Monday, January 31, 2011

Product Spotlight: Radishes


Add some color to your early spring harvests! Radishes are the perfect crop to grow with greens and salad mix for the first produce of spring, ready to harvest in just three to four weeks. For early spring production, we recommend:
Crunchy Royale

Crunchy Royale, a smooth, bright red radish with a mild, sweet flavor. Crisp and slow to become pithy, with large, attractive tops for easy bunching. 28 days to maturity.


Rover is extra-early at just 21 days to maturity. The smooth, round, dark red roots are extremely uniform and have crisp, white flesh with a mild flavor. Holds well in the field.


Rudolf is a good choice in Organic seed, producing bright red, smooth, uniform roots with good taste. It should be grown in spring and fall only, as hot-weather plantings are less uniform and become pithy quicker than hybrids. 24 days to maturity.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Product Spotlight — Jang Clean Seeder

Jang Clean Seeder

Jang Clean Seeder
This is the best seeder we have seen for market farms. Its intelligent design and versatility make it a terrific asset for every application, from small plots of tiny seeds to long rows of big seeds. Here are some of the features of the Jang Clean Seeder that help save time and seeds:

A clear plastic seed hopper holds plenty of seed and makes it easy to see when you're running low. The hopper's quick-release mechanism makes it easy to empty and save seed. And the seeder works even with a small amount of seed.

Each seeder comes with one roller, the MJ-12, which is good for beets, cilantro, coated lettuce, onion, carrot and similar size seeds. Additional rollers for smaller or larger seeds can be purchased for $20 each. A seed-sizing gauge is printed on the inside of the hopper lid for easy seed roller selection.
  • Six included sprockets may be interchanged in a variety of combinations to regulate seed spacing.
  • An adjustable brush on the guide plate allows singulation and precise metering of seeds.
  • Planting depth is controlled by plow height, which can be adjusted with a single screw.
  • Ergonomic handles can be adjusted for height and from side to side for pushing from a footpath.
  • The front drive wheel, which has studs for traction, firms and flattens soil and the rear wheel covers the seeds after they are planted.

Several accessories are available, including a fertilizer hopper, row marker, and double plow shoe for seeding two rows at a time. In addition, you can purchase three-row and six-row versions; call for details.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Farm equipment maintenance and a very long shopping list

Enough already! Enough snow; I can barely see out of my windows. Enough cold – the wood pile is shrinking much faster than I had planned on. Enough cloudy days – seems like forever since we’ve seen the sun. Enough is enough!

Well there, I’ve got that out of my system.

As we approach the end of January we look forward to longer days and some warmer weather. December 21st has the shortest day of the year which is approximately 8 hrs and 51 minutes whilst by the end of January we have gained nearly an hour of daylight to 9 hours and 48 minutes. This makes a huge difference for anyone whom has chores they must do at the end of the day. I hate waking all the birds up to get their before bedtime snack, whereas now they haven’t gone to roost before I get home from work and can get fed and watered before nightfall.

The increasing daylight will allow us to get some stuff done before it gets dark; now if we could only have some sun. The next three months will find me busy in my shop getting some woodworking projects out of the way before summer comes along. You’d think I would have learned by now that once the weather warms up, time for building projects isn’t available as planting and fishing chews up my extra time. Maybe I’ve figured this out by now.

On the farm between bouts of snow removal we are continuing to work on equipment; getting it ready for spring. We have quite a fleet of farm equipment now; a partial list follows:

10 tractors – 4 cultivating tractors, 2 loaders and four for general field work

And for equipment: two transplanters, a bed former, a mulch layer, a floating row cover installer, a manure spreader, a hay rake, a land plow and a chisel plow, two sets of disc harrows, a grain drill, a general purpose wagon, two irrigation pumps and a pipe trailer, a Reigi weeder, a tine weeder, two sprayers, two fertilizer applicators, a rotovator, a flail mower, a field cultivator, 2 company trucks, and the list goes on. I’m sure I missed a couple of things.

All this equipment enables us to farm all the acreage we do with the personnel we have. But of course it all needs basic maintenance to keep it in usable shape. Each piece of equipment gets brought in, inspected and wearing parts replaced as needed. Anything that needs to be ordered is, and as soon as the parts come in, is installed and ready for use.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

JSS Advantage -- February 2011

February is the month when the days get long enough for plants to start or resume growth. It may still be bitter cold, and there may be snow on the ground, but the market farmer starts feeling the irresistible pull of a new growing season. If you have a greenhouse or hoophouse, you know it's time to get your hands dirty. In this issue of the JSS Advantage, we'll cover growing vegetable transplants to sell, planting cold-tolerant crops in the high tunnel, and exploring resources for urban farming.

Growing Vegetable Transplants for Sale

If you grow your own veggie transplants, it's a simple matter to grow extras for sale at farmers markets and farm stands. Customers will be pleased to see unusual varieties not available from the big-box stores, especially those recommended by a local farmer.

Transplants for sale should be handled slightly differently than those for the field. They should be larger than those you would transplant outside, and grown in individual pots or cell packs. As a result, transplants for sale will require more time in the greenhouse, larger cells, and sufficient fertility to keep them thriving.

Large plants such as tomatoes and peppers are commonly grown in 3" or 4" pots. Some growers find that plants that don't sell at that size can be potted up into larger containers as big as a gallon pot and sold later in the season when they are flowering and fruiting. Small plants such as lettuce and leafy herbs can be grown in four-cell or six-cell packs.

