Friday, August 27, 2010

JSS Advantage September 2010

The shorter days and cooler temperatures of September provide a reminder to start planning for winter. This month, your work might include:
  • Planting cover crops to protect and improve your soil; 
  • Seeding hoophouse and low tunnel crops to harvest in October, November, and December;
  • Making value-added products to sell at fall and winter markets;
  • Stocking up for your own table.
Protecting soil in winter
The best cover crops for planting now are those that grow quickly in cool weather. Some will winter over and start growing again next spring. Others will be killed by cold weather but will have enough root and top growth to hold the soil in place during the winter. These two types require different management next year, so it's important to figure out how the cover crop fits into your spring planting schedule. Here are some of the considerations for cover crops to plant now.

Johnny's Fall Green Manure Mix contains winter rye, hairy vetch, field peas, crimson clover and ryegrass. The winter rye and hairy vetch are hardy and will grow rapidly in spring. The field peas, clover, and ryegrass will winter kill in the North.

Oats, field peas and oilseed radish are cold-tolerant, but will be killed by a hard freeze. They are easy to incorporate in spring.

Winter rye can be planted latest of all the fall cover crops and it will overwinter. It will start growing early next year and need to be tilled in before it produces seed.

To help you choose the cover crops that are best for your farm, we recommend our free Cover Crop Comparison chart and the book Managing Cover Crops Profitably, which is sold on Johnny's website.

Hoophouse and Quick Hoops™ crops

With an unheated hoophouse or Quick Hoops™ covered with greenhouse poly, you can have fresh produce to sell until Thanksgiving and beyond. Choose vegetables that are cold-tolerant, and remember to add about 14 days to the days to maturity printed in the catalog to account for slower growth as the days get shorter. Here are our picks for sweet, crisp, fall and winter vegetables.
Winter markets and value-added products

Although 88% of U.S. farmers markets are open less than six months a year, there is a definite trend toward stretching the market season in fall or holding special holiday markets. In addition, many communities have craft markets where farmers can sell value-added products. Many growers create a line of value-added products that they can sell after the main produce season is over. If you haven't specifically grown crops with value-added products in mind, this is a good time to survey your markets for potential niches. You might also find that you already have the materials for products you can sell this fall, as a way of testing the water. Here are a few ideas.

Herbs: Dried herbs can be used in many products including herbal vinegars, herb rubs for meat and fish, soup mixes, and dip mixes. Mixed bunches of dried herbs are even easier. The best herbs for drying: marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme. For best results, cut the herbs when the foliage is dry but not wilted. Hang them upside down in small bunches in a warm, dry place with good air circulation or a fan on them. Once they are thoroughly dry, store them in an opaque container with silica gel dessicant until you need them.

Peppers: As the frost date approaches, pay particular attention to your peppers. Once nighttime temperatures drop below 60F/16C, peppers will stop flowering and setting fruit. Cut off any small peppers that you think won't mature before frost. This will help the remaining larger peppers to ripen. Peppers take about three weeks to go from green ripe to red/orange ripe, but once a pepper is 50% colored, it will continue to color after harvest. Holding partially colored peppers at 68-77F/20-25C with high humidity is most effective.

Small, thin-walled peppers can be made into ristras, swags, and wreaths and sold for culinary and decorative uses. They have the greatest impact when the foliage is removed so the peppers are in full view. To defoliate pepper branches, stand the stem ends in water like cut flowers, and store them in complete darkness at 68F/20C for three days. After that, remove from the water and shake the stems. The leaves, but not the fruits, will fall off.

To learn more about making pepper wreaths and swags, see this article on the Growing for Market website.

Dried botanicals: Fall and winter decorating is a favorite pastime for many people, but if they live in a city, they probably don't have access to the raw materials for nature crafts. Your farm may be a cornucopia of botanicals that you can sell at fall and winter markets. Take a walk around your fields, meadows, and hedgerows and see what you can find to sell at a "crafters' corner" of your market stand. Popular crafting materials include bittersweet and other berries; seed heads of sunflowers, Echinacea, and rudbeckias; broom corn, millet, and native grasses; overgrown okra pods (for Santa ornaments); dried flowers including carthamus, celosia, craspedia, gomphrena, statice, strawflowers; hydrangea heads; corn shocks and husks; small pumpkins that can be used as vases; gourds and ornamental squash; pine cones, sweet gum, and other ornamental seed pods.

