Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's New at the Farm? A Look Back at 2011

2011 Retrospective

As the season comes to a close, we sit back and look at what worked and what didn't, and make plans for improvements for the upcoming season. Each year it seems that as one set of issues gets resolved, another set of challenges presents itself. With all the challenges facing farmers and growers everywhere, we are no different. Weather, equipment issues, pests, diseases, and insects all compete for our attention during the year, and we must attend to every detail to ensure we not only get a crop, but get the best crop we can with what we have.
So, looking at 2011, let's see what didn't work, or rather what could stand some improvement. 

  • Weeds: Always a challenge, and 2011 was no exception! Stopping the spread of certain weed species from one field to another is always a challenge. I'm thinking Galinsoga here. Fifteen years ago there wasn't any Galinsoga here on the farm, nor at any of our isolation fields. Not so now. Now we have it widespread on the farm and creeping into some of our off-site fields. It needs no stratification or dormant period so as fast as it matures, it sprouts and sets seed again. It will literally become a life choking carpet if left unattended

  • Our use of mulch hay for weed control: We've used mulch hay for weed control in our winter squash and pumpkin breeding projects for the past few years. While this is the best system we have employed to date, it has some drawbacks. Namely the large amount of hay we plow under each year, and the tying up of nitrogen by the breakdown of the hay. The tying up of nitrogen is evident in the crop following the cucurbits. The good part here is the weed control and the large additions of organic matter; the bad thing is subsequent crops tend to suffer. Crop rotation will help address this issue

  • Insects: Here I'm thinking about the onion thrips. We transplanted all our onions this year and the thrips immediately attacked them. For direct-seeded onions, we'd start scouting for thrips around the first of July. For transplanted onions, scout a week after transplanting and continue throughout the season. Once thrips are spotted, it's time to do something about them. If we wait until we see their damage, well, it's too late.

  • The weather: There's not much we can do about the weather except cope with it, and prepare for it. We use black plastic and IRT mulch on many of our crops and floating row covers on many of them as well. We'll predict what our plastic and row cover needs are and have all our supplies on hand well prior to the onset of warm weather.

  • Our land base: Here's a big one. We always seem to have a shortage of good, tillable land. For 2012 we will add twenty five acres of good, fertile land to our land base. This will allow us to drop some of the poorer, non-productive fields and to actively participate in crop rotations and land improvements like we should be doing.
  • Infrastructure improvements: More greenhouses, a seed processing area, new irrigation equipment, another midsized tractor, a new sprayer and fertilizer applicator lots of other things we will need as we continue to add land and crops.
  • Four legged pests: Including but not limited to deer, woodchucks, porcupines, squirrels, and skunks; what to do with them. For several years we've trapped and relocated small critters but there are inherent problems with this: first of all you must move most critters at least 20 miles away or on the other side of a natural border, like a river, to prevent them from returning. Next there is the possibility of spreading diseases unnaturally. If they have diseases when you move them, you move the diseases with them. And finally, in many instances, you're not doing the animal any favors; you're taking them out away from their home and their familiar feeding grounds and outing them in a perhaps hostile area to fend for themselves.
  • Disease prevention and control: Things we can do to minimize disease impact on our crops include crop rotation; cleaning and sanitizing greenhouses, planting flats, and crop aids, and fungicide application planning to assist us in the prevention and control of a myriad of diseases that attack our many crops. Better field planning will enable us to establish spray rows should we find ourselves in need of them.
  • This article: What do you want to see here? What topics would you like me to write about and how much detail would you like? Please email me some topics you'd like to see covered here and I'll do what I can. After writing this column for so many years, I'm running out of ideas. I don't like to recycle articles, and prefer to start from scratch each time. Please email me at with your suggestions.

I'm off next week, so there won't be a column. Hopefully you'll send some suggestions before I return; otherwise we'll talk about field planning for the upcoming growing season.