Because of the growing popularity of organics with backyard gardeners, it may be wise to grow transplants according to organic standards, whether or not you're certified organic. That includes using growing medium and fertilizers that are approved for organic use. Johnny's 512 mix is a custom-blended mixture of peat, perlite, and compost that is designed to carry seedlings through to transplant size. If you prefer to mix your own potting medium, recipes are available at the ATTRA website. Eliot Coleman's book The New Organic Grower also provides valuable advice on making your own.

Research at the University of Kentucky showed that fish emulsion can be used to fertilize organic tomato and pepper transplants. In fact, transplants fertilized with fish emulsion were much bigger and healthier than those grown in a soilless mix amended with composted manure or worm compost.

The goal of transplant production should be healthy, rapidly growing plants. Here are the most common factors that cause plant growth to be checked, according to the Ball RedBook. Be sure they don't occur in your greenhouse, and you'll have a profitable crop of transplants to sell in spring.
  1. Poor physical condition of soil. The growing medium must be loose and porous to provide adequate drainage and oxygen to roots. Potting mixes with small particle size tend to get tight and hard.
  2. Seedlings must be transplanted before they get root-bound; in most cases, that's when they have their first pair of true leaves.
  3. Too low or too high nutrient levels. Follow the label instructions for fertilizing transplants.
  4. Diseases. Root rots and viruses can go undetected until it's too late if you're not watching for growth slowdown.
  5. Insects. Aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, and fungus gnats are common greenhouse pests that should be monitored.
  6. Lack of water. Transplants must be watered thoroughly and frequently. Water properly, as this tends to be one of the most common greenhouse errors.
  7. Too cold. The ideal temperature depends on the crop, but remember that unnecessarily low temperatures will check plant growth.

What Can You Plant Now?

Eliot Coleman writes in The Winter Harvest Handbook that once day length reaches 10 hours, plants will start growing rapidly. By mid-February, virtually all of the U.S. has more than 10 hours of daylight. In theory, we could all start growing this month! But, of course, temperature is also a factor that affects plant growth and in quite a bit of the U.S., the temperature is still too low.

Growers with hoophouses, however, know that conditions are much warmer under that single layer of greenhouse poly. And if they have a low tunnel inside the hoophouse, they know it's positively spring-like some days in February. And so it does become possible to start growing this month.

The key to hoophouse planting this month is to choose crops that can tolerate cold temperatures and light frosts. Most can be direct seeded now and they will grow as soon as the soil temperature is warm enough for germination. With that inner layer of row cover held above the young plants, temperatures will be warm enough to keep them thriving.

Crops that can be seeded in late winter in the hoophouse: arugula, beets, carrots, chard, kale, lettuce, mustard, parsley, peas, radish, salad greens, scallions, spinach, and turnips.

Here's the seeding schedule used by Adam Montri, hoophouse outreach specialist at Michigan State University.

The Ultimate in Local

In cities and suburbs all over North America, urban lots and small backyards are being transformed into productive mini-farms. Urban agriculture is fast becoming the biggest trend in market gardening this decade and for good reason. The benefits of urban farming are numerous, ranging from greater food security to nutrition education to community building. The challenges are plentiful, too, and in this issue of the JSS Advantage, we'll tell you about resources to help with the development of an urban farm.

The Food Project in Boston is one of the earliest and most successful urban farming ventures in the U.S. (One of The Food Project's urban gardens is featured on the cover on the 2011 Johnny's catalog.) The organization's mission is "to create a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system." To that end, The Food Project employs teenagers in multiple gardens in and around Boston to grow food for a CSA, farmers markets, and food pantries. It also provides assistance to city residents who want to grow their own food.

One of the biggest issues for urban farmers and gardeners is the presence of lead in urban soils. Researchers at Wellesley College tested 141 backyard gardens in two Boston neighborhoods and found that 81% of them had lead levels considered dangerous by the EPA. In collaboration with Wellesley, The Food Project experimented with different ways to remediate the lead contamination. The organization has found that amending with compost and building raised beds are the most cost-effective and efficient remediation techniques.

The Food Project has many free resources available on its website, including an Urban Agriculture Manual that details how the project creates healthy soil, intersects with the community, works with young people, and plans urban food lots.

Growing Power is another long-established urban farming project, and it gained well-deserved recognition in 2008 when its founder, Will Allen, was named a John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation fellow and awarded a "genius grant" for his work. In addition to the programs it operates in Milwaukee and Chicago, Growing Power offers national outreach through its Commercial Urban Agriculture Training.

Issues that face urban farmers include zoning codes, business licenses, nuisance and noise laws, water access, and neighbors. Writing in Growing for Market, Katherine Kelly, director of the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, advised growers on what to expect when creating a new farm from an urban lot.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pests and diseases: Mealy Bugs

Mealy Bug | Photo Courtesy of

The philodendron you’ve patiently been watching uncurl and stretch new vining tendrils upwards, sideways, and downwards around your windowsills all spring, summer, and fall now looks like it’s been attacked by the local kindergarten class covered in marshmallow fluff. The fluffy white masses you’re seeing stuck all over the plant in front of you are actually eggs laid by a female mealy bug.

