Thursday, September 29, 2011

Photos: Common Ground Country Fair

Here are a few photos from last weekend's Common Ground Country Fair.

This year's fair, the 35th edition, attracted 59,000 people over three days. Johnny's, as usual, had a strong presence. We were one of 600 Maine businesses or farms to participate in the fair. Our display area included a tent for customers to enter contests and chat with Johnny's employees and gardening experts; a tool demonstration area; several garden plots; 2 caterpillar tunnels; and a harvest display of many of our pumpkins, gourds and winter squash.

Read article about the Fair in the Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine). The fair is held annually at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association's fairgrounds in Unity, Maine.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Johnny Appleseed's Birthday

Today is the birth date of John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed. Chapman, who was born in Leominster, Mass. in 1774, became famous for planting apple orchards wherever he traveled, hence the nickname.

Why is that significant to Johnny's?

Johnny Apple Seeds was the original name of the company when it was launched as a  start-up in 1973 by Rob Johnston Jr., our current Chairman of the Board.

However, shortly after he published Johnny's first catalog, Johnston was informed that another company already owned the trademark rights to the name. At that point, Johnston decided to change the name of the company to its current title -- Johnny's Selected Seeds.

Tech tip: Optimize Winter Squash Flavor

Winter squash market display
For many growers autumn means it's time to harvest, store, and enjoy winter squash. Different squashes achieve their best flavor at different times. Here are some guidelines:

Acorns (and the red squashes- Sunshine and Red Kuri) are delicious right from the field, but only last a maximum of 3 months.

Spaghetti Squash is ready to eat when picked and will keep up to 3 months.

Delicata and Sweet Dumplings can be enjoyed immediately after harvest, and store for 4 months.

Buttercups are sweeter after a few weeks of storage, and will keep up to 4 months.

Kabochas get sweeter with a few weeks of storage. The green ones will keep 4-5 months and Confection will keep up to 6 months.

Butternuts and Hubbards are better after a few weeks in storage and will keep to 6 months.

Whether you've grown for your own consumption or for market or CSA sales, the general rule of thumb for best flavor and storage is to consume the smallest squashes first.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Harvest Begins in Earnest; Field Improvements

What’s New at the Farm?
Well for starters, there is plenty going on at the farm right now. The harvest is well under way with a full plate of tomato seed productions being harvested, processed, and stored in our climate controlled room until we have time to finish the seed cleaning process. We have 33 different tomato varieties to harvest this year, and each one can be picked twice, so that’s a potential 66 harvests in the next four to five weeks. Do the math and that’s up to three harvests per day, each day for five weeks. In theory. Some tomatoes will only get to be picked once. It depends on whether or not all the fruit ripen at the same time. Sometimes we’ll pick a crop twice to get the maximum amount of seed from the crop. This is usually for indeterminates as determinates usually ripen all at once

Besides tomato picking there are still weeds to pull. Many weed species don’t germinate and grow much now, but Galinsoga is the one big exception. It is also known as “quick weed” and needs no dormancy period between maturity of the original plant and germination of the new plant. Galinsoga will thrive right up until a good killing frost. Then it’s done, except in spots that are “protected” from frosts. Then it can continue to thrive until it’s killed.

The big news on the farm is field improvements to one of our fields. Drain tile is being installed to drain the water from the field in the early spring so we can use this ground.  Here’s a shot from last week:
Drainage improvement

Perforated plastic pipe is buried two and a half to three feet deep and covered with fine gravel. This allows the ground water to drain away in the spring so we can get on the fields sooner. Each lateral line feeds into a header line, which dumps the excess water into a ditch at the end of the field. One problem with this field in particular is water; too much in the spring and not enough during the summer and early fall growing seasons. The drain tile will cure the spring water issue and we’re digging a pond to eliminate the summer irrigation issues. Here’s a photo of the work:
New irrigation pond
This pond should hold a minimum of five million gallons of water. This will cover our needs for now and anything we want to do in subsequent years. This picture was taken on the 20th of September; the pond should be completely finished and the ground seeded down by the 1st of October.
Until next week, enjoy the harvest.

Jordan’s Garden Annual Fall Pumpkin Festival

I had the privilege of attending the Annual Pumpkin Festival hosted by Jordan’s Garden in Machias, Maine. Owner Wayne Lobley provides over one hundred youngsters and their families with pumpkin seeds (from Johnny's, of course!) and instructions for the Pumpkin Growing Contest in late spring. Everyone comes together in September to showcase their efforts and celebrate the season.

