Thursday, June 16, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Tomato Trellises, Tractor Cultivation

The weather seems to have cleared and will give us enough of a break to finish up our spring planting. Last Thursday night we received just over an inch of rain and over the weekend another third of an inch fell. Add that to cool and cloudy days and you have a slowdown of field activities. All is not lost as this weather pattern provides ideal conditions for transplanting. As long as we have the field prep done a few days ahead of the transplanting crew we'll be OK.

We're finishing up the major transplanting jobs this week. We'll be able to wrap up tomatoes and squash this week, and finish  the smaller jobs next week. Of course, there's some transplanting that occurs all season long, but not as much as what happens in the spring.

Among the favorite activities of the early summer is putting out three acres of tomato trellises. A steel post is driven in every 10 feet and a wire is run along the top. A string is then tied to this wire and to the base of the tomato plant.

Here's a photo of some trellised tomatoes in our high tunnel. Our field trellises will look similar. 

Tomatoes in the high tunnel
We have three people that work continuously in the trellis tomato project during the summer. We start pruning and twining the plants next week and continue through the middle to the end of August. This time frame works well for high school students. They work from mid June through August before going back to school.

Lots of thinning and weeding this time of year keeps us busy in addition to planting. The spring carrots have been thinned; always a big job, but one that can be done in the rain like transplanting.

Now that the sun has come out and the fields are starting to dry up a little we can concentrate on some cultivation. We currently have four cultivating tractors: a Farmall 200 and a AV, an Allis Chalmers "G", and a Ford 1710. I also purchased a John Deere 850 this past winter to use between the beds of tomatoes.

The "G" is set up for cultivating small seeded crops like lettuce, carrots and onions. The AV is a high clearance offset Farmall that is used primarily for plastic. The Farmall 200 is used for all kinds of cultivation projects, from two rows, to three rows, to one row, to plastic. Finally, the Ford is used primarily for killing the weeds along the rows of plastic.

The Ford is the newest and most modern of the cultivating tractors. It has power steering, three-point hitch and a canopy which is great on a broiling hot day. It's also a versatile tractor as it's out laying plastic mulch right now. The John Deere 850 is going to be used to cultivate the wide rows between the tomatoes; we plant our trellised tomatoes on eight-foot beds instead of our usual six-foot beds so we have more room to work around them. We use a three-point hitch cultivator we designed and built here on the farm. What we found at local dealers were what I considered over priced and not built rugged enough to withstand our rocky field conditions.

I'll get some photos of these tractors in action in the coming weeks, and I'll post them once we start the daily cultivation regime.

Until next week, Brian.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Video: About Johnny's

We recently released our corporate video -- "About Johnny's".

This 10-minute film serves as a brief overview of Johnny's Selected Seeds. It includes a discussion of a broad array of topics, including corporate philosophy, customer service, plant breeding, company history, employee ownership, product development, marketing, and international sales. The video also features several short interviews with Johnny's Chairman and Founder Rob Johnston, Jr. and Eliot Coleman, along with a few Johnny's customers and employees.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Photos: Early June at Farm

June is shaping up as busy month here in Albion. There is plenty of work to be done at Johnny's Research Farm after an extended period of wet weather in May. The rainy conditions delayed some of the planting and field prep. Now we're playing catch up.

Here are a few photos from recent activities at the farm.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Playing Catch-up

ALBION, Maine -- I haven’t written in a couple of weeks because we’ve been swamped with planting and transplanting. A week of rain in May held up field prep and planting, so we’ve had to play catch-up ever since.
Soon we’ll be done planting and transplanting all the big crops and then all we’ll have to do is take care of these crops. I took some photos Thursday morning and thought I’d share them with you. This one is a shot of Johnny's Selected Seeds Research Farm from the other side of our irrigation pond:
Farm Pond

Greenhouses and poly tunnels on the left and field 9 (all tomatoes) directly ahead.

Next is a shot of field 11; Peppers under the row covers and a shot of part of our lettuce breeding project:
Field 11

Next is field 13 all ready for pumpkin planting with plastic mulch beds:
Field 13

And finally a shot of the main trial field where we plant many small seeded crops:
Main Field

By the middle part of next week, we’ll have the better part of 35 acres planted and then we can take care of all these crops. Besides insects, diseases, weeds and other pest issues there’s always the unexpected issues like that quick but powerful thundershower we had last week. Many of our transplanted tomatoes were broken off but are now sending out new shoots. Good thing tomatoes are hard to kill!