A penny saved ...

Don't forget to stock up for your own table. You'll find all the details in the book How to Store Your Garden Produce. If frost threatens suddenly, go through your fields and glean whatever odds and ends you can find. Almost everything can be frozen and used in soup later. Most veggies should be blanched (scalded briefly in hot water) before freezing. Here's a concise publication from New Mexico State University about how long to blanche. Some veggies don't even require blanching, but can be frozen raw. Here are a few examples.

Roma tomatoes: Wash, dry, place in plastic bags and put them in the freezer. When you want to use them, run warm water over them and the skins will slip right off.

Cherry tomatoes: Freeze them whole; they will rupture when thawed, but will add great fresh flavor to cooked dishes.

Herbs: Wash and chop them (individually or in your favorite combinations), then put them in ice cube trays. Fill the trays with water, freeze, and then transfer the herbed ice cubes to airtight storage containers.

Peppers: Wash and either freeze whole or cut and remove seeds and stems; chop and freeze in airtight containers.

Onions/green onions/leeks: Chop, double wrap, and freeze.

Product Spotlight, September 2010

Bright Lights Swiss chard

Bright Lights:
This chard was an
All-America Selections
winner in 1998.
Bright Lights Swiss chard is one of the most beautiful vegetables, as useful in the flower border or patio container as in the field and hoophouse. The colorful stems, in shades of pink, gold, orange, purple, red, and white, are made more vibrant by cool temperatures. The lightly savoyed leaves are succulent and sweet. Baby leaves, ready to harvest just five weeks after seeding, add color and substance to salad mixes.

Plant Bright Lights seed outside or in a hoophouse two months before the frost date. Plant 1/2" deep and keep the soil moist. If you want to grow full-size leaves, thin to 4-6" between plants, in rows 18-24" apart. Leaves can be harvested from the outside of the plant as soon as they are big enough; new leaves will grow from the center. For salad mix, direct seed in a 2-4" band about 1" apart. Cut the leaves when they are 4-5" tall.
For ornamental use, start the seeds inside and transplant the colors you want. Bright Lights looks great in a mixed flower and vegetable container; try it with pansies and nasturtiums for a colorful, cold-tolerant fall accent.

Bright Lights is moderately frost tolerant and will produce into December in the North if protected with row cover on Quick Hoops™. In the South or Pacific Northwest, it can be harvested all winter. Overwintered chard will send up a seed stalk in spring that signals it's time for the remaining leaves to be harvested and a new crop to be started from seed. Spring-started chard can be planted out early and, because it is also heat tolerant, will produce tender leaves longer than spinach.

Swiss chard is highly nutritious, loaded with Vitamins A, C, and iron. It can be chopped and eaten raw or lightly steamed and used in any recipe that calls for spinach. For a special treat, saute sliced garlic in butter or olive oil and add chopped chard leaves and stems. Cook for 2 minutes, until the chard is wilted and hot.

Jerusalem artichoke
Stampede Jerusalem Artichoke
Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke is a tall, attractive sunflower (Helianthus tuberosus) native to North America. It has been grown for centuries as a food plant; several Indian tribes grew it before European settlement.  In 1605 Champlain took the tubers back to France where it was soon widely grown for human and livestock food.

Johnny's variety, Stampede, is extra-early, maturing more than a month ahead of native varieties. Our large, white tubers are grown organically here at Johnny's research farm and are shipped in October for fall planting.

Jerusalem artichoke is perennial in Zones 3-8. A word of warning: it is a robust, spreading plant that can take over, so plant it in a place where it can be contained and permanent.

Stampede flowers in July, and by August the tubers are ready to be dug. However, they can be left in the ground and dug only as needed. The tubers' carbohydrates are in the form of inulin rather than starch, making them good for diabetics and dieters. After storage, either in the refrigerator or left in the ground, the inulin is converted to fructose and the tuber develops a much sweeter flavor. They can be sliced thin and eaten raw or steamed. The flavor is similar to water chestnut, but sweeter and nuttier. Jerusalem artichokes are high in potassium and iron.

