Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's New at the Farm? A Look Back at 2011

2011 Retrospective

As the season comes to a close, we sit back and look at what worked and what didn't, and make plans for improvements for the upcoming season. Each year it seems that as one set of issues gets resolved, another set of challenges presents itself. With all the challenges facing farmers and growers everywhere, we are no different. Weather, equipment issues, pests, diseases, and insects all compete for our attention during the year, and we must attend to every detail to ensure we not only get a crop, but get the best crop we can with what we have.
So, looking at 2011, let's see what didn't work, or rather what could stand some improvement. 

  • Weeds: Always a challenge, and 2011 was no exception! Stopping the spread of certain weed species from one field to another is always a challenge. I'm thinking Galinsoga here. Fifteen years ago there wasn't any Galinsoga here on the farm, nor at any of our isolation fields. Not so now. Now we have it widespread on the farm and creeping into some of our off-site fields. It needs no stratification or dormant period so as fast as it matures, it sprouts and sets seed again. It will literally become a life choking carpet if left unattended

  • Our use of mulch hay for weed control: We've used mulch hay for weed control in our winter squash and pumpkin breeding projects for the past few years. While this is the best system we have employed to date, it has some drawbacks. Namely the large amount of hay we plow under each year, and the tying up of nitrogen by the breakdown of the hay. The tying up of nitrogen is evident in the crop following the cucurbits. The good part here is the weed control and the large additions of organic matter; the bad thing is subsequent crops tend to suffer. Crop rotation will help address this issue

  • Insects: Here I'm thinking about the onion thrips. We transplanted all our onions this year and the thrips immediately attacked them. For direct-seeded onions, we'd start scouting for thrips around the first of July. For transplanted onions, scout a week after transplanting and continue throughout the season. Once thrips are spotted, it's time to do something about them. If we wait until we see their damage, well, it's too late.

  • The weather: There's not much we can do about the weather except cope with it, and prepare for it. We use black plastic and IRT mulch on many of our crops and floating row covers on many of them as well. We'll predict what our plastic and row cover needs are and have all our supplies on hand well prior to the onset of warm weather.

  • Our land base: Here's a big one. We always seem to have a shortage of good, tillable land. For 2012 we will add twenty five acres of good, fertile land to our land base. This will allow us to drop some of the poorer, non-productive fields and to actively participate in crop rotations and land improvements like we should be doing.
  • Infrastructure improvements: More greenhouses, a seed processing area, new irrigation equipment, another midsized tractor, a new sprayer and fertilizer applicator lots of other things we will need as we continue to add land and crops.
  • Four legged pests: Including but not limited to deer, woodchucks, porcupines, squirrels, and skunks; what to do with them. For several years we've trapped and relocated small critters but there are inherent problems with this: first of all you must move most critters at least 20 miles away or on the other side of a natural border, like a river, to prevent them from returning. Next there is the possibility of spreading diseases unnaturally. If they have diseases when you move them, you move the diseases with them. And finally, in many instances, you're not doing the animal any favors; you're taking them out away from their home and their familiar feeding grounds and outing them in a perhaps hostile area to fend for themselves.
  • Disease prevention and control: Things we can do to minimize disease impact on our crops include crop rotation; cleaning and sanitizing greenhouses, planting flats, and crop aids, and fungicide application planning to assist us in the prevention and control of a myriad of diseases that attack our many crops. Better field planning will enable us to establish spray rows should we find ourselves in need of them.
  • This article: What do you want to see here? What topics would you like me to write about and how much detail would you like? Please email me some topics you'd like to see covered here and I'll do what I can. After writing this column for so many years, I'm running out of ideas. I don't like to recycle articles, and prefer to start from scratch each time. Please email me at with your suggestions.

I'm off next week, so there won't be a column. Hopefully you'll send some suggestions before I return; otherwise we'll talk about field planning for the upcoming growing season.

See you next year,

Monday, December 19, 2011

Photos: New England Vegetable Growers Conference

A few photos from the conference:

Johnny's Territory Sales Reps chat with attendees.
Paul Arnold, of Pleasant Valley Farm in upstate New York, talks about winter growing.
Ruth Hazzard of the UMass Extension Service talks potatoes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stone Barns Young Farmers Conference Highlighted on NPR's "All Things Considered"

Johnny's has been a major supporter of the Young Farmers Conference for the past two years. The conference was held recently at the beautiful Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown, NY.

Last week, National Public Radio aired a story about the conference on its "All Things Considered" program. You can hear a replay of the show on the NPR website.

In addition to supporting the conference financially, Johnny's participates in the demonstration seminars. This year, our Tools and Supplies Manager, Adam Lemieux, was on hand to talk about some of our innovative season extension tools and techniques.

Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel at Stone Barns

Adam set up a Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel on the grounds and demonstrated some of Johnny's Quick Hoops™ Benders. He wrote about the experience in his "Tool Dude" blog. It's an interesting read and includes photos from the conference.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Online Catalog, Holiday Gift Ideas, and New Products

Johnny's Online Catalog

This week we launched our new interactive online version of the 2012 Johnny's Catalog. You can view it here:

Cover and Instructions

Page Flipping Technology

The online Johnny's Catalog is just like the paper copy, but with lots of digital bells and whistles. In addition to having the option to shop and check out on the web, the online catalog includes:
  • Links to extra product photos that wouldn't fit in the print edition
  • How-to Videos
  • Zoom-in technology for magnified views of images and text.
There are even electronic sticky notes, which allow you to keep track of your favorite pages and products, minus the paper and mess.

New Holiday Gift Ideas

We have plenty of gardening gifts for all the growers on your list. Whether you're shopping for a beginner gardener, kitchen gardener, or a gardening book lover, check out our Gift Ideas page for some great ideas. If you can't make up your mind, we have gift certificates available in denominations of $10, $25, $50, $75, and $100

New for 2012 Products

NEW: Jester Acorn Squash
Speaking of new, we've also added more than 150 new products for the 2012 season, including more than 40 new organic varieties. Check them out here -- New for 2012.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Product spotlight: Eggplants, Fuseables™, Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel Bender

December 2011


Eggplants are one the most attractive vegetables, available in a number of sizes, shapes, colors and combinations of color. They also are indispensable to many cuisines, which means they attract a diverse crowd of customers. Every culture has its favorites, so it pays to grow several different varieties. We have 19 to choose from. Here are two of our beauties:

Traviata (F1) (OG) is the traditional Italian-style eggplant with dark glossy purple skin and the classic bell shape that makes it perfect for slicing. Fruits should be picked when they are about 3" x 6" for best flavor. A high-yielding hybrid, available as organic seed. 70 days to maturity.

Dancer (F1) is a glowing dark pink color with a green calyx. This type is extremely popular in Puerto Rico. The flesh is mild and non-bitter. Fruits should be picked when they are about 3" x 8". 65 days to maturity.


The biggest trend in floriculture in the past few years has been the pre-designed container. Plugs of several compatible varieties are planted together in a single pot for a showy profusion of flowers. Fuseables™ have taken this concept to the next level as a seed-grown program. Each pellet contains 2-3 seeds of different varieties chosen for compatibility in germination, growth, and appearance. Create stunning hanging baskets, patio containers, or window boxes. Johnny's is now offering three options, all of which include the bright green shade that is so popular in container design:
Blueberry Lime Jame
Blueberry Lime Jam is a gorgeous combination of deep blue and lime green petunias that are uniform in size and bloom time.

Key Lime Parfait
Key Lime Parfait combines lime green, red, and white petunias with long bloom times and spreading habits.

Under the Sun
Under the Sun is a mix of two sun-tolerant coleus varieties. Versa Crimson Gold has deep, bright red petals outlined in gold and Versa Lime is chartreuse to pale green. Both thrive in bright sunlight as well as shade and can spread up to 24" wide.

Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel Bender

Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel Bender

Growing in high tunnels has proven to be immensely profitable for many growers, and Johnny's is pleased to offer low-cost options that every grower can afford. With our Quick Hoops™ benders, you can buy locally available materials to build a high tunnel.
Our latest offering in the Quick Hoops™ product line is the Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel Bender. The bender produces 12' hoops from chain link fence top rail, which are then braced to create a rigid half-pipe frame that rides on a pipe track. The moveable structure in effect gives you twice the protected space.
Finished Tunnel

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pests and Disease: Storage Diseases of Onions

Storage Diseases of Onions

With this year’s growing season done, many of us are storing root crops, bulbs, and everything in between. There’s a lot to be said about pulling an onion out of storage to add flavor to those warm inviting winter comfort foods such as seafood chowder, or the stuffing for the long-anticipated Thanksgiving meal - especially if you spent all summer watching them grow. On the other hand, it’s more than disappointing to pull an onion out of storage and have the neck slough off in your hands. Botrytis Neck Rot is a common disease found in bulbs, particularly in onions post-harvest. It is caused by B. allii, and is the culprit of slimy necks of onions. As for rotten bottoms, that is caused by Fusarium Basal Rot or Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cepae.

Botrytis Neck Rot

Fusarium Basal Rot

Life Cycle

Both Botrytis Neck Rot and Fusarium Basal Rot are caused by fungi that reside in soil or plant debris. Botrytis Neck Rot primarily occurs on bulbs in storage and infection is most often initiated at bulb harvest. Mechanical wounds provide entry to conidia on neck tissue. As the disease progresses, neck tissue looks water-soaked, and a yellow discoloration of the neck begins and moves down towards the scales. Soon after that, bulbs break down into a soft, wet mass. After a gray mold develops in between scales, black bodies or sclerotia form around the neck.

Fusarium Basal Rot shows itself as a red-brown rot where the roots of onion bulbs were attached to the basal plate. This rot and discoloration is apparent all around the base and up to the scales. When you cut the onion open, the affected tissue is brown and watery. A white moldy growth is associated with Fusarium Basal Rot, and can be found on the stem plate or diseased scales.