Life Cycle: The mealy bug of the Pseudococcidae family, are soft bodied insects, covered with a fine whitish wax. Many species of mealy bugs produce noticeable egg sacks enclosed in a cottony wax, resembling white “fluff”. It’s these white masses that are most often noticed in terminal growth, cracks, and crotches of plants and can contain up to 600 eggs. In greenhouses, females have been observed to lay eggs on non-plant surfaces, and can live more than 2 weeks off the plant. The eggs hatch after 7 to 10 days. The yellowish nymphs, known as crawlers, move about the plant until a desirable site is found for feeding. As in the above picture, mealy bugs are generally oval shaped, having 17 to 18 pairs of short wax filaments (legs) along the side of the body. The body is distinctly segmented, averaging about an eighth of an inch when in last adult stage. Females undergo two molts before becoming fully grown. The rarely observed males undergo an additional developmental stage which occurs in a small cocoon of loose wax. Males are much smaller than the females, have wings, and do not feed. One generation of mealy bug can run full cycle in about a month under ideal conditions indoors.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Snow and cold

January is on the downhill side and I can say I’m glad. I’m not one to wish away time, but we are all anxious to get into the longer days and warmer temps. It’s been a bear lately with the cold and the wind blowing – I don’t seem to want to get out quite as much as I would have once. I think a lot about snowshoeing down to camp but that’s as far as I’ve been getting. I do spend a lot of time tending the wood fires and tending the henhouses full of birds – winter activities include dealing with frozen water and the always needing to button up the houses against drafts and vermin. The hens are starting to  pump lots of eggs out so I’m thinking about getting the incubator out. Got my first duck eggs this week!

The snow continues to pile up outside my office window and the thermometer seems to be stuck just over zero. The weather patterns of the past few years gives us plenty of cold temps but only after copious amounts of snow. Typically when the ground freezes we get an appreciable amount of winter insect kill and have less insect problems the following spring. Remember the spring of 2010 when large numbers of ticks were expected as they didn’t die from last winters’ cold; we did see lots of them in April, and they were hungry as they hadn’t eaten all winter. We did not see any after the initial flush but I blame that on the numbers of domesticated birds we have wandering around the property.

Cold temps help keep agricultural insects down as their mortality rate rises with freezing temps. An insect that is exposed to freezing temps, well, in a word, dies. Actually if the insect freezes and its cells freeze, it dies. Caterpillars (as a rule) die, but houseflies do not. Flies become active once the air temps warm up, whereas if they froze their cells, their dead and they’re not coming back. There’s more to this subject than I’m going to address here, but the gist of this is that in a normal winter, we’d lose many insect pests to freezing temps.

By looking at the snow banks that are threatening to go over my office window, I think it’s safe to say our ground water for spring should be right where we want it to be. A dry spring is nice for getting on the ground early, but irrigation in May isn’t a whole lot of fun.  A normal spring would see us getting on the higher ground in April and all but the lowest ground in May. The soil must be fairly dry to use our heavier equipment on without compacting the soil and yet not bone dry either. A happy medium is, well, a happy medium.

As the winter continues we all look forward to spring and everything we must do to prepare for it. As much as we can do now, before spring, will aid us in completing our given workload and allow us some time to enjoy spring. I’ve got to put together another dozen or so birdhouses and have them ready to go when spring arrives so the birds can use them as soon as they reappear. We’ve got around 30 or so swallow houses here on the farm, and cleaning them out usually takes place in the winter. It was my intention to bring them in late last fall, clean them and do any repair work or modifications I needed to do and store them out of the weather until spring. That was my intention anyways; perhaps I’ll do exactly that this coming season.

Until next week, Brian

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Product Spotlight: Alliums

February is a good time to start seeds of onions and leeks in the greenhouse for transplanting outside in late spring. Onions can be planted three seeds per 1 1/2" cell, and the plants can be trimmed to 5" tall to prevent them from tangling. Leeks should be grown one plant per cell and given sufficient fertilizer to grow large, pencil-thick plants before setting them out.

We have three new varieties for your consideration:
Patterson onion
Patterson produces round, dark yellow-skinned onions with the same firmness and storage qualities as Copra, but with a larger size, better uniformity, and higher yield potential. Adaptation: 38-55 latitude. 104 days to maturity.

Megaton leek is an extremely uniform variety that makes for an easier harvest. The upright plants have beautiful blue-green foliage and long, thick shanks. Less bulbing and splitting than open pollinated varieties. It replaces Upton, and is even more vigorous and uniform. 90 days to maturity.

Lexton can be planted the same time as Megaton to extend the harvest, as it requires 110 days to maturity. It is similar to Megaton, with a long, thick shank, but is more cold tolerant and can be harvested into very cold weather after the early leeks are gone. Lexton's foliage is dark blue-green and upright. High yield potential.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Johnny's in the news: Recent articles, cabbage

It's that time of year when the gardening press, with seed catalogs in hand, gets excited about the upcoming growing season. We're always thrilled and very grateful to be mentioned in newspapers, magazines, blogs, new media, etc.

Here are a few recently published articles about our 2011 catalog and products.

"It’s not too early to think about fat, juicy tomatoes". This Providence Journal article, by gardening columnist Henry Homeyer, focuses on our new Defiant PhR tomato and our tomato breeding program. Henry interviews Rob Johnston Jr., Johnny's Chairman and Founder, and Andrew Mefferd, our tomato Product Technician.

"Vision of what might be" This is a Worcester (Mass.) Telegram story by Paul Rogers about Johnny's 2011 catalog.

A review of Johnny's 2011 catalog from the "His and Hers Homesteading" blog. Very complimentary. We're tickled pink. Thank you very much indeed, Courtney and Robert!

And here's a bonus story that doesn't mention Johnny's. It's a New York Times piece about cabbage: "Cabbage's Sweet Side". It's a very good read.

Today's Garden Planning clinic canceled due to winter storm

Today's Garden Planning Clinic scheduled for 2 p.m. at Johnny's Selected Seeds Retail Store in Winslow, Maine  has been canceled due to the weather. The make-up date is Tuesday, January 25, 5 to 7 p.m.