Fall broccoli

Arcadia, Bay Meadows, and Marathon are especially cold-tolerant varieties, so they are good choices for planting in September to mature in November.

Arcadia is a tall, vigorous plant with a medium stem and heavy, medium green heads with a frosted appearance. 63 days to maturity.

Bay Meadows
Bay Meadows is a new variety that is getting good reviews from around the country. It was bred for cool spring and cool fall weather, but it also has done well in summer in spite of heat and some drought stress. The heads are extremely attractive and uniform, blue-green and well-domed. 60 days to maturity.

Marathon is a medium-tall plant with high domed, heavy, blue-green heads. This variety is widely planted in California for winter harvest, and has been successful in the Northeast for fall harvest. 67 days to maturity.

Fall sunflowers
Sunflowers are a quick crop and their bright colors make them popular in fall decorating up until Thanksgiving. The bicolors are especially autumnal. They don't mind cool weather but will be killed by a heavy frost, so plant them in a hoophouse if frost is likely before maturity. For the most uniform flowers, start the seeds inside and transplant the plugs as soon as the root ball holds together. If you have grasshoppers, cover with row cover until the plants are several weeks old.

The key to success with fall sunflowers is to choose day-neutral varieties that won't be affected by the declining day length of autumn. We recommend:

Pro Cut Series, which is available in six colors, including Pro Cut Red/Lemon Bicolor, with red rings around the center of the flower. Pro Cut Orange is the most familiar color, with gold petals surrounding a dark brown center. Pro Cut sunflowers bloom 50-60 days from seeding. They are single-stem and pollenless.

Sunbright Supreme is another popular sunflower with gold petals and a brown center. It blooms in 60 days under the short days of autumn. It is a single-stem, pollenless variety.

Row cover
Johnny's has a good selection of spunbonded polypropylene row covers to keep your crops thriving as the weather gets colder. All allow rainwater to pass and keep insects out. In choosing row covers, remember that there is a tradeoff between frost protection and light transmission. If you want to keep plants growing, choose the lightest weight (the best light transmission) that will still provide the frost protection you need. For overwintering crops, where fall growth is less important, choose a heavier weight for more frost protection. Support hoops are recommended for all of these heavier row covers:
  • Agribon+ AG-19 provides frost protection down to 28˚F/-2C with 85% light transmission.
  • Agribon+ AG-30 has frost protection to 26˚F/-3C with 70% light transmission.
  • Agribon+ AG-50 protects to 24˚F/-4 with 50% light transmission.
  • Agribon+ AG-70 protects to 24˚F/-4 with 30% light transmission. Its heavier weight makes it the most durable of the Agribon row covers.
  • Typar Xavan is a more durable spunbonded polypropylene fabric that provides frost protection down to 26˚F/-3C with 70% light transmission. It will last 3-4 seasons or more. Used for overwintering crops such as strawberries and spinach. Because of its weight, it should be held above the crop on support hoops.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Market Sign Contest Winners!

In July we asked for photo submissions featuring your farmer's market or roadside stand displays. We choose four of the most creative, persuasive, helpful, and fun display photos to win a $25 gift certificate.

Here are our winners:
Swauk Prairie Produce in Cle Alum, WA

"We have a lot of people asking 'What’s Star Power?' We tell them that Star is my horse and we only use organic material in our garden. The sign really helps get people to our space and talking about gardening and our veggies" said Bill Barschaw, Swauk Prairie Produce.

"The small cards telling about each vegetable helps sell the produce because it gives us a chance to talk (sell) that particular vegetable" said Bill Barschaw.

Visit the Swauk Prairie Produce website

Eco Outdoors in New Smyrna Beach, FL
Eco Outdoors sell trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, and starter vegetable plants.

"Everyone loves Peanut! Peanut is a fixture at the New Smyrna Beach Farmers Market!" said Elizabeth A. Nevadomski, Eco Outdoors.

Hawk Valley Garden in Spencer, IA
Bruce and Sue Loring own and operate Hawk Valley Garden with their children in northwest Iowa. They have 15 acres of pumpkins, squash, gourds, broom corn and many other fall produce items.