To prevent post-harvest losses and to ensure more produce that is marketable and edible, proper harvesting, curing, and storage is important. Harvest onions in cool, dry weather after the tops have been allowed to mature fully. At least half of the leaves should be brown. Letting the bulbs dry in the field for 6-10 days can help as well. Do not store onions that have any green growth on them. Botrytis Neck Rot can move through green tissue into the bulb. When harvesting, do your best to minimize bruising or other mechanical damage. Bulbs should be stored in well-ventilated areas that can be kept at 32°F/0°C with humidity below 75%.


UMass Amherst Vegetable Program
Shika Agblor and Doug Waterer, Department of Plant Sciences,
University of Saskatchewan

Onion Disease Photos courtesy of Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Article by Sonya Reynolds, Greenhouse Coordinator, Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Photos: Early December at Johnny's Research Farm

It's early December, which in Maine usually means frozen ground, ice, sleet, and snow. We've had a couple of surprisingly powerful snowstorms this fall. The first storm hit two days before Halloween; the second arrived the day before Thanksgiving. Both dumped several inches of wet snow in central Maine, but warm temperatures quickly followed, and it melted before we could wax our skis. Otherwise we've enjoyed a rather mild autumn. In fact, a few crops -- leeks, lettuce, and kale -- at Johnny's Research Farm are still in the ground and appear to be quite happy. Watch the photo slideshow from a recent trip to the farm.

Monday, December 5, 2011

JSS Advantage Newsletter -- December 2011: Tomato Production

Diversify Your Tomato Production

Tomatoes are a top crop for most fresh market farmers, so we at Johnny's are happy to introduce new products that will help you grow more tomatoes, over a longer season, for greater profits. This month, we offer some new varieties, supplies, and suggestions that will help you diversify your offerings at market next summer.
Being early, late, or off-season is one good way to diversify your tomato production. Another way is to offer tomatoes in volume to chefs, artisanal processors, and home canners. By the time most local field tomatoes hit their peak, prices have dropped considerably from early in the season. But that's when it's easiest to produce a lot of tomatoes if you planted disease-resistant, high-yielding varieties.

New Greenhouse Tomato Rebelski (aka DRW 7749) Offers Disease Resistance Package, Same Great Taste as Field-Grown Fruit

RebelskiFor an earlier start to the tomato season, try Rebelski (a.k.a. DRW 7749), the best greenhouse tomato we have found for the fresh market. These beautiful, slightly ribbed red slicers have the great flavor and texture of field-grown tomatoes, yet they can be produced in a hoophouse or greenhouse.
They also have an excellent disease package to keep them productive over a long period. They are resistant to Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Leaf Molds A-E, Fusarium Wilt (Races 1 & 2), Fusarium Crown and Root Rot, Powdery Mildew, and Verticillium Wilt.
Firm enough to withstand handling, yet as attractive as a delicate heirloom, they offer growers an exciting new opportunity to be the first to market with flavorful tomatoes that command a good price.

Kick Your Sauce Up a Notch with These Great Plum Tomatoes

PaisanoThis year, Johnny's exclusively offers two great plum tomatoes. Granadero is an Organic hybrid plum tomato that produces very high yields of uniform, delicious 4-5 oz. tomatoes for sauces, salsas, and salads.
Granadero, an indeterminate variety, has resistance to nematodes and intermediate resistance to TSWV, as well as low susceptibility to blossom end rot so the plants remain productive even under heavy disease pressure.
Paisano, a new hybrid paste tomato, has the shape of the ever-popular San Marzano. The fruits have thick walls, high solids, and good flavor for canning and sauce.
Paisano is a determinate, so its fruit set is concentrated around mid-season, producing a large volume of tomatoes to offer to home canners.

Tomato Grafting and Trellising Supplies

To keep your plants healthy over the longest possible season, you might also consider growing grafted tomatoes.
Growing grafted tomatoes is not as difficult as it might first appear. Utilizing disease-resistant rootstock helps to start your plants off right and keep them healthy all season long. This year we have added Colosus, an extremely vigorous and disease-resistant rootstock, to our lineup. We also have all the suppliesinformation, and even how-to videos to make your tomato grafting a success.
Johnny's also has the supplies you need for trellising tomatoes. At our research farm, we use a system of posts with #9 wire strung between them to hold the sisal twine that supports each plant. You can see photos of our trellising system here.
We also have tomato trellis clips, tape tools, and disease control products.

Complement Your Tomatoes with Eggplants, Herbs

Dancer EggplantAnother way to diversify your production is to offer products that are compatible with tomatoes, even though they may not be as high volume. Then you can cross-market the two, and increase the value of each sale. A prime example is eggplant, which is often paired with tomatoes in recipes. Eggplant is so strikingly beautiful that it pulls customers in to your stand to admire its sleek good looks. Johnny's has eggplants in every shape and color, including a few that your customers may not even recognize as eggplants. In addition to the familiar shiny, dark purple cylindrical fruits, you can grow eggplants that are light green, egg-shaped, lavender, and striped. You probably won't sell eggplant in the same quantities as tomatoes, but if you have them available, customers are likely to buy them from you while buying tomatoes.
Many herbs are also natural companions for tomatoes and eggplants, and it's particularly helpful to have fresh herbs at the end of the season to sell along with canning tomatoes. Here are essential herbs for tomato and eggplant dishes:
Genovese Basil, OreganoGiant of Italy Parsley, Rosemary, Summer Thyme, and Sweet Marjoram.
Most of these are transplant crops that need to be started fairly early (especially the hoophouse tomatoes), so now is the time to start planning for next summer's success.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Johnny's Gift Coupon Raffle Winners Announced

Two growers won $100 Johnny's gift coupons at a pair of recently completed agricultural conferences.