This year’s activities included pumpkin games, hay rides, scarecrow making, pumpkin painting, pie eating contest, official chicken races, craft vendors, and homemade donuts and treats from the Towne Fryer, and much, much, more. Wayne, family, staff, and friends estimate they had over 300 people through their doors on Saturday. It was an absolutely beautiful day and fun for all.

Pumpkin judges this season were Sheriff Donnie Smith, Master Gardener Irene Fitzgerald, and me. We had several large pumpkins this year weighing in at 24 to 30 lbs. Awards and prizes were handed out for winners in the Largest, Smallest, and Best Decorated categories. The judges also added a category this year for Best Overall Pumpkin.

If you live in the greater Machias area, stop in and visit Jordan’s Garden. Don’t forget to get your pumpkin seeds! I’ll see you next September.

- Joy Frost, Inside Sales Rep

Friday, September 16, 2011

Some Cool Fresh Produce Tips: Frost Tolerance and Cold Storage

If you're growing in the north, it's getting to be the time of year to think about frost.

Here in Maine, weather forecasters are issuing frost warnings for this weekend in some parts of the state.

Here's a frost tolerance guide from the National Gardening Bureau -- Frost Tolerance of Vegetables.

While we're on the subject of chilly temperatures, here are some guidelines to storing fresh produce if you're still harvesting or just getting started. This handy chart is provided by One Drop Farm in Cornville, Maine.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September 2011 Product Spotlight: Mache, Larkspur, Chives

Yes, you can still plant!

Overwintering crops and cold-hardy greens should be seeded soon outside in the South and under Quick™ Hoops or row cover in the North.

Here are some crops and products to consider this month:


Mache, also known as corn salad or lambs lettuce, is a salad vegetable that is extremely popular in Europe and gaining a devoted following in the U.S., especially among chefs. The mild, sweet, crisp leaves have a slightly nutty flavor that allows mache to stand alone as a salad, or give a new dimension to lettuce salad mixes.
The key to successful mache production is to grow it in cold weather, when soil temperature is 41˚-68˚F/5˚-20˚C and growing temperature is below 70˚F/21˚C daytime. Direct seed at a rate of 28-45 seeds per square foot and harvest by cutting the complete plant near the root crown. Yield is approximately .2 lb per square foot or 22 lb per manpower hour.
#419, VIT, is a disease-resistant variety with long, glossy green leaves. 50 days to maturity.


A hardy annual that needs cold to germinate, larkspur is one of the earliest cut flowers in spring. Its tall, full spikes of pink, white, blue, purple, and bicolor florets are highly desirable in the florist trade and create a strong accent in mixed bouquets. Larkspur also makes an excellent dried flower simply by hanging it upside down in a warm, dark, breezy area.
#1785 Johnny's Larkspur Sublime Formula Mix: This custom seed mix includes all of the individual colors offered by Johnny's including the new Sublime Bicolor, a dark purple splashed with white.

Chives and Garlic Chives


Purly Chives

Chinese Leeks/Garlic Chives

#793 Purly: Chives can be direct seeded now and they will grow quickly in spring to be one of the first herbs at market. Purly is an easy-to-grow Johnny's exclusive with versatile, medium-sized leaves.
#925 Chinese Leeks/Garlic Chives (OG) have thin, flat leaves with a delicate garlic flavor. The starry, white edible flowers have stiff, long stems that can be used in summer bouquets.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

JSS Advantage Newsletter -- September 2011

Farmer's Market: Buying in Bulk
September can also be an extremely busy month on the farm. Summer crops have peaked, fall crops need attention, and there is all that harvesting to be done. It's hard to look ahead to fall and winter markets, but in this issue of the JSS Advantage, we'll suggest some practical ideas and, we hope, provide some encouragement to keep you going and improve your bottom line for 2011.

Encourage Buying in Bulk, Canning, Freezing, and Drying

There has been a renaissance of interest in "putting food by"... canning, freezing, and drying. Your customers are no doubt familiar with the idea, even if they have never preserved food before. Most have seen the big displays of canning supplies at supermarkets and big box stores, and they have probably encountered numerous magazine and newspaper articles about the benefits of preserving food.
So the pump is just need to provide a reminder, some guidance, and an abundance of produce. Here are some suggestions for encouraging your customers to buy in bulk.
Visual cues. Think about how you would preserve your bounty (if you only had the time!) and decorate your market stand accordingly. You might dry some bunches of herbs at home, then hang them above your fresh herb display at market. Make a display of canning jars with the ingredients needed for salsa, pasta sauce, pickles, and so on. Braid some onions and hang them above your table. Be sure to include some reference material for those who are unsure how to proceed.
Johnny's offers a number of helpful books including How to Store your Garden Produce by Piers Warren (#9791), Root Cellaring by Mike & Nancy Bubel (#9459), and Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning by The Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante (#9237), just to name a few.