For more details about the clinic, click here.

Enrollment limited: To reserve a spot for the January 25 clinic, please call the store at 861-3999.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gardening clinics at Johnny's Retail Store this month

This month, we will be holding two separate, free clinics entitled "Planning Your 2011 Garden" at Johnny's Retail Store in Winslow, Maine.

Topics to be covered:
  • Identifying your ideal garden location
  • Garden types: Raised beds, container, square footage
  • Choosing varieties
  • Seed starting basics
  • Record keeping

The first session is Tuesday, January 18, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The second clinic, which covers the same material as the first, is Tuesday, January 25 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Enrollment is limited to 10 students. Please call 207-861-3999 to  preregister.

The store is located at 955 Benton Ave. in Winslow, Maine. Click here for directions.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Winter chores

The days have started to get longer now; even just a few minutes will help. I can now get my chores done before it gets dark. I don’t want the hens to have to get down off their roosts then get back on them so at least now they can get their afternoon snack before it gets dark. It’s not just a matter of giving them a snack, but rather intended to get them exercising before they roost for the night. Getting exercise before nightfall will keep help them warmer during these cold winter nights.

The seed catalogs are arriving daily now and my thoughts turn to projects for the upcoming growing season. Maybe this year I’ll get the fruits trees and blueberries mulched like I have been wanting to. Perhaps I’ll reinforce the deer guards I built for my fruit trees. I’ve got a hedge of rose bushes I’d like to get some compost on and some ornamental bushes to plant. And, yes, I’ll have a small garden this year.

We were in the local grocery store over the past weekend. Peg picked up a sad looking bunch of beets, three to be exact, for $3. I didn’t raise any beets the year so we didn’t put any in the root cellar, and no, we didn’t buy these either. We did store carrots and rutabagas and will next year as well, but we have to have our own beets. And to think of all the beets I’ve left in the garden the past couple of years! Fresh, new potatoes will be high on the list of things to plant along with summer squash and zucchini, onions and green beans.

I built a raised bed last year and I’ll use that for early season greens again this year. The bed is three feet high and 4 X 8 feet with 12-inch sides. I put plastic hoops over it to support floating row covers – to exclude the insects and the ducks and chickens. Last year, and this year too, I’ll start mixed greens in April and harvest through May. In 2010 after the first flush of greens were done, we planted all the flower starts we had left over from the window boxes and assorted planters and it was quite nice all summer; kind of a hodgepodge of plants. I think I’ll build another raised bed this winter for summer squash next summer, and perhaps potatoes - we’ll see. The best thing about these raised beds in that I can plant a month earlier than in the garden, however, the bad points are the cost of filling them with potting mix and the fact they leach out fertilizers relatively quickly. Perhaps covering the soil surface with poly will help. They’re also extremely heavy so when you fill them make sure that’s where you want them.

On the farm we are planning our 2011 growing season. New and better ways of accomplishing our given workload are taking precedence right now. We picked up another cultivating tractor to aid us in weed control and to work primarily in the tomato breeding workshop. It’s a John Deere 850; a 1980’s vintage, two-wheel drive tractor with a bucket on front. This tractor can be narrowed so it will easily fit down between the rows of trellised tomatoes. The bucket will be handy for carrying supplies and cultivator parts as well as moving rocks (yes, we have a few) out of the field when cultivating.  Our new tractor is currently getting a fresh coat of paint so it’ll look brand new.

We’re scheduled to buy a new bedformer in March. Our old one was purchased in the early 80’s and was used when we bought it. I wonder how many hundreds of miles of raised beds it has made in its lifetime. Well, anyways, it’s time for a new one; one that makes beds that are raised a few inches. Raised beds promote air circulation and dry out quicker after a rain event so diseases are kept in check. Our current bedformer is headed to the steel recycler as soon as our new one arrives.

And one final big project we’re doing this winter is upgrading the electricity supply to greenhouse # 3. In the early spring months we run many heat mats and may want to run lights in this greenhouse during the winter months, so we’ll need more power going out there. We’ve had issues with not enough power out there for several years now. Nothing quite like finding out on a Monday morning that the power went out sometime during the night. There’s always a chance of that happening anyways but as long as we do all we can to prevent these occurrences we’re OK.

Fun projects we’re lining up for next spring include replacing the poly on greenhouse 3, reinstalling the benches in greenhouse 2 and 3, and trialing new planting flats in the greenhouses. The calendar says we’re approaching the middle of January, and spring seems like a long way off, but we’ll be planting in six weeks or so, so it’s not as long a winter as we may think.

Until next week, Brian.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pests and diseases: Spider Mites

Spider Mites | Photo courtesy of

Perhaps you've begun to notice some of those plants you've brought inside for the winter have started to show slight to moderate signs of declining vigor. On top of the declining vigor, leaves that were once healthy and shiny are now slightly curled. Dotting the curling leaves are pale yellowing flecks, increasing in amount by day.

Then, you spot it … the minute, dense webbing on the underside of leaves. Upon final inspection with a hand lens, miniscule straw-colored creatures with a dark blotch or spot on either side of their bodies are found. A conclusion has been reached: You've got an infestation of Two-spotted Spider Mites or Tetranychus urticae on your hands.