Andrea Davis, of Charleston, MS, won the raffle at the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference and Trade Show held in Vicksburg, MS.

Caroline Levesque, of St. Henri-De-Levis, QC, was the lucky winner at the Acorn Conference held in Darmouth, Nova Scotia.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Johnny's in the News: Brussels Sprouts, Defiant PhR, and Backyard Gardening

Johnny's has been mentioned recently in several newspaper stories.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Seed Cleaning, Buying Local

The field work is wrapping up and we're all excited about it. All the plastic has been pulled and the harvesting has been completed. Seed cleaning takes center stage right now.

This is Kelly in our seed cleaning room:

Our two Clippers and our Oliver gravity Separator:

And for final seed cleaning here's a blast from the past:
The above "Bean Table" was a staple of small farms back in the day. Small farmers who grew dry beans used these tables to sort and pick out broken seed, dirt clods and stones from the good beans. We use these tables on squash and pumpkin seed to remove small pieces of flesh and other non-seed trash. The first year I worked  here we spent about a month picking over bean seed on the tables. We'd get a bit punchy after watching the conveyor for hours and days on end.

In the 40's and 50's they had a "Bean shop" in China which is the town south of Albion. Many women worked in this shop which cleaned and packaged beans for market. Local farmers grew the dry beans and the bean shop cleaned them before they went to market. Notice the word local. Local wasn't a politically correct word then; it was simply the way it was. It's harder to find local dry beans now even though they may have been packaged regionally they could easily be from some other region or some other country. Check the labels, or better yet, buy from your local farmer and you'll know where your food comes from.

Speaking of which, I have started going to the supermarket again. Last night on my way home from getting grain, I went to the local grocery store. Didn't really need much but was going right by and had a hankering for some fresh sea scallops. They were $17.99 a pound -- wow! While I waited in front of the fish counter, I had ample time to study where all the fish and shellfish came from. The seas scallops were the only item labeled from  Maine. We're spoiled with fresh seafood in Maine. It's fresh and it's good. I've bought cold water shrimp that were still wiggling. Now that's fresh! So anyways, I spent the extra money and bought the Maine scallops, and they were some tasty. I guess I'd rather wait and have the real thing than get the cheap bay scallops from who knows where. Same with my food; what I can get from the local farmers and growers, and what I raise myself pretty much feeds us with quality meat and produce all season long.

Off next week, time to get ready for winter. Hopefully the snow and freezing cold will hold off a while longer. Seems the fall has flown by and we're looking at the early stages of winter. Oh boy!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Kale KO's Beef When It Comes to Packing a Nutritional Punch

Here's a great article on the nutritional benefits of kale from the Huffington Post:
"7 Reasons Kale is the New Beef".

Besides being a nutritional powerhouse, Kale is among the hardiest of vegetables. It's easy to grow and its flavor improves as the temperatures drop. It's also a beautiful plant, especially some of the stunningly bright, purple, garnish kales.

Johnny's carries 11 varieties of Kale and its Southern cousin, Collards.

Toscano Kale at Johnny's Research Farm, Albion, Maine
Toscano รก la mode (Kale with frost crystals).
Nagoya Garnish Red

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Johnny's Named Top Vegetable Seed Company by Mother Earth News

Johnny’s was recently voted the best vegetable seed company by the Mother Earth News garden advisory group. This group consists of hundreds of gardeners, many of whom have been gardening for over 10 years.

Here’s what was noted about Johnny’s in an article on the Mother Earth News website:

"Superior ratings in multiple categories put Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a company that offers heirlooms, organics and hybrids, in the top spot. “The Johnny’s catalog is accurate and informative without the hype, and I have never had a failed crop from their seed,” wrote a Midwestern gardener with more than 20 years of experience. Others praised Johnny’s “cool tools” and hard-to-find organic gardening supplies, and many said they liked doing business with an employee-owned company."

Friday, November 11, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Harvest Complete and Fall Field Work Almost Done

The big news on the farm is the harvest has been completed and most of the fall field work has been completed as well! On Tuesday, we brought in the last harvest -- squash seed -- of the season. See photo below:
Final harvest of the season
We had more seed harvests this year than I think we’ve ever had, but we still managed to complete 95 percent of our outside work early in the month. I’d say we’re almost done pulling plastic as well -- a hard job with the usual fall rains. The weather has been great this fall for working outside. This fine, fall weather has helped us wrap things up for the 2011 season.

I like to get all our plastic pulled from the fields at the end of each season so we won’t have to do it next spring. We’re busy enough in the spring without adding tasks on that didn’t get done the season before. A while back I mentioned chisel plowing the fields to prevent erosion during the fall and winter seasons; here’s a shot of field nine:

Field 9

The field was all tomatoes this past summer, but now is waiting for snow to complete the cycle. Next year's plan for this field?