See you next year,

Monday, December 19, 2011

Photos: New England Vegetable Growers Conference

A few photos from the conference:

Johnny's Territory Sales Reps chat with attendees.
Paul Arnold, of Pleasant Valley Farm in upstate New York, talks about winter growing.
Ruth Hazzard of the UMass Extension Service talks potatoes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stone Barns Young Farmers Conference Highlighted on NPR's "All Things Considered"

Johnny's has been a major supporter of the Young Farmers Conference for the past two years. The conference was held recently at the beautiful Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Tarrytown, NY.

Last week, National Public Radio aired a story about the conference on its "All Things Considered" program. You can hear a replay of the show on the NPR website.

In addition to supporting the conference financially, Johnny's participates in the demonstration seminars. This year, our Tools and Supplies Manager, Adam Lemieux, was on hand to talk about some of our innovative season extension tools and techniques.

Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel at Stone Barns

Adam set up a Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel on the grounds and demonstrated some of Johnny's Quick Hoops™ Benders. He wrote about the experience in his "Tool Dude" blog. It's an interesting read and includes photos from the conference.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Online Catalog, Holiday Gift Ideas, and New Products

Johnny's Online Catalog

This week we launched our new interactive online version of the 2012 Johnny's Catalog. You can view it here:

Cover and Instructions

Page Flipping Technology

The online Johnny's Catalog is just like the paper copy, but with lots of digital bells and whistles. In addition to having the option to shop and check out on the web, the online catalog includes:
  • Links to extra product photos that wouldn't fit in the print edition
  • How-to Videos
  • Zoom-in technology for magnified views of images and text.
There are even electronic sticky notes, which allow you to keep track of your favorite pages and products, minus the paper and mess.

New Holiday Gift Ideas

We have plenty of gardening gifts for all the growers on your list. Whether you're shopping for a beginner gardener, kitchen gardener, or a gardening book lover, check out our Gift Ideas page for some great ideas. If you can't make up your mind, we have gift certificates available in denominations of $10, $25, $50, $75, and $100

New for 2012 Products

NEW: Jester Acorn Squash
Speaking of new, we've also added more than 150 new products for the 2012 season, including more than 40 new organic varieties. Check them out here -- New for 2012.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Product spotlight: Eggplants, Fuseables™, Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel Bender

December 2011


Eggplants are one the most attractive vegetables, available in a number of sizes, shapes, colors and combinations of color. They also are indispensable to many cuisines, which means they attract a diverse crowd of customers. Every culture has its favorites, so it pays to grow several different varieties. We have 19 to choose from. Here are two of our beauties:

Traviata (F1) (OG) is the traditional Italian-style eggplant with dark glossy purple skin and the classic bell shape that makes it perfect for slicing. Fruits should be picked when they are about 3" x 6" for best flavor. A high-yielding hybrid, available as organic seed. 70 days to maturity.

Dancer (F1) is a glowing dark pink color with a green calyx. This type is extremely popular in Puerto Rico. The flesh is mild and non-bitter. Fruits should be picked when they are about 3" x 8". 65 days to maturity.


The biggest trend in floriculture in the past few years has been the pre-designed container. Plugs of several compatible varieties are planted together in a single pot for a showy profusion of flowers. Fuseables™ have taken this concept to the next level as a seed-grown program. Each pellet contains 2-3 seeds of different varieties chosen for compatibility in germination, growth, and appearance. Create stunning hanging baskets, patio containers, or window boxes. Johnny's is now offering three options, all of which include the bright green shade that is so popular in container design:
Blueberry Lime Jame
Blueberry Lime Jam is a gorgeous combination of deep blue and lime green petunias that are uniform in size and bloom time.

Key Lime Parfait
Key Lime Parfait combines lime green, red, and white petunias with long bloom times and spreading habits.

Under the Sun
Under the Sun is a mix of two sun-tolerant coleus varieties. Versa Crimson Gold has deep, bright red petals outlined in gold and Versa Lime is chartreuse to pale green. Both thrive in bright sunlight as well as shade and can spread up to 24" wide.

Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel Bender

Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel Bender

Growing in high tunnels has proven to be immensely profitable for many growers, and Johnny's is pleased to offer low-cost options that every grower can afford. With our Quick Hoops™ benders, you can buy locally available materials to build a high tunnel.
Our latest offering in the Quick Hoops™ product line is the Moveable Caterpillar Tunnel Bender. The bender produces 12' hoops from chain link fence top rail, which are then braced to create a rigid half-pipe frame that rides on a pipe track. The moveable structure in effect gives you twice the protected space.
Finished Tunnel

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pests and Disease: Storage Diseases of Onions

Storage Diseases of Onions

With this year’s growing season done, many of us are storing root crops, bulbs, and everything in between. There’s a lot to be said about pulling an onion out of storage to add flavor to those warm inviting winter comfort foods such as seafood chowder, or the stuffing for the long-anticipated Thanksgiving meal - especially if you spent all summer watching them grow. On the other hand, it’s more than disappointing to pull an onion out of storage and have the neck slough off in your hands. Botrytis Neck Rot is a common disease found in bulbs, particularly in onions post-harvest. It is caused by B. allii, and is the culprit of slimy necks of onions. As for rotten bottoms, that is caused by Fusarium Basal Rot or Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cepae.

Botrytis Neck Rot

Fusarium Basal Rot

Life Cycle

Both Botrytis Neck Rot and Fusarium Basal Rot are caused by fungi that reside in soil or plant debris. Botrytis Neck Rot primarily occurs on bulbs in storage and infection is most often initiated at bulb harvest. Mechanical wounds provide entry to conidia on neck tissue. As the disease progresses, neck tissue looks water-soaked, and a yellow discoloration of the neck begins and moves down towards the scales. Soon after that, bulbs break down into a soft, wet mass. After a gray mold develops in between scales, black bodies or sclerotia form around the neck.

Fusarium Basal Rot shows itself as a red-brown rot where the roots of onion bulbs were attached to the basal plate. This rot and discoloration is apparent all around the base and up to the scales. When you cut the onion open, the affected tissue is brown and watery. A white moldy growth is associated with Fusarium Basal Rot, and can be found on the stem plate or diseased scales.


To prevent post-harvest losses and to ensure more produce that is marketable and edible, proper harvesting, curing, and storage is important. Harvest onions in cool, dry weather after the tops have been allowed to mature fully. At least half of the leaves should be brown. Letting the bulbs dry in the field for 6-10 days can help as well. Do not store onions that have any green growth on them. Botrytis Neck Rot can move through green tissue into the bulb. When harvesting, do your best to minimize bruising or other mechanical damage. Bulbs should be stored in well-ventilated areas that can be kept at 32°F/0°C with humidity below 75%.


UMass Amherst Vegetable Program
Shika Agblor and Doug Waterer, Department of Plant Sciences,
University of Saskatchewan

Onion Disease Photos courtesy of Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Photos: Early December at Johnny's Research Farm

It's early December, which in Maine usually means frozen ground, ice, sleet, and snow. We've had a couple of surprisingly powerful snowstorms this fall. The first storm hit two days before Halloween; the second arrived the day before Thanksgiving. Both dumped several inches of wet snow in central Maine, but warm temperatures quickly followed, and it melted before we could wax our skis. Otherwise we've enjoyed a rather mild autumn. In fact, a few crops -- leeks, lettuce, and kale -- at Johnny's Research Farm are still in the ground and appear to be quite happy. Watch the photo slideshow from a recent trip to the farm.