Life Cycle: This temperature-regulated species has its greatest activity during periods of warm weather; but can also be found making itself comfortable inside your home where the air is very dry and temperatures are warm at this time of year. The life cycle starts with eggs that hatch into tiny six-legged larvae. This stage is then followed by two, eight-legged immature stages, followed by the final transformation into the adult stage. These tiny pests have a "resting" stage, called the chrysalis, that precedes each molt. Males and females both occur in populations. Produced at only certain periods, males are smaller than the females. In the absence of a male population, reproduction is asexual.
These voracious pests feed with a piercing mouthpart, enabling them to suck out the sap of the phloem (inner cells of plant). Once the sap is depleted from each cell, it collapses.  It's this you see as yellow stippling on leaves, where feeding has taken place in clusters of cells.  Due to the manner in which they feed and the design of their mouthparts, two-spotted spider mites are very capable of transmitting various plant diseases. They are seldom held responsible as they are generally homebodies, and rarely leave a host plant of their own volition. 

However, dispersal of populations can occur through human and/or animal contact. Simply brushing up against an already infested plant will leave you walking away with four or five clinging to a shirt sleeve. Coming in contact with house or garden plant(s) shortly after gives the stealthy little mites an easy way into your home. Outside, as mites move their way up to tips of foliage, wind can blow them into air currents and subsequently onto new plants. Semi-dormant adult females overwinter under sheltering debris near previously infested host plants. The adult females appear reddish orange during semi-dormancy.  In spring, weeds and early greens crops provide food before later-season plantings are done.

Plants Affected: Roses, pears, raspberries, peppers, asters, marigolds, impatiens, geraniums, sage, and thousands of other agricultural crops and house plants.

Symptoms: Pale, yellowing stippling at feeding sites on leaves due to loss of cell contents. Plant vigor is seriously reduced as a population grows in size. Premature leaf drop begins as leaves shrivel and dry out. Dense silk webbing is visible when populations are high.

Controls: Although many populations of two-spotted spider mites show a high resistance to pesticides, there are some effective control methods out there. There are many biological pest control agents available on the market today. Green Methods, located in Nottingham, NH, offers several predatory insect species geared specifically towards the many different kinds of spider mites. Neoseiulus fallacis resemble tiny spiders with their eight legs, but are predatory mites that feed on the very young and egg stages. Shipped to you as adults and immatures, they work very well as both a preventative and control measure. Weather conditions, such as temperature and humidity, need to be taken into consideration before release of these beneficial insects. Make sure to follow enclosed instructions on storage and release to ensure optimal results.

 For those of you who would prefer to fight these pests chemically, there are some pyrethrins on the market that can be effective as well. Liquid Rotenone-Pyrethrin Concentrate is a product that we offer here at Johnny's. Another product we have available that can be helpful in controlling a population, that is safe, easy to use, and certified organic, is Safer Soap.

 With a base of Potassium Salts derived from fatty acids, this is a product that can be applied to infested house plants with very minimal risk to the rest of your household. Dish soap diluted at a high rate can also prove effective when applied with a clean spray bottle. As always, read label instructions carefully and follow all safe handling procedures and disposal methods as outlined in pesticide label instructions.

Resources and "The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs Garden Insects of North America" written by Whitney Cranshaw
Article by Sonya Reynolds, Greenhouse Coordinator, Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Johnny's Red Pearl tomato on Organic Gardening magazine's top 10 list

Our Red Pearl grape tomato was named to Organic Gardening magazine's "The Best of the Test Garden" top 10 list in the latest edition (February/March, 2011)

Debbie Leung, one of Organic Gardening's test gardeners from Olympia, WA, described her success with Red Pearl on the magazine's website.

"Despite the cool, cloudy growing season, 'Red Pearl' produced lots of small, bright red, meaty tomatoes by late fall," wrote Leung. "They had a good savory tomato flavor. Very pretty."

Here is a link to the article with a photo slide show of the top 10: These 10 plants proved outstanding in our variety trials".

We're quite pleased to be on this list. Red Pearl was a new variety last year. It was bred here at our Research Farm in Albion, Maine.

If you're interested in learning more about Red Pearl, here's a description from our website:

Tender and nearly seedless, intermediate resistance (IR) to late blight. Compared with Red Grape, the fruits are slightly larger, with more tender skin and fewer seeds for improved flavor. Resists cracking and stores well on and off the vine. Tall, healthy plants. High resistance (HR) to fusarium wilt races 1 and 2, intermediate resistance (IR) to late blight. Organically grown.
Red Pearl

Friday, January 7, 2011

Low tunnels work well on a smaller scale too

Our winter caterpillar tunnels and low tunnels trials on Johnny's Research Farm have been frequent stars in the blog recently. And for good reason.

Mother Nature, in the form of a Nor'easter, gave them a heck of a test a couple of weeks ago. We were quite pleased to see that the 40' caterpillar tunnels and 100' low tunnels shrugged off more than a foot of snow and withstood 40-plus mph winds.

But what if you need something smaller than what we've been testing at the farm?

Here are a couple of photos captured at different times of the year. These are shots of smaller low tunnels that were built on 4' x 8' raised beds in front of Johnny's Retail Store. The tunnels were constructed with metal hoops bent with our four-foot Quick Hoops™ Bender, row cover, and greenhouse film.

January 3, 2011
The above photo is of our overwintering trials. In mid-September, we planted Bright Yellow Swiss chard, Napoli carrots, White Globe turnips, Winterbor kale, and Purple Kolibri kohlrabi in the front tunnel.

In early November, Sessatina Grossa broccoli raab, Deer Tongue lettuce, Vit Mache, Claytonia, Elegance Greens Mix, Arugula, and Spectrum Greens Mix were planted in the tunnel to the right in the background.

Check back in March after we've peeked under the covers to see how everything fared.