Good question, but one we’ll figure out this winter. The winter is when we plan where next year's crops are going to be planted.

Here’s a nice shot of the pond here at the farm:

Farm Pond
The water level has dropped at least four feet from where it usually is. We’ve used a lot of water this season between irrigating and processing crops for seed. This winter will be a good time for the pond to recharge with water.  Drawing the water down this low will help stem the spread of cattails; they will winter kill if their roots are exposed to freezing temperatures for any amount of time.

Although much of the field work is done, there is still lots to keep us busy. Projects we have slated for the next month include some tree and bush trimming around the fields, mapping out a couple of new fields and lots of cleanup projects. All the equipment and tractors will get a good washing prior to winter storage. The greenhouses will be cleaned, organized and sanitized prior to the onset of cold weather.

We’ve got four new doors to install, new benches to purchase, put together and place where we want them and three fans that need work. Just because the field work is nearly done doesn’t mean we have nothing to do. It’s just now we have some time to breathe before the next season begins.

What’s New at the Farm columns will be spotty for the next month before resuming to a weekly basis. A couple of weeks vacation coming up along with a trip to the New England Vegetable Growers conference; then I’ll be back the duration. I could use some time to recharge before we start the process up again!

Until next week, Brian

Thursday, November 10, 2011

JSS Advantage Newsletter -- November 2011: Expand and Diversify

Diversification strategies for market farms

Among successful market farms, there is a trend toward diversification and away from specialization. As growers gain experience, they tend to add new crops and markets and extend their seasons. They find ways to maximize income from everything they grow and put all their land to good use.

Many create entirely different but related businesses such as mushroom production or cheese making.

Diversification is nothing new, of course. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket" is one of the oldest proverbs in the English language. It has always been a plain-spoken way of expressing the fact that spreading risk across multiple endeavors provides greater security. The proverb that originated in farming applies more than ever to farming.

And it's especially pertinent on a market farm, where diversification may be the key to survival. If one variety of your most important crop fails, another might succeed. If you lose a crop to a late frost, you could have a succession planting coming along right behind to save the day. If economic problems reduce sales at your main market, you should know where else you could sell the surplus.

Diversification can be applied across every facet of growing. Here's a list of some of the ways growers can diversify. Not all will apply to your business, but they may stimulate some new ways of thinking about your operation.

Diversity in Crop Choice

Jester SquashA market farm by definition grows a wide variety of crops to sell locally. Even so, there may be other crops you have not previously grown that you could add to your mix.

When you look through the Johnny's catalog, think about crops that might fit well with your current production. For example, if you grow salad mix for early spring sales, consider adding a high tunnel of strawberries to sell at the same time?
Could you sell herb plants or vegetable plants? Could you have hanging baskets or flowers or strawberries ready for Mother's Day?

In summer, could you increase your production of non-perishable produce such as shallots and onions? Could you extend your season in fall with storage crops like winter squash, cabbage, and kohlrabi?

Diversity in Variety Selection

Everyone knows the weather is changing and you may find that the varieties you have always grown just aren't as reliable anymore. At Johnny's Research Farm, we see differences in how varieties respond to heat, cold, insect and disease pressure, and other environmental factors. Johnny's and other vegetable breeders are continuously seeking to improve upon older varieties. If you have experienced failures with a variety, we recommend that you trial something new against your old favorites.

Diversity Across Time

HooohouseSuccession cropping is an important component of diversification. You can have several successions of a crop by planting several varieties with different days to maturity. Or you can plant the same variety several times, a few weeks apart. If one fails, you haven't lost a lot of time in trying to replace it. You can also diversify by extending the season with the use of hoophouses, greenhouses, and low tunnels. Using season extension structures also reduces risk by providing protection from bad weather.

Geographic Diversity

Your farm may have several microclimates based on topography, or you may have fields with different types of soil. You may be able to get an early crop from a south-facing field, which warms earlier, or keep a cool crop going longer by planting in a field that gets some afternoon shade. You may be able to split production between two separate pieces of land, such as at a farm in the country and a backyard in town. Some growers rent land away from their home farms to take advantage of specific growing conditions such as soil type or wind protection.
In the case of Community Supported Agriculture, growers miles apart from one another often work together to spread risk and provide greater selection to their members. One California CSA, for example, has two farms supplying its products; one farm is in a foggy coastal area and can grow cool-weather crops all summer but not tomatoes and peppers; the other farm is farther inland in a hot, sunny area that is great for heat-loving crops.

Marketing Diversity

Choosing what to grow and when to grow it depends entirely on where you can sell it. If you have been limited by the seasonality of a market such as a summer-only farmers market, you could open up new possibilities for scheduling and crop selection by selling into different markets. Many customers are eager to buy fresh, local food. Among the possibilities: farmers markets, CSA, supermarkets, natural food stores, roadside markets, Pick-Your-Own, home delivery services, restaurants, colleges, corporate dining halls, hospitals, schools, and wholesalers.

