Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Johnny's Gift Coupon Raffle Winners Announced

Two growers won $100 Johnny's gift coupons at a pair of recently completed agricultural conferences.

Andrea Davis, of Charleston, MS, won the raffle at the Mississippi Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference and Trade Show held in Vicksburg, MS.

Caroline Levesque, of St. Henri-De-Levis, QC, was the lucky winner at the Acorn Conference held in Darmouth, Nova Scotia.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Johnny's in the News: Brussels Sprouts, Defiant PhR, and Backyard Gardening

Johnny's has been mentioned recently in several newspaper stories.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Seed Cleaning, Buying Local

The field work is wrapping up and we're all excited about it. All the plastic has been pulled and the harvesting has been completed. Seed cleaning takes center stage right now.

This is Kelly in our seed cleaning room:

Our two Clippers and our Oliver gravity Separator:

And for final seed cleaning here's a blast from the past:
The above "Bean Table" was a staple of small farms back in the day. Small farmers who grew dry beans used these tables to sort and pick out broken seed, dirt clods and stones from the good beans. We use these tables on squash and pumpkin seed to remove small pieces of flesh and other non-seed trash. The first year I worked  here we spent about a month picking over bean seed on the tables. We'd get a bit punchy after watching the conveyor for hours and days on end.

In the 40's and 50's they had a "Bean shop" in China which is the town south of Albion. Many women worked in this shop which cleaned and packaged beans for market. Local farmers grew the dry beans and the bean shop cleaned them before they went to market. Notice the word local. Local wasn't a politically correct word then; it was simply the way it was. It's harder to find local dry beans now even though they may have been packaged regionally they could easily be from some other region or some other country. Check the labels, or better yet, buy from your local farmer and you'll know where your food comes from.

Speaking of which, I have started going to the supermarket again. Last night on my way home from getting grain, I went to the local grocery store. Didn't really need much but was going right by and had a hankering for some fresh sea scallops. They were $17.99 a pound -- wow! While I waited in front of the fish counter, I had ample time to study where all the fish and shellfish came from. The seas scallops were the only item labeled from  Maine. We're spoiled with fresh seafood in Maine. It's fresh and it's good. I've bought cold water shrimp that were still wiggling. Now that's fresh! So anyways, I spent the extra money and bought the Maine scallops, and they were some tasty. I guess I'd rather wait and have the real thing than get the cheap bay scallops from who knows where. Same with my food; what I can get from the local farmers and growers, and what I raise myself pretty much feeds us with quality meat and produce all season long.

Off next week, time to get ready for winter. Hopefully the snow and freezing cold will hold off a while longer. Seems the fall has flown by and we're looking at the early stages of winter. Oh boy!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Kale KO's Beef When It Comes to Packing a Nutritional Punch

Here's a great article on the nutritional benefits of kale from the Huffington Post:
"7 Reasons Kale is the New Beef".

Besides being a nutritional powerhouse, Kale is among the hardiest of vegetables. It's easy to grow and its flavor improves as the temperatures drop. It's also a beautiful plant, especially some of the stunningly bright, purple, garnish kales.

Johnny's carries 11 varieties of Kale and its Southern cousin, Collards.

Toscano Kale at Johnny's Research Farm, Albion, Maine
Toscano รก la mode (Kale with frost crystals).
Nagoya Garnish Red

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Johnny's Named Top Vegetable Seed Company by Mother Earth News

Johnny’s was recently voted the best vegetable seed company by the Mother Earth News garden advisory group. This group consists of hundreds of gardeners, many of whom have been gardening for over 10 years.

Here’s what was noted about Johnny’s in an article on the Mother Earth News website:

"Superior ratings in multiple categories put Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a company that offers heirlooms, organics and hybrids, in the top spot. “The Johnny’s catalog is accurate and informative without the hype, and I have never had a failed crop from their seed,” wrote a Midwestern gardener with more than 20 years of experience. Others praised Johnny’s “cool tools” and hard-to-find organic gardening supplies, and many said they liked doing business with an employee-owned company."

Friday, November 11, 2011

What's New at the Farm? Harvest Complete and Fall Field Work Almost Done

The big news on the farm is the harvest has been completed and most of the fall field work has been completed as well! On Tuesday, we brought in the last harvest -- squash seed -- of the season. See photo below:
Final harvest of the season
We had more seed harvests this year than I think we’ve ever had, but we still managed to complete 95 percent of our outside work early in the month. I’d say we’re almost done pulling plastic as well -- a hard job with the usual fall rains. The weather has been great this fall for working outside. This fine, fall weather has helped us wrap things up for the 2011 season.

I like to get all our plastic pulled from the fields at the end of each season so we won’t have to do it next spring. We’re busy enough in the spring without adding tasks on that didn’t get done the season before. A while back I mentioned chisel plowing the fields to prevent erosion during the fall and winter seasons; here’s a shot of field nine:

Field 9

The field was all tomatoes this past summer, but now is waiting for snow to complete the cycle. Next year's plan for this field?

Good question, but one we’ll figure out this winter. The winter is when we plan where next year's crops are going to be planted.

Here’s a nice shot of the pond here at the farm:

Farm Pond
The water level has dropped at least four feet from where it usually is. We’ve used a lot of water this season between irrigating and processing crops for seed. This winter will be a good time for the pond to recharge with water.  Drawing the water down this low will help stem the spread of cattails; they will winter kill if their roots are exposed to freezing temperatures for any amount of time.