I’m off to the field again, have a good week.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Product Spotlight: Pest and Disease Control

Pest and Disease Controls


9239 Azaguard


9705 Oxidate RTS

Johnny's offers a variety of pest and disease control products for effective crop protection, including these new products which all meet NOP (National Organic Program) requirements and are listed by OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute):

9239 Azaguard is for greenhouse or field use and effectively reduces many insect infestations, including aphids. It is a formulation derived from Neem Oil.
9045 Mycotrol is a contact insecticide that controls the nymphal and larval stages of many soft-bodied insects. It contains Beauveria bassiana strain GHA, a fungus commonly found in soil.
9704 GreenCure Foliar Fungicide is a potassium bicarbonate fungicide, proven to cure and prevent powdery mildew, downy mildew, and late blight. Most effective as a means of prevention before signs of disease are present.
9702 Milstop Foliar Fungicide is a commercially-labeled formulation of potassium bicarbonate fungicide like GreenCure, but is available in a larger 5 lb. container that will treat up to two acres of crops.
9705 Oxidate RTS is a new ready-to-spray hydrogen dioxide formulation of the popular 2.5 gal.-size 9719 Oxidate, used routinely at our research farm to sanitize crops prior to the application of alternated fungicides such as copper or potassium bicarbonate. This smaller, less concentrated formulation is great for home gardeners as well as smaller commercial growers and removes the guesswork usually associated with fungicides by delivering the precise dilution rate needed by simply attaching to your garden hose. One bottle treats up to 12,000 square feet.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Product Spotlight: Recommended Container Varieties

Great Container Varieties


Spicy Bush Basil


China Town Celosia

Container planting continues to grow in popularity, and ready-made containers are high-value items to sell at garden centers, farm stands, and farmers markets. Experiment with new ingredients in mixed containers this year. These herb and ornamental varieties are excellent selections that will add an unusual palette to baskets and pots.
907 Spicy Bush Basil: This 8-14" dome-shaped plant has a spicy, sweet flavor and is great to grow in either pots or garden beds. Johnny's specializes in fusarium screened basil seed lots and will only ship basil seed lots where no fusarium was found in the lab test.
1664 Black Dragon Coleus: Black Dragon has large serrated leaves with red centers and purplish black edges. It adds dramatic unusual color to containers, window boxes, and borders. Colors remain strong. Grow Black Dragon in full sun to part shade.
1894 China Town Celosia: For cut flowers, borders, or containers, China Town plume celosia has 3-6" flower spikes of scarlet red. Leaves change throughout the season from green to purple to bronze. China Town is a FleuroSelect Quality Award Winner.
235 Sangria Ornamental Pepper: The purple-to-red peppers of Sangria create an unusual focal point in containers and garden beds. It has "child-safe", non-pungent, 2-3" fruits.
1848 Athena Mix Impatiens: This semi-double rosebud impatiens mix contains blooms of bright purple, orange, red, red flash, and orange flash. It is an outstanding performer in containers and beds with a prostrate, spreading habit.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Product Spotlight: Pickling Cucumbers, Kohlrabi

Pickling Cucumbers


Salt and Pepper



2524G Salt and Pepper
is a new, organically-grown variety exclusive to Johnny's. This white-skinned cucumber with black spines resists both powdery mildew and angular leaf spot. Salt and Pepper's fruits average 3-5" and are good fresh or for making pickles. Salt and Pepper won the 2011 Green Thumb Award. Insect protection and increased warmth provided by Agribon+ Row Covers can create earlier, heavier yields.
2564 Harmonie (F1) is easy to grow and high yielding. Its dark green, smooth, European-style fruits are 3-5" with good flavor and can be used fresh or pickled. It is particularly suitable for gherkins when harvested small. Harmonie resists both scab and powdery mildew.


237 Kossak (F1) is a giant kohlrabi available in either organic or conventional seed. Peeling the woody "skin" of Kossak reveals a sweet and tender interior. It is best harvested when round and about 8" diameter, before elongation. It is a great season extender and will keep in cold storage for several months. Use Agribon+ AG-15 Insect Barrier row covers to protect against cabbage worms and diamondback moths.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

JSS Advantage -- June 2011

In most of the U.S., the arrival of June signals the busiest part of the growing season. Between harvesting spring-planted crops, finishing up main-season planting, and caring for crops, there's always something on the to-do list. Johnny's has the tools and supplies you need to stay on top of the work, and with our fast shipping, you don't have to wait long for them. Here are some of the ways Johnny's can help you care for your crops this season.

