Friday, May 27, 2011

Photos: Busy Week of Planting and Field Prep at Johnny's Research Farm

It's been a busy week at Johnny's Research Farm in Albion, Maine. Workers have been playing catch-up after a long stretch of rainy weather delayed some of the early-season work such as preparing the fields, laying down mulch, and, of course, planting seeds. Photo slideshow below:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Video: Tomato Varieties

Growing Wisdom's Dave Epstein, who produces many of Johnny's videos, sent us a link to a movie from last year's Common Ground Fair. The two-minute clip features many of Johnny's tomato varieties, including Brandywine, Juliet, San Marzano, Green Zebra, Striped German, Sun Gold, Red Pearl, and Pink Beauty. It was shot inside the 40-foot caterpillar tunnel we built at the Unity Fairgrounds.

As a bonus, Dave sent us a photo of his garden in Massachusetts.
His greens are doing very well, thanks to the cool weather and rain we've experienced here in the northeast.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Farm Profile: Green Spark Farm

Green Spark Farm, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine -- Mary Ellen and Austin Chadd credit their professors and mentors in helping them to form a holistic approach to farming. They view their farm as a human-manipulated ecosystem and they passionately caretake the health of its ecology while growing their MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) certified organic produce.

Mary Ellen became a Master Composter while studying at the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine in upstate New York. She continued her studies in Ecological Agriculture at the Evergreen State College in Washington, where she met Austin. Austin was in the same course of study and was working as the farm assistant at Evergreen’s Student Farm. He grew up farming on his father’s farm in the foothills of Mount Rainier. After college, and before moving back to Portland, the two worked together at an organic market farm, giving them experience they find invaluable to their current lives growing and marketing produce from their own farm. They completed the Journeyperson Program of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and, with the help of that program and extensive local networking, grew from farming out of an apartment to leasing 13 acres in Cape Elizabeth and farming full time.

Cape Elizabeth farmer friends provided both equipment and wisdom for their process of turning sod ground that had been fallow for 25 years into bountiful vegetable production. The Chadds extend their growing season by using low tunnels and floating row covers. They have just finished a small high tunnel and have received an NRCS High Tunnel grant which will allow them to put up a larger hoophouse this year. Although most of inland Maine is in plant hardiness zones 3-4, Mary Ellen says, “We are lucky to farm in ‘the tropics of Maine’ with a coastal temperature Zone 5+ climate.”

Mary Ellen and Austin pay strong attention to the soil microbial community and plant nutrient-uptake to help make their wide selection of vegetables healthy and nutritious. They choose to cultivate biodiversity on their farm by growing rare and heirloom vegetables, enchanted by their histories and stories. The beautiful and sometimes strange vegetables add rich variety to their market offerings. They sell at two farmer's markets, a farm stand, and to several restaurants. They also offer CSA shares that are redeemable at the farm stand or farmers markets.

As young farmers, they are grateful to the mentors who have helped them hone their skills, many of whom have also become good friends. “They taught us that sustainable agriculture is as much about community building and ecological responsibility as it is about economic sustainability,” Mary Ellen said.

Photo Slideshow

For more information, visit

Monday, May 23, 2011

Share Your Knowledge: Product Reviews Now Available on Johnny's Website

We invite you to help a community of growers by submitting a product review.

Johnny's now has reviews on select products including: Basil, Chives, Cilantro, Dill, Calendula, Celosia, Nasturtiums, Ornamental Grasses, Petunias, Sunflowers, Sweet Peas, Zinnias, Gourds, Broadforks, Hoes, Long-handled Tools, and Glaser Wheel Hoes and Accessories.

It's easy. Just find the product on our website and click the "write a review" link in the top right corner of the product description page.
  • Rate the product: 1 to 5 stars.
  • List the Pros and Cons.
  • Report the Best Use.
  • Tell us more: with a comment, picture or even a video.

Would you like to write or read reviews for additional products? Take our short survey.

Your review will help other growers make informed buying decisions.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Precautions Necessary for Outside Work

What's one of the best things about working at Johnny's Research Facility in Albion? Why working outside doing something you love! Everyone here is an outside person; we have hikers and bikers, hunters and fishermen, gardeners, horse riders, four wheeler and snowmobile buffs and just a lot of people that like getting outdoors. And most of these people don't mind the weather; that's just a  small part of the outdoor experience. I know I've had some of my most memorable experiences hunting and fishing in the worst weather. There are some precautions however that we all must take so that's what I'm going to talk about today.