Recipes. Provide easy-to-make recipes for the items you want to move in volume. The Ball website has a clever feature that allows you to find recipes by main ingredient, preserving method, and ease. Download a few recipes for each type of preserving.
Price incentives. If you have bushels of produce beyond what you can usually sell, offer a discount for volume purchases. If you don't have an excess, you can still encourage volume buying by throwing in something free; for example, offer a pint of jalapenos or a bunch of basil free for a 10-pound tomato purchase.
Make signs. Put out a chalkboard stating the obvious: "Eat local all winter! Preserve now."

Increase Revenues with Value-added Products

Canned goodsIf you would like to extend the season and increase annual revenue significantly, consider offering value-added products in addition to your fresh produce. You will find that selling even a few non-perishable products can level out income and open doors to new markets. Winter markets, holiday craft shows, local specialty shops, and internet selling sites all offer opportunities for making money after your growing season ends.
Food products, in general, are highly regulated and require some research and possibly investment in processing facilities. They may be well worth it, though, especially if you can develop distinctive products that command a premium price. For example, many New England farmers make maple syrup products that sell well year-round to tourists. Similarly, growers in New Mexico can do well with chili pepper jellies, salsas, and other regional specialties.
Non-food agricultural products may be easier and quicker to develop. The possibilities are nearly endless. Christmas wreaths, live plants, dried flowers, paper crafts, soaps, candles, body care products, lavender sachets, catnip toys, wool, and just about anything else you can make on the farm can become a profit center. If you would like to explore ideas for products that fit your interests and production, peruse the Store Categories at You may be inspired by the high-quality artisanal products other farmers are selling there.

Join Us at MOFGA's Annual Common Ground Country Fair
Common Ground Fair
Poster by Dacia Klinchert
Visit the Johnny's Selected Seeds Exhibition  Booth at this year's Common Ground Country Fair. You'll have a chance to chat with Johnny's gardening experts and try some of our innovative gardening tools at our tool demonstration site and garden plots. There will be giveaways and raffles
for Johnny's merchandise. Don't miss it! The fair will be held from Sept. 23 to 25 at the Unity Fairgrounds in Unity, Maine.
Directions to the Fair »

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pests: Beware the Armyworm

Pest of the Month: Armyworms (Family Noctuidae)


Native sweet corn is popping up everywhere: on farm stands, in local co-ops, at your favorite grocery store, and your town’s farmer's market. Whether you planted a couple of short rows at home, or if you have acres and acres of corn you’re harvesting for market, it’s not unusual to occasionally peel back those tough green husks and reveal that little green worm munching happily away on the sweet kernels. One little green armyworm larvae can ruin a perfectly marketable ear of corn in very little time.

Life Cycle
By definition, an “armyworm” is a caterpillar that has the habit of feeding above ground, can become abundant at times, and occurs in large migrations. In its adult stage as a gray-brown moth with a white dot in the center of the forewing, many species migrate to southern climates such as Mexico and Central America. Some species of the armyworm irregularly survive the winter in the U.S., while other species overwinter as pupa in the soil. Depending on the species, larval development can take from 2-8 weeks. Early stages are smooth pale green, while older larvae reach about 1.5"; turning a greenish brown with white stripes on the sides, dark or light stripes along the back. During the migration from warmer southern climates to northern cooler climates, adult moths lay eggs only at night and on the undersides of leaves. Eggs are greenish white and are laid in huge masses of up to 400 eggs. Younger stages of larvae typically feed only on one side of younger leaves, leaving leaves with a transparent appearance. Older larvae are less discriminating and often consume entire areas of the leaf. Larvae feed only at night and can tunnel into the whorl of young corn. As ears develop, they tunnel into the ears, many times entering from sides and tips. Pupation occurs in a loose cocoon in the soil. Three or four generations are typical in southern climates, while one or two generations are more common for northern U.S. states.

Plants Affected
Vegetables, grasses, corn, legumes, fruit trees, and flowers are occasionally damaged.

Tunneling into whorls, shredded leaves, transparent younger leaves, and in grasses a chewed ragged appearance.

Attracting natural, native predators such as parasitic wasps and flies. Live releases can be made on a regular schedule based on the army worm’s life cycle. A BTK spray can also be used to kill larvae. Dipel DF is a product we’ve made available to our customers and is a very effective method of control. We also use this product on a regular basis for tomato hornworms in our covered structures here on the farm. As always, follow label mixing and handling instructions completely and always wear the proper protective clothing. 