Be Prepared for Weeds

Weeding is an essential part of crop protection because weeds compete with plants for nutrients, water, and space. Don't sacrifice yield to weed pressure!
Glaser Wheel HoeYour best strategy for controlling weeds is to plan for regular cultivation of the soil when weeds are young. If you are tending your market garden by hand, we strongly recommend a wheel hoe. It is many times faster than a long-handled hoe and you won't get blisters. Johnny's sells the Glaser Wheel Hoe from Switzerland, fitted with oiled ash handles made in the U.S. The standard model comes with an 8" stirrup hoe, which is good for undercutting weeds between rows and on bed edges. Other implements are available to make the Wheel Hoe even more useful, including a 3-tooth cultivator for loosening soil before direct seeding; a hiller attachment for potatoes and other crops; and a seeder that can be set up in several configurations.
For other weeding jobs, choose a hoe that is best suited to the situation. The Long-Handled Wire Weeder allows for precision weed removal of small weeds close to crops from a standing position. The Collinear Hoe is good for tight spaces such as under lettuce heads. When weeds have grown beyond the seedling stage, go after them with a strong Trapezoid Hoe, which can be turned on edge to dig out roots, or try the Cobrahead. For an excellent discussion of timing and technique, see "Using hoes for maximum weed control" article in Growing for Market.
If labor is your big limitation, consider planting at least some of your crops on plastic mulch. It's more work initially to lay mulch on your beds and plant through it, but you will never have to weed those beds again. Mulches can be a real help on especially weedy soils, wet soils that you don't want to compact by walking on them too often, and for long-season crops that will otherwise require weeding for months.
Organic mulches such as hay and straw also can be effective for weed control, if you match the mulch to the crop. Don't use mulches that have a lot of weed seeds, such as prairie hay, because they will create weed problems in the future. Don't mulch heat-loving crops too early because an organic mulch will keep the soil cool. Be careful about the production methods of any hay you purchase from off the farm many hay producers use herbicides with a long residual effect. Ask about clopyralid, an herbicide that can harm vegetable crops for 18 months or more after application. For a map of states where clopyralid is used, see this U.S. Geological Survey website.