The top three things farmers and gardeners need to look out for are Lyme disease, rabies and equine encephalitis. Lyme disease gets a lot of attention especially now that ticks are everywhere. As a kid we had never heard of ticks; as I got older they started migrating north and east and now they're pretty common. Not many days go by that we don't pick one off the dogs after they come in. I remember hearing horror stories about how ticks were everywhere in the mid-Atlantic states and how you had to check yourself every day after you were in the outdoors for any length of time. Now that we're used to them, this isn't a big deal. It's necessary, but not a big deal, taking all of 30 seconds at the end of the day.

Fortunately I haven't seen many deer ticks, most we have are common dog or wood ticks. They are larger and look like a bean seed when filled with blood. The dogs get them from laying in the grass and some years are better than others for their populations. Of course now is where I start preaching the benefits of guinea fowl, ducks and lots of chickens. Peggy will say we have too many birds but I am quick to point out that we don't have many ticks when everyone else says what a bad year it is for them. I'd much rather have birds then ticks; they have so much more personality!

Rabies is carried by warm blooded animals including dogs, foxes, raccoons and bats – animals we often interact with. Animals that don't look quite right; that appear not to be frightened by humans are the ones to watch. Growing up on the farm I remember my father telling of foxes that would come into the barns to steal cats or attack calves were often as not rabid and dispatched  quickly. A rabid animal may be confused with an animal that has mange. In either case, it is wise to stay away from the animal until it can be dealt with by someone who knows how to handle this situation; usually a game warden. Animals infected with rabies often bite domestic dogs and can infect cattle and horses, so keep an eye out when working around your animals. And, luckily, birds don't get rabies so that's one less concern with them.

Equine Encephalitis is a deadly disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Anyone working outside is at risk for being bitten by mosquitoes – no surprise there. No one enjoys being bit by mosquitoes so wearing bug spray or headnets and minimizing bare skin in areas where there are high mosquito populations will help minimize exposure to diseases they carry.

Horses used to be quite prone to EE and were used as a gauge of the disease in a given area. Now, most people vaccinated their horses for EE and other viruses as well. The single biggest way to prevent getting this and other mosquito borne diseases is prevention. Little things add up in mosquito breeding circles; old tires are notorious for being a haven for breeding them as are old buckets, pails – anything that'll hold water and not agitate it, will be a welcoming place for mosquitoes to breed. Animal watering pans and buckets should be dumped and refilled at least twice a week, gutters should be inspected to prevent pooling of water in them and anything that will hold water, even for a few days should be checked for mosquito larvae and dumped out and overturned if possible. Barrels, old bird baths, and piles of plastic all can hold usable amount of water that mosquitoes can breed in.

That said, I've off to look around my buildings and see what holds water that doesn't need to. Until next week, enjoy May.


Monday, May 16, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Field Preparation Photos

It's the middle of May and we're busy!

Lots of this going on right now, finally.

Here's Becky plowing our future winter squash field, or should I say one of the fields we're planning on planting to squash.

It's great to see last years' plant materials plowed down and see that beautiful soil that's been laying in wait of spring.

Here's a shot of the newly planted greenhouse tomatoes in the poly tunnel:

Here's Jeff loading a sling bag of pelletized chicken manure in preparation for field spreading:

Here's a shot of the farm: a hubbub of activity this time of year!

And what more can I say? We're where we should be on planting and field prep and steaming right along. The next week will have us covering many acres with plastic and getting ready for the big transplanting push. Crops already in the ground include peas, spring carrots, baby leaf lettuce, and the first crop of transplanted lettuce is in. The lettuce likes the cool, wet weather so it should thrive now.

Here's hoping for warm and sunny days, and a short blackfly season.
Until then,

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Johnny's at Northern New England Home, Garden, and Flower Show this weekend

Johnny’s will be at the Northern New England Home, Garden, and Flower Show in Fryeburg, Maine this weekend.  Various books and tools will be on display in the Garden Center where our booth area will be located. We will have free gardening literature, catalogs, and seed packets. We're also offering a Show Special of 10% any purchase at the Show.