June 25, 2010
The photo above shows how things looked last summer after an early spring planting. Among the crops growing in these tunnels were: Avignon radish, Space and Tyee Spinach, Touchstone and  Ace beets, Nelson carrots, Bright Lights Swiss chard, Mei Qing Choi pac choi, and Evergreen Hardy white scallions.

If you are a backyard grower or have limited space and want to extend your growing season, it's easy and inexpensive to build these structures. Learn more about low tunnels.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Product Spotlight

Save 10% on Seed-starting supplies

Johnny's has everything you need to grow your own plants from seed. Save 10 percent on seed-starting supplies now through Feb. 28, 2011. Visit the website for details.

Whether you have a greenhouse, a cold frame, or grow lights on a shelf, you can take advantage of professional seed-starting supplies.

We offer:

Sprouts and Bioset
Sprouts are a super-quick crop to grow for winter markets and your own healthy meals. Johnny's has a dozen varieties of sprouting seed, most of them certified organic. All Johnny's sprouting seeds are untreated and have tested negative for E. coli 0157 and Salmonella.
Bioset sprouter

For personal use, try the convenient Bioset Kitchen Salad Garden. At just $20.95, it provides an inexpensive way to have fresh greens for your table all winter. The Bioset has three stacking trays so you can grow three varieties at one time. Place sprouting seeds in each tray, fill the top tray with water twice a day, and leave the Bioset on your kitchen counter at room temperature. The Bioset's unique siphon action perfectly controls moisture and humidity. Sprouts grow straight up without tangling, and are ready to eat in 3-10 days, depending on variety and temperature.

Sprouts are high in vitamins and phytochemicals, and each variety has its own unique flavor. For example, broccoli sprouts, which have a mildly spicy taste, have been shown to reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer, stomach ulcers, stroke, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Mung bean sprouts have a mild flavor and impart a pleasant crunch to foods, plus they are high in Vitamin C and are a good source of protein. Alphalfa sprouts have a mild, nutty flavor, and a host of different uses.

Johnny's has complete instructions for sprouting seeds, either in jars or in the Bioset.  For more information, read our tech sheet on sprouting.


Mars Celeriac
Long popular in Europe, celeriac is finally winning fans in North America, especially among locavores and chefs who specialize in seasonal cuisines. Though rough and warty on the outside, celeriac roots when peeled have a crisp white flesh similar in flavor to celery. Like other root crops, it is perfect for winter soups and stews or it can be roasted, boiled and mashed, or even french-fried like potatoes. It also makes a nice fresh salad when grated.
Among its virtues is its ability to store for months when held at 35˚F/1.7˚C and high humidity. It is a long crop, 100 days to maturity, so it needs to be started in late winter or early spring, 10-12 weeks before transplanting outdoors. It is grown like celery, which means it requires steady moisture and gradually warming weather. Exposure of young plants to temperatures below 55°F/13˚C for 10 days may cause the plants to bolt.
Mars is a new organic variety this year, and it is very similar to our standard variety Brilliant.

New organic cukes


Corinto is a slicing cucumber that is a good choice for growing in a greenhouse or hoophouse because it is parthenocarpic, which means it does not require pollination. Corinto also performs well in the open field for the same reason in case the cucumbers start to set while still covered with floating row cover, or in prolonged period of cool or cloudy weather when bees are not flying.Just 48 days to maturity,  this cucumber produces smooth, slender, 7-8" dark green fruits with very small seed cavities. Skin is thinner than the average slicer. What's more, it's resistant to powdery mildew, cucumber mosaic virus, and cucumber vein yellowing virus.
Adam Gherkin

Adam Gherkin is a new organic pickler, that is also parthenocarpic. It produces high yields of cucumbers that are nicely proportioned even when very small (2-3" long). Aptly named, Adam Gherkin is one of the preferred varieties for making tiny gherkin pickles. Dark green skin, good flavor, and 50 days to maturity.

A sunflower for organic growers


Pollenless, single-stem sunflowers are one of the most popular cut flower crops, and Zohar is a new variety available as Organic seed. Zohar presents a classic sunflower appearance, with dark gold (sometimes called orange) petals and a dark brown center. It is similar to Pro Cut Orange in color, shape, and days to maturity (50-60). Zohar reaches 48-60" tall and has strong stems. Plants bloom at the same time, so steady production can be scheduled with multiple sowings all season.

Organic parsley

Giant of Italy, our most popular flat-leaf parsley, is now available as Organic seed. Giant of Italy has big, dark green leaves and upright stems so it stays clean. Very high yielding and one of the best herbs for fresh market sales.

Rhubarb from seed

Rhubarb is commonly thought of as a perennial crop that is expensive to establish and suitable only for the north. Seed-grown rhubarb overcomes both those problems! Seed is inexpensive and easy to grow. And Southern gardeners can start rhubarb in the fall and overwinter it, treating it as an annual and discarding the plants after harvest in early spring.
Rhubarb seed germinates readily and grows quickly. It should be started 5-7 weeks before the last frost date. The big, papery seeds should be soaked for two hours before planting, and they should be planted in individual pots. Cow Pots or DotPots are ideal, especially for plant sales in spring. The seedlings are frost tender, so wait until danger of frost has passed before planting them outside.

New this year, Johnny's has added Organic Victoria rhubarb seed in addition to Organic Victoria plants.

For more on growing rhubarb as an annual in the South, read this article in Texas Gardener magazine.

