Monday, October 31, 2011

Johnny's raffle winner announced

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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Video: Seed Processing

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Photos: Farm Pond Construction

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Product spotlight: Tools and Supplies

Product Spotlight

Quick Hoops™ High Tunnel Bender

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


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

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Product spotlight: Winter Greens

Product Spotlight

Winter greens

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

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Product spotlight: Root Crops

Product Spotlight

Root crops

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

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

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

Customer photos: Giant Sweet Potato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 lb. Beauregard sweet potato

A meal in itself
A successful harvest

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Product spotlight: Jack-o-Lantern Pumpkins

Product Spotlight

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

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

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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week,

Fringe Benefit: Pumpkins

"Up for Grabs" Pumpkins

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

JSS Advantage Newsletter -- October 2011

October, 2011

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

Launch a Winter CSA

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

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

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

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

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

Extend the Selling Season with Storage crops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Successful Winter Growing

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Polar Bear Pumpkin Earns Blue Ribbon at Fair

Sienna's Polar Bear a winner at Fair
Sienna Mazone, age 9, of Dresden, Maine, won first prize in the Great Pumpkin competition at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine. Her entry was Polar Bear, a Johnny's Selected Seeds exclusive variety, that weighed in at 65 lb. See story in Morning Sentinel (Waterville, Maine) daily newspaper.

Sienna, who is home-schooled, helps with the family vegetable garden as part of her science curriculum. Her spring semester science project was to grow a Polar Bear pumpkin, a striking, white-skinned, Johnny’s-bred variety.

Sienna said she started the Polar Bear seed at the end of April in the family's greenhouse and transplanted it to the garden at the beginning of June. She fertilized with organic goat manure and put down Johnny's 's BioTelo black mulch to suppress weeds and warm the soil.

As the plant grew and developed fruit, Sienna pulled all but one pumpkin off the vines to help concentrate the growth to the one remaining fruit. It worked as the pumpkin grew to 65 lbs. It looked so nice, that the Mazones decided to enter it in the pumpkin growing contest at the Common Ground Country Fair Exhibition Hall. There, it won first prize and the Judges award.

Johnny’s hosted a nearby vendor booth and product demonstration area at the fair. Some employees noticed the pumpkin on display and were so impressed with its size, beautiful white skin, and uniformity, they asked if Johnny's could show off Siena’s prize-winning pumpkin at agricultural trade shows this winter. Sienna has given the pumpkin to Johnny’s in exchange for photos of the pumpkin and a tour of the Johnny’s Trial Farm in Albion. She will also receive a box of some 40 varieties of seeds for her garden next summer, including, of course, more Polar Bear Pumpkin seeds!

Look for the pumpkin as it tours northern New England this fall and winter with Johnny's Commercial Sales Rep. Christina Hillier.