that plants experience when moving from one environment to another or from having their roots damaged by a move. Transplant shock happens to all plants, but most vegetables are able to recover quickly if handled carefully. Here are some strategies for minimizing transplant shock in your seedlings:

  • Transplant when your plants are the appropriate size. They should be planted out when they have enough roots to hold the root ball together so they come out of the plug flat easily, but before the roots start to circle or emerge from the bottom of the cell. Old transplants may have reached a reproductive rather than vegetative stage of growth, evidenced by flowering in the cell tray. They will produce earlier, but overall yield will be reduced. Getting them into the ground (if weather permits) before they flower will allow the roots to resume growth and keep them growing vegetatively for a while longer, resulting in stronger plants and better performance all season.
  • Water plants thoroughly before taking them to the field. Don't let them dry out during planting! Keep the trays in the shade until you need them.
  • Make planting holes, drop in the seedlings, and cover them up as quickly as possible to minimize the time the roots are exposed to air. The general rule is to cover the top of the root ball, to prevent the lighter growing medium around the roots from drying out. If your plants are in peat pots, be sure the top rim of the pot is covered with field soil to prevent the pot from wicking water away from the roots. As with any general rule, there are exceptions. For nightshade crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) the root ball can be buried a little deeper. These plants have the ability to develop adventitious roots from the stem, and by planting them slightly deeper this root formation is stimulated. The roots help to anchor the plant and prevent it from lodging (falling over due to the weight of the fruit). Conversely, lettuce and chicories (endive, escarole, and radicchio) are better planted so the top of the root ball is above the surrounding soil surface. This allows for better air circulation resulting in a reduced likelihood of bottom rot.
  • Water the plants, either by hand or by running irrigation right away. Even if the soil is moist, transplants should still be watered in to settle them into their holes and increase the root-to-soil contact.
  • Add a dilute water-soluble fertilizer to the watering-in solution. Do not use high-nitrogen fertilizers because they can burn the roots. A dilute, high-phosphorous fertilizer is preferable at transplant. We recommend Neptune's Harvest Fish Fertilizer (2-4-1), which is approved for certified-organic farms, or SeaCom PGR Seaweed Concentrate (0-4-4).


As young plants re-establish in the field or garden, they often have trouble taking up the nutrients they need from the soil. Soil conditions such as high pH, excess moisture, and cold temperatures also can make nutrients unavailable to plant roots. This is often exhibited by purpling or yellowing of the lower leaves on plants. When this occurs, foliar feeding  spraying liquid fertilizer on the plants' leaves and stems  may provide needed nutrients for a short period of time until the roots can resume nutrient uptake.
Foliar feeding has many other reported applications: It can be used at flowering to increase fruit set. It is believed to make plants less sensitive to frost. Foliar sprays of compost tea help prevent plant diseases. And certain nutrient-related problems can be addressed by foliar sprays of the specific nutrient, such as calcium to prevent blossom end rot on tomatoes. More information on how to foliar feed...

The major pathway for nutrient uptake in fruits and vegetables is by the roots, so do not expect foliar feeding to supply all the nutrients needed. Remember the motto of sustainable farming is "Feed the soil, not the plant." Foliar feeding is a temporary measure for special situations, and should not replace cover cropping and soil amendments as recommended by regular soil tests.

Foliar fertilizers should be diluted so as not to burn the leaves. Fish emulsion and seaweed are the preferred foliar fertilizers for vegetables. Not only are they easy to dilute, they also contain micronutrients that are essential to plant health.

Apply a foliar fertilizer by a fine mist sprayer or nozzle. Spray to the point of run-off.

Mix the foliar feed solution in a clean sprayer. When you're done, run plenty of clean water through the sprayer to prevent clogging.

Foliar feed on a cloudy day (but not if rain is imminent), early in the morning or late in the afternoon, to avoid sun damage to the wet leaves. Do not foliar feed on hot days, as the heat can cause plants' stomata to close and prevent absorption of the nutrients.

If in doubt about the success of foliar feeding, use a refractometer. Take a sample before foliar feeding, and then a few minutes after foliar feeding. If the Brix has increased, the plant has taken up the nutrients.

Water-soluble fertilizers can be applied through an irrigation system, a process known as fertigation. Not only does fertigation save time, it also ensures a more even and effective distribution of fertilizer directly to the plants' roots. Like foliar feeding, fertigation can be used to quickly fortify plants that are under stress and unable to take up nutrients from the soil. More on fertigation...

Fertigation requires a system for injecting the fertilizer into irrigation water at the correct rate. The simplest solution is to use a Syphonject, which attaches between a garden hose and faucet and has a suction tube that is placed in a bucket of liquid fertilizer solution. The Syphonject draws up fertilizer and mixes it with water at a rate of 16:1. It is suitable for watering with a hose, but not with drip irrigation. For drip irrigation, a fertilizer injector is required.


Drip irrigation is the best way to water vegetables and cut flowers. It avoids wetting the foliage, which can lead to foliar diseases. It delivers water only to the crop, reducing the growth of weeds nearby. And it is the best water-conserving irrigation method, with little evaporation and no wind-blown water. Once a drip irrigation system is set up, irrigating is quick and easy.

A drip system consists of drip tubing, which has orifices at regular intervals that emit water onto the soil at the base of the plants. The water spreads across and down into the soil, creating a uniform band of moisture at root level. Water is emitted very slowly, so there is no runoff. Other components of a drip irrigation system include a filter for well water, to remove particulates that could clog the system, and fittings to connect multiple lines of drip tubing to a header line so that numerous beds can be watered at once.

Johnny's has drip irrigation kits, with everything needed for backyard or small market gardens. The components of the irrigation kits are also available individually for larger growers to set up more extensive systems.