Enterprise Diversity

Growing and selling fresh produce is enough work for most people, yet many farmers have ancillary enterprises to help the bottom line and, often, to provide employment year-round for valuable workers. Some examples include: farm stores; on-farm restaurants; on-farm wedding venues; buying and reselling other farm products through CSA or delivery services; freezing, drying, and canning food products; crafting seasonal decorations; bread baking; soap making; mushroom growing; tree farming; and cheese making.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Johnny's at the Farmer to Farmer Conference

Stop by the Johnny's booth if you're planning to attend this weekend's Farmer to Farmer Conference. We'll be demonstrating tools, unveiling a few new products that will be appearing in our new 2012 Johnny's catalog, and talking with conference attendees. We'll also have job applications on hand if you're looking for work. We have several job openings we're looking to fill.

The conference, hosted by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, will be held this weekend at the Point Lookout Resort in Northport, ME. For more information about the conference, visit the MOFGA Farmer to Farmer Conference website.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Johnny's raffle winner announced

WHITEFIELD, N.H. -- Steve Tassey, from Moriah Valley Farm in Shelburne, NH, was the winner of a raffle for a $100 Johnny's gift coupon at the North Country Fruit and Vegetable Seminar on Wednesday, October 26, 2011.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Video: Seed Processing

October at Johnny's Research Farm means it's time to finish the harvest and process seeds. This video shows how seed is extracted from pumpkins and peppers.

The process is fairly straightforward. Fruits, in this case pumpkins, are gathered and pulverized. The seed is separated from the pulp by use of machine called a vine harvester, which is essentially a giant food mill. The seed is then cleaned, rinsed off with water, and taken to the drier where it is heat-dried for about a day.

Pepper seed extraction is basically the same, but a much smaller machine is used. Johnny's farm employees previously extracted pepper seed by hand, but this new machine makes the job much easier and faster.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Photos: Farm Pond Construction

We recently completed construction of a new irrigation pond in Albion, Maine at the so-called Movie Gallery field. The pond will hold about 6 million gallons of water when full. Work began on Sept. 10 and was completed in about 3 weeks. Below is photo slideshow of the construction process:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Product spotlight: Tools and Supplies

Product Spotlight

Quick Hoops™ High Tunnel Bender

A high tunnel is the most productive tool for extending the season. On a sunny day, you can work in comfort no matter how cold it is outside. And plants love the benign environment; you can grow cold-hardy crops all winter in most places.
Johnny's makes it easy and economical to make your own high tunnel. Our Quick Hoops™ High Tunnel Bender allows you to bend locally available chain link fence rail into perfect hoops to make a tunnel 12' wide and 7' tall by any length you want. We have been experimenting with building and growing in these tunnels at Johnny's research farm, and we've put together an extensive manual to guide you. Right now, season extension products are 10% off, so there has never been a better time to get started with high tunnel growing.


Root CellaringRoot Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel is a comprehensive guide to using the earth's naturally cool, stable temperature for food storage. It describes how to build a root cellar wherever you live, and advises on ideal conditions for nearly 100 garden vegetables. Essential reading for any grower who wants to expand into storage crops.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Product spotlight: Winter Greens

Product Spotlight

Winter greens

Even after the weather gets too cold for lettuce, arugula and spinach are good choices to grow for salads.
Arugula OG is a productive organic variety. Mature plants form loose clusters of smooth, lobed leaves. It can be picked as baby leaves about three weeks after planting or left to grow for about 40 days. Although cool weather improves its flavor, it does need to be grown under row cover or in a high tunnel as winter approaches.

Spinach: Tyee is a slow bolting savoy type. Available in both organic and conventional seed, Tyee is ideal for overwintering

Friday, October 21, 2011

Product spotlight: Root Crops

Product Spotlight

Root crops

If you're thinking about expanding the length of your marketing season by growing more storage crops, don't neglect parsnips and scorzonera. These two root crops are gaining a following among foodies and finding their way onto creative restaurant menus.

Albion parsnip is new. It's our whitest variety with a long, tapered root. It needs the same kind of growing conditions as carrots — deep, friable soil and consistent water. It sweetens after a frost and can be stored in the ground until winter. Then it can be dug and stored for another month or two at 32°F and 90-100% humidity. At 120 days to maturity, this crop takes a long time but is worth the effort.

Enorma scorzonera is a vigorous variety of this little-known vegetable. It will mature in just 80 days but, like parsnips, can be stored in the ground where cold will make it sweeter. Scorzonera has black skin and white flesh. It should be scrubbed and cooked in its skin, after which the skin will easily peel off to reveal the tender white flesh.

Customer photos: Giant Sweet Potato

Mary Ann, an Augusta, Maine gardener, described her first two attempts at growing sweet potatoes as "disasters". The third time, however, proved to be a charm. This past spring, she purchased 25 Johnny's Beauregard sweet potato slips. She planted the slips during the first week of June. Four months later she is enjoying her best crop ever.

Last week, she dug up half her plants, including the 2 1/2 lb. tuber shown in the photos below. She still has 10 plants to harvest from a 30' bed.

"I have lots more to dig and how I wish I had known how big they were earlier because I would have entered them in the fairs for largest potato. I have a clue that I would have won a blue ribbon or two" Mary Ann said.