"We started making pumpkin towers 3 years ago to get some good vertical height in our displays. They are fun and the customers love them." "The taller stacks including the one I painted 'welcome' on was a favorite and we sold many jack o'lanterns so customers could go home and do the same thing on their front yards or personal displays," said Sue Loring, Hawk Valley Garden.

Visit the Hawk Valley Garden MySpace page

Parker Produce in Winterport, ME
Parker Produce is a small, family-owned, organic farm that serves communities in central Maine.

Visit the Parker Produce website or blog

Interested in finding out more about how to market your produce and how to create displays with purpose check out the July JSS Advantage here.

Video, photos from Wednesday's Twilight crop walk

On Wednesday evening, we held the second of three scheduled public twilight crop walks at Johnny's Research Farm in Albion, Maine.

Crop walks are a lot of fun for both us and customers. We had about 20 guests on Wednesday. There was food (local bread, cheese, cookies, and melons from our trials. We had a T-shirt and hat raffle. And, of course, we had some exhibitions: We demonstrated a cool, new, labor-saving tool -- the paper-pot transplanter. We held a grafted greenhouse tomato tasting. We also looked at kale, pepper, melon, and flower trials.

If you weren't able to attend, here are a few highlights:

Johnny's product technician Steve talks peppers with a couple of guests.
A beautiful late summer bouquet.
Tasting grafted greenhouse tomatoes.

Steve discusses Johnny's pepper trials.

The next crop walk is slated for October 20 from 3 to 5:30 p.m. The focus will be on storage crops and season extension methods. If you can't make it to the public crop walks, the farm is also open for self-guided tours.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What's new at the Farm? 8/18/10

The middle of August already! Summer is moving way too fast, although everyone is about tired of the hot and humid conditions of the past few weeks. The birds have all fledged and fall is approaching fast. The weather feels like September even though it's only the middle of August. The harvest is fast approaching; seems there's little time between crop maintenance and harvesting now. Tomatoes will be coming right up as will the Swiss chard for seed and cucurbits afterwards. Cucumbers are towards the end of the summer like fall weather and Sweet Annie is after that; last in fact.

We're planting a fall summer squash trial in one of our hoop houses. You heard right; fall summer squash. Because much of the summer squash and zucchini that's available in the fall is old and tasteless, why not harvest some that's young and bursting with flavor like we do in the summer? Well, it's worth a try anyways. I like summer squash and would eat it all spring, summer and fall if it were available.

Fall spinach will get seeded this week and fall lettuce will get transplanted shortly. Our summer lettuce trial bolted quickly but grown in the coolness of the fall it will be crisp and we'll have a longer harvest window.

The onion trial is looking pretty poor right now. This year we transplanted all the onions and this worked great for producing a good stand. Thrips are the biggest problems with onions. Scouting for thrips usually starts around the middle of June because by the time you see their damage it's usually too late to cure the damage and get any sort of regrowth. Thrips are tiny and hide in between the leaves of onions so you really have to look for them to find them. A spray of Pyganic or Entrust or another insecticide two to three times during the season will kill them off. It is important that the spray penetrate the sections between the leaves because that's where thrips typically hide. Rotation is important on farms to avoid thrips as they overwinter in the soil and on plant debris. Next year we'll move the onions to a different field.

Most everyone has sweet corn now so it'll be a good time to freeze some. Most every year we freeze 20 quarts or so to enjoy during the winter months; a far cry from that frozen stuff they call corn in the supermarket. We blanch it in the turkey fryer and use our electric knife to cut it off the ears, then vacuum seal it and we're done. 20 quarts shouldn't take us more than a couple of hours to do. We should do some green beans while we're at it. This fall we'll do Brussels sprouts and we'll be done for the season.

Next week I'm taking my annual vacation before the harvesting starts. Peggy is taking the same week so we can do some things together. Going to the coast ranks right up there as we haven't been this year. I've only been to camp once this summer and that was to bush hog; guess I'll spend a day or two down there as well. I suppose I should think about getting my wood in, but I'd rather be fishing so that will take precedence now. The first cold morning and I'll be getting my wood in anyways.

Until next month, Brian.