Although much of the field work is done, there is still lots to keep us busy. Projects we have slated for the next month include some tree and bush trimming around the fields, mapping out a couple of new fields and lots of cleanup projects. All the equipment and tractors will get a good washing prior to winter storage. The greenhouses will be cleaned, organized and sanitized prior to the onset of cold weather.

We’ve got four new doors to install, new benches to purchase, put together and place where we want them and three fans that need work. Just because the field work is nearly done doesn’t mean we have nothing to do. It’s just now we have some time to breathe before the next season begins.

What’s New at the Farm columns will be spotty for the next month before resuming to a weekly basis. A couple of weeks vacation coming up along with a trip to the New England Vegetable Growers conference; then I’ll be back the duration. I could use some time to recharge before we start the process up again!

Until next week, Brian

Thursday, November 10, 2011

JSS Advantage Newsletter -- November 2011: Expand and Diversify

Diversification strategies for market farms

Among successful market farms, there is a trend toward diversification and away from specialization. As growers gain experience, they tend to add new crops and markets and extend their seasons. They find ways to maximize income from everything they grow and put all their land to good use.

Many create entirely different but related businesses such as mushroom production or cheese making.

Diversification is nothing new, of course. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket" is one of the oldest proverbs in the English language. It has always been a plain-spoken way of expressing the fact that spreading risk across multiple endeavors provides greater security. The proverb that originated in farming applies more than ever to farming.

And it's especially pertinent on a market farm, where diversification may be the key to survival. If one variety of your most important crop fails, another might succeed. If you lose a crop to a late frost, you could have a succession planting coming along right behind to save the day. If economic problems reduce sales at your main market, you should know where else you could sell the surplus.

Diversification can be applied across every facet of growing. Here's a list of some of the ways growers can diversify. Not all will apply to your business, but they may stimulate some new ways of thinking about your operation.

Diversity in Crop Choice

Jester SquashA market farm by definition grows a wide variety of crops to sell locally. Even so, there may be other crops you have not previously grown that you could add to your mix.

When you look through the Johnny's catalog, think about crops that might fit well with your current production. For example, if you grow salad mix for early spring sales, consider adding a high tunnel of strawberries to sell at the same time?
Could you sell herb plants or vegetable plants? Could you have hanging baskets or flowers or strawberries ready for Mother's Day?

In summer, could you increase your production of non-perishable produce such as shallots and onions? Could you extend your season in fall with storage crops like winter squash, cabbage, and kohlrabi?

Diversity in Variety Selection

Everyone knows the weather is changing and you may find that the varieties you have always grown just aren't as reliable anymore. At Johnny's Research Farm, we see differences in how varieties respond to heat, cold, insect and disease pressure, and other environmental factors. Johnny's and other vegetable breeders are continuously seeking to improve upon older varieties. If you have experienced failures with a variety, we recommend that you trial something new against your old favorites.

Diversity Across Time

HooohouseSuccession cropping is an important component of diversification. You can have several successions of a crop by planting several varieties with different days to maturity. Or you can plant the same variety several times, a few weeks apart. If one fails, you haven't lost a lot of time in trying to replace it. You can also diversify by extending the season with the use of hoophouses, greenhouses, and low tunnels. Using season extension structures also reduces risk by providing protection from bad weather.

Geographic Diversity

Your farm may have several microclimates based on topography, or you may have fields with different types of soil. You may be able to get an early crop from a south-facing field, which warms earlier, or keep a cool crop going longer by planting in a field that gets some afternoon shade. You may be able to split production between two separate pieces of land, such as at a farm in the country and a backyard in town. Some growers rent land away from their home farms to take advantage of specific growing conditions such as soil type or wind protection.
In the case of Community Supported Agriculture, growers miles apart from one another often work together to spread risk and provide greater selection to their members. One California CSA, for example, has two farms supplying its products; one farm is in a foggy coastal area and can grow cool-weather crops all summer but not tomatoes and peppers; the other farm is farther inland in a hot, sunny area that is great for heat-loving crops.

Marketing Diversity

Choosing what to grow and when to grow it depends entirely on where you can sell it. If you have been limited by the seasonality of a market such as a summer-only farmers market, you could open up new possibilities for scheduling and crop selection by selling into different markets. Many customers are eager to buy fresh, local food. Among the possibilities: farmers markets, CSA, supermarkets, natural food stores, roadside markets, Pick-Your-Own, home delivery services, restaurants, colleges, corporate dining halls, hospitals, schools, and wholesalers.

Enterprise Diversity

Growing and selling fresh produce is enough work for most people, yet many farmers have ancillary enterprises to help the bottom line and, often, to provide employment year-round for valuable workers. Some examples include: farm stores; on-farm restaurants; on-farm wedding venues; buying and reselling other farm products through CSA or delivery services; freezing, drying, and canning food products; crafting seasonal decorations; bread baking; soap making; mushroom growing; tree farming; and cheese making.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Johnny's at the Farmer to Farmer Conference

Stop by the Johnny's booth if you're planning to attend this weekend's Farmer to Farmer Conference. We'll be demonstrating tools, unveiling a few new products that will be appearing in our new 2012 Johnny's catalog, and talking with conference attendees. We'll also have job applications on hand if you're looking for work. We have several job openings we're looking to fill.

The conference, hosted by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, will be held this weekend at the Point Lookout Resort in Northport, ME. For more information about the conference, visit the MOFGA Farmer to Farmer Conference website.