Demonstration schedule:
  • Seed-starting clinic, Friday noon to 1 p.m. and 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
  • Extend your growing season with low tunnels clinic, Saturday noon to 1 p.m. and  2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
  • Children's gardening clinic 11 to 11:30 a.m.; 12:30 to 1 p.m.; 2 to 2:30 p.m.

For a show schedule and additional details visit the Northern New England Home, Garden, and Flower Show website.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Graffiti Purple Cauliflower Stands Out in a Crowd

Graffiti, a stunning purple cauliflower, is now available to purchase on Johnny's website. Graffiti has colorful, eye-catching heads that practically glow on the farmers market tables. It is a great cauliflower for fall harvest and can also be sown in spring. It's a great tasting variety as well. The large florets can be served raw with dip or cooked. The purple fades to a lighter blue-lavender tint when cooked.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Video: Zephyr summer squash

Dave Epstein of Growing Wisdom sent us a note about a video he produced on summer squash. In this one-minute clip, Dave focuses on Zephyr summer squash, a Johnny's-bred variety and one of our most popular squashes. Dave produces many of Johnny's product videos.

Zephyr summer squash is a high-yielding variety that produces distinctive, slender fruit. It stands out for its looks and taste. Zephyr's skin is yellow with faint white stripes and light green blossom ends. Zephyr should be harvested young at 4-6" for an unusually delicious, nutty taste and firm texture.
Zephyr Summer Squash
See all of Johnny's summer squash varieties.

Friday, May 6, 2011

May 2011 Product Spotlight: Mulches


Solar Mulch

In the warm, protected conditions under row cover, plants thrive and get an early start on the season. Unfortunately, weeds do well, too, and it can be difficult to keep the crop weeded when you have to remove the row covers to do it. Mulch is the solution, as it prevents weeds, conserves moisture, and warms the soil. Johnny's offers a full range of mulches in numerous sizes.
Solar Mulch increases average soil temperature by 8-10, helping heat-loving plants to grow faster and produce earlier. Visible light is blocked to suppress weeds while still allowing infrared light to pass through to warm the soil.
Biodegradable Mulch is made of a corn starch-based material which allows microorganisms in the soil to break down the mulch over 4-6 months. That eliminates the need for cleanup at the end of the season.
Planters Paper Mulch is also biodegradable. It is used like poly mulch and provides the same weed control but with 2F/1C less soil warming. Also, it starts to decompose in 6-10 weeks.
In addition to these mulches for heat-loving crops, Johnny's offers several other types including SRM Red Mulch, Metallic Silver Mulch, White-on-Black Mulch, and Pro 5 Weed Barrier Landscape Fabric.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May 2011 Product Spotlight: Summer Squash

Summer Squash

Here's a colorful trio of specialty squashes that will generate a lot of conversation with your customers:

Eight Ball

Eight Ball: A 1999 All-America Selections winner, Eight Ball is a small, dark-green, shiny, round zucchini with a long picking period.
Geode: A Johnny's exclusive, Geode is the light green counterpart to Eight Ball. It is an improvement over the old Ronde de Nice variety in uniformity and ease of harvesting.

Floridor: Another Johnny's exclusive, Floridor adds a bright yellow to this trio. Harvest all three varieties at 2-3" diameter.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Product Spotlight: Zinnias