She reported digging up plants with 6 large potatoes per cluster.

"They are absolutely huge and delicious," Mary Ann said.

Two years ago, Maine experienced an unusually wet summer and Mary Ann said her sweet potatoes looked like string beans at harvest. "This time I hilled up the row. They seem to like drier conditions," Mary Ann said.

She also had a soil test done this year and amended her soil accordingly. Like many growers new to sweet potatoes, Mary Ann was surprised at how wilted the slips appeared to be when she received them in the spring. She put them in a glass of water to revive them and the plants quickly perked up.

2.5 lb. Beauregard sweet potato

A meal in itself
A successful harvest

Watch Johnny's instructional video for tips on how to plant sweet potato slips.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Product spotlight: Jack-o-Lantern Pumpkins

Product Spotlight

October is the month for jack-o'-lanterns and some of the best are from Johnny's. We have more than a dozen varieties of deep orange pumpkins with strong handles (perfect for carrying from the pumpkin patch), in a size for every customer.

Howden OG is a bigger jack-o'-lantern, averaging 25 lb. or larger, available as organic seed. Bred in the 1970s, it is still popular because it set the standard for Halloween pumpkins with its defined ribs, strong handle, and some variation in shapes. Like most pumpkins in this category, it has long vines and produces 1-2 fruits per plant.

Champion (F1) is an extra-large jack-o'-lantern, typically 30 lb. or more, generally with a tall, upright shape. It is earlier than most at 90 days to maturity, vines are medium length, and it averages one fruit per plant. Champion was bred by Johnny's and is a Johnny's exclusive.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Harvesting and Completion of Farm Pond

Looking out my window this morning, I see the threatening skies of mid October. I know it wants to rain, and it’s trying. If it will just hold off until we get a little more harvesting done… probably not though. Oh well, we must go forth and harvest anyways. The crops won’t wait much longer. We’ll finish harvesting tomatoes this week. After that, all we’ll have to do is peppers, squash, pumpkins and a few small trial crops, including leeks, cabbage, and fall carrots. Still plenty left to do.

The new irrigation pond is done
Three feet of water has already accumulated in the pond.

The photo above was taken Tuesday. We have since seeded down all around it with several different grass seeds and mixtures. Because we want to prevent as much erosion as possible, we planted Crown vetch on the bank on the outside of the pond and conservation mix on the balance of the ground. The sooner we get some grass growing the better. I wanted to get it seeded down before we got any amount of fall rain, and we did. The rain will help the seed to germinate and grow before the ground freezes up for the season.

The pond currently has about three feet of water in it and I expect it will continue to fill during the fall and winter months. Total surface area will be about an acre and capacity is around six million gallons. Imagine what the first frog in there will think! This pond should supply us with all our water needs for many years in this new field. I am anxious to use this field. We have owned it for many years, and have worked to improve the soil, but have yet to fully utilize this ground. Now with drain tile, an irrigation pond and a well-built driveway down through the field, we’ll be able to add these 15 acres to our inventory of tillable land.

Other fall projects on the docket include pulling miles of plastic mulch; tearing down acres of tomato trellises; and chisel plowing fields that didn’t get a cover crop planted on. Why chisel plow? The chisel plow makes deep furrows that trap the water and force it to seep into the soil rather than whip down across a field eroded it as it goes. Many times our crops get harvested late in the season so we can’t get good establishment of cover crops before the fall freeze-up occurs. In this case, we chisel plow the fields following their contours to prevent or at least slow down the rate of erosion. As we increase our land base, we’ll have more cover crops planted to hold our precious topsoil in place.

Until next week,

Fringe Benefit: Pumpkins

"Up for Grabs" Pumpkins

One of the advantages to working at Johnny’s is the opportunity to join in the post-trials harvest.

Once the trials for various crops are completed, employees are allowed to help themselves to what remains in the fields. You can’t get much fresher than that! This not only allows us to help feed ourselves, but gives us the opportunity to see how crops were grown, which crops did well, and gain some hands-on experience at our Research Farm.

In recent weeks, we’ve been given the go-ahead to harvest peppers, squash, and pumpkins. What the employees don’t take home is most often donated to local food pantries.

Gathering fresh produce while working for a fast-growing, employee-owned company in a beautiful part of the country is tough to beat. If you're interested in a career at Johnny's, we've recently added some new positions to our job postings. Visit Johnny's careers page to learn more and download an application.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

JSS Advantage Newsletter -- October 2011

October, 2011

Demand for local food doesn't suddenly disappear at the first frost. Committed locavores want to buy local food year-round, providing new opportunities for fresh market growers who would like to increase annual revenue and cash flow during the winter. In this issue of the JSS Advantage, we'll provide information about ways you can diversify your offerings across the seasons.

Launch a Winter CSA

Laughingstock FarmCommunity Supported Agriculture is holding its own despite the economic downturn. In fact, demand is so strong that many CSA farms have started offering winter shares for members who want to eat local year-round. A winter CSA is a much different endeavor than a summer CSA, and it takes a lot of planning. If you are thinking about ways to build on the success of your current CSA, expanding into winter is the logical next step.