New fruit plants

Johnny's has five new offerings this year to help you expand your food production.
Prime Jim Blackberry
Prime Jim blackberry is an everbearing variety that is hardy to Zone 4. The plants are not as thorny as wild blackberries and the flavor is deliciously sweet. Fruiting begins in late summer, around Labor Day in New England. We recommend trialing this new variety, especially in the North, to determine if you will get sufficient yield before your first frost.

Stevens cranberry has replaced our previous variety, Howes, because it has better flavor and higher yields. A product of USDA's Cranberry Breeding Program, Stevens has round-oval fruits with very good keeping quality. We ship 4-year-old plants from mid April through mid June and again from early August through September.

New grape varieties include two new wine grapes, Marechal Foch and Brianna, plus a collection of three seedless table grapes.

Visit Johnny's booth at next week's Maine Ag Show

Johnny's will be at next week's Maine Agricultural Trades Show at the Augusta Civic Center in Augusta, Maine. If you're attending the show, please stop by for a visit. We'll have some of our new tools, how-to videos, and plenty of catalogs on hand.

The show schedule
  • Tuesday, January 11,  9 a.m. to  5 p.m.
  • Wednesday, January 12, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Thursday, January 13, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Admission is free.

Check out the Maine Agricultural Trades Show web site for more details and a complete schedule of events.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Tool care

As we start another year we have some "slack" time here on the farm. Not really slack, but slower than the rest of the growing season. Good thing as we've lots of things to do to wrap up last year and get a head start on this year.

We're planning, researching, ordering supplies, and continuing to streamline our processes while things are still fresh in our minds.  The harvests are finally done and we'll have some small seed cleaning jobs all winter, but we'll also have time to do some projects that often get put off in-season; a new bench and new shelves for our tools area in the warehouse, additional shelves in the pesticide cabinets and a new storage area for our hand tools, which is what I'm going to write about this week.

Everyone who works out here on the farm has experience with hand tools. Everyone is taught the effective and efficient ways to kill weeds with our assortment of hand and long handled hoes. The best person to get advice about hand tools from, is someone with experience using them. And on an organic farm, we all have lots of experience.

So, let's start by talking about hand tools. Something as simple as a scuffle hoe has eluded me until a couple of years ago. For my 50th birthday I bought myself a brand new Johnny's stirrup hoe. I had never had a new hoe at home but have used them many years here at Johnny's. I have always known them as scuffle hoes, but from what I can find the names are interchangeable. I like buying high quality working tools that will last many years and I certainly wasn't disappointed with this purchase.  The handle is a strong piece of ash, oiled with linseed oil and the steel parts, are well, steel. The blade is sharp and strong and made short work out of any weeds that got in my way. I had a fairly large garden and keeping it weed free was made easier by my having this hoe handy.

One of the most important things to remember when purchasing a high quality tool is how it's going to feel when you're working with it. I like an oiled handle; I do not like a varnished handle. Case in point, a couple of years back I decided to upgrade my kindling wood hatchet to one made in Maine.  The handle was varnished, and to make a long story short, I still use my old hatchet and the new one sits up on a shelf. Oiled handles allow you to get and keep a grip on the tool; a varnished one will slip – not something I want to happen when splitting wood. Nor when I'm hoeing down a row with speed and efficiency. Gripping is much easier with oiled handles and you'll be less likely to develop blisters than with varnished handles.

Oiling tool handles every year will preserve them almost indefinitely. A light coat of boiled linseed oil (use boiled, not raw – boiled dries faster) allowed to set a couple of days then wiped off will go a long way to preserving the tool handle. Storing them inside where it's dry will help preserve the wooden handles. This is also a good time to inspect your tools for repair or maintenance issues -- much better now than the next time you want to use them.

If you compare handles there's really no comparison; Johnny's handles are like handles of yesteryear.  The orientation of the grain puts the strongest part of the handle where it will receive the most stress. This prevents the handle from breaking due to repeated use. Most garden tool handles aren't designed this way anymore; chances are if you break a handle you're going to buy a new complete tool. Our handles are designed for the maximum strength and will last for years if properly taken care of. When they need replacement one simply removes one screw and the handle comes off; far better than tossing the whole thing.

As for storage we have two racks Jeff built to hang our tools on. This keeps them under cover and organized so we can find them as needed. The racks are positioned next to the door in-season so they are easily accessible; this time of year they are rolled back against the wall for storage.

Check out our website for the video: Sharpening and caring for tools for tips regarding the care and maintenance of wooden handled tools.

Until next week, Brian

Sunday, January 2, 2011

JSS Advantage -- January 2011

January is the best month to choose crops, order seeds, and plan your seed-starting and planting schedules. Spring is still months away, but you can start planting earlier than ever before with the new season extension products available from Johnny's. And by doing your planning this early, you can be sure you won't miss any important windows for valuable early crops.
In this issue of the JSS Advantage, we'll tell you about some new tools and strategies to help with your planning as well as best practices for growing your own transplants.

Planning for markets

As a commercial grower, you know that production and marketing must go hand-in-hand. You want to grow crops only if you'll have a market for them at harvest time. And you want to start going to market only when you have sufficient volume to make it worth your time. Scheduling multiple crops for harvest on a target date can be complicated. That's why Johnny's in collaboration with Growing for Market has created a Target Harvest Date Calculator.

Our calculator is available as a spreadsheet with the formulas embedded. You can download it as either an Excel or Numbers file. If you don't have either spreadsheet program, you can get the free version of Open Office, which can open the Excel file. You can also use it in Google documents, a free web-based set of applications with similar functionality as Office.