Sunbow Mix


Zinnias are the backbone of the cutting garden, and they should be succession planted several times during the summer to ensure a steady supply of fresh, large blooms. You can direct seed them beginning at your last frost date, continuing every 2-3 weeks until 70 days before your first fall frost date. You can even seed them with an Earthway Seeder, using the beet plate. You can never have too many zinnias! Johnny's has a wide selection of tall varieties for cutting:
Benary's Giants are the premium zinnia with a yellow, food-based coating for ease of sowing. Available as a mix or separate colors so you can increase your supply of specific colors for special events. Grow more whites for summer weddings, more orange and gold for autumn-themed bouquets. 40-50" tall stems and 4-6" fully double blooms.
The Giant Dahlia Flowered Series is less expensive because the seed is not coated, but with more singles and semi-doubles than in the Benary's Giants. Available as a mix or separate colors, including an unusual creamy yellow. 40-50" tall stems and 4-6" blooms.
State Fair Mix has 4" single and double blooms in bright colors. 36" tall.
Zowie! Yellow Flame has semi-double, 3-4" blossoms of magenta and orange. An eye-catching combination! 24-36" tall.
Uproar Rose has intense, dark pink, fully double blooms 4-5" across. 28-36" tall.
Oklahoma Formula Mix Improved has 1-2" fully double and semi-double blooms in brilliant shades of yellow, red, gold, pink, and white. The smaller flowers provide a nice contrast in a bouquet or can be mixed with basil or other greens for an attractive bunch. 30-40" tall.
Sunbow Mix is the smallest of the cutting zinnias, with blooms 1-2" wide in a full range of colors rose, purple, golden yellow, scarlet, orange, pink, and white. 24-30" tall.
Persian Carpet has full and semi-double 2" blooms in bicolor combinations of red, mahogany, gold, purple, chocolate, and cream. 24-28" tall.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

JSS Advantage -- May 2011

May 2011

Attract Essential Pollinators To Your Garden

Insect pollination is essential to many vegetable and fruit crops, including tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, watermelons, blueberries, blackberries, apples, almonds, and many others. In the case of watermelons, there will be no fruit without pollination. Some vegetables don't require pollination to set fruit, but pollination by bees will result in larger and more abundant fruits. Nearly 75% of the flowering plants on Earth rely on pollinators to set seed or fruit, as well as one-third of our food crops, and most pollination is performed by honey bees, native bees, and other insects. Try our Beneficial Insects Attractant Mix. See all of our varieties that are good for attracting beneficial insects.
Yet pollinators are at risk throughout North America. Beekeepers are losing commercial honeybees to colony collapse disorder. Several species of bumblebees are nearly extinct and many others are suffering severe declines. Other pollinating insects are similarly suffering from reduced habitat.
As farmers and gardeners, we are in a position to provide food and habitat for native pollinators. We have the land, tools, and know-how to create insectary plantings and wild areas where pollinators can take refuge. They, in turn, will provide more abundant food for us, and those same plantings will attract other beneficial insects for improved pest management.
Here are some guidelines for the kinds of plantings that will attract and nurture native pollinators, provided by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
  • Large natural areas with plenty of flowering plants should be located within a half-mile of vegetable crops, because that's the longest distance native pollinators will fly in search of food. In the absence of natural areas, you can plant a "bee pasture" with red clover to attract bumblebees.
  • Long, narrow strips along field edges or waterways, for example can be planted with flowering plants to attract pollinators even closer to crops.
  • Additional small plantings of flowers should be created throughout the gardens to bring the tiniest pollinators into close proximity with crops.
  • Plant numerous varieties of flowering plants that will bloom over the longest period possible to keep pollinators fed before and after the target crop blooms.
  • Choose plants that are native to your area first, but don't be afraid to add non-natives to the mix. Many herbs and cut flowers provide food and habitat for pollinators. The best varieties produce a lot of pollen (Autumn Beauty sunflower is a better choice than a pollen-less cultivar such as Pro Cut) and have single petals (Sensation Cosmos, for example, is better than the fluffy double petals of Double Click Cosmos).
  • In addition to plants, you can also provide nesting sites by leaving some untidy areas such as brush piles and old tree stumps.
The Xerces Society has numerous fact sheets about landscaping for pollinators, and has just published an excellent book, Attracting Native Pollinators, that covers pollination biology, identification, and conservation strategies.