A Checklist to Help Protect Your Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the #1 crop in gardens and market gardens in the U.S. Protect your investment with appropriate pruning, trellising, irrigating, fertilizing, and monitoring for problems. Here's a checklist:
tomato carePrune your indeterminate tomatoes (but not determinate varieties). Prune to one or two main branches or "leaders" which will ideally be about the same size. This is accomplished by removing side shoots or "suckers" that grow in the leaf axils between leaves and the stem. If you want two leaders, which is often recommended in case the main stem is damaged, leave one sucker directly below the first flower cluster. Prune all other suckers that grow on both stems. After that, prune off all new suckers. The suckers should be snapped off when they are no larger than 2-3" long. Larger suckers may need to be cut off with pruners. Pruning should be done about every week to 10 days to stay ahead of sucker development. For more information, see Johnny's video "How to Prune Tomatoes."
Train your tomatoes. Don't let plants sprawl on the ground, as it invites problems and usually results in reduced yields. Tomatoes should be staked, caged, or trellised to a stake-and-weave system. Stakes and trellises work well for indeterminates; cages and weaves work well for determinates. Research shows specific benefits for each type of training system. For more information, read article on training hoophouse tomatoes in the Catalog Extras section of
Johnny's has a wide range of trellising products including twine, clips, Ty'mup fasteners, and tape. Watch Ty'mup video.
Fertilize if necessary. If you've had a soil test in the past two years and followed the recommendations, your soil is probably fine for growing tomatoes. If not, you need to be alert to nutrient deficiencies. Early on, observe the plants' foliage for signs that it isn't growing robustly: Yellowing, brown spots, tipburn, and white tissue between veins are examples of the physiological signs of nutrient deficiency in tomato foliage. As fruit forms, watch for blossom end rot, cracking, and other flaws. These are often caused by a lack of a specific nutrient in the soil or by unavailability of the nutrient because of cold weather or waterlogged soils. Unfortunately, similar symptoms can be caused by insects and disease as well as fertility problems. Photos of nutrient deficiency symptoms can be found at Plant Physiology Online. Recommendations for organic fertilization of tomatoes are at ATTRA's website.
At Johnny's, you can find fertilizers appropriate for tomato production as well as fertilizer injectors to feed plants while irrigating.
Irrigate tomato plants. Don't overhead-water tomatoes, as wet foliage can lead to disease. In fact, many growers remove the foliage from the first 18" above the soil, once the plant is about 3' tall, to prevent foliar diseases from soil splashing up during a rain. Drip irrigation is preferred for tomatoes. How much water do they need? That depends on the size of the plant, the temperature, and whether they are mulched, but a good rule of thumb is to provide an inch a week when the plants are young and 1.5 inches per week when fruiting. Some growers prefer to grow tomatoes with less water because it is believed to improve flavor. In any case, the important thing is to keep water as consistent as possible. Fluctuations in soil moisture can lead to disorders in the developing fruit. Shop for water and irrigation supplies.
Monitor for insects and diseases. Get to know the major pests of tomatoes in your area and keep an eye out for them. Tomato hornworms are hard to spot because they are exactly the color of stems, but defoliated plants and hornworm droppings will let you know they are present. For more information, see Johnny's video "How to Control Tomato Hornworm". Corn earworms bore into green fruits. Stinkbugs cause hard white spots on ripe tomatoes.
A host of diseases can infect tomatoes, so you should learn from your state Extension service which are common in your area, and then choose varieties with resistance. Early blight and late blight are widespread across the U.S., so learn the symptoms and be prepared to spray with a fungicide when they first appear in your area. Late blight can be a particularly devastating disease if your crops become infected with it. The key is prevention. We recommend Oxidate® to pre-sanitize before fungicide application. As a general rule, it is also important to "switch things up" to prevent diseases from becoming tolerant of certain controls. For that reason, Johnny's now sells several organic OMRI-listed disease control products, that are specifically labeled for late blight, such as Champ® WG, Actinovate®, Greencure®, and Milstop®, as well as Oxidate®, which is now also available in a lower cost ready-to-spray (RTS) size that connects right to your garden hose to automatically deliver the precise dilution rate needed. We have some well-written articles on blights, etc. in the Growers' Library.
Other resources: Johnny's Growing Ideas Blog contains articles and photos on pest and disease controlUniversity of California IPM Online has good photos of pests and diseases.  E-Organic, a consortium of state Extension services, has a wealth of resources on organic management of tomato pests and diseases.

Ways to Beat the Heat

One of the complaints we hear from growers in hot climates is that by the time their warm-weather crops are ready for harvest, their cool-weather crops are long gone. They don't get to enjoy cucumbers on fresh lettuce, or cilantro in their tomato-pepper salsa. We recognize that you can't push the limits too far on crop response to temperature but you can stretch them quite a bit. With proper variety selection, extra moisture, and some shade, you can have lettuce, cilantro, and other cool-loving veggies in summer.
Shade clothJohnny's has a good selection of heat-tolerant varieties, identified by the sizzling sun symbol in the catalog. Heat tolerance is relative; a heat-tolerant spinach variety can't take as much heat as a tomato, for example, but it will do better than other spinach varieties when the temperatures soar. Here are some varieties to try to extend the season into summer:
Lettuce: Tropicana and Green Star greenleaf; New Red Fire and Red Sails redleaf; Panisse green oakleaf; Coastal Star romaine; Adriana green butterhead; Skyphos and Red Cross red butterhead; Concept and Nevada green summer crisp; Teide and Magenta red summer crisp.
Other salad ingredients: Astro arugula; Yukina Savoy, Mei Qing Choi, and Joi Choi Asian greens; Magenta Spreen; Red Leaf Vegetable Amaranth; Gruner red purslane; and Santo cilantro. Shop all heat tolerant varieties.
Shade is as important as variety selection. You can reduce the temperature as much as 10F under shade cloth. Johnny's has knitted black shade cloth sized to fit on Quick Hoops™ low tunnels so you can grow your summer lettuce and other crops in low tunnels. Snap Clamps work perfectly to secure shade cloth to the hoops. Or you can cover an entire high tunnel with shade cloth and grow a quick summer crop of salad mix.
Some reflective mulches are also designed to reduce soil temperatures and extend the season for cold-loving crops. Johnny's sells White-on-Black mulch for this application, as well as Metallic Silver mulch, which has the added benefit of insect repulsion.