To use the calculator, you first need to set a target date. For example, your target date might be the opening day of farmers market or your first CSA pickup. As the season advances, you might want to schedule multiple crops for a big event like a local food dinner or a wedding. And on the far end of the season, you want to be sure to bring in all your crops before your markets close for the year.

After you've input your target date, you'll need to list the varieties you want to grow and input the days to maturity, which is listed in every variety description in the Johnny's catalog. You can figure in some other variables, and the spreadsheet will automatically calculate the planting date for each crop. If you sort the list according to planting date, you'll have a to-do list that you can transfer to your calendar.

You will have to make a judgment about whether the recommended planting date is feasible in your climate. You may need to use row cover, a high tunnel, or a low tunnel to be able to plant early or late in the season. Once you have this information, you can determine how many crops you might have for your important date.

Other calculators
You'll find three other calculators on the Johnny's website that will help you plan:

The Seed Calculator figures the number of seeds or plants you need for a given amount of space. It is available in two options. The first option allows you to choose the vegetable you're planting and input the number of row feet you want to grow. The recommended plant spacing for each crop is already embedded in the calculator. In the second option, you have to input the spacing between plants yourself, which allows you to use the calculator for flowers, herbs, fruits, or unusual spacing of vegetable crops.

The Seed-Starting Date Calculator figures the dates when it's safe to plant outside, based on the frost-free date that you specify.

The Fall Planting Calculator. This calculator works backward from your first frost date to determine the date to start seeds for crops that will mature as it gets cold.

Johnny's website is a great resource as you plan your season. Besides these calculators, you'll find a wealth of videos, how-to articles, and growers tips.

Seed starting
Market growers start transplants in a wide range of facilities that run the gamut from climate-controlled greenhouses to unheated hoophouses to grow lights in the basement. Although a sophisticated greenhouse may be the ideal growing environment, many growers make do with much less during their start-up phase. Luckily, seeds don't care where they are started, as long as three conditions are provided: appropriate temperature, light or darkness, and moisture.

Although most crops will germinate within a wide range of temperatures, germination is quickest at the optimum temperature shown in the graphs in the Johnny's catalog. For most vegetables, the optimum temperature is quite warm, 75-90˚F. This is the temperature of the growing medium, not the air temperature. Evaporation at the surface of the germinating medium can reduce the temperature 5-10 degrees below the air temperature. That's why heating mats or cables are recommended for seed starting. With bottom heat, the growing medium can be maintained at the optimum temperature.

Some flowers have a particular requirement for either light or darkness during germination, and some germinate more completely or quicker in the preferred situation. Vegetables, in contrast, are mostly indifferent about light during germination.  The instructions on the back of Johnny's seed packets tell you whether to cover the seed or not. If the seed packet advises leaving the seeds uncovered, a dusting of vermiculite on the seeds will help maintain moisture around them while allowing light through.

Moisture is essential to all germination. The seed-starting medium must be thoroughly wetted before you plant, and you should cover the germinating flat with a plastic dome or piece of row cover to maintain humidity at the soil surface. However, the germinating medium needs to be well-drained, and the flats should be vented daily to prevent excessive moisture. If mold starts to develop on the soil surface, remove the cover.

As soon as the seeds germinate, they should be exposed to light and removed from the heat mat. If growing them under lights, keep the lights just an inch or two above the seedlings and raise them as the plants grow. Leave the lights turned on 16 hours a day. Grow the plants at the recommended temperature on the seed packet. Seedlings get leggy and are susceptible to damage and disease if they are grown too warm or without enough light.

The biggest threat to young seedlings is damping off, an ailment in which the stem withers right at soil level. It can be caused by several different fungi including Pythium and Rhizoctonia. Overwatering and overcrowding of seedlings are often contributing factors to the spread of the disease. It can be prevented by providing appropriate temperature, moisture, and air circulation. RootShield provides biological control and is OMRI-approved for organic production.

Growing to transplant size
Many growers start seeds in small containers to maximize the number of plants that can be grown on a heat mat or germination chamber. Johnny's 20-row seed flat is well-suited for this type of system because it uses a minimal amount of germinating medium and allows seeds to be separated by variety. After the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, they can be "pricked out" and transplanted into larger cells or plugs.

Most growers keep three or four sizes of plug flats available to accommodate the needs of different crops and various field conditions. Tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, and sunflowers are fast-growing plants with robust roots, so they should be grown in a larger cell, such as a 50-cell flat. Brassicas, onions, and many flowers can be grown in smaller cells, such as a 128-cell flat. Very small cells, like the 288 flat, can be used for plants that are going to be transplanted into a hoophouse, into smooth, well-prepared soil outside, or "bumped up" again into a larger container.

This strategy of germinating in a small space then transplanting to larger containers also works with Johnny's soil block system. The Mini 20 Blocker makes 3/4" square blocks for germinating seeds. The Medium Blocker makes 2" square blocks and with the available insert, the blocks have an indentation that is just the right size for popping in a mini block.

Germination mix is a fine-textured, soil-less medium with very few nutrients. It is designed primarily to be a well-drained medium for germinating seeds and keeping seedlings growing for a week or two at most. At that point, seedlings need to be transplanted into a medium with higher fertility, such as Johnny's 512 mix. Plants that stay in the greenhouse longer than four weeks may also need additional fertility such as provided by seaweed and fish fertilizers.

You can find everything you need for seed-starting on Johnny's website. Now through Feb. 28, 2011, you can save 10% on seed-starting supplies.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year from Johnny's!

Happy New Year from all of us at Johnny's Selected Seeds.

We're ready to help you prepare for 2011 growing season.

Be sure to check out some of our new varieties for 2011.