Friday, August 13, 2010


This morning's breakfast was on Johnny's.

Free produce is one of the fringe benefits of working here. During harvests at Johnny's Research Farm, we are often notified by the farm crew when things are "up for grabs". I scored this Snow Leopard Honeydew melon during our Wednesday morning cropwalk, a weekly event for Johnny's employees to learn about the progress of our many product trials. It's educational, helps us pass on first-hand knowledge to customers, and is often the highlight of our workweek. Steve, our melons expert, tossed me the Snow Leopard at the end of his 10-minute talk on melons. I finally cut into it Friday morning. Delicious!

Snow Leopard was a new variety for us last year. It has beautiful pale yellow skin contrasted by green splotches that look almost painted on. Some fruit finish growing with full-on vertical stripes. They grow to an average of 2 lb. The taste is incredibly sweet. A squirt of lime juice really makes this one dance on your taste buds. We sampled an earlier honeydew -- Honey Pearl -- last week. Also fantastic.

While we're talking melons, I thought I'd share a few shots of my own melon patch. My garden is located in Hallowell, Maine -- about 25 miles south of Johnny's Research Farm in Albion. This season, I'm growing 2 Johnny's watermelon varieties -- New Orchid and Sunshine.

New Orchid, an orange-fleshed watermelon, is doing pretty well. The Sunshine, not so much. I'm also growing cantaloupe. Some of the vines in these photos are from the cantaloupe which is intermingling with the watermelons. It doesn't take long for a melon patch to get out of control. As long as this situation doesn't affect the taste of my New Orchid -- the best tasting watermelon I've ever had -- I'll be happy.

New Orchid hanging on a home-made wire trellis. It's about 2 lb. now, but they can grow up to 7-9 lb.
Close-up of New Orchid's beautiful skin. Can't wait to taste what's inside!

I started both varieties inside in mid-April. I planted the seedlings at the beginning of June and covered the soil with black plastic mulch. It's been a good melon growing season here in Maine. Melons love the heat, and we've had plenty this summer. Steve, our melons expert, says we're a week or two ahead of where we'd normally be this time of year.

Grow baby, grow! That's my beloved New Orchid.

My melons are definitely a little smaller than I'd like. Although I have good southern exposure, my gardens don't get as much early morning and late afternoon sun as the crops might like because I have big trees on the east and west sides of my property. Time to break out the chainsaw?

Melon patch. The black plastic mulch heats up the soil; stops weeds; locks in moisture and nutrients; conserves water; and helps lead to a better crop.

I stuck a leftover Sunshine seedling in an empty patch of soil where an early Kale crop was. Clearly, it's not as happy as the melons grown on black plastic mulch.
Thanks for reading,

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Crop walk video: Sunflower and Aster trials

This week's morning crop walk focuses on a couple of our flower trials -- Sunflowers and Asters.

See Johnny's Sunflower and Aster selections.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What's New At The Farm? 8/11/10

Welcome to the dog days of summer.

The crops are growing fast and furious now, as are the weeds. The insects are letting up but this weather doesn't help with the disease situation. No Late blight here yet but it's wise to be ever vigilant keeping an eye out for it. Lots of early blight and septoria out there now but both can be controlled with copper fungicides.

Now is a good time to think about harvesting for seed. We have one tomato (a cherry) that's ripening fast. I think it will be ready for harvesting about the time I want to take my late summer vacation; the end of August. We've got lots of barrels and bucket clean and waiting for when the harvesting begins.

I've got some efficiency projects I want to work on this fall which includes projects to speed up and do a better job at seed cleaning. The way we clean squash and pumpkin seed now is pretty labor intensive; we typically have six to eight people working on one seed cleaning project. I'd like to get this down to three or at the most four; too many people and it can easily become a dangerous situation. There's lots of machinery involved and our seed processing location quickly becomes muddy because of the large amounts of water we use, so improvements in quality and quantity are the goal here. While this one involves cleaning squash and pumpkin seed another one involves picking cherry tomatoes and still another one involves picking up plastic mulch by machine.