Monday, December 5, 2011

JSS Advantage Newsletter -- December 2011: Tomato Production

Diversify Your Tomato Production

Tomatoes are a top crop for most fresh market farmers, so we at Johnny's are happy to introduce new products that will help you grow more tomatoes, over a longer season, for greater profits. This month, we offer some new varieties, supplies, and suggestions that will help you diversify your offerings at market next summer.
Being early, late, or off-season is one good way to diversify your tomato production. Another way is to offer tomatoes in volume to chefs, artisanal processors, and home canners. By the time most local field tomatoes hit their peak, prices have dropped considerably from early in the season. But that's when it's easiest to produce a lot of tomatoes if you planted disease-resistant, high-yielding varieties.

New Greenhouse Tomato Rebelski (aka DRW 7749) Offers Disease Resistance Package, Same Great Taste as Field-Grown Fruit

RebelskiFor an earlier start to the tomato season, try Rebelski (a.k.a. DRW 7749), the best greenhouse tomato we have found for the fresh market. These beautiful, slightly ribbed red slicers have the great flavor and texture of field-grown tomatoes, yet they can be produced in a hoophouse or greenhouse.
They also have an excellent disease package to keep them productive over a long period. They are resistant to Tobacco Mosaic Virus, Leaf Molds A-E, Fusarium Wilt (Races 1 & 2), Fusarium Crown and Root Rot, Powdery Mildew, and Verticillium Wilt.
Firm enough to withstand handling, yet as attractive as a delicate heirloom, they offer growers an exciting new opportunity to be the first to market with flavorful tomatoes that command a good price.

Kick Your Sauce Up a Notch with These Great Plum Tomatoes

PaisanoThis year, Johnny's exclusively offers two great plum tomatoes. Granadero is an Organic hybrid plum tomato that produces very high yields of uniform, delicious 4-5 oz. tomatoes for sauces, salsas, and salads.
Granadero, an indeterminate variety, has resistance to nematodes and intermediate resistance to TSWV, as well as low susceptibility to blossom end rot so the plants remain productive even under heavy disease pressure.
Paisano, a new hybrid paste tomato, has the shape of the ever-popular San Marzano. The fruits have thick walls, high solids, and good flavor for canning and sauce.
Paisano is a determinate, so its fruit set is concentrated around mid-season, producing a large volume of tomatoes to offer to home canners.

Tomato Grafting and Trellising Supplies

To keep your plants healthy over the longest possible season, you might also consider growing grafted tomatoes.
Growing grafted tomatoes is not as difficult as it might first appear. Utilizing disease-resistant rootstock helps to start your plants off right and keep them healthy all season long. This year we have added Colosus, an extremely vigorous and disease-resistant rootstock, to our lineup. We also have all the suppliesinformation, and even how-to videos to make your tomato grafting a success.
Johnny's also has the supplies you need for trellising tomatoes. At our research farm, we use a system of posts with #9 wire strung between them to hold the sisal twine that supports each plant. You can see photos of our trellising system here.
We also have tomato trellis clips, tape tools, and disease control products.

Complement Your Tomatoes with Eggplants, Herbs

Dancer EggplantAnother way to diversify your production is to offer products that are compatible with tomatoes, even though they may not be as high volume. Then you can cross-market the two, and increase the value of each sale. A prime example is eggplant, which is often paired with tomatoes in recipes. Eggplant is so strikingly beautiful that it pulls customers in to your stand to admire its sleek good looks. Johnny's has eggplants in every shape and color, including a few that your customers may not even recognize as eggplants. In addition to the familiar shiny, dark purple cylindrical fruits, you can grow eggplants that are light green, egg-shaped, lavender, and striped. You probably won't sell eggplant in the same quantities as tomatoes, but if you have them available, customers are likely to buy them from you while buying tomatoes.
Many herbs are also natural companions for tomatoes and eggplants, and it's particularly helpful to have fresh herbs at the end of the season to sell along with canning tomatoes. Here are essential herbs for tomato and eggplant dishes:
Genovese Basil, OreganoGiant of Italy Parsley, Rosemary, Summer Thyme, and Sweet Marjoram.
Most of these are transplant crops that need to be started fairly early (especially the hoophouse tomatoes), so now is the time to start planning for next summer's success.