“The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control” Edited by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis, and Deborah L. Martin
“The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs Garden Insects of North America” by Whitney Cranshaw
“Vegetable Notes” published by U Mass Extension, written by R Hazzard

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Growing Slows Down; Harvest About to Speed Up

It’s been a while since I’ve written this column so I thought I’d start again. There’s so much information on this blog, and we’re all so busy with our gardens and crops, I’d rather not inundate everyone with more information this time of year. As I write this, I look out my window to see the growing slowing down and the harvesting about to pick up.

Many of the crops have been seeded, thinned and weeded, cultivated, sprayed as needed, harvested and plowed under by the first of September. Crops that have come and gone include spring carrots, eggplant, sweet corn, melons and green beans.  The spring lettuce and greens trials have come and gone, the tomatoes are ripening fast and some of the peppers are ready now.  The winter squash and pumpkins are maturing and we’ll be hard at it harvesting before long.

For our seed productions, tomatoes are the first crops to be harvested for seed. We’ll be picking them primarily for the entire month of September, starting next week. Most every day will start out with “What are we doing today?” and to that the answer will be “picking tomatoes”. I like picking tomatoes, but then again I like pulling weeds. It probably stems from the fact I don’t do much of either anymore. Over the past 20 plus years I’m sure I’ve picked lots of tomatoes.

On the farm this week, we’re getting concrete poured in greenhouse # 1. We’ve had this greenhouse since around 1989 and have always had a “dirt” floor. Actually it looks more like course gravel than anything. Tomorrow they’ll pour the first half and next week they’ll finish it up. Concrete is so much easier to work with and to keep clean than “dirt”. Next year we’ll get concrete in Greenhouse # 3 and we’ll be set for a while.

Also on the farm, the onions have been pulled and are drying in the field until tomorrow; then they’ll be crated up and put in a greenhouse with shade cloth to cure.

The last of the weeding is happening now; the fall carrots have been thinned and weeded and final cultivations are occurring in the crops we can get into. Over the next few weeks, depending of course on potential frosts and the ever changing and challenging weather patterns, many fields will be harvested and seeded down. I’m looking at a new, fall cover crop mix, which consists of oats, turnips and oilseed radishes. I’ll let you know how it looks and how it turns out.

As Hurricane Irene was dumping lots of rain on us last weekend, I was left thinking about how more cover crops could have been used to slow or stop erosion around the farm. Luckily we didn’t get the downpours and heavy rain that were predicted so erosion was at a minimum.

Pictures of the farm starting again next week; lots of crops at their peak. Lots of great pictures there already!

Until, next week, Brian

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Vermont Farm Fund Initiates Emergency Loans for Farms Affected by Hurricane Irene

Loans will help meet immediate needs in the aftermath of statewide flooding

Hardwick, VT -- The Vermont Farm Fund (VFF), in response to the catastrophic flooding that has devastated farms throughout Vermont, has established an emergency loan program. This program will accept applications immediately for $5,000 loans at zero interest to benefit Vermont farms that have been directly affected by the effects of Hurricane Irene.

"I just returned from a day of farm visits," says Vern Grubinger, one of the VFF's advisors and Vermont's vegetable and berry specialist for UVM Extension, "I saw several hundred thousand dollars of damage on half a dozen farms and I have received reports of well over $1 million in losses just from vegetable farms alone.  We need to raise as much money as we can to support our local food producers so they can get through this."

The VFF, a fund created by Pete's Greens in partnership with the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE), was inspired by the outpouring of support Pete's Greens received as a result of statewide community efforts and individual donations when word got out that the farm's barn, which housed its processing facility and storage crops, burned to the ground in January 2011.

"We know these loans are modest in light of the overwhelming need," said Pete Johnson, owner of Pete's Greens in Craftsbury, "but we want to help as many farms as we can by giving a quick, zero interest loan that can give some relief. Pete's Greens has paid forward $40,000 of the donations we received into the VFF and we are hoping that donations and fundraisers will quickly grow the fund. We believe the Vermont Farm Fund can grow into a significant resource that can help Vermont farmers in times of need for years to come."

To make a tax deductible donation, please visit to donate online or write a check to the Vermont Farm Fund and mail to the Center for an Agricultural Economy, PO Box 451, 41 S. Main St., Hardwick, VT 05843.

To apply for a loan from the VFF, please visit  to view and download the application or contact

Amy Skelton, Pete's Greens
Email: Phone: 802-586-2882                                                                       Elena

Elena Gustavson, Center for an Agricultural Economy
Email: Phone: 802-472-5840