When we grow cherry tomatoes for seed we have to pick literally thousands and thousands of cherry tomatoes. In a typical 5 gallon bucket there can be up to 500 tomatoes. With some varieties you can fill a bucket without moving it. 500 fruit per bucket and a hundred buckets to pick and you see where I'm going with this. We've tried different methods of picking large amounts of fruits quickly but have yet to find the perfect method. This is the most expensive part of raising tomatoes for seed.

Pulling plastic mulch is done with a potato digger; by far better than anything else out on the market. The drawback with this is the plastic is still left on the surface of the field s where it has to be picked up by hand. Usually in the fall, and almost always In the mud, but it must be taken out of the field before we can wrap up the growing season and put everything to rest. Not a pleasant job at all; there must be a better way.

Most everyone has sweet corn now; one of my favorite vegetables. We take the silks out then cook it on the grill until it's done. Fresh is best; I like to get mine daily for the best taste. It matters a lot to how the corn is taken care of once picked. I bought some corn that had set out in the sun all day and that's what it tasted like. I couldn't put enough butter and salt on it to get any flavor so I sent the remaining ears to the henhouse. They're not as picky as I am. I got some really fresh corn last night and it was good; much better.

Until next week, enjoy the bounty. Brian

Friday, August 6, 2010

Afternoon crop walk, August 6, 2010

In this week's episode, we take a look at our flower trials -- Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan), Amaranthus, and Sunflowers. Also on the walk, we examine a few vegetables and herbs -- Cauliflower, Kale, Cabbage, Corn, Peppers and Dill.

What's up, Doc? Photos of the carrot harvest!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pest of the Week: Bottom Rot

The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Lettuce Bottom Rot (Rhizoctonia solani)

Life Cycle: Bottom rot prefers warm, wet conditions. It overwinters in the soil in decomposing organic matter, persisting mostly as mycelium. Bottom Rot can form very small sclerotia (tight masses of mycelium that can live for longer periods of time than mycelial strands). Bottom Rot in the soil is attracted to a crop when it is transplanted. It is possible that some strains of Rhizoctonia solani prefer certain crops.

Plants affected: A very wide host range to include, but not limited to, lettuce, crucifer (cole) crops, endive, escarole, pepper, eggplant, radish, turnip, cucumber and many other fleshy plants.

Symptoms: Lettuce seedlings are most susceptible at transplant time. The seedlings will show signs of damping off, coupled with brown lesions on stem and leaves, and rotting root systems. Older plants will rot from leaves touching the soil. From there the disease moves into the bottom leaves and crown causing brown lesions to appear. The lesions may appear to be furry brown spots with brown liquid seeping from the leaf tissue. Secondary pathogens can move in causing severe rot throughout the head.

Control: Keep greenhouses, flats, and benches where transplants are grown disinfected and clean throughout the year. Clean tools, hands, and field equipment to avoid spreading the disease. Crop rotation is very important since bottom rot can live in soil organic matter for long periods of time without a crop host. Cotton and alfalfa harbor Bottom Rot so avoid these crops in rotation where this disease is prevalent. Be certain that crop residues that were plowed under are fully decomposed before planting a new crop into the field. Plant lettuce crops in well-drained soil in raised beds. Plant seedling transplants high with about 1/4 in. of the root ball above the soil line. Do not over water the crop. If Bottom Rot is known in fields where planting, utilize erect cultivars of lettuce to avoid leaves touching the soil. Use Oxidate® (#9719) to disinfect greenhouses, benches, and plug flats. Where Bottom Rot is a problem, treat field soils with Actinovate® (#9804 2-oz, #9900 18-oz) in the off-season to build up beneficial bacterium colonies. In small plots and home gardens, Actinovate® can be used as a spray on the plants themselves as a preventative. Read all product labels in full and follow label instructions as specified for that particular product.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Johnny's in the New York Times; farming soars in Mass.

It's always nice to get some ink, especially from the New York Times. Anne Raver, New York Times gardening columnist, mentioned Johnny's in an article last week -- The Seeds for Surviving a Scorching Summer.  In the story, Raver touts our Hakurei turnip and 3 varieties of beets -- Chioggia, Red Ace and Bull's Blood.

Speaking of newspapers, here's an interesting piece from the Boston Globe on the soaring popularity of farming in Massachusetts:  "Farming surges in state with new crop of devotees".