Record Keeping Key To Successful Farming

When you're new to farming, everything is so interesting and exciting that you may assume you'll remember every detail of what you are growing, where and when you planted it, and how well it performed. Veteran growers, however, know that the details start to fade quickly over the course of a busy season. That's why the most experienced and successful farmers keep careful records.
Record keeping may seem like an unpleasant task at first, and some people have to force themselves to make time for it. But a sensible record keeping system does not need to be a burden and, in fact, can give you some much-needed time for rest and reflection throughout your day. The very act of keeping track of your activities gives you a better perspective on your work.
Systems run the gamut from a pencil and notebook to sophisticated online programs. Here are some ideas to get you started in developing the records that are most useful to you.
For certified-organic growers, there's a new online system called COG-Pro. It's designed to keep the records and produce the reports required by organic certification agencies. It also can be used by non-organic growers to track seed and plant purchases, and keep activity records such as fertilization and weeding. COG-Pro has the look of a spiral notebook, so it's easy and intuitive to navigate. And because it's a Web-based program, records are accessible from anywhere (you can even let your certifier look at your records remotely) and you don't have to worry about losing them to a computer crash, windstorm, spilled cup of coffee, or other on-site problems. The cost is $60 per year.
Ag Squared is another Web-based system that is still being tested but is expected to be released this year. It will have multiple features that will allow you to create a farm plan, schedule tasks such as planting dates, record activities, track inventory, and track harvests and sales. In the works: a mobile app that will let you input information from your phone. The program will be free initially.
While those systems are helpful because they prompt you to enter the types of information that many growers find valuable, anyone can create their own record keeping system with a spreadsheet program such as Excel or Numbers. And you don't have to be a spreadsheet expert to create something meaningful.
The simplest spreadsheets are simply lists that can be sorted in helpful ways. For example, you might create a spreadsheet that lists every variety of seed you purchased this year, where you bought it, and the amount you purchased. You can then sort your list by crop name so you have, say, all your tomato varieties listed together. You might also want to sort by seed company name next year when it's time to reorder seeds.
Even more helpful, you can add fields showing when the seed should be started, when the plants are transplanted, when the harvest begins and ends, yield, and any comments.
Graduating into slightly more complex spreadsheet use, you can set up a planning spreadsheet that uses formulas to schedule planting or harvest dates. Johnny's has several of these in the Grower's Library to help you get started. If you're not conversant with spreadsheets, here's a tip: Click on a field and then look in the formula bar at the top of the table; if a formula was used, you will see it displayed there. That will give you some insight into how to set up formulas. Learning how to use spreadsheets is an admirable goal for the off-season. The more adept you become, the more sophisticated your record keeping will be.
For financial records, many growers use the accounting program Quick Books. Make every product or variety you grow its own "Item" in QuickBooks. Once your products are entered as Items, be sure to use the Item names when creating an invoice or recording a bank deposit. If you're conscientious, you'll be able to tell at a glance how much money you made from every crop.
Finally, if you're not comfortable using a computer, you can still keep excellent, useful records on paper. Get a three-ring binder and fill it with paper, dividers and tabs to make a section for every crop you grow. Then write down everything you do every day, crop by crop. Start with your seed purchase, the source and quantity, the date you planted the seed and transplanted the plants. Note the date and time spent weeding, irrigating, fertilizing, controlling pests, covering with row cover, and so on. Write down your first harvest, record the weights or units of each harvest, and note the date of the final harvest. This information won't be as easy to analyze as a spreadsheet, but it will still help you make adjustments to your farm planning in the future.
Whatever system you choose, keeping good records will make you a better grower this year and in the future.

Drip Irrigation Conserves Water, Delivers Directly To Roots

For most food and flower crops, drip irrigation is the preferred method of watering. Drip irrigation conserves water by delivering it directly to the plants' roots, avoiding loss to wind and evaporation. It prevents water spotting on flowers and plants, which can make cut flowers unsalable and may even make customers think there's pesticide residue on your products. It also reduces the spread of disease compared to overhead irrigation. Drip irrigation may take longer to set up than sprinklers, but it can be automated with timers for consistent watering throughout the season.
If you have never used drip irrigation, we recommend you try our system.

May 2011 Product Spotlight: Melons


Melon seeds can be started in the greenhouse one month before transplanting outdoors when the weather is frost-free and warm, or direct-seeded one to two weeks after last frost. Melons like consistently warm conditions and will perform best when used with row covers. Agribon+ AG-19 Floating Row Cover  provides the extra warmth melons need. Remove covers when the plants have female flowers with tiny fruits at the bases of the blossoms.
Tasty Bites

Tasty Bites  is a new variety of personal-sized melon. Bred by crossing an ananas and a charantais, it is a sweet, aromatic melon with an above-average shelf life and an extended harvest period, making it a great choice for market gardeners. Fruits average 1 to 2 lb.