Winter CSA is possible in even the coldest parts of the country. Some of the trailblazers in the winter CSA movement are in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and other very cold places. They are able to offer food in winter through a combination of storage crops, winter hoophouse crops, and value-added products. Because those types of crops have such long storage life, most winter CSAs distribute less often than summer CSAs, some as infrequently as once a month.

Another common feature of winter CSAs is cooperation with other farms. Going into fall, most farmers know how many storage crops such as carrots, onions, and sweet potatoes they can offer to the CSA.

But hoophouse crop growth is more dependent on sunshine and temperatures, and therefore less predictable. By teaming up with other growers and food producers, a CSA farm can fill any gaps in its own production as well as increase the value of the CSA share and the availability of local products. A farm might offer eggs, bread, jam, honey, apples, frozen fruits and vegetables, and salsa grown on the farm or purchased from other farms.

A winter CSA also provides a ready market for some crops that might not have been as useful to a summer CSA, such as dried beans, grains and flour, dried peppers and culinary herbs, soup mixes, and fall ornamentals. In that regard, winter CSA provides the excitement of growing something completely new!
With all winter crops, planning well in advance is essential. If you're considering a winter CSA in the future, this winter is the best time to figure out what you'll include in every distribution. Come spring, you'll be ready to start planting new crops and larger quantities to accommodate a winter marketing season.

Extend the Selling Season with Storage crops

carrotsSome vegetables can maintain freshness for months after harvest if you choose varieties specifically bred for long storage. Here's a list of some of the varieties we recommend for storage throughout fall and winter.

Beets of all varieties will keep for 3-5 months when stored at 32F and 90-100% humidity.

Brussels sprouts: Diablo and Nautic have good cold tolerance and can be left in the field to harvest after frost. Once cut, they should be stored at 32F and 90-100% humidity.

Cabbage: Storage No. 4 will keep until spring from a late fall harvest if held at 32F and 90-100% humidity.

Carrot: Bolero is the best variety for harvesting in late fall and will hold for up to six months at 32F and 90-100% humidity.
Kohlrabi: Kossak will keep for 2-3 months at 32F and 90-100% humidity.

Leeks: Tadorna is very cold tolerant and can be stored in the field into winter. Once harvested, store at 32F and 90-100% humidity.

Onion varieties that are classified as Hard Storage onions will keep up to six months when stored at 32F and 65-70% humidity.

Potatoes: will keep up to five months when stored at 40-50F and 90% humidity.

Pumpkins: Jarrahdale, Long Island Cheese, Musque de Provence, and Baby Bear are all renowned for long storage as well as great eating qualities. They will keep up to 5 months at 50-60F and 50-70% humidity.

Rutabaga: Helenor and American Purple Top will keep for 4-6 months at 32F and 90-100% humidity.

Turnip: Purple Top White Globe will keep 4-5 months at 32F and 90-100% humidity.

Winter Squash: Queensland Blue and Waltham Butternut are the best keepers, but all winter squash can be stored for a month or longer. The ideal conditions are 50-55F and 50-70% humidity.

Tips for Successful Winter Growing

With the inexpensive protection of a
caterpillar tunnel
or Quick
Hoops™ low tunnel
, many crops can be harvested throughout
the winter. Initial crop selection is critical. The best crops for
winter harvest include hardy greens such as arugula, mache, mustard, and spinach; and root crops such as beets, carrots, leeks, and radishes. Within those categories, look for varieties with special cold tolerance, denoted with the snowflake symbol.

One of the keys to winter harvest is to plant early enough that the crops have a chance to get close to maturity before the short days of winter arrive. When day length drops below 10 hours, the plants won't be actively growing but, if you have chosen cold-tolerant varieties, they will be able to withstand freezing and thawing so that you can harvest them all winter.
The second key to successful winter growing is to plant sufficient volume to carry you through the cold season. Regrowth is very slow during winter, so assume you'll get only one harvest from a plant during the coldest months.

When planning which crops to grow under protective structures, envision how you will harvest during the winter. Root crops, which you need to harvest with a digging fork, are best grown in a high tunnel so you can stand upright while harvesting. An inner low tunnel of row cover on hoops prevents the ground from freezing most of the winter -- a huge benefit when harvesting root crops. Leafy crops also do well under row cover in a high tunnel, but if that space is at a premium, they can be grown under a low tunnel of metal hoops bent with Johnny's Quick Hoops™ Bender and covered with Agribon AG-30 or AG-70 for maximum frost protection. Whereas in summer you might bury the edges of row cover to keep insects out, in winter you want to be able to gain access to the crops. Use sandbags or rocks to hold the row cover down. For added protection, pound stakes on both sides of the tunnel and lace twine across the top of the tunnel to the other side, going back and forth the entire length. Not only does the twine keep the row cover on the hoops during windy weather, it also allows you to push the row cover up out of the way when harvesting.

For a complete guide to building your own caterpillar high tunnel, please see our manual, which includes many good ideas about how to modify it seasonally.

Visit our "Managing Quick Hoops™" web page for more information on using low tunnels.